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August « 2007 « Puppet Kaos - where Kelvin Kao plays with puppets and tell random stories
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Puppet Kaos - where Kelvin Kao plays with puppets and tell random stories

Having problems compressing videos

Strange. For some reason, my Quicktime just freezes when I try to export movies. What’s weird is that I’ve been doing the same thing for all the previous episodes without running into any problems. Very odd.

Looks like I’m going to have to delay the release of Episode 6: Dance, Dance, Dance until I figure this out. :-(

How to do a green screen effect: a case study

In Episode 3: Crazy Names, I attempted the green screen effect for the first time. But initially, I wasn’t trying to use a green screen effect. I was just going to film one puppet on the left half of the screen, and then another on the right half of the screen, and then composite the two together. Here are what I started with:

green_practice_raw.jpg

When I used the cropping effect to take out the half that I didn’t want, what I got was this result on the left. Hm… that didn’t work so well. It was obvious that the two halves were shot seperately. That is when I decided to try a green screen effect (I happened to have filmed this in front of a green backdrop, which helped). What I got was this result on the right… and it was so much better.

green_practice_goal.jpg

To do this, first you need to decide what’s the foreground and what’s the background. In this case, we are going to use Mac and Cheese as the foreground and Bottle Monster as the background. This is because Mac and Cheese is yellow/orange and less similar to the green background than Bottle Monster is. In Adobe Premiere Pro, this means you want to put the Bottle Monster footage in the bottom video layer and the Mac and Cheese footage on top of it.

Now select the Mac and Cheese video. In the Effects window, find Video Effects => Keying => Chroma Key and drag it into the video’s Effect Controls window. This effect allows you to key out a color you select, in this case, green.

green_practice_chroma.jpg

Now it’s time to set the variables associated with it. First, use the color picker / dropper to pick the shade of green to key out (make disappear). You might want to pick something that’s in the middle of the darkest and lightest green you want to key out. And then set the other variables. The most important variable here is Similarity. Our footage is not ideal, especially since it’s not intended to be a green screen shot initially. The Similarity setting allows you to set how much error you want to give in comparison to the green you picked. If this value is very small, only the pixels that’s very similar to the shade of green you picked will be keyed out. If this value is big, you will get rid of more different shades of green. Note that, when this number is too big, it will start to include colors like black and make Mac and Cheese’s mouth transparent. We don’t want that. The Blend is a variable that decides how much the two images blend together.

green_practice_finished.jpg

A lot of this is trial and error. Here I included the results of a few different sets of numbers. Some of these look better than the others. Some of them have background that’s not completely keyed out. Some of them have parts that became transparent although it shouldn’t have. So play around with the numbers until you find the best result! :-)

green_practice_variations_80.jpg

Related posts:
How to do a green screen effect: the theory
Editing Trick: How to have two puppets on screen at the same time with only one puppeteer
Editing Trick: Cropping
Episode 3: Crazy Names

How to do a green screen effect: the theory

In my post Editing Trick: How to have two puppets on screen at the same time with only one puppeteer, I said that I’ll talk about the green screen effect. The green screen effect is something that’s very widely used in film and TV productions. Huge portions of movies like Star Wars and 300 are filmed in front of a green screen so they can use a lot of computer generated images in the background. It’s a very useful effect. So, let’s talk about how green screens work.

When you use a green screen, you first film the foreground object (usually some kind of character) in front of a screen that’s green (first picture). And then, you insert your background (second picture) in the back (where backgrounds belong). And you’ll have a composite like the third picture:
green_theory_stick.gifgreen_theory_back.gifgreen_theory_composite.gif

What the software will do for you, is look through every pixel in the first picture for green. When it sees a green pixel, the pixel becomes transparent so the background layer can show through. So whatever was green in the foreground picture is replaced by what’s in the background in the final result.

When you use this method, you should be very careful because if the character is wearing anything that has green on it (like the question mark on the shirt in the following picture), it will disappear too! And then you get a shirt that’s partially transparent and you can see through the guy’s body and see the background. So be very careful.

green_theory_stick2.gifgreen_theory_composite2.gif

What if you want to have a foreground character that wears green? In that case, you might want to use a blue screen effect instead. That is, film the character in front of a screen that’s blue, and in editing, let the computer pick out all the blue pixels instead of the green ones. In many movies, both are used depending on what’s in the foreground.

Why don’t we use red screens? It’s because that our human skin has red in it and you might end up with strange effects that you don’t want. Of course, this might or might not be an issue for puppets. I haven’t tried it out yet.

In the next post I’ll talk about how to do it with actual footages.

