subscribe to rss feed
subscribe by email

Puppet Kaos - where Kelvin Kao plays with puppets and tell random stories

Puppet Happenings of 2015

It’s the last day of 2015. Time to look back at the puppet happenings of this year!

Although I haven’t been writing here all that much, it’s actually been a year of firsts for many things. (I will write longer blog posts about some of these later.)

Puppet Karaoke


Puppet School put together this fun outing of Puppet Karaoke. Basically, we went to this karaoke bar called Dimples in Burbank (which, unfortunately, after 33 years is now closed… but supposed will be back open after remodeling) with our puppets. I mostly just hung out with friends, but did go up with the group at one point.

In this picture, you see Laura, Jared, Krista, and I in the front. We were singing Bohemian Rhapsody. Yeah, I know, one of the most over-done song in the history of karaoke, but it was fun. The lyrics actually cut out in the middle of it. Good thing we all knew the words well enough to just keep going. Puppets and karaoke always make for a fun night.

Singing Happy Birthday


One of my puppet sang Happy Birthday for a lovely girl on FaceTime. She said it was the best birthday FaceTime call ever. I’ve actually toyed with the idea of doing this regularly for people I know, and people I don’t. More of this next year, maybe?

Skirball Puppet Festival


For the past few years, Skirball Center has been doing this puppet festival. Usually it’s a family event that takes place on a weekend. There would be multiple shows performed in different rooms and also outdoors in the quad. Parents can bring their kids to watch, and also create their own puppets.

Due to an alumni event that took up most of the day, I was just going to go, say hi to my friends and hang out for an hour or two before it ended. But then I ran into my friend Jared, who was just like his usual enthusiastic self, saying to me, “hey, I have a spare puppet! Put it on and talk to kids!” So I did. Kids are so full of imagination. You can really just talk to them about anything and they go along with it. Fun times.

When I was leaving, I ran into Heidi Hilliker, who was a classmate for many of my puppetry classes. It was nice to see her. It turned out that I already saw her earlier that day… sort of. She was inside that elephant in the picture. She tried to get my attention because I was one of the people that helped the elephant off the ground. I didn’t notice her though. This kind of stuff happens in puppetry, you know… “Hey, good job… whichever puppet you were. I couldn’t tell.”

Tech for Puppet Slams


In the beginning of the year, I volunteered to run audio cues for the local Puppet Slam. I’ve performed in the slams before, and figured that I would still help out if I was not performing. And after that, I’ve been doing that for all the slams the rest of the year. My tech background made me quite reliable when I do this job. And I’ve also done enough theater to have a good instinct on how to make quick decisions on the spot during the show. One day I should get back on stage, though!

Jim Henson Company Diversity Workshop Audition


The Jim Henson company was auditioning puppeteers for a diversity workshop, the reason being that the industry has been white-male dominant, like the entertainment industry in general. It was an admirable thing that they were consciously working on introducing more diversity. They were auditioning males with ethnical minority backgrounds and females of all ethnicities. It wasn’t for actual jobs, but if you made in, you got several weeks of free workshops from Henson puppeteers.

I did not make the cut, but it was still a really fun experience. I got my reel done. I got to see the inside of the studio that’s usually not open to the public. What’s more, I got to do some puppet improv in front of some puppetry legends and had them laughing at my jokes. I was happy to have done it.

It’s also funny to look at my Facebook feed that weekend. Several of my friends posted basically that same picture with Kermit in the background just like I did, and I know exactly what that was about.

National Puppetry Festival


I’ve wanted to go to one of these national puppetry festivals or conferences for a number of years now. This year, I finally decided to actually do it. A few reasons: One, it had been some time since I used my vacation days at work and I could no longer accumulate more. Two, it was the 50-year anniversary of the festival, which made it extra special. Three, it was at University of Connecticut, the only place in the U.S. that offers graduate level program in puppetry.

And it was a lot of fun. For the entire week, I was immersed in puppetry. It was also a lot like going back to college. I stayed in a dorm room. Every morning, I went to puppetry workshops. I ate at a college dining hall with fellow festival participants and talked puppets. In the afternoon and at night, we watched one puppet show after another. Did I say puppets? Puppets, puppets, puppets! It was great to spend an entire week doing just what you are passionate about.


One of the things I looked forward to the most at the festival was finally meeting David Manley of Up in Arms. We’ve been corresponding on Facebook a lot, but have never actually met in person since he is in New York. When we met for the first time, it felt like we were old friends that just haven’t seen each other for a while. That was definitely one of the highlights of the festival for me.

