Creating the Master Hand puppet was a joint project between Adam Serdar and Jim “Master Hand” Newsome. Jim said it couldn’t be done and wanted to just used a Mickey Mouse glove. But Adam had a dream. Jim said Adam was mad. But then Adam went off and built the darn thing, and here we are. Here’s how it was done – from Adam’s initial conception and construction, to Jim’s finishing touches.
Creation of Master Hand
– Adam Serdar, Master Hand Master
Jim and I spent a good bit of time looking around the internet, trying to find other similar giant hands. We ended up liking http://laughingsquid.com/giant-wearable-mechanical-hand/ and building our hand in a similar fashion. Other inspiration included: http://youtu.be/gHF3NRIQrFY and http://youtu.be/G9NKis0PU1c
After wandering around in several hardware stores, I found an appropriately sized piece of aluminum, a center punch, some erector set pieces and a bunch of nuts and bolts. I bent the aluminum piece into a palm shape, using a vice and a pair of metalworking pliers, then bent the knuckle piece.
Using a the center punch, I drilled holes to the frame to attach the fingers, and the knuckle piece, then added springs on the knuckles and each finger joint. I then used zip ties to guide the controlling string from the tip of the finger to the palm where Jim’s hand would be.
Once we figured out that this was a feasible plan, I got a bunch more erector set pieces, springs, nuts, and bolts. Each finger hand 3 springs, except the thumb which only had 2. I then handed it of to Jim for adding foam and the cloth glove.
– Jim Newsome, Master Hand
One challenge of trying to manipulate the fingers is that when actually wearing the hand, you have to pull the string straight back. Unless the finger is already slightly bent, it tends to jam and not go anywhere.
Contrary to what you may have heard, the solution to any engineering problem isn’t duct tape. It’s zip ties. I used zip ties to limit the motion of each joint so that it’d always be slightly bent downwards, allowing it to flex easily when the string is pulled straight back.
I spent a while experimenting with the best way to actually attach my fingers to the strings. Up until nearly performance time I was using zip tie loops tied to each string. For the fingers to work well though, the loop has to be in a pretty precise location to give the full range of motion. The knots holding the zip tie loops in place tended to slide around a bit and have to be retied. I went off and researched knots looking for a better way to secure the zip tie loops.
I ultimately went with a poacher’s knot. It turns out that with that, I didn’t need the zip ties at all, and could just put my fingers directly into the “snare”. It tightens down securely and stays tight until picked open, and can be repeatedly tightened and loosened without moving the knot along the string. I also had fewer problems with these cutting off the circulation in my fingers than I did with the zip ties, which had to be adjusted precisely and aren’t easily loosened.
Padding it Out
Before I could make the glove, I needed to add some bulk to the hand. It had to be something reasonably sturdy, but very light weight so that it wouldn’t weight down the fingers. I ended up going with scrap foam, which I carved up with a Zona Saw, and attached to Hand with – you guessed it – zip ties. Each finger segment is a two-piece “meat block”, held to each-other and the hand with zip ties going around, and toothpicks going through the frame. There is a channel carved along the underside so that the string can move freely back and forth.
Thankfully Bonnie also had some soft foam, which we used as the top layer of the hand itself, and to add padding to the support cross-bar.
Like a Glove
The glove was pretty tricky to get together. It’s huge, has to fit over this weirdly shaped thing, can’t restrict movement, and has to allow getting to the internals pretty easily, ideally while actually wearing it so that we can get the finger loops on and off with a second hand.
Hand is not really quite hand shaped, so we couldn’t just use a normal glove pattern scaled up.
I ended up going with a modular design. The main hand portion is one piece that wraps around the top and bottom of the palm. There’s a slit that allows it to slide on past the thumb. That slit is also what provides access to reach in and get the finger loops on and off. There’s velcro attached that allows us to securely close this slit, and also for straps that go between the fingers.
The fingers themselves are basically socks that slip on and off each finger independently, and are held onto the main hand with velcro. I wasn’t sure at first whether that velcro was really necessary, but after flinging the thumb into the audience of our final dress rehearsal, determined that it was. Oops.
– Adam Serdar
Part the future!
We may add flexible foam as filler, and we may 3d print some parts.