Encountering puppets from my childhood- The Karakuri Dolls at Questacon

As a child, one of the puppets that I encountered, and it left a significant impression on me, was the Karakuri dolls on display in the foyer of Questacon- the National Science and Technology Centre in Canberra, Australia. The Karakuri dolls were a bicentennial gift from Japan to Australia in 1988. Two identical dolls were given- one with a full costume, and a second without the costume so that visitors to the centre could see how the doll works. I loved pressing the button and watching the uncostumed doll dance and transform into the demon character. I remember the traditional Japanese music was very hypnotising.

Since seeing the dolls perform as a child, seeing the costumed one again during my visit to Questacon in July was very nostalgic. The dolls have performed so often for visitors, that they both required extensive restoration. Sadly, the Karakuri doll on display is currently not moving, but it was wonderful to encounter a significant puppet from my childhood.

Restored Karakuri doll on display

Restored Karakuri on display.

 

References

https://www.questacon.edu.au/science-communication/international-engagement/questacon-and-japan/highlights-of-cooperation/2007

https://www.questacon.edu.au/science-communication/international-engagement/questacon-and-japan/gifts-from-japan

http://www.karakuri.info/shobei/index.html

Encountering puppets from my childhood- Mr Squiggle and Friends

Miss H with Mr Squiggle puppet at the Australian Mint exhbition

I am often asked, how did I get into the world of puppetry? For me, I am the first in my family to be actively involved in the puppet world, but I did grow up around puppets. I was a child of the 1980’s, and I was taken to lots of live puppet theatre by my mother and grandmother, puppet shows were frequently performed at my school, and the most influential source on me was were puppets on television twice a day. I grew up with Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, The Sooty Show, stop motion presentations of Paddington Bear, and Wind in the Willows, and the most important puppet in Australian television history, Mr Squiggle and Friends. During 2019, Mr Squiggle and Friends because of their significance to Australian culture, have been depicted on actual circulating Australian coins as well as in a collector’s set to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of Mr Squiggle and Friends. To celebrate the anniversary, the puppets from Mr Squiggle and Friends, as well as related materials have gone on display at the Royal Australian Mint in Canberra.

From 1959, only three years after television arrived in Australia, Mr Squiggle, a marionette puppet that could actually draw using a pencil for his nose on camera, would entertain children like me for over 40 years. His friends were Rocket, Blackboard, Bill Steamshovel, Gus the Snail, and a human presenter. Mr Squiggle lived on the moon at 93 Crater Crescent, and used Rocket as his transport to Earth, and he loved to transform squiggles drawn by viewers and sent into the show into illustrations. Mr Squiggle and Friends was created and puppeteered by one man, Norman Hetherington (1921-2010).

I loved the show a great deal, not because the characters were puppets, it was because the storytelling was fun and interesting. Mr Squiggle drew his pictures so that the image was upside down, and as a child, I loved trying to work out what the picture would be before the pink cardboard was turned around so that the image would be right side up. Each image also had a story about it that Mr Squiggle would tell to his human friend. Quite often, once the picture had been finished, Mr Squiggle would add more lines and shapes to it, and ask his human friend to turn the picture around again, a whole new picture would emerge. I also liked how naughty Rocket could be, Rocket never spoke, he used movement and sounds to convey his attitude, and Blackboard could be downright rude with his signature “Hurry Up!”.

The Puppets

Mr Squiggle

Mr Squiggle was a marionette with blinking eyes, and the ability to extend his neck out of his body so that his pencil nose could reach all areas of the drawing board. When I first got to see the Mr Squiggle puppet at the 50 years of Television exhibition in 2009, I finally worked out what the pencil “lead” in his nose was made from- it was a stick of artist charcoal, but Mr Squiggle’s “lead” evolved over the years.

When ever I saw Mr Squiggle draw, his human presenter would hold his hand. Thinking about how the puppet was performed from above, and that his neck extended, I have wondered if the human presenter by holding the puppet’s hand, was actually helping to keep the puppet’s body grounded, allowing the neck to move in and out.

The Mr Squiggle puppet

Mr Squiggle in 2019

Miss H with Mr Squiggle puppet at the Australian Mint exhbition

Miss H with Mr Squiggle at the Australian Mint

Bill the Steamshovel

Bill the Steamshovel was another marionette puppet, who loved to eat concrete crunchies and blow smoke as he talked. The smoke was baby powder blown through tubing that ran from off camera, into the body, and along the puppet’s neck. Most of his construction was from foam, and I loved listening to his riddles!

