Introduction: Pinocchios Nose (theatrical Prop)

About: Swiss expat in Germany, husband, father, teacher, cyclist, tinkerer, former theatre propsmaster 🇨🇭 🇩🇪 👨‍👩‍👦‍👦 👨‍🏫 🚲 🛠️ Heimwehschweizer in D, Ehemann, Vater, Lehrer, Radfahrer, Bastler, Ex-Requisiteur

In my line of work as a propsmaster, from time to time I meet a very special challenge. In autumn 2015 it was the nose for Pinocchio.

As probably most of you now, it's the story of a little wooden puppet becoming a real boy, and while still in his wooden stage, his nose is growing longer and longer, when he's telling a lie. A lot of theatres do this part of the play in a way that the actor has an extra nose he puts on in this moment, or he pulls the point of his nose to make it longer or they just do nothing at all... Our director wanted to have the nose growing and shrinking visibly on stage without anyone touching it...

It was very clear, that neither the makeup department, nor the props department could do this all alone, so we joined forces. I agreed to do the technical part and makeup did the design part.

Over the time of about two months, I built various prototypes and two final noses, because when doing double shows, it's nice to have second (dry) mask to put on for the second show of the day.

Above you see the very first of these prototypes, the rehearsal mask and the (almost) final mask.

Edit (14th of july 2019):

It seems, that a lot of people try on building such a nose with the help of this instructable, which is a great honour for me. Please leave me a picture of your successful build in the comments. I would gladly see what you made!

And as stated in my profile: I don't own this mask/nose, it belongs to the theatre, I built it for and I don't work in that theater anymore. So I cannot sell or rent it out to you. You have to either ask the theatre (but to my knowledge the will not rent/or sell abroad) or to build one by yourself.

Step 1: Materials and Tools

I used a lot of tools in the process. The most important were a dremel and 2-component glue. To give you an idea of the tools I worked with I made a panoramic shot of my workbench in about mid-project (it tended to look worse to the end of the project).

To get to the key elements of the nose took me a lot of googling around, lots of emails and phonecalls with other prop and makeup departments. All this leaded to the basic idea to build a kind of telescope and a mechanism to push it out and pull it back in. With that basic idea in mind I set out to spend some quality time in my favourite DIY supplies shop, as well as in various toy and bicycles shops. I came back to the workshop with various sets of tubes in different sizes and materials, a bicycle pump and some break cables, a pirates toy telescope and a light sabre...

After toying around a bit with all the different materials I focused on the bike pump and the bike break cable...

Edit (14th July 2019):

I'm getting a lot of questions about the kind/brand of pump I used. It was a really cheap telescopic plastic pump from our local DIY-store. It's branded "Fischer" and comes most probably from China. I added a picture (a enlarged part of my panoramic shot) of the pumps and the packging.

Step 2:

The pump proved to be ideal for my plan: precise, little friction (once I removed the sealing rings) and the range of movement was fixed with built in limits already.

First I sawed of the valve part and the handle. Then I drilled a 7mm hole in the socket of the handle (now the tip of the nose) to accomodate the end socket of the break cable. To guide the cable through the nose I drilled a 3mm hole into the tip (kind of inside the 7mm hole) and widened it to a slot to make fiddling in the cable a bit easier. Another 3mm hole was drilled into the base of the smallest part of the pump/nose (later I got rid of the complete inside cover, as you can see in the images).

Then I cut a slot into the base of the largest tube to glue in the outer break cable later and in the same step I added a smll allan screw to limit the range of movement, when pulled back.

Step 3: Attaching the Nose to the Base, Routing the Cable

From the makeup department I got the base (perfectly fitted for the actors face), made out of a Material called "cobra cast" (I heard it's not produced anymore)

First I cut a hole into the tip of the cobra cast nose (in the later versions I skipped this and left the base as it was), then I attached the outer brake cable to the base with some hot glue, then a leftover part of the pump with a hole for the outer cable was attached as well.

Then I threaded the inner cable into the outer cable and attached the pump to the nose-base with some small headless screws (still prototyping here, I wanted the pump/nose to be removable)

Step 4: Push/pull Mechanism

To make it possible for the actor to control the nose, I needed a simple solution to extend and retract the nose secretly. After giving a electrical solution some serious thought I left that path (still happy with it) and went down the mechanical one and used a bicycle break cable.

The first edition was very simple. I cut a slot into a small plastik tube, just wide enough to gide some welding wire, but to narrow to let the inner cable out. The length of the slot was given by the travel way of the nose tip.

To get the right length of the inner cable I fully extended the nose and soldered about one or two centimeters of the protruding end of the outer cable and cut of the unneeded part (with soldering you avoid the inner cable to untwist)

As push/pull lever I used a small brass tube (using a dedicated tube cutter instead of a saw results in much cleaner and precise cuts). I used a diagonal cutter to jam the break cable inside one end of the tube. Into the other end I fixed a piece of welding wire with the same method (sorry, completely forgot to take a pic here).

The plastic tube was then fixed to the outer cable with some hot glue and tape.

As it was usable, the mechanism proved to be too soft and weak. It worked for the first prototype but during the first use in rehearsal it bent while pushing and the slot widened enough, to let the break cable slip trough. So I replaced it with a brass tube and tweaked the lever a bit as well.

Step 5: Testing ...

The nose was now in a working state and ready for heavy testing. The makeup department dug out an old mask from a former production of Pinocchio. It was made out of papermaché and the new nose was a perfect fit. So I got rid of the cobra cast base and fixed the pump/nose into the paper mask. Now the mask was ready for rehearsals...

After a few rehearsals it was very clear that the brass tube was no option as well. It was stronger than the plastic one, but still far too weak. The actor had to jump around a lot, grawl into thight spaces, all with the mechanism fixed to his upper right leg...

Solution: I made another mechanism. This time with an iron tube and a more sophisticated lever...

Step 6: ... and Improving

I already mentioned the steps from plastic to brass to steel with the push-pull mechanisms outer shell, but also on the inside I made a lot of small adjustments in the process. Some very simple (switching to a better quality of outer cable improved the handling a lot!) some not so simple (clamping the break cable with allen screws), some not so obvious like switching to a better tool or improving by practice.

Most of it should be obvious, when you look at the pictures and the comments within. If not, feel free to ask!

Step 7: Final Product and Video

Once all the mechanicl problems were solved, it was time to hand over to the makeup department. They had the cast ready and implemented my mechanics directly into their mask. Like this we went into the first dress rehearsel.

After we had to make some smaller adjustments and the fixation of the push-pull-mechanism had to be worked over. But all in all it was done and worked very reliable through all shows.

In the video you can see some of the prototypes and the final version in action (no art involved here, just cut together in one video).

Make it Move Contest 2016

Runner Up in the
Make it Move Contest 2016