16 June, 2020: “Simplifying Movement” with Toby Olié

16 June, 2020: “Simplifying Movement” with Toby Olié

In this week’s digital workshop for “Still Curious” (the Curious School’s alumni group), puppeteer and maker Toby Olié talked the students through designing and making a simple two dimensional puppet for one operator. During lockdown, Toby has produced an online version of Ross Collins’ picture book “What Does An Anteater Eat”, and used his design process from this project as a starting point. You can watch the video of Toby’s production here, on Little Angel Theatre’s YouTube channel.

Toby invited the students to bring along an illustration of an animal to the session. Using only simple materials found around the home (paper, cardboard, string, tape, glue, tracing paper, wooden skewers), we developed 2D animal puppets with articulated joints that could be operated from behind with makeshift rods.

The first stage was to copy our chosen illustration onto tracing paper. Then, we selected where the joint would be positioned by imagining the intended movement of the puppet, as the mechanism must be hidden within the body of the puppet. For example, if the head was to be articulated, the neck joint must be concealed within the body to avoid negative space as the movement takes place. This process sometimes involved adding additional lines to the copied illustration, increasing or decreasing the volume suggested by the original. To do this, you have to imagine the parts of the animal that you can’t see within the illustration.

The individual limbs were then copied onto paper, and then mounted on to cardboard (a lot of cereal packets fished out of the recycling!) to make the finished article more robust. Toby recommended a fast drying glue called Guttermans for this sort of project. After colouring the limbs using whatever we had to hand, Toby then shared his method of making the joints with string and tape.

The method fixed the top limbs from behind, which created a cleaner finish that didn’t disrupt the illustration. The string (doubled up for durability) pierced the body and was secured with tape. The size of the hole affected the range of movement. For example, if you wanted to legs to move with a greater looseness than the head, the hole was for the hip joints were a little larger than the hole for the neck joint.

The final stage was adding simple rods, at a right-angle to the puppet, so that it could be operated from behind. Again, Toby was able to demonstrate a simplified method using only tape and wooden skewers or chopsticks.

And here are the results!

The range of the articulation that can be achieved by this method can be seen here in closer detail:

Thanks to Marcus Schabbing for sharing his work above; the whale was based on one of Marcus’ own illustrations.

Our Still Curious Tuesday sessions are enabled thanks to the generous support of Arts Council England.