One weekend over the summer, I travelled up to London for a puppet-making workshop with animator and puppet maker, Kevin Griffiths. You may recognise his name from animations such as Huxley Pig and Old Bear. These were two of my favourite programs to watch when I was growing up, so I was especially excited to have Kevin as my teacher!
The class was held in a little studio in the playground of a London primary school. It was a small class of about six people, so it meant we all had a lot of one-on-one teacher time.
First Kevin quickly demonstrated how to animate the puppets with a simple web cam set up with a laptop, then we began making our puppets’ hands.
We measured lengths of wire and used a drill to twist the strands together tightly, making them nice and strong. Kevin taught us lots of little tips throughout the weekend, such as how to use a lollipop stick to get the kinks out of your wire to prolong its life and prevent snapping. Getting the fingers was a bit fiddly, but we all ended up with nice arms and cartoon-like hands.
Then Kevin demonstrated how to coat the wire with hot glue from a glue gun. This was a little tricky, but we all managed it in the end. This technique helps to protect the wire and smooth the surface.
The next step was to wrap the arm wire between sheets of foam with strong glue. Once that was done we all sat down to carve into the foam with little sharp scissors. The whole class agreed that this was much more fun than you would expect of snipping foam – it was very therapeutic!
We completed the legs in the same way and carved feet out of a denser type of foam, making a groove in the base, tucking the wire under and gluing securely. The last step for the body was to get two squares of balsa wood and carve them into our desired body shape. Then we sandwiched the wire, including a piece for the neck, between the wood with plenty of glue.
Kevin told us to start thinking about how we wanted our puppet’s head to look. To inspire us, he pulled out boxes and revealed his collection of heads! Both old toy’s heads and some of his own designs filled the boxes and he held some up to our puppet bodies to show us how they make all the difference to a character.
So concluded the body and our first day!
Day two began with us carving a large square of polystyrene into the head shape of our choice. Kevin demonstrated the correct way to do this first. Again, many of us found the carving really enjoyable. Once everyone was there with the carving, Kevin showed us some of the many ways you can achieve eyes and mouths that can be animated, including using magnets and beads. So we all started the fiddly process of cutting and sticking miniscule pieces of magnet and stickers together for eyes and mouths.
Here is my almost complete puppet!
Next we learned how to mix paints with latex and coat our puppets with a few layers and dry them in our makeshift oven.
It was so nice to see how we had all started with exactly the same materials, yet every puppet was so different by the end. Some people had made people, others crazy monsters. They all looked lovely. The last hour was spent customising and adding to the characters of our puppets. I had made a little stripy swimsuit and some felt hair for my puppet. I also curled little strands of black wire for a hairy chest! I feel that the hands could be perfected, but overall I am pleased with my little Victorian swimmer.
We all arranged our creations to pose for a mini photo shoot.