A Guide to Puppet Animation, Ron Gilbert

March 3, 2018 | Author: El Bisnieto Piedra | Category: Puppets, Ventriloquism, Entertainment, Glove, Hand
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a guide to

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Ran Gilbert MIMC



These guide and lecture notes were written March 1999 by Ron Gilbert They were written at the request of many fellow performers especiallyin view ofRons' varied and wide experience as an all-round general entertainer. Ron Gilbert has performed in theatres, holiday venues of various descriptions, stage, TV, radio, circus etc etc. For over thirty years the name ofRon Gilbert has been synonymouswith quality from his magical business, which now sells magical items world-wide. In the early 90's Ron with his wife Carol, started producing glove and arm puppets to add to their range of magical exc1usivesand achieved instant success with their famous dog characters. These are now sold to America, Australia, Scandinaviaand Europe, such is their popularity. Ever since Ron first introduced a glove puppet in his shows back in the late 1950's he has extensivelyused these in situations to enhance the puppet and create greater animation. Amongst childrens audiences he became well-known with his Thumper Rabbit and House. The routine and prop. being published in his first puppet book "Glove puppets, Routines and Props. which has been re-printed no less than six times. His recent puppet publication "Entertainingwith Arm Puppets" has been the active springboard for budding entertainers who use such puppets. Both these above mentioned books have become accepted as the best commerciallyavailablebooks to date, on the subject, and these notes also accompany his highly successful" Puppet Animation" video

Printed and Published by RON GILBERT MIMC 7, Woods View Road, Talbot Park, Bournemouth, Dorset, BH9 2LJ England All contents remain the copyright of the author

PuppetAnimation I was persuaded to write these 'notes' by many other professional performers, since apparently there are no other similarbooklets availableon this subject. Once these notes were written then it became a natural follow-up to make the contents into a mini-lecture. Thus what you have here, dear reader, is a compilation of notes that, hopefully, will put you on the right road to success, and hopefully avoiding all the pitfalls along the way that! fell in to! Over the past ten years or so, (this being written in 1999), many entertainers have sought to increase the variety and appeal of their acts by including a puppet of some description. Although there are very many excellent specialist puppeteers, the general entertainer usually does not have skillsto work a puppet, concentrating usually on comedy, magic, maybe balloon modelling, or clowning. In the above comments I refer to both childrens entertainers and those who entertain adults. For many years in a well known holiday centre, I performed an act basicallywith comedy magic, audience participation and climaxedthe act with a grand finale of feather flowers! Gradually I introduced a glove puppet into my childrens act a puppet rabbit! what else? Having no one to teach me how to handle the puppet and the availablebooks at that time pretty well commercially unhelpful, I had to learn ITomhard experience as to what to do and what not to do, purely by audience reaction. I watched other entertainers on TV who had puppets, (Sooty, Basil Brush, even the comedy cartoon characters on film and TV etc.) and realised it was not the dialogue or conversation that the audiences laughed and enjoyed, but the antics of the puppets. I then determined that animation was the keynote. Since those early days I have seen so many entertainers using puppets, that in their hands are lifelessbits of fur and cloth. When the performer often starts to do something else and concentrates, the puppets also go lifeless.He/she had forgotten that they were operating a character that was supposed to have life but through concentrating too hard they forgot to keep manipulatingthe puppet. Thus the puppet only did something when it was supposed to do so. Yet in real life, any character continues to be itself even though the handler/performer is doing something else. Examine for examplethe successful ventriloquist and his dummy. Even though the performer talks to the audience, the dummy is still taking an interest on what is going on. Thus it is this reaction that makes the audience appeal to the character and start to believe that the puppet is real. Most enjoyment and laughter stems ITommischievous activities. You have only to watch a short clip of a"cartoon filmto understand and realise this is true. The puppet can be creating mayhem when the performer is looking away, but stops immediatelywhen the performer looks or talks to it. Audiences love this situation. It is almost like naughty childrenwho know that they will be scolded if the grown ups catch them out. Child audiences, as well as adult,

