Saturday, January 19, 2013

Making FUZZBRAINS Part 4!!!

The "eyes" have it! For the FUZZBRAINS, I've chosen to use the oblong end of some white plastic Easter eggs. Granted, since they are already white, you needn't really spray paint them, but I find them a bit too glossy. So, I chose to spray them. Firstly, I lightly sand each plastic shape with a piece of sandpaper. You can see the grade of sandpaper I used in the photo below:

After sanding, I spray the eyes with a spray paint designated for plastics. As with the contact cement, make sure you are in a well ventilated area (outside) when using spray paint. After the first coat, I lightly sand the shapes again and apply a second coat of spray. Once the second coat dries, a third coat is applied to ensure an even coat.

I needs some product placement sponsorship!
 Some of these FUZZBRAINS will be female, so I've decided they should get some eyelashes. To create the pattern, I traced the outline of the base of the egg shape on some card stock and added the lash effect to one side.

When tracing onto dark fabrics, black polar fleece in this case, I use a white color pencil to trace the pattern. You might also use chalk or fabric pens. Once traced, they are ready to be cut out.

 Here's another method I've been playing around with for smaller fabric shapes. I take some masking tape (painter's tape, here) and apply it to the back side of the fabric.

Next, I trace the pattern onto the tape.

Cut out each shape.

Then carefully remove the tape.

Using hot glue, apply to the rim of the egg and glue onto the fabric lash piece. This particular hot glue gun has adjustable temperatures and a fine-tipped nozzle, which comes in handy for detail work such as this.

Using the fabric glue (Fabri-Tac), adhere the lashes to the head in the desired position. Now your puppet will look like a zombie.

You can use a variety of things for pupils (or any features, for that matter) but I mainly use felt cabinet pads. I was able to find cards with a variety of sizes on them which is very handy since I'm constantly using a variety of eye sizes. These pads came in a dark brown color, which can be used as-is. If you'd rather have a black pupil, just spray paint the card black, as shown on the card on the left.

The importance of pupil placement cannot be overstated. It can take several tries to get the focus just right. Here you can see our female FUZZBRAIN's focus is right on.

Instead of adding arm rods to these puppets, I'm going to use a method of stringing the arms that I use for puppets in my live shows. More often than not, I simultaneously perform two puppets, limiting the use of arm rods to control arm movement. So, I took a notion from the world of marionettes and applied it to hand puppets. But I can't take credit for inventing this technique. I got it from my mentor, Terry Snyder, and I have seen other puppeteers incorporate this idea in various ways. Big Bird, for instance has a line of monofilament line running from his active hand, controlled by Muppeteer, Caroll Spinney, to his dummy hand. I use Cortland tie line for stringing up the hands. This happens to be 16 lb weight, but you could certainly use a lighter grade.

I stitch the line in place just about the corner of the mouth on the top of the puppet's head.

Once the desired lengths has been established, I stitch the other end of the line to the crease between the thumb and index finger on the hand. Trim away the excess line.

Now her hands are strung and she's ready for some hilarious dance moves.

Well, that about wraps up this tutorial on making FUZZBRAINS! You can purchase one of these charmingly weird creatures from my Etsy store:

Happy puppet making!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Making FUZZBRAINS, Part 3!!

Greetings, blog-readers and FUZZBRAIN followers!
Now it is time to glue the mouth plate to the skull. Using contact again (in a well-ventilated area, of course) I apply a thin coat 1/2' around the rim of the top mouth palate. Since I'm using 1/2" foam for the skull, the glued area around the mouth also needs to be 1/2". Larger puppets may also have foam jaw pieces that need to be glued to the bottom mouth palate, but such is not the case for our FUZZBRAIN friends.
Always close your container of contact when not using it.
There is nothing worse than gummy contact cement!

After applying contact to both the mouth and skull, the two edges are joined and, as you can see, the skull and mouth are now forming the head.

Here you can see how the skull, brain and mouth fit together:

And how my hand fits inside the head:

Now we're ready to add the puppets skin onto the foam. I've already stitched up the head, bodies and arms. All of that was sewn on my sewing machine, including the tufts of hair, which were sewn into the dart seams. Pull the skin over the puppets skull being sure to match up the center line seams.

