Posts Tagged ‘masks’

Thumbnails for the Odyssey

Thumbnails for Odyssey Well, the director wasn’t keen on the helmets because he wants to preserve the uniqueness of Athena’s helm and feels that it will be less special if everyone gets one.

I argued that since the play is supposed to use things that come off of the Odysseus’s ship, that helms make a good deal of sense. I think they lend a consistency to the abstractions in the show.

He really wants Athena to be the only one with a helmet and he also wants movement and beards. So, these are the thumbnails I’m sending up to him.

Thankfully, he liked everything else I sent him.

Doggone it all

When I do a bid on a puppet, mechanisms are the most expensive part. They are fiddly things and no matter how many times you’ve built something similar, each puppet is radically different. This dog puppet, which I’m creating ears for, technically has four mechs in it since each ear is capable of two movements. The ears pull back for angry dog, and droop for sad dog.

As I was explaining to someone, I always quadruple the amount of time I think it will take to do a mech because it never goes right the first time. I’ve installed ear mechanisms on masks before. This was a thing I was familiar with. And yet…

I did a rough draft of the ears on Tuesday. On Thursday, I came back to install the final ears, but we weren’t sure where the puppeteer’s hand needed to be for the control. Saturday, I went in at three o’clock to install the triggers. I left at three a.m. Here’s what I did during those twelve hours.

Prepping the headWhile I had installed the ears on the exterior of the head, I wasn’t sure until I went in on Saturday where I would need to run the cables to control them. (Normally, you figure all of this out in advance, but there were some staging issues that needed to be resolved first, in this case.) The cable for the ears needed to move three inches in order to trigger the angry dog pullback. Unfortunately, where we needed to put the trigger, there wasn’t enough room for a lever to move that far. So, I needed to reduce the amount of distance that the cable had to move.

It’s sort of like a reverse block and tackle, because I was willing to increase the amount of resistance, to decrease the distance moved. But to do that, I needed to allow a length of line pass through the skull in a “v.” Another line would attach to that and pull it. So, I needed to cut a slot in the skull. I started by drilling four holes.

The coping saw inserted

I then inserted a coping saw blade into one of the holes to cut out my opening.

The slot cutOnce the slot was cut, I tested the ear. Which resolutely failed to work.

After a bit of cursing, some internet time and a conversation with my dad, who is a very clever man, I realized that I had attached the pull line with a fixed point, and it needed to be a fluid point. Such a silly thing to do. After that, it worked exactly as it was supposed to. Whew.

Cables inside the dog's headSorry this is a blurry photo. All the cables have to come together to a fairly tight point where they run down the length of the dog’s spine. I’m using goldenrod cable (a flexible push-pull cable for model airplanes) to get from the head down to the handle where the trigger will be. That’s the thin yellowish cable, with the brass fittings on it. I have to use cable in a housing, otherwise the movement of the dog’s head would trigger the ears as the distance between the head and the trigger changed. A housing keeps that distance fairly consistent.

Closeup on trigger
For the trigger, I opted to go with a wheel rather than a lever. The cable exits the housing and wraps around the wheel as it rotates. Rather than centering it, I put the pivot point off-center to give the puppeteer some mechanical advantage. We tested it and it worked well. Happiness.

I installed the other mechanism, which was comparatively simple. Again, running it back to a wheel. Suddenly the first mech acquired a lot of friction. I couldn’t figure out where it had come from since the new one didn’t touch it. In desperation, I pulled the second one out, thinking that its mounting might be binding the first one somehow. Nothing. I tried activating the mech from within the head without using the cable. It seemed like it was within normal limits there, which meant that the friction was occurring somewhere along the length back to the trigger. I undid the mounting on the first one, checked it for crimps and reinstalled it. Still, it had that awful friction. It was unworkable. I was baffled.

I pulled the trigger from the other mech completely off the handle and–the first mech got easier again. It was still tight, but it wasn’t unworkable. What we were facing turned out to be a combination of factors. The trigger for second mechanism put the puppeteer’s hand in a weaker position. It also activated a mechanism that naturally had less resistance, so the first mech’s trigger hadn’t actually acquired more friction, but it felt significantly harder compared to the second one. At the same time, the monofilament that I’d used had stretched out. I normally avoid the stuff, but because the dog was so pale I used that instead of the braided dacron (which is black) that I prefer. It was a bad combo all around.

The triggersUnfortunately there wasn’t anywhere else to install a trigger. It was also two o’clock in the morning. Emily had to get on a plane with the puppet later on Sunday, to Ireland. I was tearing my hair out in frustration.

What you see here is a mockup of what I wanted to install. I used the connector on the end of the cable and a ziptie to create a thumbgrip. Elastic held it in place. One slides the thumbgrip back and the ears droop. You can still hold the dog’s handle and operate the trigger for the first mech in a reasonably comfortable position. It is far, far from ideal, but it works.

Here’s the proof.

This should have been a five or six hour job. My quadruple estimate was closer to being accurate. When Emily comes back with the dog, we’ll be able to fix it for the NYC shows in January.

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.)

Air Trixie and Falling Bessie

The first shot on the call sheet today was Air Trixie. This was the first time that a full-body greenscreen puppet got used this season. Sarah worked Trixie’s head and torso. Emily worked the arms and I was on feet. For the shot, Trixie had to leap up and do a karate pose to the camera. It was fun, but difficult because I had to aim the foot in a extremely specific direction and had trouble nailing it. It’s hard to explain why it was challenging, because I’m sure it looked simple from outside. Certainly, I felt bad that I had trouble doing it. but in the end we had several takes that Jonathon (the director) liked.

After that I moved on to being Bessie’s live hands, which I always love. She was telling the story of the Three Little Pigs and the director kept asking for more dramatic, so I got to go over-the-top with some of her gestures. It was fun.

The next shot. Ugh. I was still Bessie’s live hands, but this time I wasn’t attached to a puppet. It was a close-up of Bessie’s hands as she falls from the sky and catches a tree branch. It’s the kind of thing I do a lot for the characters, but Bessie’s hair is so big, that it would be in view no matter how close you were to the action. First we put her wig on my head. That seemed like a good solution, but they checked the stunt puppet and realized that in fact, for the proportions to be correct, a tiny bit of her face was going to be in the frame. So they put the Bessie mask on me. See, there are times when they use kids in costumes so they have masks of all of the characters. Bessie’s mask hadn’t been worn yet. It had only one hole cut for air, and it lined up with my chin, which meant that I only had the air I brought into the mask with me. I also couldn’t see anything, except for what was directly in front of me. Gasp. This meant I had to act, instead of relying on a monitor to tell me what I was doing. Still, I think the shot turned out well.

The rest of the day was spent with various small live hand activities and fetching carts.