Puppetry 101

by Puppet Nerd

It looks like kids’ stuff, but it is not easy. Learning puppetry takes a lot of practice to be able to play like a pro. There are many different types of puppetry. In this guide we are focusing on the technical skills needed to make a Muppet style puppet come to life. Although many of these techniques can be applied to other forms of puppetry.

You do not need a fancy puppet to practice any of these skills either. You could just use your hand! But if you want a simple puppet or a practice puppet here are a few options. Click on the image for the “How to” guide!

The first thing I like to teach is control. Control is a fundamental aspect of puppetry. Anyone can wave a puppet around but a puppeteer is in full control of their performance. Having subtleties in your performance can truly bring a puppet to life. It is similar to acting; you can really draw an audience in when your performance is natural rather than overacting.

This is especially important when multiple puppets are in a scene together. To keep a scene looking natural, all puppets must have correct eye focus. Even if one puppeteer is maintaining proper eye focus, the other character would be distracting to the audience.

Generally the puppets mouth should open once for each syllable. Techniques for lip sync will vary depending on the speed, rhythm of the dialogue.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Syllables
  • Important beats
  • Henson Punch
  • Emphasizing words and phrases

To make a puppet dance is very simple. Move your puppet to the right and both arms to the left. Then reverse it, puppet to the left and arms to the right. Continue this back and forth to the beat of the music and you have a dancing puppet!

Giving a puppet ground is creating the illusion of the character walking. Be sure to not have your character seem like they are floating around. You can create the illusion of walking by gently bouncing your arm as your puppet moves across the frame.

When performing, there are many things that can distract you from your performance. Especially with a live audience. If you happen to get distracted you need to refocus and maintain control of your hand. Do not be distracted if your lip sync is off. Refocus and keep going.

  • Characterization
  • Breathing (the puppet should inhale when you do)
  • Thought & Focus
  • Rhythm & Timing
  • Lip Sync
  • Movement
  • Proper body position
  • Arm rods

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