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

Music, Mood and Focus

I really like this video posted up by Kevin McLeod. He is this musician that has put lots of royalty free music on this website Incompetech under a Creative Commons license for people to use, and in this video, he talks a little bit about scoring music for movies. I’ve always thought that music was great for creating an overall mood and enhancing what’s happening on screen, but little did I know that it can also be used to create focus. In this video, he shows a film clip that has two characters with different emotions. When he uses music that matches the mood of one of the character, our eyes are drawn to her. And when he uses music that matches the other character’s mood, our eyes are drawn to him. That’s an interesting effect that I’ve never paid attention to before: sound can create or change the focus.

When I think about it, there are other examples that come to mind. For example, if there’s sound effects of water dripping, you are more likely to pay attention to that part of the picture. If you hear the sounds of a waterfall, your eyes are more likely to be drawn to the actual waterfall. And when the dark and somber music that is playing while the villain taunts the victim suddenly stops, and is replaced by the hero’s fanfare music, we know that the focus has been shifted onto the hero… even if the hero hasn’t physically appear on the screen yet! Music (and sounds in general) can certainly play a big part in videos.

PS. Kevin is also working on a new project, FreePD, where he releases some of his music into public domain for people to use in videos or what-not. Is this guy awesome or what? Such generosity!

New Sewing Machine!

I got a new sewing machine!

Ah, it’s about time. I’ve always wanted to purchase and learn to use a sewing machine at some point, and I finally did just that. And here it is, my new Singer Tradition Portable Sewing Machine – 2250!

singer_tradition_sewing_machineIf you’ve seen my new video, Start a Band, you would notice that there are four brand new puppets. They are all made using this new sewing machine. And for the four old puppets… Mac and Cheese was a prototype so he’s entirely hand sewn. Why did that to myself? Because he’s a prototype and I wanted to know how long it would take if I did that. And the answer is, my hand sewing was about 12 times slower than the machine. I figured that I’d never finish the puppets before the show if I didn’t sew with a machine.

So I got my good friend Janet to help me make the puppets. She did all the sewing (for the most part, that’s making the shape, the “bag”) and I did all other stuff with glue. That’s how Bottle Monster, Bobby, and Moostifer were constructed. But I don’t want to bug her over and over (though I know she’d gladly do it anyway), and also, the fact that she moved to New York didn’t help either. But hey, I’ve always wanted to learn to use the sewing machine anyway.

singer_tradition_sewing_machine_martha_stewartAfter extensive research… actually, no. I just decided to buy it because it was on sale at Target. I took it home, and started watching the DVD that came with it. It was short and only covered the basics, but that’s all I needed. It took me a little bit to learn to thread the bobbing and the rest of the machine. But once that’s done (after many trials and errors and rewinding the DVD), the rest is not bad at all. After some test runs on some scrap fabric for practice, I started sewing the puppets without any problem. The threads did tangle up quite a few times during practice, but that was because I kept forgetting to set the presser foot down. (The presser foot is this thing around the needle that holds the fabric in place while you sew so things don’t jump around.) And also I had trouble making sharper turns until I figured out (by accident) that I should lift the presser foot up, turn the fabric and then put the presser foot down again. It wasn’t until later that I realized it was called pivoting.

But yeah, I am fairly comfortable using the machine now. When I told my sister about this, she said, “I never thought you’d own a sewing machine before I do.” So far I think this cheap machine works pretty well for my purpose. Besides, it’s endorsed by Martha Stewart, so it must be bad-ass, right?

Related Posts
Music Video: Start a Band
How to make Mac and Cheese (moving mouth monster puppet with rod hands)
How to make Bottle Monster (moving mouth monster puppet with glove hands)
How to make Bobby (moving mouth sheep puppet with rod hands)

Editing Tricks in Ernie and Cookie Monster Madoff Scandal Video

Yesterday I linked to the Sesame Street parody on Jimmy Kimmel Live in which Ernie and Cookie Monster explained Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi Scheme. It was done by dubbing over the original video. But of course, the original video does not show Ernie firing a gun at Cookie Monster. So how was that added into the video? Here’s how.

Note that I wasn’t the person that originally edited the video, so I don’t know exactly how that person did it; but here’s how I would do it.

Putting in the Gun

First I need to export a frame in which Ernie’s right hand is clearly visible (and looks like it can hold a gun). And then I’ll take this picture and crop out just the hand. And then I’ll add a gun to the hand. And then, I’ll need to find a frame where the right hand isn’t very visible like this first picture, so I can put in this new right hand to cover up the original.


And then after that, I’ll put the new hand into position. I’ll then move it upwards from behind the wall to reveal the gun. Now, since the hand will be in the layer above the original video while the hand really should be behind the wall instead of in front, we’ll need a portion of the hand invisible when it’s below a certain horizontal line. This is to make the new hand appear as if it’s behind the wall. A garbage matte effect would be a convenient way to mark which part is visible. That’s about it. And then after the gun fires, the original editor moved it horizontally backward and then forward again to show the recoil of the gun. I thought that was a nice touch.

So now we have the gun, next we want to have

Cookie Monster Flying Off the Screen

When a puppet character is shot, he/she usually falls down. However, Cookie Monster’s reaction to the gun shot was flying off the screen. This is easier to edit and it’s also funny and cartoonish. First we’ll need to create a background for when Cookie Monster flies of the screen. In the original footage, Cookie Monster is blocking the right side of the background. However, when he flies off, we’ll need to show that portion of the background. This is actually very easy for this video, because what’s behind the characters is nothing but solid blue. We just need to create a blue rectangle that matches the original background to cover up where Cookie Monster used to be. Here are two pictures for you to compare. The picture on the left is from the Madoff spoof, where the right side of the screen is already covered up with solid blue; the picture on the right is from the original footage, where Cookie Monster is occupying the right side of the screen.


After we have the background, we can animate Cookie Monster flying out. We just need the cropping effect to crop out Cookie Monster. And then we can shift it horizontally. He will start out where he was, zap across the screen and eventually be outside of the frame.


I thought it was a nice touch that Cookie Monster yelled out “no!” In the original footage, Cookie Monster was saying, “Now, there are really no cookies to count.” The word “now” was emphasized in the sentence and they dubbed it over as “no!”

So that’s how the editing is done. I find this kind of stuff fun. In fact, my first ever practice project that I assigned myself when I was learning to edit videos was similar to this. I decided to use some existing puppet footages (because I didn’t have a camera back then) and dubbed them over. I also used some blue screen effect to put things in the sky. I had fun doing that project too.

Related Posts:
Ernie and Cookie Monster Explains the Bernie Madoff Scandal
Editing Trick: Garbage Matte
Editing Trick: Cropping

Ernie and Cookie Monster Explains the Bernie Madoff Scandal

This is a funny clip from Jimmy Kimmel Live in which Ernie and Cookie Monster explains what Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme is. It was edited together using an old Sesame Street clip and new voiceovers. I thought they did a great job with both the editing and the dubbing. Take a look:

(If you can’t see the embedded video, click here.)

I don’t even remember where I originally saw the clip, but I’ve seen it floating around on many puppetry blogs, finance blogs, and social media sites. It’s simply everywhere! I also dug around for the original clip and found it here. I had to scan through a bunch of videos, because there are many many videos involving Ernie trying to hide cookies, count cookies, or do something with cookies, and Cookie Monster trying really hard to eat the cookies or avoid eating the cookies. Of course, Cookie Monster always ends up eating the cookies. They’ve done so many of these and yet I still never get tired of them. Now that’s good performance. And Cookie Monster is my favorite Sesame Street character of all time. :-)

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about how they put the video together. Okay, I don’t know how exactly they did it, but I’ll tell you how I would’ve done it if I were the editor. Come back tomorrow for the post!

Visually Stunning Taiwanese Puppet Video

Just saw this visually stunning Taiwanese puppet video. They did a great job combining puppets and 3D animations together. I watched the video over and over for an hour admiring the work. Okay… that sounds a little obsessive, but it’s really good! The video doesn’t allow embedding though, so Click here to watch it over on Youtube:
(Remember to click on the HQ option for best quality.)


To give a little bit of background information: The video is the opening theme for the new series by Pili, Taiwan’s biggest and longest running TV puppetry production. It was also used as an advertisement, first premiered at their own store (yes, they have their own stores selling Pili puppet related merchandise) for fans to come and take a peek at the newest episodes. The video is designed by Zheng Bao-Pin (鄭保品) whose amazing work integrating puppetry and animation has been featured on this site before. One of them was the opening theme to the previous Pili series, and the other is the Fearless video that’s been viral on the internet.


