Saturday, December 20, 2008

12 Days of Christmas Podcast

I hope you all enjoy this video from a couple of years back, it's one of our favorites. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from all of us at Swazzle.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Digg my Blog - Mini Update

Hey readers of Puppet 101, I just added some share buttons and a Digg button to my blog. If you like Puppet 101 please help out by digging it or sharing it on your favorite social networking site.

This has been a super busy time for myself and Swazzle. We had another very busy summer of puppet shows, and then Patrick and I rolled right into the crazy stunt puppet production Team Smithereen. A few months back we moved into our brand new workshop in Glendale, and for the last couple of day's we have been rehearsing our brand new holiday puppet show, Live from the Ice Cube. Believe it or not, we are already planning our two new summer puppet shows: The River Otter Circus, and Water Color. Water Color will feature light up "neon" fish puppets - more on that later.

I hope you are all keeping busy with some fun puppet projects. Please keep me updated, and always feel free to email me your puppet questions:

By the way, I will be adding some new behind the scenes puppet building photos once we begin production on the new summer puppet shows.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Space Bugs

Space Bugs

The stars of the Swazzle puppet show Space Bugs welcome visitors to the new Swazzle Workshop.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

New Swazzle Workshop


After about a month, the new Swazzle Workshop is starting to come together. Today we got the workshop cleaned up, and put the lobby together - it's very exciting.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Team Smithereen Behind the Scenes Video

Check out this crazy behind the scenes video from the set of Team Smithereen. I'm the one in the mask and black plastic bag. Enjoy.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Monday, October 13, 2008

Offical Team Smithereen Press Release

For the past couple of months Patrick and I have been working on this super cool puppet project called Team Smithereen. We have been fortunate to work with Dan Clark and L.A.'s top puppeteers. The official press release just came out - give it read.

13th October 2008

Jetix Europe teams with W!LDBRAIN on first short-form programme for its new-look websites

Amsterdam, The Netherlands and London, UK – Jetix Europe N.V. (AMEX: JETIX; Reuters: JETIX.AS; Bloomberg: JETIX.NA), today announced that it is teaming up with W!LDBRAIN, the award-winning entertainment company, on a new short-form series that will premiere on its websites across Europe in early 2009. The move follows Jetix’ recently announced plans to overhaul its websites with new and improved navigation and functionality, including interactive VOD players.

W!LDBRAIN’s Team Smithereen will be the first new short-form series that Jetix will debut in Europe as an exclusive premiere on its websites. Kids across Europe will be able to access this new short-form content whenever they want online with new episodes being regularly updated on the Jetix sites in Germany, the UK, Spain, Italy, France, Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Hungary and Poland.

The slap-stick Team Smithereen is produced by W!LDBRAIN, the acclaimed company that develops and produces television, motion pictures, commercial content and licensed merchandise. The series is created by The Dan Clark Company, whose creative group specialises in puppetry and effects driven content for television. The 26x2 shorts follows a hapless team of puppet stuntmen who, more often than not, get into trouble on some of their death-defying feats. Team Smithereen shorts will debut exclusively on the new-look Jetix websites beginning early 2009.

Marc Buhaj, Senior Vice President Programming, Jetix Europe, says: “We want to offer kids the chance to enjoy original Jetix content wherever they are and developing a fuller digital offering is key to this. The short-form focus will be on comedy and creating characters that will have strong word-of-mouth and viral appeal. With this in mind Team Smithereen was the perfect series for us to launch our new online shorts strategy. It features the world's first vinyl puppet stunt team. These are four of the wildest, most wide-eyed, thrill-seeking, adrenaline junkies you'll ever see. It’s Jackass with vinyl puppets and we’re certain that Jetix kids across Europe – and probably some adults too - are going to love the crazy, unstoppable crew who are Team Smithereen.”

