Over the last few weeks, I have been involved in many video conferencing calls for both my teaching world and my puppetry world. When I have used Zoom, I have used their virtual background feature, and it works really well to a point. The tricky part is if I want to show the other people in the call an object, or even play with a puppet, the virtual background without the green screen option cannot include the object beside me such as a puppet on my arm.
My first thought was, can I use a substitute fabric as a green screen/ chroma key background? I wanted to focus on using the materials I had at home that are a solid colour. I started out exploring bed sheets since they are light to hang up. I had one that is a blue grey colour, and the other was a pale green. While setting up for filming, my new woven polyproplene green screen that I had purchased on Amazon arrived, so now I could compare the effects.
Phone filming setup with zoom running on the computer in the background
Blue bed sheet covering my book case
Green bed sheet covering the book case
Stylus tipped pen to control my watch
Apple Watch app controlling the phone camera
Results from the experiment
In Zoom, I got best results from using the green bed sheet and the commercial green screen without any additional lighting apart from the ceiling downlights.
In editing using Adobe Premiere Pro- I got the cleanest background removal results from the professional green screen.
If I was to do the experiment again, I want to see what would happen if I added lights to the sheet/ screen only to even out the colour difference across the surface. I would also iron or smooth out the surface to see if the background removal was more successful.
A frog once said in a TEDx Talk, “If necessity is mother of invention, then creativity is the father”. Given the whole world has been isolated by the COVID 19 pandemic, puppeteers are trying to find ways to reach their audiences remotely. There is a lot of discussion in the puppetry community about how to adapt video conferencing and streaming technology to puppetry.
Over the last 5 years, I have been learning the art of television and film puppetry from 2 amazing gentlemen who I am honoured to call my mentors- Noel MacNeal and Peter Linz. One of the challenges I have faced practising my puppetry skills at home, is recording video of my puppets being puppets. I started out using my webcamera, but it could not record what the puppet was doing. If I use my phone or iPad as the camera, either the image on the screen looks like a mirror, or I can’t see the image on screen. In both of those situations, I don’t know if the puppet looks right for the audience.
I have assembled my own monitor puppetry kit over the last 5 years with a Sony Handycam, a small flat screen tv which has evolved into a professional 7 inch field monitor as my puppetry monitor, tripod and cables. Even though this setup is in an old suitcase with wheels. it’s very difficult to move around, and I have to download and edit the footage afterwards. This means that the puppet cannot interact live with an audience, or another puppet that is not in the same room. I haven’t been able to acquire the equipment required to live stream from the Handycam to any of the streaming platforms like Facebook live or Zoom yet.
Monitor Puppetry kit with tripod, screen, camera, cables, HDMI Splitter
However, on April 14, 2020, my puppetry mentor Peter Linz, shared this photo and a New York Times article on how Elmo’s Playdate was filmed on his Instagram account. I looked at the equipment he was using. It was his mobile phone, linked to his field monitor. The phone was recording the performance, yet he could see what his character Ernie was doing on the monitor. By looking at the cables coming out of the phone in the photo, I immediately worked out I could adapt the equipment I have at home! It was such a creative, innovative solution to the problem!
Peter Linz performing Ernie for Elmo’s Playdate. Photo Credit Aria Linz
So this is how I have been able to reverse engineer the setup. Please note that this setup is for iPhone (I have a standard iPhone 11).
Over 2 days, I had the opportunity to co-lead a Puppetry workshop for Drama Teachers at the Arts Unit NSW. The aim of the workshop was to give Drama Teachers from Primary, Seconday and Special Education settings the opportunity to make a mouth puppet (aka “Muppet” Style) and experience different strategies of teaching puppet performance in the classroom. The Arts Unit is part of the New South Wales Department of Education, and they promote and support all of the Creative and Performing Arts in NSW Public Schools. For me, this was an opportunity to show leadership skills, share how I use Puppetry daily in my school library, as well as showcase my school’s Puppetry class.
There were 15 participants in the workshop from a wide range of primary schools, high schools and special education settings. My role in the workshop was to teach the puppet building part of the workshop, and share the learning I have been doing in monitor puppetry over the last 3 years at Beyond the Sock. One really interesting thing I noticed about how 21st Century Teachers take notes. I cannpot recall any of the teachers taking written notes. Most of the teachers wanted to film my explanations on their phone or tablet. I had to remember to allow a few moments for the teachers to get into a good position to film the explanation.
What went well:
All the participants had fun! We could not get them to go home at the end of the first day, and the participants arrived at the workshop early on day 2. All the puppets were unique and special!
