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Marionette Puppets


In the
Tshwane University of Technology

Mr Bezuidenhout


Table of Contents

List of Figures pg, 3-4

1. Historical Background and Development pg, 5-7
2. Construction Methods
2.1. The Head pg, 8-12
2.2. The Framework Body pg, 12-15
2.3. Joints pg, 15-22
2.4. The Hands and Feet pg, 22
2.5. Controls and Stringing pg, 22-27
2.6. Decorating and Dressing pg, 27-30
2.7. Materials Used pg, 30

Reference List pg, 31


List of Figures
Figure 1.1 Mr Punch Marionette pg, 6
Figure 1.2 20
century Pinocchio pg, 7
Figure 1.3 21
Century Puppet Example pg, 7
Figure 2.1.1 Casting Dividing Lines pg, 8
Figure 2.1.2 Casting of Puppet Head pg, 9
Figure 2.1.3 Constriction Illustration of a Movable Mouth pg, 10
Figure 2.1.4 Blinking Mechanism Construction process pg, 11
Figure 2.1.5 Eyebrow Mechanism pg, 12
Figure 2.2.1 T-Shaped Pelvis Design pg, 13
Figure 2.2.2 Wood Carved Body pg, 14
Figure 2.2.3 Three Piece Body Illustration pg, 15
Figure 2.3.1 Screw-eye Jointed Design pg, 16
Figure 2.3.2 Mortise and tenon Joint pg, 17
Figure 2.3.3 Mortise and Tenon Joint Variation pg, 17
Figure 2.3.4 Leather Elbow Joint pg, 18
Figure 2.3.5 Waist Leather Joint pg, 19
Figure 2.3.6 Ball Joint pg, 20
Figure 2.3.7 Illustration of Ball Joint pg, 20
Figure 2.3.8 Neck to Body Joint pg, 21
Figure 2.3.9 Diagram of Neck to Head Joint pg, 21
Figure 2.5.1 Indication of leg and hand stringing positions pg, 23
Figure 2.5.2 Marionette Controller Vertical Design pg, 24
Figure 2.5.3 Marionette Stringing Horizontal Example 2 pg, 25
Figure 2.5.4 Alternative Marionette Controller, Vertical pg, 26

Figure 2.5.5 Handling of Vertical Marionette Controller pg, 26
Figure 2.6.1 Raw Wooden Finished Puppets pg, 28
Figure 2.6.2 Clothed Puppet pg, 28
Figure 2.6.3 Painted Finished Puppet pg, 29


1. Historical Background
According to Currell (1999: 7) the beginnings of stringed puppetry go back as far as 4000
years, in India. Currell writes that due to religious beliefs and law, the impersonation of
another was forbidden and deemed taboo, therefore storytelling through acting was
impossible. As a result, the stringed puppet- later termed Marionette, was born- a puppet that
could represent characters and become a method of telling stories, histories and myths. The
emergence of the Marionette in China was first seen in the 8
century AD (Currell, 1999:7)
and continued to develop alongside other forms of puppetry, such as shadow puppet theatre
and Bunraku puppets that were also popular in China and Japan.

Moving more towards the west, Rome and Greece saw Marionettes around 400 BC, and by
the middle ages the Marionette was widely popular throughout Europe (Currell, 1999:8).
Europe saw the largest development and staging of Marionette puppet theatre, first used in
religious drama the puppet theatres would aim to re-enact biblical stories and aim to educate
the people, teaching right from wrong, moral lessons and scriptures (Currell, 1999:8). In
France during the 18
century, puppet theatre had grown so much, especially the then new
branch of Marionette operas, that it even threatened the jobs and industry of the live
performances in theatres. According to Currell (1999: 8) Englands puppet theatre and
marionettes grew in popularity and became world famous, with travelling troupes holding
performances across various countries. The most famously known marionettes were Punch
and Judy, who were popular throughout Europe. These originated in Italy in the 16
based on the Pulcinella character of Commedia del Arte performances, and quickly started
travelling to France, Russia, Holland and England (Styles, 2009: online), Punch and Judy
remained popular and became standard figures in all forms of performances. The popularity
of Punch and Judy continued into the late 19
Century, however was adapted from a
marionette into a hand or glove puppet.


