James Kemp Puppets Creates Mitty the T-Rex from a Child’s Drawing.
Here’s something a little out of the ordinary. This is Mitty. Mitty is a T-rex who loves baseball and making new friends! Mitty was designed by my very good friend David’s son, Isaac. Isaac had been drawing this character in his notebooks and at home. James Kemp Puppets knew this character could be something special.
David had approached me about making Isaac’s drawing into a puppet character because Isaac really loved the puppets I built. I was so happy to begin work. The character design is fairly basic. This simplicity is often deceptive. When designing a puppet from a two dimensional drawing, its important to focus on the biggest features of the character.
A Custom Puppet Built from a Basic Drawing
Mitty hadn’t been drawn from a straight-on angle, so I wanted to make sure that his eyes still looked right when it came time to attach them, and that it still gave him the same cuteness of his penciled counterpart.
I knew that his teeth would have to be individually cut, the eyes sculpted, sanded and cast, and his little hat custom made. I’m not overly experienced with making clothing, but I was very proud of that little hat! Another tricky bit was his fingers. They’re just so tiny! This puppet definitely had its own set of challenges, but I had a great time rising to meet them.
Overall, Isaac and David both loved Mitty, and now Mitty gets to occasionally join the cast of chatterers at Sublime Media Group. Mitty will also be featured on display at the Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center from August 4th-September 28th as part of the Sublime Puppets exhibit! So come out to Bowling Green and see Mitty in person.
I am so happy to be able to share this great character that was designed by Thomas Woody of Thomas Woody Art! This is one of the best characters I’ve ever done, hands down, and so much of that is thanks to being able to work with such a talented designer. I love the way this bear puppet named Banjo turned out.
Hello again! James Kemp from James Kemp Puppets, the website where I show off all of the crazy puppets I’m building. Today, I’m showing off this crazy puppet. This is Banjo the Bear! Banjo, is a great creation. I had a ton of fun making this guy. What made it so much fun was that I got to work with my artist friend again, Thomas Woody. I worked with Thomas 2 years ago on this really cute little dog character. He’s just kinda skinny and simple, and he’s got this great fur, and his name was Mango.
This is Banjo, like I said, and there are a lot of really cool things about Banjo. Banjo came about, a totally original character of Thomas’s. He is a big puppet. When you’re working with a puppet this size, you’ve got to think about things like performability for the puppeteer. You’ve got to think how’s this going to feel after minutes if not hours of performing a character. One of the things that I did to circumvent the weight, I made this really cool series of boning rings. It’s basically a hoop-skirt inside the puppet. It does a great job of keeping the body shape.
He’s got a really great tie. It’s a built in prop for the character. A challenging thing about building this puppet was the fur. I had to hand trim the fur. This puppet brought a lot of challenges but I was so happy to do it. Please, check out www.thomaswoody.com to see more of his great art.
Sometimes, in my line of work, I get projects that are really out-there. This was certainly one of the more interesting projects I’ve had the chance to work on.
Ramajetterne Adds New Character to the Cast
I was contacted by the producers of a Danish children’s show called Ramajetterne about producing a new character to add to their already existing cast of puppets. I was thrilled. We immediately began discussing what they had in mind, and I was delighted to see that their in-house concept was both very talented, and very informed as to exactly what they wanted.
The character they wanted was a silly little creature called Drillenisse. Drillinisse was described as a happy character that loved to dance and sing and be merry. The character wears an enormous christmas hat and a knit, wool sweater. These would have to be custom made. So, I set out designing the character.
How to Make a Flexible Custom Puppet
The artist told me that Drillinisse would move in a very flexible, almost snake-like way, so I built his body from a series of boning rings to cut down on weight and to give the desired sense of movement. I made his red and white striped shirt from some shiny, spandex-like material. Next, his sweater had to be hand made from thick wool yarn. This was done by a friend of mine. The hat was an interesting challenge. It had to be very large, and yet supported enough to stay afloat. So, I inserted a small piece of tubing into the head of the puppet where a long spring would be attached and used to balance and support the hat. They wanted to have hats for several of the characters they already had, so for the sake of consistency, Ramajetterne took on the responsibility of producing the hats.
