Designing Marionettes – Weight

Part Three – Weight

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 third and final principal.

Weight – Understanding how Weight and Gravity work to give your marionette realistic movement.

Unlike hand and rod puppets that rely on our hands to begin and complete a movement, marionettes rely on us to initiate the movement and gravity to complete it.  A string is manipulated to lift an arm or leg and then released allowing gravity to return the body part to a position creating a movement.  The head strings are lowered to seat the figure or make it bow.

If the hands, feet or head are not heavy enough, the figure will not move realistically.  It really doesn’t matter what the extremities are made of as long as the hands and feet weigh more.

Lucy is made entirely of wood with a polymer clay head which gives her plenty of weight – in fact, she is almost too heavy to manipulate for an extended length of time.  However, her movements are fluid and so realistic that my young grandson thought she was alive.  Her hands and feet are carved wood which is the traditional material.  It is perfect weight and fun to carve.


I have found that polymer clay over an aluminum foil core can be too heavy for head material.  Paper clay over Styrofoam seems to work nicely and has enough weight to do the job.  The dried paper clay supports the head rod well and is fairly easy to sand and paint.

Hands and Feet

My favorite material to create hands and feet is polymer clay.  It is wonderful to sculpt, comes in great colors and has the right amount of weight.  When I use fabric to create the arms and legs, I make a clay lip where the hand or foot will attached to the extremity. That way they can be inserted into the arm/leg fabric tube and fastened easily.

Marionettes come in all types of characters, not all of which are human.  Sculpting for animals is a fun challenge where reference photos are a must for some semblance of realism.

Unless of course you are creating a fanciful character – that is when the wonderful colors let your creativity soar.

Have Fun !

Ever curious,


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