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Puppet Kaos - where Kelvin Kao plays with puppets and tell random stories

How to make a moving mouth sheep puppet (Bobby)


Baaaaah, Behhhh. In this tutorial, we’ll talk about how to build Bobby, a moving mouth sheep puppet with arm rods. Bobby is based on the prototype Mac and Cheese which we’ve talked about how to build earlier. It is structurally very similar except with more decorations. The major difference is that the mouth is built seperately and then attached to the outside instead of inserted inside. This tutorial is therefore going to focus on the things that’s different from the prototype.

Here’s a list of materials used, followed by the steps:

Parts Materials
Main body sheep-looking furry fabric
Mouth board (structure) hard cardboard
Mouth board (decoration) felt
Eyes store-bought plastic craft eyes
Head stuffing bag of polyfill
Arm rods bamboo skewers
Sewing Sewing machine
Glues hot glue gun


1. Build the basic structure: Like how we built Mac and Cheese and Bottle Monster, you want to fold the fabric over, trace the pattern, sew it up, and flip it over. For more detailed instructions please look at step 1-5 of the How to build Mac and Cheese tutorial.

2. Build the mouth: First we need to cut cardboard into the shape of a mouth board (pic 2a), and then we glue felt on it so it doesn’t look like a piece of cardboard. In the last two puppets we used black fabric for the mouth. This time I thought I would try red felt for a change.

And now it’s time for the exterior portion of the mouth. In pic 2b, you can see that I started gluing some fabric to make the jaw. In pic 2c, you can see the jaw is done. In pic 2d, the upper part is also done. Notice that you are only gluing the edges of the fabric. You want to have space between the fabric and the cardboard. You are creating pockets so that you can put your hand inside to manipulate the mouth. Also it makes the mouth look more three dimensional. The mouth part is done by now. Sure, it doesn’t look like a sheep yet, but already you have a mouth to play with!


3. Glue jaw to the bottom of the face: In the previous two tutorials, we cut a slit across the head/face portion of the basic structure and then put in the mouth. This time, we have not only the mouth but also the face to put in. So we cut out a circle instead of just a slit. Now you want to glue the the jaw to the lower portion of the circle. There should be space between the upper portion of the circle and the upper portion of the mouth, because we still need to put in the rest of the face, such as eyes.

4. Put in the upper half of the face: This will be the flat part of the face (unlike the mouth, which is the protruding part). First cut out a piece somewhat larger than the area you are covering (pic 4a). And then glue the top of the fabric to the top portion of the circle cut out (pic 4b). And once you are done, glue the side to the side of the circle, and the bottom of the fabric to the top of the mouth. By now, the basic structure, the mouth we made earlier, and this new piece of fabric we put in to be the mouth should all be connected. Then we put in the eyes. Now we basically the head done (pic 4d).

For the last two puppets I draw eyes on index cards and then cut them out. This time I decided to try something different. In pic 4c you see these plastic craft/stuffed animal eyes that you can purchase at craft stores. The way you install it is simple. First drill a hole wherever you want the eye installed. Stick the screw looking part (the black piece in this picture) into the hole, and hold the washer looking part (the white piece) behind the hole so the two pieces fit together, sandwiching the fabric (which is the face) in between. Please make sure you already planned out where the eyes are going to go, because once these things are installed, it’s very hard to get them off without breaking things.


5. Put in the ears: First cut out the ear shape out of the fur babric (pic 5a). And then you can glue on a smaller piece that’s not furry to create the inside of the ear (pic 5b). Of course, this is not required but this gives the puppet more personality (or sheeponality). Before I installed the ears, I first decided to pinch parts of the back of the head (pic 5c) and sew them together. This is to make the head smaller. In the last two puppets, the head space is shared by some polyfil and the mouth board. However, with this puppet, the mouth protrudes and doesn’t take up head space. That’s why I am making the head smaller. And then you can glue on the ears. When you are done, you have something like pic 5d. And all that’s left to do is put on the arms.


6. Make the arms and rods: First make the arms. The arms are just two tubes made from two strips of fabric folded over and sewn together. Sew or glue these two tubes onto the main body of the puppet and stuff in some polyfill to give it some volume (muscles, if you will). Pic 6a wasn’t quite clear so you’ll have to use your imagination.

And then you want to drill a hole towards the end of the arm (near where the hand/hoof will be). This is for the rod to go through (pic 6b). Then we make the arm rod. I glued a piece of cardboard on top of a bamboo skewer so the rod would stay in place (pic 6c). Then you want to put the rod through the hole we’ve just drilled (pic 6d). And finally we take a piece of fabric to seal the arm tube. This has two purposes. One is to give it the hand/hoof look. And another was to seal that piece of cardboard in so our rod doesn’t slide out of the tube. And now you are done!

Oh wait, one more step. The head might be a little empty at this point, and when you touch the top of the head, it just sinks in. All you have to do is make a little pouch/bag, put some polyfill in it, and stick it into the head. I don’t even seal it, because sometimes I would like to take the bag out to adjust the amount and shape.

And that’s how you build Bobby!

More puppet building tutorials:
How to make a moving mouth puppet with arm rods (Mac and Cheese)
How to make a moving mouth puppet with glove hands (Bottle Monster)

List of videos Bobby has appeared in so far:
Episode 12: Daylight Saving
Episode 11: The Truth Behind Halloween
Episode 10: Silent Sneeze
Episode 9: Wordcraft
Episode 8: Nobody’s Watching
Video Special: Obscure UCLA Facts You Did Not Know
Episode 6: Dance, Dance, Dance
Episode 5: Amazing Grass

What inspired me to write each episode (11-15)

Episode 11: The Truth Behind Halloween

South Park has this episode called Fantastic Easter Special which is a spoof of the Da Vinci code, and it’s about the conspiracy and secret behind Easter. I thought it would be fun to do an episode about the real story behind Halloween as well, because everyone loves a good conspiracy. Also I wanted to do a news magazine type episode, along with some tooth fairy jokes. So I threw it together and it became the longest episode so far.

Episode 12: Daylight Saving

This was inspired by daylight saving time… which I sort of celebrate by watching the time jump suddenly an hour forward or backward on my computer. It’s sort of a surreal experience and sometimes I’m more hyped about it than new year. So I just had to do one episode about daylight saving. And this is another example of how puppets can just do whatever and get away with it (saving up daylight? Oh really?).

Video Special: Enchant This!

This was sort of an ad / trailer / fan video for LCC Theatre Company‘s production “Enchant This!” Some of the video footages from past shows are from YouTube. They were blurry and there were some artifacts from the website that I used to grab YouTube videos and convert them into formats I can actually use in my video editor. If I were to do this again, I would’ve done a much better job with the video quality though, because I’ve figured out a better system.

Episode 13: Tis the Season to be Charlie

This was done around Christmas time so I wanted to include puppets singing Christmas songs that are not quite Christmas songs. I was listening to Christmas songs and I could sworn one of the guy sang “Tis the season to be Charlie” as opposed to “jolly” so I sort of based the episode on that. It’s also partly inspired by the Charlie the Unicorn which had been viral on the internet.

Episode 14: Tofu

This was also made around Christmas time so we were listening to Christmas music at work. And again, I changed the lyrics of one line and that idea amused me enough to make a song out of it. Men hunting for tofu had always been an idea that amused me and wanted to make true on video. I was going to do flash animation but later I figured that shadow puppets would be faster. Was shadow puppets faster to do? I’m actually not sure but I definitely had more fun making shadow puppets. This happened to be picked up by several vegan sites and became the most viewed episode so far. That was a pleasant surprise.

Episode 15: Godfather Nightmares

This was inspired by work, sort of. So at work we were working on this Godfather game, so we watched the film again (more of an excuse than real research). The very classic horsehead scene had been a subject of parodies in many cases, including a commercial from the most recent Super Bowl. I thought I’d do my own version too. Also I was getting back into watching the old Twilight Zone episodes at that time. I love the old black and white Twilight Zone. They didn’t have that many special effects available to them back then, but the writing is so good. They can totally play with your mind, create that eerie feeling, and make you think about the what-if’s. The show is totally awesome. Also, due to the success of the last episode, and some stuff I’ve been reading, I’ve decided to try to keep the episodes even shorter and snappier. I tried to crank up the tempo, cut down the set-up time, go straight to the main story, and keep the episode more focused with less random talking head chitchat, and I liked the final product.

Related Posts:
What inspired me to write each episode (1-5)
What inspired me to write each episode (6-10)
Episode 11: The Truth Behind Halloween
Episode 12: Daylight Saving
Video Special: Enchant This!
Episode 13: Tis the Season to be Charlie
Episode 14: Tofu
Episode 15: Godfather Nightmares

Cool Links to Check Out (06/22/2008 edition)

Here’s some interesting stuff that I came across this week. Apparently I look at a lot of crap (and not-crap) every week.

Puppetry / video-making related:

Writing for Animated Characters and Puppets

Though Chet and Andrew have already written about this, and it might look like I’m just repeating what they already wrote, I would like to recommend this to people interested in writing for puppets as well. This is Episode 18 of a podcast for screenwriters called On the Page. In this episode, the guests are David Skelly (Writer/Director, Pixar story artist) and Kirk Thatcher (Writer/Director, The Jim Henson Company) and they are on air to talk about writing for these formats.

