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First time puppet builder tips/help please!

Discussion in 'Puppet News' started by Muppetsdownunder, Aug 24, 2003.

  1. Muppetsdownunder

    Muppetsdownunder New Member

    I have been wanting to start building some professional puppets like most of you puppet builders do on here for ages, I thought I had better start now so I can have a while to learn. I have a good puppet book for relative beginners but it doesnt give that much detail on how to do things, just a guide and I think I have gotten the hang of what to do now as I have read it over and it has photos of what to do too.

    I found a really nice bear or lion type puppet made out of foam and I cant wait to start making him, I keep thinking that it might be too hard but the other half of my brain makes me believe I can do it and be optimistic, I know I can!

    The puppet is a simple mouth puppet with fur on the back of the head reaching down to the part where you stick your hand, you know what I mean! The problem is it doesnt say anything about what materials to use except foam rubber and I need to know what exact type is best to use for a beginner and what is best for this purpose and something that should be available in most fabric/sewing shops etc.

    The material use to cover the foam (well that part is optional) you can just cover the back of the head and actually paint the actual foam once its shaped properly. it looks like its just some kind of brown fur fabric like something you would get if you were making a soft toy. Does it matter what type of fur fabric is used? What types of glue should be used also.

    Is foam rubber easy to get in a block like a cube?

    This is the first time I have attempted making a puppet like this so I need all the help I can get.

    Are most muppet style puppets made using foam and covered with fabric? When you make puppets out of poly styrene foam is it done in the same way.

    I am using the puppet in the book I have as a guide, I will change it a bit. The hand and arm of the puppet isnt connected its just a big glove warn by the puppeter, I am thinking I might attach it some way to the puppet or I might even use rods, are rods used on most muppet style puppets that you puppet builders make, I want to start getting more familiar with using rods.

    I hope someone can help, any help is appreciated!

    Thanks in advance!
    from, Paul :)
  2. Buck-Beaver

    Buck-Beaver Well-Known Member

    Yes, most hand and rod Muppet-style puppets are made from foam and then either painted, flocked or covered in fleece and/or fur.

    There is lots of information available already right here in this forum. Try doing a search for "puppet building". You'll likely find answers to most of the questions you have are already here!
  3. Muppetsdownunder

    Muppetsdownunder New Member


    Thankyou very much for some more of your great help. I was just wondering, what does flocked mean?

    from Paul :)
  4. Buck-Beaver

    Buck-Beaver Well-Known Member

    Flocking is a process where a special adhesive is applied to the puppet's head and a fine dust-like coloured powder is applied to the adhesive using a special machine called a flocking wand. The Muppets began using it sometime in the 1970s I believe to make their carved-foam puppets appear "fuzzy" and match the rest of the Muppets.

    There is more information available at this link - www.axtell.com/flock.html.
  5. Muppetsdownunder

    Muppetsdownunder New Member

    Thanks once again Buck! :)
  6. puppet builder

    puppet builder New Member

    Sketch, sketch, and Resketch...

    Hi Paul,

    Building a professional grade puppet takes a lot of thought, effort, is very rewarding and I encourage you to do so!

    However, I can't emphasize the design process enough. If you intend to create a principal character. Think about what you need it do be able to do. Sketch, sketch and when you think you're there... resketch.

    Even if it's only cartoonish. If your sketch makes someone smile, you're close, really close.

    Then take up materials and build.

    Good Luck!
  7. Muppetsdownunder

    Muppetsdownunder New Member

    Thankyou very much for your help. All I need the puppet to do is just be a puppet if you know what I mean, I only want it to be very simple but the size and type like muppet style puppets.
    I have a great book and I am going to build one out of that and start with that and possibly modify them, if it comes out well I will continue building and experimenting building different types of puppets abd hopefully get really good at it.

    Its my dream to become a really good puppet builder and a professional puppeteer! :) :excited:
  8. biblebetty

    biblebetty New Member

    Drawing or sketching

    I understand that it is important to draw or sketch your charter but what it you don't draw? what do you do then? I could use the help!!
  9. Puppetplanet

    Puppetplanet Member

    A lot of builders will suggest drawing so that you can get an image of the features you want in the character your going to build. It will give you an idea of what your finished product will look like. Even if you don't draw well, you can still draw a circle or oval in the shape of what you want your puppet to be and then begin to add different features such as hiar (curly, wild, straight, etc.) and lips, big nose or little nose, will it have eyes or glasses..... etc. This helps to decide what you think will look best.

    I think the drawing method helps builders have a starting point and reference for building their character.

