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.


B.A.R.K. Production Journal: Tracing and Cutting the Foam

Now I've traced the patterns onto a sheet of half inch foam. Just like I would for fabric, I'm placing my patterns close together and near the edge of the sheet. By doing this I'm not wasting a lot of foam.


Use an exacto knife with a sharp blade to cut your foam. This will give you a cleaner and more even cut than you would get by using scissors. Remember to use caution: Cut on a sturdy surface, and cut away from yourself.


Now I have all the foam shapes I'll need to make the cats head.


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


I've just spent some time creating the patterns that I’ll use for the cat puppet's head - luckily I managed to get it right the first time. Making the patterns usually involves some trial and error. Creating a sphere is relatively simple, but unusual shapes are more challenging. Imagining how to create three dimensional shapes from a flat sheet of foam takes lots of practice. I'll use a rectangle to create the tube part of the head and two triangles glued together to create the cheeks. The small points at the end of the cheeks will make them round. Remember to keep all of the patterns you make. You can use them to make a duplicate, or similar puppet in the future.

B.A.R.K. Production Journal: Basic Shapes


The first thing I do when making a puppet is to break down the design to basic shapes. This helps me to wrap my mind around what I'm about to build. At first glance the cat's head looks diamond shaped, but I've broken it down further to two shapes: a tube and two rounded triangles.

B.A.R.K. Production Journal: Starting Out


Today I'm beginning work on a new puppet for the Swazzle puppet show, B.A.R.K. The Robot Dog which will make it's debut summer 2006. I'll make frequent posts during the building process, so you can see how I make a puppet. A selection of photos will be posted in the Behind the Scenes section of with brief explanations, but this is the only place to get an in depth look with complete "how to" instructions, so check back often. If you have any questions, feel free to ask and I'll do my best to answer them.

The first step (which I've just finished), is to clean the workshop. This is so important. A messy workshop makes it difficult to be creative and productive.

The puppet I'm making is a cat, and I'll use the above illustration that Patrick Johnson drew as a guide. Now off to work!

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Molding & Casting Handbook


Mold making and casting for puppetry is a complex topic, and I plan to write about it in the future. In the mean time, check out The Prop Builder's Molding and Casting Handbook, by Thurston James. It explains many molding and casting materials including alginate, latex rubber, plaster (and much more), and it covers techniques like self-releasing molds, two part molds, and injected silicone rubber molds. The book runs 236 pages, has easy to follow directions and black and white photos.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Puppet Eyes: Plastic Jewels


If you are looking for a way to make your puppet's eyes sparkle, try using plastic jewels. They are available at most craft stores and come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. Use a large round or oval jewel for the eye, or add a glint of light by gluing a small silver jewels to the corner of the eyeball. The jewels can also be glued to plastic spoons, ping pong balls, or practice golf balls to create a unique and colorful pupil. For our puppet show B.A.R.K. the robot dog, we used plastic jewels for B.A.R.K.'s eyes to give him a more mechanical look.


Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Puppet Eyes: Beads


If you want your puppet to have a beady eyed look, use beads. Beads come in all sizes and colors, and can be sewn or glued to your puppets head. For the Hedgehog in Jackal and Hedgehog I attached the beads with wire - this gave Hedgehog slightly sunken eye sockets.


First I threaded bailing wire through one bead, then through the puppets head, and finally through the other bead. Next, I bent the wire at one end to anchor it. Then, I pulled the wire, which pulled the bead, and pulled in the sides of the puppets head. Once the head had the shape I wanted I bent the wire at the other end to keep it secure.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Puppet Eyes: Practice Golf Balls


Puppeteer and puppet builder Nick Barone is brilliant at using materials in unusual ways. He developed the technique of making puppet eyes from practice golf balls. The balls are yellow and made from a dense foam, and they are available at Target and most sports stores. Using these for puppet eyes is easy. Simply cut them in half (or use them whole), and paint or draw on your eye balls. Here is a gallery of Nick's puppets - the big yellow eyes are made from practice golf balls. The Tyrannosaurus's Rex from Swazzle's puppet show, Harry and the Tyrannosaurs Rex also has eyes made from practice golf balls.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Puppet Eyes: Ping Pong Balls


Using ping pong balls for puppet eyes was popularized by the Muppets - even though they don't use them any more. Most of us have heard the story of the first Kermit the Frog being made from Jim Henson's mother's spring coat, and two halves of a ping pong ball. They really are ready made puppet eyes - round, white and light weight. Additionally, they are easy to come by - most sports stores sell them in packages of six or more. Use an indelible marker or paint to make eye balls, an exacto knife to cut them (or use them whole), and contact cement to glue them in place (don't use hot glue, they will melt). Ping pong balls were used to make eyes for a variety of puppets in the Swazzle puppet show, Prairie Dog Pete and the Magic Buffalo, including Jack Rabbit, Prairie Dog Pete, and the Buffalo.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Puppet Eyes: Plastic Spoons


For simple but effective puppet eyes, Mike Wick a very talented puppet builder, introduced me to plastic spoons. Visit your local party store to find spoons of different sizes, shapes, and colors. Simply cut off the handle and draw or glue eye balls to the convex side of the spoon. If you are using clear spoons, paint the eye ball on the concave side of the spoon and turn it over to reveal a puppet eye with a clear shinny finish. The spoons can be attached up right for long oval eyes, or side ways for almond shaped eyes - you can even do one of each, and give your puppet a crazy look. The possibilities are endless.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Puppetry A World History


Puppetry A World History
by Eileen Blumenthal is a fantastic book. It was given to me by Elizabeth Luce a good friend and talented puppet designer. The book is a handsome hard cover coffee table book that runs 271 pages. It is full of beautiful photographs, and covers all aspects of puppetry.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Arm Rods: Part Four

At last it's time to attach the arm rod to the puppets hand.

