The last three weekends (not counting this one) I’ve been attending puppet-building workshops. It was lots of learning and fun with sawing, sanding, drilling, carving, cutting, sewing, gluing, and goofing around with puppet improv. This is one of the perks about living in the Los Angeles area, I guess: many interesting workshops going on around here. The first two weekends were for rod puppets and the third were for Muppet-style puppets. No, the workshops had nothing to do with each other. They just happened to be on three consecutive weekends.
Rod Puppet Workshop
The workshop was taught by puppeteer / puppet-builder Greg Ballora and was an LAGOP event. (That’s the Los Angeles Guild of Puppetry. No, I am not in the Grand Old Party and I doubt any political party would put on a puppetry workshop.) The puppet would have a head that nods and turns so the head could move and tilt in very expressive ways, and the arms were controlled using rods. The head and body were foam covered in papier-mâché and the main skeleton was made of wood.
The instructor was energetic and loved joking around in very sarcastic ways, which made the class fun, but also it was a lot of fun for me to do many things that I haven’t done for a while. For example, I have not used a band saw since middle school so that brought back memories. Ditto with the press drill. I also got to use Celluclay, which was finely ground recycled paper with glue in it, sort of an instant papier-mâché (just add water). I also got to sand down a dowel. Now, I rarely got to work with big power tools like these. I haven’t done any wood work for quite a while; papier-mâché and foam-carving were totally new to me. The half-finished stuff didn’t look good but I had fun making it. I learn by trial and error and I’ve definitely committed errors this time.
The picture here was just the internal structure for the head attached to the spine. Unfortunately, we ran out of time and I don’t have a space for doing wood work so I wasn’t able to really finish it (like making the arms) on my own, unless I can find a wood shop that’s for rent by the hour in the area. Doing that stuff in my room on a carpeted floor is simply a little silly. But hey, I did learn a few things about making string joints and I got to play with new materials and tools. These are all knowledge and skills that I can apply to other puppets I am building, even if I never do finish this one.
Muppet-style Puppet Workshop
And then there’s the Muppet-style puppet workshop taught by puppeteer / puppet-builder Michael Earl. The students in this class were mostly people that had taken his TV puppetry workshop before (Click here to see my posts about those workshops). In fact, two of the students this time (Heidi and Bruce) were in the same TV puppetry class with me last time so it was good to see them again.
The puppets we were building were just like the one we used in the TV puppetry class. Since I’ve been using those puppets for ten weeks, I was pretty familiar with how the puppets were structured. In fact, I sort of attempted to build one myself so most of what was covered in class didn’t surprise me. However, the most valuable stuff was always the little things that made big differences.
For example, I made the puppet with fur fabric and ping pong balls. However, I had a hard time gluing the eyes (two perfect spheres) onto the head correctly, because the area in contact was small. In the class, I was taught how to trim some foam before setting the eyes. That information alone was worth the price, to me anyway. And I had no idea which kind of foam would be the right consistency so it was soft enough to give the mouth a flexible shape, but hard enough to keep the edges from sagging. Also I had a hard time cutting foam at a good angle so they would be easier to glue. Michael showed us how to bevel the foam for that purpose and that helped a lot. And then there were some tips on how to cut fur fabric using the right tools so we don’t have fur falling around everywhere. And then there’s the way to glue the mouth plate so there were no wrinkly patterns… You see? It was all in the details. They really made a difference and I wouldn’t have learned them if I didn’t take the class.
Everybody in the class was either already familiar with crafting and sewing or excited to dive in anyway. It was a great atmosphere making puppets together. And of course, when the puppets were done, puppet improv ensued. Puppets somehow just have a tendency to start talking to each other and many hilarious scenes just happened right on the spot.
A Pleasant Surprise
But of course, one of the coolest thing about the class was: I met Patricia Ja Lee! You know, the Pink Ranger from my favorite Power Rangers series, Power Rangers in Space. I know, I know. Somehow I am writing about Power Rangers again.
When I first walked into the studio, Michael (the teacher), Bruce (my former classmate) and two girls I didn’t know were sitting around the table. I said hi to the people I knew and exchange names with the people I didn’t know. I sat down to talk to Bruce since I haven’t seen him in a while, but I was wondering why that Asian girl really reminded me of someone. And it was not so much the face, but rather, the facial expressions and mannerism. I know a bunch of Asian people so I wouldn’t be surprised if she looked like one of my friends, but if I didn’t figure out which one, it would probably bug me all day. But more and more I started to feel like I’ve seen her on TV.
Then Michael asked her if she’s done any motion capture stuff lately. Then it hit me: wait a second, isn’t that Patricia Ja Lee? Last year when Jason David Frank announced that he was training for UFC, my sister and I looked up what the former Power Rangers were doing now, and I sort of remembered Patricia was doing voiceover and motion capture stuff, so I looked again. And that’s when I truly woke up.
“Wait, you are the Pink Ranger, right?” I said.
“Haha, yeah, that was a long time ago.”
How cool is that? Out of the blue (or pink), I met the star of one of my favorite show. That was like, one of the coolest thing that has ever happened to me. When we first came to the United States, we watched a bunch of kids programs
because they were easier to understand and teach important English words like “sabre”, “morph”, and “megazord”. Ok, who am I kidding? There’s no denying that I enjoy some kids programs and people in spandex fighting people in rubber suits amused me to no end. But yeah, I loved Power Rangers in Space so this was totally cool.
Was she a nice person? Well, she was volunteering to sew stuff for people that didn’t know how to sew, and was trying to fix a malfunctioning sewing machine, though I didn’t know if she eventually succeed. That’s something a Power Ranger would do, right? Let’s just say that she did not ruin the show for me. Haha. But of course, now that I’ve met her, she’s not just Cassie Chan, but Patricia Ja Lee.
And here’s a picture of the everyone and the puppets. The class was scheduled to go till 5pm but some of us stayed longer. At the end, all the people that had real cameras had already left (my theory was that they had to hurry to go take pictures of the sunset, or something) so enjoy this tiny blurry picture from a camera phone.