Friday, 11 February 2011

Copy Carving or Duplicarver!

A reply from Tony Sinnett has enlightened me to how carving may be approached differently in the industry. In an earlier post I showed a clay sculpt of Bing Crosby. Appently this model is used as reference to ruffly shape out the head in wood using a copy carver.
The below video shows how it works. The operator holds a stylus onto a master copy of what they want carved in this case a bass guitar body and moves it around the form of the object.
The stylus is connected to an arm with a router on the end that moves in the same direction as the user. Following the master forms shape with the stylus the material on the bed next to it is cut in exactly the same shape. Its basically a human controlled CNC machine and you can even buy a similar attachment to go on your normal hand held rounters.

From what Tony explained to me this must be how some marionette makers can produce such accurate recreations of heads in wood and also mass produce puppets parts on a small scale.

John Cox's Creature Workshop - Giant doll puppet

Below is a making of/behind the scenes video of a giant  30 foot tall doll created by the team at John Cox's Creature Workshop where the stringed and animatronic controlled girl features in an minute long ad for Allens Confectionary Company.
The workshop have a long list of props and puppets made for major film titles:
  • Speed Racer car
  • Parrot and crocodile in Peter Pan
  • George of the Jungle
  • Inspector Gadget
  • Scooby doo monsters
  • Pitch Black
Comtact Details:
4214 Queenlands,
Ashmore City,
Po Box 540,

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Puppet Trust Centre

The Puppet Centre Trust library and archives house one of the most extensive collections dedicated to puppetry in the country. Back catalogues of journals and a slide collection of puppetry photographs, which include collections from American puppeteer Alan Clarke and Hogarth puppets from the UK. On the international side there are photographs of shadow puppets from the Far and Middle East to folk puppets from many European countries. The website has a very good links page of A-Z marionette and puppet company websites.

A visit to the Puppet Centre Trust would be very beneficial for my research into the history and making of marionettes. Some there may also help me to source a puppetry company to contact for a visit or work experience.

Contact details:
Puppet Centre Trust,
Battersea Arts Centre,
Lavender Hill,
SW11 5TN
020 7228 5335
'The Puppet Centre Trust, founded in 1974, is a development agency for puppetry working at a national level. The overall mission for the Puppet Centre Trust is ‘to develop and promote the art form of puppetry within the context of contemporary performance practice.'

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Pickled Image & Green Ginger Production Company

Pickled Image

'Pickled Image is a production company specialising in puppetry for live performance and theatre. Since 2000 the company has created a distinct trademark style, which has become the brand for all its productions.'

'Over the years the company has gained international recognition for their darkly humorous visual productions and has won many awards for their work. Proud to be at the forefront of British puppetry the company is continuing to create exquisite puppets and performances, which are enjoyed all over the world!'

Green Ginger
Green Ginger makes award-winning theatre for both streets and stage, creates short puppet films and 'mockumentaries' and offers accessible educational workshops tailored to suit any age group or ability. Since its formation in 1978, the Company has had a commitment to puppetry in the widest sense and its practitioners will use any tools and effects they can put their grubby little hands on to realise its surreal and absurd imagery.'

Green Ginger acts as an umbrella organisation under which freelance theatre makers work together to write, design, teach and perform. Its members regularly collaborate with organisations such as Aardman Animations, Ecole Superiere National de la Marionnette (France), Welsh National Opera and the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama and the Company receives invitations for commissions and consultancies for stage, TV, film and community projects.'

'Green Ginger offers a new form of cultural exchange through films in which attitudes both real or imaginary can be aired in safety through the anonymity of puppets.'

Pickled Image and Green Ginger are a good example of marionette making and puppetry skills still being used in today's industry. What maintains this need opposed to other forms of modern production are their individual style and an old fashion sense of live theatre and interaction with the audience.

Contact Details:
Pickled Image Ltd
45 Carlyle Road
Vicky +44 (0)7974 147 521
Dik +44 (0)7816 559 203

Green Ginger
Tobacco Factory Theatre
Raleigh Rd

Tel/fax: +44 (0)117 9225599

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Wood polishes, waxes and oils.