Guild Winter Holiday Party

The Los Angeles Guild of Puppetry puts on a winter holiday / Christmas / end-of-year party every year. And what do puppeteers do when they get together for a party (you know, besides eating)? They put on little shows for one another. Earlier in the year, the guild hosted a backlight puppetry workshop and it was a lot of fun. (Blacklight puppetry was when you turn off all the lights and just have glow in the dark puppets perform. It’s really cool to see.) I was part of the class so we did a number we learned in the workshop at the party. It was interesting that you want to do everything well, since you are performing for fellow puppeteers, but at the same time, they are also the ones that are going to be the most understanding when things go wrong. I had fun performing, and had fun hanging out with fellow puppeteers and enthusiasts.

R.I.P. Michael Earl


My first puppetry teacher, Michael Earl, had been battling colon cancer for some time now. On December 23, we got the news that he had passed away. At that point he had moved into a hospice, so we knew it was sooner or later. We were just waiting for a miracle. Well, since my Facebook was full of people that knew Michael (according to Facebook, we shared 110 connections), my feed was flooded with memories and stories about him. He was definitely loved by the community. He was a great mentor to many, a dear friend to more, and one of the kindest soul you would meet. He will be missed.

Another Christmas Video!

CaliforniaChristmas End

I’ve made Christmas videos the past three years. Now there are people expecting it, so that’s more reason to keep it going. This year’s video was a first of many things: composing and arranging the music myself, sketching all the backgrounds, animating a character, etc. It was a ton of work but I am pretty happy with the outcome.

The fact that I haven’t blogged too much made me initially think that I didn’t do all that much. But now that I took a closer look, well… that was actually quite a 2015! 😀

It’s a California Christmas

I’ve made Christmas videos the past three years. Guess what? Here’s the 2015 video, making it four years in a row!

This one was… quite a lot of work. It was also the first of many things for me. It was:

1) The first of my Christmas video where, in addition to the lyrics, I also wrote the music myself!
2) The first time using a keyboard controller in Garageband to arrange and record music.
3) The first time using a sketching app on the iPad to draw all the backgrounds instead of building them out of construction paper.
4) The first time to include an animated character.
5) The first time to use swipes, and lots of them, because, you know, Star Wars is on my mind.
6) The first time to have (fake) camera panning instead of cutting back and forth.

I have a lot of fun bringing these projects from just an idea in my head to a complete video. I enjoy having a chance to delight friends with a video around Christmas. And some even told me that it’s become something that they look forward to each year. I am glad this annual project is still continuing! 😀

The Muppets: Pig Girls Don’t Cry (Season 1, Episode 1)

So I want to have this posted before I watch the second episdoe of the new Muppets show. So here’s my thoughts after watching the first episode of The Muppets: Pig Girls Don’t Cry.

Spoilers ahead, of course.

As expected, the performance and production value are top-notch. That’s not a surprise since that’s what I’ve been seeing in recent movies and Youtube videos. A few scenes I particularly enjoy: One is the scene with Scooter and Elizabeth Banks driving around on the lot. This kind of continuous shot requires some good logistical planning and execution, even if puppets aren’t involved. It’s particularly impressive with puppets (plural, because if you are familiar with how this kind of puppets work, you would probably think the one that’s driving around is a different puppet from the one that’s tossed from the cart) and it’s just a fun scene to watch.

Another scene that really stood out to me was the flashback scene for Kermit and Piggy’s breakup. Piggy’s facial expression was beautifully, beautifully done. There’s so much nuance to her facial expression. You can totally see the disbelief and confusion on her face. I totally felt that vulnerable moment. It was amazing puppetry.

Something I have a little bit of mixed feeling about are some of the lines. I feel like Kermit and Piggy are a little more mean to each other (and Tom Bergeron) than I think they normally would be. Some of the subject matters are more mature for some characters. It’s not to say that these weren’t normally a part of the Muppets universe. It’s just that I am expecting them to come from some of the more “mature” characters (such as Pepe) instead of some other characters. I’m fine with this and think they will find a balance soon enough.

Also, the show is updated from Muppets putting on a variety show to them working on a late night talk show, which I guess is a good, close enough modern day equivalence. But this means it will have more of a feel of The Office (some say also 30 Rock, but I can’t judge since I didn’t watch that show). There’s simply more of an excitement while putting on a live show versus a late night show, which can be a daily grind of sorts (ask Craig Ferguson towards the end). One of the most Muppet-y moment of being excited to do a show that reminded me of the old one was that horrible “Dancing with the Czars” idea. I love it when Muppets are excited about horrible ideas, because I personally love horrible ideas.

I think some people will not like it, just because it’s not what they remembered. But I think there’s no point in doing something if you don’t allow them to evolve. It might not go the way they (or I) want it to go, but that’s the sign that the characters are still very well alive. If they are just going to be like the old times, why not just watch the old show?

I enjoy the show and will keep on watching it.

My Puppetry Reel!