Figure 1.1 Mr Punch Marionette [online image] Available from: [accessed 18 September

The development of marionette puppets began to plateau from the 18
century, where little
developments were made. During the 20
century, however, with the introduction of film
and television, as well as modernisation in techniques and equipment for construction of
puppets, marionettes made a comeback to popular culture (Currell, 1999:9), for example the
popular childrens story of Pinocchio. The largely popular marionette puppets today, the
Muppets by Jim Henderson were created in the 1950s and continues their popularity in
television and film today. Now in the 21
century, marionettes are continuously re- innovated
and developed- down to research done on robotics using marionette theory.


Figure 1.2 20th Century Pinocchio [online image] Available from: [accessed 28
September 2014]

Figure 1.3 21
Century Puppet Example [online image] Available from:
[accessed 28 September 2014]

2. Construction Methods

2.1. The Head
The head of the marionette can vary between a simple static head, which moves only on
the neck to nod and look left and right, perhaps even tilting movements, to a much more
complex head with functioning facial features such as blinking, speaking and eyebrow
movement. A basic head shape and character features are created, either from modelled
clay which is then cast in a mould to create the final structure, or sculpted and build up
with materials such as foam, and from there more detail is created and structures set in
place for various movements to take place.

The first step in creating the puppet head is to model it out of clay, creating a positive
image of what the head is to look like. Once this is complete and the clay is smoothed
and ready to be cast, the clay is covered in plaster, with dividers inserted where the
mould can be dismantled (The Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry, 2003:online) -
often along the lateral, horizontal or vertical midline of the head, as shown in figures
2.1.1 and 2.1.2 below.

Figure 2.1.1 Casting Dividing Lines [online image] Available from: [accessed 16 September 2014]


Figure 2.1.2 Casting of Puppet Head. [online image] Available from [accessed 16 September

According to The Ballard Institute of Puppetry (2003: online) the casting dividing lines are
situated specifically to minimise undercuts in the facial structure. For example, in figure 2.1.2
above, the nose and chin protrude significantly, therefore the divide lines were positioned
vertically along the face so as to avoid these undercuts creating a problem when removing the
negative cast.

Once the cast mould is set, cleaned and put back together in preparation for creating the
positive cast of the head, a choice is to be made of which materials would best suit the
project. The Ballard Institute of Puppetry (2003: online) describes 7 possible materials;
Neoprene, foam, plastic wood, rubber latex, celastic, agoplast and paper mache.
Neoprene is a latex material that remains flexible for a period before it fully dries, which
allows for some manipulation of the moulds before being set, more often used for hands
than heads, other benefits of this material are its durability and lightness. Foam can come
in various forms and textures, but sculpted rather than moulded as described above,
however the foam materials often lack the durability of other materials. When using
plastic wood in the cast mould it is important to note that the material shrinks unless left

to set with the mould underwater. Celastic and agoplast are fabric based products with
elements of plastic infused in the fibres, when activates with acetone the material can be
applied directly to the clay as you would with paper mache and left to dry, one the
acetone has evaporated the clay is cased in a hard and durable material. This list of
materials is not extensive, as there are many other options such as wood carving,
available to the puppet maker; the moulding process is a typical and easy way in which
the head can be constructed.

Creating a movable mouth requires a section of the mouth and chin to be removed from
the face, as indicated in figure 2.1.3 below. The removed piece comprises of the lower
lip cut from each end down to the bottom of the chin, this pieces is then attached to a
road which feeds through the head to the back and is secured on a pivot in order to move
up and down when the rod is moved (Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry, 2003:

Figure 2.1.3 Constriction Illustration of a Movable Mouth. [online image] Available
owto_howtomake02.gif [accessed 16 September 2014]

To create the blinking mechanism, wire is fed through the eyeball with a lever
mechanism between the two eyes that fits through the head, the wire is bent to create the
shape of the eyelid that can move over the eye and is covered in fabric, when the lever is
moved the eyelid moves to cover the eye and creates the blinking movement. Figure
2.1.4 below shows the process as described by Pitt (2011: online).

