Rum and Paper Mache

Okay, so this is a controversial project.   I’ve gotten more questions, and negative feedback, on this post and the video that accompanies it, than anything I’ve ever done.   It all has to do with the Rum.   Why am I mixing alcohol and puppets?   So let me explain in advance.    I realize that it won’t change anyone’s mind.   Still….I’ll give it a try.   I like the band “Alpha.”  They have great music.  One of my favorite songs is titled “Rum”.    Whenever I played that song it conjured up images of a particular group of puppets dancing.  Don’t know why.    Something cosmic.   So I decided to make a video of exactly that vision.    It involved three characters, a farmer-type older man and his wife, and a dragon who arrives at their home bearing gifts.   Bottles of rum to be exact.  I am only going to show the dragon being made in this series of posts, just like in the video.

By the way, I want you to know that I bought the rights to use the song.   It took me two years to secure them.  It finally took an intervention from one of the band members to make it happen.   Thank you Alpha!

To begin.   Here is the pile of crumpled body parts I started with.   Of course I paper mached them all (yes, I know “mached” is a made up word.  “Mache” is a noun and isn’t supposed to be used to make a verb.   You don’t need to tell me anymore.   I heard you  (you know who you are).  I’m just ignoring you.)(Remember, I was a math major, not a language major.).

Out of the pile, here are the pieces I used for the dragon.  I’m sure you recognized the dragon pieces in the pile.

At this point I must point out that I am not a puppeteer.  I did make a couple of marionettes for my “Paper Mache Dragon Marionette” video, so I learned a few things.  Articulation is everything.   Duh!   Puppets have to move well or they don’t work.  I used pieces of wire clothes hangers to hold the various parts and appendages together.    The first thing I did was punch in the ends of the paper mache balls to create cavities (photo on the left).  This ball was the dragon’s torso.   It’s hard to explain, so just look at the shape I bent the wire into.    I punched the bent ends of the wire into the balls and used masking tape to hold them in place.  Once I cloth mached (yep, did it again) the parts, these wire pieces stayed put.

The rounded end of one piece of the body fit nicely into the cavity of the other.

Here is the tail.  I’d wiggle it if this was video.

Rum and Paper Mache: More Assembly

As I said before, I’m climbing a steep learning curve here.   I’m not a puppet maker, so I’m sure that my marionettes work the way “real” puppets do.   So I’m designing the controls and learning how to use them at the same time.   I really enjoy this kind of challenge.   I am enjoying the process.  It is just taking longer than I’d like.   I want to say a bit more about the video.  The music, “Rum” has turned into somewhat of an “ear worm” (a song that gets stuck in your head and plays incessantly).

Anyway, back to the making of the central character in the video, the little dragon marionette.   This is a bit more of what I started last time, the assembly of the body.  As I showed you last time, I used pieces of wire clothes hanger to connect the segments.  I left off with the tail.  As you can see below on the left, I put together two segments of the neck.   I know, it doesn’t look all that different than the tail.   It will look more like a neck once I put a head on it.   On the right you’ll notice that I added some cloth mache between the segments.  I wanted them to stay together as I assembled the rest of the puppet.  You can see the elongated paper mache balls I will use for the legs underneath.

Next, I put together those parts of the legs.  I essentially made knees.   On the left you can see how I bent a piece of the clothes hanger.   I pushed it over the “thigh”.  The sharp ends punctured the paper mache ball making the joint very sturdy.  Then I added some masking tape.  Well, I added a lot of masking tape.  If you’ve watched me work you’ve undoubtedly noticed that I use way more tape than I really need.  Sometimes I think I’m really just sculpting with masking tape.

I bent two more pieces of wire hanger and looped them through the piece on the thigh.   As you can see on the right, I put one of these on either side of the calf.   I found that I needed this configuration for these kinds of joints.  I wanted to restrict the movement.  I didn’t want them flopping all over like the segments on the body.  I wanted the action to be knee-like.

Note that I added knee caps.  They are just pieces of paper crushed into a ball and taped on top of the thigh.  Again, they restrict the movement of the joint so that the knee only bends back not forward.     There will be more joints to come (sounds like I’m back in the early 70’s doesn’t it?).

