Thursday, April 22, 2010

Hands-free bird puppets by Axtell Expressions

Check out this amazing "hands-free" remote-controlled puppet. A very small remote control is used to open and close the bird's mouth. Another button turns the puppet's head to face the audience or the ventriloquist. It even has a sort of "cruise control" mode in which the bird moves about in a subtle but lifelike manner, allowing the puppeteer to focus on other things or to work with multiple puppets at the same time.

Here is a link where you can learn more and see a full show featuring the Axtell Expressions hands-free bird puppet.

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

A mechanically clever, but downright creepy toy

The folks over at The Weirdo Toys Blog, discovered this unusual mechanical toy. The toy makes use of those odd rubber finger puppet faces. The interchangeable faces are mounted on motorized "fingers" located on the figure's head. The range of expression created by this arrangement is truly disturbing. Add a raised axe in one hand and the tune "When the Saints go Marching in" and you have yourself one very hard-to-explain toy.

Here's a comprehensive write-up with additional videos on the Magic Monster on the The Weirdo Toys Blog.

[ Thanks Bob! ]

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Thursday, March 04, 2010

King Kong automaton by Keith Newstead

Here is a recently completed automaton by the ingenious Keith Newstead. This automaton is one of two made for a cruise liner. It is a wonderful example of organic motions created by using articulated joints within a figure.

See more automata by Keith Newstead on is web site.

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Step-by-step carving of a dinosaur marionette

Step-by-step carving of a dinosaur marionetteWez Champion is documenting his efforts as he makes a very cool dinosaur marionette. Champion says he is a fan of the Prague style of marionette making.

Says the artist:
One of the things I like most about ALL Prague puppets is the way they don't try to hide the fact that they are made from wood... the master craftsmen seem to use the straight edges of chisel cuts to form unique facial expressions and unbelievable style to each character...this is what I someday hope to master for myself!

His blog posts document his project from drawings to roughing out the figure, to carving details. Stay tuned as he goes on to paint and assemble the puppet.

Here is a link to Wez's World -- the blog that documents the making of a marionette.

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Articulated metal figure in bronze and steel

Articulated metal figure in bronze and stainless steel
Shown here is the beautiful human figure titled "Artform No. 1" by artist Mark Ho. The initial model -- bronze and stainless steel, like the one shown here -- was 6 years in the making!

The figure is fully articulated, stands 17 inches high, weighs in at 16 lbs, and is made up of over 500 parts. This is a limited edition run of 25. Each Artform No. 1 figure comes with a clever magnetic base which can be activated and de-activated, allowing you to pose and "freeze" the sculpture into any shape the human form is capable of.

See more animations and photographs of this amazing metal figure at ZOHO ARTFORMS web site.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

'The Machine' - mechancial animation short film

Check out the Machine, a stop motion animated film short from director Rob Shaw. The director informs me that the work was highly inspired by mechanical theatre. It shows!

See more films by Rob Shaw on his blog.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Big Man Walking, Scotland's first giant puppet

Check out this video of an impressive 8 meter tall blue giant of a puppet known as Big Man.

See more photos and additional videos at the Big Man Walking web site.

[ Thanks Bill! ]

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Amazing LEGO-based automata theater

'The Pirates and the NXTfied Theater' combines LEGOs and the programmable LEGO Mindstorms NXT components to create a 3-dimensional miniature mechanical theater. It's a wonderful combination of old story telling techniques, puppetry, automata, toys, and programming. The effect is not unlike some of the old coin-operated mechanical scenes you might find in Penny-in-the-Slot Automata and the Working Model. The film runs about three minutes with some cool behind-the-scenes shots at the end.

Visit this site to learn more about The Pirates and the NXTfied Theater.

Here's a link where you can get your own LEGO Mindstorms NXT kits and instructional books.

[ Thanks Mario! ]

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Uncanny life-sized horse puppets

I am thrilled to share with you this video of these amazing -- absolutely astounding, actually -- life-sized horse puppets. Intellectually, I know there are three people (and a rider) operating these large metal horses. I can even see the puppeteers much of the time. Even so, my brain insists that these are real, living, horses. It's a wonderful mind-bender and a testament to the artful mastery these performers have achieved.

[ Thanks SC! ]

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Giant girl puppet on the move again in France

I've posted in the past about the giant marionette of a little girl created by a group called Royal de Luxe. Brought to life with the aid of cranes, block-and-tackle, and a team of puppeters, the girl was on the move again last month in a piece called "La géante du Titanic et le scaphandrier".

Here is a link with photographs and more information (in French) on La géante du Titanic et le scaphandrier.

Shown here is a video segment of one portion of the performance.

[ Thanks Bonne-voglie! ]

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

'The Whole World and You' with automata actors

An automata-based reality sets the backdrop to this very catchy tune. The song -- titled "The Whole World and You" -- is by the band Tally Hall. I think I like these guys!

