Puppet Master

by littleBits

Published on April 23, 2014

Learn how to bring this puppet to life! Build a stage with pulleys, fold a beautiful paper puppet, and learn to create a mechanical cam using the dc motor. 

The Puppet Master is a model of an installation featured in our MoMA Store window displays.

How To Make It


Take a power module and connect the battery cable and 9V battery to it. Be sure that the teeny on/off switch on the power module is switched to "on". build the circuit as the follow: power + wire + slide dimmer + dc motor. Note that instead of the slide dimmer you can really use ANY input you like. In our case we got picky and went for a dimmer and added a button to make it more tactile.


Now, fold your puppet! Download the folding paper template below, "PuppetMaster_PaperTemplate.pdf"


Let's gather materials to make cam. A cam is a device that converts rotary motion into linear motion. Basically, it uses the spinning motion from the dc motor to make your puppet go up and down. You are going to make a triangle out of wood, cardboard, or plastic with a hole cut out that fits the d-shaft of the motor. Then this triangle will attach to an oval shape. Take a look at the template at the bottom of the page, "PuppetMaster_CamTemplate.pdf" for detailed instructions. 


Time to make a d-shaft attachment. Look closely at your dc motor. Did you notice that the spinning part looks like a cylinder with a flat side? This shape is called a "d-shaft" because it looks like the letter "D". Cut a triangle out of a rigid material (we used plastic) with a hole that fits the d-shaft perfectly. Refer to the Cam Template attached below for the exact size.


Now let's assemble the cam and pulley. Cut an oval shape out of a rigid material like cardboard or wood. Glue your triangular d-shaft attachment to one end. On the same side, but opposite end of the oval, cut a small hole. This hole is where we will attach the pulley. Your pulley can be a stick, a dowel, anything cylindrical that will allow a string to slide across it. We used a dowel, chipboard rings (to hold the string in place), a plastic bearing, and screw. 

Want your puppet to move more? The distance between the dc motor shaft and your pulley determines the height your puppet will pop up and down. So if you want more movement, make your oval longer!


Now it's time to attach the pulley on your cam to your paper puppet. Use string to tie a loop around your pulley. Make sure the loop isn't too tight! It needs room to rotate around the pulley. Then attach the other side of the string to the head of your puppet. The length of the string is up to you! The shorter the string, the higher your puppet will go. 


Let's build a stage for your puppet to dance! We used wood, but you can use whatever you have at home. Just make sure the height of your background is at least 4 inches taller than your puppet. You will need room above the puppet to put two more pulleys. 


Make two more pulleys. They will be just like the one you made for the oval shaped cam. They just need to be round and smooth so that the string can slide across it. We put circles on the end to stop the string from sliding all the way off. Glue pulley #1 directly above where you want the puppet to dance. Glue the other one between pulley #1 and your cam. 


Almost done! Now you have to make a box to put your dc motor and cam on top of. It has to be tall enough so that the cam can spin all the way around without touching the floor.


Once you have everything set up, place the string that connects your puppet and cam into the pulleys on your backdrop. Adjust the length as you see fit.


Now it's finally time to watch your puppet dance! Press the button and watch your puppet come to life. Use the dimmer to control the speed that he goes up and down. Have fun, Puppet Master!

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