Blog : All Business

Starting anew…

Starting anew…

So I managed to integrate the old Puppeteers Unite! Blog on my personal blog. It would be a shame to have years of blog posts be obliterated.
This Blog will be a little more personal and not only dabble in other topics but also showcase more of the behind the scenes projects we work on here at the Creature Works Studio.

Farewell. It was a great Ten Years!

Farewell. It was a great Ten Years!

Today is our 10th Anniversary and the day I am announcing the closing of the Puppeteers Unite! Blog.

First thing I want to address is that this is a personal decision. My children, wife and two full time jobs have made it harder and harder for me to put the time and energy (I feel) needs to go into the blog.

Times have also changed– when I first started the blog in 2005 there was only a few other puppetry blogs and resources out there and social media was at it’s infancy. My goal was to bring like minded puppet people together and help those beginner puppet builders find the information they were looking for.
Now, there are many social groups and easily accessible information that people can turn to a few key strokes.

What made this decision harder…
December 13 marks exactly ten years since I started this blog. I never revealed to anyone the reason why I started the blog on December 13th until now…My brother had Leukaemia since infancy and up until the age of 15 (after relentless treatments and 8 relapses)  he died (that was 22 years ago). His Birthday was December 13th and in honour of him I started the blog. When we were younger, my brother and I would spend countless hours listening to Sesame Street Records, watching the Muppet Show and doing puppet shows in our front window for the pedestrians walking by our house- his love for Puppetry and zest for life was truly inspirational. Puppeteers Unite! was to be a personal tribute to him from me…so the decision to close the blog also came with some serious soul searching.

So now what?
I will let the blog stand for a while as a resource. Then I will re-directed the web address to my company website. My “How to videos” section will also be posted to my company site. I will be doing a personal blog on my website; at that time will transfer all the past posts from Puppeteers Unite! to that blog.

I know many of you loved the blog and maybe a bit displeased that I am closing it down…I am truly sorry for this.

Thanks again for everything you folks have done for me and Puppeteers Unite! I loved every minute of it and am just as sad as you to say goodbye.

I officially close this blog with the amazing words of Jim Henson (aka Kermit the Frog)

“Life’s like a movie, write your own ending. Keep believing, keep pretending.”


Dead Panic Studios Presents: Monsters and Microphones Podcast

Dead Panic Studios Presents: Monsters and Microphones Podcast

I love listening to podcasts; especially those that deal with practical effects, puppetry and industry leaders! Monsters and Microphones is a new Podcast by Dead Panic Studios featuring hosts Christopher Vaughan (Dead Panic Studios- Co-Owner/Executive Producer) and Nick Callow (2d/3d Artist). Their first podcast includes none other than special effects veteran Shannon Shea! shannonsleepswithtriceratopsShannon discusses his 30 years in the movie business creating such amazing characters for Aliens, Predator, Jurassic Park and many more! Please give a listen, subscribe and add a review on iTunes!  Also, buy Shannon’s book: “I’m Rubber, You’re Glue: The True Story of an 80s Monster Maker”.

How a Community Builds a Puppet Show


Up In Arms’ latest puppet musical, “Monster Intelligence“, makes its debut with 3 shows free to the public in Orange County, New York on May 10, June 7 and June 14, 2014. Looking back, it’s been quite the journey. Over a year ago, many of my friends in the puppet community had been discussing the hurdles we face as full time artists. Bookings were and continue to be low and balancing budgets and the prospect of producing new shows becomes difficult to reconcile. This article won’t be about the hardships that we all know too well. I’d rather focus on the triumphs and community of puppeteers and supporters who made this show possible.

Last year, I became aware of a grant available through our county office of tourism which promotes arts events here in Orange County, NY. Several grants would be awarded at a maximum of $5000. Part of the funding had to come from the applying organization which just meant I had to show that I was investing in my project as well. It was my first grant and I had two very smart and educated nieces guiding me as they were both familiar with the grant writing process. Months after the grant was finalized, I was notified that I was a successful applicant and my project would move ahead with funds from Orange County Tourism and the County of Orange. This is the major reason why the show was even able to move forward in production.

