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.
Chewy is a rod-marionette dog puppet featured in Jun and the Octopus (2022), a theatrical adaptation of the children’s story book of the same name. It is a story about body safety and body boundaries within young people, and follows the journey of Jun, a boy who learns swimming from a family friend – Uncle Mok. The tale takes a turn for the darker when Uncle Mok transforms into an Octopus in Jun’s nightmares. Chewy is Jun’s trusted companion. This puppet is built by Marilyn Ang, with design consultation and support from Daniel Sim, the Puppet Designer and Maker for this production.
This was Marilyn’s first ever puppet design, and before embarking on this she had only ever assisted Daniel in building puppets. For Chewy, Daniel had suggested a Rod-Marionette hybrid.
After reading the script, Marilyn felt that Chewy is a “kampong dog”(a dog that lived in a village), and she wanted to first decide on its breed. She didn’t really reference the book, but knew that Chewy would likely have to look quite dirty from running around in the sand and mud, and that shade could only be achieved if she used white fabric and treated it in post. Daniel had initially suggested it to be based off of a Silky Terrier but Marilyn didn’t want it to look too regal, but also didn’t want it to be a typical mongrel. Daniel then mentioned that it should be quite a small breed, as its size should be smaller than the size of Jun the puppet. Marilyn eventually decided on Chewy being a Sporting Lucas Terrier.
Daniel approved of this, and Marilyn started work. The first prototype that Marilyn built was way too big, almost double the intended length, so she had to make a new one that was relatively suited to Jun’s size. She wanted this puppet’s torso to have a dip in the middle, and have bendable leg joints carved from wood. Chewy’s torso was shaped using soft boning, and his head from sponge.
In terms of the mechanism, Marilyn looked through youtube tutorials of marionette construction, as she knew there needed to be control for the fore and hind legs, as well as the torso. After she was almost done with stringing the marionette mechanism, Daniel raised the possibility of having a tail mechanism. Marilyn knew that with the rod-marionette mechanism being manipulated by one puppeteer, she had to place the tail mechanism trigger near either the rod or the marionette controller. After experimenting with the different angles for the mechanism and the spring, she finally placed the trigger at the centre of the marionette controller where it was easy for the puppeteer to trigger the tail while retaining full control of the puppet. After experimenting with the different ways of manipulating the tail for it to look realistic, she added the mechanism and the spring as well as a fishing weight to the tail to give it some weight, so it couldn’t flop in a saggy manner, and would still have a bounce to it.
The finishing of Chewy was white fur leftover from other projects at TFP, and painted over by Marilyn. She gave Chewy eyes made from the same buttons that Jun, the puppet, had.
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