Introduction: Building Audrey II Phase 3

About: I am a theater artist with a taste for the unusual. Bones and metal, iconography and the media, rough textures, blatant symbolism, and a slant towards the surreal, I limit myself to no media or style. I'll try…

Phase III is even bigger yet than her previous two phases, but she's not yet a horror, just a small terror. She's fully able to talk now, and all the more trouble for it. As with all of her phases, she has special design considerations here too. She needs to:

  • Be large enough and able to consume cut up body parts.

  • Sing and dance

  • Show some 'growth'/vicious demand (here accomplished by her puppeteer moving from a cross legged position to an upright seated one and flailing their legs as well as going from sitting to standing.

  • Have an articulated tongue for singing.

As she is significantly larger than her previous phases, she also has these considerations:

  • She needs a sturdy armature now that she is large enough to cover a puppeteer.

  • The puppeteer needs to remain concealed.

  • The needs of the puppeteer need to be taken into consideration that she is not too heavy to operate.

Despite these multiple considerations her format is still of simply a mouth, though now, instead of being operated by a single hand, her head covers half of the puppeteer who operates her with both arms. Their legs are covered with roots and vines allowing for more articulation and motion when they move them about.

This breaks the puppet into three parts for construction:

  1. The head, similar to previous phases but much larger.

  2. The suit for the puppeteer of roots and leaves.

  3. The pot for the puppeteer to be seated on.

While this is a different and disparate approach from the previous two phases, the overall body shape remains similar, and simply has grown in size, detail, and viciousness as before.

Step 1: Materials

Now that Audrey II has grown significantly, her overall construction requires a more solid armature of aluminum (light enough to bend by hand and not severely affect final weight, strong enough to provide support), but her other materials remain much the same:

  • 1/8”x1/2” Aluminum Bar

  • 14-Gauge Aluminum Wire

  • 1/2” Upholstery Foam

  • 1” Upholstery Foam

  • Milliskin Matte Fabric in Daffodil Yellow, White, Magenta, Kelly/Apple Green, Dark Green, and Nude

  • Faux Terra Cotta Plastic Pot

  • 1” Nylon Strap

  • Plastic Parachute Clips (x2)

  • Plywood

  • Cheap Faux Fur

  • Machine Screws and Nuts

  • Thread

  • Hot Melt Glue

  • Acrylic Paint in Evergreen, Apple Green, White, Red, Purple, Blue, Aqua, Yellow, Orange, Brown, and Black

Naturally, all necessary tools to machine and manipulate these materials are also required.

Step 2: Part 1: Metal Head Armature

Owing to the machine oil residue, the aluminum was wiped down with mineral spirits and allowed to dry before beginning. To assemble the armature, a 6” grid was laid out on a table to align the various pieces of the head.

The top of the head was constructed by first bending a piece of rod to serve as the primary rim/lip of the plant. This was shaped with various curves to match the intended design. It was secured by drilling the rod then adding a screw and nut to each hole. Everything was bent such that minimal spring tension would be holding the shape, and primarily the rod would hold on it's own to reduce pressure on each connection point and to make the form more strong overall.

After the lip was completed, a rod attached from the front of the head to the back (serving as a form for the top of the head) was added, followed by similar bracing running parallel to this at both the front and back of the head. With all of this in place, a lighter frame of aluminum wire was woven together, held in place purely by carefully wrapping each wire around the aluminum frame. This mesh serves for further rigidity and serves as the overall base form for the head. Woven at approximately 6” or smaller intervals, this mesh has a similar form to chicken wire, with each piece of wire not wrapped around the other, but twisted together into a secure position.

The lower jaw was made similarly, but instead of the primary from being a singular band, this was truncated such that the puppeteer will fit in the puppet comfortably.

Step 3: Part 2: Head Handles

Each half of the jaw is controlled with a bar wedged between the sides of the head. These were initially constructed of aluminum cut to length, bent to shape, then drilled at each end. Thin aluminum wire stitches these to the rest of the armature. These were then covered in foam (a long rectangular piece cut, then hot melt glued around the metal bar), then covered in fabric for the comfort of the puppeteer and to assist their grip.

