Now that the body is starting to come together, my next challenge was to make the feet. I have never made mascot sized feet before, so I went looking for tutorials to help me.
I found a pair of shoes at Kmart for $3, a floor mat from Clark Rubber to make the soles of the feet, and I ended up recycling bits of block foam I had in storage, leftover from previous puppet carving projects.
I wore the in-progress feet at school while walking around the school library so I could test how well the glue was holding as well as how it felt to walk in oversized shoes. During the test, the school’s Community Liaison Officer filmed my test for the school’s Facebook page!
Once the feet were finished, I had time to make the tummy of Totoro. I turned the fur covering of the body inside out, drew a circle shape for the tummy, cut it out and used the circle I had cut as the template for cutting the cream tummy fur.
Now that the skeleton is covered with fabric, I used spray adhesive to attach a layer of cotton batting. The purpose of the batting is to disguise the ribs of the skeleton. I then started to cover the batting with the very reasonably priced fur I got from Kmart!
I purchased 14 rolls of fur and had to remove the faux suede backing on each one. Each one was then sewn together using the sewing machine. 4 Blankets sewn together gave me enough fur to make two of the four panels required to make the outer skin of Totoro.
Once the skeleton of Totoro was complete, I noticed that his shape was not symmetrical, and some of the rings were far too large. Fortunately, I had secured the rings with masking tape, which was very easy to remove. It was then a simple matter of pulling each of the problem rings in and wrapping with fresh tape. I also had issues with the gaffer tape supports between the rings giving way, causing the rings to drop and become lopsided. Where tape had given way, I ended up applying a new piece of tape that wrapped around the ring onto itself at both ends.
I did work out a very efficient way to cut the gaffer tape in half to make thin strips. I would tear off the required length and place it sticky side down on a self healing cutting mat. I then used an X-Acto blade to cut down the middle of the tape. It was then very easy to remove the tape from the mat and use the sections of tape on Totoro’s skeleton.
The next step was to start covering the skeleton with thin fabric. I used an old sheet since I am trying to keep costs down, and recycle materials that I already have. All of the darts were sewn using sewing machine, and I hand stitched the final opening closed. So my Totoro has a interior of Ancient Egyptian patterned sheets!
The next phase of the construction was to make the concentric rings that are the skeleton of Totoro. Using the calculations I made with the full size plan, all 16 rings were created by measuring the length of the circumference, adding a palm width of cane for overlap and using masking tape to hold the ring closed.
I did run into several issues with the cane. When it arrived, the cane was very tightly coiled. When creating the largest rings, the rings would distort and not lie flat. We tried putting the rings under weights overnight, which did help some of the rings to lie flat-ish. Some rings also responded to hand manipulation of forcing the cane to bend in the opposite direction, but we always risked snapping the cane.
The other challenge I had to address was how to suspend the cane rings from the backpack frame. Adam Savage used a wooden ring bolted to his backpack frame. I don’t have access or expertise in using wood to make a ring, but I do have access to 3D design software and a 3D printer. I designed a circular disc with a section that inserts into the pvc mast. By using gaffer tape, the rings are suspended from the main disc.
While watching Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge, I saw how the contestants used backpack frames to support the creatures/ puppets they made. Most of the time, they used Alice pack frames to which they bolted aluminium flat bar or pvc. Alice pack frames are available on Amazon to buy, but they do not ship to Australia.
After watching various youtube clips on how to make a backpack frame, I decided to use PVC electrical conduit. When the Library computer area was renovated in 2014, I claimed all of the old electrical conduit so that I could use it for building puppet skeletons, so I have lots of conduit for making the backpack.
After watching the video by Adam Savage, I used sheets of butchers paper to draw a template of a figure my size so that I could plan the size of the cane rings I would need for my Totoro.
This process took most of the afternoon to work through, but I ended up with 16 ring dimensions. The widest ring is 1m in diameter, which means that the circumference of cane is 3.2 m!
Now that I have a plan, it is time to order the cane. I am ordering the cane from http://www.wickerworks.com.au/. I decided to order a 500 gram bundle of 5mm round core cane which will give me about 50 metres of cane to work with.
One form of puppetry that I have not yet explored in either building or performing is full body puppets. Basically, the definition of a full body puppet is a puppet which has the puppeteer inside. Famous examples of these puppets are Big Bird, Bear from Bear in the Big, Blue House, and Humphrey B Bear. This year, I have the opportunity to build my first and second full body puppet, but at the time of writing, I can only talk about the first one as the second is for a special event later this year.
Every year, the school I work at holds an event called Celebration Day. It is a day when we celebrate the diverse cultures that make up our school with food, costumes, activities, but we also celebrate the fun culture of our school. Each year, I make a costume based on that year’s theme. in 2012 we celebrated the National Year of Reading, so I went as Professor McGonagall wearing her famous green outfit from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone that I made myself. In 2013 we celebrated going to the movies, so I made Maleficent’s costume from Disney’s animated version of Sleeping Beauty. I was on leave in 2014 and dressed up as McGonagall again in 2015 but in 2016, I was Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra.
For 2017, the theme is Legends and I am planning to dress up as Totoro from the great Japanese animation, My neighbor Totoro (1988) directed by Hayao Miyazaki. I plan to build my costume in the school Library so that the students can see how things are made and maybe inspire them to create their own costume.
I have had the good fortune to be inspired by, and a head start on building my Totoro by watching Adam Savage build his own Totoro!
For me, the first step is working out how I am going to wear my Totoro as the frame Adam’s Totoro sits on, is beyond my skill set. My current thinking is to use a camping/ hiking backpack frame. Since the top of Totoro is above my head and I need a pole from the backpack frame to the top of Totoro, I am currently thinking of building the backpack frame from PVC pipe like this: