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MagicFractal's Puppeteering History & Manuals

Discussion in 'Puppet Building and Performing' started by MagicFractal, Aug 30, 2012.

  1. MagicFractal

    MagicFractal Member

    Now that Sis is off in college, she doesn't mind her dollhouse being converted into a HAUNTED HOUSE filled with tiny cable-puppets. And behind the haunted house is a very curious maze of fish line and rings for control. Move the ring, it tugs the line, and things ... happen ... among tiny puppets. A standard 640 x 480 webcam can give you the doll's-eye-view, or a HD camera set to close-up if you have one.

    Or a Christmas scene that has LOTS of rings and cables, so that a whole classroom of kids are needed to control the entire scene. By using Teflon sheath (called spaghetti at ham radio stores), you can get cables to work with exquisite subtlety over appreciable distances and around corners and curves.
    With hobby tools, use eye protection, whether you're a beginner or pro, and have a mentor if you're just beginning. Here's one widely available tool that can thread a cable through your puppet's parts.​
    For facial features on small puppets, we can use bits of BIO-WIRE. Can you believe this kit is $30? I am nobody's sales-rep, I'm sharing what I've found.​
    Older computers (still got that old laptop?) have "Centronix" printer ports ideal for controlling fancy stage-lights and effects. USB kits and newer computers can do more.​
    MASKS are popular in holidays. http://images.google.com and enter terms like "mask" to trigger some ideas. With LEDs, fiber optics, bio-wire, and cables, some astounding masks become possible.​
    Puppetmasterful engineers can make novel toys, and for profit little automated advertisements which I believe would be popular everywhere, and provide more work for artists in these times we seek work.​

    Envision if you will, a immersive scene, where individuals can walk through a synthetic garden and the flowers and ambient critters actually DO react to them (via PID - passive infrared detection) and respond as a program in your laptop tells them. There are EASY computer languages free on Internet that are inroads to control systems.

    Of course puppet designers have interests overlapping with roboticists these days. Also go-motion animators, and scientists doing macro, micro, and nano-systems.

    Doll Armatures can be any size, and can help a puppet maintain a pose
  2. MagicFractal

    MagicFractal Member

    The earliest cable-puppets I grew up with and have been able to find date back to the 1940s and appeared European or Asian in style. Kohner toys patented them in 1947 and called them "push-button puppets", but others refer to them as press action toys, collapsing puppets, thumb puppets, 3-D Animators, and "push puppets". Click here to see a museum of many examples. These are still made today, and their cable structure is sometimes clever and tricky. The push button is spring loaded (one big spring) and can be pushed at various tilts to activate the strings (cables) somewhat selectively. When the strings are slack with the button pushed to its limit, the puppets would slouch or collapse.

    There are a few things we can learn from these, one being the usefulness of a spring return which might keep your puppet's jaw from hanging slack. They used string, but modern fishing line is made of amazing "linear" plastics that will likely last generations.

    Cables are easily hidden, inside your hand puppet or marionette, or in my first example, inside the walls and floor of the haunted house.
  3. MagicFractal

    MagicFractal Member

    Armatures that support doll limbs so well are hollow. In fact they're mostly manufactured as stiff but flexible hoses. The industrial version is called "Loc-Line", available here. At the bottom of that page you'll see a doll frame example.

    Click here to see a company selling small gauge pieces especially to make dolls, great for small puppets and robots. Below is the larger industrial assortment:
    For a medium sized doll / puppet.​
    Suitable for a large puppet​
    Bigger bones, if your puppet is human sized.​
    WAY big, if your puppet is larger than a human !!​
    Because armatures are hollow, cables (and wires if your puppet lights up or uses BIO-WIRE or hose to squirt fluid?) can be threaded through to extremities. I always recommend Teflon spaghetti (any ham radio store should have it) to sheath the fish-line cable for long life and smooth non-sticky cable movement. If your puppet is big, steel bicycle cables can be used too. You'll be impressed what fishing line can do, so you'll probably never need steel.​
    Spring-returns work sometimes, but cables don't have to rely on gravity or springs for reciprocal counter-movement. PAIRS of cables can give you opposing movements, like "eyes left" and "eyes right" and your fingers can thus set an exact in-between position by attaching both cables to the same finger-ring.​
  4. MagicFractal