Figure 2.1.4 Blinking Mechnaism Construction process. [online image] Available from: [accessed 16
September 2014]

Creating eye brow movement requires a slightly more complex mechanism than blinking. First a
wire is fe through a small hole above the eye to create the base for the eyebrow, the wires for
each eye brow meet on the inside of the face in an H shape which attaches to a lever and pivot,
when the string to the lever is pulled the eyebrows are arched and when released the eyebrows
return to resting position (Puppets and props: Raising Eyebrows, n.d: online). Figure 2.1.5 below
gives an illustrated guide to the mechanism of the eyebrows as explained above.

Figure 2.1.5 Eyebrow Mechanism. [online image] Available from: [accessed 16
September 2014]

2.2. The Framework Body
The body of the Marionette puppet forms the base onto which the puppet is created
from. There are a number of different ways to create the body, although in most cases

the body is made in two parts- an upper and lower body, joined at the waist (Currell,
1985; 129). The body will be constructed either with the neck attached to the main body,
or with a gap into which the neck will attach, the arms and legs are attached with various
joints discussed below, and it is important to note that adequate planning must be
completed before the construction begins as this would dictate the joints and framework
Currell (1985: 129-130) explains four possibilities for constructing the body and
framework of the puppet. The first of which is a simple cloth and stuffed body, a piece
of cardboard can be used to create a cone and sewn onto a piece of fabric sewn into a
tube- this creates the shoulders and body, the body tube is then stuffed and sewn across
the waist to cinch it in to create a body shape and allow for the puppet to bend forward to
bow. Another method explained makes use of a combination of wood and foam. The
outline shape of the upper body is cut out and covered in foam to create a three
dimensional body, and the pelvis is made into a T-shaped structure that is joined to the
body with screw eyes. Figure 2.2.1 below shows the T-shape design which allows for the
legs to attach to the pelvis neatly and the hips to be formed above the leg joints.

Figure 2.2.1 T-Shaped Pelvis Design. [online image] available from:
[accessed 27 September 2014]

The third body construction method explained by Currell (1985:130) is modelling,
moulding and casting. This method would be executed in the same way as discussed in
relation to the heads, where the shape is modelled from clay, moulded into a negative
form and then cast to create the final product. Finally, a very common method for
creating the body of the puppet is to carve it from wood or polystyrene. When using
wood for the body, Currell (1985:130) advised to keep the body hollow in order to
reduce the weight of the puppet and to add weight to the pelvis so that it hangs more
naturally. Figure 2.2.2 below show a wood carved marionette in progress.

Figure 2.2.2 Wood Carved Body. [online image] Available from: [accessed 27 September 2014]

Most bodies of marionettes are constructed in two parts, or one, however a three part
body construction can also be created in order to create more movement, used more for
dancing puppets (Currell, 1985: 132). The body is divided into the chest, midriff and
pelvis, with the chest and pelvis carved to fit over and around the midriff. Both pieces
are hollowed out and slide over the midriff and re secure with a nail to allow them to
pivot side to side (Currell, 1985: 132) as seen in figure 2.2.3 below.


Figure 2.2.3 Three Piece Body Illustration. [Image by K du Toit, 2014]

2.3. Joints
Marionette designs and rules for design are far from rigid. The creativity, time and
resources available to the puppet maker, and the complexity of the design for the
purpose of the puppet all influence how the puppet is constructed and therefore how the
joints will be manufactured. Some puppets will require only basic and simple
movements, whereas others will be required to perform intricate functions such as
dancing, eating or climbing.

Screw eye joints in puppet designs such as in figure 2.3.1 below have soft and loose
movements with less control and often have the structure and mechanisms of the joints
hidden by clothing. This joint can be used for almost any joint, and is the easiest to
accomplish- a screw eye is placed on joining body parts and attached wither by string or
linked to each other. There are a few downfalls to this joint, such as the minimised
control, as well as the puppet rattling.


