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August « 2008 « 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

Viral Puppet Video Based on Movie “Fearless”

I want to share this video because it’s really really really well-done. This was a puppet video released around two years ago inspired by the 2006 film Huo Yuan Jia (霍元甲) starring Jet Li. It was also released in North America under the title Jet Li’s Fearless in the UK and US. It was about Huo Yuan-Jia, a martial art master from the Ching Dynasty. (By the way, Chin Dynasty is a dynasty that really amuses me. Maybe we’ll talk about that later.) The background music is the theme music to the movie, written and sung by Jay Chou, one of the most well-known singer/song-writer in the world of asian pop music.


(If you can’t see the embedded video, watch it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hEWsYUbrZfk)

The video is simply amazing in terms of puppeteering and editing. All the shots are meticulously planned out and the attention to details is superb. They must’ve spent a lot of time on this. The way the characters handled the instruments and weapons are very human-like, and it’s just one of those videos that I’d watch again and again to soak in all the details.

That said, although the puppeteering is very good, it cannot look that good without really heavy editing. I watch this kind of puppets growing up, and I know the mechanisms of these puppets. So, I know that they did really heavy editing with the left arm. Normally, the puppet’s left arm is controlled by a rod from below. The left arm rod is usually hidden from the audience by the character’s really wide sleeves, but it is not possible to hide the rod when the sleeves are so narrow like the main character’s. They are so careful with this stuff that this is the only frame in the whole video where I can show you the rod. This is from around time code 1:46.

You can only see a really short section of the rod, and it just goes to show you what I said about the rod being normally covered by the sleeves. For the main character, since there’s not enough sleeve to cover up the rod, they must’ve really carefully edited it out. And since the character is constantly moving, it must have been a lot of work to edit out. Again, what they’ve done amazed me.

Who made such a video? People had different guesses and the group of people that made it used a pseudo-name and didn’t released much official information about it. When it first became viral on the internet, there were a lot of discussions about who made this video. Some said it was made by Chinese people, and some said it was made by Taiwanese people. Some said it was made by professionals that work in the industry, and some said these were made by people that were just passionate about the art. But I think, you can buy puppets, but you are not likely to have access to a studio with set pieces that are to the scale of the puppets if you are not in the industry. And these people obviously have really good skills, and most likely a lot of experiences as well. I believe it’s done by professionals as a side project.

Anyway, this really shows that with a vision, good skills, and a lot of time, you can make all kinds of crazy and amazing videos come true.

Anyone Want to Wish Me Happy Birthday?

If you do, leave a comment. 😀

10 Lessons from Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony for Puppeteers

This post was inspired by a dream. I started writing this post in a dream, and I thought I’d finish up by actually typing it out now that I’m awake. It seemed like a much better idea in the dream though. When I actually wrote it in reality, it just became so much less awesome. Anyway, here it is:

1. Lip sync well

In the opening ceremony, 9-year-old Lin Miaoke lip-synced to a recording of Ode to the Motherland sung by 7-year-old Yang Peiyi. Some people think it’s wrong to do such a thing, and some people think it’s no big deal. But either way, lip sync is a must in puppeteering, since puppets can’t speak on their own. If you want the characters to be believable, you’ve got to do your lip-sync well. It’s bad if you don’t.

2. Only what’s in the frame matters

Another controversy was that they used pre-rendered computer generated fireworks for the footprints footage. Some said that it’s not right to do that, and some said that due to technical reasons, it was impossible to film it for real and guarantee the quality. In puppeteering, only what shows up on the screen matters. Nobody will criticize that the drawer, shade, and TV that Elmo talks to are computer generated. Nobody will care about how the puppeteer is in an awkward position to get the shot to look right. It’s what appears in the frame that matters.

3. Hide the control mechanism well (if applicable)

The movable type blocks were an amazing production. They displayed all these different patterns and Chinese characters. We thought those were machines, but at the end of the segment, each block opened up and each performer inside waved hello to the audience. In certain types of puppeteering, like marinettes, they puppets were clearly controled by wires from above, but in some other types, hiding the control mechanisms well can sometimes add to the magic. So hide your control mechanisms well, and maybe you can reveal it for surprise effect too!

