Sunday, October 26, 2008

He's an idiot

My newest vent figure is named "Arnie". I imagine him as an obnoxious jokester. You may notice that he thinks low-brow humor like crossing his eyes is hilarious. (Okay... I think so, too).

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A familiar ring

Every new animation presents a gaggle of new challenges. It's fun and frustrating devising solutions to the problems. Finally, the eyes cross without interfering with other mechanisms and without noise.

This first photo shows the screen door eyes I attached to the inside side of the eyeballs. Notice that I had to stagger them, one above the other, so that they wouldn't hit each other as they moved. Also notice the dark round pad I placed behind the nose so that the screen doors eyes wouldn't bang against the head when the eyes turn side-to-side. Cords are attached to the screen door eyes so that when the cords are tugged, the eyeballs turn inward and the eyes cross.

This photo shows the plastic spacer I placed on the mouth pulley axle. The spacer turns freely and acts as a pulley for the crossing eyes cord.

The biggest head-scratcher was the lever for the crossing eyes. Basically, I discovered a lever doesn't work. You see, when the eyes are moved left and right, the screen-door eyes move in opposite directions. So the cord attached to the screen door eyes needs slack. If it doesn't have slack, the taut cord would prevent the eyes from moving left and right. And if the crossing eyes cord was attached to a hard lever, the lever would prevent the cords from slacking. So instead of a lever, I resorted to my familiar toy Jerry Mahoney solution. That is, I attached a metal ring to the end of the crossing eyes control. That way, the cord will slacken because the ring hangs freely. The ring can be slipped on the middle finger with plenty of slack and tugged when I want the eyes to cross.

At least, this is my current solution. I tend to refine and alter my methods as I re-think them. New ideas usually come to me as I'm daydreaming during boring meetings.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008 click... aahhh %$$#@!

The frustration with adding a new animation is that unanticipated noises develop inside the head. You may recall that I'm adding crossed eyes to my repertoire. The small screen door eyes that I attached to the side of the eyeballs bang against the interior of the head behind the nose when the eyeballs move left and right. I've had to place a tiny pad between the eyeballs to quiet the noise. That's not easy to do when the eye mechanism has already been placed and secured.

Because I make little guys, working inside the head feels like I'm working on a Swiss watch.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The whites of their eyes

As has happened so many times before, reviewing Al Stevens' Fred Project changed my method. I used to place the irises of the eyes before adding the synchro bar. I would drill holes a measured distance apart in the synchro bar to make the pre-placed irises centered in the eye sockets (always a dicey task fraught with possible failure). Now I build the entire eye mechanism, mount it temporarily in the head, then add the irises last.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Fasten your seatbelt

I thought I'd share with you a drive across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco to Sausalito. Please keep your hands and arms inside the coach at all times.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


I'm on vacation this week. We had to head south for a little family business, so I decided to stop for a few days at my buddy's house. It's been fun watching marathon hours of football, dining out and staying up too late watching "guy films". Yesterday I spent the day touring San Francisco (my old stomping ground) and had a lovely lunch in Sausalito. We also went to the overlook above the Golden Gate Bridge for photo ops. (Posted pictures will follow once I get back home).

My wife flies in to join me today. We still have the rest of the week for our family visit in the Salinas-Monterey area. We'll try to mix in a little fun between family business errands. Then it's back home for more dummy-makin'.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Star crossed

Adding more animations to my conversion figures has been a goal of mine. I thought perhaps blinkers might be my next challenge, but I'm not quite ready for that. Even though I think I could make soft blinkers, I really don't like the looks of them. I prefer hardshell blinkers, but they're much more difficult to produce. They require more precision and planning than I'm ready for right now.

Crossing eyes seem more reachable, especially after fielding some ideas on how to do it. I requested information on an approach for crossing eyes using springs for eye posts, which is my preferred self-centering mechanism. Several great ideas were offered, but Mike Brose's technique (learned from Rick Price) seems elegantly simple and effective.

Mike suggested that I add a tiny "eye" (like a screen door eye) to the back and side of each eye ball. Attach a cord to each, suspend the cord over a brass and rod or plastic pulley apparatus and attach the cords to a lever on the control post. Since I use very flexible springs, the eyes will turn inward when the cord is tugged and spring back when released. The eyes don't have to move that much to make a convincing crossed-eyes effect.

Saturday, October 04, 2008


The audience laughed in all the right places. They seemed to like the naughty jokes best. It was, after all, an all-adult crowd. My off-color humor isn't too off-color. More like "PG"-rated.

As I mentioned in the previous post, Chester garners instant acceptance for his adorable-ness. As I walked on stage with him in my arms, you could hear the audience audibly sigh with "oohs" and "ahhs" as if to say "Look at that cute little dog!" And when they hear the naughty jokes come from him, it makes for a comical contrast.

I prefer to keep it a secret from the audience that they're about to see a ventriloquist. I prefer not to have it revealed in the printed program and I ask the MC to introduce me by name, but not by trade. Though there are more ventriloquists in the world than the average person might expect, we're still a rarity. Being able to take the audience by surprise is an advantage in my favor. (And I need all the advantages I can get!).

Applause is a sweet sound. My next show is at the Sprague Theatre in Bandon, Oregon on November 8th.

Friday, October 03, 2008


It's been a long time, but I'm actually performing tonight. Me and my little dog Chester (a small Wrinkles soft puppet) will perform tonight before a crowd of 200 visiting Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors from all across Oregon. The venue is the Hales Center for the Performing Arts, a very nice modern theater at the local community college.

You may wonder why I use a soft puppet for my act when I make hard figures. Well, I'm the plumber with leaky pipes. I sell all the figures I make and thus far haven't kept one long enough to come up with an act. Besides, I love working with Chester. He's cute and seems to garner instant acceptance from audiences.

My biggest worry is my memory. Because I don't perform very often (and much of tonight's routine is written for this specific audience), I'm always concerned I won't remember my lines. (Of course, Chester ALWAYS remembers his lines).

After Chester and I carry on awhile, we sing a short song. Then he's carted offstage by a lovely stagehand and I sing a few songs on my own (with guitar).

Let's hope the crowd is likkered up enough to have fun, but not wild enough to heckle me.