A technique of fabrication of puppets. A model of the final piece is made by modelling clay or plasticine, by wood, or plastic, or by forming a wire form or by other assembling materials. In order to preserve the model, a coating like Vaseline, or similar lubricant, will serve to allow a clean exit from the mould, into which one or several layers of another material is applied.

Layered Paper

Using newspaper may be the easiest technique to use to fill the mould. The first layer is applied simply with wet paper. Then you apply each layer with paper strips in the opposite perpendicular direction in order to know which layer has been applied (or one could use coloured newspaper to tell which layer has been completed). These strips are saturated with white glue and/or with wallpaper glue. Apply 3-7 layers depending upon the thickness of the paper. After the layers dry, the paper becomes hard like cardboard. The excess can be trimmed with a blade. With both sides of the piece taken out of the moulds, put the two sides back together with a glue and more paper strips. You get a piece just like the original sculpture. The technique is used when you have to do several of the same identical heads from the same mould. You can also use silk paper for a smoother, more refined surface. But the drying time is longer.

In the workshops of old Nice, the “big heads” used for the [carnival] were fabricated using this paper technique. One can still see in the alcove of the Cistercian Abbey of Valloires in Picardy, France, a sculpture of more than 2 metres high, made with paper strips, and representing an angel from the 18th century.

Other Techniques

One can also proceed with the casting with a material other than paper (poured styrene, which expands), chamois hide, which is better when it pulls out from the mould. A vinyl-based glue is used to glue the cloth. The cloth is secured while drying with pins. The advantage of using this material is to obtain a certain colour and a wig can be added. It can also take make-up easier than paper. Only one prototype can be made because the master mould remains in the interior of the figure. You must be extra cautious with this technique as not to smear the glue (unless you want to do so intentionally to alter the form).

A variation exists that uses gauze, or another ultra-light fabric under expansive foam (two part foam) with the help of a vinyl-based or acrylic glue. After it expands, the paint and the glued objects are available for experimenting with. This is only for one prototype, but this time it is with a mother mould done with natural elements; this procedure can be done with cotton sheets soaked in glue or a sort of neoprene liquid. This glue dries fast and you can add other accessory elements. You can also use the material that doctors use to reduce fractures, or strips of plaster (which are heavy), or you can use liquid resin, which can give excellent results. Tissue paper, which is soaked in resin and placed in the mother mould, is another method. You must then use the wax to undo this type of material (the resin), and you can make several objects in the same mould. Puppets made with these techniques can be painted and several coats of glued elements can be attached, all of which remain strong and light. You can saw, drill, add elements of resin, or integrate mechanical elements (such as servos) or other hardware to these puppets.

A material called “talonnette” (a leather-type of material used by shoe makers) can also be used to make puppets in these moulds. This comes in sheets (1 metre by 1 metre) or in a roll, coated with adhesive, which can be softened by soaking it in a solvent. It is placed on the matrix (over varnish or grease de-moulding material (Vaseline) so it can be extracted from the mould). Depending on the size of the volume and complexity of the model, it can be worked in sheets or strips as in papier-mâché. Some types of talonnette can be reshaped with hot air.

In the 1970s, [giant puppets] (2 metres in height), carried on the shoulders in Le Combat de Tancrède et de Clorinde adapted by Jean-Marie Binoche, were created by Brizmur with talonnette. Before 2000, the giant puppets of [Bread and Puppet Theater] were made of a similar material, Celastic. There is also a commercially available material called “carton-pierre” (a material used for the making of raised ornaments for wall and ceiling decoration composed of the pulp of paper mixed with whiting), which softens in water and can be applied by coating a matrix.

Because of its advantages (a lightweight material easy to use), this type of mould (French: enduction) is the preferred method for making “big heads” and giant puppets.