Video transcript
Shadow and bunraku paper puppetry - 05. Making and operating bunraku paper puppets

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ALICE OSBORNE: Hi, everyone. Now we're going to make three-dimensional paper puppets. This is a really simple design that I learned when I was working with War Horse, and they use it for training in their rehearsals.

And it's a great paper design that's based on a Bunraku puppet, which is a traditional Japanese puppet that's been around for a very long time of a human figure. So you need some paper. This is craft paper, not too flimsy. It's nice and thick paper.

And Carolyn, if you would like to just line out in front so I can-- it should be about the length of an adult-- an average adult person. That's great. Thank you, that's good. You can hop up.

So you need two long lengths like that and then one that's half the length. Beautiful. OK, so now we just need to scrunch this together. We're scrunching, we're not twisting. That's very important. Just one sheet.

And it's all the way along. And we'll do it again over here. And now I'm making two loops like that. Yep, that one can be a tiny bit lower. And then you just get your masking tape. Together.

OK, so that one's a bit bigger so we'll use that as the torso. This is the head. Now we are using this paper to make a face. Put that in the end.

Now we need to make out joints. So these are our arms, and these are our legs. So Carolyn, if you can just wrap some masking tape around to make knees, and then ankles as well. And I'm going to make elbows here.

So the great thing about these puppets is all you need are masking tape and paper. That's it. You don't need any scissors because you can rip this with your fingers, and same with the paper. So it's a really accessible way to work.

So here, we're making-- way using masking tape to define the joints so they'll bend more easily. So that becomes an elbow.

Now we need to attach the head to the torso. So if we do one here and one here, it sort of makes shoulders. Thanks.

And today we're making a human figure, but you could use this kind of technique to make any kind of creature that you like. So you'd set up the room into groups of three, and you'd supply everybody with their paper. It's great to let them rip it themselves and to measure it out. And then everybody can work on this at the same time.

And here's our head, which we need to put in. And there's our puppet. [CHUCKLES] So now we can start to operate it.

So ideally, you'll split the class into groups of three. And each group of three will make one of these puppets. And all you need is some paper. We've got craft paper here today, which is a nice, thick sculptural brown paper. And masking tape. That's it.

What's important when you're making these puppets is that you're not twisting the paper at all, that you're just scrunching it together in a sort of flat line, scrunching it together. The masking tape is defining the joints.

OK, we've got our group of three. This is my friend Saskia and my other friend Carolyn. And we're going to see how this puppet can move. So I'm going to give you some suggestions for how you can animate these.

These are techniques for operating it. And then you can take them into any kind of story building that you would like. And you could have a whole puppet army with a massive group of puppets like this of different sizes and anything you like.

But the first thing that we always do with puppets is we work out how they breathe. When an actor steps on stage, the actor is already breathing. And so we know immediately that that person is alive. But a puppet doesn't breathe, and so we have to show the audience that it's living. And we do that by putting breath into it.

So Saskia, if you hold the feet. It's one person on the feet. One person, Carolyn, on the waist and a hand. And then another person on an arm and a head, the head. And these are the lungs here for this puppet.

There are two ways-- and you can experiment with this with your class. There are two ways that this puppet could breathe. It could breathe by pushing-- so if you'd keep that really still, Carolyn-- it could breathe by pushing down to go in and then letting the air out-- up.


And it's great if we all breathe together. So if we go in-- that's one way. Or-- and you can ask your class about which looks better, which looks more realistic. The other way is to let it do the opposite. So breathing in [INHALES, EXHALES]. So with these puppets, it's weird because the lungs are kind of going in. But when we breathe as humans, our shoulders go up. And so with this puppet it looks-- usually, I find it looks best like that. [BREATHING]

And you want to get your teams of three to really be working together and focusing all on this one character. And usually you should look at the face. All the puppeteers should look at the face. So that's how we get it to breathe. [BREATHING] OK.

So next, we might get this puppet to be asleep, and we'll wake it up. Yeah, if you stay on the feet, and perhaps I'll get-- we'll swap sides, Carolyn. So it might be asleep like that. And we'll start it. And we'll just-- yeah, exactly. Or you can just let that arm free for the moment, Carolyn.

OK, so we'll start by breathing. And you could give a bit of a scratch of the head or something with that arm.




So now we need to work out how to make the puppet stand up. And a great thing to do with the students at this stage is to get them to-- themselves-- to lie in the position of the puppet and see what it's like to stand up from that space. Because often students will sort of go, oh, or something like that, which is impossible. So Carolyn's going to see how you could get up from this position.

So she's using her hands to push back onto her knees. And then she kneels up, puts one foot out, and stands, which is a really efficient way of getting up. So that's great. Let's get the puppet to do that. Of course, there are many different ways that you can get up.

But the important thing that you want to do with a puppet like this is to show that it's heavy and it's got weight, that it can't just float up. OK, so let's try that. So up on the knees. Yeah. Yeah, up on two knees, and then one foot comes forward. A hand goes there. Stand up.

There's a chair over there. So we could go for a walk. [LAUGHING] Maybe this puppet could stand up from this position and jump off.

And we'll just do that again. Because one thing about puppetry, it's always good to show the preparation move for the move that you're about to do. So if we stand up nice and straight, and then we really go down to go up. So we bend, and then leap off, and then land, and stand up.

When we're operating a puppet like this and we're working in a team, it's really great for the three puppeteers to be breathing together. And that way we can all key into the emotion of this character. Because emotion comes from the breath, and it can be a good cue about movement.


It sees a chair over there. And we'll go for a walk to the chair. And then we'll have a look, have a look, put the hand down. Have look, decide to get up on the chair, bend, and jump up. Huh, that worked out pretty well. [YAWNS]

Maybe he sees something up in the air, decides to stand up. Yep, and those feet might come in close. Yep, I'm standing up. And we'll try and catch that balloon that's passing. Missed it.

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