Introduction: Ventriloquist's Dummy
When I was young and growing up by the seaside, the highlight of every summer was going to see Uncle Percy, considered by those who know about such things to be one of the truly great Punch and Judy men, who did a summer season every year at Hastings.
I loved the Punch and Judy, but the highlight for me was always the ventriloquist act he did, and ever since I was very, very small I've dreamed of having my own dummy and transporting myself back to those long hot days.
The Christmas before last I decided that the time was right to listen to that little child's voice inside and start to make one, despite the protestations of my good lady wife.
I found some plans from 1938 on the Modern Mechanix blog (http://blog.modernmechanix.com/popsy-a-simply-made-dummy-for-the-amateur-ventriloquist/), and even though I have adapted them a great deal they were invaluable for inspiring and driving the project.
The build stalled early in 2012, but spurred on by the discovery of this site (and not being able to find any other ventriloquist's dummies on here), I decided to resurrect him and share him with you all.
I decided from the outset to make him as far as possible from found or leftover materials, and the only things I have parted with money for are the wig, a tin of pink paint, two rubber hands, a bag of fake bloodshot eyeballs and three or four packs of epoxy putty tabs, all from the pound shop, meaning that my dream has been realised for well under a tenner.
Practically every part of him could have been put together using other materials, half the fun has been making use of stuff laying around, so if you fancy building one yourself I hope you'll let your imagination go and have as much fun as I've had putting this one together, and that you may find some of what follows useful.
I have no photos of the actual making of the head, but hopefully the diagrams and photos with pointy arrows I've put together will be clear enough to help you if you're tempted to make your own.
Step 1: Making the Head
Pudding basin (small) for moulding head
Plasticine to make face over pudding basin
Waterproof container large enough to hold face for moulding (I used a cardboard box lined with plastic bags)
Fibreglass and resin, or papier mache, (or anything you can make strong enough to take mechanisms which go inside)
Epoxy resin, glue, or anything else you can find which will stick what you're using to make it together
Drainpipe/guttering/roll of cardboard or tube of suitable diameter to make neck
Paint (ideally approximately flesh coloured)
I initially considered making the head from papier mache as per the blueprints, but decided that if he was to survive in a house with three kids crashing about I would need to make it out of fibreglass and resin.
To make the mould for the face, I took a small pudding basin, slightly smaller than a young child's head, and got our eldest son to built a face over the outside using plasticine. I wanted the features to be strongly pronounced, but obviously it can look like whatever you want it to.
To make it easier for ourselves we made the lip-line straight line horizontally, and the jowls straight down and parallel to make it easier to cut away the chin section when it was cast.
When we were happy with the face, I mixed up some plaster and poured it into a box lined with plastic bags (if you have a container large enough to hold a pudding basin covered with plasticine you can use that, or anything else you have to hand). I gently pushed the face, nose first, into the plaster, let it set and then poured more in, about a litre at a time, until the face was submerged in set plaster up to the level of the top of the bowl.
When it was fully set (I left it for about a week), I poured some boiling water into the pudding basin and left it for a couple of minutes to warm up the plasticine to make the demoulding easier. The water was poured away, and I waited for the bowl to cool down to the point where I could get my hands in to prise it out.
BE VERY CAREFUL DOING THIS, BOILING WATER IS HOT
The bowl came out quite easily, I pulled the plasticine out as carefully as possible so that I could put it back over the bowl, cut away the features and repeated the above process to make the back of the head (although I waited until I'd made the fibreglass face so that I could mould the edge of the plasticine around the edge of the face to make sure they join together as closely as possible).
The face was made by fibreglassing into the plaster mould. I raised the eye sockets inside the mould to make it easier to glass around them, saving having to cut the eye holes out later. (If I were doing it again I would also think about ways of casting the chin seperately).
I'm not going to describe the process of fibreglassing here, there are already some excellent Instructables which go into that elsewhere on the site, have a look at https://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-Fiberglass/
I rubbed a good thick coat of wax into the mould before splodging the resin and mat into it. Try to get it as even inside as possible, with no sharp pointy bits - you'll be doing some fairly fiddly work in what will be quite a confined space before long, and you don't want to be jabbing or cutting yourself when operating on your creation.When the glass was dry I demoulded it as carefully as I could to keep the mould intact for making the back of the head, and then rubbed and sanded off the bits of plaster which had stuck to it. There were a few air bubbles which I filled with little bits of epoxy.
