Creaturiste's Laboratory

Techniques, works in progress, and everything that doesn't fit in the portfolio. Comments and questions are encouraged, custom orders are welcome!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Easy Marionnette Articulations

video video

EUREKA! It took all of last night, but I figured how to design wooden puppet joints on cardboard! No risk to the wood, or our sanity! No calculations! No guesswork! It's easy! It works, I tested it!

I used to spend a lot of time, for every new pair of wooden puppet leg, to figure out angles and positioning of the pin. No need for that long waste of time and materials now!

All excited, even though I had not tested it in 3D, I showed the cardboard mock-up to my best friend this morning and he barely blinked. He's a sculptor who's been raised with traditional tools of all sorts, so for him it's rather obvious. He seems to act like everyone knows that method. Well, I'm glad for them that they know, but since I'm not everyone, and I never saw anything resembling this method, (and you know I collect techniques), I guess the method should be shared!

I'm going to write a tutorial about it soon as I can (and when have a functioning photo camera again). If people are interested in the method, let me know, it would probably boost the article's priority level.

NOTE: I have figured it out on my own, but I don't claim to have invented it. I'm pretty sure some similar methods are out there. I just never saw any. The marionette pros must have this shortcut or something simlar, or better! I didn't read it any of the few marionette books I've had access to.

I just can't wait for tomorrow to make my first pair of marionette legs in this model!
Since I can't use the noisy machines tonight, I'll write a first draft of the article right now:
In short, the method involves drawing silhouettes of the leg, and because it's in cardboard and has a thickness, it can be articulated. I used cardstock of the same type as packaging for cereal or cookie boxes. Worked really well.

It involves drawing a circle with a compass, of the size that would fit with your actual size puppet schematic. The circle becomes the knee, with the center hole (used a compas) indicating precisely the position of the pin on which the two-part knee will rotate. Drawing the leg shape around that circle is easy.

The two leg parts are made separately that way, then linked together on a soft surface with a pin going through their "bull's eye". The leg can now rotate, but needs stoppers up front and in the back of the knee. These stoppers are pieces of cardboard that are glued into place. A triangular piece is positionned on the upper leg piece at an angle, to act as a stopper for the leg bend, and the tip of it, sticking out of the circle, becomes the stopper to prevent the leg to open fully when at full extension. A much smaller triangle is added in the same way to the front of the lower leg, creating the matching stopper for the full extension stopper. In other words, the wedges dictate the angle at which the leg can be when fully opened. To have a leg already bent slightly less than 90 degrees prevents the leg from snapping when a walking movement is started, as it's already on the way.
Extra fun: These two pieces can be shaped like a knee.

Then the pieces can be used as silhouette patterns to draw onto the wood pieces, which are then cut as is. The next step is to carve the grooves, and free the tongue, but the measurements for them are already all there on the cardboard. This is the only part that requires a little logical figuring out, but if I could do it, anybody can. All you need is to have a drawing or picture of the finished joint to figure how to cut the grooves. Care has to be taken, when cutting the upper leg's stopper, to not do so in the middle-front of the knee, as we want that tongue to come out seamless from the top knee. Another precaution is to avoid cutting the lower leg's groove too deep in the front of the leg, because we want to avoid having a large gap. I've seen that gap on many beautiful pro puppets, but I feel it catches the light and distracts the eyes when the puppet is performing. Of course, if you want to feature the joints as important visual features of the marionette, that precaution should be disregarded, and the gaps exagerated, as the contrast would make all the joints pop out nicely, especially with focused stage lights.

I made my first test in dense styrofoam, so as not to waste wood (and not make noise in the evening). Total success. Even though I did it quite impatiently, so excited was I, it is the smoothest-looking and functioning hard articulation I've ever made.
What a relief to have a method that works so easily!

Update: Here's a test I made the next day with scraps of wood.
Only the lower leg is really carved after the block shapes were articulated.
No need to finish this one, as I know how to do this step.
I can move on to my actual marionette as soon as I get a thinner blade and a proper adjustable fence on my band saw.


1 comment:

Shalashaska615 said...

Cheers Dude

That'll be just the ticket for my AT-AT

Many Thanks