4. Be precise

There was this tai chi performance during the opening ceremony performance. The performers run in such patterns that, if they were not precise with the planning and execution, people are likely to collide with one another. In puppeteering, sometimes a puppet is manipulated by several puppeteers at the same time. And sometimes there are a bunch of puppet characters and human characters all on screen at the same time. You need to be precise with the blocking (planning out where each character will go and what they will do).

5. Improvise when something goes wrong

During the torch relay, the last person Li Ning ran in mid-air and carried the Olympics torch to the flame cauldron. It was windy up there, so the flame almost went off. Li Ning was able to think fast on his feet (well… not sure if you can really be on your feet when you are in mid-air) and adjusted the angle of the torch to prevent it from going out. With video puppetry, you can do re-takes, but with live puppetry, you’ve got to be able to improvise on the spot when something goes wrong.

And… I sort of ran out of things to say there. See, I was probably way too ambitious in my dream. Ten? I didn’t finish it in my dream, so how could I possibly finish it now? I mean, a lot of ridiculous ideas only make sense in my dreams. But anyway, due to lack of serious points I can come up with, here are some stupid fillers.

6. Puppeteers must be physically fit

Puppeteers don’t need to be in shape for Olympics events, but puppeteering can be tiring after a while. Also some puppets are heavy. So they need to have good strength and endurance (which I don’t have).

7. Puppeteers shall not take steroids

If puppeteers use steroids, they might become too fast or strong. They might accidentally break the puppet, or perform way too fast while the other people were not able to catch up with him. Therefore puppeteers shouldn’t take steroids.

8. Puppeteers shall be given medals

It creates a lot of buzz when people start to talk about how many medals United States, China, and Michael Phelps (yep, Michael Phelps has just obtained country status… what? you didn’t know?), so to create more buzz around puppeteering, puppeteers shall be given medals.

9. Puppeteers shall wear aerodynamic suits

So they can move through the air better. See? I am really running out of things to say here.

10. Puppeteers shall all read this post

I mean, all Olympics athletes did it, right? If you are one and you didn’t read this post, leave a comment now. See? No comments. Yeah.

A Show About Plumbers and Carpenters

Last night I went to Old Dirty Conservatory‘s August show “Woodworks!… A Show About Carpentry and Plumbing”. The tagline on the flyer says “and quite possibly our stupidest show to date!”. I’ve watched several shows of theirs, and I am not sure if this was indeed THE stupidest one, but it’s definitely up there. Yep, certainly lived up to expectations. Some of the stuff was really stupid, but very entertaining. You know, you’ve just got to go when there’s a show about plumbers and carpenters, of all things.

Having been to a few of their shows, I think one of the thing that’s a nice touch to this particular one was the use of a live musician. These people write their lines pretty loosely and improvise on the spot all the time, so a musician that can just add music to the scene (instead of playing pre-recorded soundtracks) works really well.

Not gonna recap the whole show, but just to give you a sence of what happened:
1. An entertainer went on a quest to the sewers and pipe in search of his plumber father who disappeared in an unfortunate plumbing accident. Yes, they encountered many pieces of poo along the way.
2. A carpentry contest was in town. The winner? The student of the great master who taught moves that were both karote and carpentry at the same time.
3. An interpretive dance with a plunger and a piece of poo. (My interpretation anyway.)
4. An “interview” (and banter) between Randall and Dwayne with video clips in between to back up their points.
5. Two plumbers’ encounters with a Russian whore.

Looking forward to the next one.

Cool Links to Check Out (08/17/2008 edition)

Living Up to Your Potential Is BS

This is a little bit of a reality check from Penelope Trunk telling people that complain about not reaching their full potential that the idea is BS, and is totally not the purpose of life. I agree with what she said in the article. Of course, the title of the article is somewhat puzzling without reading the article.

How to Do Light Drawings

This is a cool tutorial teaching you how to draw a picture with flashlights and really long exposures. I don’t think my camera has a setting for such long exposure time (haven’t checked yet), but if your camera can do it, it would be fun to try out!

The Daily Show: Special Olympics Update

This is The Daily Show’s look on all the controversies and scandals surrounding the Olympics games currently taking place. It was about the Olympics on the surface, but it was actually an interesting look at our modern culture. Take a look. :-)

Norah Jones on Sesame Street

I came across this cute video of Norah Jones singing “Don’t Know Why” on Sesame Street last night. It was not a new, but I haven’t seen the video before. I have no idea how Sesame Street somehow finds all these songs that would work perfectly for all these singers’ love for their numbers, letters, and shapes.

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