When this later proved too flexible, these rods were replaced with PVC pipe which did not require padding for a comfortable grip.  The aluminum wire also needed to be replaced with more robust steel wire, and both changes were made with a simple extraction and replacement.

A small pad was added to the top of the head where the main supports of the armature meet (and are held together with a screw/nut) and each screw/nut combination was covered in a smooth 'skin' of hot melt glue to reduce rough spots.

Step 4: Part 3: Head Foam

The head foam of this phase is primarily of lighter 1/2” foam rather than the thicker 1”. Laying pieces of foam over the armature, they were cut to shape and hot melt glued to the form, fitted along seams to sit butted up against each other, rather than lapped on top of one another. They were glued along each seam of foam as needed, held in place with clamps until dry.

A foam lip cut out of 1” foam (to give it a denser shape) was cut out but not attached to the form at this phase to allow for easier skinning. The lip has two darts on the 'nose' of the plant on the upper lip to better fit it to the curved form. Cut and adjusted to fit, the seams were glued together with hot melt glue.

Step 5: Part 4: Head Skin

The fabric for the skin was done similarly to the previous phases, and wrapped all the way underneath the puppet (with a similar middle seam to the previous phase).

The lips were skinned separately from the head, simply traced around with extra spacing to allow for the fabric to pull around the form, then glued in place. With both the lips and head skinned, they were attached on their respective places on the upper and lower jaw.

Step 6: Part 5: Mouth Skin

A tongue was made of foam, and a skin stitched for it that included a 'sleeve' for the puppeteer's arm to control it with. Control is done by releasing their grip on the lower jaw, and using that arm to control the tongue to lick the lips or sing a major coda. This leaves the lower jaw limp, but because it is seated in the puppeteer's lap, there is still enough to control for the actions needed. The sleeve was sewn on to the skin of the tongue before the top and bottom were sewn together. A zigzag stitch was used around the edge of the sleeve because at the distance it will be seen, and once painted, it will not be significantly noticeable. Both sides were then sewn together and the tongue was stuffed in the same manner as the leaves previously.

Once the foam and skin were added to both sides of the head, the major work of skinning and finishing the interior mouth was ready to begin. Starting with the top jaw, a piece draped and cut to fit the interior of the mouth was laid in and attached with hot melt glue. Before being attached, the tongue was sewn in, including a hole which will allow the puppeteer to 'eat' body parts thrown in the mouth. This can be basted shut if the effect is not needed in the production. When laying the mouth fabric into the head the 'seam' was constructed such that it faced the interior of the head, therefor making a neat line (see pictures). To get a good taught stretch, work began at the back of both sides of the jaw where the hinge point was desired for the mouth. It is important to note that this fabric serves as the main hinge for the jaw. At this point I switched from regular hot melt glue to fabric hot melt glue to ensure a good connection.

Fabric hot melt glue dries more flexibly and absorbs less than regular, making it ideally suited for the purpose of attaching fabric to fabric. The mouth fabric was thus attached with it, starting at the back of the upper jaw and working forward in even segments on the right and left sides until reaching the font. The bottom jaw was completed in the same way, though is far more cumbersome work, given the now attached upper jaw.

Step 7: Part 6: Puppeteer Coveralls

Unfortunately due to a camera error I'm missing most photos of this phase, however the construction is noted fairly well in my design notes. While the puppeteer's head, arms, and upper body are covered by the puppet's head, the lower portions of their body are covered with a sort of pair of coveralls. These consist of a green 'trunk' and brown 'roots'. These coveralls cover the puppeteer's feet completely, and must be worn without shoes. The overall construction is a simple tube for the body, and long tapered legs added with a rounded finish to keep the transition a little more interesting than just a flat line.

With the base form construction, smaller rootlets were constructed of thin tapers of brown fabric sewn along their raw edge and turned. These were then stitched into vertical slits on the legs and body of the coveralls.

