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What Is A Puppetry Lab?

2 11 2006

Puppetry. The art of manipulating an inanimate object to create the illusion of life.

Lab. Not the dog breed nor the region on the easternmost coast of Canada. Nor is it the river in Serbia nor the people group in southern Albania. Lab. Not to be confused with the acronyms for such things as lactic acid bacteria nor the League of American Bicyclists. Rather, Lab in this context is short for laboratory. A place to study, learn new techniques, and experiment with new ideas.

PuppetryLab.com is here to provide beyond-the-basics training and practical helps for puppeteers, puppet teams, and team directors.

More Than Just a Silly Voice

28 03 2008

AugieI’ve been thinking a lot about characters and character development lately. Maybe it’s because I’m getting back into writing; maybe I’ve seen too many pathetic attempts at live puppetry; or maybe I’ve just been reading too many storybooks to my kiddos. (Wait–is it really possible to read too many kids’ books? Hmm.) Well, whatever the reason for my personal desire to dig deeper into the realm of character development, I thought I’d share some of my discoveries.

First of all, there’s more to it than just a silly voice. Sure, the quality of the voice has a lot to do with a particular character’s likability and longevity, and it’s important for puppeteers to spend time working on developing consistent, fun, and believable character voices. But let’s go beyond that and look at other aspects of good characters. Read the rest of this article »

A Personal Update

3 03 2008

Back in June I posted a few pix of puppets I had been working on for I-Fest. Well, here we are eight months later and I finally got the caricature puppet in the same room with his inspiration. Whaddaya think?

Phil Vischer and puppet

The man is Phil Vischer. He’s the puppeteer (and brains) behind the silliness on the wildly popular web series, The Jelly News; he wrote the book that I puppet-ized last summer–for which I made this particular puppet; oh yeah, and Phil created a little thing called VeggieTales.

Phil was kind enough to drop by the Chicago Puppet Festival last weekend where I was able to introduce the two Phils and snap this picture.

Thought I’d share. :)

TMBG in Puppets

12 01 2008

For the benefit of the uninformed, They Might Be Giants (TMBG) is an American alternative rock band known for odd songs and a unique sound. Their fans span the globe and have been labelled “cult-like”. Their album Flood debuted when I was in high school. I’ve been a fan ever since.

So you can guess that I was thrilled to find a recently launched TMBG video podcast for kids. But I wasn’t prepared for the cutesy, crocheted faces (strange yarn-and-felt representations of band founders John Flansburgh and John Linnell) that popped into my screen to introduce the animated segment of the podcast.

TMBG album coverTMBG John and John puppets

Ha! They’re puppets. Kewl.

The puppetry isn’t stellar, but it sure is gosh-darn funny to have John and John puppets intro their new songs for kids. Check out podcast info on their downloads site, or just go right to the details on iTunes.

So, enjoy some puppety goodness while I get back in the groove of posting puppety inspiration. Will be back soon. Really.

Making It Match: Part 1

14 11 2007

No, not “making A match” as in “matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a…“, or “striking a match” as in “only you can prevent forest fires.” Today we’re going to discuss creating an appropriate visual connection between your puppet’s (specifically mouth) movements and the sound it is supposed to be creating. Hence, Making It Match.

Aaah sheepIn a previous post, we looked at mouth movements in regards to lip syncing with prerecorded tracks. Today let’s look at the nuances of mouth movements and the incredible variations that can (and should) occur when our puppets open their mouths to speak.

AAAAAaaaaah! Read the rest of this article »

Silent Telephone

25 10 2007

This is one of those goofy games that is bound to get you giggling. It’s always important that actors (be they human or puppet) communicate clearly. But just like the regular “Telephone” game you probably played as a kid, messages can get mixed up as they travel. Heh heh heh. So, have fun and see how well you can get your message across!

Set up. This game works best with groups of four to six, so divide your group if needed. Any extra people will become the audience. All but one player stands with their backs to the audience. This game is done in mime (hence the name) but you could have these players also cover their ears… ya’ know, for effect. With smaller groups, just make sure you rotate who gets to go first.

Action. The first player receives “the script” from the director (see examples below). The player must then communicate all parts of this story to Player 2, without using any words. You might consider limiting the communication time to one minute. Then Player 2 must retell to Player 3 in mime the story as he understood it. Player 3 tells 4, etc., until the story has traveled to the end of your line. Have the last player relay the information to the first player to see if he got it right. Or have the director read the original script. Read the rest of this article »

The Art of Misdirection

18 10 2007

Last week I took my kids to see The Greatest Show on Earth. Besides being overwhelmed with the sights and sounds, the talent and technology, the fun and fears… I found myself wishing that I could pack it all up, replay and freeze-frame certain elements to puppet team directors and performance planners.

Magicians practice hour upon hour to learn how to misdirect your attention so that you don’t see what they’re really doing. Similarly, this three-ring circus did some serious planning to bring the audience focus away from the darkened areas where they were setting up for the next big act. It was spectacular and masterfully done.

[the greatest magician ever]

So what’s that have to do with puppets? Read the rest of this article »

More on Movements

16 10 2007

A previous post got me thinking more about puppet movements. So puppeteers are actors. Sure, I can buy that. We take on roles, assume characters, and use them to tell and illustrate stories. Yeah. We’re actors. But that’s not all. (Hmm… Suddenly I want to muster up my best cheesy announcer voice and say, “But wait - there’s more!”) You see, as puppeteers we have to be masters of body movement much like a dancer or a mime, we have to be more animated and exaggerated like clowns or cartoons, and we have to be skilled in the basics of puppet movement! So, we’re really puppeteer-actor-mime-dancer-clowns. Sure. That’s easy. (rolling eyes)

One element of puppet acting that I particularly enjoy is exaggeration. Puppets don’t have to be forced to fit into the box called “realism”. They can step out into the world of fantasy much like cartoon animations do. Audiences have no trouble playing along with the concept that the Flintstones’ car is powered by feet, or that Kermit the Frog is really tap dancing even though we see no feet. Puppets are allowed — and expected — to exaggerate and define their own reality.

David SimpichEven a great artist like David Simpich, who has mastered amazing realism in puppetry, still relies on some elements of fantasy for his true-to-life performances. Think about it: the audiences must suspend disbelief to enter the time and place of the story, to imagine the puppet characters as real, and to look past the strings or control rods that dictate the puppets’ movements. And as for those movements themselves, there still is an aspect of exaggeration even when performing lifelike, realistic movement. Read the rest of this article »

Props and Scenery

14 10 2007

It’s time for another silly improv game. Try this one with your group of puppeteers to force players to think quickly and work together to make a harmonious whole.

Set up. Gather your group around one person who will be “it” for the first round. Players need to be able to clearly see and respond to what the “it” person does.

Action. “It” gets to choose and play an action that clearly defines where he or she is located. For example, the player could mime primping or brushing her hair. When the action begins, the rest of the players immediately must become the props or set pieces that would be in that kind of environment… in this case it might be a mirror, a sink, a faucet, a toilet, a shower, a bottle of hairspray, etc. Read the rest of this article »

Mouth Movements

21 08 2007

After last week’s experience in the bayou, I’ve been thinking about lip synchronization and how important mouth movements are to the believability of a character.

It is so much easier to have accurate lip sync when you are performing the puppet’s voice yourself, than if you are having to anticipate the sounds of a recording. Matching someone else’s delivery style, pacing, and general voice acting is tough. So how can you make the best of a not-so-perfect situation? Here are some hints: Read the rest of this article »

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