[ Thanks S.C.! ]

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Spooner's First Puppet to Swim the Channel

From the wonderful mind of Paul Spooner, we have an automaton in which a figure is controlling a swimming marionette. There is something delightfully reflexive in an automaton figure manipulating a puppet figure. You -- as the user of the automaton -- are animating them both...which leads to even deeper questions.

Keep your eyes open at the end of the video to see the ingenious profile-cam used to make the swimmer's arms move.

See more of Paul Spooner's Automata at The Cabaret Mechanical Theatre web site.

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Cirque Calder - Automata and Puppet Circus

I posted recently about film footage of Alexander Calder's Automaton / Puppet Circus that he called Cirque Calder. Here is the second half of the short film.

This section features some mechanical dogs with uncanny movements, a gun-shooting lion tamer, a chariot race, and a trapeze act. I wonder how much he had to practice to get all of these tricks to work!

This book covers the Cirque Calder in detail: Alexander Calder: The Paris Years, 1926-1933 (Whitney Museum of American Art)

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Alexander Calder's Automaton and Puppet Circus

Alexander Calder created a miniature circus using handmade characters that are part automaton and part puppet. He would then manipulate the figures to perform certain acts of the show. The figures include jugglers, clowns and animals -- all made from odd bits of wood, cork, wire, yarn, paper, string and cloth. Here is the first of two clips of showing Calder performing the Cirque Calder from a 1961 film.

Due out September of 2008, this book covers the Cirque Calder in detail: Alexander Calder: The Paris Years, 1926-1933 (Whitney Museum of American Art)

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Automata May Judge Us Once Autonomous

Box of Men is a piece by artist Ken Feingold using animated ventriloquist dolls. The automaton is funny, creepy, and thought-provoking all at once.

From the Ace Gallery Web Site:

Box of Men
is a work for display on a large flat-panel screen. The piece
is not pre-recorded. The dialogue is synthesized speech generated in real
time by a computer program that assigns a "character" to each of the
puppets. Their conversation goes on infinitely, as long as the program is
running. The narrative circles around an "unknown" crime. Those accused are anonymous. Those who judge are puppets, controlled by unseen forces, and assuming an uncanny life of their own.

Here is a link to the page featuring Box of Men, complete with transcript of their conversation.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Dunninger's Encyclopedia of Magic in MAKE

I'm thrilled to have played a small part in MAKE Magazine's latest issue, Volume 13. The theme of the issue is magic. I review a classic book on the subject: Dunningers Complete Encyclopedia Of Magic.

Magicians have a long history of being exceptional makers. Just to assure you that this post is on-topic, the book contains details of one of Hero of Alexandria's automata and instructions on marionette construction.

The book is out-of-print, but available used online.

Pick up a copy of MAKE, Volume 13 to read my concise book review. The issue also has a TON of articles on magic, makers, and cool things to make for yourself.

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Make Ball and Socket Armature Joints

Armature joints are useful for model makers and stop-motion animators. If you've ever tried to locate ball and socket joints, you'll know it isn't easy. When you do find them, you will find that good quality ones can be very expensive.

Here is an entire site dedicated to showing you how to make them yourself. It is a very complete step-by-step guide, with each section set up in slide-show format. Thankfully, the author has also included a list of suppliers for the required parts.

Model makers and animators: Make your own brass ball-and-socket armature joints

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Little Girl Giant - Enormous Marionette

This astounding video is of a very large and very beautiful marionette. She requires a troop of puppeteers, dozens of block-and-tackle, and a crane to operate. The sum is far greater than the parts, I assure you.

The folks at The Mechanical Blog provide some context. The show is called The Sultan's Elephant and was performed by a group called Royal de Luxe.

[ Thanks, Aaron! ]


Sunday, August 13, 2006

Alexander Calder's Automata / Puppet Circus

Alexander CalderAlexander Calder created a miniature circus using handmade characters that are part automaton and part puppet.

At the suggestion of toy merchant, Alexander Calder began to make toys with articulation in the 1920s. Calder created his Cirque Calder, a miniature circus fashioned from wire, string, rubber, cloth, and other found objects. The entire circus could be placed and shipped in suitcases. It eventually grew to fill five suitcases. Calder would travel with his circus and hold performances on both sides of the Atlantic. He would manipulate the figures to perform certain acts of the show. The figures include jugglers, clowns and animals, recreating a real circus.

This book covers the Cirque Calder in detail: Alexander Calder: The Paris Years, 1926-1933 (Whitney Museum of American Art)

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Monday, June 05, 2006

The Secrets of Making Marionettes

Here's a link to a 1934 edition of Popular Mechanics entitled The Secrets of Makeing Marionettes. The site features scans of the original article as well as an HTML transcription. There are some valuable tips on figure-making for all automata artists in this article. If you're not sure how, check out the work of Tom Haney who makes key-operated marionettes machines.

You may also want to look into the book Making and Manipulating Marionettes

This book is a complete guide to the design, construction, and control of string puppets.

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