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

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

Seamus and Magellan – Day 1

This past weekend I’ve been puppeteering in Pasadena in Seamus and Magellan, a film by Allyson Schwarz. The main character is a 10-year-old boy named Sam (played by Dylan Sprayberry). The story is about when Sam’s older brother, Jonas (Callard Harris), leaves home, he is forced, in no small part by his mother, Anna (Cornelia Guest), to start growing up. When his Goth sister, Anna (Michelle Page), tells Sam about the ‘forgotten brother’ locked away in the closet, Sam’s imagination goes into overdrive and out come the seemingly harmless imaginary friends Seamus (Callard Harris) and Magellan (moi) who are all about fun and games, though not all of the games are harmless….

My job is to puppeteer Magellan, who is an adorable, talking koala bear who is comedic relief and sweetness to juxtapose the darker Seamus. He is always trying to get in on the action and be everyone’s friend. I think the writer/director is definitely giving herself a challenge by including a kid AND a puppet in a film, but hey, that’s also what makes it more fun.

So Saturday was Day 1 for me (For the project overall it was Day 2). I drove to the house that we are filming in. It was a house on some hill, and I wasn’t sure if I was at the right house until I looked up and saw some people rigging some lights outside the house. I was then greeted by the A.D. Maggie and taken into the house to meet the rest of the cast that’s filming that day. I already met Callard during rehearsal, pretty cool and energetic guy. And then I met Dylan and his dad. Dylan is such an adorable kid! We did some run-throughs with the director Allyson and then started filming.

This was definitely the most professional production I’ve been to. I’ve done a few videos in college with friends but nothing to this scale. They have a professional film camera instead of the cheap mini-DV stuff we college students (well, I was one) have gotten used to. They have a team of camera people where they are constantly checking to see which lense to use, measuring what to set the focus to with measuring tape, and using a slate and stopwatches to keep things organized. There’s a whole lighting team that’s always adjusting the lights in conjunction with using natural sunlight. And they keep measuring the lighting conditions they are getting at each part of the shot. And then there’s a sound mixer and a boom guy on headsets working together trying to get the best sound. There’s a make-up artist and production designer too. This is definitely different from the student group productions where we just ask whoever that’s not in the scene to hold the camera, ask someone to turn on a few lamps for good enough lighting, and cranking up the sound in editing because we didn’t record them well. I must say, the degree of professionalism and the attention to details is very inspiring. It definitely made me think about production values a lot more. (Of course, this kind of filming would take a lot longer compared to the home-movie style stuff.)

During the down time, I’m usually hanging with Dylan and Callard since we are on the same schedule. The sound, camera and lighting people just seem to be so busy all the time. When we are not filming, they’d still be running around grabbing things and setting up for the next shot. They are just so busy all the time, so I can’t really hang out with them. It’s funny that when Dylan and Callard interact, they are like real brothers. And I think it’s good that we three are hanging together in between shots, since that’s what our characters do in the story. It’s also more convenient for us to go over lines. And we’ve been talking about super powers. That’s always a fun topic. It was also interesting to watch Dylan and his dad interact. It was very sweet, and you can tell that they really care for each other.

It was nice to be given my own monitor to look at while I puppeteer. It definitely helped, since I was usually hiding behind or below something and couldn’t see what the puppet was doing without the monitor. Puppeteers actually tend to have more of a say in terms of what a shot would look like than regular actors, because actors just perform while the puppeteers are usually performing and watching their performance at the same time. To a degree, they help design the shots too.

Oh, and the lunch was way better than I thought. It’s good to keep the cast and crew happy, hehe. Will write about Day 2 soon.


Thursday morning I was waken up by people knocking on the door. Turned out that it was two officers from Los Angeles County Sheriff, the apartment manager, and someone sent by the owner to change locks. The officer told us to grab our car keys and cell phones and leave the premise. I was told that my roommate hasn’t been paying rent. Oh well, being the good citizen that I am, I just complied. My roommate kept talking and talking to them, saying how she doesn’t have any place to go, etc. But I never understand people that do that though. It’s not going to help you out in any way. I don’t understand people that fight battles that they can’t possibly win, especially when there’s a court order present and police officers enforcing it.

Anyway, we had to leave the premise. I just went to work. It’s interesting that I’m pretty calm throughout this whole thing. I mean, it did annoy me that I have to spend time dealing with this stuff, but I refuse to let this event become the focus of my daily life. Though I’m going to have to move home (actually, there weren’t much to move since we couldn’t really take too many things since we had to leave immediately) and then commute to work from there, I’m still going to be doing the things I do. I’m still going to go to work. I’m still going to be working on this puppetry stuff, speaking of which, I have a little bit of news:

That very afternoon, I went to the UCLA campus for a rehearsal. I haven’t mentioned this project on this site yet, but I’m going to be puppeteering in film student Allyson Schwarz‘s new film: Seamus and Magellan. The rehearsal was pretty chill and fun. It was more for the cast members to get familiar with each other. Here’s the story: When ten year old Sam’s older brother, Jonas, leaves home, he is forced by his mother to start growing up. When his goth sister, Anna, tells Sam about the “forgotten brother” locked away in the closet, Sam’s imagination goes into overdrive and out comes the seemingly harmless imaginary friends, Seamus and Magellan, who are all about fun and games, though not all the games are harmless. I will play Magellan who is this stuffed koala that comes to life. Should be a fun project to do. :-)

Oh, and we rehearsed in a TV studio in Melnitz Hall (That’s the film department building at UCLA). And I got to see the TV studio control room. It was pretty cool. There’s this huge panel with lots of bottons. The cameras weren’t on, but you can still press the buttons to switch to different cameras (though in that case we just see different kinds of static), and then there are also buttons for all kinds of different wipes. That was interesting to see. I know a lot of cutting and wipes can be done in post-production in movies, but in TV, where you have multiple cameras rolling at the same time, those are the tools you use. That was cool to me.

