Developing a puppet for video presentations and engagement marketing – This is New Media Mingling With Traditional Media

Scarecrow Puppet Project From Concept to Creation.

My Scarecrow Puppet Project started with two events.

The first event was at work when I was chatting with a colleague about engagement marketing and lead generation.  Ever since I started doing experiential marketing I have wanted to use more props and a puppet. The first puppet I was thinking of for my engagement marketing job was a tiki, but a friend did not think that would work so well.

The other event that defined the Scarecrow Project is after seeing a client I started thinking about how using computers (brain) can maximize the effectiveness of a business. The first thing that popped into mind was the scarecrow singing if I only had a brain. That was a fairly strong visionscape that has driven the theme and direction of this entire project, promotional campaign, and possibly my business as well.

The scarecrow myth is a good little narrative that fits many of life’s struggles, goals, and dilemmas. 

Unfinished Scarecrow puppet without a nose. It does look like I had the final lower jaw on this version.
Unfinished Scarecrow puppet without a nose. It does look like I had the final lower jaw on this version.

While planning on how to use the puppet for a street performance I started researching American history. I started thinking about American history between the mid 1700s through the early 1900s. One thing led to another and I went from pioneers in the Ohio valley up to the 1939 Wizard of OZ movie.

What I was looking for was some Americanism that tied everything together. Well, you know what, I found it. Yep, I found a thread that connected several events right up to Lyman Frank Baum books.  If you guessed he is the author of the Wizard of OZ, you would be right.

The story I uncovered is a long journey of twists and turns.  I will tell more about the story in the future.

The Scarecrow Puppet Build
I started off planning to build a modified Japanese bunraku style puppet. Bunraku is a traditional Japanese style of puppetry that officially was started in 1805. Although it’s based on an older style of puppet performance called ningyō jōruri which is from the early 1600s. The  bunraku puppet is operated by three people wearing all black. The main puppeteer controls the right arm and the head, the second puppeteer controls the left arm and the third puppeteer controls the feet.

The bunraku puppet arms are controlled by a somewhat sophisticated rod mechanism. The head is made by a master craftsman and can feature several styles of special effects.

Another interesting aspect of bunraku that’s different from my style of presentation is that in bunraku the puppeteer does not speak. In bunraku there is a special narrator sitting to the side of the main performance. The narrator is also accompanied by a musician. I have been thinking about how to incorporate this feature into my performances as well.

While I have kept some of the basic concepts, the final puppet turned out quite different than my original plans. My original plan was to make a traditional bunraku style body and rod mechanisms for the arms. The original head was going to use a combination of a traditionally placed head using the modular design that I am currently using.

However those plans have been modified many, many times since the initial impetus for the project. What I ended up doing is using a Halloween skeleton as the foundation for the Scarecrow character. This decision has had a huge influence on the project and how it has progressed.

Scarecrow Skeleton
Scarecrow Skeleton

One thing I have learned is that each design decision will have a far reaching effect on the overall project. If I was aware of how the project would be implemented, I would have done the build a lot different. Not only have I changed the design several times, but the scope of the project has changed as well.

Originally the project was going to be used only for a street performance to support my “On The Road” Public assess show.  I also wanted to build a business directory to highlight some of the places I enjoy in Long Beach.

Now I would also like to use it for other types of engagement marketing as well. Perhaps promoting Long Beach businesses or special events. I have also thought about using the scarecrow on Hollywood Boulevard to encourage tourists to visit businesses that have a listing in my local directory.  I am always coming up with ideas. I know I could come up with better ideas – if I only had a brain. Do any of my readers have an idea or two to share?

Mission Creep
If the puppet project ever becomes popular there is now a chance this could turn into a brand/franchise on its own. The development of a YouTube playlist or channel has always been part of the plan, but its scope has now changed.

I always thought the YouTube channel would be secondary and the street performance would be the main focus. It would be great if the YouTube channel becomes the main focus of the Scarecrow Puppet project. But I still think face to face will be the best initial use of the puppet.

The video below has a link to my ScarecrowShow website on the YouTube page. The original plan was to focus on building the LongBeachScarecrow dot com site and brand for promoting Long Beach businesses. However, that plan has been put on the back burner and given hobby status. I am now experimenting with using the scarecrow as the video host for business information. The first video is about the importance of having a good business sign.

There have been many changes as to how the puppet will be manipulated and the type of performances we will do. This has had a big impact on the final design.

I originally planned on just adding some clothes to the skeleton and a few decorations. Then I started working on a bit more elaborate head. I didn’t want a flat face. So I did a bit of sculpting. I also wanted a movable lower jaw, which ended up being the most difficult part of the whole project. It is the lower jaw that sometimes makes me wish I had started with a different design. But it works great now, although it can be a bit temperamental and sometimes requires more refined skill to use. Additionally it needs to be adjusted more frequently than I would like.

One Of The Modified Versions Of The Original Lower Jaw. This Design Almost Worked With Every Modification. But It Never Worked The Way It Needed To.
One Of The Modified Versions Of The Original Lower Jaw. This Design Almost Worked With Every Modification. But It Never Worked The Way It Needed To.

I do have ideas for a complete redesign, and may do this in the future, if I need a second puppet. The new design would utilize all the lessons I learned while building the initial puppet. But for the time being, I plan on staying with the old design.

I have added a few pictures of the original build process. I wish I would have taken more pictures, but often I was in a rush to get as much done on my day off as possible.

You can learn a lot about planning and decision making by developing a puppet/costume and the corresponding production.

