Exploring the Art of Puppetry in Cinema

by Joost | Last Updated: July 11, 2022
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Have you ever wondered how filmmakers use puppets in movies? It’s a question many people ask, and there are many ways in which they can be used.

Puppets are used in many ways in films, from providing comic relief to being the main protagonist. Some of the most popular movies in history have used puppets in some capacity, such as “The Wizard of Oz,” “The Dark Crystal,” and “Team America: World Police.”

In this article, I’ll look at how filmmakers use puppets in movies and some of the most popular examples.

What are puppets in movies

Everything You Need to Know About Puppetry Arts

What is Puppetry Arts?

Puppetry arts is an art form that uses puppets to tell stories, express emotions, and create a unique theatrical experience. Puppetry is a form of theatre that has been around for centuries, and it is still popular today. Puppetry can be used to entertain, educate, and even to bring awareness to important issues.

Types of Puppetry Arts

Puppetry arts come in many forms, and each type has its own unique style. Here are some of the most popular types of puppetry arts:

Benefits of Puppetry Arts

Puppetry arts can be a great way to entertain, educate, and bring awareness to important issues. Here are some of the benefits of puppetry arts:

Puppetry arts can be a great way to entertain, educate, and bring awareness to important issues. Whether you’re a puppeteer, a parent, or just someone who loves puppets, puppetry arts can be a great way to have fun and learn something new.

Mechanical Figures in the 1920s

Puppet-Influenced Technique

In the ’20s, Europe was all about puppet-influenced technique! It was used in cartoons created by Vladimir Mayakovsky (1925), in German experimental films like Oskar Fischinger and Walter Ruttmann’s, and in the many films that Lotte Reiniger produced until the ’30s. Plus, it was inspired by Asian traditions of shadow puppetry and experiments at the Le Chat Noir (The Black Cat) cabaret.

The Double

The double, a supernatural or demonic presence, was a popular figure in expressionist cinema. You can see it in The Student of Prague (1913), The Golem (1920), The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920), Warning Shadow (1923) and M (1931).

The Doll, The Puppet, The Automaton, The Golem, The Homunculus

These soulless figures were everywhere in the ’20s! They invaded the screen to express the power of the machine attacking its own maker. You can see them in The Devil Doll (1936), Die Puppe (The Doll, 1919), RUR (or R.U.R., Rossum’s Universal Robots) of Karel Čapek, Der Golem (The Golem) by Gustav Meyrink, Metropolis (1926), and The Seashell and the Clergyman (1928).

The Machine Aesthetic

The machine aesthetic was all the rage in the ’20s! It was present in L’Inhumaine (The Inhumane) by Marcel L’Herbier, Le Ballet mécanique (The Mechanical Ballet, 1924) by Fernand Léger, Man Ray and Dudley Murphy, and the abstract “visual symphonies” by Viking Eggeling, Walter Ruttmann, Hans Richter and Kurt Schwerdtfeger. Plus, the Futurists had their own film compositions, “object dramas”.

The Creation of the Sandman Puppet

The Man Behind the Puppet

Gerhard Behrendt was the mastermind behind the Sandman puppet. In just two short weeks, he managed to create the 24 centimetre tall puppet with the white goatee and pointed cap.

The Inner Workings

The inner workings of the Sandman puppet were pretty impressive. It had a movable metal skeleton, which allowed it to be animated in a variety of different poses and positions for filming. Every slight change was captured on camera, and then strung together to create a stop-motion film.

The Touching Reactions

When the first Sandman episode aired in November 1959, it was met with some pretty touching reactions. At the end of the episode, the Sandman fell asleep on a street corner. This prompted a few kids to write letters, offering the puppet their beds!

The Phenomenon of Baby Yoda

The Cost of Enchantment

Grogu, aka Baby Yoda, is a 5 million dollar masterpiece of art, craft and engineering. It takes five puppeteers to bring the puppet to life, each controlling a different aspect of Grogu’s movements and expressions. One puppeteer controls the eyes, another controls the body and head, the third puppeteer moves the ears and mouth, the fourth animates the arms, and the fifth puppeteer acts as a standby operator and creates the costume. Talk about a pricey puppet show!

The Magic of Puppetry

Grogu’s movements and expressions are so lifelike, it’s like he’s bewitched us all! Five puppeteers bring him to life, each with their own special skill. One controls the eyes, another the body and head, the third moves the ears and mouth, the fourth animates the arms, and the fifth creates the costume. It’s like they’ve cast a spell on us, and we can’t look away!

Coordinating the Production of Käpt’n Blaubär

Behind the Scenes

It takes a village to make a Käpt’n Blaubär episode! A whopping 30 people were involved in the production process, and they all had to work together like a well-oiled machine.

