Every puppet seems to require a slightly different approach to making the body. But there are some general principles which seem to apply most of the time. This is how I usually make the larger bunraku style puppets.

Body Construction

For the larger puppets I start by cutting out the body shapes in MDF, using a scroll saw. I create front view shapes for the chest, stomach and hips and side views for the arms and legs. Where possible I remove wood from the inside of the shape to reduce the weight of the puppet. I then bolt strips of aluminium to the MDF, if necessary milling a slot for it to sit in. The aluminium runs the length of the limb, this gives the MDF 'skeleton' extra strength and rigidity. Getting as much strength from as lightweight a construction as possible is a constant aim. In our rehearsals and performances the puppets receive to a large amount of wear and tear and are often pushed and pulled around the stage mercilessly! It is therefore essential that the body parts and all of the joints are as strong as possible.

Puppet torso

Having created the body shapes, I use impact adhesive to clad them with soft foam rubber on either side and this is sculpted with an electric kitchen knife and scissors or rasp. I prefer to sculpt the body from a soft foam rubber as this is the most sympathetic material when it comes to using the puppets. There is no sound when the puppet knocks against things, it is lightweight and it has some give in it, like flesh. However there are some occasions when it is better to use a more rigid material, like syrofoam. This is usually when the limb will be seen, and not covered by clothing. For example the bottom of legs and the lower part of the arm. Both the soft foam rubber and the styrofoam will need some sort of covering to protect them. I cover soft foam rubber in stockingette, which is glued to the surface of the foam with copydex or latex. Styrofoam is more problematic. I usually cover it with fibre glass and resin, which can then be sanded to create a smooth finish. This is quite a laborious job especially if the puppet is quite large. However, it does give a good smooth finish. Unfortunately, you cannot apply polyester resin directly to styrofoam, as it will eat it away, firstly you must apply a barrier layer of tin foil, which prevents the resin from destroying the styrofoam. Alternatively you can use an epoxy resin which you can apply directly, but which I haven't found to be as robust as polyester resin

Joints and assembly

For elbow and knee joints, where the movement is like that of a simple hinge, I drill a small hole in the aluminium/MDF body shape and connect the parts with a 3mm diameter bolt. For looser joints such as the shoulders, hips and wrists, I use webbing, which allows the limb to twist and move in any direction. The two or three sections of upper body are also joined with webbing, either one or two pieces running down through the centre of the puppet.
At the top of the body there is an aluminium and wood shoulder section. At its centre is a hole, through which the neck of the puppet passes. Attached to either end of it are the arms. The underside of this section rests on the handle of the puppets head mechanism, it must be quite a strong construction as it will support the weight of the puppet below it. I attach this shoulder support to the MDF profile of the body. The back of the body is hollowed out for the puppeteers hand and the handle which controls the head.

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