This last year I tried to make a camel. While I enjoy being on stage, I really enjoy the mechanics of making a production work and fitting all the little pieces together. For this reason I’ve posted before and hope to post again some of the different props and “set pieces” we’ve made or adapted to use in a performance.
During our Christmas program in 2016 I had the idea to make a full-size camel puppet. It was kind of a long shot so Sarah and I started in our own time doing some trial and error. Eventually the whole thing came together and the church was able to use it for some of their productions. I thought it’d be fun to post some pictures of this thing coming together.
By trial and error really I just mean we got down to seeing what would actually work. Here’s a picture of me standing in an early version of the skeleton.
We went with PVC because it would be light-weight. I didn’t want it to be too heavy for the puppeteer but we did lose a lot in strength. If I had to do it again I would look into learning more about welding. We ended up working with some light weight aluminum conduit for part of this that I think could work as a skeleton.
I looked at a lot of large puppets and different ways people had designed them. I knew that a “one-person-puppet” would be harder to build since you’d have to make the camel’s back legs. However, I also knew that two people working on running the puppet together would be harder to rehearse and facilitate. Also the one person design gave it a little less human look which made it a little more fun. From the outside it was a little bit harder to see how the whole thing functioned. (Shh- don’t tell anybody!)
Here’s a picture of the back legs we had to build. We had a lot of trouble with the knee joint because the PVC couldn’t support the weight. We actually had a volunteer that helps in our environment help us weld something that attached to the PVC with hose clamps. The end product worked pretty well and looked something like this.
After we built the skeleton we had to cover it. We found a matching fabric for the headpiece that we already had and then we chose to do a blanket on top so that our puppeteer would be able to see through it.
The saddle we made from some fabric foam. We carved out the two sides and then hot-glued them together with a middle piece. Last thing to figure out was the leg movement, which we are testing above. We tried to tie the back leg movement to the front legs.
Camels are weird if you actually look at their bone structure because they’re knee is a lot higher and their ankle bone is very long. We tried to model that when we built the leg structure. Also their movement is weird because they move one side at a time. They almost waddle. To get the movement we ended up just attaching the back legs to the front feet with fishing line to simulate walking. Here’s the puppeteer running it with everything covered and attached.
So there we go. Below’s a picture of me beside the finished product on stage at our FX. I’d do a lot things differently if we did it again but it was a fun experiment.