Wednesday, May 31, 2006

James Wojtal Interview, Part 17

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.

frelancepuppets

SJ: What advice would you give to young people interested in making a career out of puppet building?

JW: Well, I don't know. I suppose I could say "NO, Don't do It!!!" because it's not easy, and the world is always changing, as is the Entertainment industry. I would say it's important to have other skills to fall back on.

Many puppet builders I know also work in theater. Some are Actors, some are Puppeteers, and some design fashion accessories. Others are illustrators, or are working in production in different capacities. The likelihood that you will get a full time job working for one person is unlikely. It is for the most part piecemeal work. I freelance, and I look for gigs on my own, as well as work with different companies, but none of them are steady jobs. You will not be getting a health or dental plan as a freelance artist unless you pay for it yourself. So it's really a matter of how hard you want to work, and where do you want to be when you get old (something I am not even sure of yet).

So I guess I'm saying, it pays to be prepared.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

James Wojtal Interview, Part 16

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.

frackels

SJ: What is one puppet-building tip that you can share with us?

JW: I'm not really sure. I guess, don't be afraid to look at different materials - experiment. I know a lot of people like to build the "Muppet" style puppet, and they want to use the same stuff they do, but pro puppet shops are always looking at new materials and new methods. It's important to be able to improvise. You would be surprise what using something other than fleece can do to a puppet. It can make it really stand out on its own.

Friday, May 26, 2006

James Wojtal Interview, Part 15

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.

aveQ

SJ: While working on the popular Broadway musical Avenue Q, you built some celebrity and television personality puppets. Is making a puppet of well know person different than making chickens or pigs?

JW: I don't think so in terms of process. I think the challenge is trying to find the features that really make that person. On top of that, you are walking a thin line trying not to offend the person you are building a puppet of while still making the general public look at the puppet and go, "yeah that's so an so, they even got his funny lip right", or "look the ears they are perfect". It's interesting to see what it is people notice about a celebrity. Since I was working from Rick Lyon's designs and not my own, I also have to stay within those guidelines. Everyone has a signature style that they like to use so that was just as important to that build.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

James Wojtal Interview, Part 14

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.

wolf

SJ: During your time with The Jim Henson Company you did refurbishing as well as building from scratch. What sort of damage did the puppets have, and how did you go about refurbishing them?

JW: It varied a lot from just worn out fur spots, to complete and total foam break down. The really old puppets would naturally have turned to "toast". We would pull them out of a box, take off the plastic bag, and be showered with bits of decayed foam rubber.

refurbished monsters

Sometimes it was just glue giving out, so you would have to re-glue a mouth plate, or replace some feathers. Often the challenge was trying to find enough material in the boxes to do the repairs, since a lot of the puppets were from dye lots, and fabric stock that may not exist anymore.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

James Wojtal Interview, Part 13

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.

goat

SJ: On Telling Stories with Tommie DePola, the puppets were built based on Tommie DePola's designs. How do you go about transforming flat watercolor pictures that were not meant to be 3-D, into successful three-dimensional puppets.

JW: I think a lot of that was the costumes that were designed. As I Remember, Jason Weber created the dying method used to make the costumes look like water color come to life - it was the puppet build and then the amazing costumes made from a kind of blanket.

goadside

The puppet build was actually pretty straight forward. Rollie Krewson was project manager on that one, and she certainly guided how things evolved from mock up to final. Most of the heads were carved foam, and Goat was patterned foam with carved horns and hoofs.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

James Wojtal Interview, Part 12

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.

puppyduck

SJ: Some Muppet fans may be familiar with Tim Miller from the credits of The Muppet Show and many other Muppet movies and television shows. You worked with him on various projects including the British show Mop-a-Top's Shop. What did you learn from working with such an accomplished and experienced puppet builder.

