Classes #10-11: Puppet Mechanism Basics (Stan Winston School Diary #9)

More courses by BJ Guyer of The Puppet Design Studio. Here we go! Remember the mouth mechanism, or as he calls mechanisms, “mechs,” from my first puppet classes? I made a muffin, remember?

We get more into mechanisms in these classes, divided in part 1 and part 2. Part 1 teaches you eyebrows for brow raising and whiskers for dog and cat reactions. Personally, I believe the whiskers could make a villain’s twirly mustache. Part 2 teaches the nose and eyelid mechanisms.

Mr. Guyer talks about how time consuming these additional mechanisms are: you must need them for additional character expressions to make the character his/her own, or the additional time and installation isn’t worth the trouble.

As always, after this diary entry, I will polish up my notes and have photos handy documenting everything in my e-diary I keep for myself.

“Why learn all this if not every puppet uses it?”

If you plan on building many puppets and/or working as a puppeteer, you need to know the basic construction of a puppet mechanism. If you want to be a filmmaker making higher budget movies, like me, you will run into small and large scale puppets on your set. You will know how to work with the scary alien puppet, or maybe for someone out there an actual Muppet in a Muppets movie. If you want to go back and change something, you will need to express what you want done for the crew building the puppets. Your puppets might be stand ins for CGI creatures to be added later, but they need to move in the simple outline you want the CGI FX artists to animate them with more detail later on.

“What did you make for your puppet this time?”

Mr. Guyer mentioned here, I believe part 1, he likes seeing what students do with their puppets out in the wild. You can change a mechanism. Do your own thing. Be creative! The first time around, you get a muffin idea to work with. This is all on you if you choose to follow along with these classes.

My puppet is Kiiroitori, the chicken from the Rilakkuma characters. Rilakkuma has been around forever for Japanese kawaii art fans like myself. The stop motion Netflix program, Rilakkuma and Kaoru, is beautiful. Please watch it when you have free time. Did you know you can flip the audio on Netflix to the original Japanese?

The Netflix show took two years of filming. Watch the behind the scenes video.

To better visualize what I had to do without a pattern or really any idea in my mind, I used my cat’s catnip toy chicken. A chicken flapping its wings out seemed like the plan.

Gisele, one of my three cats, gave me the stare of death. I returned the chicken a few minutes after photographing it for inspo.

A few images of Kiiroitori for inspo, more actually, went on the iPad! From when he got a job cleaning at the hospital and other moments. Everyone on his program finds it normal this little chicken goes to the amusement park, gets a job, does all this human stuff. Nobody questions his clucks. Kiiroitori means business.

Kiiroitori 1.jpeg

Back to that trusty foam! With gloves now. I learned my lesson from charbroiling my knuckles on the first puppet. The gloves’ felt dropped black felt dust all over the foam. That’s OK. I cleaned it off.

I drew a chicken pattern on the foam and cut it out. The iPad was nearby with Rilakkuma photos for further directions.


Back to the old friends, the foam tools I bought in the mail from Michaels, and my BFF, sandpaper for shaping. Estimating how far the beak needed to project was interesting as I have never done this before. I guessed and cut away from anywhere not-beak on the foam.


On to the wings. With a three dimensional character, you remind yourself the wings can’t be flat angled cubes like 2D animation. Every angle must match the character’s wings.


My bird’s toes are three toes cut out into each foot region.

I covered up the beak and feet with blue masking tape for painters. With so much yellow spray paint, the chicken was the right choice. He won the contest in my brainstorming against Mrs. Pac-Man.

Going in the yard covered up with goggles and a dust mask for spray painting feels important. Like, “Of course I know what I’m doing. Look at my gear. Look at THIS SPRAY CAN.” In my ugliest T-shirt and sweatpants I use for doing spillable stuff, I went out to spray paint like I was one of the best Ghostbusters.

The Sharpie brand highlighters work with designing shapes onto the foam and coloring it in. The orange went onto the beak. Standard black Sharpie marker was used painting black onto the chicken’s toes. Some googly eyes and three hair strands placed in, yeah, sharpen those nostrils on the beak, core out his middle to where I can stick my fingers into the beak making him move a bit, and!

Voila! Kiiroitori!