Puppet Origin Stories: White Dog

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.

Featured in: Citizen Dog, 2018

The White Dog went down in The Finger Player’s (TFP) history as a beloved, regal, vulgarity-spewing puppet in the 2018 production of Citizen Dog.

It was designed by Oliver Chong, who was also the director, set-designer and co-playwright of the production. Oliver’s design process typically begins with the overall concept of the production, following which he would go on to design each respective element to serve this concept.

Production photo of Citizen Dog

Citizen Dog was an adaptation of classic Chinese author Pu Song Ling’s The Ghost Stories of Liao Zhai. As Oliver had wanted it to be temporal, whilst paying homage to the author at the same time, he decided on having paper be the main design element of the production. This meant that everything in the production design was created to resemble the wispy, wrinkly quality of paper, from the set, the costume, to the White Dog. 

Since he was the Director and Co-playwright of the production, Oliver had the advantage of foresight. He knew right from the beginning that that the manipulation of this dog puppet was going to be very violent, with large, vigorous actions. As such, the puppet could not be made from paper as it would be torn easily.

Oliver was keen to create the puppet with 3d-puzzles as an inspiration. On Etsy, he found a designer selling a template for a life-sized 3d-puzzle of a dog, and contacted him to ask if he would be willing to sell the design to Oliver. This Melbourne-based Taiwanese designer (Tsai designs) had actually created this sculpture for client’s event, and decided to sell the template online following the end of the event. With TFP’s position as a not-for-profit arts company, the designer generously decided to not charge Oliver royalties for using his design.

Prototype of the Dog

With his blessings, Oliver went ahead to create a prototype. This was done in Taiwan, while Oliver was there for almost a month rehearsing for another production. He reduced the proportions of the design and even created a box so that he could transport it back to Singapore unscathed. 

Using the prototype, Oliver could decide the position of the joints, as well as the degree to which they could move. It also aided him in understanding the dog’s anatomy as well as its range of movements.

The puppet is a skeletal representation of a dog, shaped together with pieces of plywood of varying thickness. Plywood was chosen because it could be laser cut, reducing the time it would take to create the puppet. It was also a material that Oliver had worked with frequently, and was confident of manipulating.

The prototype had also allowed him to identify the puppet’s stress points, in order to better decide the thickness of each piece of plywood – the further away from the stress points, the thinner the plywood could be.

Oliver built the puppet from inside out. He first created a skeleton made out of aluminium and plywood with controllers, layered it over with pieces of laser-cut plywood, followed by a layer of papier mache. The papier mache was made out of recycled paper, so the various colors would add to the texture of the finishing.

Within the Dog puppet was a crevice that held a tube which contained the dog’s guts. This was fashioned by Daniel Sim. Daniel made a square tube with kapaline board that could sit within the crevice of the dog, with a stopper at the end to prevent the guts from being pulled out completely. This cardboard stopper also prevented the entire gadget from falling out. The intestines were made out of shredded pieces of white fabric that were painted brown and red, wrapped carefully in unpainted white fabric, completing the illusion of the dog’s guts being pulled out.

Champion this puppet and its story today by making a donation HERE.