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recognise this situation and often look forward especiallyfor this misbehavior! It causes much anticipation. Thus the audiences are attentive! No matter whether you are operating a glove puppet, arm puppet or whatever, the puppet must move, show attention all the time and be a live partner in your presentation and routine. The audience should always think of what they see as, you and the puppet, as two separate and distinctive persons. Much the same as the relationship between a ventriloquist and his dummy. When using a puppet, there must be a logical development in the relationship of you and the character. The puppet is there to take part in a situation or story that unfolds. It must take an active part in these proceedings, otherwise why have the puppet ? To use the puppet successfullyyou need to understand and know about how the puppet achieves these necessities. And really, it is all very easy, as long as you start by realising and strongly imagining that you have a live character with you. After a short while, once the puppet is in your hands, no matter what you are doing the puppet will be moving and taking in the surroundings automatically, as long as you keep manipulating. Stop manipulating and the puppet dies! Think for a moment what expressions happen in everyday life. Smiling,grinning, crying, laughing, inquisitiveness,are just some. None of these require speech! Even naughtiness is an action.

CHOOSING A PUPPET The choice of a puppet for your show is of paramount importance. First choice will be the character of the puppet that you intend to use and thus what vou can l!et out of it! So many performers see a puppet and purchase on impulse, only regretting their purchase after returning home and trying it out a few times. Perhaps you have fallen into that category? No matter, most of us have! Then think of the possibilitieswith your puppet choice. Think to yourself; 1. Is it biS!enouS!h? or too small? The answer to this will depend upon your particular needs. Do you require a hand (glove) puppet or somethingthat isfar bigger and more visual. Is it for static work (such as indoor shows at private parties) and therefore part of a show programme or for walk-round promotional work? (Fetes, shopping malls etc). What exactly do you want the puppet for? Your own personal preferences and needs will determine this. 2. Is it colourful enouS!hto be seen? To establish good animation it is essential that the character puppet eventually chosen can be seen. Not only seen, but easily seen. All of the puppets animations must be clear and concise otherwise the audience will miss vital bits of by-play and fun. Thus a gaudily coloured puppet may look fine close up but at a distance the character mayjust appear as a mass of colour with no defined shape. So when choosing a puppet, stand back, well away ITomit and decide for yourself as to whether it is really what you require. Does the puppet look good and a fun item IToma distance? (Rememberingthat even with a small glove type puppet you may be asked to perform in a church hall, school etc, with an audience up to 400 children. So what will the visibilitybe then? 3. Has it potential for expansion into various routines? Most probably bird puppets have the least potential for routines. They may have wings but wings cannot pick up or hold items. Usually they have a smallbeak (mouth) and that too can be a hinderance, and restrict the possibilities. Dogs, cats and animals all have good potential since they will have paws, a mouth, often a comical head etc. adding to the long list of potential expansions on a theme. 4. Will I feel comfortable handlinS! this puppet? Comfort is of the utmost consideration. If the puppet feels awkward to handle and manipulate then this is of course restricting. Probably the greatest consideration is that your hand fits well and easily. Do not be mis-Iedby being told that the puppet will stretch through use.

They don't! Often performers choose a childs ready-made puppet hoping that their hand will fit...eventually. But it rarely does! And pressure on the back of the hand when operating the puppet can be quite tiring! If you purchase a puppet from a specialist puppet maker then often the maker will make a one-off especiallyfor you. 5. Will I look O.K. handlim! this puppet and not look silly? Depending on your own size, the puppet that you use must be in proportion. A large plump person looks a little sillymanipulating a very small insignificantpuppet. On the market there are childrens arm-puppets and these too look quite sillyon a tall adult. Many puppet makers build puppets that are especiallydesigned for the adult and are therefore proportionate to the adult size. Think too of the colour of the puppet, because the colour of the puppet may restrict what attire you wear. For example a light coloured puppet will show up better against a dark clothing, and vice versa! 6. Is it the tvpe of puppet that I reauire? Again this is personal choice. If you are purchasing a puppet whether small or large, the first question you need to ask yourself is " what or why do I want it for". Is it for a routine that you have in mind? Is it for indoor or outdoor use? Are you going to build a 'set' for it, such as a hutch, box, house etc so that it fits nicely into an environment in keeping with its character? (See later notes on this). Also, according to the make-up of the puppet ( felt, fur fabric, latex etc.,) will it get grubby or dirty quickly through use? Consider if using a light coloured puppet whether your make-up will stain the puppet (Lady or clown, for example).