    Personally, I just go straight to the puppet building process. However, I take my time and imagine the character and what I'm shooting for. I'll already have some idea while I'm building the head and body etc. Once I get down to putting on features I will pin on the nose, ears, eyes, hair, etc... to see what I think looks best. It helps me to see the actual effect in real life than on paper and also.... because I always enjoyed playing with dolls when I was little. *laughing*

    I'm sure Buck, Foz, and some others will probably be posting here soon too. =)
  10. puppet builder

    puppet builder New Member

    Developing a Character!

    Hi Betty,

    Drawing, regardless of basic ability or advanced isn't the end all. It's just a incredibly helpful tool that gets you to the final product. In this case, getting the puppet built.

    Frank Oz said it best... the the documentary Biography: Sesame Street (2001, I think). [paraphrazed but basically] "Performing Bert with Jim was like playing jazz riffs. Everybody remembers the voices (Bert, Grover, Piggy, Fozzie, Yoda...), but what people don't realize - and this is the hard part - (we/I) create the character first and the voice naturally will follow."

    So, if you don't feel comfortable by starting with sketching. Think about (The Message...) you want your puppet to get accross to others? What is the character like? Personality, size, species, shape, color, texture and a whole host of other things should derive from asking that initial question over and over.

    I actually derived a list that I can go through every time I get stuck while in the design process of a new puppet. When I think about those sorts of things, ideas just form in my mind and sketches eventually appear. The tough part is we're human and sometimes these ideas don't form as quickly as we'd like. However, they do eventually show up!!!!

    Don't be afraid to make mistakes! Making puppets is just a fun thing, so the important thing becomes trying, and trying again.

    It's a never-ending process. More than likely, you'll find yourself developing a real appreciation for art, all different kinds and it will infuse itself into your puppets.

    Food for thought: Search the web for: "the color wheel" and "color theory".

    Good Building!
  11. Buck-Beaver

    Buck-Beaver Well-Known Member

    I'm a terrible artist. Whatever limited drawing skills I have I have only because I spent the past ten years trying to teach myself to draw (with mixed results). I don't think you have to be an excellent illustrator to design a good puppet, but being artistic certainly helps! If you're already building puppets you're probably an artistic person to begin with so you're off to a good start.

    I do think it is really helpful to sketch out as best you can what you want to make and have some sort of guide or plan on paper. A really interesting book to read is Jim Henson's Designs and Doodles which has alot of his original drawings for the Muppets. Jim Henson wasn't exactly a "fine artist" in the traditional sense - many of his designs were just rough, hastily scrawled sketches - but he was a phenomenal designer. Each of his sketches contained an "essence" of what he wanted a character to be and that became the guide for the construction of the actual puppet.

    I find that it's often really, really helpful to look at art forms outside of puppet building and find inspiration and things you can "steal" and use in your puppets too. Doll making, sculpture, teddy bear making, animation are just a few other artistic pursuits you might be able to learn a thing or two from.
  12. Miss_Beaker

    Miss_Beaker New Member

    I'd just like to say thanks for posting all those tips! They've given me a shedload of help! Only one problem though - where the heck can I get all the sorts of materials I need (foam and what have you). I'm having no luck on that front at the moment!
  13. Buck-Beaver

    Buck-Beaver Well-Known Member

    Foam can usually be purchased through a good fabric or upholstry supply store. Sometimes you can buy it in sheets through a camping store or outdoor outfitter, but foam is usually very expensive in those types of stores. Larger cities often have warehouse outlets that specialize in foam. Try looking in your local Yellow pages under "foam" or "foam rubber."

    Other materials like fabric, thread, contact cement, glue, etc. can usually be purchased at either fabric, hardware or craft stores. You don't really need specialized materials like eyes, Antron fleece, flocking, etc. when you are just starting out, but to find suppliers check the puppet building section ofThe Puppetry Homepage.

    This topic has been covered at length here in other threads before, so it is probably worthwhile to do a quick search of the forum and see what other info you can dig up.
  14. Buck-Beaver

    Buck-Beaver Well-Known Member

    Sorry Miss Beaker, I just realized you were in the UK and I am not sure if you can find foam in the same sort of places on the other side of pond. I know all the materials you're looking for (foam, etc.) are readily available in England...if you have trouble locating supplies you might want to try contacting The British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild. I am sure someone there would be willing to point you in the right direction. You may want to consider joining them as well so you can network with other puppeteers and puppet builders in the UK.

    I hope that helps!
  15. Miss_Beaker

    Miss_Beaker New Member

    Ah, ta muchly Buck! You've been a great help, and I'm now working on a bear puppet (whose already been named Charlie for some reason, by one of my mates! :D )
  16. ChickyBoy37

    ChickyBoy37 Well-Known Member

    Frank Oz once said on the A&E Bio that it takes 10-15 years to be an Expert, Some People just can't Learn it.
  17. thedoogles

    thedoogles Member


    Yeah thanks for the links.... :smirk:

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