James Wojtal is a talented puppet designer and builder. During his career he has worked on projects like Avenue Q, Bear in the Big Blue House, Crank Yankers, Saturday Night Live, Sesame Street (the American and various internationl versions), Mop-a-Top's Shop, Kermit's Swamp Years, Animal Jam, and more. In this interview I asked him to share his thoughts about puppet building.
SJ: Rebuilding familiar characters like Bear for Bear in the Big Blue House or Camilla for A Very Merry Muppet Christmas seem to have built in difficulties. How do you go about reconstructing a puppet so that it looks identical to the original.
JW: To start with, you want to get the puppet in front of you as much as possible. See where the wear and tear has really had an effect. Get good photos form the archives, and get the patterns, if possible. Talk to one of the other builders who may have worked on that puppet, and see what they remember. There is so much stuff that just does not get written down, weird little processes that a builder learns to do that become second nature, but can not really be described - it has to be shown, or taught to you.
Also, many puppet patterns evolve. As they do, they will end up with weird bits and pieces that were changed, or added to. You may come across something without a marking on it - it happens since a lot of time you're under a tight deadline to get something done. When you are finished you may not have time to get back and archive all the different parts of a pattern, or it may be a pattern from the first version that is no longer valid in a puppet that has been rebuilt or added to as its character has evolved. A running joke we would often run into is finding a pattern piece with "Totally useless old pattern, do not use, DO NOT THROW AWAY" written on it.