A Real Puppet Show

I've often joked that animation has become less a drawing medium and more of a "puppet show" in the past decade or so. Before you freak out and consider this an attack on CG animators, let me remind you that I maintain the greatest respect for today's digital animators who continue to do remarkable work and the results can easily be seen up on the big screen in today's animated feature motion pictures.

However, I have worked on real puppet shows and the photogaph below was taken on the set of one of those creative and inventive shows. I'm still amazed at the creative skills of the puppeteer and how he or she is able to breathe life into an inanimate object. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, really. As animators we're all striving to create a believeable performance. It has always been a delight to work and speak with these talented individuals and learn more about their craft.

I met one young animator while working at Pixar Animation Studios some years ago. I wondered what led her to become an animator and her answer surprised me. She told me she had worked with Jim Henson and the Muppets before coming to Pixar. After giving her answer some thought I realized it made perfect sense. When it comes to giving a performance can you think of anything better than a Muppet? She merely took the next logical step. After polishing her skills on Muppet characters, she simply moved on to the "cyber puppets" used in digital animation. Animation is animation, after all.

In this particular show we're talking old school. There were no CGI assists. Only talented puppeteers bringing the delightful characters to life. My job was to help move the shooting along by preparing a series of storyboards for the sequences being shot that day. The work was fast and furious, and the days were often very long. In any event I gotta say it was the most fun I've had doing a show in a long, long time.


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Reader Comments (2)

Floyd, I've always said that. Monsters' Inc looked like an elaborate Muppet Movie, even down to the humor. I'm guessing that the person you met at PIXAR was Karen Prell.

December 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Mitchell

Hi Floyd. I´m from Argentina, I´m 36 years old, and I work on animation since 1998. My works included Tv series, commercials, and featured films in hand draw and cgi animation. All my life I did loved the puppets, and now I did start to training like puppeter. In my own experience, both arts forms (Animation and puppet ), have a lot of thing in common. Both put on life elements or objects. But they have a big difference: the real time. The puppeter do his work in real time, with the adrenaline of the live performance, and you know perfectly that the animation is a long and patience process, that give you the posibility to go back to make changes and polish your work again and again. The real time factor will can be evaluated too on the dialogue. The dialogue (the comunication) between a puppet and the viewer is permanently available to changes at the same moment when the performance is made, but in animation, the character make his performance at the same way again and again. I read his article and I could not leave to share mi experience and thinking about this two art forms that i love. Thanks. All my respect to you. Ignacio.

February 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterIgnacio Ochoa

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