Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Dummies are often made to look like small boys and feature a limp body with a fully articulated head.
Making ventriloquist dummies is a complex art, requiring a good deal of skill. The internal structure of the dummy's head is made up of a network of wires and pulleys. These are manipulated by the ventriloquist to bring the dummy to life, moving his eyes, eyebrows, jaw, and sometimes even ears or tongue. If you already are familiar with the construction of plastic, resin, or papier-mâché dummies, however, making a wooden dummy isn't all that difficult.
Draw patterns for the dummy's head. You will need both profile and full-face patterns for best results. Draw large rectangles over the profile pattern to determine the size and position of the wood blocks from which you'll carve the head. The head will need to be made of four main blocks---the face, the forward-middle head, the rear-middle head, and the back of the head---as well as a small block for the nose.
Cut wood blocks to the sizes you have determined and glue them together in the positions marked on your pattern. Rather than gluing the wood pieces directly to each other, put a piece of paper between the wood at each connection: This will allow you to take the head apart later. Only the nose should be glued normally, at this point, since you won't have to remove it later. Trace the patterns onto the rough block-head with carbon paper placed under your drawing.
Carve the rough shape of the head with the gouges, removing large chunks of wood until the dummy's head is nearly down to the size desired. Use the bench knife to add detail and finish the carving process. Smooth the head with sandpaper until it looks exactly as you want it.
Break the pieces of the head apart with a chisel and use the gouges to hollow out the inside for the dummy's mechanism. Do this very carefully; you want to make the cavity as large as possible without accidentally puncturing the wall of the head. The head should be approximately half an inch thick at all points.
Cut the dummy's jaw out with the scroll saw so that it can freely articulate. Cut holes for the eyes. You may need to cut other apertures as well, depending on what you want the dummy to be able to do. Install the internal mechanism of the head and connect everything so that the dummy's face is fully functional. Glue the head together, paint it if desired, and give it a coat of varnish.
Finish the dummy. Carve a torso from a large block of wood to hide your hand while operating it and to give the body some definition. Since this will be covered by the dummy's clothes, it needn't be nearly as detailed as the head. Simply give it a chest cavity and shoulders. Sew clothes, add a wig, and make stuffed cloth hands and arms for the dummy.
(Observing the above finished "dummy" it seems it is self manipulated because letterman's hand is not completely hidden.) Story Reports