JW: I was very fortunate very early on in my life. I first met, Ed Christie, Fred Buchholz, and Larry Jameson when I was just a kid in High School. They really encouraged me to continue working on my puppets. Fred even gave me a tour of the workshop a couple of times.

frogs

When I started working there, Tim really took me under his wing so to speak. He was puppet building supervisor, and I sat right across from him. I got to learn a lot just from watching. I was also surrounded by the most amazing puppet designers and mechanical/prop designers I could imagine, Rollie Krewson, Ann Marie Holdgruen, Paul Hartis, Mark Zeszotek, Tom Newby, Ed Christie, Fred Buchholz, Larry Jameson, and those were just people on my Floor. They all put any puppet I build to shame. I was, and continue to be in awe of the work they do, and I am forever grateful for what I learned from them (as well as everyone else, the list of builders goes on and on - not to mention the costumers, and textile designers). It truly was a warehouse of amazingly talented people, and I am happy I was allowed to play and learn with them for four years.

Monday, May 22, 2006

James Wojtal Interview, Part 11

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.

camilla

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.

Friday, May 19, 2006

James Wojtal Interview, Part 10

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.

workshopbear

SJ: You mention on your web site that the most challenging and rewarding job while at The Jim Henson Company was rebuilding Bear. Can you tell me about the challenges you faced?

JW: Perhaps the biggest challenge when rebuilding a puppet is capturing the character that people have come to expect. it's more than just a pattern when you rebuild an older established puppet. Now you have to capture all the wear and tear that the puppet has gotten because it has become part of what the puppet is. You have to distress the fur a bit, you have to trim it to the right length, match the number of hairs in the eyebrows, etc.

When you get new fur its all fluffy - but take a good look at an old stuffed animal, or doll, and you will see all the wear playing with it has caused. If you look closely at Bear from his first show of the season to Bear at the end of the second season you will see the wear start to show. That's the puppet you are really matching - not the brand new clean original, but the well worn Bear (I really hope that all made sense).

Thursday, May 18, 2006

James Wojtal Interview, Part 9

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.

sesame egypt

SJ: Along with the smaller Muppet style puppets, you've also built some large walk-a-round's. What are some challenges unique to big puppets, and does working on a large scale change or affect your building process?

JW: I guess the main challenge is the size. Samson from the German Sesame Street was a real bear (pun intended) to work on.

samson

As far as process goes it's pretty much the same, except you are now working as part of a large team. The body, hands, and feet are normally handled by the costuming department, and your work all has to come together as a whole. There are lots of meeting and fittings to make sure that all the parts work and move just right.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Roderick Fromage

roderick

This is Roderick Fromage another rod puppet I built for the Swazzle puppet show Rex and Boots Super Sleuths.

Sherman the Sheepdog

sheepdog

Meet Sherman the Sheepdog. I built him for the Swazzle puppet show Rex and Boots Super Sleuths.

James Wojtal Interview, Part 8

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.

cockroach

SJ: When building a puppet do you ever get stuck, or have artist block? If so, how do you work through it?

JW: All the time! Sometimes you just have to step back, go get a cup of coffee, have a cigarette (or not, if you don't smoke) go for a walk, then come back to it, and look at it from a another angle. If you're working in a large group, talk to some of your colleagues. Often times I find a small alteration will make the answer jump right out at you.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Parrot

parrot

This parrot built by Patrick, is the latest puppet to join the cast of B.A.R.K. The Robot Dog.

James Wojtal Interview, Part 7

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.

sculpted animals2

SJ: Are there any artists, designers or puppeteers that you look to for inspiration?

JW: Lots, Jim Henson obviously, but there is a huge list: Chuck Jones, Bill Waterson, Gary Larson, Brian Froud, Jeff Smith (the creator of BONE), Michael Frith - numerous children's Illustrators who's names I do not know, Wayne Barlowe, Brom, the list goes on and on.

sculpted animals

I also find a lot of inspiration in nature itself, natural history always has and still does fascinate me. I can spend hours staring at the Dinosaurs at the Museum of natural History.

Monday, May 15, 2006

James Wojtal Interview, Part 6

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.

foamhead

SJ: How many revisions, if any, do your puppets go through during the building process?

JW: All depends on the client. I have done some puppets that I nailed on the first go around, and for other clients I have done as many as 10 to 15 mockups before they were satisfied - a lot of that having to do with poor concept art to begin with, which is why a good design is so important.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

James Wojtal Interview, Part 5

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: Can you walk me through the basics of your building process?

