Just over 4 years ago, February 2005, three former PayPal employees launched YouTube. We can now see thousands of short puppet videos at our home computers. In Nov. 2006 YouTube was purchased by Google for 1.65 billion dollars. The system uses Adobe flash video technology making it easy for seasoned performers, teenagers, and fans to show video clips on the World Wide Web. Type in the word “puppets” and the search brings up 132,000 items. Mixed in with real puppetry, there are also clips for the rock band, The Last Shadow Puppets” and for Metallica’s “Master of Puppets.” The amount of material is overwhelming.
A few years before YouTube we would marvel when rare puppet clips could be viewed on our desktops. Rarities such as Burr Tillstrom’s hand ballet “the Berlin Wall” and examples of Bunraku began to appear. In Great Britain, Dr. Matthew Isaac Cohen was one of the first to compile an extensive list of video clips for his puppetry students. . To get the most out of this article, we suggest you try reading it on line so that you can directly click on the links that are referenced in the article.
YouTube tracks the most popular postings. There are 2 puppeteers in the group of the top 50 clips of all time. These are clips that have found a vast public following and have an impact on the public perception of puppetry (Please be aware that listings change everyday, and every search brings up different results.) Coming in at #1 in May 2009, with 119 million views, ”Evolution of Dance” is definitely worth a look. Ventriloquist, Jeff Dunham is in the top 10 with 92 million views. The 15th most viewed clip posted March 2007 is the Potter Puppet Pals episode “That Curious Ticking Noise.” The 2-minute clip by Neil Cicierega has been viewed 65 million times. Holding on at #20 is the 3-year-old clip “Guitar,” viewed 58 million times. The rock arrangement of the Pachelbel Canon in D major brought fame to a 23 year a old South Korean, Jeong-Hyun Lim who made the tape in his bedroom. In just one month the clip of Susan Boyle on “Britain’s Got Talent” soared to 56 million views. When a clip is very widely reproduced and emailed to friends over and over, it has “gone viral.”
Most YouTube clips are under 5 minutes in length. Ten minutes is usually the maximum length. Performers can post clips themselves on YouTube and then the clip can be embedded in their own website. Sometimes a well-meaning fan posts a clip and the performer or producer has it removed as a copyright violation. Some popular clips are posted by more than one fan. This article gives some brief thumbnail background about some of the most popular puppeteers on YouTube.
Neil Cicierega of Kingston, Massachusetts has created some of the most watched puppet shows in the world. He has not performed on TV. His exposure is entirely due to YouTube. The first of the Potter Puppet Pals “Bothering Snape” and “Trouble at Hogwarts” were flash animations using computer drawn characters that looked like puppets. Neil created them in 2003 when he was 17 years old. The first of 8 live action puppet episodes appeared in Sept 2006, The titles in order of appearance: “Potions Class” “Wizard of Angst” (2nd most popular-15 million views) , “The Mysterious Ticking Noise” (2007 the greatest hit) followed by “Wizard Swears,” “School is for Losers,” “Awakening of the Incorruptible,” “The vortex” and “Ron’s Disease” (April 2009).
Mr. Cicierega realized it might be less tedious to perform and record live action puppet shows. His mom made the puppets and his dad built a stage. His sister and friend assisted with manipulation. Neil directed and did all of the voices. The best parodies begin with a genuine fondness for the original subject which is evident in Neil’s voices and dialogue. Potter Puppet Pals tee shirts are popular around the world. Neil’s mom, who helps fill orders, says that “Wizard Angst” is especially popular in Germany. Filmmaking and music are major interests for Neil His rock band is called Lemon Demon. Neil is now working with Plymouth Rock Studios making internet films. Potter Puppet Pals has inspired many imitators and there are also step-by-step tutorials on how to create and up-load Potter Pal’s type creations. (Additional tutorial)
In the top 10 most viewed YouTube clips is ventriloquist Jeff Dunham with “Achmed the Dead Terrorist” viewed 92 million times since Sept. 2007. Jeff Dunham was well known as a ventriloquist before Youtube fame. The Texas native performed at the 1991 puppet festival in Tahlequah OK, and a few months later his career got a huge boost with an appearance on the Johnny Carson Show. Mr. Dunham began posting clips on YouTube the very first year, 2005. My 11-year-old niece found Jeff Dunham on YouTube and asked me questions about ventriloquism. Personally I do not find his humor appealing, but Dunham clearly knows how to make an audience laugh.
A YouTube search for Muppets lists about 23,000 clips. The most popular is the classic skit “Mahnahmahnah!” posted Feb. 2006 and viewed about 6 million times. Summer 2008 several new Muppet clips were up-loaded. Beaker’s “Ode to Joy” was viewed over 4 million times in just 6 months. August 2009, The Jim Henson Company launched its own youtube channel with about 50 clips on the menu.
Coldplay is a British alternative rock band with very high visibility.
