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.
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:
My favourite thing to do in the world of puppetry is build puppets. I have been building puppets for 15 years, mostly out of foam in what is known commonly as Muppet style. When Lucy Green and I attended Beyond the Sock Puppetry for Television and Film Workshop in June this year, one of the special features of this year’s workshop was that attendees were given two puppet patterns to build. Pattern A was a round head pattern, and pattern B is a tall, pill shaped head. Both patterns were designed exclusively for Beyond the Sock by Pasha Romanowski, who runs the amazing Project Puppet and teaches the building side of the workshop.
Each year, the overall theme of the workshop is different. My first year was 2015, which was Monkey puppets on a tropical island. My second year, 2016 was Chicken puppets on a space ship. This year, 2017, the theme was pirates! My puppet travelling companion Lucy blogged about our pirate experience.
During the workshop, I built pattern B as it was a new head form for me to explore. Once I got home to Australia, I wanted to build puppet pattern A before I forgot all the special instructions for that pattern. The tricky part was trying to decide what character I wanted to make, but unpacking all my puppets and putting them back where they belong in my house and on the tree at school, I was struck by an “apostrophe” to quote one of my favourite movies. I would make Peter Pan to be a great and worthy opponent to my best ever puppet, Captain James Hook!
I wanted my Peter Pan to have the same level of detail and workmanship that my Captain Hook has. I built Hook in early 2014 and I built everything from scratch except for his wig. Sufficed to say, I am very proud of my Captain Hook. I consider him to be my best ever puppet, and I took him with me to America this year so I could show him to my puppet building teacher. For the record, I had no idea that the theme for Beyond the Sock was pirates, it was just an incredible co-incidence! My Captain Hook is even featured on the Project Puppet Gallery
So design and construction began, I used screen shots of the 1991 movie Hook to design Pan’s costume based on the costume worn by Robin Williams. I wanted to include lots of leaf detail but avoid any reference to the stereotypical costume of Robin Hood which is also a green tunic and tights. I also wanted to make the ears more elf/ fairy like, and use the same technique for making the realistic eyes that I had used in 2014 when making Hook.
I used Premium Linen suiting for the main fabric of the shirt with cotton velveteen for the dark brown yoke under the collar, and dark green sheeting for the shorts. I was aiming for a colour pallette that reminded me of eucalyptus leaves. The pattern of the shirt was based on the shirt and pants pattern that came with the puppet pattern. The biggest headache in constructing the shirt was that the edges of the leaf detail keep fraying. I tried to use iron on interfacing to resolve the issue, but in some places, the interfacing hasn’t bonded with the fabric, and I don’t like how the white interfacing is showing up on the underside of the fabric when the puppet moves. If I could remake the shirt, I would try using visy-fix and glue the same fabric on the underside.
I did learn a new technique while making the shirt. I needed eyelets, but I didn’t want metal. I remembered that in the 16th-17th century, corset eyelets were hand stitched. A little bit of research later, I found that the best approach for puppet scale was to baste the fabric around the inner and outer margins of the eyelet, pierce the shirt with an awl, and use a satin stitch in green embroidery wool.
Peter Pan’s belt is made from a old narrow belt I found at a charity shop. I changed the buckle from gold plated to an old galvanised buckle, shortened the length to fit the puppet, punched new holes and wrapped it at the front so that it looked like the screen shots I had collected of the original costume.
I have recently been experimenting with 3D printed puppet parts as an alternative to carved and polystyrene foam understructures. I used ABS plastic to 3D print an oval nose form and covered it in the same Antron fabric as the rest of the puppet using hot glue. The form was then stitched to the face of the puppet.
The eyes were a big challenge. I used realistic taxidermy eyes from Van Dykes Taxidermy in the USA. I inserted them into ping pong balls from behind, but the challenge is that there is very little surface area to glue the eye to the ball because of the difference in curved profiles. It is also a big challenge to not have any glue get onto the iris of the eye! The eyebrows were made from the same Mocha cotton Velveteen as I used on the yoke of the shirt. The hair is shaggy brown fur that I laid down in particular directions to get the fur to stand up.
I am very happy with how Peter Pan has turned out. I think is a great and worthy pair/ opponent to my Hook.
Check out the build progress photos in the gallery below!
Watching Hook while preparing pattern A
Designing the shirt pattern. So many leaf shapes!
Front of Pan's Shirt
Back of Pan's shirt
Hand embroidered eyelets on Pan's Shirt
3D printed nose form for Pan.
Taxidermy eyes being inserted into eye forms
Don't run with scissors!- Attaching the eyes to the head.