JW: Sure. I start with a drawing, or the design supplied by the client (which nine times out of ten needs a lot of work).

dog1

Then, I work out some mock up heads and bodies, doing my best to capture the essence of the design, and find the right balance between form and function.

dog2

From their I start looking for the right materials. I love using things with unusual textures, although I rarely get the opportunity (I haven't really had the time to work on any of my own stuff for quite awhile). I may need to dye some fabric, so I might go through quite a few dye samples before I get the right shade and formula.

dog3

Once the mockups and materials are approved, I start the final build. Using better foam, I'll work out the internal structure, boning and the like to add support and help keep the shape. Next I add grips to the mouth plate, then I make a muslin pattern, or I will use scraps of the final fabric if it has unusual qualities. Then its a lot of cutting with scissors or razor blades, moving on to the hand and machine stitching. Next I cover the body, and head, attach whatever eyes I have chosen for the puppet, and add finishing details like hair, or feathers etc.

dog4

James Wojtal Interview, Part 4

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.

lion

SJ: What is your favorite type of puppet to build, and what materials do you like working with best?

JW: Hard to say really. I love doing the hand and rod style puppets, since they are so expressive. Even a simple one like Kermit can emote so well - but I guess what I like most is an interesting design challenge. I'm working on a new show for Puppetworks Inc. in Brooklyn. We use Marionettes for our shows, and that's a real challenge. Making your sculpture come to life on strings, balancing your design, and the mechanics needed to operate the puppet from over head. It's tricky thing, and I really am enjoying that at the moment.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

James Wojtal Interview, Part 3

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.

snail

SJ: As a builder, what do you think are the hallmarks of well-constructed puppet?

JW: That's a tough one, since I guess it is a bit subjective. Personally, it all starts with a good design. From their it's a matter of creating something that is flexible, durable, lightweight, and yet sturdy. I have done a lot of theater now so when something is going to be used over and over its very important to sweat those small details - building in supports to prevent your puppet from collapsing, and making it easy to get on and off. On TV you have a little more leeway, since often times you are building a one off, or a background puppet that may or may not ever be seen again - then you can sort of cut corners, but not really. You never know when that background puppet will be a breakout star, and you have to rebuild him or fix him.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

James Wojtal Interview, Part 2

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.

raccoon

SJ: Where and when did you learn how to build puppets?

JW: Well for the most part I was self taught, again I had been given lessons in sewing at a early age. My mother was and still is a very crafty person. She had been a Kindergarten teacher before myself and my siblings were born, and she was always very crafty. I know I picked up a lot of my early skills from her - a lot of it was experimentation, trying to find the right materials back then was hard. I didn't have the internet, and good books on puppetry were hard to find at my local and school libraries, so it was really just a lot of trial and error.

I think the big eureka moment happened in 6th grade when I found some old contact cement in the basement, and getting a old foam bolster from a pillow my mom was recovering, it all just sort of clicked. I would say the countless hours I spent watching and re-watching videos of the Muppets helped a lot as well.

Monday, May 08, 2006

James Wojtal Interview, Part 1

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.

james

SJ: How did you first become interested in puppetry and puppet building?

JW: I guess when I was a kid, my mom taught me how to sew when I was 4. I would make little stuffed animals, and things like that - small mice and rats, little animals that would fit in my pants pocket so I could take them with me anywhere I went. I didn't really realize it was puppetry that was fueling my interest till I was older, maybe in 5th or 6th grade. Still, I didn't think of it as a career at that point. For a long time I was really considering becoming a Paleontologist, one of my other passions that I still have a strong interest in.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Friday Fun, Fox's Naked TV Part 3

richard

This is Richard, a puppet built by Patrick for the 2005 production of Naked TV. He was based on a two demential animated character from the 2004 production. I voiced and performed him in both taped and live segments. Naked TV is evening of One-Act plays that serve as television show pilots, presented by Naked Angels and Fox Broadcasting Company.