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Picture of Creating a Broadway-themed ZAZU Puppet

Overview

The Lion King Jr. and Zazu were my gateway into theatre and entertainment projects creating puppets, props, costumes, and traditional and digital sets. I actually took on way more than I should have by creating most of the characters in the production. I have over 33 years in multimedia and design and always wanted to get into this profession since I was young seeing the creepy animatronic figures at the "Hall of Presidents" at Walt Disney World. I am slowly building my skills over the years and hopefully this Instructable will help you attain your goals and/or passion for fabricating as well.

Not knowing where to start learning how to fabricate a puppet, I found many Instructables (a special shout out to RickGyver) that helped using cardboard as the structure and more. Having said that, I wouldn't recommend using cardboard for puppet designs. But Zazu seems to be holding up 2 plus years later. A fabrication of this nature can be time consuming (especially with the feathers!), but it is very rewarding in the end seeing the children's faces perform with them and seeing your work come to life in front of an audience. I took several photos during this build, but many intermediate photos are missing because I didn't realize I would be writing a tutorial one day. I will do my best to illustrate what was done in the fabrication process. I also didn't make Zazu have a mouth mechanism to simulate talking. I didn't have enough time to build (not hard to build), but I did regret not making it. Here's a great place to learn. I will also give you some hints, warnings, and lesson learned that might help you along the way.

Now, with that all aside, let's build a puppet!

Step 1: Materials and Tools

Materials Used: (The links are for visual identification purposes only. You can purchase anywhere: online, in art stores, or hardware stores.) Don’t let this materials list stop you from your build if you feel it is too much! You do not have to use all of these materials to fabricate a fun, functional, and nice looking puppet.

A lot of corregated cardboard! (Do not use cardboard from an appliance, like a refrigerator. It is very hard on your hands and fingers over time.) Call up or email your local appliance store(s) and see if they have a bin that you can rummage through to get a lot of different kinds of cardboard free. They’re used to these calls from theatres.

Hot glue sticks (order online, much cheaper)

Sandpaper (60, 80, 120 grit, etc.) – Block sander or single sheets

Bondo® (or any other type automotive body filler)

Bondo® glazing and spot putty (for filler pinholes)

Sandable primer

Acrylic paint (red, orange, white, blue, black, and brown)

Mod Podge® Clear Acrylic Sealer, Gloss (or any other brand gloss sealer for acrylic)

Large Wood dowel (body handle)

Wood dowel or metal (mouth mechanism handle)

Thin, white fabric (feathers)

Children’s plastic Slinky® (neck)

Snap blade replacements

Tracing paper

Polystyrene foam balls

Flexible Tubing or similar piping (legs)

1/4” white Craft Foam

Plumbers epoxy (not always in the plumbers aisle, go figure)

Hemp twine (or something similar)

Various nuts, bolts, washers and lock washers

Elastic band (jaw/head connection)

Tools:

Hot glue gun

Plastic spreaders (e.g., Bondo® brand or putty knife)

Tape measure (soft tape or lock tape)

Utility knife or snap blade (preferred)

X-ACTO® knife (optional)

Art paint brushes (small tip to large)

Cut-in brush (for large areas; can be substituted for a chip brush)

Cutting mat (optional; the larger the better though)

Black markers (fine tip to medium)

CraftAndu7 months ago
Looks fantastic!
ShckByte (author)  CraftAndu7 months ago
Thank you!
Having studied and worked in theatre for about a decade, I have to say that I'm seriously annoyed with myself for never thinking to look on here for help! I love this site, but for some reason I never thought to use it when making props and sets...
Regardless, this is a fantastic build, huge fan of the show (seen it 5 times in London, seeing it again in Edinburgh later this year) and this has to be one of the best puppets based on the show I've seen outside of the show it's self! Love it, would love to see your take on the Cheeta and Hyena costumes/puppets!
Keep up the amazing work!
ShckByte (author)  thehorridtruth7 months ago
Wow, thank you for the kind words! Yes, this site is amazing and I am always learning something from others. That's awesome you've seen TLK that many times too! Very envious. I would love to work more on this play to improve my style and abilities. Thanks again!
He looks great! Thanks for sharing your process :)
ShckByte (author)  Penolopy Bulnick8 months ago
Thank you, I appreciate it!
randofo8 months ago
Cool Puppet! We're glad Instructables helped inspire you to make this and you are sharing back with the community. :)
ShckByte (author)  randofo8 months ago
Thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed him. I've been wanting to write one for several years, but never had the time. I've been slowly giving back to my community through volunteering and this is one place I will do so as well.
ShckByte (author)  randofo8 months ago
Thank you!
LeslieGeee8 months ago
Thank you for sharing a great Instructable! I was thinking that pink craft panels from HD or Lowes could work too on some of the body parts. It is light and takes coverings and paint well. I do wish you had more pictures of the construction. I am a sight hound so the pictures of that aspect of the build would have enhanced the text. I am also thinking instead of hardware, plastic disks from milk cartons and maybe plastic nuts and bolts might work :)
ShckByte (author)  LeslieGeee8 months ago
Hi Leslie, thank you for viewing my Instructable. I agree, you could definitely use different types of material with the head, body and legs! When you say pink craft panels, do you mean housing insulation foam? If so, then yes, I have used this process many times too and it is fairly light. I just built an entire "costume" Jeep for an organization out of it and love it;) My only problem with it is you have to apply a foam coat to it so that it doesn't ding or accidentally get crushed, but that is if it is externally visible. You can get it at http://www.hotwirefoamfactory.com. Your suggestions for milk cartons and plastic nuts and bolts are great! Thank you for sharing! I understand about not having enough "in-construction" images and wanting to see every detail, but I hoped adding the illustration images helped. Please let me know if you have any questions on the build. In my next Instructable, I will ensure I take better progress photos and documentation!