Ruminations on the design of puppet heads

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Ruminations on the design of puppet heads

Postby CvdC » 05 Feb 2013, 06:44

While making yet another Punch downstairs in my puppetorium I started to think about that which is fundamental to the design of a Punch puppet. Although they come in many shapes and sizes there are certain fundamentals that need to be considered.

The first is how you are going to hold the puppet up. People like to arrange their fingers differently. Typically it is one finger but some like two and I have even seen three being used. Some puppeteers don't put fingers in the head at all but use a stick. This is a matter of individual style and is often determined by the size and weight of the puppet as well.

With one finger this will typically be a hole 22mm in diameter and the length of the digit deployed. In order for a hole to exist it needs to be surrounded by a solid mass. You will need some material thick enough to be kept upright. This can be a tube of cardboard, the wood of the head or papier mache pulp. To this tube is attached the costume. In the diagram below there is shown a rebate around the lower part of the neck (Which is what it is in terms of the puppet's anatomy). This rebate is not necessary but helps as heads can separate from their costume during a show and all precaution needs to taken. There are numerous ways to make this attachment.

Now what happens above this is really a matter of choice. Do you want a large puppet head or a small one?
Large heads can be seen at a distance but are difficult to manipulate and can be quite heavy. Small ones are hard to see, fiddly to carve in any detail but offer a much lighter puppet, which generally translates into a livelier performance. Also there needs to be a balance between the proportions of the glove and the head. A glove can only be the size of a hand. Of course you can pad them out and add extensions on the arms but to overcome this added awkwardness you will need to rehearse a lot to get your show running smoothly. It can be done but it is doing it tough.

The tiny puppet heads used in Naples and Portugal are great for movement but do not look like what one associates with English Punch and Judy.

In the diagram below I suggest a size of 80 x 140 with ears, nose and chin attached as separate pieces. This of course can go up to 90 x 150. I would be wary of anything smaller or larger. Think very carefully about this it has an enormous effect on your show.

The top of the head can be rounded, or left flat under the hat. There must be a space on the forehead between the top of the head and the eye brows for the hat to be attached. In the diagram I suggest about 20mm.

If the head is of wood it is a good idea to hollow out the cranium for the sake of weight reduction. When the head is balanced on just one finger for the twenty or so minutes of the show you will realise the value of this.

Try not to make the head round as seen from above. You basically want to have a square with very rounded corners and flat for the centre third of each face. The flat on the sides is for the ears (optional). The back is bulked out with a wig and so can remain quite flat. The front flat spot is to glue on the nose. The flatness helps keep the eyes looking forward. It should be hardly noticeable although there are examples of puppets that retain quite a blocky look.
Image

The shape of the nose and chin will vary according to what you are after. Generally, because this is Punch and Judy they are always big and curved. Look at pictures of puppets, scrutinise the shape of the nose, the chin and the curve of the mouth. Each of these elements combine to give a puppet a particular character. Take care as a nose and chin which is too big can get in the way of holding props and add weight where you don't want it.

Carve or model the mouth and eyes into the wood or pulp. This way you will reduce bulk rather than build it up. The cheeks are what's left between the mouth and eyes. Some makers build this area up to get them chubbier, but that is a matter of taste.

The core shape of the head can be turned on a lathe and the positions for the nose and chin flattened afterwards. But this does give the puppet a very manufactured look. This has an aesthetic all of its own and some people actually like this.

Too much time on my hands

Image
It has been my experience that I am always true from my point of view, and am often wrong from the point of view of my honest critics. I know that we are both right from our respective points of view. - Gandhi (Having a bob each way.)
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Re: Ruminations on the design of puppet heads

Postby CvdC » 06 Feb 2013, 15:16

One way to feel confident designing your puppet is to look carefully at real people's faces and notice how they fit together.
Here is a face I have chosen at random.

Image

Look at where the eyes are in relation to the nose. The bit of the nose on which ones glasses sit is aligned to the corner of the eyes. See how the eyes are set into the head and that there is a line from the eyebrows that flows into the nose. The distance between the top of the eye and the eye brow is an important indicator of character. You can also see clearly in this photo how flat the brow is.
Notice those lines that curve around the smile from the nostrils and how this defines the lower part of the cheeks and the area of the mouth. These lines flow down and into the chin. The chubbiness of the cheeks is determined by the depth of the eyes and how much you carve or sculpt in the area around the mouth.
Unfortunately you cannot see the position of the ears but they generally sit within the area between the eye brows and the bottom of the nose.
It has been my experience that I am always true from my point of view, and am often wrong from the point of view of my honest critics. I know that we are both right from our respective points of view. - Gandhi (Having a bob each way.)
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Re: Ruminations on the design of puppet heads

Postby Richard Coombs » 06 Feb 2013, 15:59

Nice strand CvdC , and all as invaluable to the first time maker as your booth building plans are.

( I give it two months and somebody new on here will ask " Where can I find instructions how to build a booth and puppets?" Prompting the usual " Please search through the whole site before asking such questions , as it is all here to be found if you look " ) he he .

Anyhow ..love the Marty Feldman pic ...a perfect inspiration for your Punch with his wayward eyes.

Lovely stuff !

Richard
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