Inflatable Kraken Tentacles - a Bus Puppet

Introduction: Inflatable Kraken Tentacles - a Bus Puppet

I know you are asking, why on earth would you need a Kraken bus puppet?

Simply, for the fun of it.

Or to surprise and delight others.

Or cause it makes you feel like a kid.

Lots of reasons, really.

Start by checking the video out here

This project initially started with our Family Adventure Mobile, and our wee son's interest in "Architoofus", the giant squid. We searched online for design options for the exterior of the bus, and found Kraken fun in every corner of the internet. Clearly we couldn't just stop at a bus with a Kraken sticker! ;)

Inspired by the artwork of Designs In Air, we loved the surreal appearance of tentacles emerging from the buildings. We imagined we could have tentacles emerging from the rooftop emergency exit of our bus. We thought about the motion of Air Puppets and wanted ours to move and "reach". With many iterations and testing, we managed an interactive puppet, where the kids make the tentacles move from inside the bus.

We used:

- an old sail, discarded from a sailboat

- acrylic paint

- 6 ropes

- a bouncy castle blower and PVC fittings

A video of the tentacles in action can be viewed below.

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Step 1: Preparing the Sail

The sail that we had on hand was discarded from a boat after it was stored with mice one winter. Repairs had been attempted with duct tape, which needed to be removed along with the stitched numbers. Using a seam ripper, the stitches were clipped and the clutter removed. Also removed were the slats which keep the edge of the sail rigid, by cutting into the end of the casing and sliding them out. The casings themselves can be left in place.

If you are in search of a discarded sail, try calling a local boat club and ask around. They are the kind of thing that gets replaced rather than repaired.

Step 2: Preparing the Paint

Painting on sail canvas is possible with acrylic craft paint, with some alterations. The paint straight out of the bottle is too thick and will crack once it is dry. The solution is to water down the paint. There is no magic amount, but we have found 1/3 paint and 2/3 water to be ideal. Mix a solution of at least 4 cups of diluted paint. Have fun with colour mixing to get that ideal colour. In this case, we used part bottles of paint to just use them up and combined them to get a blue colour. Craft acrylic paint tends to clump at the bottom, and shaking the bottle with water was a good opportunity to use up scraps and break up the clumps.

You will need several large sponge brushes for application.

Step 3: Paint Your Base Colour

Lay your sail on a flat surface, holding the corners down with weights if it is windy. Apply the diluted paint with the foam brush. Work along the entire surface, and don't worry too much about painting into the thick sail edges. These will be cut off in the end. You will not need an even toned surface. With the end of the paint, you may choose to drip the remains from the sponge brush onto the sail. This adds to the water appearance for the tentacles.

Step 4: Mix Spray Paint in a Darker Colour

This step creates the tops of the tentacles, by spraying 3 stripes of a darker blue. Starting with the initial base blue colour, slowly add some black to make a darker tone. Too much will quickly over-power your colour. This paint needs to be much more diluted and placed in a spray bottle.

Pictured is a yellow paint mixture, but for this step you will need the darker base colour.

Combine the paint and water in mixing container and blend heavily. We used a hand held immersion blender, however any blender should work. This breaks up any possible clots that will clog the spray bottle.

Pour the mixture into a clean spray bottle, aiming to fill the bottle. Spray 3 line sections on the sail. These will become the tops of the tentacles.

Step 5: Repeat With a Light Colour for Under the Tentacles

The sail will be cut and re-stitched into 3 tentacles. The underside of the tentacles will be lighter in colour, and covered in suckers. They get painted between the dark lines, and along the outer edges. Use the same method with the spray bottle to apply the paint, again diluting further and avoiding clots in the paint.

Step 6: Stamping the Suckers - the Base Colour

In order to add dimension and interest to the tentacles, the suckers are added in two stages. We used a pearl paint with a shimmer for the base colour, and combined it with a stamping medium. The stamping medium did not change the colour and extended the volume of paint. Make sure that you have enough paint for this stage, as it uses a deceptive amount.

To create the stamp, slice the end of a pool noodle. Dip the pool noodle in the paint and stamp it on the yellow stripes. Dipping directly into the paint puddle results in too much paint, so aim to print from a thin layer of paint. Tipping the container (as pictured) will help.

Step 7: Stamping the Interior Suckers

Repeat the method in the last step, this time with yellow, and using a slice of pipe insulation instead of a pool noodle. Stamp the smaller yellow circle inside the blue base colour. These create the larger suckers. Also add additional yellow stamps along the edge of the cluster of suckers, to create smaller suckers.

