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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.”


Dressing The Naked Hand

Book Review

In 1997, Drew Allison of Grey Seal Puppets along with Donald Devet created The Foam Book (now on Kindle). I probably purchased my copy around 2006. It was one of the first guides for creating polyfoam mouth/rod puppets geared for the newly minted puppet-making enthusiast. The book was filled with practical tips and tricks and was a must for the puppet-maker’s bookshelf. I still have my copy with pages of resource material stapled together and shoved inside that I printed from the internet as well.

Since The Foam Book’s release, the internet has come alive with information on mouth/rod construction, dozens of puppetsmiths showing their wares and countless tutorials and workshops. New tips and tricks are scattered about, ready to be collected in a new volume. Enter “Dressing The Naked Hand…” Familius © 2015 by Amy White, Mark H. Pulham, and Dallin Blankenship.

The book is 184 pages and includes an instructional DVD. Since I’m reviewing an advanced copy of the book, I’m unable to review the DVD however, the inside paragraph regarding the DVD reads “We’ve done our best to create easy-to-follow instructions, but there’s nothing to compare with actually watching a puppeteer at work. Fortunately, we’ve included video tutorials for most of the puppets and acting tips in this book. You’ll find them on the DVD located in the back of the book. Trust us—they’ll save you a lot of time and frustration…”

I was excited to recognize a couple of Dallin Blankenship’s creations on the cover when I first saw an image of the book. If you’re not familiar with Dallin’s work, he began making puppets as an intern at Puppet School in Los Angeles and apparently soaked up all there was to know about puppet building like a sponge. Dallin began churning out wonderfully creative and captivating puppet characters that he sold in his etsy store and featured on his puppet making blog. I was pleased to see the book start with a bit of a history lesson. In it, they made the space to give a brief nod to shadow, Wayang, parade, marionette, glove, Bunraku and mouth puppets. It’s always good to remind those of us who might be attached to one specific style that there is a whole family and history of puppets out there.

The chapters progress with methods for the beginner puppet builder and continue with more advanced technique. Each chapter begins with what you should have in your tool kit for the job at hand. This was valuable for all the trips I made back and forth to the craft store and fabric store when I first started building. The first project in the book is turning a stuffed animal into a puppet. I recall seeing a few of these online when I started as a puppet builder and they can certainly be practical. Some puppet builders are looking for a simple solution for a character to accompany a story hour or populate a show with easy background characters. The book explores making simple hand/glove puppets from smaller stuffed animals to transforming a stuffed animal with a mouth into an actual moving-mouth puppet. The moving-mouth puppet is expanded on in the following chapter where instructions are included for building your first basic humanoid style puppet. Patterns are provided in the resource section in the back of the book. The chapter includes ideas for mouth-plate materials, inside mouth detail, eyes, ears, hair and costuming.

Among the advanced techniques in the next chapter is how to pattern from an object (in this case, a fish figurine) which can also be used in patterning from your own sculpted, clay character as suggested. This is followed by instructions on carving a puppet from a block of foam and how to pattern it for a fabric covering. A section on advanced mouth-plate designs contains a couple of mouth-plates to help your puppet perform. Naturally, arm rods and hand grips follow. This book really has EVERYTHING the beginner might need in one place. Next chapter – stages. Everything is included from a simple sewn stage to a PVC pipe stage to a more advanced wooden stage with tips to customize for your specific needs. The next section of the book even includes performance technique and the pitfalls to be aware of to help your character come to life convincingly and put on a quality performance.

The final chapter is a valuable resource for all beginning builders. Working with different fabrics including fur, sewing techniques, basic stitches and, what to have in your puppet emergency kit are all covered. A basic list of suppliers includes a few of the old standbys for purchasing fur, foam and fleece and other odds and ends. The requisite need-to-know materials definitions are included along with the aforementioned patterns.