This turned out to be a great character, and was very well received by the client. They loved it! I cannot wait to see him with his hat made and attached. Here is the finished product! I love this guy.
Drillenisse for Ramajetterne, built by James Kemp Puppets
One of the newest characters to pass through the James Kemp Puppets shop is Lil’ Trent. Lil’ Trent is a caricature of Trent Ranburger, a local celebrity and bedding magnate who is known for doing outrageous stunts and jokes as part of his advertising campaigns.
Sublime Media Group was approached to produce a new series of ads for Trent Bedding because of the success we’ve had with other clients in bringing attention to their brand. When we sat down for the initial meeting with Trent, he told us he wanted to do something cool with one of our puppet characters. So we thought, why not do something original? We got the idea to create a caricature of Trent as the basis for the puppet. Trent is no stranger to the idea that he’s a goofy guy. He loves it, and everyone else does too.
In the weeks leading up to the start of the project, I had spent a lot of time thinking about who could create an accurate yet endearing caricature of Trent. Who better to approach about the project than my friend Edward Eyth. Ed is an incredible design artist with the most incredible eye for details. Ed has worked as a concept artist on several major Hollywood films through the years including Back to the Future II, Hook, Flight of the Navigator, Masters of the Universe, Captain EO, and so many more. In the 90’s Ed found himself the creative director and head Muppet designer at the Jim Henson Company. It is an honor to call Ed friend, and as much of a pleasure working with him.
Trent Ranburger Caricature Puppet
A Great Design Makes All the Difference
I first worked with Ed on a couple of puppets for Baby Einstein last year. I can’t really elaborate on that at the moment, but hopefully I’ll be able to talk about it soon. Ed set in on creating quite a few different versions of the Lil Trent character that all remarkably mirrored Trent himself. We chose the design we liked best and I began work. Working with Ed is never to be considered lightly. Ed is the nicest guy you’ll ever meet, but his attention to detail and body of work mean that he can be the most marvelous critic. I love having Ed to bounce off of because he pushes me. He pushes me to be the absolute best artist I can be, and my best work has come from working with the man.
I was in the middle of several other projects at the time and was preparing for a trip to Texas for a shoot with the Balcom Agency on a project for the NFL and Dairy Maxx, so working on Lil Trent was a little stressful. Nonetheless, I worked my butt off and was able to finish Lil Trent on time. The work speaks for itself. Check out these great behind the scenes photos of the build as well as this cool behind the scenes video.
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Trent Ranburger Caricature Puppet
Puppet Design Profile
Lil’ Trent Profile
Lil’ Trent Arms
Fleece Color Puppet Design
Lil’ Trent Hair
Hair and Nose
Lil’ Trent Teeth
Lil Trent’s Awesome Teeth
Lil’ Trent Commercial Shoot
The Finished Product
Sublime Puppets Exhibition
Trent Ranburger, Lil’ Trent, Edward Eyth, & James Kemp
Lil’ Trent WKU Football
Lil’ Trent is already a local celebrity in Bowling Green, Kentucky
We have been very busy at Sublime Puppets producing many videos with Lil’ Trent and Trent Ranburger. Check out a few of our favorites below. Enjoy!
A Behind the Scenes look at the making of Lil’ Trent
Pest Control Company Commissions Army Ant Puppet Build from James Kemp Puppets
I love getting to show off any of my work that is a collaborative effort (as most of it it). These puppets were thought up by Austin Albany, creative director at Sublime Media Group for use in some new pest control company spots. We’ve been doing pest control spots for the last couple of years using a spider and some gnarly looking bed bugs that are among my favorite creations. This year, we wanted to do something a little different. Austin contacted Dave Hulteen of Bang and Bump fame to do some concept art of these characters. I loved what he came up with. Dave is a great cartoonist. My job from there was to translate these wonderful drawings into something that works as a three-dimensional puppet.
Puppet Foam Body Army Ant
Coming together nicely!
Puppet Foam Body
A look at the puppet building process.
Fire Ant General Puppet
The leader of the operation.
These guys are ready to invade your home!
