James Wojtal is a talented puppet designer and builder. During his career he has worked on projects like Avenue Q, Bear in the Big Blue House, Crank Yankers, Saturday Night Live, Sesame Street (the American and various internationl versions), Mop-a-Top's Shop, Kermit's Swamp Years, Animal Jam, and more. In this interview I asked him to share his thoughts about puppet building.
SJ: Can you walk me through the basics of your building process?
JW: Sure. I start with a drawing, or the design supplied by the client (which nine times out of ten needs a lot of work).
Then, I work out some mock up heads and bodies, doing my best to capture the essence of the design, and find the right balance between form and function.
From their I start looking for the right materials. I love using things with unusual textures, although I rarely get the opportunity (I haven't really had the time to work on any of my own stuff for quite awhile). I may need to dye some fabric, so I might go through quite a few dye samples before I get the right shade and formula.
Once the mockups and materials are approved, I start the final build. Using better foam, I'll work out the internal structure, boning and the like to add support and help keep the shape. Next I add grips to the mouth plate, then I make a muslin pattern, or I will use scraps of the final fabric if it has unusual qualities. Then its a lot of cutting with scissors or razor blades, moving on to the hand and machine stitching. Next I cover the body, and head, attach whatever eyes I have chosen for the puppet, and add finishing details like hair, or feathers etc.