What lens to use when filming puppets? Posted by Brooksy on Mar 18, 2013
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.


Re: What lens to use when filming puppets? Posted by Na on Mar 19, 2013
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.
Re: What lens to use when filming puppets? Posted by Shoeshine on Mar 19, 2013
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.
Re: What lens to use when filming puppets? Posted by Brooksy on Mar 19, 2013
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.
Re: What lens to use when filming puppets? Posted by The Director on Mar 20, 2013
  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.
Re: What lens to use when filming puppets? Posted by The Director on Mar 20, 2013
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.
Re: What lens to use when filming puppets? Posted by Brooksy on Mar 20, 2013
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.
Re: What lens to use when filming puppets? Posted by The Director on Mar 20, 2013
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!
Re: What lens to use when filming puppets? Posted by Shawn on Mar 20, 2013
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.
Re: What lens to use when filming puppets? Posted by aaronTV on Mar 24, 2013
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!

No More Post