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What lens to use when filming puppets?  (Read 17578 times)
« on: March 18, 2013, 03:24:18 pm »

Hello all-

Hopefully this is in the right place on the forum.  My filming group and I are tackling a puppet feature and I have a couple questions about filming it that I was hoping some kind people here might have some insight on.  Main question is are there certain focal length of lenses that I should be using over other.  My gut tells me to use longer lenses so the shot can be compressed more and I can get a sense that the puppets are a little bigger.   Is that a wrong thought?  I can certainly see some applications for wider lenses also.  Next question is are their special requirements that the puppeteers need to have when filming?  The main one I have seen is to give them a monitor to view.  Any others?  Is it possible to perform without a monitor or is this a must?  Below is an example of a test scene we shot.  Any kind of constructive feedback that you guys can give would be very welcomed.  Thanks again.  If you would like more information on the project please take a look at the Kickstarter below.  I am not asking for money.  The Kickstarter just has the most amount of information if anyone would be interested in learning more about the project.  Thanks in advance.



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« Reply #1 on: March 18, 2013, 11:09:19 pm »

I can't speak to most of your questions, but on the issue of having a monitor, I would think it's mostly personal preference and what you are used to; as well as what you're performing. If you're in the Big Bird costume for instance, it's pretty obviously mandatory to have a monitor. But if you're performing something where you can easily see yourself then it's less of an issue. I expect most people who do muppet-type puppet performance will have trained with or tried using a monitor. I'd provide one just in case.
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« Reply #2 on: March 19, 2013, 03:18:24 am »

A monitor isn't necessary. Especially if you have somebody operating the camera. I've done puppet shoots with a locked off camera with no operator or monitor, and simply reviewed playback after every take. Not efficient, but it's doable. Lens choice shouldn't really be much different than that of shooting a human flick, except for the different size of the characters causing an issue with going too wide. I usually approach puppet video in the same way I do product shots. The biggest trick to making them look real on camera is getting light in their eyes. Nail that and it generally turns out okay.

Since you're asking about lensing, I'm going to go ahead and assume you're the DP of the show. Try and track down the back issue of American Cinematographer from...I believe June '79. Really great in depth article on how they shot The Muppet Movie.

Watched your test. You need to work on matching your shots. Your singles and your OSS's don't match each other at all. Don't let the fact that they're foam and fleece or your wish to showcase their detail make you get sloppy. Treat the characters like they're human beings and you should be fine.
« Reply #3 on: March 19, 2013, 02:33:33 pm »

Excellent!  Thanks so much for taking the time to help me out.  Appreciate all the input.  I'll take it all in and get better at this.  Looking forward to being on the forum and sharing my experiences.
The Director
« Reply #4 on: March 20, 2013, 06:26:05 am »

 grouphug Here are my thoughts.  Puppets, acting and voices are great.  Visually you seem to be too close and their heads are cut off. Even lower bodies. The two things that stick with me from an internship with a TV station was "Head Room" and "Lead space. Lead space means that if a subject is say looking to the right, there should be more space to the right rather than centering.  I would also suggest a backdrop that is not so cluttered so the puppts would be highlited better.  I realize you wanted a forest but it would be more effective to have the trail behind them or an opening to the sky or something for contrast.  Working with a storyboard is helpful.  I work alone without a monitor so I struggle with these shots, but if you have a crew you should be able to do great things.  Can't wait to see the finished product.
The Director
« Reply #5 on: March 20, 2013, 06:30:15 am »

Watching it again I have to say you did a great job, and I like the shadows.  You actually did put the trail in there.  This scene was just a sampling but it really looks like you guys know what you are doing.
« Reply #6 on: March 20, 2013, 08:09:54 am »

I appreciate any and all advice with this.  Again really appreciate you taking the time to watch and give out some tips.  I'm always looking to see what I can do better the next time.  We just shot a couple commercials that I'm hoping to post in the next couple weeks.  Again learned a lot.  One thing that I was able to break from was my fear of putting the puppeteers into awkward positions in order to get the shot.  Do you guys find that sometimes you have to get into weird/uncomfortable positions sometimes?  Is it wrong for me to ask that of the puppeteers or is it expected?  Thanks again.
The Director
« Reply #7 on: March 20, 2013, 08:37:13 am »