Figure 2.3.1 Screw-eye Jointed Design. [online image]
[accessed 17 September 2014]

Figure 2.3.2 below illustrates a basic Mortise and Tenon joint, also known as a tongue
and groove joint, which could be used most commonly for knees, elbows, wrists and
ankles. The joint consists of one piece having a partial slit into which the joining piece
fits into with a tongue and is secured by wire or a screw. For example, in a knee joint,
the slit is cut from the back of the leg towards the front which allows the protruding
tongue piece of the lower limb to slide in and back as the joint moves. It is important to
note, not to cut right through the upper limb so as to create a stopping point at which the
knee or elbow and cannot over extend beyond natural movement (Trejtnar & Gaffen,
n.d: online). Figure 2.3.3 is a variation on this design, also commonly used. Currell
(1985: 137) notes that when drilling through the tongue and groove to secure it with the
wire, the drilled holes in the tongue need to be larger in order that the joint does not
stick, alternatively in place of carving a tongue, a screw eye can be used in its place.

Figure 2.3.2 Mortise and tenon Joint. [online image] Available from: [accessed
17 September 2014]

Figure 2.3.3 Mortise and Tenon Joint Variation. [online image] Available from:
[accessed 17 September 2014]


Leather joints are a common joint that allows less movement than the screw eye joint,
but a smoother movement than the Mortise and tenon joint, and allows movement in one
direction only. In the case of an elbow joint (as with knees and waist, where this joint is
also commonly found) the body of the two joining pieces are cut at an angle and glued to
a strip of leather, this allows the body or limbs to bend into the space cut away and held
together by the leather, as illustrated in and figure 2.3.4 and 2.3.5 below. Currell
(1985:131) highlights the importance of leaving a piece to which the joint can lock and
not over extend in the opposite direction. Furthermore he adds a variation similar to the
screw eye joint, creating a loose joint attached with leather. This is accomplished by
cutting slots onto the centre pieces and gluing leather, or felt, or string/rope into the
slots, alternatively a leather loop can be made inside the limb and secured with a nail
through the limb and loop.

Figure 2.3.4 Leather Elbow Joint [online image] Available from: [Accessed 27
September 2014]


Figure 2.3.5 Waist Leather Joint. [Image by K du Toit, 2014]

A more complicated, but effective joint described by Currell (1985: 131-132) is the ball
joint, as shown in figure 2.3.5 and 2.3.7 below, used mostly in the waist, hips, shoulders,
knees and elbows, wrists and ankles. A recess is cut into the two joining parts to
accommodate for the ball or bead, the bead is strung into wire loops inside the recess and
secure tightly with string. Alternatively the string is tied on the outside of the body and
hidden. This joint provides most natural movement, however is more difficult to
manipulate as a marionette.

Figure 2.3.6 Ball Joint. [online image] Available from: [Accessed 17
September 2014]

Figure 2.3.7 Illustration of Ball Joint. [Image by K du Toit, 2014]

In the neck, Currell (1985: 133) describes two variations- joining methods when the
neck is part of the body structure and when it is part of the head. When the neck is
created as part of the head, Currell simply suggests using screw eyes and string between
the shoulders and neck, and relying on gravity, such as indicated in figure 2.3.8.

however, when the body and neck are one, and the head is separate, a screw eye is
attached to the neck and inserted into the hollow head, it is then strung into hole made
behind the ears and secured with wire. Figure 2.3.9 below is an illustration of this, note
that dowels can be used on the wire to prevent the head from slipping side to side.

Figure 2.3.8 Neck to Body Joint [online image] Available from:
JPG [accessed 27 September 2014]

Figure 2.3.9 Diagram of Neck to Head Joint. [image by K du Toit, 2014]

An alternative way of creating a marionette is to build an entirely cloth figure, sewing
the body, arms and legs and creating cloth joints at all the joints (Currell, 1985). Once
the limbs are sewn and stuffed, joints can be created using seams that divide the stuffing
and create a bend.

