Puppet Origin Stories: Big Head and Wing

by fingerplayers

In 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, we spoke to the Makers and Designers of the puppets we have in The Finger Players (TFP), to create the repository that is the Puppet Origin Stories – a humble effort to highlight the background, and the making and design history of these puppets. We hope that this can be a continued endeavour at TFP, and we hope that you can go on this journey with us.

The Giant Wing and Head evolved from a conversation about one of the characters in Peepbird – The Leader. According to maker Loo An Ni, the Leader character felt like a magnificent bird that was almost god-like, and drawing inspiration from yet another character in the play – The Victim, the design concept of dismemberment came about. The Leader was therefore portrayed as a two-part puppet – a huge head and a pair of wings to indicate the sheer size and overwhelming presence of it. 

For An Ni’s process, she always starts with the script to pick out words that inform how the objects/puppets should look, and what elements/technique she wants to play with. For this design, she was influenced by the works of H.R. Giger (Swiss artist best known for his work on Ridley Scott’s Alien). 

Color shift paint is a finish that An Ni was curious about and wanted to explore, and the decision for this finish was in response to an earlier version of the script where the word iridescent appeared. Color shift is an effect of the paint that is achieved due to a particular type of pigment being used, where the paint changes colour depending on the light source and viewing angle. However, as An Ni did not have access to these pigments, she tried to emulate the colour shifting effect found in bird feathers. Different mediums and paints (available in art supplies shops) is layered over different base colours, and An Ni had experimented extensively to get the correct paint mix. She first tried adding an interference medium (one of the ways to achieve a shimmering metallic effect) into black acrylic paint and realized it didn’t work. She then started experimenting with the right interference color to go with the correct complimentary colors. Interference colors only work when light hits it, so it was essential for the paint to not be opaque, and An Ni therefore realized she had to add the correct amount of mixing medium to make it transparent. Eventually she figured out the winning combination: the feathers’ base was purple, the color shift layer was interference purple with green, mixed into a large percentage of gloss medium. She also painted using a palette knife instead of a paintbrush, as she realized by spreading the paint like kaya, she could quickly create feather veins with different depths. The Giant Head in Peepbird had a black body, a glossy black beak, and the Wing had purple-green shift feathers. 

Color-shift technique on the wings

The articulated wing structure was built in right from the start, because An Ni wanted more manipulating possibilities. She wanted to create a wing that could spread and fold with ease, and so she added springs to allow the wings to ricochet back into its spread state, but realized that was making the folding more difficult for the puppeteer. She then realized that the Wing was actually not heavy, but the way it stuck out was what rendered the operation of it extremely effortful. To resolve that, the puppeteer would then have to hold it at sections where the joints were. 

Puppeteer manipulating the large wing

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