Sadly, only the head and neck of Bill Steamshovel was on display at the Australian Mint.

Head and neck of Bill Steamshovel puppet

Head and neck of Bill Steamshovel

Rocket

Rocket was Mr Squiggle’s mode of transport from his home at 93 Crater Crescent the Moon, to visit his friends on Earth. Rocket was a marionette with a hole in the front so that Mr Squiggle’s pencil could stick out. Rocket had no speaking voice, and would quite often use his whistle and/or party blower to communicate impatience akin to a child sticking their tongue out to be rude. The whole front of Rocket would swing down to allow for Mr Squiggle, with assistance from his human companion to get in and out. Once loaded, and with the front door closed over the nose, Mr Squiggle and Rocket would be pulled out of the shot with a blast of powder, then cut to an animated representation of Mr Squiggle returning home through space.

Looking at the Rocket puppet, it was really interesting to see that the puppet was mostly made of wood, and several details on the front, were actually sections of upholstery foam. The rivets were just painted on, yet they looked very real on camera.

The Mr Squiggle puppet and the Rocket puppet

Mr Squiggle and Rocket

Gus the Snail

Gus was the only hand puppet on the show. Gus is a very confident, assertive character, to point were for me, I did not like his character because of his bossy, self centred nature. Instead of a shell, Gus had a TV set on his back. I remember how much Gus liked knock knock jokes.

Gus the Snail puppet with a Television on his back instead of a shell.

Gus the Snail

Blackboard

Blackboard was the easel upon which Mr Squiggle drew squiggles for 40 years. Another marionette puppet, made of wood, with rope legs connected to red shoes, Blackboard was a very grumpy character. He only had one eye that could open, and his mouth would open and close when a squiggle was not in the way. Quite often the audience would hear Blackboard’s signature “Hmpf,” or “Hurry up”, but the puppet was not moving because a squiggle was sitting on the two nails.

Blackboard is such an iconic character, that I spotted a sandwich sign outside a coffee shop in Canberra on my way to the Royal Australian Mint, to see the Mr Squiggle exhibition that had been decorated as Blackboard with one eye open.

Miss H with the Blackboard puppet on display at the Australian Mint

Miss H with the Blackboard puppet

Representation of Blackboard seen outside a coffee shop in Canberra

The exhibition at the Royal Australian Mint

A small display of the Mr Squiggle and Friends puppets, as well as scripts, actual squiggles, and a painting of Mr Squiggle and his human creator, Norman Hetherington was in the central section of the Royal Australian Mint exhibition gallery on the second floor.

Squiggle of an Elephant holding a candle done by Mr Squiggle.

An actual squiggle from the Mr Squiggle TV show.

The exhibition was free to the public, and it was lovely to see the puppets, except I am worried that the puppets don’t look like puppets anymore. So much work has been done to them to make it possible for them to be displayed. All the strings have been removed, and Mr Squiggle’s hat has been changed and twisted so that he looks like the drawings of Mr Squiggle in the picture books, colouring books, and the coin album. The original hat concealed the rod that went from Mr Squiggle’s head all the way up to the controller.

I was disappointed that there were no video monitors in the exhibition space showing episodes or segments of Mr Squiggle and Friends. The show has been off the air since 1999, so the children coming to see Mr Squiggle had no point of reference to understand what their parents or grandparents were explaining of their childhood friend.

Sign board at Mr Squiggle and Friends exhibition

References

Royal Australian Mint

Going Beyond the Sock 2019 Day 10-12

Day 10, Monday 10 June 2019

Today was a really special day. A friend of mine who is a cast member of the Jim Henson Company’s show Puppet Up, invited me to join a tour he was running of the Jim Henson Company lot in LA. The main courtyard is very relaxing and beautiful. It has an air of an European village with outdoor tables, planter boxes of flowers, and close buildings. The studio was built by Charlie Chaplin in 1918, and there are references to Charlie Chaplin everywhere, including the statue of Kermit the Frog standing on the top of the gate dressed as Charlie Chaplin’s signature character- the Little Tramp.

