Introduction: Building Audrey II Phase 4

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 IV is the final and largest form of Audrey II. She's big, mean, and in control. Being such a large puppet with a lot of demands, it's a hefty task to build her to be up to everything. She needs to be able to:

  • Eat three actors

  • Sing and move

  • Somehow portray growth (here accomplished with large leaves lifted into place, as well as added roots and buds) and sprout arms for her finale appearance

As with Phase III, she requires a hefty armature to accomplish this, and now that she is too large to be entirely supported by the person operating her, she requires a substantial support system to hold her in place while she is puppeteered. As with Phase II she can be broken down into a series of parts:

  1. The head itself, upper and lower jaw attached together and serving as the most visible part of the puppet (now even larger and more colorful than her previous forms and crested with spines).

  2. The hidden ramp base which serves as 'gullet' for actors to tumble down.

  3. Poles and a support cap to hold her head at the desired height.

  4. Two 'skirts' to both hide the puppeteer and base, hidden with leaves.

  5. Decorative roots.

Because of the requirements for her finale appearance (and my personal approach to them), she must also contain these parts (these will be covered in a separate tutorial):

  1. Large leaves to lift into place and brackets to hold them.

  2. Large 'woody' (or root-like) arms to menace the audience and knock Seymour into the mouth

  3. Covers for the puppeteers needed to operate said arms.

Having several parts also allows the puppet to be broken down for storage and transport, but once assembled she can remain so for the duration of the production.

Step 1: Materials

Because of the separate elements of this large puppet, and it's vast size, quite a lot of different materials are needed.

For the base:

  • 1/2” Plywood, Nails, Screws, and Woodglue

  • 6' 1” Diameter Wooden Dowels

  • 1”1/2” Diameter PVC Pipe and Pipe Clamps

  • Miscellaneous Wood

  • Astroturf and Heavy-Duty Staples

  • Foam Padding

  • Fabric to Cover Foam

For the Head:

  • 1/8”x1/2” Aluminum Bar

  • 14-Gauge Aluminum Wire

  • Machine Screws and Nuts

  • 1/2”, 1”, and 2” Upholstery Foam

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

  • Hot Melt Glue

  • Thread

The extras will be covered in the next tutorial. All of these materials require significant volume, and I ended up using many yards of each.  Exact totals exceed dozens of yards of fabric and foam.

Step 2: Part 1: Constructing the Base

Using Swazzle's Audrey II ( as an inspiration, the final form of Audrey is essentially built around a padded ramp with two pole supports for it's massive head. The ramp was built out of scrap plywood from previous theatrical productions (see notes for rough dimensions), and is a fairly simple box with an interior ramp (gullet). Added to the sides of this are two ramped pieces with plumbing fittings, these are used to hold two poles which support the head. The puppet's head, secured by rope hangers is hung on two metal eye hooks on a small 'pivot point', a sandwiched construction of plywood and 2”x4” which sits on top of the poles.

The lower portion of this construction is covered in AstroTurf, as there was a significant amount in the theater stock I was pulling from. This will help disguise any portions of the base that may unintentionally show through the eventual final covering of leaves and roots. While it's not a very attractive covering, it is green and light diffusing, and will not show directly in the end.

Because actors will eventually be tumbling down this gullet, the interior of this ramp needed to be padded to help prevent injury (and rug-burn). The pads are pieces of upholstery foam cut to size to fit the interior ramp and its sides and covered in scrap green fabric, adhered in place with fabric hot melt glue. These pads were then further secured in place with heavy-duty staples where needed (particularly where actors will be putting a lot of pressure on the pads).

Metal flagpole brackets were added to the sides of the puppet to hold the finale leaves. These can be adjusted to whatever angle suits the look. Velcro was also added with screws to the base to serve as an attachment point for the arms.

Step 3: Part 2: Metal Head Armature

Using the same means of construction as Phase III, a head armature was built out of aluminum rod and aluminum wire. This head is significantly larger than the previous, somewhat less ridged, owing to it's size, and will eventually be significantly heavier. As the construction is not worn by an actor directly, this is an acceptable addition of weight, though the flexibility needs to be carefully considered.

As before, aluminum rods are bent to shape on a grid, drilled and screwed, then further supported with a woven mesh of aluminum wire.

Two eye hooks were added to each side of the head pivot, and serve as a hanging point for the head. Instead of Swazzle's plastic pivot point, after some experimentation, this Audrey hangs from rope tied to four points of her upper jaw (see photos for details). After carefully tying and re-tying each knot to find the center balance point, each was finished off by being tied tight and stitched together, then taped in place to hold them at the right spot until the remainder of the foam and skin is added to the head.

The lower jaw, while initially intended to be removable, after some experimentation, was found to be unnecessary and it's joint was made permanent with rope also. To balance it's weight and provide a grip for the puppeteer to open the mouth to its widest, a steel bar was bent to shape and added to the back of the lower jaw. Bolted and tied in place, it's weight has been accounted for in the balancing of the jaw. While a perfect balance is not necessary, it is aesthetically pleasing and makes for a more secure neutral position of the head. A wooden dowel, split and then bolted on with adjustable wing nuts was added to this bar, and can be slid left to right and positioned such that Audrey can be center stage, stage right, or stage left, and the puppeteer hidden behind her. This also allows the mouth to be fully open to engulf actors and the puppeteer to move out of the way as they move down her padded gullet.

