Archive for the ‘Polar Bear’ Category

Bear Tail

I completely forgot that I’d taken this video when I was building the polar bear. When I went back in December, one of the things I wanted to do was give him a more substantial tail. The existing one hung down and was not very attractive–I didn’t make that one–so I wanted something that fit the bear more as a whole.

And then things went a little wrong.

Bear head

I’ve spent most of the last two days trying to solve the issues with ventilation in ways that don’t make it really unpleasant for the actors. The thing about testing to see if the fogging still occurring is that really the only way to do it is to put the head on and start a timer to see when the eyes fog over. So, I’ve spent a lot of time with the bear head on. The other night, I edited the short video of the bear during bouts of testing.

Right now, I’ve got it on again as I’m writing this. Aðalbjörk and Josa, the actresses who will take turns being Hringur, came over to test my mock up. They agreed that it was only mildly obnoxious and that the fogging didn’t seem to be happening.

So, I’m putting the real one in now, or rather, I’m testing the real one before doing the last thing that will make it permanent. My assessment is that, while it does seem to stop the fogging, it makes the impression of heat in the head more intense. See, what’s happening is that the hot air coming out of my nose and mouth is bouncing around in a much smaller area before exiting the character, which means that it feels like I’m breathing in a steam bath.

Here are the steps I’ve taken. I had already replaced the fiberglass cheeks of Hringur with foam for a more huggable bear, but I used the standard upholstery foam rubber. I switched that foam out for a reticulated foam. You can see that reticulated foam (on left) is much more porous than your standard foam rubber (on right).

FoamsHringur bear

Next I honeycombed the new cheek to let even more air flow through. Although this allows more air through, it also makes the cheek weaker. I can get away with it here because the surrounding fiberglass adds structure.

Hringur bear

I covered this with netting and put in plugs as I did with the other holes that I cut in the bear.

Hringur bear

Hringur BearIn theory, the finished bear is not noticeably different from the original bear, but is cooler. What I’m finding is that when I’m moving around, enough of a breeze gets through all of these small holes to cool the head down somewhat, at least compared to what it was before. I’ve been in the head for about fifteen minutes now, including a dance break, and there’s no fogging. Björgvin is coming by to pick Hringur up for rehearsal. Oh, please, please, let this work when they rehearse with it.

Hringur bear visits the hospital

We took Hringur to visit the children at the hospital for the first time.

As far as the kids were concerned, it was a successful visit. Unfortunately the fogging was still happening. Aðalbjörk, the actress inside, said she couldn’t see anything after about five minutes. That’s no good.

But. I had them over today, and we think we’ve found a solution. More on that later. Meanwhile, if you want to watch the raw footage of the entire twenty minute visit, it’s here.

A new jaw

The jaw is creating two problems; it’s contributing to the ventilation issue, because it’s solid fiberglass, so is providing a shelf that the actor’s breath bounces against, shooting it up against the eyes. It’s also not fitting one of the actors well. This bear needs to be able to fit multiple people which provides challenges, since masks are usually built to fit one person. Particularly with a mouth that’s activated by the performer’s jaw, the mask needs to fit extremely snugly. The fiberglass, while providing clean movement if well-fitted, is too big for one of the actors.

So. To start with, I created a copy of the jaw in reticulated foam. I use a brand called drifast which is designed to wick moisture away in outdoor furniture. Hopefully, this will help with the venting issues. To get really specific and uber-jargony on you, I used 1-inch DriFast with 35 ppi (pores per inch). Copy of jaw in foam
Next, I stitched elastic to the exterior of it, in the same place I had elastic on the original fiberglass jaw. I also added a piece across the interior, which serves to two functions. It helps the jaw retain its shape and it also acts to cup the actor’s chin. Added elastic to jaw
I lined the jaw with black fabric, and covered the exterior with fur. One of the things that I love about reticulated foam is that you can stitch to it very easily and it’s tear-resistant. Lined interior with black
Once it was all covered, I installed it in the original location. To my surprise, this has better movement than the original fiberglass. Usually you think of going rigid for mechanism, but, I’m guessing, because of this is a really snug fit it responds more quickly to the jaw’s movement. Think of it like wearing a ski mask. Covered exterior with fur

Sadly, the thing still fogs, but it’s slower and not as hot so that’s movement in the right direction. I’ve been reading about defoggers for scuba divers. Most websites recommend spit. Somehow, I can’t see myself recommending spitting into a mask that’s supposed to be worn around sick children. There are actual products, so I’ll see if I can find any here.

Before anyone recommends it–there is no place to put a fan in the bear’s head and even if there were, it would not solve the humidity issue. I think we have oxygen flowing in the mask now, but the humidity is the next hurdle to deal with.

