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

Marionette Workshop (Beginning): Weeks 1, 2

So, it’s back to Puppet School I go. This time for a different kind of puppet – marionette.

If you don’t know what a marionette is, it’s a puppet controlled using strings. Think Pinocchio, except it doesn’t come to life until a puppeteer makes it.

The class is taught by puppeteer Adrian Rose Leonard. We spent the first class connecting the wooden pieces into a puppet. The pieces were cut in ways that mimic the human anatomy and the joints were designed in ways to make sure that the neck, the elbows, the knees, etc. have the right range of movement. Since I’ve already read about basic marionette designs before, I didn’t gain a lot of head knowledge. However, putting one together did help the ideas sink in much more, and it’s good to be aware of the mechanics when we are working with the puppet.

The second week was where all the actual puppeteering fun starts. As with any kind of puppetry, you start with gravity. This is especially important for marionettes because using strings is a relatively indirect way to manipulate the puppet, compared to rods or gloves. We are pulling the strings to guide the movements and gravity is doing the rest of the work. The puppet might or might not be able to do a certain movement as a result of how it’s built and how the weight is distributed throughout. And then we talked about breath, yet another important topic for any kind of puppetry.

And we got to the emotions, where we were all trying to come up with different things (happy, sad, inpatient, etc.) and walking. Oh yes, it’s always tricky to make a marionette walk. What I found really interesting was that we were taught something that was the exact opposite of what I’ve heard elsewhere before. Here, Adrian kept the control bar relatively still, and kept the foot bar perpendicular to it and alternating moving the two sides up and down. However, I’ve heard another puppeteer talk about how he did it, which is to swing the foot bars out sideways, and the feet will go up and down because it’s being tucked by strings in sort of a circular motion, and the control bars are also being tilted in the opposite direction of the legs to compensate for that rotation. Both methods can work well, so I guess it depends on what feels right to you.

It is very likely that you did not understand that last paragraph. I am not sure if I would be able to understand it if I didn’t write it. Describing it with words is simply confusing, but it’s not difficult to understand if you’ve seen it done.

Now, actually doing it, is another story.

Marionettes take a lot of muscle memory, so really, the only way to get good at it is doing it over and over and over. I should find some time to do that.

Looking forward to week 3!


  1. February 7th, 2013 | 9:03 am


    It’s nice that you’re back in puppet school. Marionettes don’t look easy at all. There are so many strings attached:~) But if anyone can figure it out, it’s you.

    At some point, I’d love to see a video once you get your muscle memory strengthened and toned. I also liked the picture. It reminds a bit of IRobot, the Will Smith movie. That’s what the robots looked like, but with no strings attached.

    Have fun:~)

  2. February 7th, 2013 | 9:17 am


    As a child I had the opportunity to try a string marionette (one of those cheap ones they sell in fairs); I got tired of trying to control the movements and was never able to do it not even close! Seems to me you have a giant task in front, but with your enthusiasm and previous knowledge and skills I know you will do a great job with them. Will you post a video later?

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  3. February 7th, 2013 | 3:39 pm

    @Sara: You are right. They do look like those robots from the movie!
    Kelvin Kao recently posted..Marionette Workshop (Beginning): Weeks 1, 2My Profile

  4. February 7th, 2013 | 3:41 pm

    @Alien Ghost: I am not even waiting until I am good at it. In fact, I would’ve posted a video already if I had time to make one. Too bad I am a little swamped with work right now… but I shall find time to make one soon.
    Kelvin Kao recently posted..Marionette Workshop (Beginning): Weeks 1, 2My Profile

  5. Naomi
    February 17th, 2014 | 2:43 am

    Is the control bar thing about
    1. Tilting the bar up and down like a seesaw on a horizontal plane (ie. like one in a children’s playground)
    2. Tilting the bar left and right, like a seesaw on a vertical plane

    Struggling to understand what you mean even though if you showed it to me I’d probably go “oh, that! I totally get it now”

  6. February 17th, 2014 | 9:02 pm

    Yeah, that’s hard to describe. In the one we learned here, we keep it still, so there’s no seesawing of any sort. In the other workshop, it was more like swinging the control bar in and out using your wrist. I guess there’s no good way to ensure this actually goes across without pictures or videos…
    Kelvin Kao recently posted..Merry Christmas! Deck the Halls!My Profile

  7. Naomi
    February 20th, 2014 | 4:57 am

    Hmm, yeah that didn’t really clear it up for me. I think however you’re saying something akin to #2?

  8. February 20th, 2014 | 11:51 pm

    If I had to watch the demonstration over and over to understand it, I doubt that I could describe it clearly in words.
    Kelvin Kao recently posted..Merry Christmas! Deck the Halls!My Profile

  9. Naomi
    February 24th, 2014 | 4:48 am

    It’s probably just me. I really only understand concepts if I can imagine it in my head. It’s hard without a visual :)

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