Introduction: BUILDING a BEAR ON a BUDGET!- an FX Puppet and Costume Build

About: Hi there! Thanks for checking out my Istructables profile! My name is Matt Ficner. I’ve been very fortunate to follow my creative interests from a very early age. This has led me to a career spanning over 2…

How Matt Builds-A-Bear

In the late summer of 2011, I was approached with a unique puppet build challenge. I was contacted by the producers of a movie being produced in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. They needed a life like brown bear for a scene in the movie that would attack the hero of the story.

With most film productions, it is always the challenge to create something on a budget ( in this case extremely limited budget) and within a ridiculously constraining timeframe.  I don’t know if I was being a glutton for punishment, or looking to really challenge my creative self… but I took the contract. I won’t go into the details of the money and time needed. I will just say that there was really not a lot of either commodity, but I managed to make something I’m rather proud of.

Step 1: Mouth Mechanic

The Fist challenge was to make a “hero” puppet version of the bear’s head for mid and close up shots.  It had to growl, sneer and bite. 

I was fortunate enough to find a taxidermy supply place in Ontario . Knapton Studios  are great. I was able to order the foam bear head shapes , eyes and teeth molds from them.  I ordered the BIGGEST bear stuff they had in stock.

I then used the foam shapes as a base to rig a jaw mechanic that could be puppeteered by hand  and cable operation.  You will see in the vid below how the lips, nose and jaw were rigged to function.

Step 2: Let the Fur Fly!

The next fun filled part was putting the fur on the hero puppet head.

As I was going for a naturally layered colouring to the bear’s fur, I used black fur as the base. I used a synthetic fur with a stretchy backing to allow the mouth mechanism and various animations on the puppet’s face to move properly.

If you ever want to check out the most amazing fur supplier for the FX industry, visit National Fibre Technology.

With the fur in place, I dyed it with a variety of special inks and pigments to blend the light and brown layers.This gives the bear an overall natural texture.

The glass eyes were set in epoxy putty shaped like the natural eyelids.As the eyes didn’t call for an eye blink or movement mechanism (because they couldn’t afford it), I was able just to set them in a stationary position.

After some tweaking by request of the client, I filled out the face a bit more of the bear to give him some “bulk”.

Step 3: Bear Body Building

I really have to give a big tip of the hat to my buddy BRAD THE BALLOON GUY  for always being a great pal to use (abuse) when I am working on all kinds of weird projects.   I’ve made Brad into a zombie puppet, gutted him, blown him up, made him put on dorky super hero outfits… so I’m giving him a well deserved promotional plug.  Visit his site!

Okay, So with my buddy Brad as my test subject, I was able to sort out a light weight foam and aluminum structure to turn a stunt performer into a giant bear.

I used a variety of foam densities. I used more flexible foam around the neck, arm and shoulder areas of the body suit to allow for movement. 

For the more rigid parts of the bear anatomy, I used high density foam. I even made use of the inexpensive thick foam mats that you can buy at most hardware stores. 

The rear legs were set as a groove and socket opening to keep the “bum” shape of the bear. The rear legs could pivot, almost like an oversized action figure’s legs. This also maintained the bulky body.

The performer would walk on his front legs with use of crutches. These were integrated into the “waking” version of the puppet suit legs.

The final foam under structure was trimmed and finished with adjustable leather straps and fittings.

Note: No Balloon guy was harmed in the making of this suit ;)

Step 4:

With the under structure done, I was able to put the fur over the body suit in the same way I did the hero head puppet.   I used the same technique of blending the colours of the fur.

Before I did send out the puppet, I did have a little bit of fun on my Youtube channel with it.  I won’t embed those here as there is some “adult” language in them. But if you are looking to hear some really bad bear jokes, you can find some stuff on my Youtube Channel here.

The movie itself “Vikingdom” looks pretty neat. This bear does appear in the trailer at the 0:33 mark.  Don’t blink, you may miss it.   I don’t know how the bear will look in the final film, they may have layered a lot of CG overtop of it. It may look like a guy in a furry suit flopping about.

In any case, I’m proud of what I was able to do with little time and budget. I had a lot of fun with this creative challenge and learned a lot in the process.

I hope you all find this inspiring.

Happy cre8ing!


Puppet Contest

Participated in the
Puppet Contest