Thursday, 29 November 2012

How to Make Hand Shadow Puppets

Hand Shadow Puppets

Hand Shadow Puppet Camel
Source: Austin Hackney (author)
The art of making and performing hand shadow puppets probably dates back to ancient China (they are still sometimes called Chinese shadows) and has remained a popular entertainment for thousands of years.
One of the lovely things about hand shadow puppets is that you don't need anything other than a light source, a blank wall or screen and a pair of hands, to be able to make them!
Despite their simplicity, these puppet shows can be extremely beautiful and entertaining and the basic puppets can be learned and performed by anyone, including children.
hand shadow puppet is different from a shadow puppet.
The shadow puppet is made of leather, wood or cardboard, cut to represent a figure, that then creates a silhouette when placed against a translucent screen.
A hand shadow puppet, as the name implies, is a figure formed simply by the hands themselves and brought to life as a shadow thrown onto a wall or screen.
Before we go into the details and step-by-step instructions on how to create and perform these beautiful puppets, let's first take a look at one of the masters of the art at work as a point of inspiration. Watch the following short video to see just what can be done with this simple technique:

The Amazing Hand Shadow Puppets of Raymond Crowe

Making Shadow Puppets
The key to success when it comes to hand shadow puppets is a willingness to experiment, try things out and be very playful.
That said, while there are no complex technological requirements, you will get the best results if you choose the most appropriate light source. The best light source is a portable, adjustable one with a powerful bulb and a medium to narrow focused beam.
An ideal light solution is an anglepoise lamp set so that it casts a clear circle of light against the wall or screen.
The closer that your hands are to the light source, the larger but less precise your shadow will be. The further away from the light source your hands are, the more clarity you will give to the shadow but it will be much smaller.
There are many good books that describe a traditional set of hand positions for certain characters but you really don't need to study in that depth if you are just starting out. In fact, in many ways, it is better to learn by playful experimentation so that you get a clear grasp of the principles.
Here follow the results of some of my experiments with casting hand shadow puppets. As you can see from the photos, if you only look at the hands, you can barely tell what it is supposed to be - but as a shadow, the image springs to life!

How To Make Chinese Shadows
To make Chinese hand shadow puppets, you will need:

·         a directional light source
·         A light colored wall or screen
·         hands
·         a darkened room
·         a little imagination

Hand Shadow Bird
An easy hand shadow to start with.
 A great one for kids to play with, too.
Source: Austin Hackney (author)
How To Make A Bird Shadow

This is a great one to get started with as it is very easy to get a good result quickly and you can immediately start making it move.
The flying motion is made just by flexing the fingers up and down.
Opening the fingers out slightly gives the impression of a large soaring bird such as an eagle or vulture.
As always, the trick is to experiment and see what you can come up with for yourself.

Bulldog Shadow Puppet
The bulldog is a more complex 
shadow to create but very effective.
Source: Austin Hackney (author)
The bulldog is a very characterful hand shadow puppet. You can make him bark by moving the thumb that forms his lower jaw up and down. The other thumb can also be used to have him waggle an ear!

'Cartoon' Mouse Shadow Character
This funny little chap is great fun and as he is single-handed,
 you can do two at a time!
Source: Austin Hackney (author)
Mouse Puppet in Shadow
This is quite a contortion for the fingers!
The result is great fun and worth the effort. You simply bend all your fingers one at a time over each other, as you can see in the photo.
Then just experiment with the angle until this cheeky cartoon-style mouse appears. Bending the wrist and moving the thumb help to make him nod and chatter away.
Also, once you have the hang of it, you can do two at once and they can talk to each other.
Great fun.

Rabbit Hand Shadow Puppet
This is one of the classics and very popular with the kids,
 although it can be quite tricky to make.
Source: Austin Hackney (author)
This is a classic hand shadow puppet and always popular.
You can make this lil' fella hop, waggle and comb his ears and bend over to nibble at grass - with a little practice!
Take note, that the hands are actually positioned 'back to front' in order to create the proper shadow forms.