Step 8: Fill the Smaller Suckers

Using silver, fill in the donut hole on the small suckers, but not on the larger ones. A regular paint brush works, as well as your finger. This is the final step of the painting. Leave it out to dry fully.

Step 9: Heat the Dried Paint

In order to fix the paint into the fabric, it needs to be heated. A quick search online says you can either iron the canvas to heat it, or put the dried canvas into your dryer. We used our dryer, and likely would not do this method again, as parts of the interior of the dryer appear stained blue. I feel like I fell for the charge your iPhone in the microwave gig...lesson learned!

Step 10: Cut the Sail

Now it's time to cut the sail into the 3 tentacles. Make 2 large slices through the wide yellow sections, leaving a large area on the bottom uncut. Trim off the thick sail edges, which hold the ropes, grommets, etc. along the 2 long sides. On the bottom edge, leave these in place to help anchor the tentacles onto your final installation.

Step 11: Stitch and Mend the Holes, and Twist the Tentacles

The holes and imperfections in the sail now dictate where you will sew darts. The tentacles at this stage are straight and pipe-like. Sew darts along the tentacles to remove the holes and damages. These darts will now allow the tentacles to be more naturally shaped.

By the end, we learned that we should have put in more random darts for bends in the tentacles. Make lots :)

Step 12: Sew the Tentacles

Fold each tentacle with right sides together (painted face together). Using canvas weighted thread, and a good sewing machine, stitch from the tip of the tentacle down until you reach the end of the cut line. Leave the first ~12" stitch free, so that air can pass through the tentacle. You will likely have to extend this hole later when you test your airflow.

Turn these right side out by putting your arm down the tentacle, hold on to the tip end, and have someone pull the tentacle off your arm until it unfolds right side out.

Step 13: Sew the Base of the Sail to Connect to Your Fittings

The base of the tentacles will now have to be fit to your air source. We used a blower from a bouncy castle to animate the tentacles, and connected them with PVC fittings.

The issue at this point is the end of the tentacles is very wide since it was the base of the sail. This will need to be tapered down to your PVC fitting. The ends of the sail will overlap as they complete a circle and that needs to be sewed down first. Stitch the flap in place and cut away the excess fabric. Cut off the bottom grommets and sail rigging to have a clean edge. Take darts along the bottom of the sail, one for each tentacle, and stitch them to remove large triangles of canvas. Cut the excess off. We went from a 150" opening to a 14" opening. Expect these to be large darts.

**Do not overlap the 2 sail ends any more that they naturally land. Although it's tempting to remove large amounts of fabric this way, it will restrict your airflow to all 3 tentacles.

It does not have to be an exact fit since you will strap around the fitting to make it secure.

Step 14: Install Ropes to Control the Tentacles

A lighter fabric canvas may have given us better movement, however unexpected results only lead to new solutions. We needed a solution for movement.

We went with a mechanical movement of the tentacles, using 2 ropes secured into each branch of the tentacles. One rope secured near the end of the tentacle, and a second secured part way down the tentacle. These ropes then go back in to the bus and with handles are moveable.

Lay your tentacles out and feed a rope through the tip end of each tentacle and out the PVC fitting at the bottom. We used a shuttle for mending fishing nets, to lace the rope through.

Sew the ropes in place, by anchoring the end, sewing it inside the tentacle. Do this twice for each tentacle.

You will now have 6 ropes extending out the bottom.

We removed the PVC pipe for the next step.

Step 15: Thread the Ropes Through the Fitting

Drill 6 holes in the PVC pipe, so that the ropes will pull through easily in that direction.

File off the burrs.

Thread the ropes through these holes, making sure the lines are not tangled nor twisted within the tentacles.

Secure on the fitting with the gear clamp.

Step 16: Test Your Airflow

You've been eager for this!

Determine what you will be using to generate air pressure. Use whatever fittings you need for your space. We used a tube and an elbow to reach the hatch and keep the blower up in the racks of the bus.

With our test, we learned:

- Air transfers through the sail canvas and not just out the openings at the ends. We sealed those off.

- The tentacles did not have enough bends and we should have created more darts when it was inside out

Pull the strings and animate your tentacles.

Then laugh...just cause.

Watch the movie attached to see ours in action.

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    4 Discussions


    4 years ago



    4 years ago on Introduction

    Such a cool, unique project!

    I think I need to buy an old bus to fix up like yours for family trips and camping. Very inspired, thank you!


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks Seamster, it's certainly been a laugh. I'd encourage anyone to go find an old bus! Glad we could inspire. :) Share yours when you are done!