We visited the reception area where I got to hold a real Emmy award, the Barn where the Creature Shop used to be housed, the Henson Screening room, and the Charlie Chaplin Soundstage where the tour group was given a demonstration of monitor puppetry. After the tour group left, I was given the opportunity to have a go at the monitor puppetry on the soundstage, using a REAL Henson made puppet! I am very grateful to my friend for allowing me to tag along on the tour and to have a go at the monitor puppetry!

  • With Lucy Green at the Company bench

Day 11, Tuesday 11 June 2019

Today’s adventure was taking the Warner Bros Studio Deluxe tour. Starting at 10am, the tour started in the Deluxe screening room which had very nice pastries and beverages for the guests. Arranged next to the wall were costumes from the main characters of the TV show Friends. After a brief video about the studio, and meeting our tour guide Thom, we boarded our own tram and started driving through the studio starting with the backlot jungle area. Highlight for me in this area was the now empty lagoon as it was the location where Kermit the Frog sang the Rainbow Connection at the beginning of the original Muppet Movie 40 years ago.

After moving from the jungle area, the tour moved to the Midwest Street and again, it was a place that had special significance for me as a puppet maker and fan of the Muppets. It was the shooting location for the song Life’s a Happy Song from the movie The Muppets (2011).

  • Lagoon where Rainbow Connection was filmed in the original Muppet Movie.

One of my favourite Warner Bros TV shows was the West Wing and it was filmed at the LA Warner Bros Studio! I got to see Stage 29 where the main set was located, but during the tour of the property warehouse, I got to sit at the President’s desk from the show, as well as find various pieces of set decorating and props from the show!

  • Sitting at the President's desk from West Wing

I highly recommend the Warner Bros Deluxe tour- you get to see much more than the regular tour, as well as touch things, go inside more buildings, and there is the delicious lunch in the Warner Bros Commissary Fine Dining Room. I do recommend bringing small snacks for the morning and afternoon break as there is no opportunity to purchase snacks while on the tour.

Day 12- Wednesday 12 June 2019

Today was my travel day home to Australia. Fortunately, the wifi in the hotel meant I could wait in the Lobby until the taxi picked me up in the late afternoon to take me to the airport. After treating myself to new noise cancelling headphones, I enjoyed a light meal in the One World Alliance Lounge. Once I boarded my QANTAS Business Class flight, I fell asleep virtually immediately, and slept for about 6 hours straight.

It has been a magical holiday- I am so grateful to my puppet friends in the USA for the kindness and generosity they shared with me that made it magical.

Going Beyond the Sock in 2019 Day 7-9

Day 7, Friday June 7 2019

The building session was once again the first session of the day. Our major goal was to completely finish assembling all the fur sections and ideally have our puppets sitting on stands. Once I had the fur sections ready for machine sewing, the group moved onto making the hand assemblies, cutting out the stiffened felt ear shapes, and selecting the fleece for the eyelids. I chose a cream/ tan fleece for my dog’s eyelids as Australian Cattle dogs typically have a tan coloured spot on their face right above their eyes. I did acheive my goal of graduating to a puppet stand before the end of the building session.

Puppet dog ready for grooming tomorrow!

One assembled puppet dog ready for grooming on it’s stand.

Highlight of the morning session was during the break. My performing teacher found me in the corridor, and showed me that the interview we had both given the reporter the day before, had been published online! It was really exciting to appear in the same article as my dear teacher, and I had been waiting the previous day for the newspaper photographer to come and take my picture, but the photographer had taken a lovely picture of me while I was performing with my friend from North Queensland, Ros Campbell from Wild Puppets. Here is the article.

The physical newspaper that my interview appeared in.

The performing session for the advanced group was really interesting as the group got to experiment with using intense emotions and the whole depth of the frame. This was followed by a very challenging activity of creating our own scene where the audience has to work out who, what, when, where, why from what the characters are performing on the screen. My highlight of the session was being able to return to an exercise I had last tried in 2015- working with blank scripts. I didn’t quite find the character development I was looking for where after multiple run throughs with feedback, I had gotten to the point where I was a character, but it was wonderful to come back to this exercise after 4 years.

The evening was spent working with my performance partner Ros working on the script for the big show, and finishing making the ears. I wish I had brought my bag of sewing cottons with me from Australia. It was tricky catching up on homework, without sufficient supplies back at the hotel.

