Create a Grogu Mechanical Puppet with Internal Arm Rods

Learning from Jim Kroupa at The O’Neill Puppetry Conference

Information on how to make robust and reliable “mechs” or mechanical puppets is not readily available.  So when I was accepted to the 2023 O’Neill Puppetry Conference, I was thrilled.  I specifically wanted to learn from Jim Kroupa, an industry leader with decades of experience.

I was not disappointed.  Lining the edge of the shop at the O’Neill were tables of Jim’s sample mechs.  Each had their own unique design and function.  We were allowed to pick up and examine these samples, and then we made our own mechanical rats with this year’s unique design.  Jim told us that we were making a sample and would need to recreate the same mech if we wanted to cover the rat to make a completed puppet.  This sample rat puppet would inform future designs that would require similar functions.

Using my new skills

The Grogu puppet design uses the push-pull lever design of the 2023 puppetry conference rat.  For the rat, that push-pull lever makes the rat rear up on its hind legs.  That same pivot is reimagined to function more like the Rizzo-the-rat style sample I saw on the table.  That push-pull lever tips the head up and down.

Grogu Puppet Inspiration

Enter Grogu….I spotted this Grogu doll at a thrift store (charity shop) for $10.  I initially passed it by.  One week later, it dawned on me that the finishing step of making a mechanical puppet would be bypassed for students wishing to learn this skill if the puppet were made from an existing product!  It would be faster and easier.  The doll was still there two weeks later, so I bought it and drew up plans for the mechanics.  Since Grogu doesn’t really speak, the mouth mech could be bypassed to simplify the design.  The head should move, and the hand needs to move up in order for Grogu to “use the force” which allows for drama or humor in the script.  A table sample at the O’Neill conference inspired the head movement design.  The hand movement was another matter.  The arm design was inspired by a conversation I had with Peter Linz about Tutter the mouse from Bear in the Big Blue House.  Peter puppeteered this character and mentioned “internal arm rods”.  He verbally described them as running down the arms and out the bottom of the torso.  I always wanted to try this idea.

Remaking the rat mech as Jim suggested was a useful exercise.  I combined what I learned at the O’Neill with my experience in designing and 3D printing puppet parts to reimagine the head shape and design a moving mouth based on other samples I saw at the conference.  It took some trial and error along with over $200 in supplies, but this is a skill I’ve been desiring to grow for many years.  I considered it an investment in my puppet building skill set.  As I kept my eyes peeled for what my fellow classmates would do with their new found knowledge, I didn’t see any Instagram posts of the second mech Jim suggested we make.  The expense of rebuying the supplies and the extra time it takes to cover the rat may have been roadblocks.

Watching video footage of Tutter shows him with arms bent at the elbow and resting on his belly.  A few times you see him expand his arms open.  They don’t really move up and down like Grogu would need.  The design would have to be altered for Grogu.

A small hinge I saw at the O’Neill inspired the design I ultimately landed on.  I could use the hinge in Grogu’s shoulder to pivot the arms up if I designed a stiff foam torso that allowed the arms to rise as the rod end was lowered.

All these ideas were sketched on paper and prototypes were made and tested.  I mapped out the final design in Adobe Illustrator, so I could share it with you along with a materials list.  I made a YouTube video on my channel, Live Action Puppets.  You can watch the video and assemble your own Grogu!

Even if you don’t want a Grogu puppet, the skills you will learn will help you understand mechs better, show you what hardware to use, and expand your skills as a puppet builder.

If you want to learn how to make a moving mouth mech, let me know.  I think that would be the next logical step to making a small mechanical puppet that talks.  In the meantime, acquiring the hardware and learning some of the design principles here will help you design something more complex later.

You can learn too!

To get the schematics and materials list for this build, use the form on bottom of this post to join my email newsletter list and get the schematics as a perk.  The Grogu doll you need is still available online.  Look in the schematics for the link to Amazon.  Here is a link to the YouTube video instructions for assembly

If you make this Grogu puppet, I’d LOVE to see your finished build or any process photos!

Free Grogu puppet plans

Subscribe to get free Grogu Mech Puppet Schematics.

See the YouTube video (Live Action Puppets channel) for directions on how to use schematics to make your own Grogu mech puppet.

    We won’t send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *