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


JellyTelly is a new kids site that’s about to launch this fall. It’s created by Phil Vischer, who is a writer, actor, animator, puppeteer, and best known for co-creating VeggieTales. There’s a video trailer on the website right now with Phil explaining why he’s creating JellyTelly and gives a sneak peak of the kind of videos that’s going to be on it.

Basically, the idea is, while kids are spending many hours every day in front of the TV exposed to Disney channel and Nickelodeon, many are only exposed to Christian values and stories one day per week in church. And one problem is that there are not enough easily accessible Christian kids programs out there, so JellyTelly is created. Some of the content will be user-generated, and some of them will be generated by Phil’s team and other video makers that will also work to generate content.

After watching the trailer on the website, I have even more respect for the man. This is a man that has a vision, and is dedicating himself to making the world a better place. He had some success with VeggieTales, and now he’s thinking about how to give back even more. What a great man!

As for the content, from what I’ve saw in the trailer, I’d say that they are definitely not as big production as those Disney and Nickelodeon shows. Like he said and demonstrated, you just need a camera and some ideas. Many of the segments that I’ve seen in the video are just really fun and I would seriously rather watch this stuff over Disney channel and Nickelodeon. And I’m not even Christian! From watching these short segments, I learned something about the Bible and how Christians look at the world… even though I don’t necessarily agree with everything they teach.

And we’ll see how sustainable this is. At this point, he is asking parents to sign up for an one month trial. And then after that one month, you start paying what you think it’s worth, whether you can only afford one dollar a month or ten. That’s basically a model relying on donations and sponsorship. Will it work? I think so.

There are two kinds of people that I have a lot of respect for: One is the people that do what they can to give back to the society, and another is people that can create great work out of simple things and small budgets. Phil is both and that’s rather inspiring to me.

The website hasn’t officially launch as of the day that this post is written, but there’s a video (about half an hour long) with Phil talking why he’s doing this and some of the contents that’s going to be on it. It’s a simple production but the sketches are better written than many kids stuff I see on TV nowadays. Take a look and it just might be what you are looking for if you are a Christian parent.

Digital TV Converter Box Installed!

Over the weekend I installed the digital TV converter box. For my non-U.S. readers that didn’t know about this, the U.S. government wanted to take back the frequencies currently used for analog TV, and to make all TV channels digital. So by February 2009, you are supposed to have a digital TV, or have an analog TV with a digital TV converter box installed, or otherwise you might not be able to watch TV, since they might stop sending analog signals altogether.

The installation is sort of confusing. Actually it wasn’t that confusing, but my trying to fit the VCR into the chain complicated the matter. Anyway, it was done now. There were more digital channels than the analog ones, so that I do appreciate. And there were no blurry channels. What was annoying was that some channels were broadcasting in 16:9. Since we have a 4:3 screen, you see black stripes above and below the 16:9 image. However, how does a 16:9 channel sends out signals for old programs that were produced in 4:3? Yep, they have black stripes to the left and to the right of the signal. Compound those two effects together, you get a 4:3 program that was shrunken, with huge black borders around it. That’s kinda annoying.

I do appreciate the extra channels, especially the many more PBS channels. What’s really awesome about this digital channel thing though, is that I get Qubo. Yeah, yeah, it’s a children’s channel, but guess what’s on children’s channel? Yep, you guessed it, puppet shows.

qubo_lambchop.jpgI watched Lamb Chop’s Play-Along, and although I had fun watching it, it really really bugged me. How did they control the arms of Lamb Chop? Where are the rods that moves the arms? That really really bugged me. If it’s not shown, then it must be hidden inside the puppet. But the arm movements are so fluid! I looked up some live performances of Lamp Chop on YouTube, but the puppeteer focused on the mouth and didn’t do much with the arms, so I didn’t figure out much from it. I was pretty sure that the rods have to be hidden in the puppets, but damn, the motions looked good. How did they do that? I totally wanted to find out.

qubo_nanalan.jpgqubo_veggietales.jpgAnd then there’s Nanalan. I had to step away from the TV at the moment so I couldn’t really watch it, but hey, that’s another puppet show that you can watch on Qubo. Man, Qubo is awesome. It also shows Veggie Tales. Aw man, Veggie Tales is awesome. I can’t get that “Where is my hairbrush” song out of my head and that Sheerluck Holmes story is hilarious. Oh man, I’m so glad to have that extra channel. 😀

Correction (07/20/2008): It turned out that I saw Nanalan on a digital channel of KLCS (a local PBS station) instead of Qubo. No wonder that I couldn’t find it on the Qubo online line-up. But, Qubo is still awesome nevertheless. :-)

Vietnamese Water Puppetry

Water puppetry is an art form unique to Vietnam. I found it very interesting because the puppeteers actually stand in water to control the puppets, and the fact that puppets are also standing in water gives it an interesting dynamic. I am not going to bother to explain in detail what it is because there’s an excellent article on what water puppetry is on the Puppets in Melbourne site.