The grant and budget would pay for the script writer, music arranger, recording studio, puppet materials, additional puppet builder, scenery and props, photographer, talent rehearsal and performance stipend. Along with that, I had a community of people ready to lend a hand. Derek Lux is a builder from LA who was kind enough to buy an Up In Arms t-shirt when I had them printed to raise funds. I always enjoyed his artistry and was happy to be able to employ him as my additional builder. Although the materials were supplied, he jumped in at a reduced fee to help build some of the puppets. Pasha Romanowski from Project Puppet has always been a champion of all we do at Up In Arms and lent his artistry in drawing some initial concept designs for many of the characters. When it came time to construct props, I needed a drawing of a young monster for a cereal box. Of course, Dave Hulteen came to mind and I knew just the character of his I wanted to use. When I asked for use of the character, he not only allowed me to use it but, mocked up what he thought the cereal box cover might look like and it’s now being used in the show. These are all people that I’ve developed relationships with online over the years but, it still fills me with love and support that these people believe in what I do. Relationships in this community are everything to me. I met puppeteer Charlie Kanev at the POA festival in Swarthmore, PA last summer and he wanted to help in any way he could. I want to support this young talent, not only because of the friendship we’ve forged but, because of the amazing artistry and potential that he so obviously has. When I needed a butterfly for the opening scene, Charlie, with his knowledge of rod puppet mechs, built me a beautiful butterfly rod puppet with flapping wings. Charlie was instrumental in designing and painting some of the set pieces as well and will be puppeteering for the premiere performances. A designer I met at the Puppetry Guild of Greater New York (NYC) was Justin DuPont who designed and built a simple rolling frame for the monster’s doors which roll on and off during the show.

I took Colette Searls’ workshop “Directing for Puppetry” at the POA conference and realized that I’ve had to direct from within for my shows, being both director and puppeteer. Having an outside look at your show or having someone with that vision can be so helpful. With all of the great music and artistry that’s already gone into “Monster Intelligence”, I wanted it to achieve a greater vision. One of my favorite puppeteers that I’ve worked with on “Helping Drew” is Amy Rush as she’s always inspired better performance from me. I also met Joshua Holden, another amazing artist at the POA Festival, and enlisted the two to workshop “Monster Intelligence” so I could have that outside look and observe what’s possible with the various characters and their scenes. Amy and Joshua were a joy to work with and helped me see a better vision for “Monster Intelligence” that I couldn’t have completely seen for myself.

Of course, there are more than just puppeteers and puppet builders that made this show happen. I’m lucky to be part of an arts community where I live and called upon talented friends for the initial table-read of the show, vocal talent to record the show, Scott Test, our exceptional music arranger, my friend Hannah Blair Butler who created costumes for a few of the characters and, my insanely talented friend John Simpkins in Oregon who painted the backdrop for the show. Major kudos, of course, to my creative partner and script writer Alex Ishkanian for taking on the ‘monster’ task of bringing this story to life. “Monster Intelligence” is ready to be embraced by an audience with a community of exceptionally talented and caring individuals behind it.

Article by David Manley

Pancake Manor

Please give! They are so close to their goal and the show is by far one of the best I’ve seen on the internet!
Please join their Kickstarter campaign HERE

Puppetsmith is Back!

Puppetsmith is up and running! New memberships to the Puppetsmith site are currently not available. If you are an existing member, you may log in to the new site using your previous username and password.

If you are currently not a member of Puppetsmith, but would like to be kept up-to-date as to when membership will be available, please sign up for the Puppetsmith Newsletter.


Things to consider when choosing a puppet builder…

I often am contacted by people wanting a quote to have a hand/rod “Muppet” style puppet built.  Some people are somewhat confused as to why my price is higher (or lower) than other puppetsmith quotes. The first thing I explain is that every puppet builder is unique; that the materials and processes used by puppet builders differs from one individual to another- you can give two puppet builders the same character and the end results can be very different.  So, as a puppet buyer, how do you know who to go with? Well, here is my list of things you should look for when purchasing a puppet or contracting someone to build you a puppet.

Things you need to consider when choosing a Puppet Builder…

Before going to a puppet builder make certain you get your character well thought out before asking for a quote. Arm yourself with a character sketch. If you can’t draw, get a friend/family member to sketch the character you want. Never go to a puppet builder with a vague idea of what you want. ALWAYS provide a sketch of some sort. Some Puppetsmiths might create a character sketch for you, but realize, they might charge you for their time and talent. Also be aware that we as puppet builders are trying to translate a 2 dimensional character into a 3 dimensional character. Some aspects of a character might look great on paper, but when turned into a puppet might not work properly. I’m not going to talk about the process of turning a 2D images into a 3D one; but what I will say is that there maybe some editing to your character by the puppetsmith…this should get all worked out prior to the puppet builder providing a quote to you.