GLOVE PUPPETS A glove puppet is usually a smallpuppet that fits onto your hand - hence its descriptive name. These puppets are normally of a soft material, fur fabric, felt, wool etc. If using a glove puppet then the chances are that only a fraction of the puppets body will be seen. This is usually the head, shoulders and arms with a little bit of the torso. Movement is made by the first finger inserted in the head of the puppet and the thumb and second finger inserted appropriately into the arms. Thus the puppet now has full movement and can shake its head (head-finger moving from side to side also aided by the wrist flexing from side to side for greater animated and exaggerated movement). By moving the finger forward or backwards the head of course may nod, look upwards and downwards. By bending the finger downwards into the puppets chest the effect is that the puppet is sulking or crying. Try all these movements out for yourself in front of a mi"or. Likewise, the fingers that are inserted into the arms can make the puppet hold or lift an item, such as a smallbox, handkerchief, magic wand etc) even wave to the audience, scratch its nose, place both hands over its eyes as though frightened or even crying, play Peek-a-Boo with the audience, etc. etc. The puppet can now do virtually anythingthat a real person can do! Now, before anyone in the 'true' puppet field writes in to me, I should explainthat the placement of the fingers and to which fingers you use in the puppet is entirely up to you as the performer. There are 'classic ways' but it all depends on what kind of hands you have. Believe me there are a terrific range of hands out there, long, thin, fat, stumpy etc. So you must choose and experiment for yourself as to what fingersyou use to make the puppet operate in a lifelikemanner. Above all, the fingers that operate must feel comfortable in the chosen position. Sometimes it may be necessary to change fingers within the puppet to achieve a certain movement, but since the puppet is moving, then the change of fingeringinside will not be noticed! The puppet is made to turn to the left or right by turning the wrist in that direction. The wrist is also used to bend the puppet forward to pick up items or to 'bow' and also to allow the puppet to lean backwards. Some glove puppets have a mouth movement. This is usually a thin buckram mouth or simplyjust plain felt ( soft mouth). This added movement allows the puppet to presumably mutter or talk to you. It may laugh (with the mouth opened wide and the body shaking,) and of course the open mouth allows the puppet to pick up and hold items in its mouth. Note, that in the larger puppets (such as the arm puppets,) it is possible to use the tips of the fingers to pull the fabric down over the puppets eyes from inside the headpiece, to achieve a grumpy look. Conversely, when the hand in the head is straightened upwards the shape of the puppets head becomes thinner and taller given an impression of surprise and curiosity! At the same time as this happens it is always a good idea to lift the puppet slightly upwards from its normal position. This helps the visual animation immensely!

ARM PUPPETS By virtue of the name, this type of puppet fits onto your arm. The hand is inserted in to the head and the body of the puppet encases your entire arm right down to the elbow. In most cases these puppets also have arms which are made long enough to go around the performers neck, and look as though the puppet is cuddling or hanging on for dear life! These puppets also have legs which usually dangle. The correct position is for the performer, if right handed to insert the right hand into the puppets head, the first, second and third fingers and thumb operating the mouth. (Fingers in top of mouth, thumb underneath mouth). The right arm then, which is covered by the puppets body, is in a raised position, and the performers left hand then comes across the body to allow the right elbow to rest upon, as though the puppet is being supported or sitting on the left hand. If standing in this position for a long time, the right elbow can be supported by the right hip and even the left hand will easily support some of the weight, making it very easy to manipulate. This position allows the legs to hang down in a natural manner. Don't ever allow the puppet to just cling or hang around your neck without the left hand support unless seated. Or you can stand with one leg on a surface (chair) etc. and allow the puppet to sit on your knee. Otherwise it looks awkward and unnatural. I have often seen performers come on with an arm puppet, its arms clinging around the performers neck with the right hand and arm down at waist level! The puppet looks completely dead and lifeless! Correctly, the head of such a puppet should be at the same level as the performers own head. If you have an arm puppet try this at home in front of a mirror. Firstly raise the puppet into the correct position (right arm bent at the elbow at 45 degrees to your own body) and realise how natural this looks with the puppets head virtually level with your own. In this way it becomes natural to look and speak with it! Then simplydrop your right arm so that the puppets arms are taut and the puppet lies limply about waist level. See the difference.Note the differencebetween life and 'death!'