    MagicFractal Member

    There are countless ways to manipulate cables. Here's one as an example. In the case of an animated Halloween mask, only a few combinations of cables (out of dozens perhaps) would be used at one time, but some extras could be included for occasional effects or electrical switches or ribbon controllers.​
  5. MagicFractal

    MagicFractal Member

    In an effort to imagine an optimum cable system for a puppet, I considered a kind of vest that could be quickly easily donned or doffed in a brisk live performance. The best cable practices would be used, with Teflon sheath and quality fish-line, to assure the cables would work perfectly over the distance from the puppet to the vest. The rings could be mounted on the vest. Or, they could be mounted on the wrists, allowing the fingers of each hand to access the rings at the wrist of the opposite hand.
    Though I made this illustration to make this tricky-to-explain technical point, I realized it's worthy of being a two-hand sign for something intergalactic like "I am a roboticist".​
    Driving gloves which adapt snugly to almost any hand size with velcro can be had for under $20. They're strong, comfortable, ventilated, padded, and very adaptable with leather sewing methods. These can be used to mount arrays of rings, along with the vest that routes the cables to the puppet. They can also carry sensors and switches for a no-moving-parts interface.​
    I haven't yet made this construction and will probably skip past this level, so I can only offer these similar and related pictures at this time. Instead, for my own use I'm inclined to use a type of ribbon controller of my own invention with no moving parts, where the cables would be pulled remotely with solenoids or stepper motors. That approach allows a computer program (future topic) to remember and replay movements if you have an Old Laptop Computer available as a "Controller". I'm not going to attempt to detail that here, but it's worth knowing it can be affordable.​
    With a motion memory system, peripheral characters (I'm envisioning a busy scene for example) could do complex combinations of movement with simple commands like pushing one button.​
  6. MagicFractal

    MagicFractal Member

    I've discussed cable puppets using rings to pull the cables, but another method with advantages was used as far back as the 1940s - 1950s, small LEVERS with of course leverage, and complementary cables that don't tie up the puppeteer's fingers. This is the head of popular ventriloquist dummy Jerry Mahoney. Jerry's eyes rotated, and Paul used that well for humor and drama.
    It's worth noting, the ventriloquist Paul Winchell was more than a performer and clever technician, he was a brilliant inventor who patented the first mechanical heart. He had several television shows over the years 1950 - 1968.​
    I was fortunate to see him perform live in the late 1950s in Newark, New Jersey, and we purchased one of his Jerry Mahoney puppets. I never did a performance with it, but practiced a bit. Twilight Zone series had several episodes featuring sinister ventriloquist puppets that resembled Jerry, but I will always see him as a benign boyhood friend.​
  7. MagicFractal

    MagicFractal Member

    {Above I said "small LEVERS with of course leverage, and complementary cables" describing Jerry Mahoney's head mechanism. I later realized that was an error. Rather than cables, Jerry's head contained "bar linkages" similar to rod puppets. I've administered several BBSs and never had a bad result from members updating their own old posts. Much better than an "erratum" like this.}

    Here's another category of critter, opening another area. Is it a Nitinol memory wire puppet?
    It's a SCULPTURE, like jewelry, an artwork that doesn't move at all on its own. If you create something like this, you can make it a puppet in theory with rods, cables, nitinol, etc.. Or, you can animate it with STOP MOTION. That means moving it a little, then photographing it (with a steady mounted camera), then repeating that until you have enough "frames" to make into a little movie. For inexpensive hands-on experience (some are free), any "GIF Animation" program can be a place to start.
    The great master of stop-motion animation was Ray Harryhausen. The percussion music is Tito Puente. This is puppetry of a magical kind.
    These clips are familiar and wonderful but sometimes movement is rough.
    Then came GO MOTION, a much smoother method. Here's a bit of what Wikipedia says on the subject. G0-motion was co-developed by Industrial Light & Magic and Phil Tippett. --
    Stop motion animation can create a disorienting, and distinctive, staccato effect, because the animated object is perfectly sharp in every frame, since each frame of the animation was actually shot when the object was perfectly still. Real moving objects in similar scenes of the same movie will have motion blur, because they moved while the shutter of the camera was open.
    Go motion was designed to prevent this, by moving the animated model slightly during the exposure of each film frame, producing a realistic motion blur. The main difference is that while the frames in stop motion are made up by images of stills taken between the small movements of the object, the frames in go motion are images of the object taken while it is moving. This frame-by-frame, split-second motion is almost always created with the help of a computer, often through rods connected to a puppet or model which the computer manipulates to reproduce movements programmed in by puppeteers.

