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


That was one long hiatus. But I am back!

War Horse

So, puppet stuff. I went to watch War Horse (the play, not the movie) at the Ahmanson Theatre. It was one beautiful show. Really, I just bought the tickets because I believe that the puppets are going to be quite amazing (and they were), but I really liked the other aspects of the show as well, such as the design of the stage. Nowadays, there are a lot of shows that are going for more and more spectacular set pieces and props. This show, however, was very minimalistic with the set pieces. Many scenes just have people holding various sticks and they became fences, auction places, the farm, etc. It was actually quite effective.

And to make it even more awesome, because we went with the Los Angeles Guild of Puppetry, there was actually a Q&A with the creative directors and puppeteers afterwards. The creative directors shared how the show came about, why there was a goose in the show, and how the differences in the venues (no revolving stage at Ahmanson) actually introduced new moves that worked even better. The puppeteers talked about how the teams were set up and how they all worked together to bring the horse to life. And man, these people are buff! “They are all in such good shape” was a thought I haven’t had since I was watching the Olympics.

Anyway, the show is currently in Los Angeles, and will tour the United States. Do check out the excellent show if you have the chance.

Marionette Workshop

And here’s yet another awesome event from the guild: a marionette workshop! The workshop was taught by puppet master Tony Urbano, who had worked on many TV shows, movies and live performances. One aspect of these puppeteering workshops that I’ve always loved is the demonstrations. It’s always a pleasure to watch the masters perform up close. When I watched him show us how to do those moves, I just kept think this was the most awesome thing in the world, ever. After lunch, he took the people that had more marionette experience to the next room to practice mouth sync, while the rest of us continued our exercises. Yes, we spent many hours doing this with the puppet: walk across the stage, take a look at the bench (thinking about sitting down of course) and sit down. It was no easy task! Have the puppet too high, then it didn’t look like it’s really walking. Have it too low, and it felt like it’s crouching. Also, if a limb swung out one way and the rest of the body didn’t compensate for that rotation, it just looked wrong. Tricky stuff, but surely a fun challenge.

I really loved the final thought that he left us with (“the F word”). He told us to have Flair. Everybody has some kind of flair, but you got to find it, and bring it out. I really loved that.

Too bad I wasn’t able to make it to the guild officer installment party where he did more performances. So why was I not able to make it? Because I was doing this other fun stuff.

Video shoot

So I’ve been asked to help out on a music video that my friend’s friend is producing. I’ll talk about it later but let me just leave you with some pictures from the shoot.

The Puppet Show (Day 2)

Two weekends ago, I was on a sound stage at USC helping out with a student film as a puppeteer. This past Saturday, I was once again helping out. Last time, we filmed the close-ups of the puppets so it was mostly me doing the puppeteering. This time, we filmed the wider shots, so it was mostly the actors Matt and Jen doing the puppeteering while I gave suggestions and assisted if I could do so while remaining invisible. I thought they did great on their own and my inputs were not all that necessary for today.

In addition to the producer Dave, director Michael, and Director of Photography Nicole, this time we also had Leonard helping out with the lighting. When it came to lunch time, Dave, who was running the sound, went to take care of lunch. So Leonard took over the boom. Since Leonard was also in charge of the slate earlier, I just stepped in and assumed that duty. I figured I might as well take over since I was only giving suggestions instead of actually puppeteering at this point. Putting the slate into the shot and saying “scene 2A, take 1” was actually pretty fun for me.

I was also doing some puppet wrangling. In one of the shot, a part of the puppet was supposed to be pulled off. So this involved me sewing it on loosely (without knotting) and pulling it off during a slow-mo close-up. We did a few takes so I ended up performing it, sat down to sew, and then repeated that a few times.

The best part of the day? Of course, it was when Michael accidentally knocked over his bottle and got water all over Nicole’s face during lunch in front of all the performers. You might be thinking, how awful of me to say that. Of course, it was only a funny moment because Nicole was a really good sport. The teasing ensued and we all had a good laugh. (This would’ve been all very different if she were a diva.) And she proceeded to call it the best memory of the shoot so far on Facebook.

So that was it for me. The rest of them got one more day to shoot on location, and there would be lots of ADR to do for them, but my work here was done. I am just going to wait till they finish the film. It should be fun to watch. :-)

(Photo courtesy of David Lee)

The Puppet Show

Over the weekend, I was at USC helping out with a film school project. We spent Saturday discussing the project and getting the puppets ready, and then we spent Sunday shooting on a sound stage on the USC campus. We are not done yet. There will be more scenes to shoot next weekend.

I was first contacted by my friend Dave, who was attending film school at USC and was the producer of the film. I then met the writer/director Michael and went over some ideas. It was about a man grabbing stuffed animals to put on a little puppet show to rehearse for his new role as a new dad, so we used stuffed animals as puppets. The director brought the cast (a bunch of stuffed animals) and for the main character, he even brought three identical ones. We ended up keeping one unmodified, cutting one open (which didn’t make me cringe as much as I thought I would) to make into a puppet, and modified the ear of one of them based on the storyline. Also, the main character was an elephant, so we also put a piece of a wire hanger into its trunk. That way, we could control the angle and the shape of the trunk.

Then there came the shoot date. I arrived at the studio while Dave, Michael, and the DP Nicole were adjusting the lights. It was an interesting experience for me to watch them work, because I got to see how the lighting changed the shot while they made the adjustments such as moving the lights around, changing the levels, using the barn doors and clipping gel to the lights. When it comes to video productions, I’ve never been good at the lighting aspect, so it was a good opportunity to watch them and pick up a thing or two.

