Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Teddy the Tomato

I created this tomato ventriloquist figure for this year's East Nashville Tomato Art Fest. (if you're in Nashville and you haven't ever attended this festival, you should check it out because it's wonderful - Saturday, August 8. )

For lack of a better idea, he's currently called Teddy Tomato. Teddy is constructed mainly out of papier-mâché (CelluClay) but also ping pong balls and Popsicle sticks).

I even made his little tuxedo. (just inexpensive craft felt from Michael's.) Full disclosure: the papier-mâché technique I used was inspired by (but different from) Jimmy Eisenberg of Ventriloquist Sideshow. I shamelessly copied his standard jacket pattern. (just modified for my guy's weird proportions.) 

I began by loosely carving a styrofoam ball armature. (boy, that's messy.)

Then I made a (slightly) more detailed sculpt in plasticine clay over the armature.

CelluClay was applied over the clay in stages. (I had wanted to cast the clay sculpt in plaster and work from that casting, but time was too short to experiment--I have no idea how the CelluClay would work with a plaster mold.)

The dividers helped, but it was still a lot of work to remove the dried halves from the clay/styrofoam.
The hands and feet were made in pretty much the same way. Wherever possible, I would strengthen long, skinny protruding body parts by inserting wire or doweling.

Then it was a lot of carving and sanding.

I used ping pong balls for eyes. I've always wanted to do that. (Kermit the Frog is my hero.)

The body was built out of scraps from the shed. The arms and legs are chopsticks which are wired to the body frame so they move (but aren't flippy-floppy and dangle-y like soft puppet limbs usually are--I don't like that as much for some reason: I think maybe it's part of what makes puppets creepy to some people.)

I've heard some of the best professional vent figure builders say that it's better to create your character with some slight asymmetry (perfect = boring). I have asymmetry covered: things got a little wonky in there, but it all kind of works. (he IS a tomato, after all.)

UPDATE: (adding some more photos):

Here you can see how the (chopstick) arms were simply tied to the body with wire. The legs are attached in the same way.

His shirt and pants are stapled to the body. (the jacket is removable.)

The headstick is currently set up for a left-handed user with the mouth lever triggered by the index finger. The eyes are controlled by the thumb.

The loop of copper wire under the lever is just a stop so the upper part of the control has clearance inside the head.

A view of the stitching on the suit which is all hand sewn felt, except for a few hot-glued details.

Here are some views of the seam between the front and back head pieces. It's not a seamless fit, but that kind of works with the overall aesthetic I had in mind: I wanted him to look like a vintage Vaudeville vent figure...only a tomato.

His shoes are made like the hands; paper clay over wire armatures and chopstick legs.

The case is a decorative trunk I found on sale at Michaels. (I had already started on the puppet and was excited that he fit perfectly. The foam pieces are simply hot-glued.

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