Introduction: How to Create a Large Size Puppet Head From PU-foam Block Waste
I saw the Puppetmastaz in Berlin last summer. They offered us a great show with some star wars cameos - Geeky isn't it. After discussing with some friends I thought why not doing puppet heads by myself. Puppet making and playing tradition is very old and various puppets arts are known (such as the traditional chinese shadow theatre).
This instructables depicted puppets inspired by the puppetmastaz style although many other puppet masters are known worldwide - Muppet Show for instance, les Guignols de l'info, Sesame Street and so on.
Many Instructables are available on instructables on how to make a puppet, but there the creation process is interesting.
Nevertheless, the material choice rules the design. Polyurethane foam blocks allow sharp edges volume geometries but soft edges or smooth spherical surfaces are very difficult without the appropriate tool.
When you look at the elefant picture above, what feeling is it giving to you? Such a design appears far more mature than the teletubbies heads isn't it?
For smoother heads, or well defined head, prefer another approach - you obtain over 400 entries when searching for puppet on instructables.com...
I realised already 3 large puppet heads from PU foam blocks and this experience is time consuming as every creation process requiring working with your hands. I always start from a given foam block geometries and I draw several ideas on paper first that takes in account those limits.
Nevertheless, the results are quite interesting: I realized an evil wild pig, a smart cat, a goofy elefant. I designed each head with an own personnality.
I was really satisfied to see the reaction of the people to my creation that corresponds to my expectation.
Just a mention on the contents of this instructable-->attribution non commercial sharealike.
You can re-use my texts and my pictures, modify or whatever, if you do so please cite the author, my work or even better put a link to this instructable. I would appreciate your cooperation :) In addition if you have any comment or improvement that you would like to share with me please do it. I would like to make a gallery of Puppets at the end of this instructable, If you build one, send me a picture :)
Legends or titles
safety issue or important notice
Step 1: Inventory
-a foam piece (or several) -from a couch, a bed, or even some pillows - usually polyurethane based foam. A swedish company do propose foam coussin. But recycling is far better.-
I am very thankful to a shop in Berlin Schöneberg for supplying some foam pieces for free.
-a skizze of the head that will fit into the general form of the virgin foam
-a cutter or scissors or a bred knife -Please do not injure yourselves... I mean do not use rasor sharps blades without kevlar gloves and work safely with at least one other person around you-
-a marker-to draw on the foam-
-several paints (at least the ground colours must be acrylic or latex dispersion 1-3L ground colour, other colours in small amounts)
-a ping pong ball cut in two equal halves -if you want more than two eyes, cut halves accordingly, who said a giant spider?-
-a crystal clear adhesive „strong“
Step 2: Making the Puppet Head
Two schools for working with foam would fight: the rasor cutter or the large scissors and the hot wire method.
I will however described a work with the cutter although the hot wire allow very clean edges and plans. -I do not have one so I have to deal with sharp blades :D-
-in all cases please be careful, and do not work with sharp blades if you are alone.
You need large pieces like the one below. Even broader.
You must draw the head design on each side of the foam piece by reporting some lines with the marker as shown on the picture Here it is a predesign for a rabbit head.
You need to respect certain geometries: Each side must look the same but the front will be different. You can distinguish the front face of the rabbit and the side face of the rabbit head.
Step 3: Cutting the Foam Block
When you will cut the foam, you must imagine the stonecutter working
from a rough piece of marble. He will follow the „top down“ strategy.
A rough form will be cut and then the further smaller details are carved out.
First you cut the back of the head, as well as creating a „pre nose“ area and then you sculpt the ears and the „lower lip“ area.
The mouth must be designed as „open“ 3 cm between the lower and the upper lip. This space will enable squizing the mouth together once the head is finished. Illusion of speeking is then possible for the puppet head.
Step 4: Useful Hints
Some rules to follow:
-very deep and large cuts are feasible after several runs. Push each side of the foam to make the cut appear, as showed on the picture, cut again, and repeat these steps until you obtain the right cut dimension See the pictures the last picture is obtained after 3 cutting runs.
see the four pictures that illustrate this feature.
-the cutter can do straight lines but you can play on the height along a cut -starting deep and finishing with a superficial cut-
-It is much easier to sculpt from the outsides into the insides than the opposite. -like when cutting meat pieces, hold the biggest part and cut away the smallest-
-Respect as far as possible a symmetry between the left and the right sides of the face. Thanks to the marks you`ve done at the first place, you must be able to follow a certain logic when cutting.
-If the cutter does not cut anymore, use a sharpener on it. This inconvenience is a drawback of cutting foams.