One thing I am running into over and over again is the decision to start with an interesting but not standard foundation for the puppet. This has given me several design problems at just about every point in the project. However, it has also taken me in a direction that would have been more difficult to see if I went with a more conventional design.

It seems that I constantly need to find a solution to some unusual and unplanned design issue. If you change one element of the design, don’t be surprised it you need to go back and modify one or more of your other design elements. A puppet can be a holistic system. Like many things in life,  you need to get the gestalt right for it to work properly.

We started by deconstructing and modifying the jacket.

Cutting Shoulder Pads Off Jacket With Swiss Army Knife
Cutting Shoulder Pads Off Jacket With Swiss Army Knife

Along with the padding we sewed the shoulder pads onto the foundation.

Sewing On The Shoulder Pads
At a Friend’s House Sewing On The Shoulder Pads

The head was too small so I added a much larger head. It looks like I didn’t get any pictures of the bigger head. The new head has had several major modifications from what we started with.

Scarecrow Puppet hand With Glove
Scarecrow Puppet hand With Glove

The fingers were enhanced with tape and then the gloves were modified and tied on.

I made the upper part of the face as a module that could be reused on additional platforms. Originally I was going to have this as both a puppet and a costume. This dual purpose was one of the biggest reasons I made the puppet with a modular design. I have since decided to not pursue the costume performance.

After cutting the jacket up we added some body padding to the foundation. I was originally planning on using more traditional material for this, but I decided to use what I had on hand. I created some padding from packing material that a mannequin came wrapped in.

Scarecrow Puppet Skeleton With Padding
Scarecrow Skeleton With body Padding and shoulder pads

I added a t shirt for extra padding. To hide the packing material, and to tie the look together. Everything required some type of modification, even the t shirt.

I originally made the sleeves so they could be manipulated somewhat like a bunraku puppet. However, I decided to use a different presentation style with the right side of the puppet and modified that sleeve by making the opening larger. I have kept the left sleeve true to the original design. The left arm is controlled by a simple rod and the performer can also grasp item by partially inserting their hand under the puppet’s hand in bunraku  fashion. I am not planning on using this feature of handling objects with the left hand much, but it is good to know I have that option. I think in most presentation the performer’s left hand will be used to manipulate supporting props and other characters. As of the time of this writing I am planning on making some modifications to the left arm rod so it will be more useful with the current presentation style. While it won’t have the wrist action of a bunraku puppet it will have  a wider range of animation and liveliness.

I added the straw to the sleeves and pants.

Straw For The Arms Close Up Of Tied Construction
Straw For The Arms – Close Up Of Tied Construction

 

Making The Straw For The Arms Tied To String
Making The Straw For The Arms Tied To String

There is a learning curve to the process of adding the straw trim. I started with hot glue. That is not the best solution. I found the best results from tying the raffia straw to  a cord and sewing this into the clothing.

Patches On Scarecrow's Pants
Patches On Scarecrow’s Pants

I added a few patches to the pants.

I made the shoes out of felt and hot glue. They are tied on, not much special, but they work. I plan on changing these in the near future. they are okay, but not at all what I now want for this character

Scarecrow Shoes
Scarecrow Shoes

Padding was added to the arms and legs.

Arms and legs. This photo also shows the longer neck mod.
Adding Padding To Arms and legs. This photo also shows the longer neck mod.

I had to rebuild the neck piece to increase the range of movement for the lower jaw. There are some internal parts that needed to be replaced as well, so it was a little more complex that it looks in the picture.

Just when I thought I had the working model finished, it seemed that I was faced with the need to totally redesign the structure of the head. The problem was that the lower jaw needed more room to move. Fortunately I was able to redesigned the jaw so I could use the original head design.

Instead of redesigning the head I totally redesigned the lower jaw

Working On Redesign Of Lower Jaw
Working On Redesign Of Lower Jaw

I made a body mount so I can more easily work with the puppet in a standing position.

Building Main Body Mount For The Puppet
Building Main Body Mount For The Puppet
Mod For Puppet Body Mount. I bought the upper piece which did not work. I made the lower part and it works much better
Mod For Puppet Body Mount. I bought the upper piece which did not work at all. I made the lower part and it works much better

To get the mouth to hold its shape I used wire and tape. However I needed to get the original shape before I added the more permanent under-structure. To get the burlap to stay in the shape I desired, I used Modge Podge. The Modge Podge held the original shape until I could install a more permanent solution.

Getting The Mouth To Temporarily Hold Its Shape
Getting The Mouth To Temporarily Hold Its Shape

I do not have a picture of the final part that holds the scarecrow puppet’s lips in-place. As I remember I did this part in a hurry before work one morning. Permanently connecting this under-structure to the lips did slightly change the position of the lips.

I also do not have pictures of making or installing the tongue. As with many of the parts, I first made paper patterns for the tongue before I cut into any of the material.

I thought a different color scheme would work better.
I have changed the under color of the puppet from green to orange because in the future I may want to use a green screen. The change was a good decision because I’ve decided to change some of the original color schemes.

The Scarecrow before I modified his under skin and before his first nose fell off.
The Scarecrow before I modified his under skin and before his first nose fell off.

There you have it, 6 months of work boiled down to one article. During this build it was my constant wish to take five continues days off work to concentrate on the puppet. My primary puppet lab/work area  is outside and it rained a lot during this puppet build. The rain was a constant source of frustration. However, now Mr. Scarecrow is operational and I have enjoyed producing a few test videos to get the hang of its operation.

There are still some changes I want to make in the costume and the operation.  In the future I will be adding an article about some of the other character I made that will act as supporting cast for the Scarecrow show.

And that’s the way it is.

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