“Dressing The Naked Hand” is another great addition to your puppet-maker’s bookshelf. It’s well suited for the advanced beginner to the budding professional builder. Retailing just under $20 on Amazon, the advanced builder might pick one up for the additional mouth-plate technique and a new basic pattern as well. It’s one I’ll definitely be adding to my collection.

Change is Here!!

support-shadowPuppeteers Unite! is proud to announce that we have added 5 NEW Contributors to the Puppeteers Unite! blog!

I personally have gone through some serious life changing events these past three years and (as you probably have noticed) have found it harder and harder to post on the blog. Additional people to contribute to the blog should have been done on day one…the blog is called Puppeteers Unite! 🙂 We hope that adding new faces to Puppeteers Unite! it will provide more diverse content postings as well as a continued stream of information.

Please feel free to visit our ‘Contributors’ page to find out who the mystery  Contributors are!

Thank you for your continued support and please come back daily!

Pee Wee’s Playhouse: The Complete Series comes to Blu-ray!!

If you were a child (or college student) watching TV in the late 80s, Pee Wee Herman, the cherubic man-child of Pee Wee’s Playhouse, was your patron saint of silly and fun. As a college student, I fondly recall rolling out of bed just before 10am on a Saturday morning to tune in for my wake-up call and weekly inspiration. Cool Cat, Dirty Dog and Chicky Baby were beat-poet, jazz musicians in the Puppetland Band, puppet fish swam in the fishbowl, while Randy, the bully marionette teased and terrorized. Of course, there was Pterry the Pterodactyl, Pee Wee’s ardent sidekick who loved to fly and play catch. There were several other resident puppets including Clocky, Globey, Magic Screen, the flowers, Mr. Window, Chairy and others. Pee Wee’s Playhouse incorporated everything you could love as a young puppeteer including claymation, animation, stop motion effects and wonderful humanette techniques. The psychedelic color palate and cast of characters were an artist’s dreamscape and, no-doubt, instilled inspiration for that generation of merry-makers and would-be puppeteers.

The entire series plus a glut of bonus gems will be available on blu-ray in US and Canada on October 21, 2014. If you were a fan of the recent Wayne White documentary “Beauty Is Embarrassing” with White’s brief focus on his days working on the Playhouse, the included bonus materials looks like a puppeteer’s and Playhouse fan’s dream come true.

From the Shout Factory official release:


TV Guide named Pee-wee’s Playhouse #10 of the Top 25 Cult Television Shows Ever!

All 45 wacky episodes, plus Pee-wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special, have been METICULOUSLY RE-MASTERED from the original film elements — and now YOU can see this ground-breaking series for the very first time in beautiful HIGH-DEFINITION!

Winner of an amazing 22 Emmy® Awards!

Scream along to the SECRET WORD with Pee-wee Herman and his pals — Jambi the Genie, Miss Yvonne, Cowboy Curtis, Reba the mail lady, Captain Carl, Magic Screen, Conky, Globey, Chairry, Pterri, Randy and many more! Aaaaarrrrrrrrr!!! I know you are, but what am I!?! Mecka-lecka hi… Mecka-hiney ho!

Includes Bonus Features:

– OVER 4 HOURS of brand-new interviews with the cast and crew, plus never-seen, behind-the-scenes footage—all part of TEN FEATURETTES, including:
– Building the Playhouse
– Opening the Playhouse
– Writing for the Playhouse
– The Look of the Playhouse
– Music of the Playhouse
– The Cast of the Playhouse
– Puppets of the Playhouse
– Animating the Playhouse
– A Very Merry Christmas Special
– Fans and Memorabilia of the Playhouse
– These featurettes include interviews with actors Laurence Fishburne (Cowboy Curtis), S. Epatha Merkerson (Reba the mail lady), Lynne Marie Stewart (Miss Yvonne) and John Paragon (Jambi the genie).
– Mark Mothersbaugh and Danny Elfman explain the music of the show and the Emmy award-winning production design team of Gary Panter, Wayne White and Ric Heitzman explain how the sets and puppets were imagined and produced.
– Animation Supervisor of all 5 seasons of Pee-wee’s Playhouse, Prudence Fenton (Liquid Television) talks about all the types of animation used in the program and animators Peter Lord and David Sproxton (Wallace & Gromit) discuss their contributions.
– Ve Neill, the multi-Oscar winning make-up artist talks about designing the make-up ‘looks’. Two of the shows writers talk about how the scripts were created.
– Other cast and crew explain, in fascinating detail, stories from the production of Pee-wee’s Playhouse. If that weren’t enough, many of the shows puppeteers and voice artists are interviewed about how the puppet characters were brought to life.