Common wood finishes include wax, shellac, drying oils (such as linseed oil or tung oil), lacquer, varnish, or paint. Other finishes called "oil finish" or "Danish oil" are actually thin varnishes with a relatively large amount of oil and solvent. Water-based finishes can cause what is called "raising the grain" where surface fuzz emerges and requires sanding down. 
 Danish Oil
Oils provide a traditional finish for both interior and exterior wood. The hard drying oil forms a protective barrier to protect the wood, while nourishing the wood preventing it from drying out. Danish Oil is a blend of natural oils and resins that penetrate the wood to provide a tough, durable, waterproof finish that has a satin/low sheen finish. 

Bees Wax
Waxes provide a traditional way of colouring and protecting wood. They have a natural appearance while nourishing and enriching the wood that come in both clear and coloured waxes. Can be used for a soft sheen finished or buffed to a deep shine

French Polish
Contains pure natural shellac that gives a traditional high gloss finish with a depth of colour. French polish can be more forgiving than other finishes in the sense that unlike lacquers, it can be efficiently repaired.

Theres is a very helpful table on wiki comparing many different types of finishes under:
  • Appearance
  • Protection
  • Durability
  • Safety
  • Ease of application
  • Reversibility
  • Finishing Qualities

Monday, 31 January 2011

Jellutong wood - Good or Bad?

After calling a number of wood mechants I still couldn't find a local source of Lime wood. The only other option I found is Jellutong which lucky one of the timber suppliers R.A. Bamptons in Southampton had in stock. Jellutong is a very nice carving wood similuar to Lime but the only issue is that it's harvested from rainforests where deforestation for timber is endangering a number of animal habitats in the process. It is one of the reasons why our workshop do not stock it anymore because of environmental issues.

'Jellutong grows in Malaysia, Borneo, Sumatra and southern Thailand. Along with balsa it is technically a hardwood with many similar properties such as the low density, straight grain and fine texture mean it is easy to work with.

In addition, jelutong can be tapped for latex and from the 1920s through the 1960s, jelutong latex was an important source of chewing gum. Sawdust from this species has been known to cause allergic dermatitis (inflammation, itchy rashes or irritation).

Jelutong has been traditionally overharvested, and is a threatened species in many areas. However, due to its quick growth, hardy survival, and strong replanting efforts, its extinction is unlikely. It is a protected species in parts of Malaysia and Thailand.'

As the extract says above Jellutong can cause some irritation to the skin. After working two weeks with it I have found the backs of my hands and fingers have become slightly irritated and itchy from the saw dust when carving. Washing my hands regularly and keeping them moisturized have now stop any irritation after working.

My personal views on Jellutong are at first I was just really glad I had found a local source of good carving wood after failing to find Lime. I'm It is a real joy to carve in and I believe I wouldn't have gotten the same results have not used in traditional wood and craft skills. But after reading up on Jellutong and its environment effects it leaves me with mixed feelings. I maybe low on morals but I want to use the best materials possible to bring my personal models to their full potential regardless of where they come from or how they are made. From a clients point of view though they may feel differently about the issues and I obviously would respect that and go about the project in a different manager. 

Wikipedia (2011) Dyera costulata - Jellutong [Online]. Availble from: [Accessed: 31 January 2011]

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

More inspirational images

I love the finish on this hand carved bear. After cutting out the object and removing most of the unneeded material a process called 'chipping' where single cuts with chisels and gouges is used to ruffly shape out the object. As you refine and start to add details the chipping marks become smaller and like in some of the marionettes I've analysed, the marks can be sanded down to a smooth finish. 
This is the exact finish I want to achieve on my final marionette. It gives this bear a true rustic feel particularly the way the paint has faded on the edges around the chisel marks, just like its been well handled over the years. I'm not going to be painting my puppet like this but maybe just a light coat of polish or wax. I'll have to test if a can still get the same effect.

