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Working arms for a very large puppet

Discussion in 'Puppet Building and Performing' started by Macavite, Oct 21, 2012.

  1. Macavite

    Macavite Member

    I've built a pretty good body for a puppet, but am having trouble getting the arms to work (and not look terrible). I was wondering if you could point me at some resources for arms that can move. At a minimum I'd like to be able to wave. Important to note, the 'puppet' I'm talking about here is less of an Elmo and more of a Big Bird. So in terms of arms, I'm looking more at springs, skeletons, lines, and counterweights, and not simple rods.


    To get an idea of the build process and existing internal structure, the build diary is here:


  2. Melonpool

    Melonpool Well-Known Member

    Wow! That's great! Are you planning on having your real arm inside only one of the arms and then have the other one move via a piece of monfilament or something? That's the way Big Bird works. Not sure how that'd work on your build, though. Right now, how are your operating him? One of your arms is in the left flipper and the other one does what?
  3. Melonpool

    Melonpool Well-Known Member

    Is there enough room inside there for you to have two PVC pipes threaded up through the arms inside the body cavity? If so, couldn't you operate the arms sort of like oars in there? Maybe cardboard mailing tubes?
  4. Macavite

    Macavite Member

    Right now neither arm does a darn thing. Currently they're just basically pillowcases sewn to the outside body, there isn't even a pass-through. When we were doing the initial build, we toyed with putting a stick in each arm that I could manipulate from the inside, but it looked pretty awful and we were pressed for time, so we just put the arms on (empty) and packed him up. Now that we have time, we're investigating how to make him more of a puppet and less of an egg-on-legs.

    I read about big bird, and think it's an interesting idea, but I don't think I'll be able to get my arm completely into his, as it is the body is wide enough that if there were some sort of pass-through, I still wouldn't even get the tips of my fingers to the 'elbow'. So i'd need to be able to make something that is an extension of my arm. Having the opposing arm mirror the primary arm is something I'd like to do, but the issue of getting the primary arm working is my first concern (then the secondary arm, then eyes, then a working mouth, and then and then and then).
  5. Macavite

    Macavite Member

    I have a TON of room in the body. The body is basically a giant hoop skirt, so it's pretty much entirely hollow.

    Ideally, I'd like to be able to wave. But that involves a working elbow and possibly the ability to rotate a wrist. So I was pondering some sort of a two-part 'skeleton' with a bent elbow where I could rotate the arm 'up' and then pull and release the elbow to wave. I'm just not sure where to start when it comes to parts.

    Also ideally I don't want it to weigh too much. Currently the whole suit is only 30 pounds. So a secondary concern for me in this is making a structure that isn't too heavy.
  6. scandell

    scandell Well-Known Member

    Love it! My kids and I are huge Totoro fans...at least i thought we were until I saw your level of devotion. lol

    I think you should go with a fishing line approach. Keep the arms pretty light...but with a basic foam structure...and have a fishing line feed from the wrist to the top of the head...you can simply pull on the line...to make his arm go up and down. I am making this up as I go....so it may be a dumb idea...at least it is a light idea.
  7. Melonpool

    Melonpool Well-Known Member

    What about incorporating this into it?


    Your own wrist would become the elbow and this extension should span about another 18 inches to the hand. Id I recall correctly, the thumb is fixed, but the other fingers are more or less independent and cable activated.
  8. Macavite

    Macavite Member

    Yeah, I ran across a thread here that talked a little about that. Build a basic curved arm structure, then see-saw the arms back and forth. It's certainly be light!
  9. Macavite

    Macavite Member

    At the least I could take it apart and see how it works. It'd be awesome if I could do something with the claws on the hand. Here's a decent picture with the hand in it:

  10. Slackbot

    Slackbot Well-Known Member

    I saw you at Dragoncon, and I thought your Totoro looked wonderful. (If you saw a woman with a purple Fraggle, that was me.)

    Making the arms movable wound be nice, but would you be able to see what they were doing? I'm guessing that the teeth are a scrim so you can see forward. The hands are on the sides, and it doesn't look like they could ever come into your field of vision. Not saying you shouldn't try to make his arms work, but if it was mine I wouldn't, as I can't see how I'd use 'em.

    Whatever you do, I hope you'll post here and show us!
  11. Macavite

    Macavite Member

    I believe I remember you as well, I caught some video:

    at 48 seconds and at 2 minutes and 28 seconds

    Your fraggle was awesome!

    . . . and you're right, I cannot see my arms, and don't see a way where I'd be able to. The main thing I was hoping to do was to be able to wave and I think I could learn how to do that blind. Ideally I'd be able to huge people but I'm not sure that'd be realistic because, as you pointed out, I can't see what I'm doing, and some folks are a little aggressive with the Totoro, and I'd be worried about breaking whatever mechanisms are in there.

    However, the one thing I could do was wiggle my ears and people went crazy when I did that. I imagine being able to actually wave would be that much better.
  12. Slackbot

    Slackbot Well-Known Member

    Oh, wow! I didn't know about that video. Thanks for posting the link. I'll have to send it to my friend Kathy, who built and performed Janken's little sister Poncle (Janken being the purple Fraggle and Poncle the brown one) with me. She's visible in the 0:48 clip with Reporter Kermit.

