Puppet Building Workflow. How do you build? Posted by FleeceNFluff on Aug 02, 2013
I have to make several puppets for a Youtube channel I'm hoping to get up and running soon. I'm not really looking for help. I'm really just curious how other people build.

The first two puppets I made took a long time since I was learning but now that I have my techniques down I can knock one out in just a few hours. I still wonder if my workflow could improve a bit though. I've recently started treating it more like an assembly line. I'll work on several characters at once and make all the mouth plates, then all the foam skulls, etc. Do you focus on one character at a time? Do you try to finish it in one sitting or one day or do you get the basic shape done and then take more time giving it the right character?

I find that when I get the heads done and covered with fleece I usually hit a stopping point and focus on the individual characters a bit more. Sometimes I'll have one puppet that will sit on my work bench for a week or more and I'll just experiment with facial features before making a decision and permanently attaching features. Which brings up another question. Do you usually already have a pretty solid idea for how each puppet will look or are you more flexible, allowing the character to change and evolve as you build it?
Re: Puppet Building Workflow. How do you build? Posted by jeezbo on Aug 02, 2013
It sounds like you are doing pretty well, I mean, all quality puppets take a while to make and properly complete, some of mine even take up to two months to finish, but the time it takes you to make a puppet (or a few at once) will be less with practice and if you decided to make a few on a 'assembly line' process, then things can really speed up, its easier when you are making a few at once as you kind of know what you are doing and repetition is good practice. sometimes I make tons of practice heads, just to get certain things worked out, and then when it comes to using this process or doing things in a specific way, its a lot quicker because you aren't having to experiment, merely doing what you have done loads of times before, almost like second nature!!

however saying that, don't rush yourself or be in a hurry to make lots at once, you don't want to get into the process of making second rate puppets, as good puppets take time to make, but excellent puppets can take as long as they take, that is what people are paying for, quality. anyone can make a puppet, but not everyone can make a fantastic one!!
Re: Puppet Building Workflow. How do you build? Posted by Na on Aug 02, 2013
I think it depends on what you're working on. There are some puppets you can just knock out because you're doing a common method, and there are some that take a little more time and finesse.

I think assembly lines can work better for certain types of puppets, or if you're making the same character over and over again. For me, shadow puppets can't easily be done in an assembly line unless I'm making the same characters. Having said that, most of them are 'procedural' in that I:

1. Get a photo or image to work from (I'm shit at graphic design so I use creative commons images instead to get the right pose or outline)
2. Get my pattern designed using a paint program
3. Print and build

In that sense, I can speed up the process a bit because I'm getting more adept at knowing where to look for images or what kinds of poses work the best for silhouettes, and how to work out where to put joints and rods. Most of the time I don't even worry about planning how to attach the rods until the puppet is built. In terms of building the puppets, I tend not to move back and forth between different ones unless I've gotten very stuck on something or I've made a mistake and need a break before trying again. Because there's not much to shadow puppets I tend to only worry about making rods - glue or paint needs to dry - while I do something else.

However, there are some times where I'm truly stuck on how to achieve a movement. These are the cases where I spend more time thinking 'in the background' while I do other things, or attempt a prototype or two before getting stuck into the real thing.

As for time, again it depends. If it's commission then I'm more focused on getting it done as soon as humanly possible - without screwing up, not eating or not sleeping. In general, it takes as long as it takes. I also ensure that I try and take a lot of little breaks. With my shadow puppets there can be a lot of hand cramping due to holding a scalpel or pair of scissors, and this can quite quickly get painful if you don't rest often. My current materials - sheet plastic - are also really really really easily scratched, so it's important to take breaks in order to rest my eyes, allow my mind to relax for better concentration, and then get back to work. One scratch and several hours of work can be screwed up. (This happened on my last commission. Doing tiny little eyes on a large shadow puppet is actually quite hard and I screwed up several times. I think my third one was the success - I probably lost a good half day or more on it)

Once I did a brainstorming class and the thing that stuck with me the most was: "when the conversation dries up, don't try and force more brainstorming. It's a sign that you're done, and if you're done, you're done". In other words, take a break before you get stressed out, not after; and take a break when you're ready and not before. So it doesn't matter if you finish in one go or not, only if you're happy with the end result.

