Monday, January 14, 2008

Püterschein Time! state of the art

OK, so now, after careful consideration and encouragement from my mentor, Deborah Ascheim 1 the robo-puppet has gone from 5.5 meters to 45cm, quite a change in every respect. But I am liking it more and more.

Now I am in the process of re-designing the body and I can take advantage of the superb Püterschein 2 system described by W.A. Dwiggins 3 in his 1939 handbook "Marionette in Motion." published and authored by Dwiggins under the pseudonym "Hermann Püterschein"

The basic and extraordinarily simple idea is that when designing the mechanics of a marionette, you consider gravity as the only force operating on it, and that "...your function with the string is simply to control the motion that results from the pull of gravity.

Based on one of Dwiggins models as a starting point I proceeded to modify the proportions, center of gravity etc. to fit the Creator's body.

This sequence shows the progression from the original proportions of a female marionette body based on the Püterschein system and the modifications it went through to achieve the desired proportions. Figures 1-3 show the position of lead weights in the shin and the pelvis (grey markers). In figure #4 you can see (red dots) the alignment of the different parts of the body. Once the parts are constructed but before they are completely finished each one needs to be counterbalanced so that with minimum effort and resources (servos, number of strings) the marionette can achieve a maximum of expressivity.

This of course is a gross simplification but it is the starting template from which the basic blocks will be cut and shaped. After that a careful balance needs to be achieved between all the parts so that it actually let's gravity do most of the work.

This is Lilith, one of the many characters built and rejected by W.A. Dwiggins, although it is...perfect.

From: "a complete experimental Theatre in Miniature; the Dwiggins Marionettes" by Dorothy Abbe.4
the most beautiful and comprehensive book on the master's work:

1- Deborah Ascheim is an interactive installation and interdisciplinary artist that works with light, based on a long standing interest in networks: neural, electronic and social. She has an upcoming exhibition at beautiful Laumeier Park, check it out.

2- The Püterschein system in which Dwiggins describes in detail his own system for construction marionettes is a very hard book to find, since it is out of print or very expensive. I have the fortune of having a beautiful facsimile of the original produced by Dorothy Abbe and it has proved to be an invaluable resource for my project.

3- I find that Dwiggins work, considering the scope, quality and influence on the design world, is grossly underrepresented, on the web. The link I offered above which is one of the more complete (at least it mentions that he was a puppeteer in addition to an influential book and typography designer) attests to that.

4- You cannot underestimate the importance of Dorothy Abbe. If it was not for her and the extraordinary effort of many years that went into producing one of the most beautiful puppetry books ever, the world would remain in ignorance about the work of a Master. As a
typographical designer and former partner of "Bill" at the private Püterschein Hingham Press, she was privy to one of the great kept secrets in the history of puppetry. The marionette collection, the private theatre, tools, diagrams and plays designed and created by this exquisite crafstman .

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