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

Cool Links to Check Out (07/12/2008 edition)

Puppetry / Video-making Related:

Puppeteer and author Mary Robinette Kowal interviewed by Jon Armstrong

I like what she pointed out about creating characters, and I like her stories about puppeteering. And her story about the Sleeping Beauty is totally hilarious.

Career Paths: Director

This article on Indy Mogul talks about how to start working as a director. I find it to be an interesting read, because I’ve come across many articles about how to become a working actor (self-submission, getting headshots, getting an agent, auditions, blah blah blah), but I don’t see one about becoming a director very often. Though I’m not someone that’s dedicated to become the greatest director in the world, I thought I’d share it for whoever that might be interested.

Other stuff:

The Endowment Effect

In an experiment, the researchers gave their subjects coffee mugs and then later gave them a choice to trade the mugs for chocolate bars. Though the subjects were ambivalent towards the mugs in the beginning, they wanted to hold on to the mugs. The value of the objects just seem to have increased just because the people already took ownership of them. And that’s the endowment effect. I know I have this tendency too. In many cases I would hold on to my old things that I’m used to if I’m offered a somewhat better and newer one. Of course, if it’s a major upgrade, I’d still go for it. But the endowment effect is there, more so in humans than in other animals. I’m wondering if this is how it’s possible for monogamy to work?

Pringles aren’t potato chips, British judge rules

In Britain, potato chips aren’t exempt from sales tax, unlike most food items. The lawyers for Pringles were able to successfully argue that Pringles aren’t potato chips to allow the product to be sold tax-free. Now, it’s obvious that Pringles aren’t directly cut and then baked or fried from whole potatoes. The size and texture of each chip is so uniform so you know it has to be made from some kind of powder and dough. What I didn’t know that potato makes up less than 50% of the total content. Well, not that it’s something that bothers me, but I just think it’s interesting news. Guess it’s not appropriate to be calling Pringles potato chips then!

Editing Trick: How to Make an Object Hover (Garbage Matte)

Last time I did an experiment to make an object hover in the air using an editing trick, specifically, garbage matte. And now I’d like to share how it’s done. This following video roughly shows the raw footage that I started with, the garbage matte process in between, and the final product, with details to follow.

(If you can’t see the embedded video, see it at

Step 1: Get the Raw Footage

garbage_matte_raw.jpgFirst, start by filming an object attached to a stick or string. In this experiment I used a bamboo skewer and Scotch tape. No good reason other than that they happened to be sitting on my desk. garbage_matte_background.jpg Once you have the footage, import it into your video editor that has a garbage matte feature (I use Adobe Premiere Pro). Once you imported the video into the video editor, find a frame of the video that doesn’t have the object (probably at the beginning or end, before the entrance of the object or after the object exits) and export that frame. In Adobe Premiere Pro, this is done by going to File => Export, and then choose to export only a single frame instead of the whole sequence. We are doing this because we would need this empty background for Step 3.

Step 2: Garbage Matte

Garbage Matte is a tool that you can use to preserve an area of the picture that you want, and crop out the rest. If you are unfamiliar with it, read about it in more details in my previous posts here and here. In this case, since the object is constantly moving, the matte’s size and position has to be changed constantly as well. This results in a bunch of keyframes in the timeline.

Step 3: Fill the Background Back In

In Step 2 you are working to isolate the hovering object, but this leaves most of the background empty (black). This is when the empty background we grabbed in Step 1 comes in handy. Simply put that static picture in the layer before the object and matte and we are done with the hovering object project. In several parts of the video, you can see something a little odd looking where the stick originally connected to the object. This could be fixed by being more careful with the positioning of the matte. I just didn’t bother because this was only an experiment.

The music in the video is Pennsylvania Rose by Kevin MacLeod.

Related posts:

Special Effect Experiment: Hovering Object
Editing Trick: Garbage Matte
Case study: Putting a character in a car with green screen and garbage matte

Router problems…

I’ve been having problems with the internet connection over the weekend, so haven’t been posting. But we will be back!

Happy 4th of July!

And if you read puppetry blogs like I do, chances are you’ve already seen this video. But if you haven’t, enjoy!

