In 2018, I will be teaching stand alone STEM classes instead of puppetry. First thing I want to say is I don’t like the acronym STEM which stands for Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics. I prefer STEAM with the A standing for the Arts. Creativity is a very important component when solving real world problems, and in STEAM, creativity is included under A for Arts. For the purposes of this blog, I will refer to the new course as STEAM. So, if you prefer to leave the A out, that’s fine, but I will be all inclusive and call it STEAM.
I have never taught STEAM as a subject before. I have taught many students and colleagues a great deal about using technology to solve problems in teaching and learning but not within the framework of STEAM. I have also used a great many principals of STEAM within my puppet building, through project based learning, iterations and 3D printing. I will be teaching stage 4, which so far, has no program or resources that I am aware of, that can guide my preparation over summer. My school does have access to the amazing iSTEM Syllabus and online resources but the course I am teaching cannot overlap that sensational course.
So what am I doing to prepare myself for an unknown course?
I am creating a STEAM pinterest board of activities and classroom organisation which might help me in the year ahead.
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.
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.
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.
Totoro is happy to see the school!
Totoro waving to the students.
Totoro next to Jabba the Hutt in the Costume Parade.
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.
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.
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
Getting into Totoro
Totoro all together!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.