The band has sold over 50 million albums and was nominated for 7 Grammy’s in 2009 winning 3 including best rock album. A Coldplay music video, “Life in Technicolor II” from the album “Vida La Vida” was released on YouTube in Jan 2009 featuring a Punch and Judy show and other puppets. The video directed by Dougal Wilson has logged nearly 4 million views. Puppetry credits go to Jonny Sabbagh, Will Harper, Joel Cadbury, and Martin Collins. Jonny Sabbagh started building puppets at age seven. At art college in the late 1990s he created and operated over 25 puppets for an honors project. His clients have included the Pet Shop Boys and McDonalds.
Another band with a fondness for puppetry is They might be Giants.
Damon Scott “Bubbles the Puppet Monkey” is a segment of Britain’s Got Talent 2007. Damon Scott, 27 year old ventriloquist competed for a spot on the Royal Variety Show His hilarious cover of a Michael Jackson song, amused even the notoriously hard to please Simon Callow, The clip has tallied 2,400,000 views.
“Amazing Hand Shadows” has 1,388,000 views. Check out this lovely and immensely popular version of the Louis Armstrong classic “What a Wonderful World.” Raymond Crowe, from Adelaide Australia has been performing for over 25 years. He does mime, magic and puppetry with some very notable success. In 1997 He appeared on the 4th edition of NBC’s World Greatest Magic” to an audience of 20 million people. In 2003 he received a standing ovation when he entertained 3000 magicians at World Magic Convention. He remained relatively obscure until Aug. 2007 when a clip on YouTube quickly brought him enormous attention. Within the year he was on David Letterman, performed for the Queen of England and received Australia’s prestigious Robert Helpmann Award.
Terry Fator’s fame was launched June 2007 when he won a spot on “America’s Got Talent” on NBC. Clips of his work appeared on YouTube immediately so that fans could watch his progress and email links to friends. In August 2007 he won the grand prize of one million dollars. He signed a $1.5 million contract with the Las Vegas Hilton to perform 3 shows a month from Jan. to May 2008 followed by a 5-year $100 million deal at the Mirage. Terry Fator, a Texas native, was 10 years old in 1975 when he picked up his first ventriloquist figure, He leaned to sing, to do vocal impressions and developed a good sense of timing. He landed gigs as the opening act for Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks and Styx so he was not unknown. After he was booked into a theatre with 1,000 seats with only one paying customer, he became discouraged and thought about quitting the business. His puppet impersonations include Winston the Turtle doing Kermit the Frog and Winston’s contest winning impersonation of Roy Orbison.
There are parodies in abundance. Rock stars, films, computer games, authors and Broadway musicals are all subjected to versions using finger puppets, socks and found objects. “Avatar: Last Puppet Bender” was created for comiccon convention in NY and has over a million views.
The recent vampire film, Twilight, inspired Spooky Dan Walker to do a 2 minute puppet version.”Twilight the puppet saga”
Viewed over half a million times.
The earliest YouTube clip that I could find using puppetry is a class project called “Bug Puppetery” It was posted Sept 2005 and logged 285 views. Much of the best puppetry from around the globe has yet to reach a million views.
Wayang Kulit of Java, Rajasthani marionettes from India, Bunraku from Japan, Chinese shadow puppets, and Greek Karaghiozis are all on line.
Work by Tony Sarg, Bil Baird, Sergei Obrazstov, Richard Bradshaw, Bruce Schwartz, Phillppe Genty, Wayland Flowers and Frank Paris are all represented on YouTube.
There are commercials of all sorts that employ puppets. One of the newest is an ad for Nike with puppet versions of basketball greats Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. Posted on YouTube early in May the spot logged 150,00 views in only 5 days, Lead manipulators were Greg Ballora, Greg Manion, Rob Saunders and Dave Barclay, with assistance from 4 other puppeteers The puppets were created by Legacy Effects.
Even Google’s gmail service uses puppetry to teach about its service.
The ads for the film service Fandango which feature elaborate paper bag puppets have inspired parodies and tutorials on how to make paper bag puppets
There is a wide range “how-to-make puppets” clips. Gary Friedman of Australia presented an extremely rare appearance by legendary puppet designer Hansjurgen Fettig.
YouTube seems an ideal place to see famous lost gems of experimental filmmakers, and excellent new work as well. Lotte Reiniger, Tim Burton and Henry Selick are represented.
There are thousands more. On his blog, PuppetVision, Andrew Young lists 151 favorite YouTube clips (some x rated)
Below are a few more links not mentioned in the print version of this article.
Sound of Music
Hansel and Gretel and Jack and the Beanstalk by Lotte Reiniger
Jack and the Beanstalk
Vincent (1982) Tim Burton
Henry Selick “Slow Bob in the Lower Dimensions”
Jiri Trnka “The Hand”
Wayland Flowers and Madam
Tony Sarg shadow puppet film 1922
Julie Taymor- Lion King
Peter Schumann Bread and Puppet Theatre