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8 Marionettes  (Read 18019 times)
« on: March 30, 2011, 10:03:45 pm »

Hello everyone,

This year I received a grant from the Winnipeg Arts Council to make and display eight marionettes using my foam-rubber and dowel method.  I would probably have posted progress on the project sooner, but I also got a full time job this year, so I've been working hard to squeeze in construction time.  The grant marionettes are supposed to be a baby, a young boy, a young girl, an adult male, an adult female, an old man, an old woman, and a skeleton.  When I first sat down to this project, I realized that I had no idea of comparative proportion, so I went out and found a great book on the subject, The Sculptor and Art Student's Guide to the Proportions of the Human Form by Dr. Johann Gottfried Schadow.  Now I know a little bit more, and here are the heads that I have had time to produce:


It's a little difficult to see some of the detail on the unpainted foam, but then again, I found some of my errors revealed by these pictures.  Luckily, I've still got nine months to refine the carving as I see fit.  The skull is made out of a combination of papier-mache and paper clay.
Here's the internal structure for the foam heads:


It's actually three different pieces that lock together inside of the head.  I forgot to get a picture of the new saw that I've been using lately, but I'll post that next time.
I'm working on the torsos now, so there are fragments of foam-rubber on all of my sweaters.  Luckily spring is coming.

Will I get these puppets done by the end of the year???  Stay tuned!  Undecided
Shawn Sorrell
« Reply #1 on: March 31, 2011, 06:52:55 am »

Very cool. Can't wait to see more on this project.
Billy D. Fuller
« Reply #2 on: March 31, 2011, 06:59:25 am »

Interesting! If you don't mind me asking what type tools do you use in sculpting foam on this scale.
« Reply #3 on: March 31, 2011, 08:29:37 pm »

I use several different pairs of scissors to carve the foam.  For the heads, I used mostly a pair of Henkel kitchen scissors with tiny serrations for the big cuts, and some stainless steel surgical scissors for the small cuts.  I also have a second pair of large scissors without serrations, and some curved nail scissors for small, deep cuts.
Billy D. Fuller
« Reply #4 on: March 31, 2011, 09:37:29 pm »

Thanks! I may learn something from this........can't wait.
« Reply #5 on: July 26, 2011, 01:23:02 pm »

I'm not sure if I'm on schedule or a little behind, but I've finally finished the eight torsos of my eight new marionettes.  That means that I only have to make sixteen arms, sixteen legs, and eight controllers before I'm ready to string them up.  Still hoping to be done by new year's day.  Here are all the puppets together:
And here are a couple of closer shots so you can see some of the detail:
 P7260011 P7260012
As with the heads, the principle of construction is to make the bulk out of foam rubber, and to have the majority of the structural and mechanical parts made out of wood.  So here are the two kinds of parts separated:
I've also shot a little video where I assemble the torso.  It's not really fascinating, but if you're curious about my method, it reveals a lot:
Finally, here's a detail shot of the break-apart skeleton:
It's almost completely different from the other seven marionettes, and so it's taking a lot longer to build.  Every step in its construction is an experiment.  The arms, legs, head, and pelvis will all break off from the central torso.
So, if I keep on schedule, my next big update will be in two months.  Hey, that's about a pair of arms a week!
« Reply #6 on: July 26, 2011, 01:43:00 pm »

WOW!! Super work!
Shawn Sorrell
« Reply #7 on: July 26, 2011, 05:03:38 pm »

I think your design and method is fascinating and intriguing. Forgive me if I missed this before but is this based on something you have seen before or did you just start working it out on your own? It really is incredible. I am a bit concerned about the mobility in the waist hip area but I could be wrong. Can't wait to see the final marionettes in action.  Thank you so much for taking the time to film the assembly procedure and sharing it with us.
« Reply #8 on: July 26, 2011, 05:33:14 pm »

It looks very nice! Makes me wanna make one now!
« Reply #9 on: July 27, 2011, 02:03:19 am »

WAUW !!! I love the combination of foam and wood I am very curious too where you learned it.......
Did you get it out of a book ?? What a great method you use....
« Reply #10 on: July 27, 2011, 06:20:24 am »

This is realy great work! I didn't know there could be made marionettes from foam. This must be a very difficult work to shape the parts from foam! Will the marionettes have enough wight to control all the parts? I make them in limewood. Are you using another metal to give them more wight?
Looking forward to see the next step! Johan
« Reply #11 on: July 27, 2011, 12:09:51 pm »

Thanks for all the comments and questions.  I'll try to answer them now.