Please let the puppet builder know the following information when asking for a quote:
What your puppet will be used for? Commercial work? Theatrical performances? A gift for your niece?
Size– How big is the puppet you need?
Do you want arm rods?– Rods are used to control arm movements- usually attached at the wrist.
Materials– Do you want a faux fur dog puppet? Or a dog made from fleece? Or a dog that can be used under black light?
Do you require legs for your puppet?
Any features?– Tails, ears, whiskers, teeth, nails, etc.
Any mechanical requirements? Want blinking eyes, or raising eyebrows etc?
Wardrobe?– More time can be spent on the actual wardrobe than on the puppet. Be specific, the more elaborate the costume the more expensive in some cases.
Character Traits– Really think about character; write down all the traits and back story that character might have! Any additional information you can provide the puppet builder can help during the building process. Is your character a run away puppy who speaks in a high pitched voice, loves walks and gets excited over dog biscuits? Tell your puppet builder! As a builder I love to get into the mind space of the character as I build- sometimes I’ll come up with additional ideas that’ll help with the character.
Time- What date do you need the puppet by? know that a order needed urgently may cost you more.
Shipping– Some puppet builders include shipping costs in their quote- some don’t. Make sure you ask.

Now that you have your character sketched out…it is time to do your research! Surf the web and find puppet builders who match the style of puppet you are looking for. Use the Puppeteers Unite! directory or use Google images. Once you have found a builder you like please look for the following…

1)   Portfolio– A puppet builder’s past work will tell you about their style, the materials they use and their competence with those materials. Here are some of the things you don’t want to see when looking at a “Muppet style” puppet- Hot glue, loose stitching and contact cement stains on fabric. The puppet should have a clean look and be somewhat symmetrical 🙂  One good indicator of quality is the puppet mouth. Look at a puppet builder’s past work and if you see anything questionable, they may not be the right puppet builder for you.

2) Ask to see past “Work In Progress” pictures– The inside of a puppet is just as important as the outside. Be certain to ask what type of mouth grip and mouth plates the puppet builder uses; some mouth plates are made from rubber gasket material, some wood, some various grades of plastic, even cardboard. The way the mouth is constructed will indicate to you how flexible the mouth will be. Depending on your character or your  own performance preference, it is good to indicate what mouth plate you prefer to the Puppetsmith. The mouth grip is the “pocket” your hand lies in when manipulating the mouth. There are many different mouth grips out there. Be certain to ask (or take note) as to which grip the puppeteer builds. I’ve placed my hand in plenty of puppets and you can really feel a difference from one puppet builder to another.  I’ve also placed my hand in some “not so good” puppets were I could feel hot glue and where the mouth was placed crooked in the puppet’s head- causing eye lines to be messed up and the performance of the puppet awkward. Some of these problems you won’t know unless you try on the puppet…which brings me to my next point…

3) References: Ask the puppet builder for references. Past clients should be able to tell you how their puppet build went and what the service was like.

4) Will the puppet builder send you updates?  As the puppet is being built your puppet builder should send you- picture/video/written updates via email. This keeps you abreast of the process and lets you address anything you see that is questionable.

5) Sign a contract– Once you agree on a puppet builder a contract should be made. The contract should consist of all the details discussed, a price, and a space for both parties to sign. Read the contract, it should include everything you agreed upon, and question anything that you don’t agree with. If you need time to read the contract or send it off to a lawyer then you should have ample time to do so. Take your time before signing anything!

6) Ask the puppet builder what supplies they use– Puppets can be made from anything! Some materials are usually better and more expensive than others. If you want samples sent to you the Puppet Builder should be able to do that, but at your expense.

Here is a simple description of some materials you might see:
Antron Fleece– It is a stretchable fleece fabric that can be hand dyed. Antron is amazing because it has a high pil which hides seams very well. Most Muppet characters are covered in Antron Fleece. Antron Fleece is more expensive than other fleece. Due to the hand dying process Antron may also cost a bit more than regular polar fleece.

Reticulated foam is a pourous foam used in some air conditioning systems- the foam is produced in a different way, and is a different material than Poly Foam. This makes reticulated foam lighter and the shelf life longer. All foams, regardless of make will eventually break down.  Some Puppet Builders will purchase reticulated foam it in a bolt (4ft X 150ft) which makes it extremely expensive. Reticulated foam can also be hand dyed.