The Puppeteers

The puppeteers were the stars of the show! It usually took two puppeteers to animate a character – one for the mouth movements and one for the hands. If a puppeteer wanted to take a few steps with the puppet, they had to coordinate with the other puppeteer, plus the monitors, cables, dolly rails, and the production crew crawling around them.

The Goal

The goal of the whole team was to get precise shots of the characters without the audience noticing the hustle and bustle of the production crew. So, the puppeteers had to be extra careful to make sure their movements were in sync and that the crew stayed out of the shot!

Puppetry in Sesame Street

Who?

How?

What?

Full Body Action

Puppet Play from the Planet Melmac: Null Problemo-Alf and the Tanner Family

The Sweaty Work of Mihály “Michu” Mézáros

Slipping into the puppet of the alien Alf, Michu was in for a hot time. The tight and uncomfortable mask was like a sauna under the spotlights on set. To make matters worse, a hand puppet with built-in mechanics was used for most of the filming.

The Narrator and Puppeteer: Paul Fusco

Paul Fusco was the one responsible for making Alf come to life. He was the puppeteer and narrator of this Alf puppet, moving the ears, eyebrows and blinking the eyes. He was the one who made the Tanner family’s lives delightfully upside down.

Object Theatre: Siebenstein and “Koffer”

The Cheeky Suitcase

Ah, the infamous cheeky suitcase from the ZDF German Television station’s children’s series, Siebenstein! Who could forget the mischievous little guy? Puppeteer Thomas Rohloff brought the suitcase to life, and it was a sight to behold.

Object Theatre: A High-Quality Production

Object theatre is part of puppetry, and the production quality of Siebenstein was top-notch! It took a team of about 20 people to make it happen, and each day of filming lasted 10 hours. The crew would set up, light, and shoot each scene from different angles. Then, after taking editing breaks and playing with delayed reactions to create a flow, they’d have about 5 minutes of broadcast-quality footage ready to go.

Grooming King Kong for the Big Screen

The 1933 Milestone

In 1933, King Kong and the White Woman hit the big screen and made history! It was a puppet show with some serious special effects. To make King Kong look like he was being blown by the wind, the figure had to be touched up and photographed a million times.

The 1976 Remake

John Guillermin’s 1976 remake of King Kong used the same stop-motion technique, but this time the ape’s fur was combed in the desired direction after each touch. It cost a whopping $1.7 million to make a 12-meter-tall, 6.5-tonne figure of the ape, but it only featured in the film for 15 seconds. Talk about expensive!

Lessons Learned

Grooming King Kong for the big screen is no easy feat! Here’s what we learned:

The Dark Crystal: A Puppet Production of Epic Proportions

The Original Film

Jim Henson’s 1982 fantasy film, The Dark Crystal, was the first live-action feature film to feature puppets exclusively. It was a labor of love for Henson, who had worked on the project for five years.

Netflix’s Prequel

Netflix initially planned to make an animated prequel, but quickly realized that the puppets were what made Henson’s film so special. So, they decided to go ahead with a season of 10 episodes of sophisticated puppetry, titled The Dark Crystal: The Era of Resistance. The series was added to Netflix’s schedule on August 30, 2019.

The Art of Puppetry

Puppetry is a true art form. Puppeteers for film productions rarely get the recognition they deserve, as they have to work behind the scenes. Their work is often physically demanding and hot, and they need patience and skill to get the perfect shot.

The Director’s Vision

Director Louis Letterier’s vision for the show was that viewers would forget they were watching puppets. And it’s true – the puppets are so lifelike, it’s easy to forget they aren’t real!

Differences

Puppet Vs Marionette

Puppets and marionettes are both puppets, but they have some key differences. Puppets are usually operated by hand, while marionettes are controlled by strings or wires from above. This means marionettes can move more freely and realistically, while puppets are limited to the movements of the puppeteer’s hands. Puppets are usually made of cloth, wood, or plastic, while marionettes are usually made of wood, clay, or ivory. And, finally, marionettes are typically used for theatrical performances, while puppets are often used for children’s entertainment. So, if you’re looking for a realistic performance, go for a marionette. But if you’re looking for something more playful, a puppet might be the way to go!

Conclusion

Puppetry is an art form that has been used in films for decades, and it’s truly amazing to see how much effort goes into creating these characters. From the Sandman to Baby Yoda, puppets have been used to bring characters to life in a unique and captivating way. So if you’re looking for a fun and creative way to explore the world of film, why not give puppetry a try? Just remember to use your chopsticks and don’t forget to have a good time – after all, it’s no puppet show without a few laughs!