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Dire Straights!

Discussion in 'Puppet News' started by Meep, Nov 10, 2003.

  1. Meep

    Meep New Member

    So far things are developing slowly. Between my Design History midterm last week and an 8 page essay for sociology, I barely had time to try to gather information for the essay portion of the assignment.
    However, this week assignments are sparse and I'm digging through Jim Henson: The Works as we speak. T
    he Beaker puppet is at a conceptual level only right now. But I have a fairly solid idea of what needs to be done (I hope!)
    My mum works at a lab so she's going to get me some petri dishes, tubes, beakers, glass stir sticks, ect. So that I can set up a good 'stage' around my Beaker : )
    As for what college I'm at, I live in Edmonton, dunno if you're familiar with my city at all, but the most artsy-oriented college here is Grant MacEwan. I'm taking a program there for 3 years. This is only my first year, but I'm happy with it so far : )

    Yeah that was a lot of talking... lol

    -Meep! :eek:
  2. Buck-Beaver

    Buck-Beaver Well-Known Member

    If you're in Edmonton and interested in puppetry you should consider looking up Wendy Passmore of W.P. Puppet Theatre down in Calgary. She's a great lady and very connected and knowledgable I am told. WP has a web site at www.wppuppet.com.

    Another great company in your area is the Old Trout Puppet Workshop.
  3. Treelo

    Treelo Member

    Hi ToastCrumbs,

    Do you by any chance remember what material the workshop uses to create the black eye pupils? I'm also curious about the material used to create the "tonsils" of the puppets.

    I've seen Muppets that date back to the early 80's, and it looks like they've been using the same material for the eyes and tonsils for many years. It has a velvet-like texture on the surface, and appears to have some type of self-adhesive backing.

    Thanks so much for the info! ;)
  4. Ryan

    Ryan New Member

    Hi Treelo (BTW, are you working on the Macy's SS float again this year?) This is just guessing, but I am going by what Terry Angus used on my Candy puppet (Terry, sorry if this is a secret, but I didn;t think you'd mind). Her Eyes are the scratch pad circle stickers that you put under chairs in wooden floored rooms so it won't scratch up the wood surface. The tonsils are black leather. Hope this helps, as Candy was made with some materials Muppets uses. (again, sorry, Terry!) :o
  5. Treelo

    Treelo Member

    Hi Ryan -

    From what I've seen, the material used for the pupils and tonsils is entirely different from felt circles and ultrasuede, which is what many builders use.

    Whatever it is the workshop uses, it comes in sheets big enough to create the tonsil shapes. It looks like they use a hole punch on the same material for the pupils, and then cut a small dart so the pupil will lay flat against the eye.

    Any additional info would be fab.... :D
  6. froggiegirl18

    froggiegirl18 New Member

    hey hope your project goes well..let us know how it comes out! :)

    FISH'N'WOLFE New Member

    It was mentioned a while ago in the forum that the pupils for the Muppets are punched out of that sticky-backed sheet lining for kitchen cabinets and drawers :)
  8. Ryan

    Ryan New Member

    I have a related question..I know Jim bought the entire Wacky Stacks inventory (for eyes) in the 70's for pupils, but are they still avaible in stores? I've had no luck finding them. I also haven't figured out the real purpose for them.
  9. Buck-Beaver

    Buck-Beaver Well-Known Member

    Jim actually bought the entire inventory in the 70s because the company was going out of business. Wacky Stacks were a stacking toy that were only available for a few years in the late 60s/early 70s. They haven't been sold in stores for about 30 years. Sorry!

