Treasure Island – Capt’n Flint Parrots

Hello again dear readers,

So, treasure island!

Well I had finished making my/Long John Silvers wooden leg and now I needed to make the parrot.

My original idea for the Captain Flint parrot was a traditional rod puppet, the was sort of mangy, and featherless, with a big scar down its face. However, Caroline Sharman (the director) was concerned of the puppetry demands of such a puppet (and rightly so) with the adult actors having to play many characters, and the kids needed for many of the dances and simply my height at 6′ 5” meant that having a traditional rod puppet being operated by somebody else, was not going to be possible with this production. Simon Higlet the designer also wanted the parrot to be realistic looking.

So it was back to the drawing boards.

I thought about a self operated puppet that would be attached to me and I could operate from my pocket via the medium of cables and springs. This would have worked, but… for a lot of the time the parrot would look dead… it would also have limited movement. and look very fake and puppet like as a result, or simply like a stuffed dead parrot. It would also not be easily removed from me.

So I looked into Animatronics. ¬†Animatronic kits for such a parrot cost a small fortune that would have taken almost the entire of the shows budget. I then remembered my days playing with furbys, and quickly started looking for animatronic toys…. and I discovered an amazing toy called Squwarkers Mccaw. these are full size parrots, that sit and move, talk and blink like real parrots, they react to touch, sound, voice and light and are totally self contained battery operated toys. Although new, fairly expensive… I thought a couple of second hand ebay ones would be perfect. and perfect they were.

These parrots were terrific. and not only did they look and move amazingly, they were hard wearing (being toys) and remote controlled and reprogram-able. so I could program the toy to say what i needed it to and it would respond to the appropriate line from the actor (this proved slightly unreliable in practice) but it was still a great solution to the self operated traditional rod puppet.

Once I had the toys I then set about recovering them. As lovely as they were, they needed to be less toy like a more real. so some paint work and varnish later they were ‘realed’ up as it were.

I then designed a way of getting the parrot to sit on my shoulder, then with the help of my dad and his awesome metal work machine we build a contraption for the parrot to sit on. We created a metal plate that had two spikes coming out it it these ran up into the feet of the parrot. there was also a metal strop that ran down my back with a bolt attached that again stuck out of the back of my costume. To the parrots themselves, we attached a metal strip that ran through its tail. This clipped effortlessly to the bolt on my back when the parrot was placed on my shoulder. This held the bird in place, but also meant it was quickly removable.

In practice this worked great when just walking about but when i had to do some intense moving around the demand was too great and the parrot would fall off or to the side. So we added a couple of ties that helped tie the parrots feet to the spikes and it stayed firmly put… chatting and chirping and looking very real!

The final hurdle i had to cross, was another parrot, that flew. So i returned to the idea of a traditional rod parrot. only this time it had one simple purpose and that was to fly. I had made Huge flying seagull puppets for James and the Giant Peach   so i adapted the flying wing contraption i had developed for those for a smaller more light weight parrot puppet. and again with the help of my dad and his awesome metal lathe we made the flying contraption which was sprung loaded with elastic bands. the effect Рpull the rope Рthe wings flapped down. release it they sprung up. nice and fluid and realistically. Modeled below by Damian:

the body of the parrot i built out of styrofoam, and covered in fake fur that i painted to texture and match it to the animatronic parrots. the feet and eyes were super sculpey… and the beak painted and varnished card. it had to be light as it would be operated by kids… and¬† we had a flying captain flint.

operated below and in the show by Declan:

So with the parrots built and silvers leg… and later I made a palm tree for the set and a few other bits and bobs… it was time for me to pick up my script, throw on a tricorn and start rehearsals as Long john silver.

over and out.


Leave a Reply