Designing Marionettes – Realistic Movement

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 first principal.

 Movement – Understanding the body’s range of movement to create a realistic character.

 If the character is human-like, the range of movement that the human body can achieve must be understood and taken into consideration.  For example, the limitations of the elbow and knee joints – our elbows and knees only bend in one direction but our arms and legs have a full range of motion, and our heads don’t turn completely around.  

Designing your marionette’s joints with these features in mind will not only make its movements realistic but will also make manipulating the puppet much easier.  Arms and legs will react normally when a string is tightened or loosened.  Ideally, elbow and knee joints  should have stops to keep them from hyper extending.  If your building material is rigid, making  the joints meet at 45 degree angles can help.  You can also control hyper-extension by making sure the strings are just long enough to remain taught when the limbs are at rest.       

 Movement is also governed by the costumes that you design for your characters.  It isn’t quite like dressing a doll. Dolls do not move so their clothes do not have to accommodate motion.  A marionette’s clothing must have ease built in much like our own clothing.  Ease must be added in the shoulder and thigh areas in particular so that your puppet can raise its arms and legs, sit, kneel and bend over to bow after a wonderful performance.  The clothing and head coverings must not obstruct the movement of the strings if the puppet is going to be manipulated easily.

Here is a little hint I learned many years ago from a doll costumer:  Use paper towels to design costume patterns.  Sheets from a roll work best.  The pattern pieces can be sewn together and fitted on the character and adjusted pretty much like fabric.  The best part is that the patterns that don’t work out well can be used to clean up your studio : ) 

 Next post – Balance

Ever curious,


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