Related posts:
Editing Trick: How to have two puppets on screen at the same time with only one puppeteer

Lost my voice

Had a cold for a few days. I’m now recovering but as usual, my voice is the last thing to recover. I’ve been coughing so I’ve lost my voice a little bit. Actually, I didn’t entirely lose my voice but I can’t do a Mac and Cheese, Bottle Monster, or Bobby voice without coughing. Something about the way their voices are produced, I guess.

I’ve been performing on stage for quite a few years and I’ve come to have some understanding of my own voice. While I could be coughing with a cold like crazy backstage, I know how to control it to not cough when I’m on stage. It’s painful and it requires me to consciously monitor my throat when I speak. And whenever I sense that itch or tingling feeling that’s going to make me cough, I change my voice slightly, or pause (and swallow saliva), or use other words instead. But yeah, it sucks.

That said, I probably won’t be able to release an episode until next week, because my voice is still recovering. I am going to aim for next week in terms of releasing a new episode. For this week, I think I’ll be putting up more posts, probably gonna keep going on how to put two characters on the screen with only one puppeteer. I will probably be writing about how to do a green screen effect first.

By the way, I got my first spam comment! You didn’t see it because I already filtered it out, but yeah, a spammer. That means this site is at least getting some love and attention, right? 😛 Alright, don’t go spamming me to make me feel better now. I don’t need that, haha.

Episode 5 – Amazing Grass

Episode 5 is here! This week, viewer Myha asked Mac and Cheese and Bottle Monster about the diet of her and her dog. Since it’s an important issue, we invited experts to answer the question. This is the first appearance of Bobby and Moostifer in the podcast.

If you can’t see the embedded video,
Click here to watch it on YouTube.
Or download Quicktime movies here:
m4v format (35MB)
mov format (11MB)

What’s new: Bobby and Moostifer are appearing on this podcast for the first time. It’s also the first episode to feature a song.

Music: The song is Eat Grass that’s written for this episode. The lyrics is by Kelvin Kao (me) and the melody is by Theresa “Q’ Nguyen. The melody was originally composed for LCC Theatre Company‘s “Glasses – the Musical” with a different set of lyrics.

If you have any thoughts, feel free to leave me a comment. Also remember that you can have new posts emailed to you or subscribe via iTunes.

Related posts:
Episode 4: Mr. Robottle
Episode 3: Crazy Names
Episode 2: iBottle
Episode 1: Making a Podcast

How to make a moving mouth puppet with arm rods (Mac and Cheese)

Want to know how to make one of those furry monster puppets? (Well, or any similar puppets that’s not furry?) In this post, I am going to show you how to make Mac and Cheese, the puppet that you’ve seen in every podcast episode on this site so far. This is what he looks like: (By the way, if you are looking for how to make Mac and Cheese the recipe, click here.)
make-mc-0.jpg
For the most part, I followed this video by puppeteer/puppet builder Paul Louis, but I’ve also made a few variations on my own based on what’s available to me at the time. For example, he used both glue gun and contact cement for gluing, and I used only my hot glue gun. He used foam to stuff the puppet’s head and I didn’t feel like using it. He used untangled wire hangers for arm rods while I just bought bamboo skewers from the supermarket across the street. So yeah, you should feel free to experiment with different materials too. Here’s a list of materials used by Paul Louis to make his puppet in the video, and the materials I used to make Mac and Cheese:

Parts Paul’s puppet Mac and Cheese
Main body fleece fleece
Mouth board (interior) juice carton tissue paper box
Mouth board (exterior) black felt black T-shirt
Tongue red felt red felt
Eyes Ping-pong ball Index card
Pupil self-adhesive felt dots drawn in with a marker
Arm rods wire hangers Bamboo skewers
Nose Pom-pom ain’t got one
Head stuffing foam bag of polyfill
Hair Malibu boa ain’t got any
Arm stuffing Polyfill Polyfill
Sewing Sewing machine Needle and thread
Glues contact cement and hot glue hot glue only

Now here are the steps. The numbers on the pictures correspond to the steps. Please click on them to see the details. I had to use thumbnails here, or the article will appear way too long. Also, keep in mind that Mac and Cheese was the first of this type of puppet I built so it’s a prototype and I did make mistakes along the way that I would also point out.