I just cut together my puppetry reel!

A reel is what people put together to showcase their (hopefully) best work. Some people even have multiple reels for different aspects of their expertise. For example, an actor might have a dramatic reel, comedic reel, and a reel for commercials. Someone that works several behind-the-scenes jobs might have a reel for cinematography, another for color correction, and yet another for editing.

So what should I have? A puppetry reel, of course!

Please enjoy the video. Your feedback is welcome, whether you think it’s good or bad. It would either make me feel good, or help me improve! 😀

Blog Anniversary

Today is May 14, 2015.

On May 14, 2007, I posted my very first post on this blog. In the archive, you can see even earlier posts, but they were moved from another blog, so I’m counting that one as the very first one.

So yeah. It’s been eight years. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?

A lot had changed in the blogosphere (whoa, spellcheck thinks “blogosphere” a legitimate word? cool!) in those eight years. Back then, blogs are the thing. There are so many discussions and attempts at writing a blog to generate traffic, advertise for affiliates, make money at home, and build passive income streams. Whether the ultimate goal is to monetize, or just to share thoughts with the world, the blogosphere is definitely a-buzzing.

I don’t know if there are more or fewer blogs these days, but the focus had definitely moved on to social media a lot more. With Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and all these other sites, people are increasingly building their networks there, and less focused on driving traffic to their blogs using reddit, StumbleUpon, and Delicious. I used to visit people on their blogs, and they visited back. That doesn’t happen so much anymore.

A lot of these people have stopped blogging altogether. As for me, even though I am still posting, I can go months without posting sometimes. I guess we all go through phases.

But I’m glad to say that many of these people I still keep in touch with, except now all the interactions are on Facebook.

I still post from time to time, and in a way, this is actually going back to what it was before. A lot of this grew from my sister giving me a paper planner she didn’t want. Since I wasn’t the type of person that plans their day down to the hour, I often only used the first line in the box for each day. I thought, why not use it as a journal instead? I did that for a few weeks, writing down thoughts and events that happened on that day. And I thought, it would be much faster to just type, so I got a Xanga. (Remember those? Some people even created empty blogs, just so they could friend their friends’ blogs. This is before Facebook, and Friendster. Remember Friendster? Oh, and MySpace?) After WordPress became a thing, I decided to create a WordPress blogs and moved all the puppetry related posts over. That’s how this site was born.

In some ways, this is like going back to those days. I didn’t have a schedule. I wasn’t always posting about puppets. I had thoughts that I wanted to share from time to time, and I wrote it down. Half for my readers, half for myself to go back and reminisce. So why not?

So here we are. I am still going to post, even if no one other than my future self is reading the blog. Still though, knowing that there are friends that stop by from time to time definitely makes it more fun, and provides motivation to write more. So, for the two of you that’s reading this, namely, Sara and Chris, let me say that I appreciate you guys visiting. Thank you for your support. :-)

Running Sound Cues – The Second Time

In my previous post, I shared my experience of running audio cues for a show for the very first time. I was pretty nervous. I also predicted that I would be much more relaxed the second time around.

Well, I’ve just done it the second time, and I indeed felt a lot more comfortable doing it!

To recap, the Los Angeles Guild of Puppetry has been putting on Puppet Slams multiple times a year. What is a puppet slam, you asked? It’s just like a poetry slam, except instead of poetry, you have puppets. Basically, puppeteers sign up to each perform a short piece in the show. It’s really fun because you have no idea what each person is going to do, even though many of us know one another.

Since I’ve already run audio cues once (and did it well), I’m doing it again for the second time. Basically, my job is to compile all the music and sound effects from all the performers beforehand, and start and stop the playback on my computer at the right time during the show.

The Preparation

Last time, the sound designer, Noel, having realized that I was basically operating the audio cues out of a Spotify playlist, recommended using QLab instead. Apparently it is what professionals use and there’s a free version that has all the basic functionalities as well.

So I downloaded QLab and put together a list of sound cues. I clicked around and was glad to find that it handled many things for me that I had to do manually in the last show. For example:

  • In the last show, I had some sound files that were softer and some louder. I had to take notes during rehearsal on what the desired volume was, and adjust the master volume slider before playing each cue. With QLab, I can individually set the level of each cue during rehearsal. During the show, all I do is press the space bar.
  • In the last show, I had to insert silent tracks between the actual audio tracks in the playlist. This is so that when a track finishes playing, the user doesn’t hear the next track. With QLab, since it’s specifically designed for running audio cues, it doesn’t attempt to play the next track like a music player would do.
  • In the last show, I had to take notes in a text editor and refer back to it during the show. In QLab, there’s a box attached to every cue, so all I had to do is type my notes into whichever cue it’s attached to.
  • In the last show, if I had to only play part of an audio file, I had to import it into an audio editor, trim off the parts I didn’t need, export the edited version, and finally throw it back into the playlist. With QLab, I just say start at this timestamp and end at this timestamp. And that’s all there is to it.

