Friday, December 30, 2005

Friday Fun: Alien Puppets


These are some cute alien hand puppets Patrick Johnson made a while back. They were sculpted in clay, cast in a two part mold, and made out of latex and flexible expanding foam. To see more of Patrick work check out his blog, Puppet Design.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

B.A.R.K. Production Journal: Puppet Head Fabrication, Step 1


This is the material I will be using to fabricate the puppets head. It has already been dyed orange. Click here to read more about dying fabric.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

B.A.R.K. Production Journal: Fabrication, The Top Jaw

Fabricating the puppets top jaw is very similar to fabricating the bottom jaw. Click the links for more detailed descriptions of each step.

1) Pin the fabric in place.


2) Because of the shape of he top jaw, gather the extra fabric on the sides rather then the center, and cut.


3) Sew up the cut using the stitch I talked about before.


4) Glue the material down.


5) Trim away the extra material.


6) The top jaw is done. Next we'll starting fabricating the puppets face.


Tuesday, December 27, 2005

B.A.R.K. Production Journal: Fabrication


Now the fabrication of puppet’s bottom jaw is finished. Next, I will be using the same techniques to fabricate the top jaw.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Friday Fun: Oaxacan Wood Carvings



I took these pictures in Mexico - they are wood carvings that were made by the people of Oaxaca, Mexico. They are so colorful, unique and have such personality. I think this style could be used to create some pretty awesome puppets.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

B.A.R.K. Production Journal: Fabrication, Step 5


With a thin layer of Barge Cement glue the material to the foam. Be careful not to get the glue near the outside edges of the material because we will need to stitch that to the rest of the puppet head material, and glue would gunk it up and make it difficult to sew.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

B.A.R.K. Production Journal: Fabrication, Step 4 - The Stitch

This is the best stitch I've learned for puppet making. When done right it is virtually invisible, allowing you to have seams in seemingly unsightly places. This comes in handy especially if you are creating a puppet with an unusual shape. Here is how it's done.

1) Anchor the thread at the start of the cut with a secure knot.


2) Starting to the left of the cut, thread your needle in and out about a quarter of an inch from the cut. This stitch should run parallel to the cut.


3) Bring the needle to the right side of the cut and parallel to the in point of your first stitch. Thread it in and out about a quarter of an inch from the cut, creating a parallel stitch. You should now have two stitches that are side by side.

4) Bring your needle to the out point of your first stitch on the left of the cut and thread it in and out just as before.

4) Bring the needle to the right side of the cut and parallel to the in point of your second stitch. Thread it in and out, creating another parallel stitch

5) Continue in this fashion until the whole cut is sewn up.


Essentially this stitch is pulling together the two sides of the fabric while burying the cut ends.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

B.A.R.K. Production Journal: Fabrication, Step 3


Once you have gathered the excess fabric to the center of the puppet's bottom jaw and it is pinned into place, you are ready for the next step. Using sharp scissors, carefully cut away the excess material.



Monday, December 19, 2005

B.A.R.K. Production Journal: Fabrication, Step 2


Stitching the fabric in place has always been a challenge for me until a very talented puppeteer Michael Earl showed me this technique - it is a little known fact even among muppet fans (and sites like toughpigs and muppetcentral) that Michael originated the character of Forgetful Jones on Sesame Street, and he performed Mr. Snuffleupagus for a couple of years before Marty Robinson. Ok, here we go.

1) Gently stretch the fabric over the foam.

2) Starting from the out side, pin the fabric in place.

3) Move towards the center, pinning as you go. Gather the extra fabric at the center of the bottom jaw.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Friday Fun: You've Got to Start Somewhere


I thought it might be fun to show all of you my very first puppet. This is a sock puppet I made when I was in Jr. High School - Enjoy!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

B.A.R.K. Production Journal: Fabrication, Step 1

Now that my fabric is dyed I can begin puppet fabrication. I'll be working on the bottom jaw first. To begin, cut the fabric to the right size - remember to always give yourself a little extra to work with. Now simply glue the fabric down, right along the inside lip. Make sure apply just enough Barge cement to the fabric to get a good bond. If you use too much you can stain your fabric.



Wednesday, December 14, 2005

B.A.R.K. Production Journal: Dying Fabric


I will be dying terry cloth for my cat puppet, this is an involved but relatively simple process. The best thing about dying your own fabric, is there is an infinite number of color possibilities, and you are not limited by what is commercially available. Before we get started you must cut some fabric to dye - It is important to over estimate when deciding how much fabric to use, because matching colors exactly is very difficult. Before you dye your fabric, follow these steps with a swatch to insure the right color and intensity. For this puppet building project I'm using Liquid Rit Dye. I have used the powdered Rit dye in the past but I prefer the liquid. You should also wear rubber gloves during this process so you don't dye your hands.

1) Run a dye bath using hot water. The hotter the water the quicker the fabric dyes, and the more intense the color. Please do not use your sink or bath tub - the dye will color the porcelain. Use a large Rubbermaid tub, plastic bucket, or utility sink (the deep sinks that people usually have in their garage).

