I had to make a very special birthday cake featuring Elmo. When doing such things in the past, I've hand-drawn them with decorating tips. This time I decided to use rolled fondant. Fondant allows me to make complex shapes from a pattern. I can also make it before commiting it to the cake. When drawing on the cake you have to get it right the first time, an iffy proposition given my hand skills.
Here is the fondant being prepared. I bought fondant in a box although it is quite feasible to make it yourself. The left bowl shows the yellow fondant for the nose to which I've already worked in the color. The bowl on the right shows the white fondant with the food dye added but not yet mixed. It takes a small amount of food dye, as with coloring icing. I always use a toothpick to add the dye. You mix in the color by kneading the dough like a ball of clay. It takes quite a bit of work to get an even coloring---thisis great hand exercise.
To prepare, I found a picture of Elmo, blew it up to the right size, and printed a few copies. I cut out different pieces as stencils: the face, nose, and eyes. My original plan was to put the stencil on the fondant and then sprinkle powdered sugar to transfer the pattern. That didn't work very well but it turns out that tracing the pattern with a toothpick works great. You can almost cut the fondant with the toothpick but I used a knife to make the final cut. If you look closely at this photo you can see the pattern drawn out around the red fondant. To transfer the mouth pattern, I put the picture on top of the fondant and punched several holes through the paper around the edge of the mouth, then freehanded the lines in between.
This is the final Elmo after assembly. I drew the moutn and irises using black food dye. (I surprised myself by having a bottle of black dye on the shelf. I had been planning to mix some black from several colors.) I ignored the urge to grab a makeup brush and used a knife plus toothpick to paint: the big work with the knife and the details with the toothpick.
I then assembled and iced the cake. Elmo was easy to pick up and transfer to the cake. I ended up moving the different pieces separately and used some icing to glue them in place. A little blue piping on the bottom and that's it. I managed to do the whole thing, including baking the cakes, in about 2-1/2 hours.