What a pleasure to use a tool that’s specifically tailored to the task at hand!

I did run into a problem while trying it out, though. Every time I pressed the spacebar on my keyboard, the program just started playing the next cue, without stopping the previous sound. So when I pressed the spacebar five times, I heard five songs playing at the same time!

Obviously not what I wanted. So I went onto Youtube and watched several tutorials. Turned out that I need to think differently.

I needed to stop thinking about it like a music playlist. When you play music, you always play one song at a time. But in sound effects, I might start with some ambient sound of rain. Three seconds later, I might cue a thunder. After that, some sound effects for wind blowing through trees, all while still playing the background rain sound in a loop. This is why they overlap. So a cue is not a sound file, but some event that happens. A cue can be starting a sound. A cue can be stopping a sound that’s currently playing. A cue can be fading out a sound that’s currently playing. It works really well when you think about it differently.

Fortunately, as a software engineer, I’m very used to thinking about one problem in several different ways, and am above average at picking up a new piece of software.

Tech Rehearsal

As usual, we arrived a few hours before the show to get ready. We went over the transitions for each piece. This includes stuff like when a performer should enter the stage, when the lights should come up at which location, when the projection gets turned on, when the audio cues come in, which set pieces should be on stage, etc. TJ, the tech guy, was just so on top of everything, working out all the lighting and microphone needs with the performers. Kajal, the stage manager, figured out where each piece would move on and off stage. They were so awesome at this, that for the most part all I had to do was sit back and take notes about the audio cues.

In the picture at the top of this article, you would see Adrian with a clipboard jotting down notes about when and how things like the puppet stage, tables, and projection screens should move. You also see a puppet (though blurry) on the puppet stage. This is TJ and the performer Erik figuring out the lighting. You can also see my view from the back of the stage. On the left side of my computer screen is the lineup, my cheatsheet for which performer was next. On the right you see QLab, what I was using to run cues.

Show time!

Because I already ran the sound cues last time, and I was actually using a proper tool that I could offload most of my work to, it actually was somewhat uneventful (which was good!) for me during the show. For the most part, I just had to press the spacebar at the right moment, because I already programmed the cues during the rehearsal. Basically I just had to tell the program, “hey, do the thing that we figured out in rehearsal, now!”

When the lights came up for Tara’s piece, I pressed spacebar and proceeded to just enjoy the show. If I weren’t using QLab, I would have been adjusting the audio level, and watching the audio playback so it didn’t spill into the next cue.

With Kate’s piece, same thing. Lights came up. I pressed spacebar and just enjoyed the performance.

With Grayson’s piece, I waited for her to give me a nod. And then I… pressed spacebar and just enjoyed the performance. Are you bored about this spacebar thing yet? That’s how uneventful it can be if you had programmed the cues properly during rehearsal.

Christine’s piece was actually a more interesting one, tech-wise. The stage was dark. I was waiting for the lights to come up before I cued the music. But then it seemed to me that TJ did not have the intention of doing so. Right away it became clear to me: apparently he was expecting me to go first, while I was expecting him to go first. So I just went ahead and cued the audio. Right after that, TJ cued the lights and Christine walked her puppet onto stage.

This decision was made in a fraction of a second. The audience wouldn’t have noticed anything unusual there.

Originally, Christine told me to abruptly cut her music at around the two minute mark. Since I was using QLab, I just needed to set an end marker for the cue instead of actually editing it. During the rehearsal, I learned what her originally intention was. She wanted the music to end when she popped the balloon. She was going to time it so that the balloon pop at around the two minute mark. I told her she could just do that forever, because I would just manually cut the music whenever I saw the balloon pop. And that was what I ended up doing.

And then it was Adrian’s piece. She would get into a pose and have this funny facial expression. And that’s when I would know when to cue the music. Again, spacebar.

Afterwards, I asked to Christine whether she was expecting music or light to go first, just out of curiosity. She said they were supposed to come up around the same time, but the audio would be the one taking the lead. So I guess I was the one that was wrong (oops). She said she didn’t hear the music or see the lights come up, so she was just going to start walking the puppet onto stage anyway. And at that moment, the music and lights both went into action. So I guess there was a delay of a fraction of a second, due to me not writing detailed enough notes. However, the audience wouldn’t have noticed anything.


This is yet another fun show. And once again, everything went smoothly. It had been a much more relaxing experience for me. Because of the proper tool, for the most part I’m just pressing a key and enjoying the show as if I were a regular audience member.

Enough about tech for now. I will post some pictures from the show soon!

Next Page >>