Then we filmed. It was a fun shoot, as all shoots involving puppets should be. I realized there were good things and bad things about the habits that I’ve developed. After taking classes for TV puppetry, this left-is-right and right-is-left thing has already become second nature to me. I have no trouble at all moving and tilting the puppet to whichever spot I want in the shot. The downside with the training, however, is that I’ve gotten into the habit of breaking the fourth wall (talking to, looking into the camera directly) while I am not supposed to. On Sesame Street or similar puppet shows, characters often directly interact with the camera as a way of including the kids watching, or use the technique to emphasize things. While it was a good thing to do in many cases, it can also make them very narcissistic puppets! The director pointed out the eye line problem a few times and I had to more consciously watch out for this problem, since looking at the camera is not always appropriate for every situation. So that was another thing that I would watch out for in the future (that includes our next shoot on Saturday).

Just to make the day more interesting, there was an earthquake during the shoot. The epicenter was in Baja California, Mexico, we could feel it in Mexico too. When it first happened, the other people were setting up a shot and I was making modifications to a puppet. At first we weren’t even sure if we were just dizzy or it was an earthquake. Michael and Nicole had never even experienced an earthquake before so this shall go down as an unforgetable day for them. As for me, somehow I’ve always lived in places that has earthquakes (Taiwan and California) so it isn’t entirely new to me.

It was a fun shoot and I look forward to the next one. And here’s a picture of me on set. (Courtesy of Dave Lee) :-)

Voiceover Gig

So I just did the voiceover gig. It was fun for me. In fact, recording has always been fun for me. I remember recording myself (and the others) using audio tapes when I was little. That was fun. Recording in my voiceover classes and recording myself on my own computer is fun too. (Listening to myself isn’t as fun but the recording part is fun at least, hehe.)

When I arrived at the studio (early), the voice talent recording before me was just wrapping up. He was recording the same safety instructions, except in Japanese. After that, I went into the recording booth and the recording engineer Nick started setting up for me. We also talked briefly with the client on a conference call, since she wasn’t physically there. And then we started recording by reading each line several times (about five times, I think). After I did all the lines, I got out of the booth and started helping Nick pick out which takes to keep.

Since he didn’t speak Chinese, I gave more opinions on which takes to keep than I normally would. Sometimes we just picked one, and sometimes we couldn’t decide so we picked two and had the client choose it over the phone. While listening to one of the takes, I said to Nick, “Um, not that one, it was a little rushed.” And right after I said that, I heard on the recording myself saying “that wasn’t a good one, it was a little rushed.” I was amused by that. Apparently I agreed with myself from about 20 minutes ago.

I am not sure what it is, but every audio/recording engineer I’ve met, whether during auditions, classes, or this time, is quite laid-back. I don’t know why they all have this very relaxed attitude, but at the same time they are very on top of their tasks as well. When I told him it was a pleasure working with him at the end of the night, I really meant it.

So that concluded my first (and hopefully not last) paid voiceover gig. Yay! 😀

Seamus and Magellan frame grabs

As some of you might have aleady known, I’ve been involved in a short film by writer/director Allyson Schwarz called Seamus and Magellan. We filmed in February and the film is now in editing. Here’s several frame grabs. Look for me.


So… did you find me? No? Good. That means I did a good job hiding behind/below the bed.

I was the one puppeteering the koala bear, although you’d have to take my words for it, since you couldn’t see me. When you are a puppeteer, you become the expert of hiding below or behind something. In fact, I’m so good at this skill that I’m going to start coaching people. So let’s say if you are a man planning to have a fling with a woman at her place and she has a real jealous boyfriend or husband that just might just come home unexpectedly through the front door that’s 15 seconds away from the bedroom and there is only one door so you can’t get out of the room and there’s no closet for you to hide in so you can’t use what you learned from R. Kelly and it’s on the 8th floor so you can’t just leave through the window and the only thing you can do is hide below or behind the bed, then my expertise in hiding can help you. Before you go and do anything stupid, let me coach you first.

Of course I’m joking, but you are welcome to pay for the non-existing service anyway. Here you go. 😀

Related Posts:
Seamus and Magellan: Day 1
Seamus and Magellan: Day 2

Seamus and Magellan – Day 2

Sunday was my second day of filming Seamus and Magellan. It’s Day 3 for the project over all. We were only filming one scene, but it was one of the longest scenes in the script. I was only in the first half of the scene. Dylan was the only one that’s working throughout the whole scene. Callard and I were both only in the first half, and Cornelia was only in the second half. I actually only had two lines in this scene. I like the fact that I didn’t have too many lines. I think this puppet is more expressive when he’s focused on an action that’s not talking.

I actually had a lot of downtime today. We filmed a wide shot with all three characters, and then I waited some time while they did close-ups on Callard and Dylan. The close-up shots on the puppet was filmed after their shots were done, so I had plenty of time to talk to people that I didn’t really get to talk to the day before. I had a little chat with the production designer Leslie, the make-up artist Melody, and script supervisor Rebecca. They do more waiting-around than the lighting and camera people. It was nice to get to talk to them a little bit.

The most fun and most time-consuming scene today was probably the one that called for smoke. A fog machine was used and it sure fogs up and stinks up the room. And every time it was used, we had to wait for the smoke to clear out before we do another take. It didn’t smell good but it was a fun one to film.

Dylan’s mom and sister Ellery came to visit today. Ellery is such a cutie! And the whole family is so nice and friendly. I really like them. Actually everybody involved in this project was pretty nice. It was a good working atmosphere.

So I filmed the close-ups: my two lines and a bunch of reactions to scenarios. And that was it for me. They had a few more days to go, but I was only needed for those two days. It was a fun experience and I certainly wouldn’t mind doing something like this again!

I’ll probably share more details in the future. And I’ll mention it when the film is coming to a theater near you. (Of course, at first that would mean you live near UCLA for that theater to be near you.)

Related Post:
Seamus and Magellan – Day 1

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