For the back of the head, I filled out the features in the mould with dollops of plaster, rubbed around with a rag to get it fairly smooth, and this time I placed the lid of a jam jar - wide enough in diameter for one of my hands to pass through - into the plaster, leaving most of its height standing out enough to give me something to fibreglass around leaving a hole in the back of the head large enough to enable any future maintenance on the moving parts.
I would recommend leaving the head in two parts until you've got the mouth and eyes fixed in and working (see next steps).
The neck was made by fibreglassing over two short lengths of guttering pipe, which were later stuck together and to the head with epoxy putty (when all of the mechanisms in the head were in place and working).
Finally (for the main features), the ears were made out of plasticine, cast in plaster, then positives made in P40 fibreglass car body filler, and stuck onto the head with epoxy putty.
I made a cover for the hole in the back of the head from P40, using the plastic cap of a yoghurt carton of similar size to the hole, which would later be fixed into place with a couple of small bolts into nuts held in place on the head, again with epoxy putty.
Finally. I filled the roughest areas of the face with epoxy, and sprayed the head with pink paint.
Step 2: Say "Aaaarghhhh": Making the Mouth Mechanism
Very small pieces of hardboard
Tiny bit of red paint
very small piece of fleece (or other fabric)
Using a hacksaw, cut a line between the lips.
The cuts down the chin need to be parallel and fairly clean for the mechanism to work. I drew a centre line down at 90 degrees to the lips with a Sharpie and measured carefully on either side down to the bottom of the chin. This section was then cut out with a hacksaw, and the edges smoothed with a sander until it would move up and down in a clean manner.
I then cut out five pieces of hardboard, two to fit inside the head and hold the chin piece in place, two to fix onto the sides of the chin cutout, and a piece to go along the top of the chin cutout, which I painted red to represent the tongue.
I got them as close to the profile of the pieces they were going to be fixed onto, then made sure it would all move properly (and worked out by eye where the pivots should be) before joining it all together with epoxy putty.
Once it was dry and solid again I sanded the joins down, made the holes for the pivots, and ran a length of wire coat hanger through for the pivot, just a sliver under the inside width between the cheeks, to be secured on either side with two more dollops of epoxy.
To get the mechanism to open and close, I first epoxied a staple to the base of the chin section and another to the top of the inside of the head, and joined the two together with an elastic band, just tight enough to keep the mouth closed, but with enough give to be able to open it with a fairly light pull on a string fixed to another staple at the back of the tongue. A little more sanding and the mechanism was working quite smoothly.
The finishing touch is to add a little bit of fabric under the chin to cover up the hole, I used a little bit of old fleece, sprayed pink to match the face. Try to get it as close to the size of the hole as possible to stop it from fouling the pull mechanism when it's in place.
Step 3: Here's Looking at You Kid: the Eye Mechanism
Two eye-sized balls, roller-deodorant ones are ideal
Joke eyeballs (optional)
The eyes have proved a bit challenging from the outset, and have required a bit more inventiveness to bring in on a budget of as close as possible to nothing, but we got there in the end.
After a bit of experimentation which defeated me, I decided to just make them open and close, rather than swivel from side to side as well.
To start with you need to find a matched pair of balls which will fit in the sockets and look right.
Glass eyes proved a bit expensive, ping-pong balls too flimsy, so I ended up dismantling a couple of old roller-deodorants and using the balls from those, which are made of quite firm plastic and will stand up to being drilled and glued.
To make the carrier for the eyes, I cut a small piece of hardboard and marked onto it where they needed to sit, then glued the eyes onto it in place.
I then drilled small holes through them for the wire pivot to pass (again, a length of coat hanger wire), epoxied at either side of the eyes and fixed inside the head with another two blobs of putty.
To get them to look up and down I formed a triangle of two staples and a hook between either cheek and the centre of the mounting board, running an elastic band through them to hold the eyes open.
Another staple is epoxied to the top of the inside of the head and a string run from the carrier, up through this staple, and down through the head and the body, which closes the eyes when it is pulled. You may need to experiment with the tension of the elastic band and the positioning of this top staple to get the right angle for it to work smoothly.
When the eyes were closed, I sprayed them pink to match the face so that the audience are able to see that they're moving.
The strings and elastic bands and bits of board and ironmongery all work to make it quite busy inside, so if you're making one yourself you do need to spend a bit of time thinking about where the bits need to go so they don't end up snagging on one another.
I tried colouring in the eyes, but couldn't achieve anything I was happy with, but last Halloween I found some fake bloodshot eyeballs in the pound shop. I carefully sanded the bloodshot veins off, then cut out the eyeballs to glue over the deodorant balls.
