Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Bill Thomas and his wife, Kiera, who made this behemoth of a rig together. Mad props to them and their efforts.
We’ve always made fun monsters, props and costumes over the last couple of years Matt Pennington, the boss of PD, has provided us with a bit of a platform and a budget to experiment and try new things out. We built a War Rhino last year which was well received, so we kicked around various ideas of what we could do next. We wanted to make something big again, and something that the players could actually get up close to and fight, and a dragon had always been on our list of things to have a go at. Here’s how we did it and what we learned…
I started by looking at lots of videos on you tube of moving puppets and found several rigs that worked in similar ways. I built a miniature version of the rig first out of wood and string, just to see if we had the theory right. It worked surprisingly well – take a look at the video:
Initially we wanted to make an aluminium frame for it, but it was too expensive. So, we scaled it all up and built it in timber. We had to add extra struts to it to make it stronger, because everything was bigger and heavier, and the stresses and friction were much greater. In particular on the miniature, the left to right movement of the head just rotated on a bolt, but once we had the full sized head on the end of the arm, there was no way it was going to spin. We fitted four steel bearings to the joint to make it move freely. That was probably the single biggest cost at around $150, but it made all the difference.
Although the movement is all just controlled by strings, we used heavy duty paracord, just to be sure it wouldn’t snap. The string lifting the head up and down had a massive amount of weight on it. If we did it again I’d use steel cable and add pulleys.
We used plumbing piping to create the rough skeleton for the neck, which was then covered in a foam skin, leaving lots of room inside for the strings and for a tube to carry smoke up to the mouth. We used a plastic tube but next time I’d use metal, as the heat from the smoke machine the tube pretty badly. The head was built using plasatzote foam, and then everything was painted with several layers of coloured latex.
In the video of the full sized rig, you can see Kiera operating it on her own. By the time the skin and the head were applied, the whole thing had become much heavier, so it needed two of us to work it. We attached buckets of sand to the operating end to act as a counterweight for the head which really helped.
We put wheels on the base and built a simple wooden track, like a camera track, so the rig could roll back and forth, which meant our dragon could lunge forward to attack, which surprised the players the first time they saw it.
We built in over two weeks, in the evenings after work and at the weekend, and cost roughly $1200 to make. They dragon itself doesn’t look amazing, but we’re really pleased with how well the rig worked and will definitely build another one sometime. It’s a pretty simple rig which gives some great movement. If i were to do it again, I’d either make it smaller so the weight is less of an issue, or spend more money on lighter weight materials. Give it a go, it’s surprisingly easy.