2) Following the directions on the bottle pour the proper amount of dye into the bath. If it's not exact don't worry, this is not rocket science. After you do this enough times you get a feel for how much dye is necessary.

3) Thoroughly soak your fabric in warm water and wring out.

4) Place your fabric in the dye bath, and mix it around with your hands to ensure even distribution of the color.

5) After a short period of time remove the fabric, wring it out and check the color. If a more intense color is desired put it back in the bath. Continue this process until you reach the desired color. Please note that in a hot dye bath Antron fleece (or Muppet fleece) can dye in less than 30 seconds.

6) Once the fabric is the right color, soak it in cold water to set the dye.

7) Wring the fabric out and line dry. If you do not wring the fabric our thoroughly before line drying the reaming dye and water will run to bottom ends and give you an uneven dye. As an alternative to line drying you may also put the fabric in the dryer. Make sure the dryer is set to air only or low heat.

For more information check out the fabric dyeing tips from

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

B.A.R.K. Production Journal: Terry Cloth


With head construction complete (except for the ears) it's time to start fabricating. Because Antorn fleece (or Muppet fleece as it's commonly known) is synonymous with the look of Muppets, I usually try to stay away from it. I think it's important that our puppets have their own style. Instead, I will be using terry cloth. This material is easy it come by, it takes dye well, and it has a nice texture. Working with terry cloth can be challenging because it tends to fray easily, but If you are careful it should be fine.

Monday, December 12, 2005

B.A.R.K. Production Journal: The Muzzle, Step 6

The cat puppet is coming along nicely. So far I've built the head, the mouth grip, the bottom, and top jaw. Now it is time to attach the muzzle to the head. This is one of the best parts because once this step is complete I can try the puppet on for the first time.

1) Hold the muzzle up to the puppet's head to find the proper placement. Once the position looks good mark it with pen.


2) Using an exacto blade carefully cut a hole in the puppets head.


3) Put the puppet on and make sure it feels right. In this stage I've noticed that the ring of gasket rubber that I added to the hand hole to give it's shape is rubbing up against my thumb. To fix it I simply cut away that portion of the rubber which thankfully does not effect the shape of the head.


4) Using Barge Cement glue the muzzle to the head.


With most of the actual head construction finished you can have some fun. Take the puppet to a mirror and try it out. Get a feel for how it moves. If it needs any further tweaking or altering do it now before fabrication begins.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

B.A.R.K. Production Journal: The Muzzle, Step 5


I'm back with the next step in the muzzle building process for my cat puppet.

Once again I've used Barge Cement to glue the pieces of the top jaw together. The finished shape was OK but looked more like a duck bill than a cat's muzzle (not pictured, sorry). To remedy this I simply cut some additional pieces of foam and glued them to the existing muzzle. In order to keep an accurate record of what I'm making, I've also traced the "add on" shapes onto paper so I can keep them with the rest of the patterns.

One of the great things about working with foam is you can add on and remove pieces until it looks just right. Once the muzzle is fabricated the added on pieces will be completely hidden, and I will look like one seamless shape.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Inland Emperor's New Clothes


Today I'm putting my B.A.R.K. Production Diary on hold to mention a charming puppet show I saw at California State University San Bernardino, The Inland Emperor's New Cloths. The show was directed an created by Johanna Smith, who teaches puppetry at the university. The puppets were designed by Sam Hale, a brilliant puppet designer. The puppets were all performed by acting students at the university, most of them were first time puppeteers. It is always very inspiring to see young people getting involved in puppetry.

By the way, I'll be away from my computer until December 11. Please check back then for more Puppet 101 postings.

Friday, December 02, 2005

B.A.R.K. Production Journal: The Muzzle, Step 4

In order to give the top jaw of the puppet's muzzle the desired shape, I need to cut away some of the foam. As always, I'm using an exacto knife.


I will also cut the pattern so that it reflects the change. Sometimes it is easier to do in foam what you can't per-visualize on paper. No matter what you cut first, it is important to keep your patter as up to date as possible. If you ever need to go back to it, you will have a pattern that matchs the final puppet. I also make notes on the patters if nessary. For example I'll denote how many pieces should be cut for any given shape. The cat's pieces are marked X2 letting me know that I'll need two pieces to make each cheek.


Here is the revised pattern of the muzzle. Next, I'll most likely need to add some extra pieces to the foam to finalize the shape.


This Production Journal series has been tracking the progress of a cat puppet I'm building for the new Swazzle puppet show B.A.R.K. The Robot Dog. I hope you are finding it interesting and educational. Click here, to see where the puppet started, and here for more B.A.R.K. behind the scenes photos.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

B.A.R.K. Production Journal: The Muzzle, Step 3


With the bottom jaw finished, it's time for me to move onto the top jaw. Just like all of the other foam shapes, I will make a pattern first. Again the pattern is drawn on butcher paper and cut out. Once again I'll use a sharp exacto to cut the foam. Barge Cement is used to glue the muzzle together. Now that the puppet's top jaw is assembled I can tell that I'll have to do some trimming to make the just right.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

B.A.R.K. Production Journal: The Muzzle, Step 2

The foam for the bottom jaw of the puppet's muzzle is ready to attached to the pallet.

