My story of building 3D printed puppets started in 2013 when I got a request to build a marionette theatre for famous show business star Ashraf Abdel Baqi in Cairo. There was a request to build 18 marionettes 30 to 40 inches (70-100cm) high in 3 months. Challenge no. 1 for building professional marionettes is always weight and the 2nd one was time. I have decided to go for innovation technology of 3D printing (did not know what problematics I am entering :-) Anyway after endless nights with 3D modelers and spoiled prints the project was finished a bit after the death line (happily my very good friend has built his farm of 3D printers and was helping me a lot so I did not spend a fortune for prints).
Doing the job has brought me to all new exciting possibilities of 3D modeling and printing. I could repeat and upgrade puppet body technology and start doing more advanced mechanical jokes inside heads.
Let you peek under the hood of puppet technology I have decided to share some of the basics here.
To those who don’t know, marionette is a kind of puppet operated by strings from above. As I have mentioned before weight is crucial but it does not mean all the parts have to be as light as possible. To get the best animation results you need to make the head, palms, hips, and feet much heavier than the rest of the body
Body excluding hip part (neck, upper body, arms, thighs, calves) In case body is one part then I am adding steel or lead to the bottom of the body in between legs.
My printing setting for those parts is 5-10 % infill, 2 perimeters (bigger the marionette is less infill I use)
Head, palms, feet, and lower body
My printing setting for those parts are 20-30 % infill, 2 perimeters (bigger the marionette is less infill I use)
BUILDING MARIONETTE PUPPET IS ALL ABOUT JOINTS AND CONTROLLER
This might well know knowledge for many puppeteers but as I get many questions regarding this I will make it clear now.
The head carries most of the attention from the spectator so it is the most important part for puppet performing. The nose is emphasizing head movement, eyes, eyelids or eyebrows bring emotion to it.
The standard human head to body ratio is 1:8 (1:6 for children). Marionette puppets head to body ratio goes from 1:5 to 1:3 ratio
Basic professional marionette has 14 joints (2x neck, 2x wrist, 2x elbow, 2x arms, 2x hips, 2x knees, 2x ankles) Specialized marionettes might also have one or two more joints in the stomach area.
The palms and feet to head ratio is the usually same as on the human body. It means 1: 0.75: 1 head: palm: feet. Of course, there are exceptions (fay will have smaller palms and feet, the giant will have them bigger….)
There is an unlimited number of types of controllers but in general, we can divide them into a horizontal (roman) cross, 45° cross and vertical (Czech/german) cross called also Skupa cross to his inventor Josef Skupa *1892 – †1957 (author of famous Spejbl & Hurvinek) marionettes.
Standard stringing is 2x head, 2x shoulders, 2x palms, 2x legs, 1x back but this is a very wide topic and I will get back to it in an individual article. Anyway if you buy a Skupa controller from us you will get e-learning videos on how to string marionette properly.
Recently I have built a marionette that is operated also by strings but has a couple of electronic features (like eyes up/down/left/right, nose up/down, eyelids blinking one or both eye, mouth opening and clutches, engine simulating breathing, speaker with an MP3 player in the chest). This allows me to pre-program some facial expressions like excitement (eyes wide open, eyebrows up, open mouth) and a couple of others… This is also a separate topic for itself….
Costuming marionettes can be as crazy as you wish. The only rule is to keep all the joints free to move. Thus we use very light fabrics and adjusted cuts to let the marionette move smoothly.
Well. The same magic as all the puppeteers in the past 5000 years. Moving your personality to a matter and (as old puppeteers also say) gaining the character from your marionette. Telling and animating your story, learning to build and string your own marionette. Learning to operate a marionette,... You will certainly explore that magic once you first play your own one!
Do not hesitate to contact me in case of any questions. I will be happy to help.