A first concept for Thor’s head

For the next little while, I’ll be doing periodic posts about creating the puppets for a production of Neil Gaiman’s Odd and the Frost Giants at Stages Theatre in Houston Texas.  Most of these posts are actually going to be written for Rob Kimbro, the playwright and director of the show, as well as the rest of the design team but we thought that you might be interested in following along as well.

Because Odd is the son of a woodcarver and a pretty good hand at carving wood himself, my inclination is to use wood for the puppets.  At first glance, this didn’t seem feasible because wood is heavy and it is labor-intensive to create.  The weight is a serious issue.  While it is possible to paint something with very realistic woodgrain, that adds to the labor involved in creating the piece.  Because we will probably need multiple versions of some of the figures, I wanted to avoid a style that would be too expensive to make duplicates of.

The approach that I’m suggesting is to use Albrecht Roser’s paper folding technique with wood veneer. This should give us a beautiful woodgrain finish with very, very lightweight figures.  The style is also naturally stripped down and spare which I think lends itself to the Nordic landscape of the story.

As a trial, I’ve taken a stab at the bear’s head.

I was surprised when I started working on this to realize that Thor was a brown bear. Being in Norway, I was expecting a polar bear and I was so wrong. Norway has brown bears. One of the immediate problems are going to be those adorable ears. It will be difficult to avoid making them seem cute.

Thor is not cute.

I first start by drawing an actual bear head and then clean up the lines to a point that I think I can recreate it in paper.  You can’t see it but there was a lot of erasing going on with the page.

I’m trying to position the ears laid back against the head to make him a bit more formidable but am not happy with them.  I’ll probably wind up fiddling a lot when it’s in three dimensions.

Here’s a check to see if I can get the basic shape. This is only the top half of the bear’s head because I need a bigger sheet of paper. Still it’s enough for me to see that the form is possible with the paper-folding technique.

From here I’m going to move on to concepts for the full figure of the puppet before going back to work on Loki and Odin.

Series NavigationThor’s body and playing with Loki’s face >>
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9 Responses

  1. Kelvin Kao

    I was thinking “there’s heavier wood and there’s lighter wood”. Then I looked at the size and thought “Um, probably would’ve come out heavy either way”.

    Cool stuff. Looking forward to more!

  2. AmyK

    Very, very cool. I’m an artist too, and have always been interested in puppetry. I love your thinking, incorporating the nordic aesthetic. Looking forward to reading more about the process as it goes on!

  3. Stephanie Harper

    I live in Alaska, where we have Grizzly bears, which are also Brown Bears. Nothing cute about a grizz 🙂

  4. Jaws

    My immediate thought was “what about veneer over a frame or foam,” but this method would make grain-matching easier. (Although the thought of using bird’s-eye maple, suitably oriented so that the eyes are the eyes…)

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