Now that the fleece is all marked out, it’s time to start construction of the foam understructure of the puppet. I tried to follow the recommended foam layout, but I discovered that the recommended layout omitted 2 of the 4 foam hands, and if I used the recommended layout, all the foam pieces wouldn’t fit. I changed the layout and managed to fit all the pattern pieces on the foam provided.
My next process was to make the rigid mouth plate that goes into the puppet. For some unknown reason, my bandsaw is not working, so instead of using the provided plywood, I decided to switch to Sintra plastic sheets which is what I normally use for puppet mouth plates as Sintra can be cut with a blade.
It was when I started reading the instruction booklet for making the mouth plate for this kit, that I came to the conclusion that this kit is not for first time puppet makers. The instructions were vague on the relationship between the size and shape of the velour pattern, and the gap between the mouth plate pieces. The size of the velour pattern must be the same as the length of the mouth plate, but these are not covered in detail in the instructions.
The process I followed was-
Lay the plates on top of the velour pattern piece to find where the gap is.
Lay a piece of gaffer tape on top of the velour pattern piece sticky side up where that gap will be
Lay each piece of the plate on top aligning the edges with the pattern piece and pressing it down onto the gaffer tape.
Flip the assembly over and attach the second piece of gaffer tape ensuring that the tape wraps around the edges of the mouthplate gap.
Using this method allowed me to get the gap proportions right for this pattern since the dimensions are not outlined in the instructions.
Once the plate was assembled, I used my cordless Dremel to round off the top edges of the finger grips. I then sanded the mouth plates where the grips would be located and used contact cement to glue the grips down.
Materials for making the mouth plate. Lining pattern, plastic mouth plate shapes and gaffer tape.
Gaffer tape sticky side up over the location of the mouth plate gap.
Finished gaffer tape hinge.
Making the grips out of black PE30 foam
Using my Dremel to round off the edges of the grips
When I filmed the unboxing, I was concerned at the amount of Nylafleece™ that was sent with the kit. The piece of fleece was 1 yard x 1 yard (90x90cm). Given that I wanted to use the same fleece to make features such as ears, eyestalks, as well as allowing for the possibility of mistakes in cutting the pattern, it didn’t feel like enough fabric at first glance.
Even laying the pattern out according to the layout directions in the instruction booklet- the pattern got too close to the machine edge. I was able to adjust the layout so that I was comfortable with the distance of the pattern pieces from the machine edge, but there was very little fleece leftover for all the add ons I want to do with this character.
After preparing the fleece pattern, I also took the opportunity to prepare the arm sleeve using the provided stretch satin, as well as the rod pockets in duck cloth. I normally use a dance fabric like lycra because it is more stretchy than the provided satin, and it slides onto the arm with ease. Laying out, and sewing these pieces was straight forward, but as soon as I cut the satin out, it started to fray really badly around the edges. I decided to oversew the raw edge using a zig zag stitch even though this was not in the instructions. The arm sleeve and rod pockets are the only parts of this puppet I intend to sew on the sewing machine. The rest of the puppet will be handsewn.
My design for this puppet is to build an Alien character as I don’t have an alien in my puppet collection, plus I was trying to work out what to do with Ocean blue fleece. I also want to challenge myself with this puppet, by incorporating an eye mechanism that I have admired for years, as well as try to incorporate some foam patterning to build up the base shape.
In terms of character, this yet un-named alien is friendly, and is obsessed with things that smell nice like fresh baked cookies, flowers, perfume. On it’s planet- smell is the basis of their economy. So this character is looking for nice smells to take back to it’s planet for trade.
The mechanism is a closing eye- and to add to the challenge, I want to put it up on stalks above the head! I figured out the layers of the mechanism while watching the character of Polly in Muppets Treasure Island. I am still trying to figure out if the trigger for the eye mech will be inside the head, or down on the arm rod for the puppet, but that is a decision for down the road.
The Coronavirus (Covid-19) Pandemic has encouraged everyone to find alternative ways to be creative. This is no different in the puppet world. Since it is not currently safe to hold a workshop to teach how to build a puppet, there is a rising trend of well known puppet-makers teaming with suppliers to send out puppet making kits that contain everything someone needs to make a foam hand puppet. During November 2020, two US based puppet company’s released puppet kits- Puppet Pelts, and Monkey Boys Productions.