Day 8, Saturday June 8 2019

Today is the last day of Beyond the Sock 2019. It is also known as mega Saturday as the puppets have to be finished, performances honed, and the whole thing ends with the big show that night. My goal for the day was to have my puppet finished by lunchtime so I could use it in the afternoon studio session. The big excitement of the whole week was learning how to trim furry puppets using a device called a Flowbee. The Flowbee is a device connected to a vacuum cleaner that trims hair and fur to a consistent length. The vacuum helps manage the trimmings. I have heard about the use of Flowbee’s in puppet making for many years, but I had never used one myself personally.

The rest of the session was a sprint to finish all parts of the puppet. I still had to add the ears, the arms, the tongue, add the eyelids, eyeliner and pupils of the eyes, and then the trickiest part, installing the eyes on the puppet so that the character appears. I did achieve my goal, my puppet dog Jill, was the first one out of the build room, and being performed with that afternoon.

The performance session was time to work on rehearsing the sketches for that night, as well as continuing to perform and playback the 5 minute scenes we had been practising all week. Playback and feedback is always the most anxiety inducing part of the sessions for me. I can see all my mistakes, and even though the feedback is always given kindly, I always feel uncomfortable. The unfortunate part about playback this year, was that we never really got to go back and redo the scene to implement the notes and see if there was any improvement.

Every year, at the end of the big show, is the whole group performance. This year, our song was an adaption of a popular song that was rewritten to focus on different kinds of dogs. Various attendees got to have a line in the song, and the whole group joined in with the chorus. What was new for me, was that the whole group was brought together in the morning to pre-record the vocals. This meant that the advanced group lost 30 minutes of build time. Prerecording the song, did take some of the stress out of the final night, all we had to remember was the choreography, even though there was some confusion as to the number of bounces and right lefts. The performance night was fun as always. Most attendees had a song, poem, or spoken word piece. I got to perform with fellow Australian Ros Campbell on her own piece about translating Aussie Slang into a form of words that the Americans could understand.

  • Inserting the doll joint backings into the arms.

Day 9, Sunday June 9 2019

Today was my travel day from Texas to Los Angeles. The plane was amazing! For the first time in my life, I got to turn left as I boarded the plane, instead of turning right. The new American Airlines plane Business class was superb! It was almost like having my own suite! So many cubby holes to store things, a giant screen to watch things on, couldn’t see another passenger! It was like a dream!

Business class on American Airlines newest planes

 

Going Beyond the Sock in 2019 Day 4-6

Day 4, Tuesday June 4 2019

Today was the first day of the Beyond the Sock course. The day started with a briefing and a tour of the University of North Texas Radio, TV, Film and Performing Arts Building. We got to see the set in the TV studio, and it 2 years ago, the set told me instantly what the puppet was, but the strange purple and blue tones did not help with the guessing game of what is the puppet we are making?

After the tour, we went to lunch at our favourite BTS lunch spot- Crooked Crust.

BTS group lunch at Crooked Crust

After lunch, back at the design studio, all was revealed- the 2019 BTS puppets was going to be Dogs! We had a session on what makes a successful character. It is important to consider that can the character be read by just looking at the puppet. We also had a discussion on successful character design vs marketable character design.

Design sketch of Jill the Australian Cattle Dog

Next came the exciting part, designing my character. Each attendee had the opportunity to take a lucky dip and select a card with a letter on it. That was our main fur colour. After some trading with other attendees, I managed to get a fur that inspired my character design- an Australian Cattle Dog. The rest of the afternoon was dedicated to cutting out the cardstock puppet pattern, and refining our designs.

A Friend in Need 1903

While we were working, the mystery of the set design was explained. It was a representation of the famous painting “A Friend in Need” 1903 by American artist C.M. Collidge. Over the next few days, set dressing will be added to complete the picture.

Day 5, Wednesday June 5 2019

The attendee group was divided in two first thing in the morning. For the first time, the groups were divided by experience- a group of first time attendees, and I was placed in the multiple time attendee group. The first time attendees went across to the student union for their first performance lesson, and the experienced group went to puppet building first. The first step was to cut out the fur for the paws so that they could be sewn together by the sewing assistants. Once the paws were taken away, the next step was to cut the foam of the head. In building the foam head, there was a unusual twisting motion that had to happen to allow the muzzle to sit correctly to the head.

  • Ingredients to make a dog puppets.

After lunch, the two groups swapped locations. The advanced group went up to the student union for the first performance workshop. It was a wonderful experience for me, because after 3 previous attempts at Beyond the Sock, many of the elementary puppetry moves came back to me naturally! I was given the feedback that my skills were solid, especially walking onto camera, talking and walking off. I am still finding here/ there exercise tricky, but we were also given new exercises to start extending our skillset.

