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

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.


  1. August 22nd, 2008 | 9:33 pm

    Hahaha…yeah, well…I’d advise anyone to read this post from the bottom up. ๐Ÿ˜€

    Sarah Bray’s last blog post..Iโ€™m a Twitter moronโ€ฆIโ€™ll admit it right now

  2. Na
    August 23rd, 2008 | 12:38 am

    I disagree – you’ve got some great points here, that I would never thought of.

    Personally, I don’t like the fact that they lip-synched (although I watched and I knew straight away that it was), but everyone is so up in arms about China doing it because she wasn’t cute enough. Yeah, like that doesn’t happen in Hollywood every day, the cute girl getting the job while the ‘ugly’ girl gets passed over.

  3. August 23rd, 2008 | 3:57 am

    @Sarah: You know, I knew in reality that I couldn’t really come up with ten, although my dream said so. But I went for it anyway, inspired by an improv game we’ve played called “debate”. The rule of the game is very simple. Two people, each has his/her side assigned, start arguing for whatever their side is. They have to talk non-stop for one minute, while listening and responding to what the other person said as well. You’d be surprised how fast the real arguments run out, and people start to come up with the most bizarre stuff. That’s what made the game so fun. And the topics didn’t help the players come up with good arguments either, as they are usually something stupid like plug vs. socket, hot vs. cold, red vs. green, water vs. fire, etc. I knew that if I keep writing, amusing stuff will come out.

    @Na: Well, I guess my dreams are awesome. ๐Ÿ˜€ As for the lip-sync, I think what was really controversial was the fact that the girl wasn’t lip-syncing to her own recording, not the fact that there’s lip-sync. I was talking to my family at the moment so I didn’t pay attention that much, but many people had said that they knew straight away that she was lip-syncing. When I watched the clip again, I thought it was obvious too, but by that time I was biased already. But as for the other controversy, which was the 56 children wearing traditional clothing of 56 ethnic groups. When I saw it, I was just thinking “yeah, there we go again.” Dressing kids up as different ethnic groups to symbolizing harmony and unity… yep, they do it all the time. I’ve never thought they were actually children from 56 ethnic groups. It’s like elementary school kids dressing up as people from different country for their social studies class. You know they obviously are not from different countries (well, some might really be, but not the entire class). Maybe Chinese people all look the same to some people, but as someone that grew up in Asia, I knew that these people look like the same race simply because they are. When they showed that, I just felt it to be really cliche, but I didn’t realized that they actually told people that these kids are from 56 ethnic groups. I mean, it’s one thing to dress kids up in different clothing for a fashion show, and it’s another thing to tell a lie. Hm, not really the point of this post, but those are my thoughts. ๐Ÿ˜€

  4. Na
    August 24th, 2008 | 5:29 am

    The cute kid thing seems to be more than coincidental. The opening ceremony also featured a young girl sitting with that piano player; the Aussie commentary was that she was a child prodigy, but they never really showed her playing more than a couple of keys. At one point, she even looked bored or half asleep. Tonight, with the closing ceremony, they have two young kids ‘playing’ drum kits. Quite clearly the tactic is to show some cute kids to take focus off of the boring adults :)

    I did see the ethnic costumes, but didn’t pay much attention. I think at this point I started to tire of watching the ceremony. You’re right, it’s pretty much the done thing to have kids in costumes to represent harmony and acceptance – probably why I wasn’t paying attention at that point!

  5. August 24th, 2008 | 4:09 pm

    How do you know? Are you a child prodigy? Maybe some of them play piano while looking bored and half asleep. ๐Ÿ˜› That’s how gifted they are… to the point where piano playing is so easy that it bores them!

    Haven’t watched the closing ceremony yet. NBC is waiting for prime time to show it, and it’s only 4pm in the Pacific Time Zone at the moment. Probably won’t have as many thoughts about it though…

  6. August 24th, 2008 | 8:34 pm

    I started to wheeze while reading this post aloud. So I’d like to add an additional sub-lesson.

    Number 10a) Asthmatic puppeteers will remember to keep their inhalers within reach whilst performing long monologues. :)

  7. Na
    August 25th, 2008 | 2:12 am

    No, not a child prodigy myself… It was the commentators. They said something like, “here’s [the girl’s name] and she’s going to play a duet with [whoever]”. But I never saw her actually play.

    Closing ceremony wasn’t as interesting as the opening. The only thing I really liked was the tower at the end.

  8. August 25th, 2008 | 2:38 am

    @Paul: Oh, a very useful rule. Now, pulling out an inhaler in a middle of a monologue is a privilege that only puppeteers have but not the actors!

    @Na: Yeah, the closing ceremony wasn’t as interesting. The tower thing was only interesting to me for a minute or two. After that I just felt like it dragged on. My favorite part of the whole closing ceremony was when the athletes entered and then each group waved to the camera and did random things. Then it suddenly hit me: Damn, these people are BEAUTIFUL! I think it’s the mix of the happiness, nice bodies, confidence and energy.

  9. Na
    August 25th, 2008 | 6:18 am

    Funny, I always find the athletes part the most boring. I think it also doesn’t help that the Aussie commentators never have anything more interesting to say than: “Who’s that?” or “Isn’t it great to see all the athletes having fun?”

  10. August 25th, 2008 | 5:11 pm

    I usually find the athletes part the most boring, but I guess I was in a different mood at that time for some reason, hehe.

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