In the picture above a woman's face has been carved straight into the trunk of a tree. This image shows the importance of remembering the depth of the face when carving. It can be very easy to carve the face flat as I might be working from a picture or drawing of a front view, you can tend to just recreate the flat picture. Obviously whoever carved this may have had problems checking depth when looking at its side and top profile but still managed to shape depth into the face.

Another Pinocchio character this time looks like its been carved from a block made from laminated boards/pieces, the different directions of grain especially after shaping will look very nice. If I cannot find a solid carving blank I will have to be aware of where the join marks show as I don't want one down the middle of my face. Also direction of the grain should be taken into account as it is easier and better finish to carve with the grain than against it.

More research analysis

Below are Emily Hubbard's head sculpts of Will Murray from our first year of Modelmaking. These are the best examples of the stylisation of the hair I want on my marionette as currently its not to similar to my own. 

This could easily be recreated in carving wood with certain deep gouges and V shaped tools to produce the same textured marks. Quite a lot of puppets I've looked at don't have much emphasis on hair. If you look at some of the examples in previous post most are bald or have little detail or are covered with hats. I think the finish on the hair will be very important to the character of my marionette as my hair is one of my most obvious characteristics. 
All credit to Emily Hubbard Copyright 2011 and stuff!/photo.php?fbid=10150347059855487&set=a.10150347058490487.582723.641340486

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Carving tutorials

I found a very helpful marionette carving tutorial on on a web site called Puppets in Prague. Professionals run workshops on building traditional Czech armatures as well as manipulation and performance.

Under the how to make puppets link there are a number of step by step guides on:
  • Preparing to start
  • Drawing - proportions and technical drawing
  • Cutting wood block
  • Cutting ruff puppet shape
  • Carving
  • Assembly
  • Costume
  • Tools - chisels, gouges and saws
I should also research into other types of wood masonry other than marionette carving like wood turning for example.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Lime Wood Suppliers

Next stage to start researching into Lime wood suppliers and cost per carving blocks (or blanks is another common term used). Lime wood is a traditional carver's timber that is a kiln-dried european hard wood. With a yellowish-white to pale brown colour it is one of the softest of the hardwood family. Its fine grain is perfect for hand held carving but hard enough to work sharp detail into and when finished leaves a subtle texture. I came across a forum with a A-Z list of UK workshop wood suppliers.

Lime Wood merchants from -
A Harrison - Northants, NN15 5PB
Associated Timber Services Ltd - Lincolnshire, NG33 5LT
John Bradford - DEVON, EX11 1PU
Niche Timbers - Wakefield, WF2 9LP
North Heigham Sawmills Ltd. - Norfolk NR2 4TW
Robbins Timber - Bristol BS3 2UN

From the list the two suppliers below I can order Lime wood straight from their website and have it delivered the rest I will have to contact by phone to enquire about the prices of Lime carving blanks.

Ockenden Timber - Churchstoke,  SY15 6EB - supply and number of different sized blocks but only 51mm deep. Prices from £1.43 - £8.48

S.L.Hardwoods - Croydon CR0 2EA - only supply 200x100, 300x200, 450x300 but 80mm thick. Price - £7.74 (Exc VAT) They also stock 150mm thick and a good selection of carving tools.

I will also need to look into what types of different carving tools I will need and where I can pick them up from.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Texture from tools

These puppets below are from the production 'Or you could kiss me' by Neil Bartlett. The rod controlled marionettes were created by Handspring Puppet Company the makers behind the incredible War Horse.

These are a great example of using the tool marks to represent skin texture and the form of muscles even tendons and bone stucture under the skin. They are carved with confident single cuts that distinguish certain areas but also as a whole bring the character to life.
A perfect example of the kind of finish I want to achieve in my marionette. Of course these marks show the age of the character so I will use more subtle marks but still done with the same single confident cuts.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Research into Marionettes cont.

Found another good Czech website that specialize in wood carved marionettes. Compared to the website in the last post the puppet here are fully painted, which in my opinion can make them look too doll like and garish. You can buy puppets from a large collection or have them custom made from a photo. Here are just some of the past custom orders.