Step 4: There Are No Strings on Me: Finishing the Mechanics
22mm drill bit
Smaller drill bit
22mm pvc pipe
small piece of narrower pipe or dowel
To finish off the mechanics of the head, I cut two oval shaped pieces of hardboard with a jigsaw, one to fit inside the head at the top of the neck, the other at the base.
These don't have to be terribly accurate, I drew around the outside of the neck and then shaved off a bit more so they would fit inside.
I clamped them together and cut a 22mm hole in the middle of each to take the length of pvc pipe into which the mouth mechanism is built. Use a piece which is longer than you'll need to end up with, it's easier to cut it to size at the end than re-make the mechanism because it's too short (as I found out the hard way).
Drill another, smaller hole (roughly where the string to work the eyes is hanging down) for the eye mechanism.
Once these are drilled and ready, fix one near the top of the neck and the other to the bottom of the neck with epoxy putty.
I worked out roughly where I'd be holding the pipe beneath the neck and moving the mouth with my thumb, and drilled a line of holes down, then cut the slot cleanly with a craft knife, finishing off with a bit of sanding to get a nice straight line.
You then need to find a short length of tubing (or a bit of dowelling) which will pass cleanly and smoothly through the pvc pipe. Drill a small hole to take a self-tapping screw, (or whatever you're using for as the knob to work the mouth mechanism), which you don't fix in place yet. Feed the string through the little pipe, and fix the string to it in a way that won't snarl the mechanism.
I used a small bead to hold the string at the bottom of the inner piece of tube. Tie it loosely at first at the bottom to stop it falling out while getting the length of the string right.
At this point I marked off where the pipe needed to be fixed to the hardboard circles at the top and bottom of the neck, lined the hole for the screw up with the top of the slot, then marked off on the string where the knot needed to be for the mechanism to work smoothly.
Getting this bit right is mainly down to trial and error. It's a bit fiddly, but not terribly hard once you've figured out what needs to be going on.
Once it all seems to be working, fix the pipe with epoxy putty into the neck, drop the mechanism back through the pvc pipe, and put the screw in to allow the mechanism to be worked by pushing gently downwards with the thumb.
Once you've made the body (next step) cut the pipe to the right length.
Step 5: I Ain't Got No Body: the Torso
Small amount of mdf or plywood
Old curtain pole, (or dowel)
22mm drill bit
Smaller drill bit
Wig, or whatever you can find to approximate hair
Old socks to stuff with fabric to make arms and legs
Needle and thread
Clothes of approximately suitable size
Joke hands, or equivalent
The body, generally being covered with clothes before appearing in public, doesn't need to be very sophisticated, just as long as it's roughly the right size and shape for them to fit over and look fairly convincing.
I took one of the children's old school shirts and used it to judge the size and shape for a couple of ovals onto some mdf, the top one slightly larger than the lower to give the faintest glimmer of a chest, and cut them out with a jigsaw.
I drew around the neck onto the top one and cut the hole out with some extra room to spare to allow the head to turn easily.
A recess is cut into the middle of the bottom one to hold the base of the neck-pipe, which needs to be supported while operating the dummy.
The ovals are then joined together with bits of metal curtain rod, measured against the clothes to get roughly the right height.
I drilled recess holes into the mdf using a bit very slightly larger in diameter than the rods and fixed them in with epoxy putty.
This is the point where you cut the mouth-mechanism pipe to size, so that it sits in the recess at the base of the body.
The legs and arms are also just sausage-shaped tubes of fabric stuffed with rag. I had a couple of long socks and stuffed them with fabric from an old fleece.
The legs are sewn onto the front poles of the body, I've just tacked the arms to the sleeves of the jumper. (I'll find him a pair of shoes at some point, but at the moment he's enjoying walking around in just his stockinged feet).
The hands are joke Halloween scary hands from the pound shop. Hands are a bit tricky, I'd like to replace these with smaller ones at some point in the future, but these ones work for now.
The wig is fixed on with velcro fasteners, which means that I can easily change it for other headgear in future, as well as being able to get to the cover at the back of the head for any maintenance which will be needed when elastic bands and string need replacing.
I've sewn the velcro into the wig to hold it in place, then put the hair on - and that's just about it!
Step 6: Now to Learn to Work This Thing
Last of all, I made a little video of him in action.
I hope you've enjoyed my first Instructable, thank you very much for taking the time to read it.
If you've any questions please ask.
Finalist in the