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2D Puppet Filmmaking Part III: Researching – Testing – Fabricating

With a Prairie History film, research is hugely important. On Gute Schone, I spent a great deal of time on the Sask Archives website researching prairie homesteads. With Siberian Maneater we researched everything from what the Canadian flag was in 1920, to what the clothing trends were, and even what a horse-drawn carriage looked like! I’ve found that the RPL’s Prairie History Room is also a great resource for researching the aesthetic of a certain time period, if you’re doing a prairie history film.

When designing a puppet, it’s very helpful to have an idea of what movement you want it to perform. This way you can concentrate on engineering your puppet for a specific purpose, rather than spending hours puppetizing every limb and then realizing after that you only needed its right arm to move!

Someone once described puppet fabricating to me as brain gymnastics. When you’re first starting out, a lot of fabricating is problem solving. With practice you start to figure out tricks and tools of the trade. This is where testing comes in handy. It’s useful to create a test puppet when engineering a new design, to figure out problem areas and tweak the design until it’s at a point that you can make a good copy of it. I’ve been in the situation where I’ve spent hours designing, painting, cutting out, and assembling what I think is going to be an awesome puppet, only to find out that it doesn’t work the way I wanted it to and I should have made a test one first! And now I ALWAYS test before fabricating the final puppet.

When it comes time to start fabricating, it’s always a good idea to enlist the help of friends and family. For my last film I had an assembly line, in which I did digital design and then printed and handed off to Karen who cut out and then handed off to Sarah who puppetized the finished products. A lot of the time I was also cutting and puppetizing, but without the help of my pre-production crew it would have taken 9 months rather than the 3 months that it did.


Some Tips to get you through fabricating: 1. Keep Snacks on hand. Candy, chocolate, chips and gum are the fuel of great puppetientists! 2. Have a TV in the background that you can have your favorite series playing on. During Sock-Vile fabrication, Emily and I got through all 7 seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer! 3. Keep lots of lists so you can stay organized and keep track of what you have done and what you have left to do. 4. Recycled cardboard from packaging works great as fabricating material. 5. Think in terms of dynamic movements when designing your puppets. (ie. Don’t rely on a puppet simply walking from the left side of the frame to the right side, over and over and over. An audience will become bored fast!). 6. Think in terms of depth when designing your sets; foreground, middleground, and background. 7. Don’t attempt to do it all in one night. Pace yourself, the Sistine Chapel wasn’t built over night! 8. HAVE FUN!

Next time on 2D Puppet Filmmaking I will be giving some insider tips on Shooting & Editing your 2D Puppet Film. Where can I shoot my film?  What equipment and crew will I need?  And how do I get to the finish line?

For more cool pre-production puppet videos, check these out:

If you’ve missed my last two entries you can check them out here:

-Noelle Duddridge

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