Filming is this weekend. More updates about the film later!

Happy Valentine’s Day!!

Since I did not make a video for this year, here’s the video from last year. This was actually the first video that I’ve ever made with my current camera. Wow, one year just flied (flyed? flew? flown?) by like that. Apparently I didn’t learn to spell in that one year.

Ah, looking at this video brought back some memories, cuz it’s filmed in the kitchen of my old apartment. Ah, I still have that wine glass. I love drinking all kinds of different none-wine stuff from a wine glass, like chocolate soy milk, coffee soymilk, and other goodies. (Um… soy milk… sooooo good) Ah, that’s Joan’s rice cooker in the background. I wasn’t going to include it, but I just decided to include it cuz it happened to be on. (It was probably my old roommate Ben cooking rice.) There’s a box of hot chocolate mix in the background and a cup with a spoon in it. That means I was probably drinking hot chocolate. (Um… hot chocolate… soooo good.) And then there’s that cute square-ish bread in the background. That means Joan and Pam probably just went to some Asian bakery recently. And there’s that bowl I usually use to eat noodle soup in the background too.

Ah, good times. I miss my old apartment and apartment-mates. Maybe they are the ones I should send a Valentine to.

How I Made My Shadow Puppet Show in My Bedroom

Time to wrap up on these shadow puppets related posts!

In Episode 14: Tofu, Mac and Cheese and Bottle Monster talk about how Soy Milk is made. There’s a dramatization of the whole history and I was originally going to do it using flash animations. Later I decide that it would take me too long. So what’s the alternative? I was going to do paper cutouts and then move them around as puppets, and then an idea hit me: why don’t I do shadow puppets instead? That was definitely an exciting idea for me.

I decide to do this in the style of Chinese shadow puppets. You need three things, essentially. You need a screen, some puppets, and a light source. I already have a lamp (duh) so now all I need is a screen and some puppets.

The Screen:

shadow puppet screenIn Chinese shadow puppetry, the screen is traditionally a thinned layer of animal skin. I guess back then that was the best material they can find. Nowadays it’s probably some synthetic material. Either way, it needs to be semi-transparent. It should be transparent enough to show the shadows and opaque enough so the sticks, rods, and puppeteers controlling the puppets are not showing. Originally I was considering using tracing paper but I couldn’t find any in my local pharmacy. I just decided to go with a piece of paper towel. That’s probably the best choice at my place that’s the right degree of transparency.

Shadow puppet screen set-upInstead of a fancy stage, I was just going to make some kind of frame out of cardboard. After all, this is going to be on video, not in front of a crowd. And then I realized that I should just tape that paper towel between two lamps (apparently I have quite a few lamps in my room due to all the filming I do). Shine a light (or two) behind it and that’s our screen. So, was paper towel a good choice? Yes and no. It was the right degree of transparency I want. It was the right size. It was easy to obtain, and it even has an interesting texture to it. But there is a problem: The puppets tend to get stuck in it. In that case, maybe other kind of paper that offers a smooth surface would’ve been a better choice. The puppets probably would’ve moved a little more if I wasn’t having trouble unsticking them, particularly with the shot in which an arrow or spear was flying across the scene.

I didn’t really try this out, but I think tracing paper would’ve been a much better choice. If that was too transparent, you can always layer it with a piece of paper towel. Maybe printing paper would work, too, but I didn’t try.

The Puppets:

Again, traditionally they are made of leather due to the lack of other durable materials. Since I don’t have leather and I’m not about to go buy any, I use what I use all the time: index cards. I seriously use index cards for everything. I use them to write to-do lists that I carry around in my pocket. I use them to write down directions when I go somewhere. I use them for puppets’ eyes. And then now I am using them to make shadow puppets.

First you want to draw your design on the index card. I use a permanent marker. Now you want your design to be connected and in one piece. Look at this following picture. The face on the left has all the parts connected so it’s one piece. The one on the right is not a good design, because once you cut out all the white parts, the eyes and mouth will fall out.


And a blank face is just not flattering in any way.

Once you have the design, carefully cut out all the white parts with an Xacto knife. I bought mine at a local pharmacy.

Careful not to cut yourself. And if you don’t want to damage your table, put some newspapers in between the index card and the table. (That’s a well-known trick to Taiwanese students who had crafts classes in elementary school. I don’t know if American kids do this since we seem to be more scared of kids cutting themselves or others in class over here.)

And then you want to attach the paper cut out to a stick/rod. I use bamboo skewers… same thing I used for arm rods for the other puppets. In this picture, the paper fastener go through a hole on the paper cut-out and then I tape the paper fastener to the bamboo skewer. Later I decided that these paper fasteners look a little too big, and the purpose for using them is to make the puppets more flexible for motions, but that was kinda lost when they are stuck in the paper towel. I started to leave small tabs on top of the cut-outs so I can just fold that little tab over and tape it to the bamboo skewer. Normally I would probably use a glue gun but someone borrowed it at that moment.

hand holding shadow puppet.jpg

So that’s it. Put the lights behind the screen and then put the puppets in between. Now let the show start!

Related posts:
Episode 14: Tofu
Shadow Puppets: The Best Anti-depressant
Chinese Shadow Puppets

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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