Why Being a Puppeteer Is Like Being A Director

Last time we talked about why being a puppeteer is like being an actor, but something I’ve realized is that being a puppeteer is a lot like being a director too! (Actually this is more related to video puppetry than live puppetry, because in video puppetry, the director can stop the camera any time to give directions.) Here’s why:

1. You Get to Watch the Performance

When actors perform, unless there is a giant mirror in front of them, they can only imagine what their performances look like. Even if there’s a mirror in front of him, he can’t looking in it if the script calls him to look at something else (remember those videos in which people seem to be looking at teleprompters?). In video puppetry, ideally you would have a monitor to look at. This monitor is either the camera’s LCD panel or some sort of TV screen sitting on a floor showing you exactly what’s being filmed. Looking at what exactly is being shot is something normally only the director can do (okay, and the cameraman and maybe the continuity supervisor and so on, but not the actors themselves). While the actors need the director to tell them what looked good and what they should change in the next take, puppeteers make their own observations and make some corrections as they go.

2. You Get to Frame the Shot

The director decides what’s visible within the rectangle and the relative positions of how the props and performers are going to appear. While this is the director’s decision, they can only give you the big picture (no pun intended) so there are some fine details that you might need to decide yourself. For example, when a puppet is walking across, he will bounce up and down. The director can tell you where to start, where to end, and which part of the frame to occupy, but something like how much to bounce up and down and how much of the puppet is visible at any given time is simply too many details to communicate sometimes. In that sense, since the puppeteer is able to see the whole frame, he can sometimes help with the composition of the picture too.

3. Sometimes, You ARE Directing Yourself

Sometimes, the director is simply not as familiar with puppetry as you are. When they want a cry to be bigger, they might be able to tell the actor how to do that, but they might not know what’s the equivalent for the puppet. In that case, a puppeteer will need to direct himself.

Of course, for every project to turn out well, you need everyone on the team to put in good work. I am definitely not saying that a director can be replaced with a puppeteer because they are still different jobs that require different skills. What I am pointing out, is that there are some aspect of a puppeteer’s work that are similar to that of the director’s, and by noticing that, we just might make the final product better. :-)

Related post:

Why Being a Puppeteer is like Being an Actor

Why Being a Puppeteer Is Like Being An Actor

Being a puppeteer is a lot like being an actor. Your goal is to bring a believable character to life for the audience to watch, whether on stage or on film. The purpose is the same but how you do it is somewhat different. Here are the things that both a puppeteer and an actor would need to do:
(For the purpose of this discussion, we assume that the puppeteer is working with a Muppet-type puppet… one with moving mouth and arms.)

1. You Display Facial Expressions

mac_happy.jpgAn actor feels an emotion, whether from interactions with characters in the plot or from past memories, and then he shows that on his face. He does this by using facial muscles. He can create a smile, a frown, a tear and so on, and you get to watch it and feel it.

mac_sad.jpgA puppeteer, however, will need to show the emotions on the puppet’s face instead of his own, so whatever the character is feeling needs to be transferred to the puppet’s face via the puppeteer’s arm and hand. A puppet doesn’t have facial muscles, but it does have a mouth. By opening the mouth to different sizes and tilting the head to different angles, you can create a bunch of different facial expressions. A wide-open mouth shows you a happy puppet. A closed mouth arched upwards shows discontent. A head looking downward and sometimes slightly to the side as well shows a puppet feeling sad or feeling down. A mouth might not be much to work with compared to real facial muscles, but if you can use two dots and one line to draw a basic smiley, a mouth that you can open and tilt is plenty to work with!

2. You Ultilize Body Movements

mac_head.jpg Besides facial expressions, we also use body movements and gestures to convey emotions and intentions.mac_scratch.jpg An actor can show aggression by leaning forward and getting into another character’s space, or he can look around and be hesitant in his movements when he is not feeling all that confident. The same idea can also been done with puppets, although some of the movements aren’t quite the same. For example, Muppet-style puppets don’t have legs. The movements you can do, unless you specifically rig the puppets, are limited to the upper body. However, puppets are also capable of doing certain moves that’s impossible for a human actor to do such as twisting their necks and arms at weird angles. Sure, a contortionist might be able to do the same thing, but when puppets do them it looks funnier and less painful.

3. You Provide a Voice

This one is more self-explanatory. If you have a speaking role, you need to create a voice for them. With puppets, you usually look at them and figure out what kind of voice that puppet would have (or you can also do one that has a totally different feel from the puppet to create an element of surprise). Some say that once you can figure out a character’s laugh, then you already know a lot about the character. I agree with that, because a laugh tells you a lot about how much inhibition a character can let go.

It might be more or less obvious why a puppeteer is like an actor, because they are the ones bringing on the performance for you to watch on stage or on screen. Next time we’ll talk about why a puppeteer is like a director. Stay tuned. :-)

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