I started work yesterday on a miniature prototype for the Mini Maker Fair robot puppet. It is based on one of their pre-existing characters, all of which are related to projects which have been part of the event in the past.
Usually with big puppets the aim is to try and use materials which will bounce, float and add movement to the simple understructure of the puppet, in an attempt to bring them to life. An interesting problem which I haven't faced before is in trying to do the exact opposite. This puppet needs to look solid and rigid, like sheet metal, but he still needs to have a personality. The body and head shapes are both Frustums, cones with a flat top. To break his silhouette up a bit and get away from an overly simple form I made the head smaller than the body, with a slightly increased taper. The original character design has a rounded head, but that would be very complex to replicate with the materials I intend to use, so after a few tests I decided on a flat head. I think the important thing is that the eyes stick up clearly from the top, as this seems to give him a lot of his character. I tried out different sizes of eyes and shapes of curves for the mouth to get the expression I wanted. It should look like he's trying to communicate, as if he's just about to say something. I want him to seem like he has thoughts, so he doesn't just look like a neutral, man-made construction.
In this version the arms and legs are articulated, and the head can rotate. In playing around with him I found that allowing the head a small amount of extra movement, a bit of a wobble, increased his character by a huge amount. It makes him seem funnier, he looks less certain about what he's doing, a bit dithery or over-excited, and when his head bobs up and down or rocks from side to side it really softens his movements and adds a liveliness to him. This is not something I had intended to do with the big version, but now that I've seen how much it adds I think it's a keeper.
In scaling him up I will make small alterations to his proportions to make sure he looks right at the larger size, but the tests here in learning how to plan out his net shapes and in thinking about his movements have been really useful. The full size puppet will be around ten feet tall so I expect to add a few visual features which are not in the source designs to give it the right amount of detail at that scale - some nuts and bolts, stray wires, buttons or levers - but I will keep these to a minimum and make sure he remains faithful in feel to the original design. Here's a quick movement test -
I am a Glasgow based visual artist and maker