Using a fabric glue (I use Fabri-Tac) carefully glue the fabric lip-line in place. I usually start at the creases of the mouth  then glue the center points top and bottom and work my way around those points. It is very important to be as neat as possible during this step. Gluing a mouth/lip line in place can be one of the easiest things to mess up and one of the hardest to fix. Take your time!

Here's our FUZZBRAIN with mouth in place:

For tongues, I like to use ultra suede. I cut a heart shape to a size that I like and, using fabric glue, adhere it inside the puppet's mouth. For detail, I take a marker and draw a line about halfway down the center of the tongue and follow the inside curve lines.

Check back soon when "all eyes" will be on finishing up these guys! Three guesses as to what I'll cover in the next edition!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Making FUZZBRAINS part 2!

Let's talk brains, shall we? There are many different methods for keeping your hand snug in a puppet's head. Really, it depends on personal preference. Filling in the hollow puppets head with foam, called a "brain," is just one method that I like. For the smaller FUZZBRAIN head, I took a piece of 1" thick foam, cut it to fit the hollow area around the base of the skull and then rounded the edges on my belt sander. For comfort, I glued velour to the side of the foam that would come in contact with my hand. Velour was handy but you can use anything you find most comfortable: scrap fleece, Spandex, etc.
Gluing velour to brain pieces.
Now that you've glued your fabric to the brain, you can trim away the excess fabric.
The brain will fit snugly inside the skull of the puppet head. You can glue it in place if you like (for larger heads I'd recommend it) but for these smaller heads, they can be easily removed and replaced if not wanted.
A snuggly fit brain inside the skull.
Now, onto mouths! For more flexible mouths, I like using a Polypropylene plastic used on thicker place mats (I got these at Target). You can get several mouths off of a single sheet. Mouths are cut in two halves and taped together with gaffer's tape for a hinge on both the front and back sides. For the front side of the mouth, I've used the same black velour I used to line the brains. But you can use any fabric/color you choose. I sand both sides of the plastic mouth with a medium grade sandpaper to create a rougher surface for gluing with contact cement.
Gluing velour to the front side of the mouth.
 On the back side of the mouth (the side your hand will come in contact with) is lined with a knit jersey fabric. I like applying contact cement to a slightly bigger area around the edges of the mouth to allow the lining and the velour fabric to adhere to each other, sandwiching in the mouth palate. Once both sides have fabric, trim away the excess fabric.
You should be feeling good on the fumes by this point.
Get a grip! For additional comfort and performance ease, I take a small piece of dowel, sand a flat edge on my belt sander and epoxy to the top mouth palate. Placement will vary depending on what feels comfortable to you. I like placing it where my top knuckles bend so that my hand curves slightly when puppeteering.
I use a 5-minute epoxy to glue the grip to the back of the top mouth palate.
I use a toothpick to mix the two parts of epoxy and apply to the flat side of the dowel. When glued in place on the top mouth palate, use a clamp to keep the dowel in place while the epoxy sets up.
Tune in again next time when we'll hear Doctor Bob say, "That's the worst case of clamps I've ever seen!"

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Making FUZZBRAINS! Part 1

Like many puppet builders, I find that I have a lot of stuff accumulating in my workshop: plastics, foams, furs, fabrics of various types. The problem with this accumulation is that it tends to take up a lot of space. I'd like to believe that I'm not a hoarder. There are certainly no decaying animals under my piles of potential parts, but my workshop can often look like I have a problem throwing things out. So, to offset some of that, I've started working on some small projects, which will be offered for sale through my Etsy store as they become ready.
To start, I give you the FUZZBRAINS! These simple little practice puppets are ideal for the beginning puppeteer to start working on performance techniques or for the person who just likes have puppets around to play with.

