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Training, For More Information, Puppeteers

Although part of the general category of special effects, puppetry is such a specialized area that it deserves a separate discussion. Puppets are a very old art form, but Jim Henson's Muppets put a new face on puppets and puppetry, giving them an extraordinary life of their own. You may think of a puppet as simply a hand stuck into a sock with an immobile face. Not these days. Television shows such as Sesame Street and movies such as The Empire Strikes Back have given puppets their own identities beyond their film and television roles, and they have given puppeteers a great career path. The original Yoda from The Empire Strikes Back was a complex puppet (though in the prequels, Yoda is computer-animated). From puppet builder all the way up to puppet supervisor, if you are willing to be silly and crazy and really take your creativity over the top (as, for example, in the film Being John Malkovich), a career in puppetry may be just for you.

The arm puppets that one most commonly thinks of when one hears the word “puppet” may require several different puppeteers to get the job done. In fact, it may take several puppeteers to control a modern puppet. One puppeteer may operate the actual puppet, while another operates the arms, and yet another operates the facial features, such as eyebrows, eyes, and even ears, to give the puppet lifelike expressions. This was the case with the characters on the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films. Some controlled the facial features, while others were “suit performers” who were actually inside the body performing the complex martial arts moves.

A suit performer is a puppeteer who uses his or her entire body to animate a puppet. A good example of a suit performer is the actor who works inside the big purple dinosaur costume on the children's television show Barney. This puppeteer is then an actor as well as a puppeteer. He must use his body in order to interpret the script.

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