Introduction: Building Audrey II: Introduction
Everyone approaches their Audrey II a little bit differently, some forms varying wildly, and some staying more traditional to the (often red) 'Venus flytrap' style (owing to the text descriptions). The needs of the production (or just the costume/prop/puppet) will vary, and adaptations will have to be made to suit directorial taste, budget, and capabilities of actors and crew. However, being able to see other companies' ways of putting this creature together are of immense help to anyone who wishes to embark on their own construction. That is my intent here, to provide another tutorial in the veritable library of information you can find for Audrey II online and in print.
Step 1: Sources and Info
Some of the sources that helped me in my build were:
Swazzle (Their Audrey II for rent is very attractive and her puppeteering is great): http://www.audreytwo.com/
Monkey Boys Productions (Again, a wonderful Audrey II with great action): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NvFpl3sY2uM&list=PL3C931CC303D5D5C3
Don't Feed the Plants Blog (Another woman's journey of building Audrey II, well documented and photographed): http://dontfeedtheplants.wordpress.com/
Bogleech's Many Faces of Audrey II (A source of photos and video from various productions with a variety of interesting and sometimes atypical designs, be sure to check the linked forum post as well for more Audrey IIs): http://www.bogleech.com/halloween/hall11-audreys.htm
FCLO Music Theater's Audrey II (A very nicely painted Audrey II with a lot of detail): http://www.fclo.classicbroadway.org/rentals/browse_rentals.php?category=3&showid=108
Audrey and Leaf (A few construction photos of another impressive Audrey II):
Tim Lee's notes on Audrey II (Documentation for a build of Audrey II, although the final phases were not able to be completed by him for the production and are not shown): http://www.hexlee.com/index.php?/ongoing/little-shop-of-horrors-working-drawings/
I recommend checking them all out if you're embarking on this yourself, seeing what others have done before to tackle puppeteering problems is immense help, and seeing other designs is inspiring for creating the design that best suits your needs.
When seeking more information on building Audrey II, quite a few people will tell you you should simply rent these puppets, but for someone with the time, budget (which is very important, no matter how much you scrimp, this won't be cheap), skills, and tools, embarking on building this beastie is a wonderfully satisfying venture, and at the end, you'll have a fully functioning set of puppets you might even be able to rent out yourself! On a smaller level; reproducing the littler phases (Phase I and II) and some of the other oddments (flower heads, buds, vines, and other pieces, which this tutorial series will cover) can be great puppet practice, and can make for a fun Halloween costume or prop piece.
Each of the six tutorials in this series assumes you have read the previous ones to avoid overlap of information where construction remains the same or similar to previous phases, or that you have enough construction knowledge to complete those items without tutorial.
If you have any questions at all, please ask, and I will do my best to answer anything at all.
Step 2: Design
Audrey II Build Notes:
The design for this Audrey II remains a fairly traditional 'Venus Flytrap' style design with a horizontal mouth in her final forms (the puppet will be referred to as feminine throughout the course of this tutorial). The director wanted something reasonably traditional in that regard, and able to perform all of her puppeteering needs as dedicated by the script (eating actors, eating body parts, singing, dancing, growing, etc.), but otherwise gave me free reign over the design. I was eager and excited to take this project on, simply because I love making monsters. Because of the nature of this production, I wanted to do something menacing, but bright, fun, and perhaps more than a little bit deranged. Not too silly, but perhaps threateningly humorous in some ways. Her overall design is fairly traditional to what has been done in other productions, and was approved quickly.
She has inspiration from various brightly colored jungle plants and birds, as well as the ferocious teeth of prehistoric animals and large reptiles. She's spotted, veined, spiked, and otherwise rather a flashy piece in her final form.
Featured in a production, these particular Audrey II puppets can be cast with as many as five actors (one for each phase not controlled by Seymour plus two arms for the finale) or as few as one (doing all phases with the arms cut from production). At our level, this is a boon given the number of cast members, your production may vary. Our final version uses three actors, one primary puppeteer, and two additional ones for the finale pieces.
Step 3: Material
All phases together constitute a huge bulk of materials, but for each phase many of the same materials are used. Of course, substantial research into what best suits the needs of a production is ideal, and I arrived at the considerations I went with based on price, availability, weight, and durability. Here is an overview, a few further details of quantity are provided with phase's directions.
Spandex Fabric – I used milliskin matte fabric for the exterior skin of all of Audrey's forms, from her head to her leaves to her roots. It takes thinned acrylic paint absolutely beautifully and the colors are bright and vivid, but not shiny (great for theatrical applications, they take lighting wonderfully). It is quite soft, very stretchy, and a little slick. It does not fray when cut and can be left with a raw edge. The material can be machine sewn, and details about stitching are noted where relevant. Spandex World Inc. supplies this material in many colors http://spandexworld.com/c3/catalog/browse/33 at very reasonable prices.