2.4. The Hands and Feet
As a general rule, hands and feet are constructed out of proportion to be larger and hence
more animated and expressive. According to Currell (1985: 134) the construction of the
hands are critical, as their positioning will remain fixed and indicate expression, mood
and character of the figure. As with the head and body, there are a number of ways to
construct the hands and feet; carving from wood or polystyrene, modelling and casting
from a number of materials, including rubber, as well as cloth sewn hands and feet.
Rubber casting involves the same process as casting from a mould with other materials,
however instead of creating a solid mould; a skin is made in the negative mould and the
filled and held in place by a dowel (Currell, 1985: 96).

An important thing to remember when carving or modelling hands are the planes- not all
fingers will appear in the same plane and the thumb is set in a different position to all the
other fingers, which creates a hollow in the palm of the hand (Currell, 1985: 134).
Additionally, careful planning must be done when modelling the hands, with specific
attention paid to the character of the figure which will affect the shape and position of
the hands, for example- a grumpy old man, would most likely have curled up fists or one
pointed finger, in place of a softly curved and relaxed hand. Feet however are less
expressive and mostly constructed with shoes already on. However in the case of
dancing puppets more attention would be paid to the mobility of the ankle and foot.

2.5. Controls and Stringing
For the basic human figure puppet the general rules for stringing are described as
follows by Trejtnar and Gaffen (n.d: online). The puppets typically have between 4-9
string controllers, and are generally strung starting at the head and working down while

hanging on a vertical stand in order to get the strings correct. When stringing the hands a
screw eye is attached to the space between the thumb and fore finger, and the leg strings
are generally attached to the centre front of the thigh to create realistic leg movements
(shown in figure 2.5.1). As a general rule the arms are strung to hang slightly bent and
forward to create the illusion of the puppet being alive in a neutral position, furthermore
the strings controlling the body are attached to the body at the shoulders, slightly more
towards the back and at a distance greater than the width of the head so as to prevent
entanglement. The head string is attached at the temples of the puppet to create optimal
movement in the head that is most realistic. Finally the string attached to the puppets
rear allows for a bowing movement and is strung to hang loosely, when tightened and
the other strings lowered, bends the puppet forward.

Figure 2.5.1 Indication of leg and hand stringing positions. [online image] available
from: [accessed
16 September 2014]


When stringing the controllers of the Marionette puppet, some basic principles are
followed. For the typical human figure puppet, the main controller comprises of two
control dowels positioned at right angles to each other in a cross shape, the left and right
ends attach to the corresponding legs, and the head strings attach to the same bar only
slightly more toward the centre. On the adjacent control bar is the rear string to create
the bowing movement, placed towards the end, as well as strings to the upper and lower
back. An alternative to this is to have strings attached to the shoulders instead of the
back, which would be strung to the same controller as the head. On a separate,
detachable controller, the strings for the hands are attached and moved by the puppeteers
other hand. This system is illustrated in figure 2.5.2 below.

Figure 2.5.2 Marionette Controller Vertical Design. [online image] Available from: [accessed 17 September 2014]


Figure 2.5.3 Marionette Stringing Horizontal Example 2. [online image] Available
accessed 17 September 2014]
In figures 2.5.3 and 2.5.4 below, is an example of an alternative stringing and control
method used for marionettes, one which uses a vertically held controller in place of the
horizontal controller explained above. The bottom of the main dowel attaches to the
upper arms od the marionette in order to hold them in an alive position, the head is
attached to a secured adjacent rod which will move when the hand of the puppeteer
moves the whole controller left and right. The shoulders and rear string are attached to a
rod that will run backwards along the puppeteers hand and moved by the wrist to turn
the body. Finally the knees and walking movement is controlled by a separate and
detachable controlled held in the other hand, and the arms manipulated by the forefinger
and thumb of the puppeteer of two rods that are attached near the top of the main


Figure 2.5.4 Alternative Marionette Controller, Vertical. [online image] Available from [accessed 17 September 2014]

Figure 2.5.5 Handling of Vertical Marionette Controller. [online image] Available
from: [accessed 17 September 2014]

Marionette figure can vary infinitely with imagination, the complexity of the puppets
movements and design are decided by the puppet maker and using these basic principles,
either simplified or added to in order to meet the needs of the design.