Faux Furs have recently become harder and harder to find- especially longer furs. If your character requires a long fur (Shaggy Dog, Big Foot) it will cost more.

The art of handmade “crafts”  is slowly diminishing. The demand for a lot of the materials used in puppet building is simply non existent, thus, making them more expensive and harder to find. Bare with a Puppetsmith if she can’t find the exact material you are looking for.

7) Communication is key! Ask questions, and don’t be afraid to communicate everything about your puppet character to the Puppetsmith. Everything should be sorted out prior to a contract being signed. Make certain any changes to the contract are included in the contract you finally sign.  I have been both a puppet builder and a buyer and feel that the key element is communication between both parties.

8) Pay at the end– When the puppet is completed, ask the builder to send you the finished product in pictures or video form. Look closely and provide feedback immediately (if any). If the puppet is perfect, make certain the builder ships the puppet to you with a tracking number. You’ll want to get the builder to send you an email when he/she ships the puppet. Your then obligated to send the rest of the money to the builder immediately. Make certain upon receiving the puppet(s) you provide (as a courtesy)  a thank you or a “review” to the puppet builder. The puppet builder can use your feedback for their website or add to their portfolio.

If you get your puppet and are unhappy let the builder know immediately. Most puppet builders will work with you to rectify the situation. Many problematic incidents are a result of both parties not being well educated and/or not voicing their expectations prior to the project. Like I said before Communication is key!!



Kickstarter is a website designed to get you money for your project(s)!

Kickstarter is the largest funding platform for creative projects in the world. Millions of dollars are pledged to projects from the worlds of music, film, art, technology, design, food, publishing and other creative fields.

Project creators keep 100% ownership and control over their work. Instead they offer products and experiences that are unique to each project to those who donate money.

There is one snag however…it’s an all or nothing funding venture. The project you post must reach its funding goal before time runs out or no money changes hands. Why? It protects everyone involved. Creators aren’t expected to develop their project without necessary funds, and it allows anyone to test concepts without risk.

Thinkling of a project but don’t have all the funds neccessary to complete it? List on Kickstarter and hopefully your dream project will become reality.

Puppeteer steps into the Dragons’ Den

full_752994puppet_monday.jpgBy Simon Barrett of the Argus

A puppeteer behind a hi-tech cartoon character will take a brave step into the Dragons’ Den.

David Field, of Alfriston, near Polegate, will present his ‘Virtual Puppet’ to the fiery panel of self-made multi-millionaires on the BBC show, on Monday.

The father-of-two believes the 3D character is the future of shopping, advertising, corporate events and children’s parties.

Projected on a plasma screen, the character imitates the body movements and facial expressions of whoever is wearing a special suit fitted with sensors to detect the tiniest gestures.

Millions of viewers will see the 39-year-old appealing to the Dragons for investment for his state-of-the-art motion capture technology system.

He ventures into the den hoping to secure a £200,000 investment.

Mr Field said: “Going into the Den was terrifying and it took an awful lot of preparation and money from all different sources just to get to that stage.

“The pressure was really on to get the investment and to answer all their questions. It felt that everything was on the line. It looks like entertaining reality TV, but believe me it was very real indeed.

“People say the Dragons are horrible but that’s just part of the whole game, and I did think it was great fun.”

The technology behind the Virtual Puppet, which would have cost millions of pounds to produce just a few years ago, can now be run from the average home computer.

The person operating the virtual puppet is hidden nearby behind a screen or curtain and can interact live with an audience.

Mr Field, who was born in Lewes and grew up in Brighton, said it could be used by a shop to chat to customers entering a store about its latest offers, and at trade shows, information booths and business conferences.

But he is sworn to secrecy over whether he received the cash – although he admitted that business was booming since he entered the den.

He added: “We are near to completing some amazing contracts. It really has all taken off since I went into the den.

“There are shops who want to use the Virtual Puppet already in time for the Christmas rush by welcoming customers to their store and telling them about their special offers.

“People just stop and look at it because it is so amazing.”

He has been working with Hove-based company Berlin-Armstrong Locatives, which has developed the technology.

Mr Field said: “The system captures your entire body movement and basically lets you become a joystick to control the character on the screen.

“Until very recently, computers could not do this kind of thing in a relatively cheap and accessible way. The advances in technology mean many of the things we could only dream of are on the verge of being made a reality.

“You never know, if it takes off I could be moving in next to Fatboy Slim one day.”

Dragons’ Den is broadcast at 9pm on Monday, on BBC Two.