Arms/Hands cut and pinned, ready for stitching.
 Heads and arms/hands are made from Antron fleece and bodies are made of shag pile fake fur. When making the hands, I have two patterns: one which outlines the exact shape of the hand and the other outlines about a half-inch around the hand (seam allowance). This makes it easier to stitch on my sewing machine.  
Stitching up arms/hands on the sewing machine (specifically, a 1970's Singer I commandeered from my mother in 1991)
After stitching, I'm ready to snip away the excess fleece. I also carefully snip in between each finger. 
Sharp scissors make this so much easier!
A finished arm/hand, ready to be turned right-side-out.
 After all hands are trimmed, they are ready to be turned right-side-out. I like using a long, thin screwdriver to help turn out each finger, though being careful not to rip seams.
Now, onto foam. Each FUZZBRAIN has a top skull and "brain" made of foam. I use 1/2" foam for the skull and 1" for the brain. Let's start with the skull. Each skull half is cut from 1/2" polyfoam, including a dart, a triangular cut which helps give the foam a round shape when glued.
Foam skulls and brains. That's right, zombies. Foam BRAINS!
Firstly, I glue up the darts for each half using contact cement. Important to note, when using contact cement, please be in a well ventilated area. I prefer to be outside when gluing.  
Glued darts
After gluing up the darts for each skull half, you're ready to glue the halves together. Once applied and the contact is tacky, I start adhering each half together, starting at the mouth point, the point where the darts meet and a the the very back of the skull. Then using my fingers, I sandwich the edges together all the way around the skull.

Foam brushes are great for contact cement application.

A finished foam skull!

So, that's the end of Part 1. Check back soon for more fun making FUZZBRAINS!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Lending a Hand to Theater Works' "Avenue Q!"

My sketches for Theater Works' puppets for "Avenue Q."

Well, blogosphere, it has been awhile.
I spent the last week in Phoenix, AZ helping the folks at Theater Works prepare for their upcoming production of “Avenue Q” (the junior version). All of the performers are between the ages of 12 & 19, including the puppeteers. Over the last year or so, I’ve had the privilege of conducting some puppeteering workshops for the kids at Theater Works. I must say, they are an exceedingly talented group of young performers.
Puppet builder/costumer extraordinaire, Cari Smith
When Chris Hamby, their director, told me he was mounting a production of “Q,” I was quick to offer my help constructing the puppets for his students/performers. The lovely and talented Cari Smith has built many a puppet for Chris’ productions over the years, but I knew this particular show would be a monumental challenge since there are so many puppets required for this show including multiples of most of the main characters. Cari’s final count for puppets was 18 and I was only going to be in AZ for a week. You could practically hear the starting pistol.

Foam head mock-ups.
On day one, I started patterning out puppet heads for all the puppets. Mock-ups were made and then flat patterns altered. Soon, an assembly line was tracing patterns, cutting foam and gluing pieces together with contact cement: every puppeteer’s favorite huffing material. Fur was ordered and shopping trips to Jo Ann’s fabric for fleece were all on the day’s schedule.
Tracing out hand patterns pieces on a sheet of foam
By Wednesday, all the foam heads, bodies and arms were constructed and I began patterning out the fabric covering for each character. This involved draping fleece over each character’s foam skull and figuring out where to place darts (curves) to make a flat pattern.

Finished foam heads
Patterning the fleece covering on a finished foam head.
One evening, I took the opportunity to sit in on part of a rehearsal for the show. I was blown away by the skill level of most of the puppeteers. For rehearsal, they were using puppets from past performances that Cari made, but I was anxious for these guys to get their actual puppets.  So many productions of this show stick a puppet on an actor’s hand and expect them to give a performance with hardly any consideration for the skill and time it takes to become a competent puppet performer. What sets Chris’ group apart is that he actually wants his students to be good puppeteers and takes the time to train them as such. And it shows in their performance. I’m happy that their performances will only be enhanced with having good puppets to work with.

Paul Pedersen directs choreography for "Avenue Q."

Cast members of Theater Works' production of "Avenue Q."
 Time always seems to run out too soon and this project was no exception. By the time I left on Sunday, all the puppet heads had been covered and were ready for faces and costumes. Cari still has a lot of work ahead of her to get them all finished, but she’s in good shape. I can’t wait to see them in action!
Covered heads with bodies and arms attached.
Kate Monster's head before and after trimming the fur.
Two, count them, two Trekkie Monsters!
Face mock-up for Rod.
Our messy workroom! That's director Chris Hamby to the right.
                                Best of luck, Theater Works!!