It seems I gave myself a bit of inspiration when I wrote up the article on fan art for Star Wars: the Old Republic. In referencing Bonnie Burton’s Admiral Sackbar and thinking about modifying that into Jedi Knight NPC General Var Sackra, I wound up designing a series of paper sack puppets related to the game. What I did for the design process was sketch the basic shape of a paper bag on paper, then draw a line across to emulate where the folded up bottom of the sack was, that would always be a character’s mouth. Then, I’d find a screenshot or two of the character in the gear they came in and sketch out the vaguest features that hint at the character, leaving myself notes as to which colors go where, and sorting out whether there would be multiple layers of felt creating the design.
When I approached this project, my goal was to follow the KISS Principle (Keep It Simple, Silly) and have a little fun here. If you ever wanted to make puppets of your own, all you need is (love):
- School lunch paper bags (supermarket)
- Scissors (craft store)
- School glue (craft store)
- Craft felt (craft store)
The felt was really inexpensive. Here in Ohio, it was around like 29 to 35 cents per 8.5×11 sheet, and I hardly went through half a sheet even though I wound up making a variety of characters. My local craft stores had a rainbow’s worth of colors, so there should be plenty to recreate the basic color palette from the game. For simplicity’s sake, most of the characters were made from the front side only, although you certainly could make back panels for them too if you wanted. The big thing to think about in this regard is that you won’t want to make single-piece outfits that cover both front and back unless you factor in the notion that someone will have to have their hand in the puppet. I also chose not to make separate arms like Bonnie had in her original Admiral Sackbar, but you can certainly do that if you want.
My first test of designing puppets based on specific characters involved a pair of iconic heroes from the movies, to see if people recognized them. One thing I learned quickly was that gluing felt upon felt required a bit of glue and something to weight it down while it dried, because felt acts like a sponge. Keep this in mind if you choose to do this project with kids. That’s also why I chose school glue rather than E-6000, because you don’t want a kid to glue their fingers together with that if they make a mess. School glue tends to be easier to clean up if accidents happen. Also, before you even open up the glue, lay the cut pieces of felt down in place first to make sure everything is the way you intended. Another thing that’s important, it doesn’t have to be precise.
Since my two favorite class stories are the Jedi Knight and the Smuggler stories, most of the other characters I made relate to those, although I have several ideas in mind for other ones and a backlog of designs. Yes, Lord Scourge is going to get the puppet treatment, and he’s going to hate it. As for Kira here, I wanted to get the very basics of her Consular-style outfit without getting too far into details, because the art department had a bit too much fun with their attire. The red and pink swatches you see next to the puppets represent the mouth and tongue, and they’d get glued inside the flap, just like you see on the Muppets right now.
For Master Orgus, I felt that his hood and the tail of his tabards were important enough to put on the back side of the puppet, even though I didn’t copy over his entire tabard and the shape of his boots. I’m probably going to do an variant version of this puppet at some point in the future, to reflect [REDACTED].
Here we are, the original pun that inspired the project, General Var Suthra, voiced by the incomparable Maurice LaMarche, whom I had the fortune of meeting at Dragon*Con in September. Unlike Bonnie’s original design for Admiral Sackbar, I didn’t give him arms, but you can see the design of his Republic Officer’s gun holster, the shield thing on his left shoulder, and the two green bits to hint at his wrists and hands.
For this lovely lady, I felt the richness of her outfit in-game had to be reflected in the puppet itself, so I chose the more mottled darker grey for the belt and undershirt, while the red is actually a mixture of a red and black that I found at the craft store, and a regular crimson for her pants. What’s important here is that you don’t copy every single detail, just the broad strokes to get the desired effect.
I know some people who can’t stand this smooth talking scoundrel of a doctor, but I love him to bits and bits. I even let my otherwise light side Jedi Knight be charmed by him and took the dark side points to marry him. Much like Orgus Din, his attire required a bit of felt on the back of the paper bag, mostly to anchor the poofy collar of the coat that seem to be de rigeur for medical scoundrels for some reason.
The filthiest-mouthed Ewok in the known universe (have you listened to her swearing during fights?), Treek is the only the second puppet I made that gets a nose. She had the challenge of having to deal with the hood and the shading of her fur. In fact, having seen how she was finally constructed by her recipient, I’ve concluded that the design here is flawed. In order for someone to move the ‘mouth’ around, the hood needs to be trimmed at the mouth so that the flap of the bag can move independently of the body, else it looks kind of funny if the entire hood flies up when someone is making the puppet talk.
Okay, this one was a challenge. How do you make a Hutt out of a paper bag that is more of a vertical shape? This was my solution, just give him a flat tail. Another improvement one could make to this puppet would be to cut a square hole in the blue eyepiece and glue some tinted plastic wrap , but this was an interesting first test design.
Of course, you don’t just have to do the humanoid characters. With a bit of ingenuity, you can do a droid such as T7. If the extra felt bits flop around too much, you can always reinforce them with toothpicks or popsicle sticks and go full-on elementary school art project on him. He’s also had a good third of the bottom of the puppet trimmed off to account for the fact that he’s not as tall as the humanoids around him (Treek threatened to bite me if I trimmed her to size.)
Of course, you don’t have to stick to the BioWare-created characters when designing SWTOR puppets. This is a rendition of my Jedi Sentinel, dressed in a robe with the blue primary/white secondary dye module and even dual-wielding her sabers. Any of these characters can have felt weapons made, or even work out something featuring toothpicks or bits of popsicle sticks for support. The notion of making a lightsaber blade out of felt sort of gets me thinking about all of the cool lightsaber crystals in-game and what one could do to recreate them in felt alone or felt and tinted plastic wrap.
There are other modifications you can do to these to make them more accessible. For example, it might be good to trim a bit off the bottom of the bags to make them shorter such as I did with T7, but in order for them to fit a child’s arm. It was a little bit of a reach for me with my adult’s arm, so resizing for a kid is no problem.
I guess I know what I’ll be doing during downtime at work…
Much love and thanks to Bonnie Burton for her original Admiral Sackbar, and retweeting the picture I sent her of Han and Chewie. Crafters rock!