Posts Tagged ‘MacBeth’

Remaking a helmet

Cheap spartan helmet Sometimes when dealing with props I can’t find the real thing or even a replica of it, so I just have to make it. In this case, we needed a Pictish helmet as one of the apparitions in MacBeth. The halloween stores had loads of helmets, but were strangely lacking in anything Pictish. Spartan on the other hand… those were everywhere. So I picked up the helmet in the photo for $9.00. It’s cheap vacuformed plastic and only vaguely the right shape.

The nice thing about this type of material is that it cuts easily. I began be trimming it into the shape that I needed, which was pretty easy to do with a pair of scissors

Trimmed with braidNext up, I used basic braid to create the decorative flourishes from my reference photo. The spiral patterns I did with a judicious use of hot glue as a design element.

Meanwhile, inside the helmet, I ran a hoop of armature wire to stiffen it and get rid of the woogedy-woogedy movement. Seriously, if you’re a warrior, you don’t want your helmet quivering.

Painted helmet To finish it off, I spray painted the whole thing bronze and then spattered it with a little black to give it a patina of age. Ah… I love it when a plan comes together.

MacBeth = finished

I spent the afternoon and much of the evening with Michael Schupbach, the puppet designer for MacBeth, as we did last touches on the puppets. I am pleased to say that, barring disaster, we are finished.

We went out for dinner afterwards and a much-deserved beer. I think both of us felt like we’d been leaning into a galeforce wind that got suddenly switched off. Sure, I have other things on my plate, but I’m actually not pressed against a deadline for the moment. It’s liberating but also disconcerting. I keep feeling like trying to correct for that wind and losing my balance, you know?

One of the interesting things, for me, about building or designing is that it uses the same part of my brain as writing does. It’s the part that solves problems and tries to come up with a coherent language for whatever story I’m trying to tell, whether it’s physical or a verbal. I’ve noticed before that my productivity in writing goes way down when I’m designing but not when I’m performing. It’s not that I can’t write, but the creative drive is being spent elsewhere. You know?

When I’m writing, I walk to the subway and I’m thinking, “How do I get him out of this…?” but when I’m designing, I’m thinking, “How can I make this stand up…?”

A director once said to me, “I want you to start with a blank stage and then create the universe.” That’s the creation process in both fields in a nutshell, isn’t it.

Twitters for 11-9-08

  • 01:14 Attaching the bones to the glove. I’m concerned that I might have to do this with it ON my hand. Bad, since the operation involves hot glue. #
  • 01:34 Missing five finger bones. Cutting them out now. #
  • 02:03 Finger bones cut, covered, painted and attached. Connected the forearm to the upper arm. I need to tweak her dress then I think I’m done. #
  • 02:21 Unfair! Firefox crashed right before the end of, Illuminated Dragon, the story I’m listening to on PodCastle. #
  • 02:43 Handstitching the finishing touches on the stone witch’s dress. #
  • 02:54 Sanding the fabric on the belt sander to make it distressed. #
  • 03:05 Yay! Finished with the stone witch.Ironically, listening to Goblin Lullaby by Jim Hines, which has a stone #
  • 03:34 Finished cleaning up (mostly) and heading for home. #
  • 04:27 Somehow, I’ve never come out of the shop as the bars were letting out. Scary women in scary heels and scary dresses. #
  • 13:28 Obama “collects Spider-Man and Conan the Barbarian comics.” I think this explains why so many SF folks like him. #
  • 13:42 When I spend a lot of time in the workshop, I lose track of time. It’s Sunday, right? #
  • 17:27 Ég reyni að lesa íslenku. #
  • 19:25 I’m cooking dinner and trying to decide what I can make without having to go shopping. Quinoa with lentils and tomatoes? #
  • 22:25 I’m heading to bed early. Shocking, I know. #

