Puppet Manipulation Basics

Big thanks to Josh Cohen, Connor Hopkins and Liebe Wetzle for these notes.

Sara Farr

The Illusion of Life

  • EYE FOCUS — be specific where the puppet is looking
  • BREATH — lift for breath, drop for exhale; lead motion with a breath
  • WEIGHT — show mass in the degree of the character’s inertia
  • EMOTION — happy: lift | sad: fall | angry: strike out | scared: recoil
  • ECONOMY — use movement deliberately; eliminate extraneous movement

Looking & Breathing

Be specific in choosing where your puppet is looking
Look at your puppet and correct eye line as necessa
Let puppet look around and “see” the environment
Shoulder rise-fall gives “breath” or life to your puppet
Anticipate movement with a “breath”
To look left or right, roll your wrist to show your knuckles to the audience
WalkingBounce gives rise and fall of walkForearm to turn & shift weight for walkVary speed, gate and emotion to create character walksTalking Bounce from shoulder with relaxed wrist opens the mouthPop open on vowels (close for consonants)Visualize voice coming from palm of your handKeep puppet’s head out to audience; avoid profileLook at puppet & emote, then look at scene partnerKeep hand pointed slightly down so audience can see eyesPractice thumb movement (drop jaw, maintain eye line)Small movements for talkingEmphasize beats with BIG movementPuppet always knows what to sayArms & TouchingUse the arm rods with deliberance; otherwise, drop ’emCreate tension in arm by pulling out to full lengthRoll rod to turn handGive scene partner a target for high-5s and hugsVerbally and physically communicate your attack”Victim” reaction sells the touch/slap/hit/punch/kickUse slo-mo for “Kiss or Kill” momentsDon’t rush the action; break complex actions down into individual stepsGeneral NotesEverything you do, do it through the puppetBe conscious of the puppet’s movementShow, don’t tell… Nod for “yes”, shake head for “no”Use the puppet’s body language (eye contact, close/far to other characters)Share energy with audience… have puppet look at audience oftenExample: To other character… “[Name] I want to ask you a question” Out to audience… “[asks question]” Back to other character… “Eh?” Tips WATCH the puppetKeep energy in your handLet the puppet misbehave