Sunday, 29 November 2015

The Joy of Character

Hello everyone!

First of all, I'm ashamed to face the fact that the last time I wrote on here was almost a month ago! I've been up to my ears in puppet making for the past four weeks, but the hard slog has paid off - just about everything is ready for the first rehearsal of 'Santa's Stressful Day' tomorrow. With the show opening in a weeks time, it's all starting to feel very real. Speaking of which, my puppets recently got a little feature on the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama blog - pretty cool! The company 'Western Power Distribution' are sponsoring the performance so that local children can have the opportunity to access live classical music. I've got a little paragraph in the article explaining how puppets will make the story more engaging for young children - you can read all about it here:

Now, let me fill you in on where the past month has taken me. In my last blog post I talked about fabricating my lion, and specifically the process of covering upholstery foam puppets with stretch jersey fabric. At this stage the lion puppet was just a blank canvas in the right colours - since then I've given him the details that have really brought his personality to life.

From the moment I gave him pupils I started to believe he was real - it's amazing what eyes do for the character.

The teeth were really fun to make. These are plasterzote foam, snipped into shape and painted before being given a final glaze with clear nail polish. 

With puppet making, I often find that the materials I have to hand help inspire and form the personality of the character. For example, his frizzy whiskers are made of some unwound rope I had leftover from the initial structure building. I wanted the crinkled look I had imagined in my original drawings, and this stuff worked wonderfully. I tend to hoard materials and oddments for this reason - you never know what might come in handy!

Here's a shot of Rudolph after his initial covering. At this stage the puppets look very flat, but are a canvas for detail just waiting to be explored.

A crown and cape are just what Mr. Lion needed to give him an air of nobility. At this stage Rudolph was also starting to get some character - a fuzzy white belly, some cute little antlers and a rather large red nose (which actually lights up, might I add!) I wanted the style of Rudolph to echo mid century illustrations. 

As the weeks went by and my making list grew longer I got worse at taking photos of my process, so I have very few of Santa in the making unfortunately. Here's part of his creation that I did document - the costume making. This is the start of Santa's coat, which was great fun to make. I don't know as much as I'd like to about costume making and am always looking to learn new techniques!

I've come to find that a lot of puppet making is trial and error. There were many ways that I could have made Santa's facial hair, but I came to the simple solution of brushing PVA glue onto faux fur to give it a permanent shape and texture.

In this picture the puppets are near the stage of completion. This project has been great for me personally; having such a short amount of time to make make many puppets has meant I've had to put my perfectionism aside and find quick ways of making to a high quality.

In the past week I also made a gang of guinea pig puppets, but I'm going to give them their own feature in a seperate post.

Thanks for reading, until the next time!

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Foam to Fabrication

My last blog post followed my process of designing rod puppets, through to building their pipe and plywood cores and bulking these out with carved blue foam. The next stage is to realise the fabrication, which is when the characters really start coming to life. 

Before covering the puppets in fabric I wanted to make sure that their body surfaces were extra-smooth, so covered the blue foam in a thin layer of wadding.

I'm fabricating one puppet at a time, with the aim of finishing one per week. I've started with the lion, going by this illustration for the general final aesthetic and colouring:

After covering him in wadding, I started to think more about how I would make the mane. I felt that it needed some sort of structure as the base for covering, so started to build up blue foam shapes which emulated hair.

At this stage the lion was ready to be covered. It's important that the 'skin' of a puppet doesn't hinder its movement, so I chose a fabric with plenty of stretch in it. This also means it can be pulled nice and taught over the foam, creating a finish with minimal creasing. I dyed stretch jersey a deep caramel for the main skin, and also a variety of scrap fabrics for the mane covering.

Pinning the fabric to the foam is helpful for initial positioning, especially on more detailed areas like the face. The fabric is secured by either glue or a hidden stitch, whichever is more appropriate.

The covering process is quite organic - it's hard to 'pattern cut' for it as such. It's a case of pinning, cutting and re-pinning until a nice smooth finish is achieved.

When the basic covering of the body was finished, I started thinking more about the textures and shades of rusty orange I wanted to cover the mane in. I narrowed down my dyed fabrics to my three favourites and cut them into lots of strips - strips shaped like the blue foam underneath. Following these contours, I built up layers of these fabric pieces to create the look of a flowing mane.

My lion puppet is now fully covered, but there are still many details and stages of rendering to go through before he's finished. This guy is looking forward to having eyelids, whiskers and a tail to name but a few things! Let's not forget that all-important kingly crown.

Stay tuned for my next post, which is likely to include some photos of this guy finished and Rudolph's covering in the works.

Thanks for reading!