1) With a scrap of foam dap Barge Cement to the edge of the pallet where the bottom foam will attach. Once the glue is dry attach the foam to the pallet.

2) To round the lip, dab Barge along the half inch exposed foam edge. After 30 pinch the sides together.


The bottom jaw is finished.Now it's time to move on to the top jaw.


Tuesday, November 29, 2005

B.A.R.K. Production Journal: The Muzzle, Step 1

Now that the grip is finished it's time for me to begin work on the puppet's muzzle. I'll start with the bottom jaw.

1) Draw the pattern on butcher paper. This particular shape is the same as the pallet, but just a little larger.

2) Trace the pattern on to a sheet of half inch foam.

3) Use a sharp exacto knife to cut the foam.

4) With a scrap of foam dab Barge Cement onto the edges that will be glued to the pallet.


Monday, November 28, 2005

B.A.R.K. Production Journal: The Grip, Step 3

The puppet's mouth grip is nearly complete. To finish, simply use Barge Cement to glue the top jaw and bottom jaw grips to the dyed scott foam. Next I'll start work on the muzzle.


Sunday, November 27, 2005

B.A.R.K. Production Journal: The Grip, Step 2

The next thing I want to do for my puppet mouth grip is to glue the fabric to it. This will help the foam to last longer, and it make the grip more comfortable to the touch. I'll be using a spray adhesive from 3M. They come in a variety of formations. The most readily available are Super 77, which is more like rubber cement, and is better suited for spray mounting paper to foam core etc., and Super 90 which is high strength, and is better suited for this project. Just like using Barge Cement, apply a thin layer to the two things that you are gluing, wait 30 seconds and press together. As always please follow all safety instructions.

1) Spray contact cement to the grip side of the gasket rubber, and one side of the fabric.

2) After 30 seconds press them together. The fabric should be hanging over by about an half an inch or so.


3) Flip the piece over and spray glue to other side.

4) After 30 seconds fold the fabric over to secure it.


5) This is what the the top and bottom of your puppet mouth grip should look like so far.


Saturday, November 26, 2005

B.A.R.K. Production Journal: The Grip, Step 1

Now that the puppet head is coming along I'm going to begin to build the mouth. Since the grip must go inside the muzzle, I'll be doing that first. To make the grip, I'm using a fourth type of foam. It is super high density and called L200.

1) With an exacto carefully cut two pieces of gasket rubber. This gives the pallet strength and form. The gasket rubber should be big enough to support your fingers and thumb, but not so large that it covers the whole pallet - keeping it small increases the mouth's flexibility.

2) Next cut two pieces of L200 to about half an inch in thickness and glue them with Barge to the gasket rubber. Make sure foam is thick enough to get a hold of, but not so thick that It's difficult to grip.

3) Cut two pieces of light weight cotton fabric about a half an inch bigger than the gasket rubber.


B.A.R.K. Production Journal: Day Two

Whew, six blog entries in one day - that was a little too ambitious. From now on I’ll continue to document my progress, and write about every step along the way, but I’ll post just one entry a day. Otherwise I’ll end up spending more time writing about the puppet then building it. Hope you all enjoy - back to the workshop with me.

Friday, November 25, 2005

B.A.R.K. Production Journal: The Mouth

With the head progressing nicely It's time to move on to the mouth. I'm using a technique that is new to me to make the mouth. Until know, I've used a technique I learned from Nick Barone to make the inside of the mouth. It offered a sturdy mouth, but it didn't make for a very flexible mouth. Recently though I've had the opportunity to use some old Muppet puppets, and I've learned a great deal from putting my hand inside them. If any of you have been lucky enough to use a Muppet puppet, you know what I'm talking about - they are like butter, the stradivarius of puppets. Instead of making the pallet with hard material like gasket rubber, I'm using scott foam. This will give me a wide rage of movement possibilities.


The nice thing about this foam is it's super flexible, and it takes dye really well. I've just used some Rit dye and a warm dye bath to make the foam red.


B.A.R.K. Production Journal: Putting the Head Together

The foam shapes are cut out and ready to be glued together. I'm using Barge Cement, and I'm taking the proper safety precautions. To glue foam pour out a little Barge onto a piece of cardboard - using a small about at a time will limit your exposure to it's harmful fumes. With a small piece of foam dab a thin layer of glue onto the two foam shapes you are gluing together and let dry for about 30 seconds.


Once the glue is dry press the foam together, being careful to keep the top and bottom flush.


Here are the three individual shapes that will make up the puppets head. Right now the rounded ends of the cheeks look pointer than I would have liked, and I may need to adjust this later. I'll keep them as is for now, and see if adding the fur gives me the shape I was looking for.


There, the cheeks are glued to the head, and the cat puppet is beginning to take shape.


I'm cutting a circle from a sheet of high density, half inch foam to create the top of the puppet's head. The higher density foam will help the head hold it's shape.


To keep the round shape on the bottom I'm using a thin piece of gasket rubber glued in place with contact cement.