As for ideas: again, this is less true for shadow puppets but yes I will have a basic idea in my head and then improvise a bit as I build. For me it's more about mechanisms than character and the mechs are what I think about the most. I will try and plan that out in my head, then maybe prototype it, and then firm up the character when I make the pattern. For shadow puppets actually it's less a 'character' design and more of a 'pose' design. A dancing girl looks more like a dancing girl in silhouette if she's posed a certain way, and the movement flows better if she's posed a certain way. So my idea in my head will be "dancing girl", but it's when I get to pattern making that I firm up how she looks based on what kind of pose I can find in the image databases I look at. (Hope that makes sense)

If I were making other types of puppets my process would be a lot different.
Re: Puppet Building Workflow. How do you build? Posted by Shawn on Aug 03, 2013
I think there have only been a couple times where I've just sat down and started making a puppet with no idea of what it was going to be. Normally there is something on paper or in my mind that is the end result I want to arrive at. Assembly line methods can be helpful and can often be done during down time in production. If the majority of your puppets use the same mouth plate then there is nothing wrong with spending an afternoon making them. If you have a large amount of puppets to make then I think it is best for the most part to assembly line them at least to the point where you need to start adding the individuality.
Re: Puppet Building Workflow. How do you build? Posted by Shoeshine on Aug 04, 2013
I go a character at a time. I sketch it first, then decide if I need to make a new pattern or if I can modify one of my old ones to fit the puppet. Then I cut everything out. I build foam pieces first, then deal with fabric. Bodies and arms are easy, so I bounce to those when I'm at a point where I need to think, or just want to stop dealing with the head for a while. Once the head is attached to the body I put features on it, and any painting or hair work. Then I deal with the costume. I feel like if I try to do more than one puppet at a time the character for the puppet gets lost and I end up with generic puppets without souls.
Re: Puppet Building Workflow. How do you build? Posted by Gail on Aug 05, 2013
Some parts of the process stop my workflow, like needing to go outside to use contact cement, or something that is hard to cut or waiting for something to dry.  If those are standard for most of your puppets you could make those pieces ahead all at the same time so that your creative flow is not broken.  But if each puppet is unique that is hard to do.
Re: Puppet Building Workflow. How do you build? Posted by pagestep007 on Aug 05, 2013
For me, new designs always take longer than a repeat build.I usually get a prototype done that is useful or for giving away, before a final version with patterns that will then repeat every time. last  production run was 27 in a row precut into kits for a sunday school teachers workshop, where each teacher assembled one each over 2 Sunday sessions. We did over 100 short 5 min vids where we used 4 basic head shapes and got 100 characters(plus a few odd balls like  a blanket , glass of water, gorilla, monster, flower, tomato 'youtube/porqueoramos' has some of them)...anyhow, face features are basically what  makes the character after head shape.The last full run was 18 puppets with features and costumes and extra interchangable features wigs etc, to take and leave in Cuba... in 2011.Otherwise, 7 pig designs eventuated in the search of  one pig character since then...
   My first puppet design took me months, and 12 attempts and failures before getting it right. Now , with  learned technique, experience etc, I can  get one done in under a day, and a repeat generic can be done in a couple hours, depending on the urgency.
Re: Puppet Building Workflow. How do you build? Posted by Chris Arveson on Aug 05, 2013
I've never tried a rebuild, I don't think I could re-create some of my puppets because I didn't keep patterns after I made them. Others I could probably replicate. None of my puppets come into being without a paper plan, and a pretty firm idea in mind. That can take months to create, I play with the puppet in my head for a long time before I start lining up electrons in the computer. Even with all the planning, what is in my head sometimes finds difficulty expressing itself in plans, and from plans to reality can see other shifts. Most of my puppets have a clear purpose before I start, therefore "personality" is usually pre-determined. Even so, inspirations can strike any time, and I like to follow that.
Re: Puppet Building Workflow. How do you build? Posted by Steve on Aug 22, 2013
Nothing I have built has ever been exact to an original sketch or idea in my head. For me at least, part of the journey is the art within it and those decisions that get made or changed in process.

Wolfun my mascot was made with no plans or drawings.. I just kinda had an idea and went with it.. I had 6 sets of ears made in wired foam and literally needed weeks to decide.. The nose on the the other hand I had done in a night of layering latex. Feet I glued blocks of foam to slippers and free carved with an electric turkey knife.. Once I liked it I replicated it on the other foot.

it really comes down to how YOU like to work and what is comfortable.. Most people might not like my unorganized methods but for me it works.

Sent from my iPad using Sticky Fingers!
Re: Puppet Building Workflow. How do you build? Posted by Lizzies Lair on Aug 25, 2013
I'm with you Steve. I can't draw at all so I have an idea of what I want to build (often an idea I've toyed around with for some time) but I let the character kinda direct itself once I start. I'm also incredibly impatient so once I start, it's all I do until I finish. Probably not a good way to do things really but I don't make to sell so have no concepts or boundaries to adhere to like professionals would have mandated by clients. The freedom that comes with being an amateur!

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