Twitters for 11-8-08

  • 12:14 Rob has the day off and he’s made waffles. I love my husband more than I can describe. #
  • 21:41 Making stone bones for the stone witch’s small arm. Sigh. I want to be finished with her. #
  • 23:27 Totally cheating and using grey gaffer’s tape on the polyethelene instead of making my own cloth mache. #

Twitters for 11-7-08

  • 09:17 Heading for the puppet kitchen. #
  • 12:48 I’ve cut the stone witch’s forearm off and am going to rotate the wrist 90 degrees and reset it. #
  • 13:43 My god! My mother has joined facebook! #
  • 13:54 I mean… my MOM on Facebook. It really IS the twenty-first century, isn’t it? #
  • 14:04 While the glue sets on the stone witch’s arm, I’m going out for lunch. #
  • 14:21 Wrong! I’m not going out to lunch, we’re ordering pizza. I will continue working. #
  • 15:45 Having eaten, I feel smarter now. I’m going to the garment district to get the stone witch a slip. #
  • 15:49 I keep thinking I’m leaving but then something comes up. I’m going to put a wig on the stone witch before leaving. #
  • 16:34 The wig looks good. Whew. I’m going to read a story out loud ’cause Emily asked me to. It’ll be a nice break. #
  • 21:34 After FOREVER for the alterations to the Stone Witch’s arms to get dry enough to paint. My time machine was not as effective as I would like. #
  • 22:07 Reattaching stone witch’s arm to her body. #
  • 22:15 Wrapping the stone witch’s hip handle for comfort and discretion. #
  • 22:28 Dang. The stone witch looks hot. She’s very close to finished. #
  • 23:18 Painting a little tiny shirt gray. #
  • 23:39 Now painting a little tiny cardigan black. #
  • 00:36 Packing up and heading for home. #


Papier-mache is one of the oldest forms for creating puppets and so a lot of people think that there must be something better out there. Actually, there are very few contenders. Done well, papier-mache is light, strong, fast, and non-toxic. I know, we’ve all had the experience of the lumpy paste, and corners that stick up and a thing that requires years of sanding to even resemble smooth. It doesn’t have to be that way. I’ll show you a technique that will only need three layers and can be danced on.


The first thing to do is make sure you’re working with that right stuff.

  • Wheat-based wallpaper paste. Why wheat? It has glucose in it, which binds with the cellulose in paper making a much stiffer and stronger wall, so you need fewer layers.
  • Brown paper bags & other paper. The important thing here is that you don’t use newspaper. The fibers are short and it has no structural integrity of its on. Mostly it’s used as a counting layer. You do need paper that’s two different colors so you can tell what areas you’ve papier-mache and what you haven’t. I use either leftover printer paper (recycling) or scrap pages out of my sketchpad. As long as it’s not the same color as the bags, a similar weight, and it is uncoated it will work.
  • Tissue paper. Yes I do mean Kleenex or toilet paper. We will use this to separate the paper from the form. Regardless of whether you are doing direct papier-mache or working into a mold you don’t want it to stick when it’s dry.
  • Plaster mold (optional) If you know how to make a plaster mold it is easier and faster to work into a negative than to papier-mache directly on the form.


