So you want to add soft marionettes into your puppet collection. It’s not as simple as just placing strings on a toy...oh wait, it kind of is. To have a quality outcome, there needs to me a few more steps taken, but it isn’t difficult at all.
Find the Right Toy
Not all toys will make good marionettes based on the size and weight; the heavier the toy, the thicker the control cables. So if you want to create a marionette the size of a muppet style puppet (average 18” and up) just be aware that fishing line and ½” dowel rods are probably not going to be your best bet for control mechanics.
Prep the Character
Like I said, it’s a little bit more than just adding strings. To insure that you have solid steps and hands don’t sling out in every which direction, you want to insert weights in the hands and feet.
I generally use washers with the smaller holes in the middle. They are flat, hard surfaces that can be easily sewn in and the holes serve as a good attachment point for the string. Merely attaching the string to the material would be easier, but more likely to come apart after multiple uses.
Saying that, you don’t necessarily need a washer coming out of the top of the head, but you don’t want to attach the string directly to the top surface of the head either, for the same reason; eventually it will pull apart. The way you overcome this is by running the string through the head, attaching it to a washer that you have inserted in the middle of the head.
I will cover marionette mechanisms in a later post, but for now we will just touch on a basic crossbar mechanism. The crossbar is like it sounds, it’s a cross (or a lower case ‘t’). This shape will change depending on the puppet and how many maneuverable parts that you wish for it to have, but the bare bones basic is the single crossbar.
The head is generally attached to the top of the ‘t’ while the legs are attached to both sides of the crossbar, leaving the lower portion of the torso to be attached to the bottom of the ‘t’.
Part Time Marionettes
So you steal...I mean borrow one of your daughter’s favorite animal plushies (not that I have ever done this….anyway) and you don’t want it to become a permanent puppet, but rather you only need it for a particular skit, no worries. Making temp marionettes is easy. Instead of attaching washers, attach the strings to the plushy using safety pins on the end of the strings.
Now, because you lose the weight stability of the washers, the marionette will be a little harder to give well defined movements, but it will work in a pinch and my...I mean your daughter will be none the wiser.
As always, have fun creating. If you haven’t already, check out puppetdude.tv and subscribe.