If the defogger doesn’t work, then I’ll try putting a vapor barrier between the eyes and the nose, but this will likely make it uncomfortable, so I’m trying to avoid that.

(For the puppet geeks reading this, I buy my foam here. They ship.)

Kiwi is velcro

Mental note: Do not try to eat an unpeeled kiwi in an area with floating polar bear fur. The two are dynamically attracted to each other.


We’ve discovered that the bear has ventilation issues. I was worried about the heat buildup in the mask before I left, but it turns out that is only part of the problem. We have more of an issue with fogging in the eyes. If you’ll recall, the eyes are made of sunglasses and the mask, despite my cutting away for the fiberglass, is still a very closed environment. There’s nowhere for the humidity that the breath carries to go because the fur is too thick to vent.

I’ve started by opening the fur over the holes in the front of the mask. Hole in head
Next, I filled the hole in with a fine net. Net over hole
Using small plugs of Hringur bear’s fur, I carefully place them on the net. My goal is to create the illusion that the bear is still fully furred, while allowing more air to pass into the mask. Using plugs to mask hole

Here it is in the finished state. Filled the hole with hair plugs

Next I’ll replace the lower jaw with a foam one, which should allow for more ventilation.

Buying fur

Jodi and I went to the fabric store where the bear’s fur came from and bought enough to do two more bears. It’s now on its way to Iceland via U.S. Post. Initially they said that shipping would cost $238.50 (at the cheap end. The high end was $700) because the fur was too big to fit into one of the US Post approved boxes and would have to go via FedEx. At that price I was just going to buy a suitcase and carry it with me. We managed to cram it in with a bit of effort. The post costs only $50. Crazy, eh? It’ll take 6-8 weeks to get to Iceland, but I’ll be out of the country longer than that, so I think it’ll be fine.

Afterwards we went to have Thai food. Mmmm. Spicy. I’ve missed spicy food. And Thai Iced Tea. Happy camper, me.

Finished the bear

Well, mostly finished. I’m dropping him off at the seamstress’s tomorrow. She’ll make the doctor’s jacket for him as well as doing some finish work that I am much happier to delegate. Meanwhile, I will be getting on a plane and flying back to the States.

I stopped by Gummi Þor’s to show him the bear and he seemed very pleased. His house is still in full remodeling mode, so I think at least part of his happiness was just giddiness from lack of sleep. I then went to show Ingólfur the bear and talk about the things that remain to be finished.

On the body my seamstress will:

  1. Add fur to arms – (we needed to wait til jacket is finished to see how much arm is exposed.)
  2. Make the Doctor’s jacket
  3. Position velcro for holding doctor’s coat in place.
  4. Add any extra fur to cover exposed areas or to provide a softer feel to the bear.

We had planned on having two sets of hands and feet so that one set could go to the dry cleaner’s without taking the bear out of commission, but have run out of the material. I’m going to try to order some more, hopefully enough to make an entire second bear.

I’m also going to make a new foam insert for the hands while I’m in the states. I’m not happy with the foam I had here, but the ones I’ve made will work just fine for the bear’s initial outings.

I’m packed, now I just need to get the bear fuzz out of my nose and go to sleep.

A wee bairn and the bear

One of my co-workers was in today with his kid. She’s just started walking and is pre-verbal…not sure how old that makes her. Anyway, I fast-forwarded the latest video to the point where the bear dances. She sat there and made us play that section over and over by pointing at the screen and grunting until we did.

And with only the head, inactive on a pedestal, she just wanted to sit and pet it.

I’m thinking that’s a sign of success.

In shock

Damaged head
I’m posting while I try to gather my wits. I’d opened the mouth as I planned to insert the scrim. While I had the head open, I peeled back the black fabric on the roof of his mouth to drillout some more holes for the actor to breath more easily. On the second hole, as I was pulling the drill out, it caught in the bear’s fur, spinning it around. The bear clonked me in the head; the drill wrenched out of my hand and the bear head fell to the floor. This is what I saw when I picked it up.

I’m sure it’s all repairable, I’m just, well, stunned. I’m also thankful that I’m not getting on a plane this afternoon as originally planned.

Edited to add: It wasn’t nearly as bad as it looked. It only took about forty-five minutes to fix. Whew.
Isbjorn head

A movement test

I met with the seamstress today and she’s confident that making the jacket will be easy. We talked about the need for the pockets to be gigantic to allow the bear’s paws inside. I’ll drop the bear’s body off with her on Saturday so she can make the pattern for the jacket.

Here’s a video of the process of finishing the head and a movement test. As you’ll be able to see, there’s still some finish work that needs doing, but the bear is very close to being finished.

