Puppets and other papier mache creations.
Fine art with paper as medium or support.
Fact Sheet 4
Creating the illusion
How puppets differ from dolls
A glove puppet is not "a doll with a hole". A puppet has characteristics that dolls do not...
- Dramatic and theatrical appearance.
- Features exaggerated, distorted, caricatured.
- Designed to be viewed at a distance, not intimately
- Designed to be viewed in action, not still
- Designed to relate to a group audience, not a single owner
Making the puppet seem near
Because a puppet is small yet is viewed from a distance, it must create the illusion of seeming nearer and larger than it is. The viewer’s brain must be encouraged to register the puppet as at just beyond arm’s length, when in fact it may be several rows of seats away. This is done by...
- Simplification. Keep the features simple and free of fussy detail. If you want surface detail for the sake of appearance close up, then make sure the detail disappears at two metres, and does not confuse or flatten the underlying simplicity of form.
- Drama. Theatrical appearance, exaggerated features, big eyes and lips.
- Hue.Use warm (red leaning) colors which come foward. If you use cool (blue leaning) colors which recede, then mix a touch of red into them.
- Saturation. Go for bright purer colors, minimise tints (addition of white) and shades (addition of black or complementary color).
- Tonal value. Use light (yellow) colors for ends of nose, tips of cheeks and chin, and dark (purple) colors for sunken parts and crevices. Do this regardless of underlying skin color.
Illusions of mood and motion in a static puppet
Because a papier mache puppet face is rigid and lacks moving parts, it must create the illusion of mood and movement. The viewer’s brain must be tricked into registering facial changes which do not really happen. This is done by...
- Asymmetry. Allow small differences in each side of the face. Avoid mirror image symmetry. Slightly skew nose and chin. When head moves, small asymmetries assist an illusion of life.
- Highlights. Paint highlights, or even glue sparkles, in spots where they will be concealed and revealed as the head moves. As the highlight catches the eye and then disappears, it suggests life.
- Attachments. Hair, ear rings, hats, and any attachment that dangles or waggles, will move independently when the head is moved. The brain will transfer this movement to the fixed facial features giving an impression that they too are moving independently.
- Audio and lighting. Of course voice, music, and stage lighting effects can be used to associate mood and movement with the static face.
Comparing puppet and human proportions
The proportions of an adult human face put the eyes halfway between scalp and chin. Distance from eye to chin is divided into equal thirds. The upper third is center of eye to tip of nose, the middle third is tip of nose to slit of mouth, and the lower third is slit of mouth to tip of chin.
The thirds apply to a puppet face also, except that where a puppet has a very odd nose or chin you must imagine the point where the tip of a normal nose or chin would be. The halves need not be applied to a puppet head. Eyes may be set higher or lower than halfway between scalp and chin. Higher allows for bigger facial features, whilst lower creates a more friendly child-like impression. Lower also adjusts for the foreshortening of the puppet’s face when viewed from a low eye level, although most puppeteers lean the puppet forward slightly to counteract foreshortening.
Other human proportions are irrelevant since features are exaggerated. An exception is the size of hands compared to face. In humans, a hand will almost cover the face. Puppet hands are often made far too small. The puppet is thereby rendered unconvincing and inexpressive.
Endnote 1, Painting and drawing to create illusion
The principles by which artists create, in two dimensions, an illusion of depth and form, are applicable to the surface of a puppet’s face, even though it is three dimensional. Illusion is needed to make the puppet seem large and alive. I mentioned some essentials above, but I urge you to learn basic principles of fine art to help you paint and draw on a puppet face.
Endnote 2, Clothing to enhance illusion
Clothing should be simplified. Do not dress the puppet in real clothes like a doll. Use an inner "glove" with add-ons to suggest garments, attached with stiches, snap fasteners, buttons, or nylon grip patches. The so-called "glove" is a one-metre square of supple fabric. Mark a neck point 440mm down from the top and centered between the sides. Mark two arm points 320mm up from the bottom and 320mm in from the sides. At neck point push fabric well into the neck, and place sturdy rubber bands over the fabric and around the neck. At arm points push fabric into cardboard tubes (for arms) and fasten at the end. Adjust at neck until you can flip the fabric over the head, lay the puppet face down, insert middle and index fingers into the neck, thumb and other two fingers into the arms, then lift the puppet so the glove falls around your arm. The fullness and folds of the glove give an illusion of a living body within. Glue fabric to arms, insert and fasten hands. Attach add-ons to glove --bright and bouncy bows, scarves, necklaces, bibs, braces,and such like.
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Copyright © Ron Graham 2004,
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