Place a bright floodlight above the screen and not too far behind it, shielding it from the front and making sure that it does not glare into the eyes of the audience. This will cast clear shadows, and if the control rods are held off at an angle from the screen their shadows will disappear. Always move the figures tightly against the screen and keep them walking on their proper ground level. They can vanish into air when pulled away from the screen. If a figure enters from one side and must exist at the same side, either back it out or flip it quickly around to walk off heading forward. It is difficult to cross one figure over the other, and such action should be avoided when possible. Set-pieces of gates, trees, furniture, and houses can be cut out and tacked at the base or side to the frame. Properties on rods can be handled by characters. Birds, clouds, airplanes all can sail through the air supported by a rod. A shadow figure show obviously permits unlimited fantasy. It was a precursor of the colored sound film; the Chinese had "talkies" with colored moving images on a screen some centuries before Hollywood (fig. 135).
Draw a full-size diagram of the character to be built, marking its joints and mechanical details. To be seen by an audience of 500 it should be about one-third life size; that is, a 6-foot man would be a 24-inch puppet. Larger puppets become unwieldy to support. For smaller audiences one-quarter life size suffices. For comic productions the figure can be as tall as six of its heads. For more serious ones it is better seven heads tall. The larger the head compared with the body, no matter what the scale of the puppet, the dumpier the puppet looks. A dumpy comedian is permissible; not a dumpy heroine. If the head is too large the puppet becomes dwarfish no matter how big it is (fig. 136).
A head may be whittled of wood, moulded of papier mache or wood pulp, or built up of paste and paper or clay over a core. Light wood such as sugar pine is best for whittling. Porous wood such as balsa is unsatisfactory; hard wood is slippery save for the expert carver. Find a block big enough for the head, draw front and side views on two of its faces, and cut off the corners. Then whittle out the features. Try the head against the diagram to make sure it is the same size. Hands, legs, and other parts may be whittled in the same way.
To mould a head of papier mache make a two-piece plaster mould from a sculptor's clay (plas-ticene) model. The pieces may join in a line running over the crown of the head, down along the ears and the sides of the neck. Avoid a break through any modeled detail such as an ear. Wet inch-wide strips of white newspaper or typewriter paper and drop them loosely, side by side without much overlap, into the two halves of the mould. Now work another layer of paper strips, this one covered with flour-and-water or white paste, laid crosswise over the first, into the moulds. Continue to lay in pasted layers each across the other until there are six or eight. Work them well into the hollows of the mould with the fingers and a blunt stick. Strips may project half an inch out of the moulds around the edges. Set aside to dry. When dry pull the paper shells out of the moulds, trim their edges till they fit together, then paste together with strips of paper over the crack. Wood pulp (prepared, such as plastic wood, or homemade, of sawdust, glue, and whiting) can be pressed in by the same method. Soak plaster molds in water to act as a nonstick agent for plastic wood, or dust them with powder to prevent wood pulp from sticking (fig. 137). For a built-up head make a core of a wad of paper or cotton, cover it with glued paper, and continue to add glued wads until the features are achieved. This head must be set aside to dry two or three times in the building-up, or it will wrap out of shape.
Limbs and body can be made of whittled wood, padding over wire, or stuffed cloth (fig. 138). The best joints are carefully fitted of wood or metal, but for arms, hips, and waist, cloth tubes without stuffing will serve.
Try each part over the diagram to test its correctness of size. Assemble the parts when all have been made, paint the head, hands, and other uncos-tumed surfaces with opaque water colors (show-card colors) or oil paints, and attach strings of black fishline or warp to support the figure at the shoulders, to turn its head (one on each side near the ear), to support it from the small of the back, to work its arms and legs from the hands and knees, or to control any special movements. These strings are attached at the other end to a controller, a simple flat piece of wood which keeps them in order (fig. 139). Animals, fabulous creatures, animated furniture and vegetables, all are possible as string-puppets.