Type: 2 Operator Bunraku
Location: Hatfield, United Kingdom
Materials: Reclaimed memory foam, webbing, gifted pink faux fur, clay, lampshade.
Tools: Scissors, needle and thread, permanent markers, paintbrush.
Time: approx. 10 hours
Date/s: 18/07/20 – 23/07/20
I began by cutting small shapes from a reclaimed hunk of memory foam, and investigating the quality of movement of those pieces. Initially, I thought I was working to create a quadruped hand puppet for a single operator. I knew I had some pink fur to use and was probably influenced by that. The arranged shapes show that original direction.
I lay the pink fabric to create the forearms and paws, and trimmed down the fur to create a distinction. Through this, I discovered that i preferred them as biped legs, and built up the calves and thighs after a movement test. I repeated the process to create the forearms and hands, and then added upper arms and attached all the limbs to a webbing ‘skeleton’.
Holes were left on the calves and rods inserted at the elbows for manipulation. Further pieces of memory foam ‘muscle’ were cut and overlaid on the webbing ‘skeleton’. I made the mistake of securing the arms before the torso was padded out, so had to pull them through a hole in the sternum piece, and stitch them into place when the foam inevitably ripped. I had a sense of the shape now, but not of the character, so I moved on to creating the facial features hoping that would help me work out who this was becoming.
I created a few options…
tried different combinations…
and settled on this one.
I laid the facial features onto some foam to get the right placement – where the eyes sit can make a huge difference to the intelligence and temperament of the character, especially in non-verbal puppets.
Then, I used some permanent markets to put ink to the clay, and blended it with some water and a paintbrush, and sealed with PVA.
Then I overlaid and stitched the head fur into place, and stitched the bone structure and the facial features in. After this, I pinned the fur over the remaining exposed muscle and stitched into place. With foam off cuts I’d hung onto from the original sculpting process, I padded the body to give it better structure. My favourite detail of the puppet are the little bum cheeks – my partner and I had a good giggle as I stitched them into place.
I love this new little creature, and for a kick start into a new creative project I’m very happy with this. It was lovely to let things evolve and take unexpected directions during the build, and to document the process (something I always forget to do) let me go over my steps and identify what not to do next time. Like this:
*Don’t use black stitching, duh. Get up and look for the lighter thread instead of just grabbing the nearest thread.
*Create stronger fold points at the hips, so that when the puppet sits it is folding naturally at the top of the legs rather than at the waist
*Round the back of the head a little more… it looks too flat.
I think I’ll keep playing with the manipulation of this one – maybe longer rods for the arms, maybe add rods for the calves instead of finger holes. I may end up dressing PY at some point, but I think it’d be a sin to cover up that sweet little bum. In any case, a nice beginning to the PuppetYear Project – let’s see what happens next!