Guest blog post: Beauty in flight

Joff’s first puppet credit, attacking Margaret Thatcher with a chicken


I started thinking about how to create Beauty (as he/she is now known) in September when Mark first contacted me about the project and the research started with looking at images of birds and puppets, the main focus on finding a way to make the wings work simply and effectively.

In my research on Pinterest I came across this wonderful project at blisskalbautomata (do check out the video to see the wing in action) and I started at looking at ways to simplify it , given time and financial considerations not to mention the considerable technical and engineering expertise required.

Looking at wing structure I started playing around with simple cantilever mechanisms but after several versions with Meccanno decided that a fixed wing that could sit alongside the body, rotate forward into position and then flap would give the right effect whilst limiting the possibilities of things getting caught or going wrong.

In order to provide room for the cables that would be needed to operate the wings I started by making an open skeleton structure for the blackbird using wire and pin-hinges.

And then added a wing to the pin-hinge that could rotate, initially this was solid wood then reduced to a wooden mechanism that could rotate with a wire skeleton for the rest of the wing to reduce weight.

Knowing that I was going to use trigger mechanisms to operate the wings I added a wooden handle and backbone to the structure.

This also gave me a firm position to attach the head.

As the head needed to have a beak that could open and close I based it around a simple peg mechanism with dense foam carved and attached covered in my new favourite moulding material Worbla (this comes as a plastic sheet that when heated with a hot air gun goes soft, it can then be moulded and sets hard).

The head was attached with a wire that  allows it to pivot up and down and the other end of the wire fits snuggly into a hole in the wood and can rotate side to side.

The body was initially covered in blocking net (this is traditionally used for making hats, it is a mesh that when hot water or steam is used on it, goes soft, can be moulded then holds its’ shape).

Blocking net applied to the wing.

It was further dressed with fur fabric, feathers, black plastic, paint and buttoned for the eyes.

Legs were added made from wire covered with Worbla, and attached with a cable so that they lie backwards when in flight. Elastic was used to return the wings back to their original position and to support the head in its’ resting position.

Beauty in flight, the index finger trigger mechanism rotates the wings forward into position and lifts the legs, the thumb operates the flapping mechanism.

Joff Chafer


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