Rum and Paper Mache: More dragon marionette assembly

Some of you Lord of the Rings fans might remember the news a number of years ago that the “shooting” of the three movies was finished.    It was just a matter of editing.   I remember getting all excited, and then waiting two years for the first movie to finally arrive.   Well, I can now say the same thing about my goofy little video.    It is “in the can.”   I’ve finally finished the shooting.   I’ve dismantled my contraptions and staging.  I did that to keep my obsessive personality from re-shooting every scene, again.    This has been a very difficult project for someone like me.   There isn’t a single thing that is exactly as I wanted it.  I spent a solid week on one scene that I’m not even going to use.   My biggest worry now is that the video won’t be worth the months of effort I put into it.   But I must finish it now that I’ve taken it this far.   I just need to edit the last parts.    And then re-edit the edits, and re-re-edit those edits, etc..  Wish me luck.

Back to the dragon.    I wanted to add some wings.  Actually I made two pair.  The small ones below, and some that will be outstretched for later in the video.  I just made my tapered fingers the usual way.  There is no paper mache in this process.  Just pieces of wire clothes hangers, crumpled phone book paper, and masking tape.

I draped some cloth between the fingers and then added my “cloth mache” to the rest of the wing.  I finally had most of the pieces to put the little guy together.

Once again, I used pieces of clothes hanger to make the articulated joints.  I bent the wire as shown, looped it through the wire protruding from the thighs (and upper arms), and then punched the wire into the body.   I added tape and then cloth over the wire.

Here he is with his hind legs attached.   And then with his front legs attached.  I decided to leave the head for last.   Delayed gratification you know.

Time for some feet.  Once again, I just used wire, crumpled paper and masking tape to make some fingers and toes, feet and hands.  Then I added Fimo claws.

Here he is with his hands and feet, on the left before adding cloth, on the right, after adding cloth.

I turned him upside down and added the wings.

And then cut some cardboard to make a spine.  I covered the spines with small pieces of cloth.

Rum and Paper Mache:  The Little Dragon Marionette’s Head

As usual I made jaws out of the shells of paper mache balls.   I made a set for all of the characters.   The dragon’s are the elongated ones.   I made the teeth out of Fimo and then attached them with hot glue.

Here are the jaws after I added the cloth mache and paint.  Again, the dragon’s jaws are the green ones.   I also made some tongues to go along with the jaws.

I don’t know why I decided to put the head on last.  Delayed gratification?  I knew it would be the most fun part of the build.   I cut open the last segment of the body and pulled out the wad of paper.  I stuck the jaws into the hole and taped them.

Then I used hot glue to attach the eyes.  I crumpled paper and used masking tape to build cheeks and brows and a nose.    I cut holes for nostrils and ears.    I added ears.  These are basically little wings.  I added Fimo horns along the nose and above the eyes.  Again, the video shows these steps very clearly along with the addition of the “cloth mache” pictured below.

I added the cloth mache.  I made two tongues, one that would stick straight out, and one that was bent (like it would be after a few drinks).  They were long and I just pushed each one into the back of the neck as I needed them.  I decided to add more horns on the jowls and the chin.

I finished adding the cloth mache to the rest of the head.   I also put a few small scales on the nose.    Likewise, I added scales over the rest of the dragon’s body.  Yes, this takes a lot of time.   But it is worth it I think.

Finally, what would be a post without my assistant, Eddie.   Here he is with the dragon…

…and trying out some of the furniture.  He liked the couch because it was soft.  He thinks I got it for him.  Same with the grandfather clock although he only knows “breakfast” and “dinner” when it comes to time.   This brings up something interesting.  I bought this furniture online.  They are for dolls.   I got the one on the left because it looked really used, I mean used like you’d see at your grandmother’s house.  It was threadbare in places, stained, and just looked old.  Now here’s my question to you all.  How do DOLLS wear out doll furniture?  Do they spill their drinks?   How does doll furniture get used enough to be threadbare? Personally,  I think it’s evidence that dolls party at night.


Rum and Paper Mache:  Finishing the little dragon.  

