Saturday, November 21, 2009

Turkey Adventures Part 2

 When I found myself needing to make another turkey a few years later I decided take my lessons from turkey number one, skip the latex and plaster mold and just start with a lump of great-stuff to carve. (as a disclaimer, the majority of the work for turkey #2 was done by a very talented props master named Maiko)
I figured that a more sold base would save a lot of great-stuff, so I used a milk gallon as the base and emptied a can of great-stuff around it. It was far too big.
My original reaction to this was "no big deal, we just have to do a little bit more carving." The problem with this logic is that the inside of the chunk of great stuff was a much softer more porous foam, so it carved decently, but it didn't take the bondo very well and it very much didn't take the sanding of the bondo well. It ended up being much more fragile then we would have liked and developed cracks over the course of the show. When we reused it the next season we almost completely redid the bondo shell and it still didn't hold up for a whole run very well. (Sorry, no pictures of turkey #2)

So for Turkey #3 I decided that I would go with carving, but start with a stronger foam, so I bought pink insulation foam, broke it into chunks, stacked it and attached it together with contact cement.

Big mistake at this step. If you are looking at the cans of contact cement in the hardware store there is one with a red label and one with a green label, if you read the labels it appears that the only difference between the two is that the green label is rated as flame retardant, both seem to be safe on foam. THIS IS NOT TRUE. Spend the extra couple of dollars for the green label, the red contact cement ate into the foam and caused me lots of problems.

After carving, using lots of pictures of every angle of a turkey, I started to coat him. I really liked the texture that the latex and cheesecloth skin gave turkey #1 before I had to abandon it, so I used it again here. The skin had the added benefit of covering the gaps left by my disintegrated foam. It turned out decently.

Lessons for when I do turkey #4-
Use the correct contact cement- I never really was able to cover up the seams created by the gaps in the foam.
Think about the shape of the turkey when gluing together the pieces of foam (for example, having wider pieces already set where the legs need to go would have saved me a lot of carving)
Not something I can change, but cooked turkey color is a lot easier to do than raw turkey (which is what this one had to be). I would much rather do a cooked turkey.


  1. Hello Jesse,
    Thanks for your great tips! Any ideas how I may produce or procure a large "fresh" turkey for our production of "A Xmas Carol" at Theatre Squared? Our young actor will deliver the turkey directly from the butcher's shop to Scrooge, so the turkey must not be trussed; indeed we envision the boy holding the turkey by its feet with its body dangling below. Ideally the body will still have a little natural spring left in it, although rigor mortis can have generally set in. I appreciate any advice or websites you may send my way and I will gladly list your online support in our production program if you can give some insights...Cheers! -Ginny Headrick

    1. Hi Ginny,
      The more realistic, flexible and raw you want your turkey to look, the more you need to construct him based on his own anatomy. Starting with a skeleton and then layering.
      For an example of this, take a look at my fake chicken carcass post ( That bird was a bit more rigid than what you'd like, smaller, and of course not as filled out with meat, but I believe the method could be adapted nicely.
      First, create a basic skeleton frame. Instead of gluing the bones directly together, you might try small rope or strips of fabric as tendons. You're essentially creating hinges, allowing movement, but only in specific directions. After that you need to build up the muscles/meat. I would probably wrap the bones with quilt batting, and maybe use chunks of styrofoam or upholstery foam to fill out large areas like the breast.
      From there you need to make a skin. I'd recommend starting with strips or muslin and elmer's glue. Slowly skin one bit at a time like paper mache (but with fabric, so more flexible and stronger). Finally I'd create a skin in the exact same way I did for the chicken, by painting on several layers of liquid latex.
      I hope this helps. If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask.