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New to Puppet Making.

Discussion in 'Puppet News' started by awseightyfive, Nov 25, 2010.

  1. awseightyfive

    awseightyfive New Member

    Hi, I am new to puppet building and would like to know what kind of foam should I use and is there a website I can order some at? :confused:
  2. Fozzie Bear

    Fozzie Bear Well-Known Member

    Some folks suggest Scott Foam, others use the standard foam you get that the fabric store. I always suggest that if you are new to Puppetry and want to know more as far as construction that you check out (and buy from ) www.projectpuppet.com
  3. Puppetainer

    Puppetainer Well-Known Member

    First of all I want to agree with Fozzie that Project Puppet is ABSOLUTELY the best place for a budding puppet builder to get started! That being said my personal feelings regarding which type of foam are...it depends. If you're going to be covering the puppet with fleece I think the typical foam (available at most fabric stores in rolls of 1/2" thickness) is fine, but if you're going to use the foam as the puppet's skin then Scott foam is probably best.

    I have some of the reticulated foam that I got from Project Puppet, but I have yet to make a puppet using it. So ALL the puppets I've made to date have been fleece covered using the more readily available foam. Whichever you decide to use HAVE FUN!
  4. spcglider

    spcglider Well-Known Member

    There's a bazillon ways to build a puppet. And there's a bazillion materials and techniques to use.

    The best thing to remember is there is no "wrong" way to build a puppet (unless you decide to use concrete or something!).

    There are certain techniques and materials that will give you a particular look or movement to your puppet. Its just a matter of applying the right ones to the task.

    And don't think that building a puppet means you're finished forever with that character. I know lots of people who've built and re-built the same characters over and over trying to get the perfect "look" or movement.

    And don't think that a puppet is supposed to last forever either. Sure... make yours of quality and they will last... but if you're using them as working puppets, they will wear out and need to be repaired or replaced eventually.

    Also: enjoy the journey of making your puppets. Learn from everyone and everywhere. Ask questions. Try new things. Test ideas. There's usually many more than one answer to any given question. I know that I can see my own growth as a builder in the puppets I still have hanging around. Especially inside.

    I completely agree with the folks above... if you're serious about making some nice puppets right out of the gate,go to Project Puppet and get one of their patterns. Then USE it. Just that process will teach you a ton about the materials and techniques that are most commonly used. Its a great, inexpensive, and educational place to start.

    Kzyoung likes this.
  5. awseightyfive

    awseightyfive New Member

    Okay, Well thanks guys! This has helped me decide.
  6. Puppetainer

    Puppetainer Well-Known Member

    Gordon has it exactly right! Except that now I'm thinking about how I will make my first concrete puppet. A piece of advice that goes along well with all of that is one I often forget myself when embarking on any new artistic endeavor. And that is YOU HAVE TO BEGIN SOMEWHERE. And odds are your first results wont be as wonderful as you'd like them to be.

    When I started making puppets I immediately wanted them to look like the Muppets. And not the early Muppets either, I wanted my first efforts to look like the puppets they were creating after 10 or more years of experience. Not very realistic, right? Yet that's what I usually expect from myself, and I know many other artists who have those same unrealistic expectations. I may eventually make puppets that will look that good, but first I had to make my FIRST puppet...which pretty much sucked. But with each puppet since then I've learned SO much and they've gotten exponentially better.

    It's very much like the advice I read when I was working on writing a novel. I read similar advice from several different authors who all basically said the same thing. Your first novel is going to suck. But if you want to be an author you have to write it so you can throw it in a drawer and move on to your SECOND novel. Pretty much the same thing with puppets, only it takes A LOT LESS time to make a puppet then write a novel.