Bob Higgins, Head of Creative, W!LDBRAIN, says: “Dan Clark is one of the most distinctive, creative talents that I have ever worked with. The Team Smithereen series is a perfect addition to W!LDBRAIN’s slate of diverse and original projects. The ‘slap-stunt’ concept and style pushes the boundaries of animation and brings to life a world of vinyl-latex characters doing off-the-wall stunts that will have you on the edge of your seat. With Jetix offering a compelling online destination for the Team Smithereen series and our all-star creative team bringing their original sensibility to the process, the brand has the potential to become a multi-million dollar franchise that will transcend its online roots.”

Dan Clark of The Dan Clark Company, says: “W!LDBRAIN is hands down the most exciting company around. They do it all, animation, live action, the web, and broadcast. Along with my partners, producer Don Asher and character designer Dave Pressler, I’m stoked to be making Team Smithereen with them. Team Smithereen is a first of it’s kind, it combines cutting edge puppet work with new CGI techniques to deliver a crazy stunt-packed comedy featuring fresh mayhem and a collection of weirdly wonderful characters. Working with Jetix Europe on this series of shorts is a joy for our creative group, they are the perfect company to unleash Team Smithereen on a world hungry for off-the-hook physical comedy and spectacle!”

More Team Smithereen


I still can't say anything about Team Smithereen, the crazy cool puppet show that we've been shooting for the past couple of months, but check out this photo taken by Dan Clark Company producer Don Asher.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

New Swazzle Workshop


Today was a big day for Swazzle, we just moved into our brand new workshop in Glendale, CA. Swazzle recently out grew it's old location, and needed to move into a bigger space. The new workshop has a reception area, plenty of workshop and rehearsal space, office space, a roll up door, high ceilings, and a sky light. Today the whole Swazzle crew helped move everything to the new location. They also helped paint the new workshop to get it ready for business.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008



Here is a photo from the set of Team Smithereen. The show is produced by W!ldbrain which owns Kidrobot - planet Earth's premier creator & retailer of limited edition toys, clothing, mini-figures, artwork & books. The good people at Kidrobot gave the whole team these super cool Kidrobama shirts. Get your own here!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Team Smithereen

Team Smithereen

For the past couple of months Patrick and I have been working on a very cool puppet video project called Team Smithereen. We are puppeteers, puppet captains, and directors. We have been fortunate to work with a super creative group of people, and L.A.'s top puppeteers.

Team Smithereen was created by Brats of the Lost Nebula creator Dan Clark, and is co-produced with Wildbrain (headed up by Charlie Rivkin, former CEO of The Jim Henson Company) and Jetix/Disney. I can't tell you anything else about the project at this time, except that it rocks! Stay tuned for more.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Walking with Dinosaurs


I just saw Walking with Dinosaurs live at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles. The show was amazing. The life size dinosaur puppets looked and moved great. I was impressed by how fast and precise the puppetry was despite the massive scale. Also, all of the sounds came from the dinosaur's mouths which was extra cool. We were sitting three rows from the front, so when the full grown Tyrannosaurs Rex walks to the edge of the stage, lifts her head back and roars my chest chest rumbled. Walking with Dinosaurs is now on a North American tour, you must catch it when it comes to your town.

They did not allow flash photography during the show - most people ignored that request. I set my camera to the night setting, and got some nice non-flash photos. I'll share some the better ones in future posts.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Puppet Stage 4.0

Swazzle Puppet Stage

The new stage was different from any other because of the trunks. I worked with a representative from Encore Cases to design trunks based on our specific needs. I measured the inside of my car, and the dimensions of our previous stage to determine the size of the trunks. We came up with a design that called for one wheeled trunk and one non-wheeled trunk. For easy load in, the non-wheeled trunk would sit on the wheeled trunk.

The new trunks had two holes in the lid, and corresponding couplings inside. The fiberglass poles could slip into the holes and rest snugly in the coupling. The stage would be built from this sturdy vertical support. As in the previous stage the front and back were made from wooden curtain rods joined with PVC. The top sides were made from PVC which was lighter than the electrical conduit. The curtain was attached with velcro and then wrapped around the poles.