Step 4: Part 3: Head Foam

The exterior of the head is foamed in the same manner as phase III although it is larger and more complicated to complete. See photos for some details on this variation.

Step 5: Part 4: Head Skin

The exterior of the head is also skinned in the same manner as phase III although it is larger and more complicated to complete. See photos for some details on this variation. The lips are also added in the same way as Phase III, albeit requiring quite a lot of patience and clamping to hold them in place while working.

In order to make this phase of Audrey II look more menacing she has finally sprouted some very distinct spines and warts. These are made of two inch foam and sculpted and skinned in the same manner as the teeth of previous phases, albeit in yellow instead of white. They are added to Audrey II at this point before painting in order to ensure they are thoroughly blended with the final paint job.

Step 6: Part 5: Mouth Skin

The mouth construction of Phase IV differs slightly from Phase III as the tongue is no longer controlled by the puppeteer and she must be capable of swallowing actors whole. The general construction remains similar, as a large sheet of fabric is cut to size and glued in starting at the mid-point of the front of the upper jaw and worked around the entire diameter of the mouth. However, this is one single sheet of material, and when added, the tongue is adhered to the now 'skin' of the lower jaw, and a slit cut in the back of the mouth for actors to go through. Because the material of the mouth is milliskin spandex, it will not run, and does not need an edge finish. This means actors can be rather rough in being engulfed and the mouth will hold up to the abuse. Where the slit is cut will depend a bit on the mouth shape, but here, owing to the drape of the fabric inside of the mouth, it is not visible from the audience perspective as she talks. The slit does not run the full extent of the mouth, and is instead about three feet across (the jaw is about 60” at it's widest point).

Step 7: Part 6: Puppeteer Screens

To cover the puppeteer and the base, rather than directly attaching the leaves (16 leaves constructed as the previous phases) to the puppet, a 'screen' was sewn for both the upper and lower portions of the head.

The rear screen consists of two 60” wide panels sewn down the middle and attached to the head via Velcro (hook side sewn to the screen and loop side firmly adhered to the puppet with fabric hot melt, being sure to form a secure bond with each).

The lower screen consists of one large panel that runs underneath the open portion of the jaw. These are painted with a faux leaf finish and covered in more dimensional leaves. Because of how through the cover is, this version of Audrey II can be placed either center stage, or stage right or left, so long as it butts up against the wings so the engulfed actors have somewhere to disappear to.

Step 8: Part 7: Roots

For a little more interest and cohesiveness with the previous phases, a few roots were built to add to the base of the puppet. These are constructed of a simple long taper of fabric stuffed with scrap foam and other soft odds and ends from previous portions of this project.

The end is closed by seaming both sides with a little glue, and the roots are attached to the puppet by pinning them either to the AstroTurf on the base, or to the lower portions of the puppeteer screens.

Step 9: Part 8: Painting

Part 8: Painting

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)

  • Aqua and yellow brushing on the lips for texture

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 Screens were first painted with faux leaves similar to the constructed ones, then the Leaves 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 roots were painted in this order:

  1. Brown sprayed gradient

  2. Brown brushed details

  3. Green and brown splattering

  4. White brushed details

Step 10: Part 9: Exterior Details

After everything was painted the teeth were added to the mouth. There are 100 teeth in total for this phase of Audrey II, and they completely fill the jaws. Added with fabric hot melt glue, they are all securely in place.

The leaves were added to the screens once everything was securely in place. Each screen was carefully positioned such that it will not hinder the mouth movement. Having two screens ensures room for the mouth to move to it's full extent (both screens added when the mouth was as far open as possible. These remain removable for ease of transport and setup. Each leaf was added with hot melt glue, and attached in a pattern to present maximum coverage from any audience view. Because the screens are also painted with leaves, full coverage is not needed and would make the puppet too heavy in any case.

Step 11: Part 10: Further Bracing

After rigging and testing the completed puppet, there were a few weak points found. The steel lower jaw rail was found to need further bracing for secure motions. A second steel bar was added to the interior of the first, given a half inch gap with wood blocks, and held securely by construction adhesive and rope wrapping.

To help secure the head with it's somewhat flimsy armature, a wooden dowel was cut to length to fit between the rope supports of the head and hold it firmly. This brace helps give finer control of the puppet, and ensures less sag on it's own weight.

Step 12: Conclusion

Painted, assembled and here shown set up, the full version of Audrey II Phase IV measures at a little over seven feet high, a little less than nine feet long, and four feet wide. Actors are engulfed by climbing into her mouth and sliding down her gullet. She can sing and move her head left and right, up and down, and she's capable of growing a bit for the finale which will be covered in the next tutorial.

The main phases are all done, on to the Finale Pieces...

Step 13: Bonus: Production Photos

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