The Puppet Pelts kit- known as the Puppet Makers Workshop contains everything required to build a hand and rod puppet including contact cement, which meant it cannot be shipped overseas. Here is a picture from their website of what is in the box-
List of supplies in the Puppet Pelts kit
The other company is Monkey Boys Productions based in Pennsylvania USA. They released 4 kits called Flick, Splat, Hubbub and Yawp. The difference between the two kits was that the Monkey Boys kits contain everything except 6 items- scissors, glue, fabric marker, chalk, sewing machine, and wire for arm rods. This meant that the kit could be shipped to me in Australia. Another difference is that the Monkey Boys kit does not come with a 5 session video workshop, but it does come with an instruction book, and video tutorials where required.
You can see and order the kits from the Monkey Boys online store
I ordered the Hubbub kit because I liked the interesting head shape, and as a puppet making teacher, I am interested in how puppet kits are put together so that people who don’t have access to the best quality supplies, can access them. I filmed an unboxing of the kit to record what you get in the Monkey Boys Pro Puppet Kit known as Hubbub.
I intend to share this puppet making journey here on my blog as I turn the Monkey Boys Kit into an Alien character.
Over the last few weeks, I have been involved in many video conferencing calls for both my teaching world and my puppetry world. When I have used Zoom, I have used their virtual background feature, and it works really well to a point. The tricky part is if I want to show the other people in the call an object, or even play with a puppet, the virtual background without the green screen option cannot include the object beside me such as a puppet on my arm.
My first thought was, can I use a substitute fabric as a green screen/ chroma key background? I wanted to focus on using the materials I had at home that are a solid colour. I started out exploring bed sheets since they are light to hang up. I had one that is a blue grey colour, and the other was a pale green. While setting up for filming, my new woven polyproplene green screen that I had purchased on Amazon arrived, so now I could compare the effects.
Phone filming setup with zoom running on the computer in the background
Blue bed sheet covering my book case
Green bed sheet covering the book case
Stylus tipped pen to control my watch
Apple Watch app controlling the phone camera
Results from the experiment
In Zoom, I got best results from using the green bed sheet and the commercial green screen without any additional lighting apart from the ceiling downlights.
In editing using Adobe Premiere Pro- I got the cleanest background removal results from the professional green screen.
If I was to do the experiment again, I want to see what would happen if I added lights to the sheet/ screen only to even out the colour difference across the surface. I would also iron or smooth out the surface to see if the background removal was more successful.
A frog once said in a TEDx Talk, “If necessity is mother of invention, then creativity is the father”. Given the whole world has been isolated by the COVID 19 pandemic, puppeteers are trying to find ways to reach their audiences remotely. There is a lot of discussion in the puppetry community about how to adapt video conferencing and streaming technology to puppetry.
Over the last 5 years, I have been learning the art of television and film puppetry from 2 amazing gentlemen who I am honoured to call my mentors- Noel MacNeal and Peter Linz. One of the challenges I have faced practising my puppetry skills at home, is recording video of my puppets being puppets. I started out using my webcamera, but it could not record what the puppet was doing. If I use my phone or iPad as the camera, either the image on the screen looks like a mirror, or I can’t see the image on screen. In both of those situations, I don’t know if the puppet looks right for the audience.
I have assembled my own monitor puppetry kit over the last 5 years with a Sony Handycam, a small flat screen tv which has evolved into a professional 7 inch field monitor as my puppetry monitor, tripod and cables. Even though this setup is in an old suitcase with wheels. it’s very difficult to move around, and I have to download and edit the footage afterwards. This means that the puppet cannot interact live with an audience, or another puppet that is not in the same room. I haven’t been able to acquire the equipment required to live stream from the Handycam to any of the streaming platforms like Facebook live or Zoom yet.
However, on April 14, 2020, my puppetry mentor Peter Linz, shared this photo and a New York Times article on how Elmo’s Playdate was filmed on his Instagram account. I looked at the equipment he was using. It was his mobile phone, linked to his field monitor. The phone was recording the performance, yet he could see what his character Ernie was doing on the monitor. By looking at the cables coming out of the phone in the photo, I immediately worked out I could adapt the equipment I have at home! It was such a creative, innovative solution to the problem!
So this is how I have been able to reverse engineer the setup. Please note that this setup is for iPhone (I have a standard iPhone 11).