TML 2021 #03: Expanding on research part II

by fingerplayers

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

Puppeteer Consultant Session #2

My exploration continued with the harness and its functions as I prepared for session 2.

In this session, I wanted to focus on how the human body interacts with different hardware, so modifications were made to the harness

  1. Added D rings to the Velcro on the hip belt to account for the human body’s curvature
Image 1: D rings for added flexibility between the 2 hip belt sections.

2. Added thicker padding at the hip belt for comfort

3. Removed thigh strap as it was not taking the weight as intended

4. Added aluminium structures to mount the long-arm structure on

Image 2: Small aluminnium bracket
Image 3: Large aluminium bracket
Image 4: Modified castor

During the session, the long-arm structure was mounted to the hip strap in 3 variations to allow the structure’s weight to be borne on the hip. In the previous session, it was mounted to the chest and shoulder.

We tried different ways to mount on the hip:

  1. Fixed: Long-arm structure slots snugly into an aluminium bracket. It can be removed or inserted according to the movement. The rod is secure with limited movement when inserted.
Video 1: Manipulation with the long-arm structure in the small aluminium bracket.

It was a pain to remove the structure and put it back into the bracket because of how tight it ended. Also, under the weight, the aluminium rod twisted, further jamming the bracket.

2. Fixed, with a bigger channel: The bracket is larger so it can be removed more easily. The long-arm structure is less secure and shifts within the bracket.

Video 2: Manipulation with the long-arm structure in the large aluminium bracket.

It was easier to remove the long-arm structure when Oliver (Puppeteer Consultant) wanted to, but re-inserting is still a pain.

3. Swivelling on 2 axes: This bracket was modified from a castor. The long-arm structure is no longer removeable but can rotate and swing left and right.

Video 3: Manipulation with the long-arm structure in modified castor.

Having the long-arm structure so free-moving meant that Oliver had less control over the structure.

In general, many ideas and things that I wanted to try did not work so well in this session. Nonetheless, this session was helpful in finding out what does not work and killing off ideas. Main takeaways:

  1. It is helpful to have one joint with limited movement and one with wide range of movement.
    • Example: In session 1 where the long-arm structure was mounted on the chest. The mounting point was the limited movement joint. It was not completely fixed as the soft material of the harness still allowed the mounting point to shift. We realised that a small amount of movement helped in the manipulation. The joint with the wide range of movement was the point where the handheld control rod is. The wide range of movement allows Oliver to manipulate the long-arm structure freely.

2. Having two joints with a wide range of movement reduces the overall level of control and thus requires more effort to manipulate.

  • Example: In this session, when the modified castor joint was used, it resulted in making manipulation most difficult.

3. The placement of where the structure is mounted is important. If the structure is mounted on the hips and blocks the whole torso, this reduces spaces for the arms to move and reduces the manipulation possible.

Puppeteer Consultant Session #3

For the third session, I took a breather from the long-arm structure and used the crow head from Peepbird as the stand-in for an overhead puppet structure. I wanted to:

  1. Test out overhead structures mounted to the harness
  2. Find out what hip mounts are good for
  3. Investigate how effective a stiff material, bridging shoulder strap to hip strap (like backpacks), is in distributing part of puppet’s weight from shoulders to hips

To prepare for the session, I worked on the following:

  1. Built mounting points for the overhead structure to be attached to the hip strap and shoulder strap
Image 5: Harness with mounting points

2. Prototyped a plastic back plate connecting the shoulder pads to the hip belt. I cut up a plastic box file for the back plates. The file’s walls acted as ribs to increase the stiffness of the plates.

Image 6: Plastic Plates

In the session itself, we tried these variations:

  1. Overhead structure mounted on hip strap
Video 4: Manipulation of overhead structure mounted on hip strap

2. Overhead structure mounted on shoulder strap

Video 5: Manipulation of overhead structure mounted on shoulder strap

3. Overhead structure mounted on the original shoulder hooks that were used in Peepbird

Video 6: Manipulation of overhead structure with original shoulder hooks

Our observations were as such:

  1. In terms of weight distribution, the overhead structure mounted on hip strap and on shoulder strap felt similar. There seems to be a direct trade-off between distributing weight by mounting puppet on the hips, and puppet’s range of movement. When mounted on the hip strap, Oliver had less movement. I think that the hip joint should be more stable as compared to the shoulder strap. However, because the Peepbird head is quite light, the weight distribution differences could not be felt.
  2. Shoulder strap mounting allowed for greater control when manipulating puppet as the waist could move more freely. Since both shoulder strap and hip strap mounting are viable options, the mounting point depends on the movements needed in the show and weight of puppet itself. These will determine how much movement we need versus how much weight the puppeteer needs to carry.
  3. Original shoulder hooks just dug into Oliver’s flesh mercilessly as it was made for a much smaller puppeteer.

Where I am now

Articulating the project thus far, there are two separate explorations:

  1. An exoskeleton to mount large puppet structures on. The goals are to:
    • Reduce performer fatigue
    • Discover new ways of manipulating puppets that previously may not be possible
    • Must not increase physical strain on other body parts

2. A modular system for large puppet structures. It will be a system of sections of different lengths and joints of different types. These parts can be combined in different configurations so that various numbers of puppet structures can be created quickly. (See Image 7 below) The goals are to:

  • Create a rapid prototyping system to allow us to test different puppet structure types on the exoskeleton
  • Discover a flexible but strong way to develop large puppet structures
Image 7: Brainstorming illustration of the different possible puppet structures.


Video 7: What’s there?

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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