TML 2021 #02: Expanding on Research

by fingerplayers

This journal is an entry in The Maker’s Lab series. Click here to read the previous entries.

Prototyping begins! To start with, I am making a harness to mount the puppet on. This will be the basic design block to expand upon to become a wearable device that helps the performer when manipulating large objects.  

Prototype Make 

  1. Went with a costume-making process:  
    • Draft a basic bodice block.
    • Add ventilation holes to paper pattern. 
    • Sew a calico toile.  
Image 1: Calico Toile
  1. Tried it on and perspired just by sitting around so I removed more covered areas.  
  2. After removing all unnecessary material it is looking like a bunch of straps. 
  3. Padded the straps with yoga mat for comfort.  
  4. Added velcro to allow the harness’ fit to be adjustable. 
    • Anticipated strap adjusters on nylon or cotton straps to slowly slip loose over time, and went with velcro straps.
  5. Added a pocket on the back strap for the long-arm structure to sit and a shackle to lock it in place 
    • To cut the time needed to build a new puppet, I decided to use my previous giant wing puppet that I built for TFP’s Peepbird.
    • Conceptually, I am interested in long-arm structures and not just wings. 
Image 2: Harness for testing

Prototype Testing 

  1. First round of checks: wear it myself to feel how the weight distributes. 
    • The harness is well and fine on its own but a struggle to adjust with the long-arm structure in
  2. Second round of checks: lure an unsuspecting human (Daniel) to wear the harness while I look for areas that are straining.  
    • Also received feedback that connecting the long-arm structure to the opposite thigh might help redistribute its weight.
  3. Third round of checks: enter Puppeteer Consultant, Oliver Chong!  
    • Had a 2-hour session with Oliver to try out the harness and long-arm structure

Puppeteer Consultant Session #1 

We tested the harness and long-arm structure in various configurations. The two movement exercises we tried were – (1) character hatching from egg and (2) character hunting. 

Order of events: 

1. Tested the harness with long-arm structure behind: 

Image 3: Long-arm structure mounted behind
  1. Tested the long-arm structure without harness: 
Video 1: Long-arm structure without harness
  1. Tested the harness with long-arm structure in front: 
Video 2: Long-arm structure mounted in front 
  1. Tested the harness with long-arm structure behind again 

Oliver’s interactions with the long-arm structure really highlighted the beauty and freedom of the human touch in puppetry. So far, I have been engrossed in reducing the object’s weight borne by the puppeteer while neglecting the control and manipulation of object. 

Unexpectedly, placing the long-arm structure in front instead of behind the body is the best option for this version as

  • There are less obstacles blocking the puppeteer’s dominant arm. 
  • Structure can be seen in peripheral vision compared to when it was mounted behind.  
  • Where structure is mounted acts as a fulcrum and allows structure to be manipulated with shoulder movements. 

On the harness itself, I learnt that 

  • Wearing it extremely tightly gives the most control.
  • Velcro straps should account for human body’s curvature. 
  • Large stitch length (so as not to tear padding) on shackle’s loop resulted in sewing coming almost undone at end of session. 

Moving forward 

Next, I will  

  1. Mount these structures on the hip and cater for mounting on both left and right sides.   
    • Mounting on the hip to transfer weight from shoulders to the hips.
    • Left and right mounts for symmetry. 
  2. Add thicker padding to straps. 
    • The current single layer of yoga mat still allows long arm structure to dig into puppeteer’s meat. 
  3. Create more variations of long arm structures and overhead structures for different puppets. 
    • To build a library of structures for future puppets. 

This article is a monthly reflection by Loo An Ni, the maker of The Maker’s Lab, as part of an ongoing 9-month experimental laboratory. The Maker’s Lab is curated and managed by Daniel Sim, a core team member of TFP. The ideas and reflections within the article are drawn from An Ni’s observations and discoveries as a maker, designer and researcher. Instead of being taken as conclusive, we hope that they serve to be a starting point for thought-provoking conversations and perhaps even debates.
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