Shrek Dragon - Youth Theater Production of "Shrek the Musical"

About: I enjoy building costumes, props, and just about anything creative.

This spring's performance for the Young People's Theatre was "Shrek the Musical".

The director liked the dragon from the Broadway show which was built by The Character Shop so I used it as a reference.

Our dragon had to be no taller than 14 feet and had to be able to stick her head above an eight foot tall piece of scenery.

The head was built up from cardboard and the framework was made of steel. The assembly was bolted to a 3'x4' plywood base with four casters to make her mobile.

She was made with mostly donated materials and our total out of pocket, not including the cloth and paint, was less than $60.

She took more than 125 hours to construct.

There were eight performances and she performed nearly flawlessly.

Update from 2018: To date, four other theater companies have used the dragon. She's been on stage for more than 24 total performances. She has also been used for an Arts For Life Awards show and a Disney Dazzle Variety Show.

Update on 03/23/2019: There have been two Instructable members who have made dragons using my instructable.

Step 1: Building the Head

I started by finding a reference picture after determining her head would be five feet long, three feet wide and four feet tall. I drew reference lines on the drawing and transferred them to a large piece of cardboard. From there I just started cutting, bending, and hot gluing to create the shape of her head.

I used a kickball as a reference to determine the size and placement of the eyes.

It took nearly 30 hours to build up her head.

Step 2: Eyes and Eye Lids

The eyes are 8" acrylic globes from a lighting supply store online. I painted the pupil and striations on the inside and then coated the entire inside with the light green "whites" of her eye.

The eyelids were particularly complicated as they had to made from wire and cardboard to get the correct shape. I simply worked with 1" wide strips and cut them to have pointed ends and carefully bent them around as I glued them to the wire.

The blink mechanism was made out of shelve brackets, wood, and wire. I added two return springs once it was mounted inside the head so they return to their open state.

I originally was going to have the eyes made to look left and right but I ran out of time and after all was said and done, it wouldn't have added that much to the performance.

We placed two bright white LEDS behind the eyes so they would glow.

Step 3: Building the Framework

The metal framework was made from 1" square tubing, 1" round tubing, 1-1/2" round tubing, 2" round tubing, and 2" square tubing.

I built a frame that fit inside the head. It had a mounting point where it would hook to armature such that it had full articulated movement. It also had a vertical post at the rear to support counter weights. It ended up needing 35 pounds of weights to keep the head level.

The main post was nine feet tall and the armature was five feet long. The counter weight bar at the rear took 150 pounds of weight to keep the head high and make moving her up and down easy for the puppeteer.

Step 4: Covering and Painting

I used quilt batting to create shapes to add dimension to her skin. Once I glued them on, I simply glued the fabric into the open spaces between.

After a base color I dry brushed some scales and other details.

Step 5: Horns, Ears, and Teeth

The horns and ears were made from a pool noodle that was cut, shaped, and covered with fabric.

The teeth were made from two inch diameter plugs cut from blue foam insulation board. They were shaped with a rasp and covered with fabric.

The tongue and palate was made from cardboard covered with batting and fabric.

The horns and ears had 1/4" luan circles with 4" long bolts glue to their ends so they could be mounted to the head.

Step 6: Neck and Articulation

The neck was created using PEX flexible water tubing.  It was made into hoops to create the shape of the neck.  It was covered with fabric and then paint details were added.

You can see the cast member (the Big Bad Wolf) working the dragon in the first picture.  It shows the black plastic tubing that holds the shape of the neck.  

The second picture shows the neck fabric before it was detailed.  

There is a bar that is attached to the bottom of the head just under the u-joint that the puppeteer uses to move the head.  It has a handle on the right that is used to open the mouth, which has a spring connected to automatically close it.  Another cable runs to the left handle that can be pulled to make the eyes blink.



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    10 Discussions


    Reply 6 months ago

    You're welcome. Thank you for the kind words. She's been used by five theater companies to date.


    1 year ago

    Hi! Your Shrek dragon is awesome! Im now working on a small community production of Shrek and was wondering if you could please help me regarding 3 challenges on mechanism of the dragon that I haven’t been able to figure out- how did you attached the head to the body with the u-joint ? how did you make the handle for the head and mouth mechanisms? How did you position/attach the handle to the head?

    Thank you. Feel free to get back at me at , thank you again.


    2 years ago

    This is absolutely incredible! I tried to click on the Dragon Build link for more info, but the site doesn't seem to be up anymore. Is there a way to get more info or see more pictures? I'm wondering if you had some sort of template for the head you could share. I can enlarge a small paper template by printing it poster sized. I just have the hardest time figuring out how to shape the 3D shapes!

    1 reply

    Reply 2 years ago

    Thank you! I'm sorry about the link not working. I've removed it from the page as that site went away long ago.

    I don't have a template. I just used a picture and drew grid lines on it and then manually transferred it to the cardboard and started building it up from that. It took a lot of trial and error and just winging it.

    Good luck.


    3 years ago

    This is a truly amazing dragon. Could you please tell me if there is someone inside of the dragon operating it? I am looking at building a dragon for our February production, but I would like to know more about how you built the eyes to open and close, how you attached the mouth so that it would operate, and how you built the body. I too am on a shoe string budget, but am hoping that if I have more instructions that my students would be able to work on this in my musical theatre class at school.

    Thank you in advance for any tips,

    Martha Parker

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago

    Yes, there is a cast member inside who operates the dragon using a handle bar at the end of a long bar that is attached to the inside of the head. They have a handle that is used to open the mouth and a cable that makes the eyes blink. I've sent you an email and would be happy to provide any details you need.

    Where is your theater group located?

    We are in awe of your creation!! We are getting ready to do Shrek the Musical in April, for a non-profit homeschool organization located right outside of Philadelphia. We're interested in talking with you about the possibility of making one for our organization, for a fee of course. Look forward to hearing from you.


    Lauren McManus

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago

    Hi Lauren,

    I am wondering how your dragon worked out and if you were able to get further instructions?

    Martha Parker


    5 years ago on Introduction

    That's a fantastic piece of large but detailed crafting. Kudos!