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November 11, 2006

A Word About Focus

Posted in: Video Monitors

This article is 5th in a series on learning to use video monitors for puppetry. So if you’ve just linked in here, you might want to check out the Video Monitors lesson index to get the whole picture.

“Study the eye movements of human comedy greats like Lucy and then study great puppet performers like the Muppets and watch the eye directions. You’ll learn one of the secrets to puppet excellence.” Developing Excellence in Puppet Manipulation, article by Steve Axtell at Axtell.com.

When teaching beginner puppeteers the basics of puppetry, I make sure to talk about eye contact. Ya’ know, “You’ll need to bend your wrist so that your puppet can make eye contact with the audience.” We’ve all heard it a million times.

But as I have begun to coach really skilled puppeteers, I’ve realized that there’s so much more to believable eye/head movements than just “eye contact”. We need to change our mindset and think more about FOCUS. On what is the puppet focused? At what/whom is the puppet looking? When we start thinking about the object (or person or action) at which our puppet is focused, acting comes more naturally because we–the actors–are now engaged in what’s going on rather than just performing with good eye contact.

Why the little lesson on focus in a class on video monitors? Simple. When a puppeteer has mastered the skill of instantly focusing at the camera on cue, that puppet character is now holding the most powerful spot on screen… he’s looking each audience member right in the eye. (Ya’ can’t do that on the stage!)

The next few exercises will target this important skill. While you’re working on these exercises, you might consider doing a little extra credit work by watching some good puppetry. Notice how the greats like Kermit and Piggy and Gonzo really play to the camera. Then try it yourself. This focus thing has proved to be a tricky one for many puppeteers. Take your time and remember that this is the best kind of practice… play!

Check out the next exercise, Harrumph.

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