Day 6, Thursday June 6 2019

As soon as we arrived at the university, the advanced group went straight to the building room to start work on cutting out all the separate sections of fur. The head of my puppet was made up of 16 separate pieces. I spent most of the morning session sewing the pieces together. During the session, a reporter from the local paper came through the room with the director of the program. The reporter asked me questions about my experience over my four years at Beyond the Sock and how I have used the experience in my puppetry and teaching practice. The interview did slow my work down, and I had a particularly challenging build with the sheer number of fur pieces I had to put together, but I enjoyed talking about my work with the reporter.

  • 3D printed mouth plate grip designed by Project Puppet.

In the afternoon performing session, the advanced group had the opportunity to learn how to puppeteer live hand puppets, and the concept of performing a right hand for a main puppeteer. I had the good fortune to right hand for my teacher. The exercise involved passing a roll of tape between each of the three characters. It was very challenging because I could not see a monitor, and my teacher is significantly taller than me. Many of the people in the advanced group, including myself all pulled up sore in the upper arm after the right handing exercise.

We had a casual get together in the hotel that night after dinner. I spent the evening sewing more of the pieces of the head fur together so that I could catch up to the rest of the group with my work.

 

 

 

Going Beyond the Sock in 2019 Day 1-3

Well, once again the puppets and I are travelling to the USA to attend Beyond the Sock Puppetry workshop in Texas USA, but first, we are making a little stop in Atlanta, Georgia. We left Sydney on Friday, May 31 on an Airbus A380. I travelled in QANTAS Business Class, and the puppets had their own party down in the hold just like Kermit, Fozzie and Gonzo in the Great Muppet Caper movie.

Muppets in the hold of the plane back to USA in the Great Muppet Caper

Muppets in the hold of the plane back to USA in the Great Muppet Caper

Day 1- Saturday, June 1, 2019

I spent today at the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta USA. Since the Center was between puppet shows in their theatres, the Center was holding a Jim Henson Fantasy Film weekend focusing on the Dark Crystal (1982), and Labyrinth (1986). My day started at the Make a Puppet table, where I got to make a Fizgig paper hand puppet, followed by a Dark Crystal Shard hunt around the Dark Crystal exhibition and atrium, a tour of the Jim Henson collection permanent exhibition, and assisting with a Labyrinth jigsaw puzzle.

  • Lucy and Miss Hannaford outside the Centre for Puppetry Arts

Puppet highlights included seeing Topthorn- the black horse puppet from Warhorse. It was the closest I have ever gotten to the horse puppets.

In the evening, I attended a workshop called Creature Features with Professor Mark from Cartoonyville. we learnt about different kinds of materials that can be used for puppet eyes, where interesting puppet teeth can be found.

Day 2- Sunday, June 2, 2019

Today I felt very tired with the jet lag, so I spent the morning resting. In the afternoon, I had the opportunity to visit one of my puppetry teachers BJ Guyer. I have been learning with him through his classes with the Stan Winston School of Character Arts since 2014. It was so special to sit with him and talk about puppets for a few hours.

Day 3- Monday, June 3, 2019

Very early start today- had to be at the airport for my flight to Texas at 6am, so it was necessary to get up at 3am. The best thing about where I stay in Atlanta Midtown is that it is only 2 blocks from the MARTA train to the airport. The flight left on time, and arrived early in Dallas Fort Worth! I met with my good friend Pam who is a building assistant and Beyond the Sock, and we chatted while we waited for another attendee to arrive, so we could travel to the hotel together.

Later in the day, I went with a group of attendees on a shopping expedition to the local craft stores, which are within 10 minutes walk of the hotel. I was even able to purchase a book I have been waiting a long time for- Adam Savage’s “Every tool’s a Hammer”. Tomorrow, Beyond the Sock begins…

Teaching Puppet Making to Drama Teachers

Over 2 days, I had the opportunity to co-lead a Puppetry workshop for Drama Teachers at the Arts Unit NSW. The aim of the workshop was to give Drama Teachers from Primary, Seconday and Special Education settings the opportunity to make a mouth puppet (aka “Muppet” Style) and experience different strategies of teaching puppet performance in the classroom. The Arts Unit is part of the New South Wales Department of Education, and they promote and support all of the Creative and Performing Arts in NSW Public Schools. For me, this was an opportunity to show leadership skills, share how I use Puppetry daily in my school library, as well as showcase my school’s Puppetry class.

