Every ventriloquist needs a good dummy - or, "figure," as they are called in the industry. Comedian Jeff Dunham has certainly popularised and revived the art form of ventriloquism. Mr. Dunham creates his own dummies, and you can, too! Making your own dummy allows you to personalise its function and appearance, and can be more cost-effective than ordering a custom-made figure from a manufacturer or artisan.
Decide how you want your dummy to look, including its gender and specific features. You can design your dummy any way you like, but if you create an averaged-sized, humanoid dummy, you'll have an easier time finding parts, clothing and mechanisms.
Generate several sketches of your dummy, indicating items that could be "swapped out," like hair pieces, clothing, and accessories.
Design how the mouth, eyes and limbs will move. The head mechanisms will be included in pre-made models.
Determine whether you will fabricate your own parts or purchase them from a supplier. If you are skilled with carving foam or wood, or would like to learn, you can make your own dummy body parts. Creating your own parts will give you the greatest design freedom. However, suppliers sell customisable ventriloquist dummy parts that you can assemble yourself.
Once you have all the parts, assemble your dummy. If using purchased parts, follow the manufacturer's assembly instructions.
When assembling your dummy, start with the head. If you're using a kit head, follow the included instructions to assemble the moving mechanisms. Make sure their movements are fluid and parts are easy to operate.
Attach the body rod inside the head and run it through the torso. The body rod holds the figure upright and controls the head. The control for the rod will poke through the back of the torso and the dummy's clothing. Close up the torso with Velcro or another fastener that will allow you to access it easily for repairs or maintenance.
Attach the limbs to the torso. You can sew the limbs right to the torso if they're made of cloth. Fill the limbs with sand or plastic beans (available at craft stores) to add weight, so they will move realistically.
Attach stiff wires to the puppet's hands if you'd like to be able to move them as part of the performance.
Add clothing, accessories, paint, and hair to your dummy to make it your own.
Paint your dummy's skin to the desired tone, and paint the eyes. Add details such as freckles, scars, moles or make-up.
For hair, attach a doll's wig to the dummy's head with glue, or even Velcro if you want the hair to be interchangeable. You can also use alternative items for hair, like straw, or even Slinkys.
Dress your dummy with doll clothes, or sew your own. You can even use household items as part of your act. For instance, wrap the figure in strips of muslin to make him a mummy dummy, or adorn him in fake plants for an "Adam and Eve" look.
Accessorise your dummy. Doll suppliers sell shoes, eyewear and facial hair, or you can use your own items, like jewellery, buttons, or pins.
Test out the mechanisms and swap out some pieces to make sure all the elements work well together.
The look and design of your dummy will greatly influence the nature of your act. Make sure to choose a dummy that suits the kind of performance you want to give.
Things you need
- Ventriloquist dummy parts (purchased or self-fabricated)
- Mechanism for controlling head (system of rods and cords)
- Cloth or doll clothing
- Sand or plastic beads
- Paint brushes - including fine detail brushes
- Doll wig or other "hair"
- Doll accessories