ENVIRONMENTS FOR THE PUPPET There is no doubt whatsoever that a puppet looks better and works better in a certain environment. What do I mean by that? Well, for example, a glove puppet rabbit in a top hat seems entirely natural, don't you agree? It is the association that comes into the minds of the audience. Once the rabbit is in the hat then it becomes natural for the rabbit to perform some tricks. Again, a situation that the audience readily expects! I have no qualms or arguments about the performer who just cradles a puppet in his arms provided the puppet has been taken from somewhere else and is then replaced back to that place. (i.e.. a cardboard box or trolley/table) but this position does, most certainly, limit the performer to as to what can be done with the puppet. Personally, I would recommend that the performer sits at his table/trolley or whatever, on a stool, (that is chosen by him as the correct height for operating,) and has his arm resting on the surface to manipulate the puppet. This supports the arm and is less tiring for the performer. In this way, the left hand is free to aid the proceedings and routine. Take, for example, a suggested routine that I offer with my puppet rabbit in hat, which may, incidentally,be used either in a standing or seated position. The puppet in this case is securely fixed in the hat and is operated by placing the hand through an opening in the hat into its body. Now, with this type of routine it is possible to bring out the hat (with the puppet hidden down inside the bottom of the hat) and stand in front of the audience with the hat, asking" what do you think I have in this hat?" The audience will reply a 'rabbit' since you hold a black hat! Then it becomes necessary for the rabbit puppet to make its appearance. This is simply and easily (and logically) achieved by the following movements. The hand now needs to be inserted into the back of the hat and into the puppet. But believe me, there is no way that you will do this in ~ movement! Begin by holding the hat at the front with the left hand, the performer peers into the hat to see whether he can see if the audience is correct. Whilst doing this, the hand is inserted into the rear of the hat and starts to be inserted into the rabbits body. To operate the puppet, as has been said before, the hand needs to be a snug fit and comfortable. So, just as the hand is getting slightly'stuck' and now needs the body slidingonto it (like putting on a glove), the left hand retains its grip on the front of the hat whilst the other hand pushes into the rabbits body. This will prevent any premature movement of the rabbit within the hat. However, once you have got so far, the difficultywill be in inserting the forefinger into the rabbits head with the thumb and middle fingers inserted into the rabbits paws! This is again, easily overcome by doing the following. To allow easy access into the head and paws as mentioned, the hand will disturb the rabbit puppet and most probably the head or ears will rise above the hat brim. This is ideal,for it now appears that the rabbit in the hat is stirring and awakening! The audience see its ears flip up and part of its head rise. The left hand therefore needs to hold the head whilst the right hand fingers are pushed and fully

