Quad Stilt Puppet Head Mechanism Posted by Maleficia on Mar 17, 2013
I can't say I have much experience with prop/costume building, but I do my research and I love to tackle new projects and acquire new skills.

My only other large scale project can be viewed here. I love large costumes and the use of stilts and electronics.

My next project and what I am looking for references for is a quad stilt behemoth, something like this: [].

My project will be modeled after a Guild Wars 2 Oakheart. I exported and scaled a model into Blender here and here. Scale is 1u=10cm ~5'3". I might possibly make it larger. I will move the head up slightly and view from a screen in the chest hidden by hanging moss or something.

I will be making changes to the back leg stilt system using digi-grade stilts: []

What I need help with is the head mechanism.  The head will be too high and far to put on my head. Therefore, I plan on putting on a spandex head cover and attaching wires to said mask so that the puppet head will mimic my head movements on 3 axes.

Requirements are that the head be detachable from the entire costume, so the wires must be able to be detached as well, either from my head or the costume's. I imagine I might possibly hang the head from the neck on a ball and socket joint. Another idea I would like to implement are eyes that blink periodically and move when the head moves, if not on 3 axes, then just on the x, being the first to respond to movement followed by the head to give a more natural feel. I think the blinking can be accomplished by a simple electric timer embeded with its own power source inside the head.

So in that wall of text are my ideas. I've been researching and I think I can work out most of my problems with time but I would like some input from professionals/hobbiests on how they might tackle these in order that I don't waste time or energy on inefficient means.

Based on the model, with the branches on top (detachable) it seems rather top heavy, so I might circumvent the entire puppet mechanism and move the bulk of the body to the rear, but I'll see, based upon your advice.

Thank you! I've been inspired by many posts I've read thus far and hope to learn more!
Re: Quad Stilt Puppet Head Mechanism Posted by Shawn on Mar 17, 2013
Wow what a cool project! Please do keep everyone informed on your progress.
Re: Quad Stilt Puppet Head Mechanism Posted by Shawn on Mar 17, 2013
Followed your YT links and while there found this.  Pretty cool stuff!  They sold by this company. http://www.digilegs.com/
Re: Quad Stilt Puppet Head Mechanism Posted by Maleficia on Mar 17, 2013
Aye, I have seen this company. Sadly that's an insane price, no matter how well manufactured they may be. I made my own stilts for my last costume, and I'll likely try again. I was unaware of this breakthrough in stilt-technology, using a makeshift tendon to keep one's balance. The best forms are modeled after nature, after all.

However, since "Weta Leg"'s revolution to costuming there have been several instructible made, and even her user manual is available on her website, so it'll be rather easy to reverse engineer.

I attend University and have Hansj├╝rgen Fettig's book on puppeteering ordered from a sister university. I should have that later this week, and should prove invaluable as I still have no real clue how to get this damn head to do what I want. >_>
Re: Quad Stilt Puppet Head Mechanism Posted by Lola on Mar 18, 2013
Wow. That is pretty cool looking!

What kind of material are you thinking about using for bark? Are you going to use any kind of wire frame to wrap it around? I do think weight would be an issue, because you don't want to have to support all that with your shoulders...at least I know I wouldn't.

The eye servos and all that are out of my league, but if you don't get any suggesions over here, you might try the MAKE forums or the Hackaday forums for advice.
Re: Quad Stilt Puppet Head Mechanism Posted by Maleficia on Mar 18, 2013
I plan on using polystyrene for the body minimize weight, hollowing out the bottom of the body slightly and setting it on a half skeleton so that it will be secured to a backpack. I've looked at a variety of videos about people carving foam and a realistic bark look should be easily acheived. Anything added beyond the original shape, logs/branches, will be carved from spray expanding foam. I'm still wondering if there's a way to easily integrate a large amount of fake leaves to look like a small canopy, but that may just be a pipe dream. The legs provide a different problem.

What I'm most worried about is using the same materials for each piece so the costume flows and looks consistent. I wanted to cover everything in carved, soft, flexible foam which would increase durability with the padding, but that won't give near enough detail. Also it would be significantly hotter (a problem I hope to cleverly fix with computer fans inside holes in the body, shoving hot air out with the holes hidden at the top with mesh and moss.)But, if I make the stilts out of the same material then there will be no way to use them for other costumes in the future, being encased in a hard shell.

I may just have to bite the bullet and just make the stilts built directly into the legs to, again, decrease weight and increase structural integrity. This will also be cheaper as I won't be designing them with materials to fit multiple uses. To answer your other question, there will be no wire frame so that I can decrease weight. My pumpkin head had a chicken wire armature. So heavy! Not to mention a pain to work with. To make them more durable the pieces will be sealed with several coats of 50/50 all purpose glue and then cover with pva to basically give it a hard plastic shell, which can be sanded, primed and then painted. I should only be putting stress on the stilts themselves if they're bound with flexible foam at first.

As I am about to post this, I checked the MAKE forum and a simple "puppet" search brought up an arduino servo controlled head and extremely detailed instructions. This will cover everything I want to do, though be considerably harder than wires and considerably NOT a puppet.

More research!
Re: Quad Stilt Puppet Head Mechanism Posted by Shawn on Mar 18, 2013
Pretty cool post you found on MAKE!  I actually disagree with you that it is or will not be a puppet.  For one you are still inside the suite moving the major parts.  I also consider animatronics a form of puppetry as to others.
Re: Quad Stilt Puppet Head Mechanism Posted by jeezbo on Mar 20, 2013
This seems like a really great project you are undertaking, i have done similar things in the past myself and have even made myself a pair of digilegs that i consider to be slightly better than the ones being sold (these people where not the inventors of this sort of stilt, just some that have manufactured thier own to sell!!) but its all about what you have at your disposal really.

concerning the head, im sure you will get some great ideas on how to accomplish the head movement by the information you will read in fettigs book, but if you want to see a great little mechanism that im sure is what you are hoping to acheive then go to youtube and check out a great UK show called 'mongrels', its a puppetry based program and its got a great pidgeon puppet that has a fantastic neck mechanism and in some of the behind the scenes footage they show the mechanism without the fabric covering it, and it is a reletively easy one to duplicate and very simple in design, you just have to scale it up a few sizes!!
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