There were 15 participants in the workshop from a wide range of primary schools, high schools and special education settings. My role in the workshop was to teach the puppet building part of the workshop, and share the learning I have been doing in monitor puppetry over the last 3 years at Beyond the Sock. One really interesting thing I noticed about how 21st Century Teachers take notes. I cannpot recall any of the teachers taking written notes. Most of the teachers wanted to film my explanations on their phone or tablet. I had to remember to allow a few moments for the teachers to get into a good position to film the explanation.

What went well:

  • All the participants had fun! We could not get them to go home at the end of the first day, and the participants arrived at the workshop early on day 2. All the puppets were unique and special!
  • Having all the kits pre-cut and pre-sewn did save a lot of time and hassle. However, some teachers indicated on their feedback forms that they wanted to see the whole process from the beginning including cutting out the foam and fabric using the patterns. Perhaps I can accommodate that part with a video showing how to cut out the foam and fabric.
  • Using the dome eyes from Out of the Box Puppets worked really well over the traditional Spoon eyes. It does mean that in potential future workshops, I don’t need to take my whole folding crate of eyes.
  • Everyone used my 3D printed nose forms, as well as my plastic easter eggs. A few people also used the small dome eyes as nose forms. The participants also enjoyed using my box of precious Antron Fleece scraps to make the eyelids and noses for their puppet.
  • During the performance side of the workshop, doing a conga line to practise sharing the frame was a great deal of fun. It meant that the participants did not have to worry about their puppet standing straight and maintaining eye focus into the camera. The participants could just have fun with the frame.

What could be improved next time:

  • Give the participants 2 pieces of wire each and use florist wire instead of galvanised wire. Florist wire is easier for inexperienced puppet builders to bend, but the fingers of the puppet will not be as strong.
  • Need to have at least one pair of pliers per person as it was too difficult to have just 5 pairs of pliers for 15 people. Many participants had to wait a long time between steps because there were not enough pliers.
  • Have just the instruction portion only of the pattern from Project Puppet on the Smart TV/ or as printouts for participants to follow
    • if they are running behind the rest of the workshop,
    • didn’t listen to the verbal instructions or missed the demonstration.
    • It would also be helpful for people who have a gift for building to move ahead of the group.
  • The puppets to only have one arm rod. The other hand could be safety pinned/ stitched to the body of the puppet. It would make manipulation easier for beginner puppeteers
  • The neck and body join could be pre-sewn. It would save time during the workshop. It would mean that the only sewing for participants would be the mouth felt and the hand slits.
  • Drama Teachers hand sewing parts of their puppet's "Skin".
    Drama Teachers hand sewing parts of their puppet's "Skin".

Making my First Full Body Puppet: Part 10

Today is Celebration Day! All the work over the last 2 months on Totoro came together today!

The day started by putting on the legs of Totoro. I then had an hour to wait until the opening ceremony of Celebration Day so I read my favourite book- Jim Henson The Works. My colleagues took a photo of me reading because they know that one of my favourite Muppet pictures is of Richard Hunt reading the newspaper while wearing the legs of Sweetums.

Getting ready to be Totoro- reading my favourite book.

I had entered my Totoro puppet in the Costume Parade. We had to wait 30 minutes in the school hall for the parade to start. While waiting, and shortly before the parade was to start, I was showing the students how the whole costume comes together. As soon as the backpack took the full weight of the puppet- a section in the middle broke- one of the struts had come out of the t-joint, and the puppet fell onto me. I could not fix the backpack in the hall, so I had to leave it behind and hold up the whole costume with my left arm during the costume parade.

Walking out of the hall during the costume parade was an amazing experience. As soon as Totoro appeared, the whole school roared and cheered for him! Because the hall door and back part of the stage was in shadow, it was quite easy to see where I was going. As soon as the sunlight hit the mouth, I could barely see where I was going. Fortunately, I did not run into any of the obstacles on stage, or run into the students who were at the front of the stage as part of the parade. A colleague of mine, standing next to me, was dressed as an inflatable Jabba the Hutt. We made a very funny pair.

Our real life Totoro. Well done Teacher Librarian Miss K.Hannaford.

