As I already wrote in an earlier tutorial, making shadow puppets of family members can be a fun cross-generational activity, keeping children busy during family gatherings with a simple desk-top shadow theater. In this tutorial I will show you how you can help children make puppets of themselves using profile photos with free online tools. Presented in a colorful folder, the puppets may also be great gift.
- Black poster board
- Small sharp scissors
- Scotch tape or double sided tape
- Black painters tape (optional)
- Small black metal brads for scrapbooking (smallest possible)
- Barbecue skewers
- Black velcro dots or 3/4 sticky-back velcro
- Tablet or phone with free app YouDoodle or access to a photocopier that reduces size by percentage
- Stylus for tracing photos in YouDoodle or Google Drawings (optional)
- Computer with access to Google (gmail address required)
- Printer and paper to print out a templates from the Printable Library
Designing the puppets in Google Drawings
Making a silhouette profile
In How to make shadow puppets of family members you can find istructions and a visual guide how to make silhouettes from profile photographs using YouDoodle and a photocopy machine. You can also use Google Drawings to trace a portrait photo using the “scribble” option when selecting a line.
An easier way to create a profile is to remove the background of a photo with a new free app like Background Remover (which works with all resolutions) or Remove Image Background (lower resolutions). In this Instructional video about creating a historical figure you can see how to do this and adjust the size in Google Drawings.
You can give your digital silhouettes and online puppet templates the right size using Google Drawings (part of Google Docs) https://docs.google.com/drawings/ (you will need to have a Gmail address). The templates of the grownup puppets in the Printable Library, which are about 10 inch (25 cm) tall and are designed for desk-top shadow puppetry, can be printed on letter-size paper (In the USA that is 8.5 inch wide and 11 inch high).
Printables for the puppets above can be found in the section Puppet templates to use with profile silhouettes. The sizes of the puppets can be adjusted in length and width in Google Drawings. The 4 year-old girl in the image above was less than half the size of her mother, so I created a 5 inch tall puppet. You can view a general guideline about the proper size puppet for average sizes in this visual.
Adjusting sizes in Google Drawings
For a video tutorial of the below steps view this instructional video about creating a historical figure
Sign into Google and open Google Drawings. An untitled page appears (the checkered pattern means the background is transparent). You can adjust the size of the document to letter-size in “File” in the top menu. Choose “Page setup” in the drop-down menu, then “custom.” (Use the size of the paper of your printer). In the examples below I used the American letter size (8.5″ wide.)
- In “View” in the top menu choose “Show ruler.”
- Open in a separate tab ”Puppet Templates to Use with Profile Silhouettes” and download the template of the boy or the girl (PDF). Copy the PDF image and paste it in the Google Drawing document. Usually you can do this with a “right click” of your mouse. If this does not work, use the “Insert” option in the top menu bar. The PDF will appear as an image that can be dragged to the right size.
- Determine the size of the puppet child by using the ruler in the image in the above section “Puppet Sizes.” Insert a horizontal guides by choosing “View” in the top menu bar and “Add vertical guide” in the drop-down menu. Place it at the top of the Google drawing.
- Insert a second horizontal guide and use the vertical ruler on the left side of the screen to create the right height of the puppet. (In this example the two guides are 5″ inch apart).
- Adjust the size of the puppet template by placing your cursor on a corner of the image and pushing it inward. Drag the image between the horizontal guides to make the head touch the top and the foot touch the lower guide. You can make the child skinnier or bigger by dragging the right side inward or outward (place the cursor in the little middle square).
Adding the profile silhouette
- (6) To match the profile silhouette add a third horizontal guide and drag it underneath the template head’s chin.
- (7) Insert your silhouette by copying and pasting it like you did with the puppet template.
- (8) Move the silhouette between the two top horizontal guides and get the profile to the right size by pushing a corner of the image inward, so that the top of the head touches the top guide and the chin the bottom.
- (9) In “File” in the top menu save the document as PDF and print it.
Making the puppets
- Cut out the body parts with a wide margin and stick them to the black poster board with either a small piece of double sided tape or a double folded piece of scotch tape.
- Cut out all body parts with small sharp scissors. Use the pointed part of the scissors to cut out the eye and to make holes in all indicated places where the pieces will be joined.
- Compare the silhouette head with the faceless template head and punch the little hole where the head connects to the body.
- Separate the paper from the black poster board parts.
- Connect the body’s legs to the torso with a small black brad. Do the same with the upper and lower arms.
- Connect the arms, face, and body with one metal brad in the (arm #1–body–head–arm #2).
- Turn the head forward and backwards to see if any part below the neck will rise above the shoulders. If so, cut that away with your scissors.
- For instructions about holding and moving rods go to Holding and moving the puppets.
Babies, animals, toys, and props
You can use the same technique in Google Drawing to create silhouettes of babies, animals, or props that match in size with the puppets that you created. (See an example for an image search for the term “silhouette dog” — I’m using the nature-friendly search engine “Ecosia“). For images this small you will not need any moving body parts. If you don’t find what you are looking for, you can always make a silhouette yourself using a photocopier or YouDoodle.
Keeping puppets on card stock in a folder
The simplest way to keep puppets safe or present them as a gift is to attach them with velcro on card stock pages, and keeping them together in a presentation folder from your local office supply store. Rods may be stored this way too, by attaching their soft velcro tops to a strip of prickly velcro on a sheet of card stock.