    Re the arms, you culd hug people from the side, but it doesn't seem like they could get someone in front of you, at least not without a lot of effort. (I'm picturing the person inside the costume and the angle you'd have to move poles sticking into the interior.) Waving sounds like a good idea; you'd just have to be careful not to swat people standing close by. Swinging the arm outward is risky, especially in crowded hotels, but bringing it forward where you can see it ought to be safe.

    Will you be bringing Totoro to D*C 2013? I plan to bring Janken, Skeeter, and maybe other puppets if I feel showoffy. I'd love for Jan to meet your Totoro. I wouldn't mind it either.
  13. Macavite

    Macavite Member

    Yeah, that's my personal video, so not exactly as well publicized as some of them out there.

    In terms of hugging people, very few people came at me from the front. Most* wanted side-hugs and/or pictures with Totoro's arm over their shoulder. Thankfully I have a very attentive group of handlers, who were making sure I didn't get mauled** and were coordinating pictures. I think even a little bit of structure in the arms might help with the hugging, as it was people needed to either get very low or hang on to Totoro's arm to get it to stay on their shoulder.

    Yeah, with waving I'd need to be aware of the crowd to the side, which is a weak point. Perhaps I could get a camera mounted under the leaf pointed that way? Probably easier just to coordinate with the handlers about when it was safe. They seemed quite good about calling out when they needed Totoro to do something. "Totoro, give us a wave!"

    Yes, we'll be back at DC2013. A lot of this planning is specifically about trying to be ready for that :)

    * somewhere between 500-1000 . . . needless to say we lost count.
    ** except one very drunk Starbuck who tackled me at the Hilton. I'm glad the costume is very durable.
  14. Sidebottom

    Sidebottom Well-Known Member

    Not to derail the thread, but what exactly is the internal structure made of? Also, how is the internal structure attached to the backpack? I assume the weight is carried by the backpack (not on your head, which is what it kind of looks like).

    More on topic, the oar idea sounds like a good one to me. You could put a bend in the rod so that it's easier to manipulate from inside. And if the other end attached specifically to Totoro's hand, you could make the wrist rotate just by rotating the rod.
  15. Slackbot

    Slackbot Well-Known Member

    One thing has occurred to me: how heavy are the arms, and how sturdy is the internal structure? Would moving the arm put enough weight on the structure to bend it or cause it to want to tip sideways? I'd do some testing that way, just running some PVC through the arm and moving it around, to see what happens with the rest of the costume before doing serious rework on the arms.
  16. Macavite

    Macavite Member

    I don't think that's at all off-topic. Any build I do for the arms has to be supported by the body. In the build diary above, the first picture gives a pretty good picture of the internal structure. There's a laundry basket above my head. It's carried by a backpack frame I'm wearing. Anything of significant weight (like these arms) needs to be carried off that laundry basket. Hanging off the basket we have the twill-tape frame for the hooping. Once that is all together, we put the skin over top of the laundry basket 'skull' and hoop skirt 'skeleton'.

    That's what I'm thinking of. Our first try looked terrible, but I think that was likely due to the lackluster implementation and not the idea itself. I'd love to make the bend in the rod become a working elbow that I could flex, but one thing at a time.
  17. Macavite

    Macavite Member

    Yeah, I've thought about this. I fully trust that the weight of anything attached to the arms will do bad things to the body. It's just a hoop skirt, it's not meant to support weight. However, I do have a backpack and a skull that can support a decent amount of weight (as much as I'm willing to carry).

    My thought was to suspend any arm-workings off the skull, and to have sort sort of a 'spacer' rod or two either between the arms, or between me and the arms, to keep them 'out'. This spacer would need to be disconnectable, so I can fit through doorways. One advantage of the current completely hoop skirt body is that it can squish down in any direction :) Working arms would start moving Totoro towards 'fragile'

    One of many things to work through, but I have some ideas on this one.
  18. Sidebottom

    Sidebottom Well-Known Member

    Thanks for the info about the body frame. What are the details of the backpack/laundry basket attachment?

    It occurs to me that an internal arm rod wouldn't necessarily have to be supported by the body. Imagine a hollow arm, with a rod inside it that only attaches to the puppet's hand. The rod could poke through one of the many holes in the body frame, and you could just be holding the other end all the time.

    And, as I mentioned above, you could put a bend in the part of the rod that's inside the body frame if you needed the part that you grip to be in a more accessible/comfortable position for you to hold on to for an extended period of time.
  19. Macavite

    Macavite Member

    So it's a frame backpack, minus the backpack. Padded straps across my waist and shoulders, connected up to an aluminum frame in the back. The frame is zip tied to a PVC pipe extension frame to get the laundry basket up where it needs to be. The PVC pipes are basically a pair of connected upside down "L"'s. Then the basket rests upside down on the pipes (and is zip-tied in place).

    Attached to the outside of the basket is a bunch of foam padding. The twill-tape hoop frame then hangs off the basket. In terms of the costume the bottom of the basket is right below the eyes and above the mouth.

    I like the idea of the bend, there is a lot of room inside the body to play with. But I'm not fond of the idea of needing to hold the arms up for hours at a time. I need to have some sort of way to rest them, without the weight of the arms pushing in on the hoop-skirt body. Heck we were worried about them as they are distorting the body when we first put them on :)

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