    Always a chance you might come across a set on ebay.
  10. Torarin

    Torarin New Member

    As far as i've seen they're mostly made from felt and plastic. Some plastic ones are actually molded and were made on a lathe so that they become slightly curved. Flat plastic ones and felt ones are just puched out with hole punches and glued on. Some might be made of cabinet sheet, but i doubt many of them are. As for tonsils? Not sure what you mean, if you mean the black fabric that's behind their tounge, you can't really say it's all one fabric. Kermit looks like it's some thin felt, and most other muppets have something looking the inside of a sweater (Sorry, kind of hard to explain).
  11. ToastCrumbs

    ToastCrumbs New Member


    For the most part you guys aren't that far off, if you take TREELO and FISH'N'WOLFE'S info you pretty much have what you're lookin' for. I will try and clear things up a bit. Let me start off with a little tip for all puppet builders, when it comes to building any great puppet you really don't want to use fabrics or felts that are going to bulk up the insides of the mouth. This will keep your puppets mouth from closing properly. It may not seem like this is important, but trust me it is.

    From what TREELO has written I can tell that they have gotten a good close up look at some of the workshops puppets. The observation that is made is correct, Muppet pupils and tonsils are not made from felt or ultra-suede. In the begining from what I can tell Jim did use felt for pupils in the old days and even a black sharpie marker to draw them in at times. Things change with time and the workshop has found something that works and lasts a little longer.

    I do try to help you guys along from time to time with hints about how things are done. Sometimes I read statements that people claim are a fact and unfortunetly they are not true and it tends to lead people in the wrong direction. I think BUCK-BEAVER will stand by me and all my information. Sorry I can't give you the exact materials used or the sources for them, but you guys seem to do alright. I will say that FISH'N'WOLFE is on the right path with his information about sticky-backed sheet lining for cabinets. I believe that TREELO mentioned ultra-suede, the workshop does use it, but for the most part it's only used for tounges, many of you know this already. Look at any Muppet photo and you will see that tounges are either carved from foam and dyed like Oscar or cut from ultra-suede like Kermit.

    Oh, for the record BUCK'S information on WackyStacks is all correct, and the workshops supply is still in use. Well I think that's about all for today as always HAPPY PUPPET BUILDING TO ALL!!!
  12. Treelo

    Treelo Member

    I've worked directly with several of them. I've even done construction work on some of the Muppet characters. ;)

    Do you know if the tonsil/pupil material is commercially available out there? In the past, I've used black ultrasuede for the tonsils - split down the center to help ease the mouth action. But I like the Henson material much, much better.

    Thanks again for your comments....
  13. Buck-Beaver

    Buck-Beaver Well-Known Member

    The bulkiness of felt is actually a VERY important point. I actually do use felt, but construct mouths in such a way that the mouth plate is actually lower than the "lips" or edge or the puppet's mouth (kinda hard to explain here) so it's not really an issue for me. Not sure if anyone else does that though.

    I'd question whether any plastic is molded or lathed by the Muppet shop. They are actually two very distinct (different) processes. I don't know much about the Muppet shop's exact methods, but most shaping of plastic in professional prop and puppet construction is done with vaccumforming, which is generally much more precise and much less complicated than molding or using a lathe. That said, I'd be interested to hear the experiences and methods of anyone who has done this themselves.

    I think it is also important to remember any time we're discussing the Muppet shop's methods that they haved changed and evolved over time (as Toastcrumbs pointed out). If you hear conflicting information here, it's possible that all the answers are right, but a some of them are just out of date. I see alot of dated info here that seems to be out of books or materials from the 70s & 80s.

    Here's a partial list of materials the shop has made eyes out of over the years (this comes from various builders I've met over the years who actually worked there):

    - Ping pong balls
    - Plastic spheres
    - Fishing floats
    - Wacky stacks
    - Vaccumformed plastic sheets

    I think the method and materials are secondary to look or effect. Most puppet builders I've met are less concerned with techniques and materials and more concerned with the design, style and functionality of their puppets.

    Personally, I think whatever works, works. Any method that does what you need it to is good. If you're looking for the exact up-to-date Muppet methods I'd go with Toastcrumb's answers since he worked there hands-on until very recently.