Time to wrap this up.  This little dragon  needs to get out there and make the world a stranger place.  On the left you can see the initial painting.   Once again, I used my favorite dragon colors, yellow and red (with a green tongue).   I have to say once more how hard it is for people who try my techniques to add the blackwashing.   When the colors are vibrant and fresh, it just seems sacrilegious to cover it with black paint.   I understand the feeling.  But it looks sooo much better afterwards, if for no other reason than the details are accentuated.   Just look at the scales.  After putting so much time and effort adding details like scales, you want them to be noticeable. 

Here is a close up of his head.   I really like the little white horns.  Of course scraping the paint off the eyes was my favorite part.   He came alive, literally.   (No he didn’t!  Not literally.  Don’t you hate it when people use that word indiscriminately!  “He was literally climbing the walls.”   Heard that lately?  Well, no he wasn’t.)(Sorry for the little tirade.)(And doesn’t the word “reiterate” bother you?  Iterate means to repeat.  So the word itself is redundant unless you are trying to say that you want to re-repeat something.)  Anyway, he’s got a cute little face, don’t you think?

Finally, I needed places to put the strings.  I used pieces of clothes hangers for this. I punched them through wrists and ankles and segments of the neck, body, and tail.   I rolled the end with needle nose pliers. 

Then I pushed the loop next to the appendage, bent the wire coming out the other side, and covered it with cloth.    This marionette was unique.   There was no model for what kind of controls to use.  All of my controls were variations of the pieces of wood I show below.   I put little hooks at the ends of the arms and some under the T for the body.  There was really no way to know what the “action” of this marionette would be until I was finished.  It tuned out that this little dragon worked perfectly for what I wanted.  I learned a great deal about working puppets while making this video.    What was really fun was seeing the dragon move in ways that I never intended.   For example there was no control to make his head go side to side.   But it happened on its own as I danced him.    If you watch the video again, check out the very last scene with all three dancing.   The little man developed a wiggle in his hips that I certainly didn’t plan.   It made his dance moves perfect for that scene.

Speaking of controls…One of the things I was most proud of was that I controlled all of the marionettes for every shot.   I made sometimes very convoluted and complicated control schemes for each shot.   It’s hard to see, but there is one such set up on the left.  This was early in the video when all three characters were sitting in their chairs moving to the music.    the hardest scenes, as you might guess, were the one that involved all three dancing at the same time.   On the right is the last scene of the couple in their living room.  I took it apart right after.   It was such an odd experience.   That was in my workshop for months.  It just didn’t feel right to dismantle that little world.  

Here are the three marionettes.  I have to say too that the old man and woman look much cuter in person.

Do you remember that I made two sets of wings for the dragon?   One set was folded and pulled against his body for most of the video.  I made the second, outstretched pair, for a couple dancing scenes and for the very last scene where the dragon flies off into the sunset.  I shot that final scene in front of a green background so that I could superimpose the dragon onto a photo of the sky.  This flying sequence was much harder to make than it looks in the video.   I guess that was true of every scene.

Finally, here’s the happy little couple at night’s end.   Note that I changed the eyes to make them closed.   I think it’s a sweet ending.



I hope you enjoyed the video.  If for some reason you missed it, then just click on the photo below and you can watch it on YouTube.  By the way, it looks so much better if you watch it in HD.   So when you get to YouTube, click on the gear under the video and change the playback setting to get High Definition.   It’s much more fun to see it clearly.  Oh..and turn up the volume!   I really like this piece of music, “Rum” by Alpha.  That was of course the inspiration for the video.

Rum and Paper Mache:  The video

Of course this dragon was made for the video.   If you want to watch it just click the photo below.  And if you like it, then please subscribe to my channel.  Thank you!

8 Responses to Rum and Paper Mache

  1. liliana camilión says:

    Excelente. Yo siempre creí que las muñecas se levantan de noche…

  2. Regina says:

    who couldn’t love this??? I love this…. I love the dancing dragon with the bottle of rum down it’s throat just having a merry old time dancing around…. looks like a typical Thursday night at home on the farm…. sure wish a dragon would drop in on me…..



  4. Geraldo says:

    Hi there I really love your work, I would like to know, step by step if is possible, how to do that game of thrones dragon. Thanks in advance.

    • Hello Geraldo. I’m not really sure which dragon you are talking about. I made Drogon a few times and my Ice Dragon was loosely based upon Viserion. As you must have seen here on this blog that I show many projects made step by step.

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