Caroll was an artistic genius whose kind and loving view of the world helped shape and define Sesame Street from its earliest days in 1969 through five decades, and his legacy here at Sesame Workshop and in the cultural firmament will be unending. His enormous talent and outsized heart were perfectly suited to playing the larger-than-life yellow bird who brought joy to generations of children and countless fans of all ages around the world, and his lovably cantankerous grouch gave us all permission to be cranky once in a while.
In 2018, Spinney retired from Sesame Street. Below is Sesame Workshop's video tribute to him and the following is from a New York Times profile from the time:
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Although they had previously crossed paths in the 1960s, Spinney pinpointed a fateful encounter at a Salt Lake City puppeteers’ festival in 1969, when (Muppets creator Jim) Henson watched him try to perform a multimedia show that went gradually awry.
As Spinney recalled, Henson came to him afterward to say, “I liked what you were trying to do.”
Soon after, Henson invited Spinney to play two Muppet characters that were being developed for “Sesame Street,” which made its debut on public television later that year. One was Oscar, who was envisioned as a cranky, trash-loving purple character. (He was orange in his earliest appearances, before taking on his familiar green hue.)
Children of the 80's will remember the disturbing puppets from satirical puppet show Spitting Image and the video for Genesis' Land of Confusion. Co-creator Roger Law has confirmed that a pilot has been filmed, with hopes of a new series focusing on major celebrities like Donald Trump and Mark Zuckerberg.
Jeff Westbrook, a writer on The Simpsons and Futurama, is serving as show-runner, and caricaturist Adrian Teal is working on the puppets. You can get a glimpse of the Trump puppet in action in this clip:
— BBC Arts (@bbcarts) September 27, 2019
ETH Zurich engineers demonstrated a system enabling a robot to control a marionette. Although a robotic puppeteer is pretty damn cool, that's not the point of the research.
"Our long term goal is to enable robots to manipulate various types of complex physical systems – clothing, soft parcels in warehouses or stores, flexible sheets and cables in hospitals or on construction sites, plush toys or bedding in our homes, etc – as skillfully as humans do," they write in their technical paper. "We believe the technical framework we have set up for robotic puppeteering will also prove useful in beginning to address this very important grand-challenge."
(via IEEE Spectrum)
In Bermuda, the enchanting Crystal Caves attract tourists with their huge stalactites and stalagmites above the clear water pools. As a child, Michael K. Frith frequently visited the caves and never forgot their weird, otherworldly beauty. Those caves would eventually inspire Frith, working with puppeteer Jim Henson, to co-create Fraggle Rock, a beloved muppet TV series that premiered in 1983. From Jennifer Nalewicki's lovely piece about Frith and the Crystal Caves in Smithsonian:
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...It wasn’t simply the caves themselves that inspired Frith; it was also the way they were discovered. During the last Ice Age, roughly 1.6 million years ago, the Crystal Caves formed as a result of rainwater eroding the surrounding limestone, but they remained unknown to Bermudians up until 1907, when Carl Gibbons and Edgar Hollis, two local boys, accidentally discovered them. As the story goes, during a game of cricket their ball rolled next to a small crevice that was emitting warm gusts of air. Curious, the duo began digging with their hands, dropping a rock through the narrow opening to see how far down the hole went. Hearing a "plink," Gibbons ran the short distance home and grabbed a crowbar and a kerosene lamp, and they continued digging only to find a subterranean world beneath them....
“The thing that got me about the story [of their discovery] is the idea that these kids were suddenly in a place where no human being had ever been before,” says Frith, who is now retired. “I always felt that must have been an astonishing thing to be standing there with a flashlight and tracing its beam and hitting the stalactites, stalagmites and the glitter of the water running down them.
Unusualist Raymond Crowe has created something really special with his hand shadow puppet performance of Louis Armstrong's 1967 hit "What a Wonderful World." In this video, the Australian-born entertainer is presenting his now-signature piece in front of Queen Elizabeth at the 2007 Royal Variety Performance.
Using common objects like socks, tennis balls, wooden spoons, and even potatoes, Jim Henson and his assistant Don Sahlin show children how to make basic puppets and bring them to "life" in the 1969 Iowa Public Television show, "Volume See."
It's hard to describe this video, posted by Dan Cole, but I'll try.
1. A man objects to having a camera put in his face by a videographer who is talking vicariously through a glove puppet.
2. The man adopts a doomed strategy: trying to get the camera out of his face by fastidiously keeping his face in-shot while following the camera around.
3. He argues as he does so, occasionally with the camera operator, but occasionally with the glove puppet.
It gets so good at the end I'm almost certain it's staged – but not entirely. Read the rest
This incredible finger/hand puppet is puppeteer Barnaby Dixon's latest creation. When it's in action, the glowing bug looks more like an animated Pixar character than it does a puppet. Made from light-weight form-fitting plastic, its movements are very lifelike and nimble (it can even pick things up with its delicate hands). Amazing!!
If you like this, here's another one of Dixon's brillant creations:
The format for Scot Nery’s weekly BoobieTrap show is the wackiest I’ve ever seen. It’s vaudeville on steroids with Nery as the amped up and kooky ringmaster. The performers range from jugglers to contortionists, magicians and poets – but the first time I attended, the standout talent was a wooden dummy named Joey and his human named Karl Herlinger.
I’ve seen ventriloquist acts before, but these two had an edge that kept me thinking for days on end, and at times I forgot about who was controlling whom.
If you stop and think about it, the very idea of ventriloquism is pretty darned crazy. These performers choose to get in front of theaters full of people and have heated conversations and arguments with themselves. It’s hard enough to captivate an audience with story, dance, or musical talent when all you have to worry about is yourself, but imagine having to simultaneously play the role of two distinctly different personalities, while controlling a hidden levers that create the illusion of emotions in a wooden dummy.
The strange combination of skills that must come together to pull something like this off has to be the reason we don’t see more great ventriloquists. This is a difficult and dying art.
I’ve hung out with Karl a few times since I first saw his show and I appreciate that his abilities go far beyond controlling inanimate objects and throwing voices. There’s definitely meat on the bones here and though his lip control and manipulations are very, very good, it’s the storytelling that makes you want more. Read the rest
Fun remix of Gerry and Silvia Anderson's supermarionation classic Thunderbirds.
Thunderbird 4 would have been mine. MINE. Read the rest
Imagine a mix of modern animation and 1960s marionette show Thunderbirds and you still won't quite capture how awesome Thunderbolt Fantasy is. It's an example of glove puppetry, a form of folk art dating back centuries.
Set in an Eastern fantasy setting, Dān Fěi and her brother, guardians of a sword known as the Tiān Xíng Jiàn, are pursued by the evil Xuán Guǐ Zōng clan, who seek to obtain the sword for their master, Miè Tiān Hái. While her brother is defeated, Fěi, who possesses the sword's crossguard, manages to escape off a cliff.
Gus writes, "Remember carbon paper? You’re probably of a certain age if you can recall typing on a sandwich of two sheets of paper with a thin, grimy, black sheet between them to make copies." Read the rest
If you're stuck in gridlock in Ljubljana, Slovenia, you might be lucky enough to be entertained by a tailgate puppet show from the Mini Teater.
"It demonstrates a true power of theater as it amuses people when being least amused - stuck in traffic jams," they write.