    Now if Gordon and I haven't completely overwhelmed you with advice and encouragement it won't be for lack of trying! Again, HAVE FUN!
  7. SillyCreature

    SillyCreature New Member

    Thank you all for posting this stuff. I've been studying puppets pretty much my entire life, but I'm really learning the technical stuff now. I've been scared all along, but realizing that I have the skill sets necessary. This is exactly why I joined the forums :-D
  8. Buck-Beaver

    Buck-Beaver Well-Known Member

    Yes, this is very true. Once and awhile when someone asks me about puppet making advice (not that I am the best puppet builder) I usually say something like "go take these patterns, build a few dozen and then come back and talk to me" because you really have to make a lot of mistakes before you get a good grasp of it.
  9. shtick

    shtick Well-Known Member

    Well, Scott Foam is much more durable than regular upholstery foam. I' suggest putting Scott Foam in the places where the puppet would get the most wear since it can take more of a beating.

    Also bear in mind that upholstery foam puppets need to be stored in airtight if you want them to last.
  10. Buck-Beaver

    Buck-Beaver Well-Known Member

    Really? What makes you say that? I've found exactly the opposite; Scott Foam (which is just a brand name for reticulated open cell foam) seems to break down much faster than regular poly (upholstery) foam. I have puppets that I made back in high school 15 years ago with poly foam that are more or less completely intact; puppets from 10 years ago made with reticulated foam are slowly breaking down. Eventually the insides become "toast" and partially crumble.

    I do tend to pack and store puppets very carefully in opaque though. Puppets left out in the open will not hold up as well; UV light does much more damage to foam than air does.
    Kzyoung likes this.
  11. Puppetainer

    Puppetainer Well-Known Member

    I wondered about that too. It almost seems like reticulated foam has achieved a kind of puppet-urban myth status. I think that some puppet makers touted this type of foam as preferable and it's just kind of spread amongst the community. I know that Project Puppet state on their site "reticulated foam is strong and resilient, and will last for years (unlike upholstery foam)". And again I have yet to build a puppet using reticulated foam so I'm not really an authority.

    While I haven't had much experience with reticulated foam I do have poly foam that I bought over 15 years ago that has yellowed a bit, but other than that is pretty much good as new. And that foam was stored in the open air, though away from much light. As Buck mentioned earlier most times you're going to end up rebuilding or replacing regularly used puppets over time so I don't know that my foam needs much more longevity than that.

    I know that when I first started making puppets I worried that I was making a mistake by not using reticulated foam. I was concerned that my hard work would crumble to dust in just a year or two but over time my experience has shown me that whether or not it is "better" poly foam works great for me.
    Kzyoung likes this.
  12. bezalel

    bezalel Well-Known Member

    Just thought I'd chime in on this one. :)

    I'd be hard pressed to say that any type of foam is "better" than any other type. Unfortunately, they all break down. At the same time, they are manufactured for a reason (for different abilities or special properties), and many types of foam could very well have an application in different puppet building situations.

    When it comes to the two types in question...here is my experience in the context of building a foam puppet...

    If foam is to be used as the "skin" of the puppet, then reticulated foam is a better choice. Not that polyfoam can not be used, but the properties of reticulated foam make it a better fit for the job.
    • Both foams will yellow as they are exposed to UV light, but in my experience reticulated foam doesn't seem to change color as drastically as polyfoam. Polyfoam can turn almost brown over time. I've never seen an old piece of reticulated foam verge on brown, just a dark yellow. That's an important factor to consider when you want the color of your character to stay as close as possible to the original color over time.
    • The more porous surface of reticulated foam (at 35ppi typically) makes hiding seams easier.
    • As far as strength, reticulated foam is more resistant to tearing. If you want to test it, just try tearing a piece of reticulated foam and a piece of polyfoam with your hands. You'll have to work a little harder to rip the reticulated foam in two. This being the case, reticulated foam will allow you to worry less about the foam tearing in the areas of the puppet that get the most wear...corners of the mouth, etc. Since the foam is the "skin", these areas would more than likely be visible.

    If the puppet is to be covered with fleece/fur/fabric and the foam is just an understructure, then polyfoam does just fine.
    • You don't have to worry about colorfastness because the fabric covering is what determines the color of the character. Plus having a covering for the foam protects it to a good degree from UV rays and actually slows the break down process.
    • It's less expensive and more readily available.
    • If the foam were to tear at areas under more stress as the puppet is used, they would most likely be covered (by the fabric material) and would not detract from the character. In fact, a tear here and there under a fabric covering can "loosen up" the puppet and provide for better manipulation.