2.6. Decorating and Dressing
Once the puppets construction has been completed and the marionette is strung and
fully functioning the puppet needs to be finished neatly and made ready for the
performance. The finishing touches of the puppet help create a character and personality,
as well as creating a neat and professional appearance.

Some puppets are designed to appear raw with all the mechanisms visible, such as in
figure 2.6.1- the pair of wooden marionettes would be finished by sanding and sealing
the wood and ensuring the construction and joints are neat and clear. However, some
puppets are fully dressed such as in figure 2.6.2, this would be done by securing the
sewn garments onto the structure. When designing outfits for the puppets, it is important
to make note and plan for how the garments will be put on the puppets and fastened as
not to shift, taking the stringing into consideration. Furthermore it is important to ensure
the clothes do not hinder the movement of the puppet, to accommodate for this, the
clothing is often put on the puppet before stringing. An alternative design is when the
puppet is constructed in its final form (for example, already clothed), and simply
finished with painted detail, as in figure 2.6.3.


Figure 2.6.1 Raw Wooden Finished Puppets [online image] Available from:
[accessed 28 September 2014]

Figure 2.6.2 Clothed Puppet [online image] Available from: http://www.marionettes- [accessed 28 September 2014]

Figure 2.6.3 Painted Finished Puppet [online image] Available from: [accessed 28
September 2014]

Dressing and decorating a puppet does not only take the form of the clothing garments,
but also the finer details such as hair and eyelashes, or dress props such as hats, canes
and glasses. Furthermore decorating includes final painting of facial features, adding
highlights and lowlights to create a more realistic character, including makeup and
hairstyles. It is again important to note that the dressing and decorating be accounted for
in the planning phase prior to construction, as it will affect the design as well as
budgeting. Puppets that make use of dress props, for example a cane or umbrella, need to
make accommodations for the movement of these items in the controls and stringing, as
well as how it will be secured to the hand. Other items, such as hats, glasses, monocles
or moustaches can be glued onto the puppet either before or after painting. When
designing a puppet with hair, a wig can be made and attached with glue to the head, or
made as a solid, carved part of the head and simply painted.


One important thing to note when painting the puppet is to hang the controls in such a
way as to avoid tangling of the strings, as well as avoiding paint on the strings which
could lead to a messy and unprofessional end product. Furthermore the type of paint
used on the materials chosen is important to plan for, in order to avoid paint peeling,
fading and ruining. For example, wooden painted puppets can be sealed once dry in
order to preserve the paint and puppet for longer, whereas fabric paints used on a fabric
puppet will hold regardless.

2.7. Materials used
The following list of possible materials is not a comprehensive list for Marionette puppet
making; there are a vast number of variations that can be made when building the puppet
based on the purpose, budget and creativity of the puppet and its maker. This list is taken
from content discussed in the essay above.

Soft wood or pine for wooden carving
Wooden dowels
Paper mache
Clay modelling and casting (as described in subsection 2.1: Heads)
Cloth and stuffing
Cloth and stuffing
Rubber casting
Wood glue and Contact adhesive


Reference List

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[Accessed 17 September 2014].
Clark, S. & Durst, B., 2006. Big Puppet. [Online]
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[Accessed 17 September 2015].
Currell, D., 1985. The Complete Book of Puppet Theatre. London: A&C Black.
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Pitt, E., 2011. Double Rainbow Puppets: Eye Blink Rigs Complete. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 16 September 2014].
Styles, J., 2009. The Punch and Judy Fellowship: History of Punch and Judy. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 28 September 2014].
Trejtnar, M. & Gaffen, L., n.d. Puppets in Prague: Stringing the Puppet. [Online]
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[Accessed 16 September 2014].