Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Pinocchio's Nose Part 2

Pinocchio opened weeks ago, so this post is very long coming. Right after opening the show I was incredibly stressed and I needed some space and time away from the experience before coming back to reflect on it.
Let me say first that the multiple noses I made didn't work. I spent many hours and lots of money and ended up not using any of it, and it was incredibly frustrating.
I am still convinced though that I was on the right track, so I will start by telling you what I did and the lessons I learned along the way, in case you ever are in a position to make your own nose.
After creating my posterboard prototype I set about looking for something stronger to make the final product out of. The best option I found was a telescoping light saber toy. As I sliced the toys, I learned several important lessons.
-A ton of the original light saber had to be forfeited to waste. You'll notice in the picture of the toy, there is a lot of overlap between pieces. Since my pieces were only an inch long, I couldn't afford to have that space.
-Because I had to work with the cuts that already existed between pieces it was pretty much impossible for the nose segments to be uniform.
-Every step had to be done in order, no short cuts. First, sand all the pieces so that the plastic takes paint, then paint the pieces, then sand them again so that the finish is smooth. Then cut each piece to length starting at the tip. I also melted the wider end of each piece and curved it inward so that each piece would catch the one before it as the nose collapsed.
The difference between fitting smoothly and not fitting was so tiny that even a thin layer of paint could throw things off and force you to redo everything.

This is how the plastic noses turned out when they were installed on the mask.
As with all of the noses I made, it looked pretty impressive when it was extended. The problem was that, with this script, the nose was only extended for two very brief moments during the show. Collapsed, the nose was far too big for the artistic director. He wanted it smaller, thinner and less distracting from the actor's face. 
After working though all the steps on several different plastic light saber noses I decided to go with another material. I went back to the original posterboard idea. This time I fully covered each piece of posterboard with masking tape, making it more durable and conveniently taking the whole thing closer to the right color. 
I wasn't able to make the closed nose much lower profile, but the thin material allowed me to make the extended nose much longer, and making it myself allowed me to make it much more uniform. The biggest problem with the posterboard was that, if it got a fold or wrinkle, the pieces would stop catching and you could pull the nose apart. If I were to do it again I might try something a little less inclined to bend, maybe paper mache. 

After making all of these noses the director and AD were still not happy. The large mask that concealed the tube across the cheek still took up too much of the actor's face. I mocked up some prototypes of smaller masks that would be hand operated instead of using the cable system, and even a totally different concept based on extension pieces that the actor would attach to the tip of his nose using magnets. None of these ideas worked. 

If I were to do it again I would probably try the cable system again, but instead of through the cheek I would design the mask to run the cable along the bridge of the actor's nose, across his forehead, over his head and down to the small of his back where it would be operated. The mask would likely have to have some sort of piece that extended across his cheeks, but it could be much smaller and low profile. 

I think my biggest mistake though this project was taking my policy of "saying Okay" too far. I don't want to be the props master who always says "no we can't," but in this situation there should have come a point where I insisted that we work with the current nose to trouble shoot. Instead I kept reinventing the mechanism in an attempt to fulfill every request I was given, and as a result, none of the dozen noses I made ever got to the trouble shooting phase. 
By the time we got to opening there was really no choice but to go with the nose from the last production. It had it's flaws, and it too distracted from the actor's face more than we would have liked, but it had been used extensively and the troubleshooting phase had been completed. 


  1. Thanks so much for recording this on your blog. I came across your comments while searching on google how to go about making Pinocchio's nose grow. I am organizing an amateur production of Shrek and the script involves pinocchio's nose growing several times. I assigned the project of the nose out and the result was given to me last night- 3nights before the show. It's a long pink balloon mounted on a mask, pumped up via a hand pump. It was aesthetically not good especially in it's deflated form. So I was left to make it myself. Your blog was the most comprehensive record I could find and gave me ideas on what to try and what not to try. My husband recommended the light sabre idea so I may try that. I also found a site recommending the collapsable cup concept. Because mine is only an amateur production, I'm hitting the shops tomorrow to find a toy telescope, remove the lens and mount it to the face. Thanks again for your wonderful record.

  2. I constructed a growing nose for the Georgia Ballet's production of Pinocchio using a very similar approach. I found toy telescopes in a dollar store pirate toy set, and bought 2, one to use as prototype. My director was okay with a larger starting nose, which more than doubled in length during the show, and stayed extended through the end. I used a half-face mask, sculpted directly onto the dancer's face so that the fit was perfect. It had large eyeholes that let her eyebrows be visible, and the surface of the mask and nose were sculpted with an epoxy putty that simulate carved wood.
    Where I think my approach differed, we decided to spring load the nose so that it grew on its own. I used two loose springs inside the nose, and ran monofilament lines (20 pound testx4) from the inside of the tip through tubes built into the mask that hooked on the back of her head. (The plaster bandage base mask covered the tip of her nose, so the springs weren't squashing it...) She reached behind her head during the lying scene and released the hooks, letting the lines slide forward to the backs of her ears as the nose slid forward. After seeing the way it was working, the choreographer added a moment where she tried to push the nose back in, but it kept springing forward....very effective!

  3. Hey Emmett,

    Thanks for the info. I am a very amateur costume designer. I have to make a Pinocchio nose that grows for Shrek. Being as inexperienced as I am, I would love a more detailed, step by step outline of how you made your nose. It would be greatly appreciated if you have the time.



  4. I just received an emailed question about other ideas for a nose. After replying to the email I thought that others might benefit from the same information, so I am posting it below.

    "How to do Pinocchio's nose has quite a bit to do with how it functions in your script. Does his nose only ever grow? or does it sometimes shrink back?
    The one I detailed on the blog needed to consistently grow and shrink back, which added to the difficulty. If your nose only ever grows I believe the solution would be to sculpt several nose extension pieces rigged with extra strength magnets at the ends. The idea would be that the actor would pocket the nose pieces and then, in the process of touching his nose whenever he told a lie, could snap the next extension in place.
    Remember, a large part of what will make the nose look realistic is how it blends with the rest of the costume. Pinocchio being a wooden boy is the key here. Make the nose as well as you can, and then concentrate on using make-up and costume, maybe even a partial mask or prosthetic to make your actor match the nose."

  5. Would anyone like to sell me a "growing nose" ?It is for a dancing school production and I'm afraid to say my efforts have not worked.

    If anyone could sell and send one I'd be very grateful.


  6. Thank you for this blog. I am attempting to recreate what you have here and am uncertain of how you made the mask. Do you mind sharing your secret?

  7. the mask was made by using dental alginate to take a casting of the actor's face. We used that to make a plaster duplicate of the actor's face, then sculpted our mask shape on top. Once we had that, we could create another mould that included the mask shape.
    When we had our mold we filled it with Soma Foama from Smooth-On.
    Casting and Molding can be a very involved process, check out the website at Smooth-On for a more detailed explanation of how to use their products. They can also give you a more informed direction on which product would be best for your uses.

  8. The nose is definitely a project! Thanks so much for posting the process you went through. If you don't mind sharing with me, when you constructed your own telescoping nose, how do you keep the pieces from sliding off as the nose extends? (I was thinking of using round telescoping tube that hobbyists use for scratch building). And one other question I had is what kind of cable did you use? I was also considering syringes to extend the nose, though I'm not sure if that would work (apparently other people have done it, though--I read it about it somewhere else on the internet). Thanks for any tips you can offer!