Word is that Pili had hired him to do these opening themes after being impressed by the Fearless video. I don’t know if he will end up being one of the directors for the series, but this guy certainly has a lot of talent with videos like these.

Review: LCC’s “The Great Pretenders”

great_pretenders_time_changeI went to watch LCC‘s “The Great Pretenders”. I went to both nights (Friday and Wednesday) even though it’s the same show. Well, they are still different because they are in different venues, and the improv segments are, of course, different. But the most important thing is probably that I had the chance to see different fellow alumni on different nights (some of them actually came both nights too, like I did).

It was quite a well-written show. In fact, I’d say it’s the best show that they’ve done in the last two or three years. The LCC shows that I think are great, instead of just good, are always written by mostly, if not all, veteran writers. They’ve come to know the format and what the fellow cast members are capable of really well, and they can use that as an adventage. Also it just takes time for writers to really get a hang of it. A fellow alumnus (who is older than I am) once told me that it’s a shame that once a writer start “getting it”, he or she graduates. But then, high turn-over rate is just the nature of a college theatre company. When the time comes, people graduate and the younger members take over. And that’s not always a bad thing. Sure, we might lose some experienced people, but then the group is always fresh and never gets stale. The writers this time, Nhi Hong, Angelica Bato, and Peter Ngaou have all had scripts produced. Nam Giao Do did not have a script produced yet, but I’ve been to cold readings and I believe she’s submitted her scripts before. So yeah, you really need to write, write, write to get better… and it shows.

“The Times They Are A-Changing”, written by Nam Giao Do and directed by Angelica Bato, was a story about a student whose parents were always fighting. With the help of a psychiatrist, a strange girl and her strange grandma (who were all related), he got the parents (who were hippies) stoned again (with pot, not rocks), because apparently that’s the only way that they’ll stop fighting and love each other again. It was a little random, but heck, I like scripts that are random. They have to be interesting though, or otherwise it’s just some chaotic events with no reason.

great_pretenders_fartsy2“Just Fartsy”, written by Nhi Hong and directed by Tobit Capati, was my favorite script for this quarter’s show. It told the story of a new playwright’s encounter with a bunch of artsy-fartsy types in a writing class. The main character initially thought these people were all really odd, but then eventually became like one of them (or pretended to be?) and got appreciation and acceptance. It was really funny, and was a sharp commentary on how art was conceived and interpreted, and the whole sub-culture formed around the craft. I also liked what the director did with the costumes, from the regular clothes to all black, to the writer’s glasses, hats, and mustaches. The lighting worked better the first night in Northwest Auditorium. The lighting wasn’t as good the second night due to the limitations of De Neve Auditorium, but the performance was still good.

great_pretenders_taketwo“Take Two”, written by Angelica Bato and directed by Jerry Fang and Vanessa Yeh, was a story about a playwright’s attempt to write a good script for his agent to submit to producers. He couldn’t come up with anything good, but eventually realized that the best story was something that’s real and from the heart. Of course, a plot summary doesn’t really do this kind of story justice, but it was well-written, well-directed and well-executed with a good mix of drama and comedy. We tend to see more dramatic scenes from Angelica and she has become an important part of LCC’s creative output, in my opinion.

“The Westwood Action Tribunal (TWAT)”, written by Peter Ngaou and directed by Clara Sao, was a story about a local superhero league looking for a new secretary. They were faced with their nemesis, Dr. Nemesis, and eventually defeated him with the help of the secretary, who had the real superpower after all. It was one of the script that was more gag-based, and it certainly lived up to expectations in terms of making people laugh.

great_pretenders_twatThere were also the intro video, and a music video. I appreciated the extra effort made into producing music for the video. There were also improv segments that were entertaining as always. It looked like the new generation had already gotten really comfortable playing with the older cast. It was good when improv players had that familiarity with one another’s strengths and weaknesses, and the tightness of the group also helped. In addition, there was also a cool movement piece called “Writer’s Block” (about a writer’s struggle with the chaos in his head, of course) that I liked. Ever since Vanessa was in the group, we’ve been having these real cool movement pieces. And ever since we have Anthony, the costumes have been awesome. We are lucky to have all these really talented people in the group. Who knew what they (especially the new members) would come up with next?

It was fun. I’m glad I went.

(Photos by Elaine Chen)

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