A Weird Puppet Show
I finally started making the Steam Crow Show with a bunch of friends. I love the world of Monstru and our Monster Commute comic, but found that I’ve been burnt out on the schedule and production of it. I needed to do something new with the characters, monsters and world that I… well… love.
A puppet show something that I wanted to do for a number of years now (10? 15?) but I simply couldn’t do it alone. I was part of a cable access show (thanks COX!) in the early 90′s called Tadashi Station, which gave me a brief taste into the world of video stuff.
I considered doing it with Flash animation, but that’s really time consuming and I wanted to be able to put out content on a weekly basis… not once every few months.
I tried to hire some friends to make puppets for us, but that didn’t really work out. (Mostly due to the fact that I didn’t have turn-arounds of my characters and I had very little budget.) I held onto the idea, but didn’t really know how to get it further. I figured that I’d eventually find someone to make the puppets for us.
Kip’s upper torso, head, and Chadworth’s dome photographed on a grid to figure out scale.
Eventually I started working on the puppets myself in Autumn 2009 and had Kip done first after maybe 60 hours of work. I had no idea if I could make them, but was encouraged by a couple of other friends to start doing a show. (Gren and Ryan.) Once I got Kip done, I was really excited, and started to work on Chadworth. By January of 2010, they were basically done, but lacked arm rods, sturdy trigger mechanisms, and armor coat paint.
The rough sculpt of Chadworth’s head in rigid styrofoam.
While that was all great, Beastio was the real bugger. While Kip and Chadworth were Mechans (clockwork golems) Beastio was something quite different; a flesh and blood Daemon. That, and his character design is all f’d to be a puppet; he has a pencil neck, huge head, and little tiny arms.
So, it took me most of 2010 to get Beastio finished, though I didn’t work on him full time. (The Convention Season was super busy and successful for us and there wasn’t much time for puppet manufacture.) I just got Beastio done on January 24th. (Still tweaking him.) He’s been a huge technical challenge, but I’m pretty happy to how he turned out.
Learning By Doing
Instead of actually knowing anything at all about video production (or puppeteering – aside from Will) we jumped into filming.
The audio was terrible, the video was in and out of focus, and we very little editing experience of any kind. But, we’ve rolled on ahead, improving each and every time, and learning with each bit that we put together.
Instead of redoing old work, we’re just moving ahead realizing that we’re going to hopefully learn from everything we do, and it will improve as we go. All the time.
So bear with us. The quality of this is improving. Hell, I’ve only been editing since early February.
Fix Fix Fix
Once we got the puppets made and we started filming, the puppets kept breaking. Pretty much after each film day, I’d have to spend another day improving and fixing the puppets up. (At first, Kip’s internal rod puppet structure was made out of tinker toys!)
The trigger mechanisms that I’d improvised from screwdriver handles and wooden clothespins didn’t have the strength for real production; they’d worked fine in 2 minute tests but would fail after a couple of hours of real use.
So, I invented the Steam Crow Puppet Trigger Mechanism 200®. I designed it in illustrator, and asked my buddy Mike Wesela to cut it out with a laser cutter. I assembled the pieces, made a silicone mold and cast it in resin. Then I went back to each of the 3 puppets, disassembled them, and reassembled them with the new Triggers. They work really great, and I’ve continued to add features that make them rod puppet worthy.
Now when I make a new puppet, that problem is solved. (Praise Henson!)
We tend to do about 50/50 improv to scripts, which seems to work alright. Nobody has a lot of time to learn lines, and only Will (with actual stage experience and education) has any ability to learn the lines anyhow. I tend to come up with the basic ideas that we’re going to film, and try to rely on everyone’s talents to help make it all better. I’m drawing heavily from my Monster Commute comic and (upcoming) RPG for the setting and the world. I think that more of it will come out as we get more confident with the basics of puppeteering and filming.
Well, the convention season is again upon us, but we’ve been filming episodes for weeks now… and we probably have enough content for weekly episodes to get us through the summer. (Though I really don’t want to slow down filming.) Truth is Con-Storm 2012 is right around the corner, so it’s going to be a challenge to keeping the spice flowing each and every week… but I’m going to try my best. I’ve got some stuff in the can right now… so hopefully we can keep stuff flowing!
I’m dying to get to creating more puppets, but I’m entirely too slow to get any new characters out here in the next 6 months. After that, it’s my plan.
Daniel & Dawna (and hopefully Goblin Boy)
Will Hightower of IDK Comics
Special thanks to Gren Radcliff & Ryan Cleveland for urging and encouraging me to do it and for brainstorming a bunch of ideas, and to Mike for his support. Also a big thanks to all of my other friends who’ve been listening to me talk about this for the last couple of years, probably doubting that I’d ever get it off the ground. You were right, I couldn’t possibly do this; but WE can.
It just occurred to me that I could probably make videos of these faster. I may do that in the future.