1) Wrap bailing wire around the main rod about a quarter of an inch below the 90 degree bend.

2) Run the wire along the bent part of the rod to the end.

3) At the end of the rod, make a small loop with the bailing wire.

4) Wrap the wire around it's self and the rod about a quarter of an inch down to secure the loop, and snip off the extra wire. Now you should have a small secured loop at the end of your rod.


5) Cut a small hole at the puppets wrist.

6) Insert the rod into the puppets palm - the loop should face the fingers, and the main rod should hang out at the wrist.

7) Using a needle and sturdy thread sew through the palm material and around the loop until it's secure.

8) Sew trough the material and around the bend until it's secure.

9) Sew up the small hole in the wrist.


There, all finished! That is how I make arm rods. Please feel free to follow these steps, or invent a few of your own.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Arm Rods: Part Three

Now that the arm rod handle is constructed it's time to make sure it has a comfortable grip. I used to wrap the handle in black gaffers tape until puppeteer Nick Barone introduced me to Tool Dip. Tool Dip is a liquid rubber made to to cover the handles of tools. It is very easy to use, and it gives your rod a nice comfortable grip, and a professional finish.


The name brand that I use is called Plasti Dip and it's made by Performix. It comes in various colors, I use black.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Arm Rods: Part Two

Until recently I was using round dowels for the handles, until puppeteer Tom Fountain turned me on to square rods. Square rods give you a good grip, and a wide rage of manipulation possibilities.

To make a handle you will need a square dowel, a drill, a hammer, and bailing wire (or steel garden wire).

1) Cut two pieces of rod so that they fit comfortably in your hand (a couple of inches or so).

2) Drill two small holes, one just below the other, about an inch down from the top of the handle.


3) Insert the small 90 degree angled piano wire into the top hole, and hold it so lies flush with the dowel. Carefully pound it into place with a hammer.


4) Insert the bailing wire into the bottom hole and twist it around it's self to anchor it.


5) Holding the piano wire flush with the dowel, wrap them both with the bailing wire. Work your way up the rod keeping the coils tight and close together. Once you clear the handle, wrap the wire around the piano wire, about a half an inch.


Now you have a handle - your rods are almost done!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Arm Rods: Part One

Making good puppet arm rods is more complicated than it seems. In fact, I feel I've just recently got a handle on it (no pun intended). To make arm rods, I use many different techniques, that I've picked up from various puppeteers over the years.

First, it is very important to choose the right material. The most popular thing for beginners to use is coat hanger wire. The advantage is, it's flexible and easy to cut - the disadvantage is, it's flexible and easy to cut. Tim Miller, a brilliant sculptor (check out this figure he did for Sideshow Collectables), and puppet builder introduced me to piano wire. It's narrow rods of hardened steel, and can be found at most hobby shops. In the Los Angeles area, I get it at Kit Kraft.


Use a dremel to cut it the rod to the right size, please wear safety goggles. Next, using a clamp and pliers carefully make a 90 degree bend about one and a half inches down at one end. Then, make a 90 degree bend about a quarter of an inch down at the other end. One end will attach the hand, and one will attach to the handle - I'll tell you how in a later post.

I have found the best thickness to use is 3/32 wire.

Monday, November 07, 2005

The Muppets Make Puppets


For the young or young at heart looking for some fun puppet making ideas, I recommend The Muppets Make Puppets by Cheryl Henson, and the Muppet Workshop. This book teaches how to make a wide variety of puppets including sock puppets, paper bag puppets, puppets from every day objects, and so much more.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Cutting Fake Fur


Using scissors to cut fake fur is not a good idea - it will cut the fur leaving it looking ragged and uneven. You will also loose the tips of the fur, and be left with a blunt cut edge. Instead, use a sharp razor blade and carefully cut the fur from the back. This will give you the shape you need while keeping the fur intact.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Safety First


When ever you are using toxic glues like Barge Cement, it is important to take the proper safety precautions. Always work in a well ventilated area, wear latex gloves, and use a respirator. When you are done working for the day, seal your respirator in a plastic bag, to keep the filters fresh, and change the filters as instructed.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Puppetry Home Page


The Puppetry Home Page has been in operation for nearly 10 years. It is a free resource for puppeteers and puppet enthusiast, and a labor of love for web masters Rose Sage and Nick Barone. As of this posting, the site hasn't been updated since 2003, and it still has the look and feel of a 1990's web site, but it is still the most comprehensive puppet site on the web. If you are looking for performance companies, puppet builders and sellers, puppet exhibits, puppet festivals, puppet organizations, or puppetry definitions, The Puppetry Home Page is the place to go.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Peepers and Eye Ball Puppets


If you are looking for great way to practice your lip-sync or eye focus, Peepers are the way to go. These were invented by Hobey Ford, a very talented puppeteer and puppet builder in North Carolina. Please don't be fooled by imitators, get the real Peepers not the cheap knockoffs. You can also make your own by using the Muppet technique, ping pong balls and elastic, or the Roger Mara Eye Ball Puppet technique, Styrofoam balls, elastic, and a simple costume. Click here to see how effective these simple puppets can be.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Puppetry Handbook


The Puppetry Handbook by Anita Sinclair is the best how-to puppet book I've found. It is clearly written and has whimsical illustrations. The book covers both building and performing in all types of puppetry, including hand puppets, marionettes, shadow puppets, walk arounds, and rod puppets.

The book is available through the Puppetry Store, a service of the Puppeteers of America, or if you live in Australia you can order it directly from Anita Sinclair.