Upholstery Foam – Soft, flexible, but with some heft and self-upholding properties, upholstery foam is ideal for puppetry, mascot-style costumes, and other theatrical applications. The smaller phases of Audrey II are constructed purely out of this material, and her larger forms use it as a secondary 'skin' to give her a smoother, more robust shape over her metal armature. Most of her details are also made of this material as well, as it is crush-able, durable when skinned with spandex, and easy to work with. Half inch foam can be used where little self-support is needed (such as armature skin), one inch foam is ideal for constructing the smaller phases, teeth, leaves, and other details, and two inch foam works well for the lips of the largest phases and large details that need to stand up on their own (such as her spines). DIY Upholstery Supply is the best deal online (local prices may vary, but in my location it was cheaper to shop online) http://www.diyupholsterysupply.com/upholstery-foam.html and their shipping is quick and reliable.
Aluminum Bar and Aluminum Wire – The two larger phases of Audrey both have an aluminum skeleton composed of Aluminum Bar and Aluminum Wire. Aluminum is light but durable and at the sizes I used can be bent by hand or with the assistance of tools. It holds it's form quite well and is able to be machine drilled and screwed and held together with machine screws and nuts. The wire is able to be woven by hand into a mesh that holds it's own form. I used 14-Gauge wire and 1/8”x1/2” bar. The bar was purchased from Industrial Metal Supply http://www.industrialmetalsupply.com/ who offer a very good deal on material, albeit with the caveat I was able to pick up my material locally at one of their locations. The wire was a leftover in the scene shop, and I am unsure of it's source, it is craft-grade wire which means it is quite malleable, more so than other varieties.
Hot Melt Glue – Hot Melt Glue now comes in a variety of forms including one specifically made for fabric. Because it cools faster and dries more pliable than regular Hot Melt it is also ideal for gluing foam to foam or fabric to foam. It is a little more expensive than regular Hot Melt but is worth it for applications where a secure fastening is needed in either material. I used both in various places of the project because of the volume needed.
Acrylic Paint – Painting fabric can be a difficult task, as material, paint quality, and colors all become considerations to deal with. If the paint is too thick, it can sit on top of the fabric and render it unable to flex or stretch (less of a concern here than with a garment, but still an issue). If it is too thin, the color may not provide adequate coverage on the material. Because of the volume of what I needed on this project, I used very very cheap craft Acrylic paint. This paint is very thin, and would be unsuitable for most applications, but here works very well as the spandex absorbs it nicely while still keeping bright colors. It is important to note, however, because of how thin the paint is (thinned further to go in a detail gun and splatter) it works best to work on light material with darker paint, working, as with watercolor, from light to dark, with final white highlights applied more robustly. I used both a detail gun and various paint brushes for all the effects seen on the final project.
Other materials used in this project include: Fishing Line, Aquarium Tubing, Plastic Pots, Plastic Glasses, Nylon Strap, Plastic Clasps, Nylon Rope, Velcro, Plywood (and related screws and assembly materials), Metal Angles, Wooden Dowels, PVC Pipe, Metal Flagpole Brackets, Steel Wire, Black Mesh Fabric, Thread, AstroTurf, Scrap Fabric, and some other odds and ends.
Tools used on this project include: A Sewing Machine, Sewing Scissors, Sharpie Markers, Rulers and Tape Measures, Tailor's Chalk, Various Clamps, Hand Saw, Electric Drill, Hot Melt Glue Gun, Detail Gun, Paint Brushes, and so on.
Step 4: Basic Process
While there is a lot of variation to the specifics of construction, the overall progress of each phase, as well as the extras can be broken down into four steps. Similar to the layers of the body (and noted with their equivalent), each of these steps forms the basics of every phase of Audrey II:
The armature forms the rigid under structure of each phase, the foam helps smooth and support the contours, as well as providing more bulk to various forms. The skin provides durability and a surface upon which to add color and detail. The color gives variation and detail to the overall form, and is used for a variety of effects including veins, bumps, tartar on the teeth, ridges and curves, fleshy textures, and so on.
Using upholstery foam, the first two puppet's heads and leaves are put together using a similar means to making foam mascot heads seen here http://www.matrices.net/foam.asp and do not include a heavier armature. Apart from this, the procedure follows the same for each piece.
With these considerations in mind, I have broken down the construction of all of my Audrey II work into a format to explain each phase and it's build considerations. These tutorials do not precisely provide a step-by-step process, but do lay the groundwork for everything I did and include a number of photos to show each assembly consideration, and how I answered the questions posed by such a long and complicated build.