I’m very pleased with the movement of the bear. What doesn’t make me happy is the heat inside the head. Although I put in a lot of ventilation, it’s still very stuffy. I’m going to open up the mouth tomorrow and replace the sheer cloth I have with scrim. Hopefully this will get more air into the performer.

My biggest surprise, and my largest concern now, is that the mouth doesn’t work when I speak Icelandic. The prevalence of þ and ð (both make a “th” sound) cause interesting lipsync problems because the sound of both letters is produced without moving the jaw. Indeed, it’s almost impossible to move the jaw and make either sound. When I try to say Þú (the word for “you,” pronounced “thoo”) the mouth only moves if I really force it, and then the vowel sound changes because it’s not meant to be said with an open mouth. I’ll put a native Icelandic speaker in there tomorrow to see if they have better success. I wish this had occurred to me as a potential problem. I’ve been testing the movement of the jaw with, well, English. Silly me, it’s an Icelandic bear.


It turns out that the reason I lost power yesterday was because the glue gun spontaneously developed a short. I blew power again today when I started installing the jaw. I’m off to buy a new one now. Grr.

Edited to add: Hurrah! The company runner is going to pick up a new glue gun since the gun belongs to them. I will switch over to the pelvis until he gets back.

Pelvis and legs

Muslin mockup for legsBy the time the runner got back with the glue gun, I was already far enough into the legs of the bear that I didn’t want to stop. In a minor miracle, the pattern that I was adapting for the legs and pelvis of the bear was remarkably easy to work with. I usually have to futz around a bit to get the limbs to work, but this one was right on my first try.

The crotch, on the other hand, more than made up for the ease of the legs. In Goldilocks fashion, my first try was too small and didn’t allow for enough movement.. My second try at the crotch gave the bear the biggest package in the world. It might have been appropriate for a bear, but not even remotely for a children’s hospital. The third try, plus some minor tweaking of the legs where they join the crotch worked well.

As I was finishing the patterning, Rob came in and let me put the torso on him so I could fit the harness. As much as I wish otherwise, for some things I just have to have the bear on a person. Inside the torso, the actor will wear a belt around the hips. The belt has four points of attachment which go to the third rib to stablelize the body. I wish I’d had the video camera hooked up, because Rob was very, very funny as he was checking range of movement for me.

The good news is that it looks like the actor might be able to dress himself. Normally for these sorts of things, you bring a dresser/chaperone with you because your range of movement is too restricted to dress. We’ll see how the final bear turns out.

I used the pattern and cut out the legs in the final material and installed the boning for the lower legs. I still have to do some boning in the pelvis, but probably won’t be boning the whole area because I don’t want to restrict the actor’s movement too much.

So, here’s where we stand now.

Legs with partial boning Legs with partial boning

I have to make the thighs and heels still on the legs, but I’m going to need to get someone inside for both of those. Tomorrow, I should have pictures of the head as well. I installed the jaw, but forgot to take photos.

Now, I’m baking an apple pie to take to Icelandic class tomorrow. We had our final exam today and tomorrow is a free day.

Curses, foiled again

For unknown reasons, all of the electrical outlets in the workshop stopped working. I need my power tools. Argh. I did what hand work I could, but had to wrap up around four o’clock because I just ran out of things I could do.

Arms, beautiful arms

Isbjorn armsIsbjorn armsI started by finished stitching the gusset into the remaining arm and then inserted the boning. I pinned the arms on so I could check the range of movement with them both there. I’m pleased. My movement was absolutely unencumbered and the torso is very light. I’ve been entertaining the notion of swapping the ribs out in the chest, but after playing around today decided that my initial reasons for going with the lighterweight boning were sound. It gives the performer a little more range of movement in the arms. That meant I could do the finish work on the torso which I’ve been putting off.

To hold the boning in place, I drilled two small holes at each end of the bones and stitched it to the armseye bone. I also had to use a soldering iron to fuse the ends of the pettisham (ribbon) which is holding the bones in place. It was unraveling, but is fortunately a synthetic so I could melt the ends to seal them.

Once that was finished I repinned the arms to stitch them into place. To my surprise, this material is insanely difficult to sew through. I’d been having trouble on the sewing machine but blamed that on the tension. No. It is the material. I should have taken video of that so you could watch me try to get a needle through; comedy in action.

Alas, I did not start the pelvis today. In fact, I think I’m going to work on finishing the head tomorrow because I feel like I deserve a break from sewing after the insanity of today. But the arms are beautiful. Everything holds hits shape even when it’s just hanging without a person in it. I can’t wait to see this on the actor.