  1. Mix your wallpaper paste in a shallow container like a pie-plate (anything will work this is easiest). Make a small batch. (Trust me, you will appreciate having to stop and wash your hands to make more.) Cover the bottom of the pan with cool water. Shake a SMALL amount of the paste onto the water. Add more if you need to for the right consistency. I use the Zen method of mixing till it feels right, which for me is like cream of wheat or a melted milkshake.
  2. Tear the paper into 6″ pieces (approximately). Don’t cut it. You want a soft edge on the paper so it will adhere better and more smoothly to the other pieces.  If you’re using heavy paper, like paper bags, put the pieces in a bucket of water to soak. (Printer paper with disintegrate if you do that, so, um, don’t.) This is much like the stage where you soak fabric before dying it. It helps the pores open up and absorb the paste better. It also makes the paper more pliable for going around corner. And finally, it makes the paper swell slightly. As it dries you get a tighter bond with fewer air bubbles.
  3. Layer of tissue in moldPlace the dry tissue paper in the mold (or on your form). After it is covered with a single layer, sprinkle it with water. I’ve splurged on art tissue before and it doesn’t work as well as facial tissue because, well, facial tissue is designed to withstand snot. It holds up better.
  4. Pick up a piece of brown paper bag and touch the bottom of it to the wallpaper paste so that when you pick it up it’s got maybe two inches covered with paste. (The biggest mistake folks make is to use too much paste). Smear it on both sides of the paper and crumple the piece. We’re trying to break up the fibers in the paper and work the paste into it. All techniques do this it’s just faster to do it with a large piece than lots of small pieces. What you want is for the paste to work inside rather than sitting on the surface.
  5. First layer of paperTear off a piece and place it in the mold or on the form. In a mold this is the layer that will be seen so it’s the only one that has to be neat. (On a form the last layer is the visible one so all layers have to be neat. You’ll just repeat all steps except six). Make sure that the piece is small enough that it doesn’t form wrinkles. Start in the center and work out. Overlap the pieces, pressing to remove airbubbles. When you get to the edge of the mold or form, go outside by at least an inch. You’ll need this to grab hold of when it’s time to take the papier-mache out.
  6. Second layer of paperMOLDS ONLY. After the whole layer is covered in brown. Get another piece of the bag, wet it in paste, and crumple it as before. Wad it up and shove it tightly into the detail areas. For instance, if you’ve got a nose, push it as far into the nose and nostrils as you can. What will happen is that the detailed areas will suddenly have ten layers of mache and the surface is smoother so your next layer will go faster.For this photo, I switched to white paper for my second layer and did the wads of paper with the brown so that it was easy for you to see.
  7. Final layer of paperRepeat steps 4-6 with the other paper, when it’s covered go back to the brown bag. Do this until you have between three to five layers. IMPORTANT do it while the layers are wet. They adhere better and you will have fewer airbubbles.
    Your final layer will be with whatever your first layer was. I only do three layers. You can see how much smoother the details are on this one than on the first layer.
  8. Let it dry. Put it the sun. Be patient, you can put it in front of a space heater or bake it (250 degrees) but you risk the layers drying at different rates. I have to admit that in the winter I usually force it dry, because I’m not patient.
    What works really well, if you can find it, is an old standing hair dryer. It circulates the air and helps the thing dry evenly and pretty darn fast. The biggest challenge. If the top layer dries before the bottom layer — the one touching the plaster — then it will seal the moisture in and slow the bottom layer’s dry time. Make sense?
  9. Pulled from moldIt will reach a stage we call leathery. It’s still flexible, but it’s dry, like leather. This is the best time to pull it out. Be careful, if it’s too early and you see wrinkles happening, don’t do it. It’s better to wait until its completely dry.
  10. Peel off what tissue paper you can and the rest smooth down with the paste.
  11. TrimmedTrim the edges and then wrap them in papier-mache to keep them from peeling up.

You have to take some care with that first layer, but after that the subsequent layers go really, really fast. I can usually crank a single part mold out in forty-five minutes to an hour. It’s a pretty good ratio and the materials are dirt cheap.

I’ve dropped puppets from the second floor, hurled them against walls, and even stood on papier-mached pieces. Done right, the durability is surprising. The detail, going into a mold is pretty crisp, too. As a testament to that, here is the finished face of the wood witch.

Woodwitch face

Wood witch’s grabber arms

To catch you up on what I spent the last several weeks building, I’m going to be posting some photos that I took during the build.

The wood witch needed hands capable of picking things up. Fortunately, you can find such a thing in your local neighborhood hardware store. This trick won’t work for a lot of puppets, but the wood witch was the perfect size for using grabber arms.

