Thursday, May 9, 2013

David Valentine F#%s It Up!

Congrats to one of our very own,  the amazingly talented David Valentine!  David, a puppet designer, builder, artist, friend, colleague and favorite holiday,  has definitely not f#%ed up in the show F#%ing Up Everything!  Go see his puppets.  

F#%king Up Everything is a new rock musical comedy set in today's Brooklyn indie music scene.  It’s an old-fashioned boy-meets-girl love story for the 21st Century. When these hipsters aren't true to who they are, they screw up everything -- especially love. And no one screws up more than children's puppeteer Christian Mohammed Schwartzelberg when he meets singer-songwriter Juliana, the girl of his dreams.  It’s a fast-paced, hilarious new musical full of quirky characters, pop icon puppets and guitar-driven indie rock tunes. New York Times Critics' Pick!

For more information visit:

For Tickets Here's A Special Offer: $39 ticketsTo Redeem:
Online: Click Here and use code RRM39Phone: Call 212-352-3101 and mention code RRM39The Elektra Theatre669 8th Ave @ 42nd

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Old Hats

If you haven’t seen it already, run, don’t walk to the Signature Theater and see David Shiner and Bill Irwin in “Old Hats.” It's sort of a revival of their big hit from a decade or so ago "Fool Moon'' and its just as good, if not better. There’s all kinds of info available online, so I won’t bore you with a book report blog entry here.

However, a few months ago (how’s that for breaking news, folks?) Puppet Heap had the pleasure of consulting for and helping out with a puppet effect for one of David’s pieces, "The Hobo," a kind of Emmet Kelly inspired performance. It was a truly enlightening experience to spend a little time with such a master of his craft and get a glimpse of how these things come together. Of course, the comedy, the props and the shtick were all carefully worked over, but the most notable thing about watching David develop his performances is the emotional depths he's willing to plumb to find just the right note, the right moment to really grab the audience.

The great thing about this show is how it successfully melds good old fashioned vaudeville with thoroughly modern sensibilities and production values. Mel Brooks once said “funny is funny” no matter what, and that it’s all the same jokes dressed up in different clothes.  And I think that’s true as long as the clothes are in fashion.

Watching the show, I thought this is exactly what I want to be doing with my little puppets--not an original idea by any means. Heck, the Muppet Show was nothing if not a vaudeville variety show--a popular formula in 70s television. But it’s this sort of blending of the thoroughly modern with the evergreen classic that’s just such an easy joy when it works. And in this case, it really works!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Ray Harryhausen died today at 92

I’m not really an animator or a special effects guy, but Mr. Harryhausen leaves behind a legacy that, for me, really serves as a kind of model or creative ideal to strive for.  I guess I admire that pioneering spirit of the auteur that he embodied so well, along with early filmmakers like Georges Méliès or Ladislas Starevich----creating the concept art, fabricating the puppets and shooting and animating the scenes himself.  A far cry from the scores of artists it takes animate your average cgi character today.

Certainly, from a technical point of view, his work was the cutting edge of visual effects at the time.  But more than a technician, he brought such vivid life and artistry to all of his characters and was a true visionary from script to screen, creating beautiful and amazing moments in time no one had ever seen before.

So, to the artist that was Ray Harryhausen, thank you for a lifetime of inspiration.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The End of an Era: Thoughts on the passing of Jane Henson

"The end of an era."
That's what Lauren said before we silently went back to work after I announced Jane Henson's death to the shop yesterday.  In many ways it is. I never met Jim Henson, but very early in my career I was fortunate enough to meet Jane. At about the time I started working for the Jim Henson Company, Jane started the Jim Henson Legacy to preserve and maintain awareness of Jim's work as an artist. For me, as a young aspiring puppet artist myself, finding out about Jim and Jane's early days with the Muppets was enormously inspiring and somehow made puppets and film seem a lot more accessible.  I felt like it was possible to do this, too.  

I was one among a group of artists working in and around Henson's New York workshop in the early nineties. We all came from different places and have gone our separate ways since. Some have become performers, independent artists and teachers, some have passed away, some of us have started companies of our own.  But we have all benefitted from Jane's continual presence and support over the years.  Whether through advice, encouragement, the generous use of her resources, or just an honest (at times brutally honest) critique, Jane has given us a tremendous boost we wouldn't have otherwise had.

Recently, I was attending a presentation of Icarus, a gorgeous theatrical piece with puppets built by my friend Michael Bush, made possible by a grant from the Jim Henson Foundation. We were all crammed into the studio in Jane's old carriage house on 67th street, and I was telling a friend of mine how many memories I had there.  Some of  my earliest experiences in puppetry and film took place in Jane's famous carriage house.  I attended special workshops she led on the Muppet-style performance technique.  We shot a new wave of Muppet Meeting films there, for which I had built a couple of characters Jane took a liking to--and she let me know it. This was the studio in which we shot the demo pilot for Bear in the Big Blue House, my first big break as a designer. My friends and I also made a few independent puppet films in that space. For us, the carriage house (which Jane had opened to us) became a kind of unofficial puppet laboratory in New York.  In so many ways, direct and indirect, Jane has helped and encouraged me and countless others over the years. 

