Designing Marionettes – Balance

I have found that when I am designing a marionette it is important to keep three very important principals in mind – Movement, Balance and Weight.  This post will address the second principal.

Balance – Understanding the Center of Balance.

All things have a center of balance, the point at which the force of gravity is equal from top to bottom allowing them to remain upright and not topple over helter skelter.  Unlike a statue, your marionette doesn’t have to stand alone relying on its center of gravity to keep it erect.  Both you as the manipulator and gravity control the movements of your puppet as it dangles from its strings.  You provide the energy of movement and gravity returns the energy to a resting position.

If you designed it correctly, the puppet will hang evenly balanced with its head centered and lined directly over the trunk (human form) and arms and legs fall straight from the shoulders and hips, respectively.  Some marionettes, like my Lucy, are segmented between the waist and hips to facilitate bending at the waist independently from the legs as we do.

The proper placement of the four main strings also helps you and gravity to keep a well balanced character.  Traditionally strings are tied on both sides of the head just above the ear area which when loosened drops the head forward and when tightened, raises the head.  If they are twisted, the head will turn in either direction. 

The third and fourth strings are tied to the shoulders. These strings carry the full weight of the puppet and therefore provide the center of balance.  A fifth string can be tied to the lower back to help control bending and sitting.  Then of course there are strings tied to each wrist or hand if the hands are stationary, and just above each knee area to lift the legs for walking. Watch carefully as you move and picture strings at these points. You will understand why the strings are placed so specifically.  

Next Post – Weight

Ever Curious,


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