That's a funny question.  Unless you are using a puppet stage the puppeteers will have a tough job staying out of the picture.  Often I just can't get the shot I was looking for and allow myself to stay in veiw slightly.  I did a difficult scene in my "Where's The Kitty" video with 3 puppets at a table behind a glass door.  If you look carefully you can see me laying on the floor.  So yes your puppeteers should be stretching before they start a days scene. LOL!
Shawn Sorrell
« Reply #8 on: March 20, 2013, 01:26:33 pm »

There are going to be times that your puppeteers are going to have to scrunch, stretch, bend, dip, lay etc. There is just no getting around it. Smiley
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« Reply #9 on: March 24, 2013, 06:38:22 am »

Lens choice often comes down to your stylistic choices. Yes, longer focal lengths do compress the background, but they also separate the foreground and background making a complex background (ie. lots of forest trees) less distracting. On the flip side, I didn’t see any wide angle shots in your teaser, and I think that having at least one establishing shot will help give context to the characters journey and the plot. In the end I don’t think it should be a telephoto vs wide angle argument, lenses are just tools, and it’s up to the director and DP to decide what’s the best tool to convey the story that you’re trying to tell.

On the topic of monitors, if the 5D mkIII (as mentioned in your Kickstarter project) is anything like the rest of the EOS range, you won’t be able to simultaneously monitor your video on both the camera and an external monitor at the same time. You’ll have to choose one or the other, which will mean either your puppeteer will be running blind or your camera operator will be. The other option is to run two external monitors, one for the puppeteers and one for the camera operator, but of course this is going to mean more money if you don’t already have 2 monitors.

Also congratulations on making your goal! Well done!
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« Reply #10 on: March 24, 2013, 09:05:40 am »

One note on using monitors; Unless your puppeteers are experienced in "camera view" performing, I would avoid using a monitor. "Camera View" (as you or the camera see something) is the reverse of what untrained puppeteers need. Normal people are used to a "Mirror View", the reverse of a normal view.
Many, many years ago I supervised a puppet crew that I had to train myself on a movie called "Gremlins". We trained in front of a huge mirror and I had all the monitors reworked to have reversing switches for the horizontal and vertical image. It made a world of difference as a mirror image felt completely natural and intuitive to the novices, while a camera view completely screwed them up.
I just finished a puppet short with untrained puppeteers and I had to remove the monitors for them most of the time, or in critical shots I placed a mirror next to the monitor to provide the mirror image. Hope this helps.
StiqPuppet Productions
« Reply #11 on: March 26, 2013, 12:17:12 am »

I would strongly suggest a monitor so that the puppeteer can see where they are in the frame...it really is hard to walk about or move and not see where u r in the frame and helping them to keep the balance to the shot.  Makes filming for all involved much easier. It also helps with eye focus for the puppets.  Ways to get around the monitor issue with all actions going opposite...have them practice with a sock on there hand with a simple camera hooked up to there tv at home or use a webcam hooked up to there computer...it doesn't take to long to get ur brain around it...once it clicks it never leaves.  Hope this helps out!  BTW if you google practice tips for puppeteers to use monitors you will find activities to practice and fine tune the skill.

Stiq  Smiley
« Last Edit: March 26, 2013, 12:19:50 am by StiqPuppet Productions »
« Reply #12 on: March 26, 2013, 07:51:40 am »

All great advice.  Gonna take it all in and talk to the puppeteers.  Maybe tryout a few things during some practice shoots.  Thanks everyone for taking the time to respond.  We are all very excited about meeting our goal.  Our puppet maker (Proper title?) has already started working on some more puppets and we shot a couple cross promotional commercials with one of our puppets.  Hopefully I'll be able to post those up soon and get some more feedback.  Thanks again.
Shawn Sorrell
« Reply #13 on: March 26, 2013, 12:25:01 pm »

Puppet maker, puppet builder or even master puppeteer would all be correct.
StiqPuppet Productions
« Reply #14 on: March 28, 2013, 01:56:39 pm »

BTW you can get really cheap monitors...I use this out of date ipod portable movie player...basically it has a bigger screen and you can fit ur ipod into a slot...similar to those DVD portable players...which is another option.  Just make sure you have an video input u don't need to worry about the sound.  They come with rechargeable batteries and the screens are good enough...you can get them pretty cheap now...I think i got mine for $40 bucks cause the new ipod was out and it didn't fit into this one...good luck.

Stiq Smiley
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