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.