Bing Crosby

This marionette was created from a picture off a vinyl record cover. Looks like they produced a plastoline sculpt first to get the character right. This could help me a lot as  haven't wood carved before having a visual form in front of me to reference from should aid me in getting the right proportions and character through.

Barrack Obama
Vodafone Advert
These marionettes were for an Egyptian Vodafone commercial which is broadcasted in almost all middle east countries. I like these characterised puppets because I can see the people they are based on. This would be another option if i decide not to recreate myself realistically.

Friday, 31 December 2010

Research into Marionettes

After a quick search on the internet for marionette style puppets I found this great little website. To brothers Jan and Martin Ruzicka based in Czech Republic still make traditional wood carved marionettes and have a vast collection of different puppet characters you can buy.

I love how these marionettes are not sanded down to a fine smooth finish like most of the others i've looked at and you can still see nearly all of the tool marks made in the wood. I prefer this finish to the sanded because it gives the puppet a nice texture and retains all the original cuts and marks you've made.

For example on the marionette above the tool marks on the knight work perfectly to represent the hammer marks just like on a real piece of armour that's been hammered into shape. On the monkey tool marks work well to show skin textures or muscle tone. I think if something is sanded to a perfect finish then its expected to be accurate and in proportion like the real thing. With a more ruff cut the eye fills in and smooths over the form.

I like this puppet because it shows that you can carve a modern character but still retain the traditional style. I think what's intriguing about this puppet is that they could have sanded back the head to make it look more realistic but the risk is it can become too doll like. The more hand crafted style brings together a greater mix of modern and traditional in its character and the way its carved. Hopefully my marionette will turn out in a similar style as I want to sculpt myself.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Visual analysis cont.

Sanded Finish
Another Pinocchio marionette in the 1940 Walt Disney style. An important point I hadn't realized until looking at this series of progress photos is that I will have to cut all the marionette parts out together and then first cut the joints before shaping each individual limb. This will make sure that the entire puppet can go together and move properly instead of trying to cut a square joint after shaping.

As you can see this marionette is sanded to a finish which works well with this Walt Disney version of Pinocchio but I think I prefer the more rustic traditional finish of the tool marks on the puppet i'll show in the next post. The smooth sanded finish adds to the realism and I guess it depends on the character if it is needed. I think sometimes it can make the puppet look too doll like especially when its painted.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Quick visual analysis on Marionettes

Here is a quick selection of images on the different kind of interesting styles of marionettes that have caught my eye.Marionette made from Lime Wood, which seems to be the preferred choice for hand carving and sculpting puppets. This is a good example of what I want the hands to be like as his fingers are carved separated compared to the skeleton below.
The skeleton here shows good puppet joints, which are normally covered by clothes.With the time scale I have I don't think I will have time to create the clothes as well, which is fine because the main learning outcome is the wood carving skill and it will be nice to see the work in the puppet joints. This marionette has dowel and hinge joints as well as looped screw joints, these are just a couple of the ways I can create my puppet to move need to research further.

Film stills from 1996 version 'The Adventures of Pinocchio'. Animatronic puppet created by Jim Henson's Creature Shop. The head is a moulded latex skin painted in a wood grain effect and controlled by electronics and mechanisms to bring the face to life.

I love everything about this puppet! Even though the wood grain is painted on I love how it follows the contours of the face, I know this would be impossible to replicate with a real piece of wood but I like how the grain is highlighted. I could give the marionette a wash of colour with a wax or polish but I no I definitely don't want to cover the wood entirely with paints. Pine might work better because of it's a light colour and stronger grain lines.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Thursday 16th December 2010

Research Blog!!!
In this Commercial Expolration unit I will be carving a fully working stringed marionette using only tradition materials and tools. I will use this blog to evidence research into certain areas of puppetry so that I can develop the best possible design outcome within the weeks set out.

Along with this blog I will also be producing a journal either on this blog page or seperate, recording a workexperience or visit to industry professionals of puppetry and marionette making. A sketchbook will hold my design development work and other technical drawings and a project management folder will accompany it setting out my work for the weeks ahead.