inserted into position. Ideally then, the left hand restrains the rabbitfrom escaping too early from the hat And the right hand fingers have all the time in the world to make themselves fit and be comfortable! Once in position, the left hand can relax and return to holding the ITont and base of the hat and all the audience have seen is presumablythe rabbit stirring and trying to get out of the hat. Compare the above to putting on a glove at home. You need the assistance of the other hand to do so. Getting the rabbit onto your hand is no different. Once the puppet rabbit is in the 'operating mode' then it may sit up look all around at the audience and take great attention as to what is going on. Remember it has been asleep and its reactions are no different to anyone elsejust awakening. You are now ready to continue with your routine. Again, when the rabbit has finished and wishes to go back (to sleep) within the hat, the right hand withdraws and the left hand gently pushes down on the puppet to return it to its original position. Then the hat may safelybe put away! Can you see how natural every movement appeared and that there were logical reasons for every action taken? It is exactly what the audience would have expected. There is ~ any need to rush these things. Please always bear this in mind. Other environments that can 'house' a puppet are in fact, miniature houses. These can be square or properly shaped withflip up roofs. The puppet would already be inside the house and brought in view. The performer would describe the house and sit down with the hand ready to be inserted within the puppet. In these cases it is possible to push the hand into the puppet by pushing and jamming the puppet into an inner corner, as a type of 'stop', to allow the hand to get inserted. Obviouslythe left hand will need to restrain the house on the table otherwise you'll push it offi Now more fun can ensue with the puppet peeping out a little ITomthe raised roof of the house. This is a popular movement and delights all audiences. The audience will always see the puppet but you never do! Until required, that is! This also starts much audience participation and certainly makes the audience thinks there is live movement ITomthe puppet. From this point the routine can go ITomstrength to strength, with the puppet bringing out various objects ITomits house or even various tricks to perform. Strings of sausages or countless foam bananas making repeated productions are hilarious! Remember too that by making the puppets' actions 'naughty'you will get greater attention and more laughter. This also can happen with a dish-mop which the puppet may find instead of a magic wand and then keep tickling you in your ear or under your nose, to the delight of the audience! Or perhaps you give the puppet an article, ( silk handkerchief) to place within his house and he keeps throwing it out especiallywhen you are not looking! Noisy items can be added for fun. If you search the toy shops you will find many small items that rattle, squeak, make funny other noises etc. and when these are added for extra fun these sounds add another dimensionto your routine. Other examples of environments for puppets in addition to a hat or a house, are a basket, small theatre stage (where the puppet can perform) a Toy Castle, (maybe haunted etc. for added fun), a Toy Garage where the puppet can repair a toy car. Place your puppet into a situation which is complimentaryto its type/design/style.For example, a clown puppet would

look great in a circus box, a rabbit in a top hat or hutch. Animalpuppets could be in a cage or zoo box suitably decorated or even a 'crate' type of box, labeled "Live Animal" Whatever situation you decide for your routine with the puppet of your choice, it will always help ifthe surroundings to that puppet are complimentary.Even a smallbackdrop is useful. A puppet dressed as a mechanic would look good against a garage backdrop. Maybe a field as a backdrop for a puppet rabbit or other animal? If the audience see a puppet with a background or prop. that is associated with that type of character then they are far more likelyto believe in the characterisation that follows since their minds are automatically drawn in to a familiarsituation. Similarly,very young children will react with a puppet if there are large playbricks in the routine or any items with which they are currently familiar.Do not make the mistake of tying in any prop. or situation with the puppet if the visible connection is not easily or readily apparent. The last thing you want is for any audience to ask themselves "why is that there?" ... or "That looks completely out of place!"

PROPS. In the toy shops there are some very realistic plastic tools, such as spanners, hammers, pliers, saws etc. etc. and I am certain that any visit to your local toyshop will be an inspiration for ideas and routines. So too, will you be able to find plastic imitation food and vegetables ( used for childrens play kitchens) for further 'food' for thought! All of these are ideal for puppet size. Whatever type of puppet you have the routine will much stronger if you build the routine with suitable props. around the character. For example, rabbits seem always to be associated with carrots...the bigger the better for fun and visibility.Also lettuces and there are many good imitation ones available.Why not even try looking in specialist Cookery Shops where they have a range of imitation vegetables and fruit for kitchen decorations? Dogs of course are associated with bones, and toy balls etc. and the local pet store will have a great range on offer of squeaky fun items (for the real pets!). Similarlythere are items available for birds, cats etc. On the subject of props. dress your puppet in something distinctive to add that special touch. A bow tie for the rabbit? A collar for the dog or cat? A hat maybe? A scarf? Sunglasses? or spectacles? The list is endless and only requires your own imagination. All these items make the puppet more fun and a better character and add to the visual impression of the animation.

