Fast forward to Eurofurence 19 - with GoH Andy Heath and Warrick Brownlow-Pike and several cast members of the "Mongrels". That's where I could take a closer look at how these puppets are made and why they work the way they do. Awesome! But I still couldn't translate my character into a suitable design to begin crafting...
Earlier this year I finally had enough and decided: I need some help, otherwise this is never going to happen. I approaced karpour and commissioned a ref-sheet for a puppet. He also provided useful input to some very basic questions and soon I was starting bending my nose into shape... well... you know what I mean :)
The nose/head sphere was the first part to get done, closely followed by the ears, which went through two revisions: the wire I used at first was too thick and I had to use screws in addition to hot glue, otherwise the ears would not hold.
At this time, I was still trying to find a way of making working eyelids... but that would have restricted me to use "ping pong eyes" or would have been way too complicated to work with plastic.. maybe if I had the time/tools to re-make the head with metal... but then it would also weigh a ton and the fun of performing it would be next to none.
When I no longer needed eyelids, I could shape the eyes from a slightly smaller plastic sphere... I hate having to form two identical but mirrored pieces of *anything*. Just as the eyes were shaped right, I had the idea to "borrow" the glowing LED eyes idea... with a twist: cat eyes glow in the dark, but only the pupil will do so. I decided to have some LEDs inside the head that would illuminate the pupils which should look black when the LEDs are off. Had to build tiny reflectors (some tinfoil glued to rubber cones, topped off with a sanded piece of transparent plastic) to get the 8mm LED to illuminate a 2cm circle.
The moving eyelids didn't work... but I wanted the puppet to be able to show some expressions on set. The next best thing I saw several times (including on Baseball) was magnets in the eyes to snap on eyelids as needed. Now I don't want my puppet to erase any credit cards, so I decided the other way 'round: magnets in the eyelids and a piece of sheet metal behind the eyes. Took some "bending" to get it to fit the courve of the eyes.
Up next: the hands. I knew that I wanted to have rods to control them... ideally, they could be removed. My idea to mount them didn't quite pan out though so I had to solder the rods directly to the hand "bones" (made from the same wire as the ears) and cover the whole thing in foam.
What's missing? Right! A body! that was somewhat easy: a leftover piece of foam proved to be EXACTLY the right size to form the cone shaped base of the body wiht only minor trimming to make an even edge. Shaping the legs and the belly from some more foam was far more work...
But there's still something missing... I had no idea how to "frame" the eyes, so the fur/eye transition would look "right"... Again the trusty wire came to the rescue! Bent an exact replica of the eye outline, covered it in fleece and fixed it to the head with some wired sticking through into the head cavity.
Painting the eyes did *almost* work like a charm... I used some rather sturdy airbrush paint and tried to get the iris look somewhat realistic... and failed. Now it looks like two shades of blue ran together... Still OK for an iris, but not the look I was aiming for. The eyes are painted on the inside of the plastic, so the paint wouldn't scratch off.
Now I couldn't put it out much longer... I needed to put fur on that base structure. Since I never did that, I was almost in panic. Thankfully, Yamavu and Lurinare offered to help out by helping me creating a pattern and giving me a pointer to the right sewing technique.
Armed with the pattern, I started sewing and after about a week of *very* intense and sometimes nerve wracking work I finished the fur. Note that the arms are attached with clips - they can be removed/replaced easily.
I also added fixtures for the nose and teeth to the head during that phase, both of which I planned to make out of resin, after a mold made from a Fimo sculpted master.
The furring process went smooth but dragged on for several days all by itself. It was difficult to re-measure every part of the pattern over and over again. Some parts fit snug, others didn't at all. Thankfully, only one part of the pattern ended up too small. Maybe I added too much allowence? Oh well, at the size of a puppet, even a millimeter off can be clearly visible when it's off in the wrong place :)
The most difficult part proved to be the hand-paws: I wanted fingers that could be posed, hence the wires inside... but geting a "glove" to fit... well... like a glove, was not an easy task. I tried three different patterns until I got one that worked. Also, sewing the hand to the arm was extra-difficult because it had to be done "right side out" and shouldn't leave much of a visible seam either. That took some time in itself.
Now all that was left to do was: adding character elements. I'm talking about the earring and the ponytail hairdo. At first, I wanted to use quality hair extensions for the hair... yikes those are expensive! Over 100 Euro! That was a tad bit over the budget... but a Euro store had cheap ones for 4.50 - I took two, just in case :)
Sewing them to the head was another annoyingly slow process.
The earring is made from aluminium wire that's usually used for crafts projects.
And to make the eyes look right, I cut out the lenses of some cheap sunglasses and slid them in between the eyes and the head... D'OH! I scratched one of the irises while doing that... but it's not all that prominent, so I can live with it. Still, I'm highly annoyed by such "last minute oops"es. The lenses were required to a.: keep the light of the LEDs in acceptable levels and b.: make the pupils look black when the LEDs are off.
Last step in the process: Trim the fur down in "critical" areas. It's clearly visible on the last pictures: some of the fur needed to make way for the eyes. Also the way the long fur ended at the hands was looking more like a monkey than a cat. But: I never trimmed fur before and of course, other than real fur, fake fur doesn't grow back... Yikes! I did NOT want to have to re-do any of the patches at this time! Thankfully, karpour was doing a fursuit building workshop at that time and I joined in specifically for the "how to trim the fur" part. It is still not my favorite part of the process, but I think I managed to get a decent result out of it.
Since I wanted to premiere the little guy at pawpet, the Funday Pawpet Show as soon as I got him finished, I got into a bit of stress: FPS would be on hiatus for a week and I didn't have time to film an intro during my week. I managed to take him on a business trip and after arriving at the hotel, I came up with a few words to say as an introduction, fired up the webcam in my laptop, adjusted the hotel desk lamp and recorded. Added a few title cards, encoded and uploaded just in time for the show... It still has to be among the "quickest and dirtiest" pawpet productions ever. At least it is for my standards. The audio is bad, the light and framing are so-so and I didn't manage to keep the voice consistant. Meh. But at least I got word out that there's a new guy in pawpet-town!
And for everybody who has read the entry up to here: the unlisted YouTube of the intro-video
Overall I think there could be some improvements here and there but hey: it's my first try at putting a puppet together from scratch. And my second overall. Considering that, I'm very pleased with the result.