make-mc-1.jpgmake-mc-2.jpgmake-mc-3.jpgmake-mc-4.jpgmake-mc-5.jpg
1. Draw out a pattern: Draw a head and a body. (If you are wondering why I sort of traced my palm and fingers in the face part, it’s because it’s a good measurement for how big that circle should be. If you’ve ever asked other people or been asked the trick question “Is your hand bigger than your face?”, you know.)
2. Cut out the pattern: You will have an easier time tracing it onto the fabric that way.
3. Trace the pattern onto the folded fabric: I used a permanent marker. There are fabric markers that you can buy at fabric/craft stores as well. If a regular pen works for you, go ahead and use that too. Notice that the fabric has to be folded, so you can sew the two layers together.
4. Sew along the line: In the video he used a sewing machine. However, since I don’t have one, and this is a prototype I am using to learn every single detail, I did this part by hand. I used back-stitches. They are time-consuming but very sturdy.
5. Cut around the stitches and flip it inside out: Be careful not to cut the actual stitches. It’s fine to leave some fabric outside the stitched border since you are flipping it inside out anyway. You should now have sort of a bag that you can put your hand in.
make-mc-6.jpgmake-mc-7a.jpgmake-mc-7b.jpgmake-mc-8.jpgmake-mc-9.jpg
6. Cut a slit across the head/face part: Along the middle line is probably the best to allow the most mouth movement and flexibilities. If you cut this slit too high or too low, you will have difficulties opening and closing the mouth.
7. Make a mouth board using cardboard and fabric: In the video, a juice carton was used. I used a tissue paper box. I’ve also used other boxes on other puppets so any cardboard would do. Make sure you fold it in the middle so it’s like a mouth. Next, cover it with a piece of black fabric (felt, T-shirt, or even sheet foam) and glue the cardboard and the fabric together. In the video, contact cement was used, but I just used my trusty glue gun. Cut the fabric according to the shape of the cardboard and now the mouth board is done.
8. Stick the mouth board into the slit and glue them together around the edge: For the mouth and slit to fit each other, the diameter of the mouth board should be approximately 2/3 of the length of the slit. Of course, that’s only an estimate. You should probably try to stick the cardboard into the slit before you glue on the fabric, because then you can go back and make more changes to the cardboard to find the ideal size and shape.
9. Make a little bag and stuff it with polyfill. Slide into the puppet’s head above the mouth board. In the video, foam was used. Since I don’t have foam, I made a bag by folding a piece of fabric over and gluing the edges. I then put the polyfill in from the opening and just fold over the extra fabrics at the opening. I didn’t seal it because I might want to adjust the shape and size again later. Slide this bag into the head above the mouth board. Don’t worry, it won’t fall out because the mouth board is there. Squeeze things around to get the head shape you want. If it’s too much or too little stuffing, take the bag out again to adjust the amount of polyfill in there.
make-mc-10.jpgmake-mc-11.jpgmake-mc-12.jpgmake-mc-13.jpgmake-mc-14.jpg
10. Make the arms: Like the body, it’s just a piece of fabric folded over, sewn together, cut out, and flipping over. Stuff the arms with polyfill. Note that I really should put the arm rods in first (steps 11 and 12) but since this was my prototype, I didn’t do that right. Actually, it depends. If your rod is installed into the palm, you should put in the rod before you stuff the arm. However, if the rod is installed on the outside, you should install the rods later. Stuffing the arms give the arms some shape, but don’t stuff too much because you still want the arms to be flexible. Squeeze the middle part and then bend it back and forth a few times. This pushes the polyfill to either the upper or lower arm, hence creating a two part arm with a joint in between.
11. Make arm rods: I used the sharp end of the skewer to penetrate the middle zigzag layer of the cardboard (but not all the way through). Pull the skewer out, put some glue on the tip and insert it again. This time the cardboard and skewer will stick together.
12. Open up the wrist to stick the arm rod in: I cut open the puppet’s wrist to put in the arm rod made from a bamboo skewer. The skewer should come out the bottom of the palm. The cardboard will make sure the arm rod is fixed in place. Close up the wrist again. Note that if I had done this in the right order, I would’ve installed the rod before I stuffed the arm. If I did that, then I didn’t need to open up the wrist again.
13. Glue on the eyes and arms: In the video he used ping-pong balls, which created more 3-D eyes. I didn’t have ping-pong balls at the moment, and I wanted to see what it would be like if I just drew eyes on an index card and cut them out. So I did that and glued the eyes to the head. The arms can be glued on or sewn on. I tried to glue and then sew, but it’s mostly glued because later I realized that it’s very hard to sew through that layer of glue with the needles I have. So they were just glued on and I’ve been puppeteering it for a while now and it didn’t seem to be falling off… that’s a good thing. By this step, the puppet is pretty much done.
14. Glue the tongue into the mouth: That red tongue is made from a piece of felt. You would have used something else or just skip this step. (For example, Bottle Monster doesn’t have a tongue like this.)

So there you go. That’s how you make Mac and Cheese. I hope this article is helpful if you are trying to build your own puppet at home. :-)

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