Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Commissioning a Professional Marionette

I am happy to take commissions for marionettes. I have made puppets for many professional as well as amateur puppeteers. Magicians have come to me for specialty puppets and my list of TV, Theater and Film credits is quite wide.

So what is a professional puppet?
Of course in reality there is no such thing but its often a term used by puppet makers - good and bad alike. you can be a professional puppet maker, an amateur or enthusiastic hobbyist but I'm not  sure you could class a puppet itself as professional. Anyway people do search the web for 'professional puppets', I know I can see it in my site reports, so what are those people really looking for?
Well I guess they want a puppet that is well designed and made, constructed to withstand the rigors of many live performances as well as the travelling involved in such pursuits. Or maybe they need a puppet that can have very precise or specific movements or expressions if filming is of a priority. It may have a certain aesthetic to it and I suppose it must be made by someone with plenty of experience not only as a builder but also someone who has hands on (or in) experience.

So with that in mind how do you go about getting the puppet that you need?
Well you need to be specific about what you require the puppet for as these details will help me understand what materials or construction techniques are most appropriate.
There is always a trade off between construction techniques/weight and design. I think wooden puppets make for the best all round marionettes in terms of durability and consistent weight/balance but they can suffer from the problem of being too heavy for prolonged use if they are bigger than about 24 inches. Wooden puppets are also time consuming to make, carving is a skill and something that can't be rushed.
If a marionette is needed to have special features such as moving eyes/mouths then often it is better to make a hollow head using a casting process.

Marionettes for filming or portable theater story telling
If you require a marionette for filming, lets say for an advert or music video then the puppet will more than likely need to be smaller, perhaps between 14 and 18 inches tall, especially if it is to live in its own world (set) as obviously the smaller the puppet the smaller the set needs to be. There will of course be exceptions to this, if for example, the marionette interacts with with real people then it will need to be bigger (unless of course you are using a chroma-key effect)

If you have, or are thinking of creating, a theater with sets then again the characters don't want to be too large as the larger they are the larger the theater has to be and the less you can potentially have on stage at once. Also of course you may need to operate multiple puppets at once.
For this scenario 14 inches is a great size, especially for wooden carved marionette and you should think about commissioning one of these...

Cabaret / In the Round or Street Performance Puppets
If you are wanting more of a 'Cabaret' or 'Street Performance' style puppet then a larger size of marionette is preferable as the larger the puppet the easier it will be for the audience to see. However if you go over about 30 inches then marionettes can become hard to manipulate and can be heavy unless built with lightweight materials. For any type of  'in the round' or 'Variety' style performances a marionette size of between 22 and 26 inches is a good marker between being easy to handle, not too heavy and still very visible for audiences.

These type of puppets often have special functions such as moving mouths for singing or special stringing for dancing or playing musical instruments. Special features often add a lot of time and therefore cost to the build of a marionette so please keep this in mind. However if you are (or wanting to become) a paid performer then you should consider the marionettes as your tools(or instruments) and the quality of these will dictate (along with most importantly your skills) how good a show you can put on.

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