First thing was to rough cut and glue a piece of foam to the grabber arm to represent the other fingers. I’m using an ethafoam because it is stiff, but not rigid. I don’t want it to flop around but a rigid foam would be snap off.

Foam sculptedn I used a razor blade to carve the fingers into shape. I wanted something that looked like the grabber, but also was rootlike and a little, well, more finger-shaped.

Papermaching arm I papier-mached the arm, leaving lots of wrinkles in the paper to give it a bark-like texture. We want the whole puppet to look like she’s made with a bundle of twigs.

The hands completedAnd here they are finished. When I got to the arms, I switched to cloth mache. It will flex a little, if the fingers catch on something, but will give the same texture as the paper. I painted them with acrylic. Adding a few silk oak leaves to the hands and arms completed the picture.

Twitters for 11-5-08

  • 00:11 Moved by McCain’s concession speech. #
  • 01:12 I am so happy. Obama! #
  • 01:33 Outside on the streets of NYC. It is crazy and beautiful. #
  • 01:40 Everyone on the subway is making eye contact and grinning. But there’s also this look of shock, like none of us trust the fortune. #
  • 17:08 Heading to the puppet kitchen to talk about Hecate. Apparently one of her heads fell off. #
  • 18:16 Darn it. The meeting about Hecate was canceled. After I left the house and was on the subway already… #

Twitters for 10-24-08

  • 01:32 Taking a break for ice cream sandwiches. #
  • 01:47 Back to making the collar of bones for Hecate. #
  • 02:28 My friends in the same studio have just made the most beautiful dragon puppet. The thing is thirty feet long. Gooooorgeous. #
  • 06:16 Heading for home. My parents arrive at noon for the weekend. #
  • 14:25 My folks’ flight is delayed. I’m sorry they are having to deal with transit issues, but glad I have another couple of hours to clean. #
  • 22:38 Mom and Dad are visiting and there’s something filming on our street. We’ve stopped to watch. #

Twitters for 10-23-08

  • 03:20 Installing fog witch’s head on the mechanism. #
  • 04:05 Braiding crowns. #
  • 04:10 Beginning to paint the fog witch. Have I mentioned that the painting is my favorite part? #
  • 06:11 Finished with painting the fog witch head. I’m starting the costume now. #
  • 09:19 Finished the fog witch’s costume. I’m putting gold glitter on the veins of the leaves on the crowns. #
  • 09:31 Finished with the crowns and starting to clean up. #
  • 09:52 Heading out of the shop. #
  • 17:46 Not surprisingly, when I came home to change clothes and take a nap, I slept for six hours instead of the two I’d planned for. #
  • 22:01 Making Hecate’s collar and arms. This involves sawing a skull in half. #

Twitters for 10-22-08

  • 01:44 It looks like we’ve managed to salvage the fog witch’s head. We cast it today in papier mache and, with a little rebuilding, it looks fine. #
  • 17:21 Whew. The gun repair was only $300. I was worried it would be pushing a thousand. #
  • 18:53 Making a Pict helmet. #
  • 20:38 I’m sanding the fog witch’s head after the first two coats of gesso. #
  • 22:19 Woot! Rob came by the shop and we had dinner. This is the third time I’ve seen him when we’re both conscious this week. #
  • 22:47 The Pict helmet is finished and I’ve stopped the woogedy-woogedy action through judicious use of armature wire and paper-mache. #
  • 22:48 Since the fog witch head is dry, I’ll sand it and then move on to Spackle. #
  • 23:21 Spackling finished. Now I’m making nine identical crowns. #

Twitters for 10-21-08

  • 00:08 So that thing I was doing instead of dealing with the mold? I’ve now cut my hand & broken the grip I was building, just before finishing. [1. It was a shallow cut and I’m fine, it was just aggravating.] #
  • 00:08 Today = not good. #
  • 00:14 For those keeping score? This is why I like writing. When you screw up a scene you don’t have to worry about bleeding on the page. #
  • 00:51 Okay, I’ve taken a break and am going to try to build this again. #
  • 02:26 Yes, this is going much better. I’m installing the shoulder joints now and have the basic grip built. It’s sexy. #
  • 05:17 Starting to costume the wood witch. #
  • 06:07 All right. I’m going to nap for a bit. #
  • 10:13 I’m leaving the shop. #

