3D printing has taken over the Maker World!!! There are so many advantages to using 3D printing, for one it frees up a lot of time. While one piece is printing, you could be working on another part of your project. In that way, it’s almost like having a second pair of hands! Which is especially helpful for a puppeteer. You might even say it was a “match made in Henson” (ugh puns).
When I started making puppets back in middle school, I was using plastic cups and felt, material and supplies I could find around me. Fast forward a bit to college, my skills improved, I got a sewing machine and my puppets started to look a lot more professional. And now technology has advanced even more. I used to print patterns to trace on foam and fabric, but now I can 3D print a lot of my puppets parts. You could even print a whole puppet! Puppet building has become even more innovative.
Getting Started in 3D Printing
At first, 3D printing is hard to wrap your head around. How do you tell the 3D printer what you want to print? Do I have to learn 3D modeling? Though that is a VERY helpful skill, you do NOT need to know how to 3D model to get started.
Puppet parts (and much more) can be found on a site called Thingiverse. Thingiverse is a GREAT website with FREE 3d printable files. There I even found a puppet eye blink mechanism.
3D Printing for FREE
Now that I had these free 3D print files from Thingiverse, I was excited to get started! But there was one problem… I did not have a 3D printer. You might be in the same situation too, but there is some good news too. Many public libraries have 3D printers available to use for the community. I brought the files on a flash drive and for a few bucks I had my eye mech printed the next day.
After a few more trips to the Library, I realized that I need to get one of these darn 3d printers for myself!
Believe it or not, 3d printers (especially nowadays) have become more and more affordable. You can get a decent sized quality 3d printer for under 300 bucks on amazon. However, there are a LOT of brands/models to choose from. It all depends on what you’re printing. If you’re going for BIG prints (which I do) I recommend the CR10S (which is what I have) by Creality.
Creality has a lot of models and you can actually upgrade them yourself if you’re clever enough. I HIGHLY recommend you do research on what exactly you’ll be using a 3d printer for BEFORE you buy one. There’s a zillion different sizes, models and brands out there.
3D Printing a Puppet Mechanisms
Making mechanisms is a great way to use 3D printing in your puppet building. Before the days of 3D printing I’d have to fabricate an eye mechanism from stuff like resin, wire, or wood, with lots of tedious sanding. But now I can just 3D print the eyelids and all I have to do is paint it or cover it in fleece.
I find the best use for a 3d printer and puppetry comes in the form of Ventriloquist dummies or Mechanized puppets. Let’s go on a journey on how I built my recent ventriloquist dummy Mr. Freckles…
I designed the head knowing it needed to be hollow and accessible from the inside. That’s where the beauty of 3d printing comes in. Before when I built mechanical dummy puppets I first had to sculpt the head from clay, then make a silicone mold, then cast it in resin, then use a Dremel to carve out the mouth and eyes…It was a colossal pain. Now I can pre-make all the cuts/holes in 3d so all I need to do is print and assemble.
I printed all the parts and after a good paint job they were ready for mechanics. It saved me A LOT of time and MONEY.
3D Printing Other Puppet Parts and Accessories
But what if you’re not building a creepy ventriloquist dummy? No matter! There are a ton of things you can print. Teeth for monster puppets, Noses for rod puppets, Eyes, tongues, glasses, heck! I’ll give you another GREAT example…
I built a King K. Rool puppet from Donkey Kong Country a while back. I wanted it to be as accurate as I could. I noticed someone on twitter had made a pretty accurate model of the King as he appeared in Super Smash Brothers Ultimate. I simply asked the creator of the model to send me the head, belly, crown and a few other parts as separate 3d files.
I actually 3d Printed the ENTIRE under skull for this puppet then covered it in fleece. You can’t even tell the head was 3d printed. So say you want a VERY specific head shape, you could design the head in 3d and omit the parts that require foam to move.
Even puppet clothing or accessories can be 3d printed. Want to make a puppet Knight? Print a little puppet sword and shield. Want to build a puppet army guy?
Print a little puppet helmet. Want a puppet top hat? Print a little puppet top hat and cover it in fabric. There are endless options, you just have to get creative and think ahead.
There are so many things a 3d printer can do for the world of puppetry that I highly recommend getting one yourself. Once you get the hang of it, there are limitless possibilities. It may seem daunting at first but if I can figure it out, you can too!