-The foam rubber and wood method is one that I've been working out on my own since I started building marionettes.  I've always worked out of a spare room in an apartment block, so heavy power tools were not available to me.  I also began working on puppets with almost no tools, so every step in my construction was developed to use only the most basic tools.  My first marionette, Inkin, was built without power tools except for a glue gun.  I think it was in 2006 that my parents got me a dremel for my Birthday, and it changed my life.  Then in 2007 my brother got me a scroll saw for Christmas, which has also proven to be very useful.  And just this last Christmas my parents got me this great little chop saw:
Which is really handy for cutting consistent angles, as you can see in the main torso spine piece in my last post.  But the point is that the whole wood and foam rubber method was developed out of necessity.  I didn't have the tools to do fine woodwork, nor the money to outfit a workshop, so I used the materials that were easy to work with.  At one point I was even cutting dowel with the saw on my Swiss army knife.  I knew that thing would come in handy!  Also, I did take some puppet making workshops when I was about ten years old.  We didn't make marionettes, but we did carve rod and hand puppet heads out of foam rubber, so I had some experience with that.  Inkin's head, hands, and feet were made out of polymer clay, so he was already very heavy when I started making the body.  The lightness of foam rubber suggested it as the construction material, and I went from there.

-I'm not sure what your concern is with the waist/hip mobility, Shawn, but there are definitely things that the puppet won't do.  It's spine doesn't really twist, and it's back only curves a little.  But I think it works well enough.  I look forward to posting a video of my finished marionettes.  Actually, I'm thinking about making a video of my prototype right now.  Here's a couple of pictures of the prototype, which should have been included in this thread at the beginning:
 P8210037 P8210040

-I do add a little weight to the marionettes.  Actually, before you mentioned it I had forgotten to add the weight in the puppets' rear ends.  I add a gram or two in the rear, and I've also added washers around the dowel for the upper arm near the elbow.  The great thing about foam rubber is, as most of you know very well, that it is super light.  Because of the low weight of the body, a small amount of weight added adjusts the centres of balance appropriately.

A picture I promised earlier of the simple tools I use to carve the foam-rubber:

Shawn Sorrell
« Reply #12 on: July 27, 2011, 12:46:48 pm »

If you ever decide you do want more movement in abdomen area, might I suggest that you replace the center foam piece with a none stretch fabric.  It looks top me like the backdrop you used for shooting your prototype might be muslin cotton which would be perfect for this and what I use.  Using fabric in this area would allow the spine to both twist and bend over more. If the movement you get is satisfies your needs then there is no need to change this though. Smiley

You are doing some amazing work and the fact that this is all happening in a small spare apartment room is even more impressive!  What I really like about that fact is that it shows you don't need a bunch of fancy tools to create something great.  It is one thing I try to impress on folks who are just starting out that you don't need to invest a ton of money to get things going. You just have to do it.  The added tools like your scroll saw and chop saw do make things easier and faster but they are not required to do good work.
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« Reply #13 on: July 28, 2011, 05:18:15 am »

Great work as always - marionettes confuse the heck out of me, so I always enjoy seeing your posts and the processes you go through to make them. Makes me feel like I actually understand how they work Smiley
« Reply #14 on: November 14, 2011, 10:57:40 am »

Erg, so behind schedule.  So, I moved on October 1st.  Things were pretty disorganized around my apartment leading up to the move, and then I produced a twenty minute puppet show for the Manitoba Association of Playwrights.  Because of these side projects, I’ve fallen behind in my production of the 8 marionettes.  Things are still going ahead, though, and I’ve been working hard trying to finish the arms, but there’s still much to do.  So here’s something to tide you over; a video of me assembling one of the all-string joints that I invented:
I really hope to get through the arms in the next few weeks.  I had better have the legs well under way when the new year starts – Then I can make a new year’s resolution to complete the marionettes!
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