If you’ve seen the likeness puppets I make, you might be curious about how I construct them and make them look like specific people. Or you might not, but I’m going to tell you a bit about it anyway. I’m going to focus on likeness hand puppets, which have three-dimensional heads, and a movable mouth that you operate with your hand. They can also have other movable features; check out the link below for some fun videos showing examples I’ve made!
The head starts as a foam base, which can be adjusted for different shaped heads. When people send me photographs to make likeness puppets, I spend a lot of time staring at the shape of their head and trying to match it in foam. This gets covered in a fabric ‘skin’. The mouth is built into the outer fabric, and is stiffened with plastic to hold its shape. The eyes, nose, ears and any other features such as facial hair are sewn on separately.
There are a couple different ways to make the eyes, depending on what effect I’m going for. One method is to make eyes from half ping pong balls. This makes them three-dimensional, and they can sit behind the fabric for a more realistic effect. Realism is a fine line with puppets, which can easily cross over into creepy. I use this technique for my Donald Trump likeness puppets, for whom deranged and terrifying is perfectly appropriate. However, if you’re trying to make your puppet look like a normal person, it can turn out less well. Try not to stare into those pale blank eyes for too long…
In the above instance, I ended up replacing those eyes with two-dimensional felt ones, which I hope take the puppet out of the realm of the uncanny valley.
A lot of the work I do involves this sort of decision making, to produce a unique likeness that my client will recognise. Even slight adjustments to the shape and placement of features can dramatically change how a puppet looks, and the choice of technique can take it from cute to caricature. Aside from the actual construction, that’s part of what makes it such a specialised skill. I’m always experimenting and trying new things in an effort to produce fun and accurate puppet likenesses.
Ever wonder what you would look like as a puppet? Why not send your photo along and order your own likeness puppet, or get one made for a friend or loved one? I promise it will be flattering, unless you’re Donald Trump!