My story of building 3D printed puppets started in 2013 when I've got a request to build a marionette theatre for famous show of a business star Ashraf Abdel Baqi in Cairo. Mr. Ashraf asked me to make 18 marionettes 30 to 40 inches (70-100cm) high in 3 months. Challenge no.1 for building professional marionettes is always the weight, and secondly the time frame. I have decided to go for innovative technology of 3D printing (did not know what kind of problematics I was entering right there:-) Anyway, after endless nights with 3D graphic designer and spoiled prints, we finished the project a tiny bit after the dead line (luckily, my good friend has built his farm of 3D printers and he was helping me a lot, so I did not spend a fortune for prints).
Doing the job brought me to all new exciting possibilities of 3D modeling and printing. I could repeat, learn and upgrade puppet body technology and start working on more advanced mechanical jokes inside of heads.
Let's peek under the hood of puppet technology and the basic I decided to share with you.
To those who don’t know, a marionette is that kind of puppet operated by strings from above. As I mentioned earlier, The 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 the 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 A MARIONETTE PUPPET IS ALL ABOUT JOINTS AND A CONTROLLER
This might be a well-known knowledge for many puppeteers but as I get many questions regarding this issue, I will try to 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 movements, 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 are usually the 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 after his inventor Josef Skupa *1892 – †1957 (the 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 a marionette properly.
Recently, I built a marionette that is operated also by strings but has a couple of electronic features (eyes move up/down/left/right, nose move up/down, eyelids blinking separately or together, mouth opening and clutches, engine simulating breathing, speaker with a 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 other tricks… This is also a topic for itself….
Costuming marionettes can be as crazy as you wish. The only rule is to keep all the joints free so they can 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 very own one!
Do not hesitate to contact me in case you have any questions. I will be happy to help.