Twitters 10-20-08

  • 00:31 The stone witch is assembled with the basecoat of paint on her. I’m starting the detail paint now. Whee! #
  • 02:29 Putting the dress on the stone witch. By George, I think she’s nearly finished. #
  • 03:26 Stringing beads for the stone witch’s necklace. #
  • 03:46 I’m cleaning up and heading for home. Tomorrow will not be pleasant, I suspect. #
  • 09:36 I have a caffeine intolerance and am hoping that the decaf mocha next to me has enough caffeine and sugar to wake me up. #
  • 14:53 So sleepy. #
  • 17:25 Finished here and heading for the shop. Whee. #
  • 18:36 Tonight’s episode of Heroes apparently has an evil puppeteer. Why, oh why are puppeteers always depicted as evil? #
  • 20:56 The fog witch’s mold just broke into five pieces. It’s supposed to be a two part mold. I’m doing a lot of deep breathing right now. #
  • 21:47 Upon studying the mold, there are additional problems which might make it unusable even after repair. I’m going to work on something else. #

Twitters for 10-18-08

I just wanted to thank you guys for being patient with me. The puppets are due on Tuesday and hopefully I’ll have time and brain power for posting more than twitters by then.

  • 03:25 Calling it a night and heading for home. #
  • 13:52 Rob made pancakes. Mm. We’re listening to Madama Butterfly and then I’m heading out to buy fabric for the witches’ costumes. #
  • 16:39 Finished the fabric shopping, got a little writing done on the subway and am at the puppet kitchen now. Time to shape blue foam. #
  • 19:49 In NYC? Want to build puppets tomorrow? We need two volunteers from 11:00-3:00 at the Puppet Kitchen. You’ll be fed. #
  • 23:13 I’m starting the last of the papier mache. The stone witch’s foot. #
  • 23:31 Papier mache is done! Goo be gone. ((This, by the way, turned out to be wildly inaccurate.   I’ll have to do a buttload more tomorrow.)) #

Twitters for 10-17-08

  • 07:15 At the puppet kitchen, treating the wood witch’s arms to look like tree branches instead of aluminum and dowels. #
  • 08:27 Hands are sculpted. I’ve restricted the elbows so they don’t spin around like a zombie’s. #
  • 08:43 Adding strips of mache to the arms to give a treebark texture. I’m getting a little tired of having my hands in goo. #
  • 09:43 Finished the bark treatment on the arms. Oddly, I can’t find the hair dryer with which I usually speed the drying process. #
  • 09:45 After some thought, I’m going to papier-mache the wood-witch’s face instead of casting in neoprene. It’ll be significantly lighter this way. #
  • 11:40 And I’m finished with the top part of the face. The bottom mold is very small and should go really fast. But first, lunch! #
  • 11:51 Just passed a mob of high school girls who were screaming “Vote for Obama!” They were obnoxious yet cute. #
  • 14:00 Just looked at wildly over-priced typewriters. Sigh. #
  • 14:48 Woot! The upper face came out of the mold beautifully. #
  • 15:17 I just listened to Tanuki Kettle, by Eugie Foster, on PodCastle. Excellent story and nice reading. Recommended! #
  • 17:57 Car on fire at 4 and 2. I called 911 and the firemen came so fast that they must have already been called. #
  • 18:50 Trying to pick stone witch puppet up from rehearsal. We can’t find it. Makes me nervous. #
  • 19:01 Found the witch. Whew. #
  • 20:00 Back to the papier mache mines. Mmm… goo. ##
  • 21:11 Switching from wood witch face to stone witch arm. #