Posted by Macquarie Fields High School on Wednesday, September 20, 2017

After the costume parade was over- I walked back into the hall and took Totoro’s top half off. I had been holding him up for 15 minutes. After the Opening ceremony was over, I put Totoro back on for 10 minutes so that the students could get selfies and hugs from Totoro, and so I could take him over to the Photo Booth to take a few silly pictures. Afterwards, I completely changed out of Totoro so I could run the puppet table during the day. All up, I was in Totoro for 2 hours. It gave me a new understanding and appreciation for what my puppetry teachers go through when they perform costume characters.

Builiding Totoro has been an amaxing experience. I have learnt a great deal about making big puppets, but I still have a lot to learn about joing PVC conduit. Thanks go to my amazing Library assistants who helped with many sections of the build, and thanks are also due to Adam Savage for sharing his build methodology in the original inspirational video. I could not have done it without that original video.

  • Totoro comes out to a roar from the whole school.

 

Making my First Full Body Puppet: Part 9

It’s one day left until Celebration day! Today I was able to finish the feet and legs, attach the arms and try on the top half of the character to see how easy/ difficult it was to see and move inside the puppet.

To finish the legs, I made tubes of fur, sewed the bottom to the fur covering the feet and sewed the top of the tube to the top of a pair of leggings. I discovered one benefit of attaching the legs to just the fur of the feet, it gave me room to be able to get the real shoe inside the foot onto my foot more easily! I did cut the fur tubes 10cm too short because when I tried the whole puppet out, the top of the leggings could be seen, so I stitched on extra pieces of fur.

Legs and feet of Totoro

The arms were made the same way as in Adam Savage’s Totoro video. I used my own arm as a template with a mitten for the hand. All of the claws on my Totoro are made from box cardboard covered in black spandex. The claws were attached by cutting a slit through the fur, then fixed in place using hot glue.

Totoro has arms!

I tried on the top half of the costume with the backpack frame. The mast on the frame was still loose so I could make adjustments, but it rotated too far and the puppet was not being supported properly. It has turned into an overnight or first thing in the morning fix for me.

  • Adjusting the legs of Totoro

While I was in the costume, a student teacher saw me and wanted a selfie with Totoro! He already has fans! Tomorrow is going to be interesting!

Totoro’s first selfie!

Making my First Full Body Puppet: Part 8

Making the facial features of Totoro.

To make Totoro’s ears/ horns, I modeled the ears using 3 modelling and printing. Due to the scale of the piece, I had to try to cut the horn into 3 pieces. I had a great deal of difficulty in splitting the shape in that I am still not familiar with breaking a model up in Creo Parametric 3.0. I was able to make the bottom two pieces quite easily, but making the top pointed part fit proved to be very difficult to make the right size. I ended up achieving a satisfactory result after lots of failed attempts. I definitely need to learn an alternative approach to making a 3D model that breaks up into interlocking pieces.

To cover the ear with fur, I put the ear into a freezer bag, and covered the bag with small pieces of tape. I then used a small pair of embroidery scissors to cut the tape and plastic off and cut lots of small darts to create a flat shape. The flat shape then became the pattern for cutting the fur. I did add a 3mm seam allowance while cutting the fur so I could hand sew the fur together and turn it over the 3D printed form. The ears/ horns were then sewn around the base onto the fur.

Fur covered, 3D printed ear forms with pattern.

I used more butcher’s paper to create the shapes of the eyes, nose and mouth so that I could experiment with sizes and placement.

Planning the facial features of Totoro

To make the nose, I used the butcher’s paper template as a guide to the overall size of the nose and built plasticine up on it. I then used four layers of my own hand made paper to cover the nose form.

Sculpting the nose form from Plasticine.

I created the eye forms by modeling them on the computer and printing them out using the 3D printer. I then used black acrylic paint to create the pupils.

3D printed eyes ready for painting with the painted papier mache nose

Inside of the papier mache nose with the 3D printed eyes.

The mouth of Totoro is how I see out of the puppet. I originally used three layers of curtain netting, but it was too hard to see out of, so I removed one layer.

Totoro’s teeth were drawn onto the mesh using a black Sharpie.

Mouth opening covered with white mesh curtain fabric.

To make Totoro’s whiskers, I used long, black zip ties. To attach them to the face, I cut a small slit into the fur using embroidery scissors. Then, I inserted the square end of the zip tie and glued it in place using hot glue.