Article Written by: David Manley- Up In Arms

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

Digital Puppetry in PS4

Yesterday Sony has announced their newest gaming console, appropriately named the PS4. Developers want the new system to be more open to artists and their work- basically allowing one to create their dreams. This new technology allows one to sculpt and create, then animate in real time…could this be the Evolution of Puppetry we have been waiting for? Easy, accessible and affordable Puppetry? It will be interesting to see.

A Boy Named Finn

“A Boy Named Finn” is a 12-minute video that helps young children who are beginning cancer treatment.

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.


Designing Imagination Illustrated: The Jim Henson Journal

The Saturday, November 24 issue of The Times of London ran an article by Frank Oz praising the new Chronicle Books release Imagination Illustrated, The Jim Henson Journal. Frank wrote

“The pieces of paper in the book are often overlapped: photos overlapping scripts; character ideas overlapping storyboards, ideas overlapping ideas. That’s how Jim’s mind worked. It wasn’t linear. He didn’t do one project and then do another and afterwards do another and another. His ideas were constant and overlapping. Ideas and projects overlapping each other like the pieces of paper overlap in this book. His was not an imagination that he would turn on and off. There was no handle on the tap. It kept flowing. No idea was impossible. He never gave a glance towards limitations. He went forward and made the impossible happen. … It’s now, so many years later, I can see how unique they were. I can appreciate something now that I didn’t then; that everything Jim touched had an originality and aliveness . . . and a genius. And it’s very gratifying to see that those pieces of paper were kept and how they and Jim’s spirit are captured in this wonderful new book.”

Associate Design Manager for Chronicle Books, Michael Morris, was fortunate enough to design Imagination Illustrated, The Jim Henson Journal. As a young boy growing up in Maryland, Michael was inspired by The Muppet Show to create his own puppet shows while in elementary school. He was thrilled to work on creating Jim’s journal in book form and shared his thoughts with Puppeteers Unite on his puppet past and his creative passion.

What was your inspiration as a young puppeteer? What kinds of things do you recall specifically with Muppets or Sesame Street?

“When I was a kid, I was extremely shy and had a tremendous amount of creative energy but, growing up in rural Maryland, our TV only got a few channels. To this day I’ve never seen “Sesame Street,” but I devoured the Muppets because I could get that channel clearly. Muppet fascination led to someone giving me a Koala Bear puppet, which led to me taking it to school, which led to other kids bringing in their puppets until we had a bit of a puppet gang. To keep us out of trouble, and because we were the “advanced” group, our 1st grade teacher gave us the project to build a puppet theatre out of washing machine boxes and write a play. I have no idea what that play was about, but it was called ‘Horror in the Wild Woods’, and my puppet’s role was some kind of vampire. We performed this puppet show every so often for 2 years, I think, and even did it for the public library. We were consciously creating our own spin on The Muppet Show.

As I worked on this book, what struck me about what we did as kids is how similar our sketches and ideas were to what Henson did. Not that we had the same ideas, but that we approached set design and humorous situations in a straightforward way. When you’re a kid, you write lots of notes around your sketches, and you don’t even care that you aren’t a master illustrator. Its pretty pure. That’s the vibe I got from the material from Jim Henson’s journal. Clearly, he was a more developed talent, but his work had a very familiar childlike pureness to it. Loose and sketchy and often written on legal pads. After Art School I’ve always felt pressure to draw in sketchbooks or Moleskines, but when I was a kid I drew on manila folders or envelopes. Jim’s notes and sketches (The ones that I worked from) were unbound by that pretension.”

