Any filming tips? Posted by TygerMin on Mar 05, 2014
"Filming puppets will be easy!"  Dumbest thing I thought :D  Have several kinks to work out.  Any tips on the following?

- Head shots.  I kept having trouble getting my head out of the frame, especially on the live hand puppet.  Was trying to view it on the small turn around screen of a Sony Handycam and didn't notice the head until seeing it on the desktop.

- Shaky background.  Saw it in several clips of the below video.  Real bad on the guy with glasses.  Not sure what I was doing, but must have been pulling on the back drop. 

- Black light- Any tips on filming with black light?

Those are what I caught off the top of my head.  Well, I don't have the coordination yet for the live hand.  Have to work on that before May since he is going to Comic Con.  Any tips and suggestions would be appreciated!

Re: Any filming tips? Posted by Shawn on Mar 06, 2014
Not bad for a first try at it.  Everyone deals with keeping your head out the shot. In your case if you had worn a black stocking cap it would not have been as noticeable or maybe not even shown up.  If you start using green screen you can wear a green cap. You have to work on keeping the puppet up as high above your head as you can. Keep your body directly below the puppet. This is one reason that in film sets are often built so the puppeteers can stand and perform the puppet. That way you can walk with the puppet staying right under them. Need to build up those arm muscles. With your live hand puppet he has a big enough body that you could actually position the body between you and the camera to hide your head. Means you may not be able to see the flip monitor but if you can get an external monitor you can put it on the ground at your feet. I think having an external monitor would help in other cases also. If you are looking down at the monitor it is going to lower your head out of the shot.
Re: Any filming tips? Posted by PoorFishy on Mar 06, 2014
A monitor does help keep your head ducked but it offers its own challenges - namely it's a mirror image so it does take some getting used to.  Moving left is moving right on screen for example.

Also, just keeping your arm as high as possible is the way to go, but can be a challenge.  Your shoulders don't like it after a while.

As for back light, if you keep your puppets several feet from the background and light it like any other film setting you should be OK.  If you're using fabric you of course have to be careful not to move it as it will show up on screen.  When it comes to the black neutral background, I might suggest making sure it's pulled tight in all corners to eliminate any folds and drapery that might catch the light. 

When we made our puppet film we discovered that simple things like opening a door or picking up a telephone were suddenly very difficult since we were using rod puppets.  There was a lot of on-set problem solving that went on, but it was worth it in the end.

Puppet filming is a very big challenge and like anything else, it just takes a lot of trial and error.  Keep it up.  It'll all come together.
Re: Any filming tips? Posted by Skitstorm on Jun 04, 2014
Hey man- just pretty much want to echo what the other guys said. We keep our heads out of shot on our films by using a marker for our eyes (in this case the top of the back of the couch - as long as we are physically below that, the camera won't pick us up). The other thing is to hold your arm (and therefore the puppet) as high as possible, like PoorFishy said.

Would like to add though, if you're really struggling, you can of course always just simply cut your head out of the shot by clipping around your character when editing. You can lay this footage, without you in shot, back on the background, and it's as if you've magically dissapeared!

The other thing that's worth getting is some good halogen lights. We bought 3 garden lights (about $50 all in) from a hardware store, they're really bright and you can set them up around the room you're filming in at various angles (one on each side, one above the camera) to help eliminate the shadows on your backdrop. It'll make a massive difference, and make your characters appear more colourful too, as the light picks out their colours nicely.

PS - nice voice work!
Re: Any filming tips? Posted by Na on Jun 04, 2014
Puppet Kaos has done some puppet-performance classes, including films. He's blogged his notes and thoughts about them which I found really useful.
Re: Any filming tips? Posted by Andrew on Jun 05, 2014
The technical trick for keeping your head out of shot is referred to as "heads down, tilt up". What this means is that your camera should be positioned so that it is tilting up towards the puppet. When done correctly, you can pretty much walk right through a shot and never have to worry about your head getting in. This is trickier with multiple puppeteers (of different heights), which is why a lot of television puppeteers wear special shoes with lifts to equalize their height.

Here's a diagram of what I mean:

Message Image

There are some composition problems with your shots. Generally, the puppets are too low (a common problem with filming puppets) and/or the shots are not framed correctly. A book you should really read is "Setting Up Your Shots" by Jeremy Vineyard (look for it in your local library if you can't afford to buy it). This explains the basic types of shots that are used to make films and is a really, really helpful resource if you're new to filmmaking.

Some other really good resources for performing with puppets on camera are:

  • Video Puppetry For The Camera
  • Setting Up A Practice Monitor
  • Puppetry Lab: Video Monitors
Re: Any filming tips? Posted by TygerMin on Jun 05, 2014
Thanks Skitstorm, Na, and Andrew.  I posted this in March and my filming....well...hasn't really improved much.  I admit, it is easy to throw your hands up and give up.  Well, that isn't true, it is easier to blame everything you can.  Poor camera, poor lighting, small space, moving furniture in the living room to setup, no external monitor, etc... etc...  For some reason, I can't give up on this thing and I keep coming back to it.  I will look into those links and that book and I know I just need to keep at it. 
Re: Any filming tips? Posted by Skitstorm on Jun 06, 2014
Don't give up Tygermin! The world always needs more silliness. In fact, a small room could work to your advantage in that you might not need a monitor. The camera, and therefore the small display screen on the side of the camera (flipped around to face you) should be close enough for the puppeteer to see, and make adjustments accordingly. Good luck!
Re: Any filming tips? Posted by David on Jun 19, 2014
Are you filming alone? If so, get someone to help you out!

A good friend (that has stopped finding your puppets cute, or has got over that you're weird for "playing with dolls") who can be there to direct you and adjust the camcorder accordingly would be a great way to do this.

That's my only advice, as I don't think anyone else has mentioned this already.  I spent my youth filming with puppets (fortunately footage only exists on an old Hi8 tape that no one will ever see again!!) with friends and their input has been very helpful in setting up shot and ensuring each other didn't slip into shot etc.

Good luck!
Re: Any filming tips? Posted by TygerMin on Jun 22, 2014
Never giving up :D  Just have to fight the temptation from time to time.  I agree on the monitor Skitstorm, and hope to get a better camera.  Though I am pushing that off until next years tax return.  I think I know which one I am getting.

Are you filming alone? If so, get someone to help you out!

Yes and no.  I do drag my wife into things :D  But, with the current setup I don't have a lot of wiggle room.  I need to test some videos outside.  Also trying to bug a friend to help more :D

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