I like what they said about making better use of the different visual aspects of the medium. For a talking head script, humans are actually better because they have more complicated facial expressions. Puppets and animations can be more powerful if they do what humans can’t do. Sometimes I’m still struggling with making things less talking-head-ish. I especially noticed it after I made the sort of “silent” episode.

How to Make Fake Mustaches

This tutorial shows you how to make realistic-looking (or funny-looking) mustaches. Fake mustaches are so much fun. In one of the shows we’ve done, our improv team went on stage wearing fake mustaches without telling the other team that we were going to do it. The “what the —-” look on the other team was awesome. I probably won’t actually try this tutorial out though. It’s still a little too much hassle for me.

Other stuff:

Economics of the Movie Theater – Where the Money Goes and Why It Costs Us So Much

This article talks about how the fat percentage of ticket sale money going to the studios, unnecessarily big paychecks going to actors that aren’t even good, and too many bad movies getting made is causing the ticket prices to go up, and the popcorn to cost six dollars. It’s very interesting to see how imbalanced the revenue sharing is and how messed up the system is. I don’t go to movies that much but the price isn’t the major reason though. I think it’s because a three-hour movie, plus trailers, plus commercials, plus going to the theater and coming back can easily turn into a five-hour commitment. And if a movie is bad, it’s harder to sit through three hours. I think an hour and half or two hours is a good length for a movie. Three hours is just too long. Well, still, there are some things about going to movies that can’t be replaced by DVDs. I don’t care what you say, but watching Snakes on a Plane on the opening weekend with a college crowd is one of the best movie-going experiences I’ve had.

Video demonstration of Phun – 2D Physics Simulator

Although I haven’t downloaded the software to try it out, it looks like quite a fun game. Phun is this 2D physics simulator that’s simple and fun. A picture is worth a thousand words so a video is worth even more. But basically, you can draw different shapes, and then you can stack them, put them in water, push them, put them on wheels, etc. and watch them interact. You can change the weight, density, coefficient of friction and so on and watch how the objects interact differently. It looks quite fun. I’m going to try it out later.

Sick at the moment…

I got sick with a cold, so no production has been going on at the moment…

It was sort of awesome though. I took the day off yesterday. It sucked to be sick, but what was kinda awesome was that I spent most of it in bed. I ate, I watched puppet shows, and I spent an obscene amount of time sleeping. By obscene, I meant like 30 hours out of the 36 hours in the past day and half. Being able to stay in bed for that long voluntarily is a talent and a blessing.

Am I like, bragging about my cold? I guess somehow I’m trying to make the best out of it. 😛

Special Effect Experiment: Hovering Object

I’m currently planning the next episodes. However, they are taking longer to plan because they are technically harder to do. Those are fun stuff for me to try though. For example, in a future episode, I’m planning to use this effect that I’ve been meaning to try.

My objective is to make something appear to be floating in the air using editing tricks without green screen or animation. So in the following video, I try to make some Scotch tape hover in the air. Why Scotch tape? No good reason. That just happened to be an object sitting on my desk and it’s not going to break if I accidentally drop it… unlike the cup.

Trying it for the first time, I’m satisfied with the result overall. It wasn’t perfect and can use some improvements, but hey, that hovering looks pretty darn cool to me. Anyone want to guess how it’s done? Here’s a hint.

Cool Links to Check Out

Puppetry / video-making related

M dot Strange talks about “We Are the Strange”

In this video, M dot Strange, an independent film-maker/animator/YouTuber talks about his feature film We Are the Strange. The film was accepted into Sundance and he was approached by some studio about theatrical release, but he turned down the offer. In this presentation, he talks about why he decides to go the self publishing route and the power of YouTube.

I think he has very good messages in this about making your visions come true, no matter how strange or unconventional it might be. Also don’t just work within the confines of certain people’s expectations, like the big studios, and use internet wisely.

Other stuff

Talking Out Trauma: Not Always a Help

This article is about how talking things out might not necessarily help you deal with a problem. Personally I think the way the research is done is far from perfect or the most carefully designed, so I do not see the conclusion as something that’s strikingly significant. However, when it comes to blogging, sometimes I do wonder if it helps to rant and rant on your blog. On one hand, it might help you to get it out of your system. On the other hand, you are basically forcing yourself to relive the painful memory every time you write about it. I guess there’s two sides to everything.

Tip of the Tongue Learning

This tells us that when you are stuck on something, don’t keep dwelling on it, because you are just reinforcing the wrong notion every time you go down the wrong path.

Passive-Aggressive Notes

Hate passive-aggressive people, but love these notes!

Mac vs. PC South Park style

This is a parody of those Mac vs PC commercials. It’s done in the style of South Park. I thought they imitated the style pretty well. Oh yeah, and I’m a huge fan of South Park.

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