    I couldn't have said it better. The emphasis at the end is mine, showing the relevance to rod puppets. If you ever wish to video record your puppets, you can experiment with animation too. One of the first experimenters in imaginative special effects in the 1800s and early 1900s was Georges Méliès.
  8. MagicFractal

    MagicFractal Member

    Magnetic Puppets, why not?
    If you've ever played with a magnet to make a paper clip move through cardboard or a table, you know it takes a strong magnet to do it well. Neodymium magnets are ideal for this, and N52 type is the strongest you're likely to find. (Please keep these and all small objects away from young children.)
    The magnets shown above have holes (#2 screw works) and are suitable for attaching to something BEHIND the surface. If it's a wall of your haunted house, you might attach the magnet to a rod or a stick (could look like a magic wand, but not visible to the audience) to make an object creep up the wall or across the floor or ceiling in spooky or lifelike fashion.​
    The one at left is $2.34 (B666-N52) and at right is $5.20 (B888-2PE-N52), but it's worth having the strongest available N52 type "Control Magnets" to do this. The The object to be moved can be plain steel like a little washer, snippet of a steel can, or it can be a magnet too, if the surface wall or floor is too thick for steel alone. Many of the small N42 (less powerful) magnets are under a dollar each. Imagine what could become possible with experience !​
    With "magnetic coupling" like this you can make a small object move, or stick somewhere temporarily in your scenery. With the N42 magnets, steel washers, and a surface (with your scenic art pasted on), you can also make fast adjustments of objects.​
    Your scenic art might have a tree painted on it. With some cut-out paper you could fashion a couple of butterflies, each having one or more tiny N42 to hold them in place (the magnet and steel can be on either side, works both ways). At the right moment, your Control Magnet wand could tug through the scenery and make their wings flutter. Or make the caterpillar stand up (with a magnet at each end)... Or make the owl's eyes open wider... Or the sun or clouds move across the sky... Or the "bouncing ball" pause along the printed lyrics of the sing-along music being heard...​
    When I was a poor child I made a little theater out of a thin tissue box, and characters out of paper with pictures pasted on, and paperclips taped to their bases, and old weak Alnico magnets to move them as puppets. I made SciFi scenes. It was simple, but consider this: it doesn't take fancy tools or a big budget to begin to enjoy puppetry.​
  9. MagicFractal

    MagicFractal Member

    More about magnets:
    Neodymium magnets can be damaged by water, so they're coated with nickel plating, and in a couple of cases of the distributor I cited, gold plating. I have no connection with that company. I like their many affordable magnets. Nickel plated ones are less than gold.
    "Magnetized thru Thickness" means for the one on the right, the large flat sides are the sticky sides. These are the stronger N52 types. A dab of epoxy can hold them to your unseen magic wand, or to the figures that will be moving. In most cases, a little piece of steel will pull against these magnets very well and cost nothing, but if you want maximum pull (I suggest a plastic surface 1/16" thick or less) then use magnets on both sides.
    I mentioned a caterpillar (sitting on a painted tree branch) could contain a magnet on each end, allowing him to arch his back in a realistic way. But three or more magnets might be more fun.
    I envision dancing flowers, using a number of magnets. Leaves on either side could be made to move in unison by bridging magnets on the unseen side with cardboard, so they could move their leaves like arms in a merry way. With the same bridging method, a number of flowers could raise their hands together in unison with some music.
    The best plastic surface would be "Lexan" which you can get in very thin sheets from your local plastic supply store (We have "Tap Plastics" out west). Thick Lexan is used in banks for bullet-proof windows, but it's extremely strong when thin too, and 1/32" will suffice if you make a frame for it. The thinner the surface the lower the cost of a strong hold for magnetic puppetry. You can mount your background artwork against the plastic with clips.
    You won't want your magnetic objects bumping into anything that could make them fall off, like tape, raised paint, or anything sticking up, so I suggest using a one-large-sheet copy. You can take your art to a "Copy Shop" which can copy it (or print it from your computer image) onto strong poster sized paper of whatever size suits your puppet theater. It costs a few bucks to use the copy shop, but results can be colorful for re-usable backgrounds.
  10. MagicFractal

    MagicFractal Member

    Puppetmaster's Control Gloves
    With one or two gloves like this, a puppetmaster could (through the Lexan plastic) orchestrate a whole orchestra of tiny musicians (hand-sized), or a swarm of bees, two flocks of birds, a sinuous snake, ocean waves, or up to 10 facial features... One could be among the first with a new creation !

