How to Make a Head for Your Puppet

Learn how to make a head for your puppet from Joe Vena of the Children's Museum of the Arts in this stop motion animation tutorial from Howcast.

So we have a fully realized, nearly fully realized, armature here. We’ve got some workable hands. We’ve given a tail to this armature as well. I think the next step would be adding a head. We’ll make this a basic sort of a cat-inspired creature, so we’re going to make a cat head for this creature. And we will use a nice lightweight Styrofoam ball. You want to keep anything that’s up on top of the puppet in particular nice and light so it does not get top heavy.

That would be a huge problem when you’re animating. Rather than just stick this Styrofoam ball on as it is, I will carve it just a little bit, maybe taking just a small amount of that Styrofoam off so it’s not completely round, kind of cutting in sort of where the cat’s cheeks would be. Maybe I’ll flatten out that face just a little bit. I’m kind of happy with those cuts that I’ve made. I’m just going to use my finger now and press in a bit. Kind of imagine where the eyes will go on your head. The head will sit right about there. Next step is covering the head, and I’m going to cover the head with a very thin layer of red clay. I’ve already added some red clay to the feet of my armature as well to keep it standing. Ultimately, we probably cover the whole armature. For now, I’m going to focus on covering the head. I take very, very, very thin amounts, and I apply it to the Styrofoam. Your clay will stick very nicely to the Styrofoam.

You might even get a nice texture underneath as well. You want to use just enough to cover the Styrofoam, not so much that you are weighing down your armature’s head. OK. So I have a nearly fully covered head here. The next step I think would be to determine it’s going to be a cat or catlike creature. So we’ll do some ears off of the top of the head. I’ll use the same color, and I’ll use as little clay as possible. I’m going to go for small ears, because I don’t want to weight it down. I’ve added a couple of bits, and I’m going to pinch them flat, and then a bit pointy. Flatten them out. Get them pointy, rather catlike. It’s important as this point to make sure that your head will fit on the puppet and that it will balance as well. I have a loop here of wire up on top, and I’m going to go in and just cut that loop so I can open out my wire a little. And I’m going to go into the bottom of the Styrofoam and just pop it on there.

And it looks like our cat will balance. Now there are wonderful details you can add to a head and a face, of course. For our cat, I’m going to use just a little bit of white clay, and I’m going to roll out a couple of little white ball shapes, maybe a kind of chin as well here. Then we’ll pop on the chin and little cheek. It’s nice to use something that is not clay necessarily. I have these wonderful plastic cat eyes. Then I’m going to take the plastic eye, which has a little post on it, and I’m going to just press that right in the middle of the blue. I feel it connecting with the Styrofoam, and I’ll pop it on like that. And take another one, press it right there in the middle. Sometimes, it’s good to take your head off while you’re working, too, so you can really see what you’re doing. So there we have it.

Our cat puppet is nearly there. He’s nearly finished. And a great thing to remember when you’re building puppets like this is that of course that structure, the wire, the wood, and the Styrofoam, but it’s also very important to get those little details, the eyes, the nose, the mouth. Be creative with the details. Try new things. Enjoy.