So, the end of an era?  Maybe. But Jane's quiet legacy continues on a thousand fold through all the people she has supported and encouraged along the way. We are forever in her debt. She will never be forgotten.

If you'd like to find out more about Jane Henson and her contributions to the world of puppetry, the Jim Henson Company has posted a tribute page on their website which you can find here .

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Week of Fashion meets the Year of the Snake

Last night, on the eve of the Year of the Snake (and in the midst of Fashion Week), legendary Roman jeweler, Bulgari, hosted the opening of a special exhibition at its Fifth Avenue boutique. Dedicated mainly to the iconic Serpenti line, the exhibition features jewelry dating from the 1940s and includes pieces from legends of fashion and Hollywood.

We were very pleased to be part of the festivities on behalf of Shiraz Events in NYC.  Our team of artists worked tirelessly to design and fabricate a twelve foot long serpent in the style of traditional Chinese parade dragons.  Not our first dragon, but the project was unlike anything we had created before--which is just how we like it!   The nested conical design was based on the construction of the Serpenti line of jewelry--an especially complex undertaking, but well worth the effort as the end result was absolutely stunning and something the whole shop is proud of.

Puppeteers Michael Bush and Keri Lewis entertained throngs of celebrities and fashion icons like Julianne Moore and Nina Garcia until the wee hours of the morning.

My thanks to everyone who put in such long hours all throughout the too short deadline:   Lauren Attinello, Rhys Chapman, Mari Tobita, Brendan Yi-Fu Tay, Carole D'Agostino, Ceili Clemens, Liz Hara, Fen Wang, Maria Scheibe, Melissa Creighton, Richard Dyar, Steph Cathro and Vanessa Chan

You guys really made it happen!

Rhys Chapman carves the buck for vacuum forming.

Steph Cathro epoxies some of the many jewels adorning the  serpent's body.
Steph preps a golden decal.

Melissa Creighton, Carole Simms D'Agostino and Brenden Yi-Fu Tay join the effort.

And some photos from the event...

That's Michael Bush puppeteering down there.

Keri Lewis and Michael Bush kept it serpentine all night long.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Wyatt Cenac Embraces his Inner Puppet

Tonight, Wyatt Cenac steps out of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and into our hearts.  Well, I don't know about our hearts, but certainly into our shop.  Okay that was months ago,  but, boy, did we have fun!  After we built the puppet versions of Jon Stewart, John Oliver and Mr. Cenac back in October, Wyatt stopped by for a tour.  What a gracious guy--and a real puppet sympathizer, so we like that!  Tonight I finally understand it, though.  The discovery of his puppet self seems to have been a real epiphany for him.  Go Wyatt!  There's no shame in it.  I look forward the day when we get all our news from puppet journalists.  Heck, we're already getting it from comedians.

My thanks to Mary Brehmer, Isabelle Dufour, Anna Paniccia, Michael Bush, Jean Marie Keevins, Diana Schoenbrun and Stephen Rotandaro for working all weekend to meet the deadline.  It was challenging, but we really had fun cranking these out--and even more fun watching those guys perform their own puppets!  (Although, I'd like to point out the work of James Godwin who picked up the puppeteering for Wyatt in Washington DC yesterday--nice work, James!)

We'll miss watching Wyatt on the Daily Show, but wish him the best of luck in all of his future endeavors.

Artist Diana Schoenbrun built puppet Wyatt.
Artist and performer James Godwin with puppet Wyatt in Washington D.C.
See?  Check it out--he's really there!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Imagine Dragons: "Radioactive"

Just yesterday we all got together in the shop to watch the music video for “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons as released on YouTube.  Despite Hurricane Sandy, which arrived the first day of shooting, it came out really well.  I want to commend John Lathan and Cisco Newman of Syndrome for their fortitude, vision and style and for inviting us to be a part of it.

I also wanted to thank the team of artists in our workshop, specifically  Henri Ewaskio, Isabelle Dufour, Steph Cathro, Michael Bush, Diana Schoenbrun and James Godwin for their beautiful work on such a short schedule.  (If you read my previous post, this is the mess we left behind before the storm.)

Also of note are the great performances behind the puppets by Michael Schupbach, Carole D’Agostino and Michael Bush.  They suffered quite a pummeling during the shoot and laughed all the way through.  The work is never finished until the cameras roll, and you guys topped it off expertly!

Here’s the video...

...and some photos...