As an added benefit, these new trunks and painter poles gave us such a stable base that we used this design principle to make a larger school stage, and a smaller one trunk stage.

While we are still looking for ways to improv our set up, This new stage currently meets all of our requirements: It’s light weight, easy to unload, quick to set up, sturdy, and versatile.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Puppet Show Trunks 2.0

Puppet Show Trunks

After years of experience we knew we needed a stage that was light weight, easy to unload, quick to set up, and trunks that were large and professional. We talked to different puppeteers, and got their recommendation - something I really appreciate about the puppet community is it’s willingness to share. Puppeteer Scott Land gave us two suggestions that led to our current stage. He recommend using fiberglass painter poles for the vertical support, and Encore Cases for custom trunks.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Puppet Show Trunks

Wheeled Trunk

How the you transport a puppet show is almost as important as the stage itself. The trunks you use give the client and the audience an impression of your skill and professionalism. When we first started out, we to packed our puppets in a card board box. When that broke we upgraded to plastic wheeled tubs.

The wheeled plastic tubs worked well enough, but they didn’t look professional, and they were too small to hold everything. At each show we would unload the trunks from the car, strap the stages pieces to the top of one trunk, strap the sound equipment to the top of the other trunk, and roll into the venue like The Grapes of Wrath. On various occasions the trunk wheels would break, or get caught on a door jam, and the stage would slip off. We needed a solution that would solve our trunk and stage problem.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Puppet Stage 3.0

Puppet Stage 3

We tried a PVC stage and a wood frame stage but we needed something better. As we designed our next stage, we addressed the short comings of our previous stages. The new stage would have to be sturdy, light weight, easy to set up, and take up less space.

The stage that came next was pretty good, and it lasted a long time. The whole thing was built on a hinged 2X4 frame that sat on the ground. The vertical poles were made from PVC (keeping in mind our first PVC stage, these poles were connected together with a bungy cord, like a tent pole). The play board and back support were made from wooden curtain rods, so they wouldn’t sag like PVC. The rods were connected with a PVC joint. The sides were made from metal electrical conduit - sturdy, but heavy.

This stage worked nicely, but after a couple of years, it began to break down. The real weakness was the wooden base. Eventually, the large wooden pegs that secured the vertical PVC poles began to break, the hinges on the wooden base came unscrewed, and the front and side 2X4s were no longer sitting squarely on the ground. The stage became very wobbly, and unstable.

The final blow for one stage came during our extended run at the Los Angles Zoo. Anita and a member of the zoo staff attempted to move the stage for a special event, and the whole base twisted and broke. We managed to tape it up for the rest of the run, but it forever lilted to one side. It was time for another puppet stage.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Swazzle Tour Ending

Swazzle tour 2008

After nearly 150 puppet shows, the 2008 Swazzle summer tour is drawing to a close. We are entering into our final two weeks, and this may be your last chance to see Space Bugs Alpha and Zeta, The Magical Misadventures of Walnut the Wizard, and Bugsy Brown Private Fly. If you still haven't seen our new productions, please visit our online schedule to find a show near you.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Frame Puppet Stage

Frame Stage

After using PVC pipe to make a puppet stage, we wanted to something sturdier, and easier to set up. A couple of puppeteers in the San Francisco Bay Area Puppeteers Guild were using frame stages, so we gave it a try.

The frame stage was made from redwood panels that hinged and latched together. It was easy to set up, stable, and worked great for a while. With repeated use however some of the corners came undone, and we had to re-wood glue and staple them. Eventually, we added plywood corners to the frames, which made them stronger and heaver. The major drawback was this stage was its substantial foot print when it wasn’t set up - it took up a lot of space. On top of that, the hinged together wooden frames were cumbersome and brittle, and if we dropped the stack accidentally they would break.