Having all the kits pre-cut and pre-sewn did save a lot of time and hassle. However, some teachers indicated on their feedback forms that they wanted to see the whole process from the beginning including cutting out the foam and fabric using the patterns. Perhaps I can accommodate that part with a video showing how to cut out the foam and fabric.
Using the dome eyes from Out of the Box Puppets worked really well over the traditional Spoon eyes. It does mean that in potential future workshops, I don’t need to take my whole folding crate of eyes.
Everyone used my 3D printed nose forms, as well as my plastic easter eggs. A few people also used the small dome eyes as nose forms. The participants also enjoyed using my box of precious Antron Fleece scraps to make the eyelids and noses for their puppet.
During the performance side of the workshop, doing a conga line to practise sharing the frame was a great deal of fun. It meant that the participants did not have to worry about their puppet standing straight and maintaining eye focus into the camera. The participants could just have fun with the frame.
What could be improved next time:
Give the participants 2 pieces of wire each and use florist wire instead of galvanised wire. Florist wire is easier for inexperienced puppet builders to bend, but the fingers of the puppet will not be as strong.
Need to have at least one pair of pliers per person as it was too difficult to have just 5 pairs of pliers for 15 people. Many participants had to wait a long time between steps because there were not enough pliers.
Have just the instruction portion only of the pattern from Project Puppet on the Smart TV/ or as printouts for participants to follow
if they are running behind the rest of the workshop,
didn’t listen to the verbal instructions or missed the demonstration.
It would also be helpful for people who have a gift for building to move ahead of the group.
The puppets to only have one arm rod. The other hand could be safety pinned/ stitched to the body of the puppet. It would make manipulation easier for beginner puppeteers
The neck and body join could be pre-sewn. It would save time during the workshop. It would mean that the only sewing for participants would be the mouth felt and the hand slits.
Drama Teachers hand sewing parts of their puppet's "Skin".
Collection of photos of the drama teachers making their puppets and me demonstrating the steps.
Me demonstrating how to do the ladder stitch to close the arm rod slit in the hand of the puppet.
Overview of the puppet kits that were pre-made for each participant.
I have spent all day talking to my Personal Learning Network about a vision for the future of Libraries.
I am concerned with making the Library I manage a relevant place for my students by engaging them in the planning or as Winzenried (2010) describes it- clearly responsive to client needs (pg. 9).
I found this concept on youtube while I was looking up information to help me with Citations (see my posting on the useful ideas for later page). I like the concept of Mindspot in that the stakeholders have a say in the vision of the library and planning is directly aimed at their needs and wants.
I have just finished reading the introduction to Arthur Winzenried’s book Visionary Leaders for Information. What struck me most was his discussion on the five keys to surviving and thriving into the future as a school library. The five keys suggested by Winzenried (2010) are:
1. What is the moral purpose of the Library?
2. Do I have a clear plan for the Library?
3. Am I being responsive to the needs of my users?
4. Am I developing a working relationship with my users?
5. Have I developed a stronger product focus? Is there a reason for the user to come and use the Library again? (Pages 8-10)
Having been very unwell this past week and needing to ‘rest’ I decided to watch some Star Trek episodes. It has been years since I watched Star Trek Voyager- so I pulled season1 DVD off the shelf. Lo and behold- the episode titled “Prime Factors” the crew wanted to exchange the entire Federation Library of stories for technology to get them home. The some total of thousands of alien races’ stories were stored on a few sticks of plastic that were downloaded from a database! No libraries here! This got me thinking- does the future envisioned by Star Trek have a place for a physical Library- how does this affect the planning I am doing now for the next three years of the library I manage?
I know that Libraries have featured in some Star Trek Episodes. I decided to ask my Professional Learning Network to see if they could list them- and this is what happened
Star Trek: Original Series “All Our Yesterdays” and the Librarian was called Mr Atoz (A to Z)
Star Trek: Original Series “The Lights of Zetar” the sum total of the Federation’s Knowledge stored in a facility called Memory Alpha
Star Trek: Innsurrection: Riker and Troi in the Ship’s Library (In the outtakes on the DVD- a female matronly Librarian is Shushhing them when they start to flirt)
There were also discussions about all the books that have appeared in Star Trek Episodes, the role of Shakespeare in the stories of Star Trek. The discussion then moved into how Libraries are represented in Science Fiction and then we were off again! People mentioned a Librarian in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, the very scary Library in Dr Who season 4 episode 8 “Silence in the Library” and its conclusion in episode 9 “Forest of the Dead”