Someday we'll find it, the USB connection...
October 20, 2009 11:21 AM   Subscribe

Help me build a laptop puppet

My friends/coworkers and I are about to start a video project and our idea involves a talking laptop puppet. Not an animated screen, mind you, but a mouth-flapping laptop.

Here's what I have figured so far:

-Buy a plastic dummy laptop like they use in furniture stores/model homes. (actually, buy two)
-modify/replace the hinges so that it moves really quickly. This would either involve new hardware or simple tape-hinges.
-mount on a cheap, thin coffee table (or substitute)
-drill through both laptop base and table
-mount push-rod through hole and connect to upper "jaw" of laptop
-hide puppeteer under table.
-install two blue LEDs to top front of laptop for eyes. (I was lucky enough to work with Muppeteers in the past, and I learned that puppets need eyelines)

Is there anything I'm forgetting? What is the best color laptop body for filming? I was thinking the silver model.

Currently, I can buy the dummy laptop at this site, but if I could buy one locally that would be a big help as time is short. (I live in LA. Does anyone know a local shop where such a thing could be purchased?)
posted by Doctor Suarez to Media & Arts (2 answers total)
A silver laptop could potentially be a pain to film, actually, as the reflective nature can make it glare. If down the line you choose to shoot on chromakey, silver can be hard to shoot because it'll reflect the green or blue and key badly. Glossy white would have the same problem. Matte black would definitely give you the least glare. Maybe a fun colour would be best (like the old iMac candy ones). If the laptop you choose is glossy, you can matte it slightly with "dulling spray", which on most film sets would be a coat of aerosol hairspray. Or use a matte plastic sticky film (like a giant sheet of frosted scotch tape) over the whole surface.

I think the puppet would benefit from internal contrast- the inside being a different colour than the outside, so the mouth-opening reads really well.

Maybe the screen could have an image of teeth, tongue, throat, uvula, etc and that could change as the puppet's emotions changed? Like the uvula could wiggle maniacally when the puppet yelled, for instance, or maybe the puppet could sometimes have chewed food in its mouth or something like that?

I think googly eyes on top of the laptop would be more appealing than LED eyes.

The puppet might look better if the lower jaw wasn't parallel to the floor- if it could be angled down somehow. Because people speak by flapping their lower jaws, and your rig will make the puppet flap its cranium and keep the lower jaw stationary. At that angle you'll "lose" the eyes when the top half angles up. So you can compensate by starting with the lower jaw angled downwards (a wedge on the tabletop would be a simple way to do this) and that way the puppet's eyes will stay in the camera's or viewer's sightline better.

Also, you could maybe make a computer mouse into a hand, that might be fun.
posted by twistofrhyme at 5:25 PM on October 20, 2009

The eyes I'm thinking of when I say "googly eyes" would be like ping-pong balls with pupils (they can be drawn on the balls, they don't have to actually wiggle like cookie monsters) and eyelids made of craft foam or something like that. Here's some info on Muppet eyes- you're right on about the crossed eye-lines. Pupil size matters too- big pupils make the character look soft, dopey, young, and cute. Small pupils can make the character look overcaffienated or intense.

Oh, one more thing- most muppets have some fur or marabou on them to emphasize their movement with some floaty texture. Your lappet (hah!) might benefit from marabou eyebrows or something. You can get marabou in lots of costume shops- sometimes it's sold like thin feather boas. Note that adding eyebrows will make the character look more intense or aggressive (all the "mean" muppets have brows, like Bert and Oscar. The wimpy ones don't, like Kermit).
posted by twistofrhyme at 5:32 PM on October 20, 2009

« Older Where to go on vacation with an infant?   |   What's the winter version of the work flat? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.