Towards the end, the hinges came apart, the latches broke, and the screws were loose - the only thing holding it together was the curtain. Once we stared brining wood glue, staples and screws to each show, we new it was time for a new stage.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

My First PVC Puppet Stage

PVC Pipe Stage

My brother and I first started performing puppet shows professionally after attending the 1993 Puppeteers of America National Festival in San Francisco. We worked under the name The Johnson Brothers Puppets, and our first puppet show was The Wizard of Oz.

One of our early public performances was at the San Francisco Bay Area Puppeteers Guild annual Day of Puppetry in Children’s Fairyland, Oakland. At this event, Patrick and I debuted our brand new puppet stage. It was made from PVC pipe, and based on a design published in the puppetry festival hand book.

All of the pipes were measured and cut based on the specifications, and placed in a sturdy fabric sack. When show time rolled around, Patrick and I dumped out the poles and realized that we had insufficiently labeled them. We were faced with a pile of about twenty or so nearly identical white PVC pipes that could be assembled any number of ways - it looked like an over sized version of Pick Up Sticks.

It took a long time, but we managed to piece the stage together. After that show, we marked each pipe and connector with spray paint - red with a yellow dot, green with a red dot, etc. It was still complicated.

After doing a fair number of shows, we got pretty fast at setting up the stage - especially considering it’s complexity. That stage served us well, but we were ready to move on to something more streamlined and structurally sound.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008 Podcast

Patrick Johnson, Patrick Bristow and I were interviewed for the June 16 edition of the Podcast - Check it out. As a reminder, Puppet Up is playing at the Avalon in Hollywood this Saturday. Click here for more info.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Space Bugs now Playing

Bobby Drone and Mantis

Space Bugs Alpha and Zeta are now touring Southern California. This is a rehearsal photo of Bobby Drone and Professor Mantis in the cockpit of Bobby Drone's space ship. If you are in Southern California, check out our tour schedule to see when Swazzle's Space Bugs is coming to your area.

Swazzle Seeking Intern

Tour with Swazzle! Get valuable behind the scenes experience in Live Puppetry!

This individual would be needed for each scheduled performance in the Bay Area from June to August. The complete schedule is available at

A small stipend is included. For more information, please contact

Friday, May 23, 2008

Magma Worm

Magma Worm

I just finished this puppet for Space Bugs Zeta. The Magma Worm was sculpted from a block of soft foam and covered with dyed miliskin. His eye balls are clear acrylic half spheres painted in the inside.

Thursday, May 22, 2008



This is Starfly built by Patrick Johnson for the Swazzle puppet show Space Bugs Alpha. He is a delivery fly that awakes after oversleeping in hyper-sleep to discover that he is carrying some very important cargo.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Bobby Drone

Bobby Drone

This is Bobby Drone built by Patrick Johnson. He is a hand and rod puppet. In Space Bugs Zeta, Bobby Drone is sent on an important mission by the Queen Bee.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Space Bugs


We are making progress on our Space Bugs puppet shows. This is Busby (his name may change) the scientist. He is a hand puppet - the puppeteers fingers go into each arm and the neck. His hands and and antennas are attached with springs so he has lots of secondary movement.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Finished Robo-Locust


I just finished the two Robo-Locust rod puppets for Space Bugs Alpha and Zeta - check it out.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Sprout Sharing Show

Check out The Sprout Sharing Show that premiers on PBS’s Sprout Monday May 5th. Working for the Chiodo Brothers, Patrick and I made all of the puppets, backgrounds, props and stage for the show. The puppets were all made from felt and they were designed to have a simplistic hand made quality. The Sprout Sharing show showcases drawings, photos, videos and more sent in by young viewers. Click here to see the puppets in action.