Once you have realised a face by sculpting the foam. Make the check list: a nose? Yes, a kin? A mouth? Teeth --- hum I do not draw teeth, feel free to do :D
Do not hesitate to add some wrinkles on the faces by cutting the block superficially. This will bring more life appearance to your puppet.
Step 5: Hollowing a Hole for the Hand
You need to sculpt at the rear /neck part of the head an opening for your hand. like on the first picture here. The hand will maintain the head and the thumb will move the lower lips part.
To carve the inside of the foam block you need to use pure force. First create an opening and start cutting little by little the inside of the foam block and at each step you can remove a piece of foam by pulling until it breaks with your fingers.
Be careful, it happened to me to damage a side, I did a hole on the face. I could fix it, but it could have been worth.
If you have enough space for your hand to rise inside the block, cut the foam sothat your thumb can actionnate the lower lip part. (like in the middle of it) When you have win enough space inside the head and you are satisfied of your design, then go for the painting.
Step 6: Painting the Puppet Head
Whatever you want to obtain, the following painting method is a quick and dirty with high output. :) I did that for the three puppet heads.
You can be more cautious and make far more details but this is your task.
For the elefant puppet head, I used 4 pieces of foam, a main one for the head, two thin foam pieces for the ears, and a long piece for the ivory teeth. All the pieces except the tusks were coated with a light grey acryl based paint as the ground colour. (work on a clean place and use newspaper pages to protect your working place)
Prefer a latex paint that will cover the foam pores. You must be aware that other paint may rigidify the outter part of the foam quite a lot... almost like an exoskeletton.
The paint must dry prior to the next steps.
-Then a mixture of black acryl paint and water (1:3-5) was applied as a wash colour in the wrinkles. To darken the lines. Paint the inner part of the mouth with black paint as well.
-A mixture of white acryl paint and water (1:5) was applied with a brush teeth as a brush. This method is known by tabletops figures painters. The brush method covers the edges only and works if the brush is loaded with a very little paint amounts (use a cleaning towel to unload the excess of paint). These two steps will bring life to your puppet head as I did for the elefant picture I painted the tusks with the white mixture and I draw ears with the helps of black and white paints. Let it dry.
Step 7: Finishing the Design of the Foam Head
The final step consist in mounting the eyes onto their expected location.
-First you need to draw the eyes. Cover the ping pong ball halves with white paint. Let it dry
Then draw eyes as you like. Here I prepared two blue eyes.-you can see from the fisrt picture that I used low quality multicoloured pingpong ball for that purpose!-
Apply the crystal clear adhesive onto the iris.
When the adhesives hardened, you can mount the eyes onto the prepared location.
-With the help of a cutter you need to cut lines the foam to receive the eyes (the blue dots marked on the picture below, the right eye is already in place).
-Insert the eyes and add crystal clear adhesive on the edges of the eyes as shown in the last picture with red marks.
This will add a further „alive“ touch. Indeed those would look wet.
So that all folks to realise a puppet head like I did.
Step 8: Bonus Part: Living Hinges for Extra Flexible Parts Like Trunks, Tentacles or Whatever
I will only add a small point about living hinges.
This "technology" is very hype at the moment for plywood CNC project. And this part is largely described elsewhere. Very nice living hinges pictures are available on pinterest or search onto wikipedia.
Nevertheless, this method can be applied to anything from metal to foam.
I wanted a more flexible trunk. Living hinges was helpful there.
Actually If you look at some bed made out of foam those integrate living hinges in order to add more flexibler response to an applied deformation (a body, for instance).
The strategy was to altern long and deep cuts with removal of a small amounts of foam up and down of the trunk and sidely. The more you remove the flexibler it is but the more fragile as well and the most visible.
Choose wisely or if you are capable of hidding it you can work with larger living hinges like I created.
Step 9: Bonus Part: Living Hinges in a Bed
Living hinges in a bed are exemplified by those last 4 pictures.
The body weight must be well distributed but with heavier part like the torso will strongly deform the foam. In order to have a differential behaviour meaning a stronger response for the torso and a softer response for the legs, the head and the arms, living hinges will be cut on the 10 first cm (superficial) part of the foam. (it can be different, it is just for the explanation)
The deformation of the body weight on this flexibler part will make the body encounter the more dense foam below the living hinges level whereas the legs and the other lighter parts will swimm in this more comfortable and flexible foam region offered by the implementation of living hinges.
-it is like having two sets of springs made out of the same material block:
a short range very soft spring set on the top and below this region a long range spring set with more harder response.
You see why having this feature is very interesting for making goods? You have not to deal with different materials and this single block system is quite easily implemented. Furthermore, you will certainly spare equipment.
I hope this was interesting to you.