I'm a puppet maker with a degree in theatre. A former lighting techie, stage manager and producer. And I like to think that with puppetry, the only limit is your imagination. More...
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If you’ve ever wanted to make a puppet that looks as good as Kermit, but is your own design, then you will want to buy The Foam Book.
Aussies looking to buy this book are best purchasing either directly from Grey Seal (the authors) or via Amazon. You won’t find this in bookstores. For those of you looking; no, THE BOOK IS NOT SOLD OR OFFERED IN PDF FORMAT; just videos and physical books
This is just about the industry standard for making foam puppets and muppet-types. Everyone swears by it - and so do I. This book is in my personal library, and I used it to teach myself how to make muppet-type puppets. I had never made one of these puppets from scratch before, and yet was able to make three unique muppet-types with the help from this book. (See the proof of the pudding here and here, and you can read about the build process of one of them starting here, or get a pattern based on the book here)
The book explains each step of the process: from character design to creating the mouth, from making the head (using two techniques, the three piece method, and the nip and tuck method) to the neck, from making facial features to adding bodies, from hands and manipulation to the materials and tools needed, plus explanations on both human and animal foam puppets. There’s a great deal of photos to accompany the text, with examples and diagrams to help you through the process, plus lots of handy tips that only experienced puppet makers would know. There’s also a handy list of material suppliers - but they’re located in the US, so for us Aussies, it’s not so helpful. But it doesn’t matter, because even if you can’t find the materials suggested in The Foam Book, the explanations are clear enough that you can easily find a substitution material.
While the new puppet maker, or indeed, experienced puppet maker new to muppet-types, might find this book ambiguous at first, a good study of the book will reveal an enormous amount of information specific to you - if you look for it. It is because this book provides a guide to making the puppets, rather than a step-by-step plan, that you will be able to create a puppet character unique to you, your show, and your skills. Every chapter provides you with hints which cause you to think about exactly how you want that part of the puppet to look like, and what you want to make it out of; forcing you to be the designer, and the book to be the shepherd of that design.
By sitting down with The Foam Book and reading through the character design, it was easy to decide what features I wanted to bring out a certain character in the puppet design; and then using the section on materials, I decided what the puppet would look like. From there, it was easy to follow the other chapters on how to make the mouth, head, neck, body, limbs, and rods. And anything that wasn’t explained - due to the nature of generalising instructions for every character design - was easily solved, with some careful thinking.
I found that it was best to read the book first, then try out various techniques explained in The Foam Book first as a prototype, before trying to make a proper version of the puppet. The instructions did come across to me as rather confusing, but as soon as I sat down and started making something, I realised just how easy to use the book was.
By making just the head, I learned the basics of making the mouth, and using the nip and tuck method (a simple fold and glue the foam technique), it allowed me to experiment with character, materials, and design. From there I could make a larger, full-bodied muppet-type with less confusion and fuss next time around. If you do use this book, I recommend doing such a thing - making a prototype first, as an experiment - because it will help clarify the grey or ambiguous-seeming areas of the instructions, and makes it easier and quicker to build a complete version of a muppet-type puppet next time around. You may also want to keep a pencil beside you to make small notes in the margins, which will help you remember and clarify the instructions given, or any thoughts that you have about design or the building process - there’s even a notes section at the back of the book!
When I was making my full-bodied muppet-types for my show, City Head, I kept The Foam Book beside me at all times; consulting it as I made each part of each puppet. After a while, it was easy to get into a rhythym of things, and I would use the book less and less as I remembered more and more about the building processes and techniques. Not only that, but I found that I could work on all three muppet-types at once: finishing the head of one I would move on to its body, I would then make the mouth of the next puppet; once I finished the body of the first, I would make the head of the second, then the mouth of the third. In this way, it was easy to hone the building process as I was going, learning from previous errors or re-reading something in the book.
Even now, when I am unsure of how to do something with some foam, or am unsure of how to build or design a puppet head or mouth, I will pull out my copy of The Foam Book and re-read it - or have it beside me as I work on a new build. Not only do I use this resource consistently and frequently, but I can also confidently say that my puppets last the distance: through The Foam Book I have managed to build three puppets that have been used in a two-month season of shows, as well as in a short film, and are still going strong with minimal to no repairs needed to be done. With a couple of minor costume and hair changes, I can even change the look of the puppets, making them suitable for a range of scenes, situations, and puppet projects. Additionally, since first trying the book, I can now see ways of refining my builds, and reducing the number of steps to make something, as well as now building puppet mouths on average in two or three hours - no matter what size they are! UPDATE 04/11/08: Grey Seal Puppets, the authors, have now created a forum for those of whom want to discuss the book or their builds using the book. Find the forums here.
At an average of $US 25, The Foam Book more than pays for itself, and is an ideal book for any puppet maker’s library, whether you are an experienced puppet maker or a newbie! This is well worth the investment, especially if you are keen on making a muppet-type puppet. Those who prefer more paint-by-numbers instructions may wish to check out my muppet-type patterns, which are based on the instructions from this book.send feedback / have a question?
Australians may want to buy locally. Where? I explain here.