This is a manipulation clinic I
teach, based on the training I received from Peter Hart at the Center for
Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, GA.
Puppetry is the art of bringing to life an inanimate
object. Or, more accurately creating the illusion of life. The basic principles
of puppetry can be applied to all types of figures, no matter how different the
mechanics are. If I refer to a body part your puppet doesn't have, try to create
the illusion that it does. Let's explore how to give a puppet the illusion of
The principles to be explored are:
Along with the way, we will explore
various symbolic poses and how these alterations of the silhouette can express
emotion. Perform all exercises with the control of the puppet in the right
hand and left hand. This will help reinforce what is 1earned.
and introduction of the principles
First things first, examine the puppet, notice
how the puppet is constructed. Try to find the most comfortable position to hold
it. Explore the flexibility of your puppet. How does its neck and head move?
Knees? What about the movement and twist of puppet? How tall can it be? How far
over can it bend and roll?
Now, establish the "0" position. Your
character returns after each gesture to this neutral posture. For instance, most
people stand upright, with hands relaxed at the side.
The focus of the head achieves the illusion of
thought. Simply put, we know what someone is thinking about by what they are
looking at. For instance, when the puppet reaches to the left or right, it
should also focus left & right.
We want to create the illusion that the puppet can move
under its own power. Muscle is the key to this. Try these exercises with
your own body to help understand the illusion that you are going for.
Concentrate on "curl" of the puppet to give illusion of backbone.
Watch your puppet
roll up and set or "curl" Bend your puppet at the waist,
keeping the knees straight, till it touches the floor. Keep the head tucked at
the neck, so the chin is as close to the chest as possible. Now, slowly stand
your puppet upright, so that the head is the last thing to straighten. This is a
Repeat exercises with left
arm. Concentrate on a loose wrist for crisp movement
More muscle exercises:
Experiment with compress/expand by pushing and pulling things.
Routine: Have the puppet focus on an imaginary
object that is below its waist. Reach down, pick it up, focus on an imaginary
shelf above its head, and then place object on shelf. Repeat routine as if
character were on an assembly line that has varying speeds or tempos. Variation
may be passing object to another figure. Remember contraction/expansion and
thought/focus of the character in the routine. Hands should be together at this
point. Do movements clearly and then work into a flow.
Repeat all above with the puppet on the left arm.
Just as focus indicates what the puppet is
looking at, breath/rhythm indicates how puppet feels. We don't
usually notice a person breathing unless they are laughing, crying, tired or
something similar, so use that to help show how your puppet feels.
The goal is to create the illusion that the puppet's
chest is expanding and contracting, something that puppets are rarely built to
do. We have a few tools at our disposal. By sinking very subtly we can try to
emulate the fall of shoulders on an exhale. Add to this, a very slight dip of
the head as the puppet is raised, and it will seem as if the shoulders are
rising, because the neck appears slightly shorter. I can not emphasize enough
that subtlety is the key.
Repeat above with the puppet on the left arm.
Identification of silhouettes and movements
A change in posture can alter the perceived emotion.
Here are examples of two emotional qualities:
· Puppet open, arms stretched out
· Include laughing sound, full body animation of laughter
· No need to bob head - use open mouth and body rhythm for
animation of breath and laugh sound
· close silhouette
· hands hide face
· sobbing breath sound animation
· full body animation of sobbing/crying
No need to bob head for crying. As in laughter, body
will do most of animation.
Regressive/Passive/Aggressive movement: Puppet
on Right and Left Arm
1.Exercise "What did you say?"
Aggressive - Lean into (remember the push forward/pull back exercise?)
Passive - cock head
Regressive - Lean back from
Emphasize movement by phrase. Restrict puppet hand
movement to single gesture. Use breath (gasp. sharp burst etc.) for motivation
Introduction of separate hand rod use:
With the main puppet control in the right hand, hold
the left-hand rod in your left hand and explore all areas of reach.
Routine: "I came from over there, I'm going
over there, it was nice talking to you, goodbye."
Use strong focus, and go to "0" after every
indication with arm. Enter from Stage right, look right and say "I came
from over there" point right. Focus Left "I'm going over there"
point left. Focus out "It was nice talking to you." Wave
"Goodbye." Focus left and continue off stage.
This is movement by phrase or meaningful movement.
Since the puppet uses symbols to communicate it is important that all of the
movements have meaning.
Repeat routine holding right hand.
Repeat all above with the puppet on left arm
Exercise: Repeat "I came from..."
using both hands for indications. Emphasize movement by phrase.
Repeat with the puppet on left arm.
Combination of Mechanic and Principle: Both Left
and Right Arms
Exercise: "I came from over there...."
Check for movement by
phrase, strong focus, and rhythm/breath.
Movement of the puppet from Location to Location.
For right and left arm
One of the common beliefs in puppetry is that it takes
two people to walk a tabletop puppet, and while this is very often true it
doesn't have to be. With a well-constructed puppet you have the option of the
Swing-step. I will attempt to explain it on paper. A word of warning; hold
your puppet in the air before starting this. Do the feet hang down or do they
extend from the leg at a right angle? If they hang down, the swing step won't
work. You'll need to restrict the movement of the ankles first, sorry.
Hold the puppet in your right hand, so that it is
facing Stage Left. With your left hand reach down and hold the left ankle
between your thumb and forefinger. Tuck the rest of you fingers into your palm.
Hold the foot on the playboard and lean the puppet slightly upstage. By rocking
the puppet SL and SR see if you can get the right leg to swing. You might need
to raise the right foot slight on the toe to do this.
Once you've got it swinging try to swing it forward and
set it down in front of the puppet. Now swing it back and set it down behind the
puppet. See how little movement (i.e. leaning and standing on tiptoe) you can do
and still make this happen. Ideally there will be no noticeable lean or tiptoe.
When you have the swing down, the next thing is to
step. So, swing the right leg forward and set it down. Now lift the left leg and
put it down in front of the right leg. Congratulations. That's a swing step. To
make it look natural the left leg should emulate the right leg's movement. After
all, you have direct control over the left leg, so the stride length and how
much the knee bends should be similar, otherwise your puppet will limp.
Walk across the table. Now, repeat the exercise with
your left hand on the main control.
Exercises: Try some different walks.
Emphasize illusion of muscle, rhythm, and
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