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Speech mechanism

Discussion in 'Puppet Building and Performing' started by Randy, Jun 14, 2002.

  1. Randy

    Randy New Member

    Ok, I'm starting to make my first foam puppet and I wanted to know if anyone can shed some light on the matter of a mechanism to get its mouth to move? It is a rat puppet with its body being about the size of my hand (little bigger), I am trying to find a way to get his mouth to move but the only problem is that I didn't design him so that my hand could get in his head. Does anyone have any suggestions or tips to solve my problem?
  2. BorkBork

    BorkBork Member

    this is operated with a trigger-thing. try to modify one of those things that janitors use to pick upp litter and leaves with. know what i mean? i don't know the word in english.

    Hope this helps a bit. I have never done it myself, but with a little patience it should work.

  3. Randy

    Randy New Member

    I think that if I used one of those it would be much much too big, I would have to make it from scratch...
  4. MuppetQuilter

    MuppetQuilter Member

    I don't know if this would work, I haven't tried a small puppet yet, but what if you made the mouth with some elastic connecting the bottom jaw to the upper mouth and a string attached to the bottom jaw. Perhaps you could rig something where you attach a plactic loop to the end of the string and hook a finger through the loop. Pulling on the loop would bring the jaw down and the elastic would cause the jaw to close again when you let the tension on the string go.

    Does that make any sense?

    Does anyone know if that would work?

    My only other idea would be to go to a toy store and see if you can find a trigger opperated toy that could be dismantled and fit into the puppet. Something that would give you the mechanism for opening and closing the jaw. Sounds like it would have to be pretty small, but there are tons of small, cheap toys out there. You could probably find something that could be rigged up to work with some glue and some ingenuity. Trial and error is probably the best way to sort this out.

    Let us know how it goes!
  5. matleo

    matleo Active Member

    Muppet Quilter's idea should work providing that the head is made out of a hard material (ie wood or plastic) and not soft scultpute (ie foam) other wise the string would pull everything down, ya dig?. You need some resistance. The guy form Omle Media ("Buck-Beaver") posted something on the old forum about using a small device found at and fishing supply store that has the trigger mechanism you need. I don't rcall what it was exactly though. Hopefully he'll post here and tell you what it is.
    I have a mouse puppet I built that works with a mech but the head and body are made from paper-mache, then covered with a plush felt. The bottom jaw is made from a wodden half-almod (foudn in crafts stores) with a scre eye into the back of it and a piece of wire that acts as an axle (pivot point). The wire goes through a hole in the body (at the jaw) through the wooden almond and then through the other side of the body at about the same point.

    inside, there is a main control which screw into the head with a bunc h of eyekoooks in it. Here's where things get hard to explain. I actually have the elastic run fro the eyescrew at the back of the almond down to another screweye on the control at point below the mouth. this hold the puppets mouth shut. I have a piece of string that runs upthe length of the control to an screweye on the control above the mouth and back down to the same screw eye on the almod shape that the elastic attatches too. Are you still with me? By pulling the string (via a plastic ring) the string pulls the back of the jaw up causing the mouth to open. When I release it, the elastic pulls the back of the jaw down forcing the tip of the mouth up and the mouth closes. It's a little hard to explain, but it works I swear.
    One piece of advice when dealing with mechanisms. Try to leave a to hget back into the puppet easily so you can fix it if it breaks. ver see the show "Allegra's Window" the cat pupet there is all mechanism and his head is just fabric pinned up over a retan framework. They had to do it that way cause often the mechs would break (strings snap and such) and they had to get into to fix him quickly. Same with my mouse. I have some velcro strips that hold the paper-mache bosy together and then two small strip of velcro that run up a seam on the back of the puppet. When the pupet breaks (and he has once) I can undo hi seam quickly and remove the back of his body-shell. If I have a screw driver I can even take out the control if I need to.
    for a picture of the little mouse check out www.lionheartpuppets.com. He's on our opening page over the "contact" button. Move your cursor over that picture and you can see him in color. Hope this helps. Sorry if it's a bit confusing.

  6. Fozzie Bear

    Fozzie Bear Well-Known Member


    Go to your local zoo, inside of which they have these plastic head puppets at the end of a rod, and at the other end a little trigger. You squeeze the trigger to shut its mouth and the release it to open the mouth. Yup...I'd build my puppet 'around' that.

  7. Buck-Beaver

    Buck-Beaver Well-Known Member


    Check out Nick Barone's site. Under "puppet building information" he has a number of diagrams for rod puppet controls that might be very helpful for your project.

    As Matleo mentioned, another option is to purchase a fish hook remover from a fishing supply store, Wal-Mart or Canadian Tire (if you are in Canada) and use that for a mouth control.

    Good luck!
  8. MagicFractal

    MagicFractal Member

    An inspiring topic. So much is possible that is rarely tried.

    Randy, you can drill a hole from the mouth to the back of the solid head, and thread a light cable (heavy fishing line works) with a ring on the finger side and fasten the other to the jaw in any number of clever ways as suggested by others above.

    This makes it a "cable puppet", where unlike a marionette whose strings rise up visibly, the cable puppet strings thread through its body, more like living creatures. The cable can be as heavy as a bicycle cable, or as light as various fishing line, threaded through a "sheath". Flexible fishing line holds up well, and the sheath can be slippery teflon "spaghetti" from a ham radio store. Teflon allows for great subtlety. The jaw can be weighted or spring-loaded with elastic, so that you need only pull the cable. Add a second cable and you can make the rat's eyes open wide, or maybe a grin. Dual-cables can counter-pull to and fro, useful for eye directions.

    I recommend to check out "Supermarionation" (click for info) for some admirably evolved examples. It mentions Henson company uses comparable advanced methods.

    If you're making videos from your puppets, it's good to know about "Go Motion" (click for info) animation as well, smart techniques I saw applied at ILM and LFL years ago. Here's something from robotics that puppet designers can use:

    Nitinol wire changes form with temperature (be sure to get LOW temperature). Here's one interesting demonstration (I do not work for them) . Click picture to visit source:
    The hand isn't strong - it's a demo. Someone handy with prototyping could easily convert an audio signal to varying DC (as with a VU meter) and thus a small puppet's mouth move as you speak into a microphone. The same method could make a bird flutter exactly with sounds from a bird recording, or a zillion other imaginative uses.
  9. CaseytheMuppet

    CaseytheMuppet Well-Known Member

    Not trying to be rude, but Randy hasn't been on the forums since 2003. :laugh:
  10. MagicFractal

    MagicFractal Member

    Hi Casey. I'm new and need to note the dates on posts here, thank you. I'm grateful to this forum for not locking-up topics after a short time like another forum I abandoned for that reason. This was the most advanced and lively topic I found here so far on puppet mechanisms. The relevance of what I offered remains to be seen.
    CaseytheMuppet likes this.
  11. CaseytheMuppet

    CaseytheMuppet Well-Known Member

    Yeah, it's a good thing that they don't lock them. Your idea is cool! I was just joking around about the Randy thing. LOL!

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