Last November, I put out the call that I was looking for an experienced puppet designer for a new project. I got dozens of emails and recommendations, and had several great conversations with designers and directors suggesting techniques and pitfalls.
In March, I met with a great LA puppet shop to begin serious discussions about working together on it. They suggested a terrific illustrator to help create designs for the main character, a non-human creature with very unusual attributes. After a few sessions, we arrived something we loved…
…but it was un-puppetable.
That’s not entirely true, of course. With modern technology — green-screens, motion control, clever robotics — there’s almost nothing that can’t be done with a puppet. But when we looked at all the post-production that would be required to make the character feel like it was interacting with real-world environments and actors, it became clear that a fully-CG character would be a much better fit for this project.
The biggest issue ended up being the character’s walk cycle, which would have been a monstrous challenge for puppeteers. I had nightmare visions of needing to paint out six guys in the background of every shot.
Once I accepted that this character would be virtual, I questioned why I was so insistent on human actors and physical sets. After all, what was special about the project was this main character, who would be drawn in after the fact.
If we’re animating him, why not animate everything?
So that’s what we’re doing now. We’re creating the rough animatic and figuring out next steps. It’s absolutely the right choice for this project, even if it wasn’t the original intention.
But I still love puppets. The process of meeting with puppet-folk has left me eager to find the right project for them. It will likely be something in which their puppet-ness is innate to the concept — of course that’s a puppet; they couldn’t be anything else.
Of the many people I spoke with during this project’s puppet incarnation, one of the most helpful was director Toben Seymour. His video for Herman Dune is a great example of why puppets continue to be awesome.