    Again, it's all good. Whatever works, works. :)
  14. Torarin

    Torarin New Member

    well i can't say exactly how they were made, they were curved infront and then they had a molding seam where they start to curve inwards again on the back side. Definately not vacuum formed, i'm pretty sure they were molded, but i can't say if the workshop had made them or if they were bought in. I have some info on 3d tounges though. One type is just vacuum formed plastic with some stretchy material over it. Similar ones are made with styrofoam too. And then if they are big enough it's just scott foam dyed red, and sprayed black in the back.
  15. Beebers

    Beebers New Member

    Dire straights project

    Dear Meep -
    Keep in mind that Kermit is quite small in proportion to, for example, Miss Piggy or Sam Eagle. Before you build, study any footage of Kermit that you can VERY closely, with your build in mind. Ignore Kermit's performance and concentrate on his construction.
    Remember that the original Kermit's skin was a cast-off, somewhat fleecy spring coat belonging to Jim Henson's Mom. He did not have the flexibility of facial expression he does now.
    To build him the least expensive way possible -
    1. Go to a crafts/fabrics/sewing store. Get one 1 1/4" inch diameter white styrofoam ball (cost; 3 cents in U.S.), to be sliced in half for the eyes. One small sheet black felt (10 cents) for pupils and mouth interior. Same in red for his tongue. 1 1/2 yards green fleece fabric. One spool matching thread. Hot glue sticks. Foam - either purchase a 12 inch by 12 inch hunk of any kind, upholstery, craft, (it's expensive, unfortunately) or rip up a handy couch cushion. If you have to use thinner slices of foam, hot-glue these together to make a chunk. It works very well.
    2. You will need a sewing machine and a hot glue gun.
    3. Use the real Kermit as your guide. Stop your VCR and leave Kermit up there on T.V. for awhile while you build. Sculpt his head from the foam using any tool you have, scissors, serrated steak knives, rasps, files, or Dremel tools if you have access to those. His head should only be about 7 x 9 inches finished.
    Bisect your sheet of fleece lengthwise. Cut one piece from one half large enough to accommodate the foam head. Leave a little excess at bottom to go nicely under the shoulders. Fit fleece around it, pin, remove and sew. You'll want a fairly tight fit but looser around the mouth for expression. Turn inside out, put seam to back, pull down over foam head, adjust as needed. You can stick the tip of the hot glue gun in anywhere you want to adapt the fabric and appearance. Hot-glue eyes, mouth fabrics, after the whole puppet is done.
    Tear up another home furnishing for batting (stuffing) for tummy and arms. Follow same sewing/fitting methods. Sew back and forth side-to-side on legs and arms to create joints if you want them. Body parts should be joined by sewing for a quality finish. If you have trouble with this you can hot-glue but results are not as smooth.
    Kermit is a rod puppet - use straightened-out wire coat hangers. Make a puncture in center of each palm (Kermit's, not yours) or bottom of wrists, fill punctures with hot glue and stick ends of rods in. Hold a second or two. Voila.
    Good luck and have fun with it. It's worth the work. Best, from Beeb80 at FISH'N'WOLFE Productions in CT USA. (We build puppets professionally. I've given you the Budget Puppet Method).
  16. Meep

    Meep New Member

    : (

    um... dunno how to say this after that beautifully detailed guide.... but I'm doing a report on Kermit, but I'm doing a puppet of Beaker : ( It's mentioned later on in the posts but maybe it's not very clear in my original post. I feel so bad!!! :p
  17. Whatever

    Whatever Active Member

    Never mind Meep, I think I'll have a stab at Kermit over Christmas break now that I have a "how-to" guide! Thanks, Beebers!
  18. Beebers

    Beebers New Member

    General idiocy (my own)

    Oh, nuts. That was probably my own reading-too-fast-fault. Sorry. Well, if you ever have to build a Kermit now you can. That guide I wrote is for a "poor-man's-Kermit" but he'll come out quite well and I hope someone can use and enjoy it now that I've done all that typing. Good luck with your project - I'm sure you'll do splendiferously. :cool: :cool: :cool:
  19. Meep

    Meep New Member


    I'm glad the kermit info won't go to waste.

    Thank you for the thought!! :flirt:
  20. Rugby

    Rugby Member

    I just have to ask. What exactly are Wacky Stacks?

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