For some reason, Vietnamese puppetry reminded me a lot of Taiwanese puppetry. In fact, I found a lot of elements in Vietnamese culture to be similar to that of Taiwanese culture. Maybe that’s because both are near the southeastern region of China and are influenced because of the geographical location. Both kinds of puppetry features wooden puppets dressed in clothes as opposed to foam puppets. In both cases the control mechanism are hidden under and beneath the puppet, as opposed to European marionettes and Japanese style Bunraku. In both cases the puppeteers monitor their own performances by watching from behind a curtain that they can see through but the audience can’t (because where the puppeteers are standing are darker than outside). The music also has some similar quality to it. But oh look, another big similarity that catch my eye: fire and smoke!

Apparently they enjoy these special effects as much as we do. It seems more difficult, because you do not want to wet the mechanism causing the fire and smoke effects to fail. At the same time, it’s probably also safer, since according to my dad, back when he was a kid a famous theater was burned down because of an accident during a puppet show. But either way, it’s very interesting to see them both utilizing effects to make the audience ooh and ahh.

What seperates this kind of puppetry from other kinds of puppetry I’ve seen though, (other than the water of course), is how the puppets are rigged to do specific motions. In many other types of puppetry, the puppets seem to remain more generic in terms of the range of motions they can have. For example, in Taiwanese puppetry, a puppet showing off his martial art moves would have the same control mechanism as one rowing a boat. In the case of Vietnamese water puppetry, however, the puppets seem to be more specialized for the motion they will perform. For example, the puppet with a fishing pole battling a fish would be rigged differently from the one rowing a boat. In one of the video, a puppet seems to be fixed onto the boat (of course, I’m no expert so don’t quote me on that) and that kind of rigging is something I don’t see as often in other kinds of puppetry.

It’s good to watch different kinds of puppetry and gain inspirations from them, but hey, it’s simply fun to watch them because they are entertaining! (Yeah, I do that.)

Rhinocerhorse: The Story of The Last Unicorn

Last week, I mentioned a puppet video in LCC‘s Spring 2008 production: Arrivals and Departures. And now, the video, Rhinocerhorse: The Story of The Last Unicorn, is on YouTube!

The film is by my friend Mandel Lum with the help of people from the LCC Theatre Company. I enjoyed it and I hope you will too!

PS. I am still in Pittsburgh and only online for about half an hour each day. I have a new video that I am done with the rough cut. Will add music and upload the video once I am back in Los Angeles.

The Most Amazing Worms in the World!

I just saw a link to this video over at the PuppetVision blog, and I totally love it! It’s called Worm Circus, and it’s exactly what the name suggests: a bunch of worms performing tricks! I love this video. The worms are such simple puppets. They don’t have faces and they don’t use words. Everything is conveyed through body movement and sound effects/music produced by kazoos. It’s totally entertaining, take a look!

The crowd cheers when the worms perform their fancy tricks successfully. What’s even more hilarious is the different reactions of the worms when a trick fails. These great reactions make them so alive. And then they have some impressions of classic movie scenes as well. Take a look. It’s 10 minutes of great entertainment brought to you by some very talented worms!

Chinese Shadow Puppets

Though I’m more influenced by Taiwanese puppetry than Chinese puppetry, the shadow puppets thing I did was mostly inspired by one type of Chinese puppetry called Pi Ying Xi (皮影戲). It literally translates to “leather shadow drama”. The puppets are often made of leather, since paper is not as durable and plastic wasn’t available back then. This is a video of what it looks like.

Note that they used colors. Some puppet theatre choose not to use colors and just do it in black and white. They have different feels to them.

This next footage is how the puppets are actually performed behind the scenes… literally.

Next up… how I made my own shadow puppet show in Episode 14 – Tofu. (No, I didn’t use leather.)

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