The coveralls were finished with black nylon strap stitched on to the garment and finished with parachute clips to hold the garment up. Because of the length of the strap this item is easily adjustable for any height of puppeteer.

Step 8: Part 7: Pot Seat

Unlike the previous phases this phase of Audrey II is not directly connected to her pot. While it is painted the same as the previous two phases, it is finished significantly differently to serve as a seat for the puppeteer to rest on comfortably. With their root covered legs and more roots on the pot, the effect of a plant sitting in a pot is quite effective.

This phase is also not well documented due to camera error, however it consisted of these steps:

  1. Cutting a round piece of 1/2” plywood to fit just within the interior of the pot.

  2. Cutting a second round piece of 1/2” plywood to fit just on top of the pot.

  3. Upholstering the top piece of plywood with 2” foam cut to shape to fit the round.

  4. Covering the upholstery with a cheap brown faux fur to serve as 'dirt' (cutting the piece larger than the round, then pulling it tight and stapling the fabric in place).

  5. Gluing and screwing these two pieces of plywood together.

  6. Screwing the top piece of plywood directly into the pot from the underside of the lip.

Decorative roots were also added to the pot. These consist of a simple tapered foam construction covered in fabric, the same as the construction of the leaves. With their edges finished cleanly with a seam, they were added to the pot with fabric hot melt glue, being careful to not let the white glue show as much as possible.

Step 9: Phase 8: Leaves and Teeth

The leaves and teeth of Phase III were constructed in the same manner as the previous phases, though significantly larger. This phase has only four leaves, though it has several more teeth. Each leaf and tooth was cut individually out of foam, then skinned in their respective fabric colors.

Step 10: Phase 9: Paint

The painting order remains consistent through each phase of Audrey II. I used a very cheap acrylic straight from the tube to avoid mixing later. Since these colors suit the look of the show, there was no need to blend for subtlety. I used both a paint sprayer (for gradients and consistency of base colors) and a brush (for details and accents). These photos encompass the painting of several phases as I was painting as much as possible at once to cut down on time.

The exterior of the head was painted in this order:

  • Orange sprayed gradient (leaving a bit of the front yellow)

  • Red sprayed gradient

  • Purple sprayed gradient

  • Purple brushed veins (with thinned paint for smoother lines, being sure to add more veins than the previous phase)

  • Red and blue brushed veins and 'warts'

  • White brushed highlights and spots (not thinned for opacity)

The interior of the mouth was painted in this order:

  1. Purple sprayed gradient

  2. Blue sprayed gradient

  3. Brushed purple details

  4. Brushed blue details

  5. Brushed white highlights

The Leaves and greenery were painted in this order:

  1. Dark green sprayed gradient

  2. Light green brushed veins and tips

  3. Purple brushed veins

  4. Red brushed vein highlights

  5. White vein and edge highlights

The pot was painted with a combination of brown, gray, white, black, and apple green sprayed and splattered to create a more interesting look.

The roots were painted in this order:

  1. Brown sprayed gradient

  2. Brown brushed details

  3. Green and brown splattering

  4. White brushed details

Step 11: Part 10: Final Assembly

As with the previous phases, to assure bright, crisp colors everything was painted before being assembled. However the final assembly on this phase is fairly minor given the disparate nature of the individual pieces. The last remaining assembly following painting simply required adding the teeth and leaves to the head. The teeth were added in a semi-random configuration in the jaw, rooted firmly with fabric hot melt glue, and the leaves were added to the back of the head to match the previous phases and further help to conceal the puppeteer.

Step 12: Conclusion

With the three separate elements of the puppet complete, here they are together as worn by a puppeteer. Altogether they create the impression of a plant in a pot, and the puppeteer is comfortable enough in the light arrangement to sit seated, cross-legged with the head limply in their lap for the duration of the scene in which they must remain still for some time. She is able to eat body parts, sing and dance, and clearly is growing into a formidable monster.

On to Phase IV...

Step 13: Bonus: Production Photos

Here are some photos of this puppet in action during the production!