    Of course, there are other kinds of foam that work well in certain instances. L200 or minicel foams for a sturdier understructure (if the puppet is large or needs to support a heavy fur, etc.). Soft foam or memory foam for super flexible mouths/snouts/features. And the list goes on.

    The point is to use the best material for the specific job/application. That's always a good rule to keep in mind when choosing any materials for building your puppet characters.
    Kzyoung likes this.
  13. Puppetainer

    Puppetainer Well-Known Member

    I bow to the master! Awesome info! I hope you didn't think I was in any way slighting yourself or your awesome company with my quote. As I mentioned I don't really have any experience yet with reticulated foam so I'm glad you could offer a better perspective. It may seem kind of silly but I really have always wondered about the differences in durability of the two and it's good to have a better understanding. I'm glad you chimed in with your expertise!
  14. spcglider

    spcglider Well-Known Member

    Actually, this is where that whole concrete puppet thing comes in...

    Just kidding.

    Any kind of urethane foam will break down over time. Its just the nature of the beast. But for quite a while, it has a great set of properties that we find useful in puppet building.

    Its hard to make a puppet and be proud of it yet have to keep it stored away in a light-proof container (it is UV light rays that break down urethane... not air... unless you live in LA where the air quality breaks down titanium). So a lot of people tend to display their puppets or keep them on stands. However, with this you run the risk of letting sunlight hit them, even through the window. I know several puppets that have "light sides" from sun fading on their fleece covering.

    And it bothers some people (who consciously or sub-consciously anthropomorphize the puppets) to put them in a sealed box.

    But that's the way it is. at least, if you want to extend the life of the puppet! :)
  15. Blink

    Blink Well-Known Member

    Ha! Ha! I just gave my Grade 5 (5th Grade, for my American friends) students a test on the definition of that very word. They bombed it and didn't seem to think anyone would ever use it in daily talk. I guess they were wrong. Sorry, back to the discussion. Foam...breaking down...
  16. aaronmojo

    aaronmojo Well-Known Member

    Guys, I have a question along these same lines. I have been building puppets for a few years now and I'm wondering, what adhesive does everyone use to join foam seams? Is there anything worth using besides the toxic-fume stuff I currently use? I hate having to go outside and put on a filter mask anytime I want to build a new puppet.

    How's hot glue? Does it hold up okay?
    Kzyoung likes this.
  17. Melonpool

    Melonpool Well-Known Member

    In my experience, hot glue doesn't work on foam at all. Contact Cement so far has been the best thing I've found.
  18. Buck-Beaver

    Buck-Beaver Well-Known Member

    At work we use 3-in-1 glue, which is an adhesive manufactured by Beacon Adhesives. It works really well on open cell foam (the squishy, sponge-like kind). It is mildly toxic and you should use a respirator and work in a ventilated area, although it doesn't have anywhere near the toxicity of contact cement.

    A non-toxic alternative is diluted Weldbond (don't use it straight out of the bottle, you have to add a bit of water, it takes some experimenting to find the right amount), but it produces hard, brittle seams.

    LePage and other companies make "Green" latex-based contact cements that are non-toxic. They can work, but you have be very patient and let your seams dry properly.
    Kzyoung likes this.
  19. Animal31

    Animal31 Well-Known Member

    Really, I just did one on the medium setting and so far I haven't had any issues? When did you notice it coming apart?
  20. aaronmojo

    aaronmojo Well-Known Member

    I have been using Dap contact cement because it's fast drying but man is that stuff toxic. I'm talking outdoors with a respirator. I need to try some other stuff. I'll look into what you recommended.

    Hot glue seems to work fine temporarily but it doesn't hold up very well. I used it on a couple "practice" pieces and they started coming apart before too long. Which is a shame, since hot glue is so easy to use and non-toxic.

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