File puptcrit/puptcrit.0810, message 187

Date: Mon, 13 Oct 2008 10:08:53 -0700
To: =?ISO-8859-1?Q?Mathieu_Ren=E9?= <>
Subject: Re: [Puptcrit] Rods on puppets?


Sorry to take so long to get back to you, I hope it does not come too  
late for the immediate project. I actually used different kinds of  
rods in different places.   And, I also had different ways of  
disconnecting them. For the Maika project, there were two versions of  
each character, on with horizontal rods (table top), and one with  
vertical rods. Because of some real problems with castings, paint,  
and getting enough time for the painter, we really only had one  
"hero" head of each character. The heads could be moved from one  
puppet to the other, but it was a bit time consuming, and the  
director preferred to stay with the vertical rod and just adjust the  
angles. For the Vertical Rod, the body and head rod set up was  
permanent. Rods to the hands and feet were removable. For the  
horizontal rod puppets, all the rods were removable, incase they had  
to work through a set piece or something like that. Turned out to be  
a lot of work for nothing. I spent lots of time building disconnects  
and such with a lot of "what if.." thoughts in my head. Mostly it was  
a waste, but I used it as an exercise, and I learned a lot from it.

My main technique for the arm and foot rods was to solder a piece of  
square tubing onto the end of the rods, and have a piece of square  
tubing set into the puppet that it fit into. for the woman, that was  
at the elbows and maybe the heels, I don't remember. For the Male,  
that was the wrists and the back of the heel of the boots. We had  
some really fun props in this video. One of the main tricks for rod  
puppets with props is that it is usually much better to put the rod  
on the prop, and not on the hand. Attach the hand to the prop, and  
then you usually get not only better control of the prop and its  
weight, but also of the hand, flexing the wrist and such.

Good for you building the insert arm with the moving fingers! That is  
the smart way to go, and if possible, you can often do things like  
shoot over the puppet's shoulder, and have the insert arm there next  
to the puppet, looking as if it is connected, or draped with a bit of  
the costume to make the connection. I have worked with insert arms a  
lot, putting them on rods coming out the elbow  for close-ups on the  
hands. If the framing is right, only you know the hand isn't connected.

Floors and box sets can be a real drag, mostly because they can keep  
you from getting to the puppet, and also because you have no room to  
move the puppet. Most directors and cameramen and lighting people  
will want you to work the puppet through a tiny hole, so that they  
can do what ever they want, and shoot like they do with a person (who  
in this case is very tiny). But that will literally box you in to no  
movement. That produces a lousy show that no one wants to watch. If  
they need a whole floor for some shot, have them put it in, but then  
get them to take it OUT. After that, just put the floor in where they  
really need it and you want it. I really like having a floor to work  
against when I  am not traveling. So whenever possible, I get a piece  
of floor, or even just a piece of wood, and set it up on a C-stand.  
This is very important for maintaining a consistent height, and gives  
you stability. Then, if you are traveling, do that in the free air,  
sort of like moving from the edge of one table to another table.

In the best of all possible worlds, shoot as much of the show as you  
can with no floor, and at the end, if there is something you really  
need with a floor, shoot it last. Then you aren't fighting with the  
floor for the rest of the shoot. If possible, try to warn the  
director who is new to puppets, that every shot with puppets is an  
"effects" shot, and thus can be much more complicated. The more room  
they give you as a puppeteer, the better and faster it will go.

Greg Ballora

> Hi again, Greg,
> If you have a few minutes to spare, can you share with me a bit  
> about how your rods were installed and manipulated on the Maika  
> video clip?
> It would be much appreciated.
> The project we're working on right now is in great need of such input.
> Most of my experience is with tabletop pupets meant for theatre, so  
> TV rod puppets manipulated from below are not yet a specialty of mine.
> Online, I can't seem to find "behind the scene" footage or photos  
> of such puppet projects with similar puppet types.
> Details:
> Right now, I'm considering installing the rods temporarily,  
> directly on the body, underneath the costume, with tape, having  
> made slits in the costume. Some rods (like the one below the arm)  
> can be made more stable by installing them on a hinge from an  
> umbrella, which will provide the extra rotation).
> I built a separate articulated right-hand for shots when the puppet  
> is to manipulate or grab and object.
> We'll have to cheat it a bit because it does not move like a real  
> hand does, only the four fingers move as one, at their base.
> I'd like to install permanent rods, but this is another project  
> where the puppet must be able to do "everything", and not have rods  
> show up in the shots too much (some non-puppeteer Directors don't  
> understand how to work with puppets, especially the part where  
> "more options on the puppet means more money". So we need shortcuts!
> The humanoid puppet is about a foot tall, but the head is Huge in  
> proportion to the body, so we will see the expressions much better.  
> Do you think two puppeteers would be enough for most of the shots?
> The small set (a single room shack, 36 square inches floor space)  
> is built with the rods in mind, high enough for a puppeteer to  
> stand up below it and manipulate. All the walls are individually  
> removable, so is the ceiling. There will also be a scene shot on  
> the ceiling (puppet taking flight), so it was built to be  
> removable. It was built by my friend and frequent colleague Daniel  
> Auclair.   The video crew will supply apple boxes for varying  
> heights of manipulation and camera shots.
> There might be a partial floor built separately for some shots, or  
> even installed temporarily in the set itself.
> Thanks for any pointers!

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