    If you're an electronics maven, you know about Hall Effect Devices which can sense magnetism and could sense these gloves from some distance.

    I've never seen a hollow mannequin head, but they may exist. Vacu-Form makes light weight shapes that could be heads. With a thin hollow head, a hand with magnets could be inserted into the head to directly activate facial features like eyes and points on a flexible (cloth maybe) mouth. Plastic stores (inspiring places to explore) may have hollow thin plastic hemispheres or ellipses suitable for a creature skull.
  11. MagicFractal

    MagicFractal Member

    That last point is important, the usefulness of magnets on almost ANY topological surface shapes.
    It's good to have the finest tools, but you can do a lot with less. A couple of bandaids can hold magnets to your fingertips, if control gloves aren't affordable. Suites of graphic programs costing thousands can make some miraculous images, but the free program Gimp, and old versions of Paint Shop give you enough ability to preview ideas. Oftentimes a pencil and paper (and a draftsman's eraser) are enough, plus you can work out the arithmetic to make everything fit before you get ahead of yourself with tools and materials. Careful planning is real engineering.​
    An expensive tool that I love and know no substitute for is a "graphic tablet". Mine is an ancient Wacom.​
    For this example virtual puppet the whites around Felix's eyes are thin plastic. It can be flat, though curved would be better. The pupils of the eyes are buttons with magnets embedded. The same buttons can be used on the unseen opposite side, inside the head, but the magnet polarity must be flipped. Putting two of the same together, you'll find, will PUSH and not pull to hold the eye in place. With no magnetic glove or fingertip magnets, the buttons inside can be slid around, causing the eyes outside to move wonderfully. It would help if the inside buttons had rings or indentations for easier movement by single fingers. Thumb and pinky can be used to control eyes that move far apart.​
    Animating puppet eyes with fingertips is a fun and flexible method, more entertaining than most other eye actuation anywhere near the cost.​
  12. MagicFractal

    MagicFractal Member

    Programming with Sprites and a Virtual Theater
    Around 1983 at LFL Computer Division I was given the fun task of doing the "scrolling tile" backgrounds (similar to HTML backgrounds about a dozen years later) for the Labyrinth game (based on the Lucas/Henson movie with David Bowie). Back then our 3-D playfields were simple wire-frame (Koronis Rift, Eidolon, Rescue on Fractalis). Today results are much more detailed and realistic as these movies demonstrate.​
    At ZERO cost you can download Free DarkBasic Pro from The Game Creators. I do not work for them. I appreciate its ability to program in 3-D at no cost. Isn't this similar to puppetry! You can learn to design sets and creatures. You can write scripts to direct action, and define ways the scene and characters will respond to your mouse or joystick interactions. Game creation tools can be used to teach things, to make creatures with behaviors, magic worlds that can be explored, and the art of Interactive Fiction (the new medium of stories that allow the viewer to make decisions). Programs with game abilities don't have to be puzzles nor involve guns. They can have beauty and subtlety.​
    If you've ever used the BASIC language, you should expand this video to full screen (button at lower right) and watch how the math (cosine) controls the chair position.​
    Here's an artistically developed scene made with this language. The company sells special tools for some of the more elaborate effects, and artwork, music and sound effects, etc. which aren't free but worth it I think. Three minutes worth your time.​
    Doing it well takes some skill gained from experience. Programming can be great fun, and designing creatures is a lot like designing puppets. This demo video is less than a minute. At the end more demos are offered that you might enjoy.​
  13. MagicFractal

    MagicFractal Member

  14. MagicFractal

    MagicFractal Member

    Yorick likes this.
  15. MagicFractal

    MagicFractal Member

    Happy Halloween 2012​
  16. MagicFractal

    MagicFractal Member

    Stained Glass adds a lot for many houses, especially haunted ones. Nearly every copy shop can easily make TRANSPARENCIES
  17. Yorick

    Yorick Active Member

    Hi! I wanted to let you know your "Theaters, Stages, and Venues" thread is fascinating! You never cease to share amazing info! The only reason I don't say it on board is it would just disrupt your great "online manuals"! That's what they seem like, manuals that are to help us be creative, that is! Happy Halloween!

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