I used the foam mock up to create all of the patterns needed for the Robo-Locust puppets. The head and body shapes are made from L-200. The L-200 is light weight and sturdy and it will give the puppets an armored look. The eyes will be made from acrylic half spheres.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Space Bugs

Space Bugs

Here at Swazzle we are hard at work building two new summer puppet shows: Space Bugs Alpha and Zeta. The scripts are being written by Dylan Campbell, and are nearly complete. Both shows take place in the distant future. Devestating Robo-Locusts have swept through the Universe devouring everything in their site.

This is a mock up of the Robo-Locust's head. The final puppet will be a rod puppet built in L-200.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Puppet Arms

puppet arms

This past week Patrick and I have been busy building puppets for our new school assembly puppet show - The Swazzle Workshop Live. We will be presenting a seven minute sample of the show at this year's Orange County Performing Arts Center Performer's Showcase. The Swazzle Workshop Live is a live show based on Swazzle's popular web series The Swazzle Workshop. During the show students will learn team work and cooperation through the art of puppetry. The Swazzle Workshop Live was created with a grant from The Puppeteers of America in partnership with The Orange County Performing Arts Center's Arts Teach Program.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Another Update

In my last post I said that I was going to be doing a series on stages. I still plan on doing that, but I got delayed because over the past few weeks Patrick and I have been working at Jim Henson's Creature Shop on a top secret project for Kanye West. Since I was 13 years old I wanted to work at the Jim Henson Company and Jim Henson's Creature Shop so this was a dream come true. I can't tell you anymore about the project right now. For more information click here and here to see some photos from Kanye West's blog.

Also Forgetting Sarah Marshall opens April 18. It's getting really good reviews, and I'm really excited to see it.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Big Update

I realize that I have been neglecting my blog for a while. Thank you all for your pacitence I wanted to give you all an update on some of the projects I've been working on.

Right now Swazzle is booking summer puppet shows at libraries all over California. Down in Southern California we have over 130 bookings - it's going to be a busy three months. This summer the theme is bugs so we'll be touring Bugys Brown Private Fly in Northern California and Space Bugs: Alpha and Zeta down south. We're working out the scripts now, we should start designing and building the puppets very soon. Along with the bug shows, we are also writing a puppet show for L.A. City Libraries called The Magical Misadventures of Walnut the Wizard.

Swazzle has also been working on the creation of a new school show called, The Swazzle Workshop Live. This new show will be showcased in May, and it will make it's debut this coming school year. The Swazzle Workshop Live was created in partnership with The Orange County Performing Arts Center with a grant from The Puppeteers of America.

Swazzle's new preschool puppet show Forest Fables debuted a while back, and it has been very well received. This show also doubles as a birthday party puppet show - a new market for us.

Our Spanish puppet show Aventuras Saludables continues to play at large events all over Southern California.

Aside from Swazzle news, I've been keeping busy with many exciting puppet projects. Patrick and I just built a series of puppets for Sprout (PBS's network for preschoolers). I'm not sure when they'll be making their debut - so keep an eye out. Patrick and I also did more Sendables for Jib Jab. The Valentine's Day one has already debuted - more are coming soon. The film I puppeteered on, Forgetting Sarah Marshall comes out soon. This was my first film role, and I was working with Jim Henson's Creature Shop - a dream come true (the movie is rated R so leave the kids at home). Fianly, I continue to be involved with the Henson Company's puppet improv show Puppet Up. For the last couple of months Patrick and I have been teaching puppet technique at the Jim Henson Company - another dream come true.

That's it for the update - thank you for letting me share. Keep tuned in to Puppet 101 because I have some excited posts planned. First up, I'll be sharing information about puppet stages. Over our years of live performance, we have been through every type of stage: PVC, wood frame etc. Finally, I feel like we have hit on a stage that is study, flexible, quick to assemble, and portable.

I hope you all tune in for that.

Thank you to all of my readers. I hope you find this blog helpful and inspirational. If you have any questions about puppet building please drop me an email - and I'll try my best to answer them.