A FEW DOl AND DONITS! Although very funny on film and TV, the fact that the puppet can squirt water or Crazy Foam should not be attempted within the confines of a house, hall or fete. Many parents get annoyed if this Crazy String gets onto their childs clothes ( it can stain!) and parents most certainly do get annoyed ifthe childs clothes get wet! Apart from the mess that you will have to clear up, (and many do not even bother!), I would suggest that you avoid situations where a mess is involved. Even to event of the puppet throwing confetti etc.! Bangs too, are best avoided even more importantly when entertaining the very young. Any situation which disturbs a child can have drastic effects on that child for a long time and may even possibly put that child 'oft' entertainers that it may encounter, for its young life. This may be at a private party, a school show, a fete etc. Many times I have had parents relating to me various incidents which have frightened their own child by inexperienced entertainers or so-called 'entertainers'. Unfortunately, many amateur clowns and magicians fall into this category in my own experience, most probably because of their lack of understanding children and their behaviour pattern. Years ago the majority of entertainers were professionals, but these days, to supplement income, people are turning to part-time entertainment especiallyat weekends to earn extra money. It stands to reason therefore that their experience must, of necessity, be very limited. In areas where there is low employment often a person will think that they can become an entertainer 'overnight'. Just grab a funny wig, a clown suit maybe etc, and they think they can entertain. Sadly, hyping up the children adding bangs, using squirt items etc. does not work. Sadly too. thev don't know it!


MOVEMENTS AND VISUAL ANIMATION EFFECTS LAUGHING This applies to both the glove puppet and the arm puppet, using the fingers and thumb to open up the mouth quite wide. Tip the head back using the wrist and visibly shake the puppet from the wrist as though the puppet is quiveringwith uncontrolled laughter. Addedvisualimpactcanbe by rollingthe puppet bodyfrom sideto sideand alsoby bringing the head down to the chest and back up again. All of these are completely in line with animated cartoon characters that you are familiarwith. CRYING and SADNESS This movement requires the head to be bent forward slightly with both paws held against the face (eyes). A slight occasional forward and backward wobble helps the effect, just the same as a real child or person crying. Sadness is the same but without the wobble movement,just using the paws over the eyes and, if possible trying to pressthe puppet againstyour own body asthoughthe puppetis askingfor comfort. PUZZLEMENT and THINKING Here the puppet needs one paw against the side of its head with the tip of the finger bent and flexed as though the puppet is scratching the side of its head. Suddenjerks to look up at you also help as though it is looking at you for help. SLEEPING The puppet can achieve this by either falling sideways slowlyin a prone position, fall backwards, similarfashion or, in the case of the arm puppet, simplyfall sideways prone at the full stretch of the arms. This position for the arm puppet also aids the effect of being hypnotised and falling asleep. Other helpful aids are that the puppet can slightlyappear to 'nod ofi' just before sleepingby fallingvery slowlyforward and awaken suddenly before repeating this again and again until it collapses! This always causes great audience merriment. POINTING This movement is fairly obvious since one ofthe paws/hands is extended (finger) in the direction of the object that is required. Just like pointing with your hand/arm to an object yourself More fun can be had with the puppet pointing out something then turning to you and prodding you, if you are not taking any notice! This continues with lots of fun until you do actually take notice. Such situations can add tremendously to audience participation, especiallyif a hankerchief has been dropped etc and the puppet is trying to draw your attention to this. PICKING UP and HOLDING ITEMS Again the fingers control the paws to grip the necessary object. Always make sure that the object is not too heavy otherwise your grip may

slip through the fabric. Most holding movements look slightlyclumsy, ( to enable you to get a good firm grip) yet the visual effect is very strong! If the puppet drops and object (through you losing the grip) the situation is easily recovered because you blame the puppet! PICKING UP and HOLDING This can also be done using the mouth ofthe puppet providing it has, of course, a moveable mouth! The moving mouth offers many extra possibilities of fun. By cutting a short slot in the rear of the mouth, ( where it hinges) the puppet may also swallow handkerchiefs etc. This is done by pullingthe object back through the puppets mouth ( throat) until it disappears. Thus a puppet could also swallow a magic wand. INOUISITIVENESS Examine again, the actions used by cartoon characters etc. The effect is done entirely by using a paw/hand to scratch the top of the puppets head, tipping the head slightlyto one side each time. Again, allow the puppet to look at you as if for further help and guidance.

As a general guide, examine all cartoons, both onfilm, TV and also in comics. The artists impressions will always convey an expression of the situation.

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