Puppetry mechanisms

ben gabel

Development work for NBP

In 2023 Ben did some work for Nick Barnes Puppets researching mechanisms.

One project was to develop and tune a tail mechanism.
Several variants were constructed, starting with wooden prototypes and working up to carbon-fibre with alu plates. Some really pleasing motion was achieved, using just 2 levers and 3 control wires.


This was refined by the addition of a force-divider pulley system to allow for much smaller lever movements within the pelvis of the dragon.

Hinge Design

Every hinge in the tail is at a unique angle, and every cable is supported at a different distance from the hinge point, to give the correct movement.
Once the prototype was working well,  Ben then developed a fully parametric , ultra lightweight, 3D-printed hinge system to fit 20mm carbon-fibre tube, with load-bearing inserts and alu-plate reinforcement. This is generically useful – by changing just a few variables, new hinges can be printed for any angle of hinge or size of tube.

Although successful, much of this work did not make it into the final puppet, due to design changes by the client. However the problem-solving, development work , and hinge-generating file are easily applicable to future projects and will be re-used.

Neck Ruff mechanism

Another requirement was for the neck mane to stand up on demand.

This needed to be circular. Several ideas were tried but a very neat solution was a string of barrels with bevel gears to allow them to turn on a curved axle made of nylon rod.

The prototype was very pleasing.  After this it was remodelled much smaller to reduce the weight of each module to less than 27g.

A full set of modules  – over 150 seperate components – was printed for the final puppet.

For this project a large amount of materials research was also carried out with test pieces printed in different plastics from different vendors. Modified Polycarbonate from Prusa and PolyMax PLA from Polymaker  were chosen for production.

This was a really exciting project to work on and Ben is going to develop the mechanism further , ideas  already to mind are a sea-anenome and flower with opening petals. He’s also planning to see how just small the tail hinges can be scaled , using 2mm stainless dowel as hinge pins, to make a table-top puppet.