Working in the MGS Theatre, I was tasked with creating a puppet of Scraps, the skeleton dog from the Tim Burton film ‘Corpse Bride’.
This puppet had to have fully working limbs, a tail that could wag, a head that could turn and a functioning mouth as well as being simple enough to be controlled by a pair of nine year olds as well as hardy enough to survive rehearsals with a hoard of nine year olds!
I decided early on that the best media to use was wire and mod roc, as the wire could be easily manipulated into 3D shapes and used to make joints effectively. The main issue with this was the potential weight of the puppet and whether it would hinder the ability of the puppeteers to fully control it, but I was on a tight deadline and so had to plough on. Working from images from the film, I first created the skull and rib cage which I then attached to a wooden “spine”. Then, I used anatomical drawings of dogs legs to try and replicate each bone as accurately as possible, taking special care around the end of each bone as this would dictate how the leg moved as a whole. The theory was – if I replicate the joints as well as I could, then the legs would act in the same way as actual dog’s legs. These were then plastered and attached to the main body and with the addition of the tail and hips, the puppet began to take form.
Once the puppet was assembled in full, it was time to work on the mechanisms of the puppet. I sourced a long stick that would become the controls of the puppet. From this, the spine hung parallel from strings. Holes were drilled through the wood, with string attached to the elbows and knees, the lower jaw and tail to allow each to be manipulated.
From here, it was just a matter of a quick paint job and a ring of red cardboard from the collar and Scraps was completed!
During the actual performances I was in the fly tower, so unable to take any pictures or see Scraps perform, but in rehearsals he looked great. He functioned well (apart from when his head came off an hour before showtime – hectic repair time) and got quite a few laughs from the audience.
In future, I think I need to consider the mechanics and how the puppet will be manipulated before jumping in and making it, although due to the time constraints it worked out quite well. I had the advantage that the show was embracing the fact that it was a puppet – had the aim been to make it look real then the task would have been a lot more difficult I think. Overall though, Scraps performed well and is a lot better behaved than my actual dogs…