Scooby-Doo Hand Shadow
This a cool hand shadow that I came up with. 
I think it looks a bit like Scooby-Doo!
Source: Austin Hackney (author)
Not one of the classics this but one that I came up with myself. It is certainly a dog character and the kids and me thought it looked like Scooby-Doo.
This is one of the best things about the hand shadow puppets, that you can just mess about and have fun to see what you can come up with. It's another reason why children enjoy it so much. There are literally hours of creative, fun play to be had from it.

Human Face Shadow Puppet
This is one possibility for making a human face shadow puppet.
Source: Austin Hackney (author)
How To Make A Shadow Face
This is one way of making a human shadow puppet face. He's a bit goofy.
Again, there are many possibilities and it is always worth experimenting - really there are no hard and fast rules.
When making a human face, it is worth remembering that it will only really be possible in profile and that the key aspects of the figure to get in place are the nose, mouth and an eye.
It is only necessary to make a 'suggestion' of a face. The imagination of the beholder will fill in all the details.

                 Turtle Hand Shadow Puppet

This shadow turtle is easily made and plods slowly along. If someone else can make the rabbit figure from above, which we can just as easily nominate as a hare, then you already have the makings of a little show that you can get the kids to make with you - Aesop's fable of The Hare and The Turtle.
If there are other little hands that want to join in, then they can make grass, a tree for the hare to rest against or just a bird flying overhead.
The red line shows the point at which a classic circular screen would cut the shadow off, leaving the arm in darkness and only the form of the turtle itself visible.

Guard Dog Shadow Puppet
This angry guard dog shadow puppet should
 keep burglars off your property!
Source: Austin Hackney (author)
Dog Shadow Puppet Using Hands
This is how you can make a more scary figure. This rather dangerous looking guard dog is simple to make . You can make his ears fall back and bark and growl for added effect.
If you think there's someone prowling in the yard, try making his shadow on the drapes - you never know it might just scare your intruder off!

How To Use Hand Shadow Puppets
You can just mess about on the wall like this for fun.
Or you can take things further by creating lots of characters with your kids and making voices, adding some music and slowly building up a story.
Or, as some have done, you could seek out some professional performances and become inspired to study the history and the art form in more detail with the idea of building up your own professional show.
That could be something that packs into a small suitcase to perform at parties and small events or a more ambitious stage show.
The only real limit with hand shadow puppets is your own imagination!

Cirque du Soleil Shadow Puppets

The History of Hand Shadow Puppets
The truth is that nobody really knows precisely when or how hand shadow puppetry began.
The first known performances originated in China and India several thousands of years ago - it really is an ancient art form.
Hand Shadow Puppets May Date Back to Prehistory

Some have suggested that it was watching the play
 of shadows on the cave walls that first inspired our
 ancestors to experiment with hand shadow puppetry.
Some have speculated that the origins of shadow play may well go back deep into prehistory, when our earliest ancestors were huddled around the flickering flames of their hearth fires and noticed the shadows cast upon their cave walls.
It is not difficult to imagine how they might have begun to play with the shadows and thus also have told stories through the moving images that they discovered they could create.
In 18th century Europe there was a fashion for parlor shows among the well-to-do and the Ombres Chinois orChinese Shadows were very popular indeed, along with conjuring acts and 'mind-reading' performances.
And the shadows still play a large part today with performances taking place on TV and even on stage in Las Vegas.
Primitive and simple as it is, the hand shadow puppet show clearly not only entertains us but still enables us to open the doors of the imagination and experience a child-like wonderment and delight.

If you are interested in learning more about hand shadow puppets then I can highly recommend the book, The Art of Hand Shadows. It is easy to understand, has beautiful and clear illustrations and is packed full of great and inspirational ideas. Click the book cover to check it out now!

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