How did you end up in design at Chronicle?

“I had decided by the end of High School that I wanted to have a creative career, like Commercial Art, but back then Graphic Design involved graph paper and chart tape, and I was not interested in that. I started going to various schools to get a very broad fine arts education until I decided to focus on learning all the design software. I worked in small design shops doing prepress work until my partner David and I decided to move to San Francisco, where I settled in and finished my Graphic Design BFA. I had a strong knack for storytelling, and that gelled with the way that Chronicle approaches book design. I came on staff in 2005 and have been here turning awesomely weird ideas into books ever since.”

How does Chronicle come to do a project like this?

“There are usually agents who are shopping a book concept for their client, or sometimes we will approach someone who “has a book in them” because we love what they do, but its all on the editorial side. They usually bring these projects in and my role is more about shaping a proposal or a manuscript into its final form.”

Are you aware of any communications with Henson Co, etc?

“I know that Lisa Henson certainly saw and commented on the book in its various stages, as did other family members, and the author, Karen Falk, the Archives Director at The Jim Henson Company. It was a project that came right from the folks who are closest to the source. I’ve only met Karen in person once, and she is incredibly knowledgeable about Jim Henson and his career. The book is based on the blog that she produces on about Jim Henson’s Red Book, the main source for Imagination Illustrated.”

Was there more source material given to choose from or are you given exactly what goes into the book?

“The book came in extremely organized. The manuscript is, of course, the text of the book. The art came in and there was more than we could have ever fit on the page; and I tried, believe me! Karen was gracious enough to rank each piece of art and help me determine what was critical, what was good to have, and what I could leave out if I couldn’t make room on the spread. The end result is a very, very full book, and I’m glad to say that we left very few images out as a result.”

What were your thoughts, having been a puppeteer, when you first got the job to design Jim Henson’s journal in book format?

“I work as part of a pop-culture focused team of three designers, and we each pick the projects that we want to work on. More specifically, we pick what we personally want to design, as opposed to what we want to hire another designer to do. I immediately felt a kinship to this project, and for some reason hadn’t realized that Henson grew up in Maryland too, so it felt like it was meant for me. Loving this from the first time I saw it, I jumped at the chance to get it onto my work list, and to keep it on my list to design personally. In the end it took me a few months, including weekends and nights, to get it into final shape, but it was a labor of love.”

Was it similar to other projects you worked on? Just a job? or does a project like this become a labor of love?

“I would say that this book was unlike anything I’ve ever worked on. It’s hard to find a visual language for someone’s notes and sketches. They can be chaotic and overwhelming when you see them outside of the framework of a book or a blog. I worked with the editor and the author to develop a few different approaches for how to make the book tell it’s story, and over that time, it becomes personal. You learn to love the material and know it in great detail. You can get sick of it too, which happens after a few lost weekends, but then it goes away to get printed and a few months later you get the real thing in your hands and you forget about all those late nights and stress nightmares. Almost everything that Jim wrote or sketched seems to radiate happiness and creativity, and that energy kept me wanting to make the book the best it could be.”

Was there anything in the process that surprised you / impressed you about Jim’s work and process?

“Like I mentioned before, I was most surprised that he seemed relatable. I made sketches like that when I was a kid designing puppet sets. I STILL make rough sketches every time I’m trying to work out a problem or design a complicated Halloween costume. He kept sketches for projects that never took off, like the Cyclia nightclub or the Wizard of Id puppets. I’ve thrown away a lot of old artwork out of sheer embarrassment at my lack of refinement, but seeing his rough work made me appreciate that he was documenting ideas.”

Thank you Michael! I hope every puppeteer and Henson fan is as excited about Imagination Illustrated, The Jim Henson Journal as I am.

Author: David Manley -Up In Arms Puppets