Puppet Building Materials Make or Break a Project
These army ant characters presented some fun, new challenges for me. Their structures are made up from several different materials for different levels of flexibility and rigidness. The little arms in particular were an interesting challenge because of the fact that they have to be unique, noticeable, and not take up too much of the frame when shooting with the puppets. The arms are actually attached on doll joints, so they are capable of swiveling in place. The helmets were also something I had never tried to do. I made them from patterned L-200 foam and used several layers of spray rubber to cover them before covering them in several coats of army green paint. The antenna are actually part of the hat, and not attached to the puppet’s heads.
This was such a fun project to work on, and I always enjoy puppeteering with my friend David Hosay. We shot this outside, which offered us a really great lighting source and produced a really unique look for this spot. Check out the video below of the army ants in action.
Ventriloquist Puppet Project for Michael Harrison.
Its been awhile since my last post, but that’s certainly not for lack of exciting things happening at the James Kemp puppet workshop! I have been hard at work on many projects, planning future projects, and even preparing for a gallery show all about my work with Sublime Media Group here in Bowling Green at the Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center. I’m super excited also to share about a ventriloquist puppet build I recently completed.
This project came to me in the form of a phone call from ventriloquist Michael Harrison telling me that he wanted to create a lucky cat character for his new act. I had a tremendous amount of fun on this. You can hear the full story in the video below.
Lucky Cat ventriloquist figure for Michael Harrison - YouTube
“Hey guys, James Kemp of James Kemp Puppets… As you can see I’m not in my workshop. As you can see, I’m in my friend Aaron’s home photography studio. I’m showing off something really cool today. This was a really fun, really exciting challenge for me. What you’re looking at, this is the lucky cat figure I made for ventriloquist, Michael Harrison. Michael is a wonderful performer. It’s so cool, he gets to travel the world on Disney Cruise Lines. Very well know performer, been doing it a long time. Another fun fact, this is my first ventriloquist puppet.
Puppets used for stage and on screen, have kind of subtle differences. You want to exaggerate some of the features if you can get away with it because it’s being seen from long distances. You want to make sure that the audience can really interpret those movements.
The first big thing about a ventriloquist figure is the entrance hole is not at the bottom of the body, it’s at the back of the figure. I also cast the pendant for his collar out of plastic. The eyes gave me a lot of trouble. Due to the head shape, I tried a lot of different eyes and we finally settled on these. I think they look great. I’m not a ventriloquist, but Michael Harrison will make it look great.”
Photos from the Build.
As a bonus, here are some cool pictures taken during the creation of this puppet.
One of my favorite parts of the job is knowing that I can provide a quality product for the people who hire me. This is a spectacular case of that. My name was brought up by a former client in a meeting about having a puppet built for a new kids pilot being shot (and aired) in Denmark. I am no stranger to shipping puppets overseas, and this was another in a long line if international delights. The briefing was fairly simple; a fun, inquisitive younger character to be partnered with an older human actor. Brilliant.
So, I contacted my friend Dave Hulteen (whose work you’ve seen in the past if you are no stranger to my site) and had him draw up some preliminary concepts. The client settled on one they liked, and after a few revisions, I was ready to build. One of the challenges of building this puppet was his costuming. The character features “live” hands, meaning that the puppets hands are worn as gloves by the performer. This meant that all of the costuming had tso be done custom. He has two costumes, actually. So, in a stroke of Frankensteinian madness, I cobbled together a beautiful, functioning pair of jackets from the remains of several other jackets of the type. Take a look at the pictures below, and as always, feel free to contact me at email@example.com with puppet inquiries.
One of my favorite things to do as an artist is to rebuild existing characters. I’ve always liked doing it to my own creations, and I got an even more fun opportunity in 2015 to rebuild Cal for Frank Cesario. In 2016, I got to do the same thing. I was approached by the sweetest woman from Florida about rebuilding a character she called BlueBerry. BlueBerry was apparently a life long friend to her young Grandson. I was so excited to rebuild, redesign, and put my own spin on BlueBerry. A lot of trial and error went into this project, as the original is so…well, original. It took a while to capture the same feel and incredible level of performability. I took such great care in replicating all of her cute little details. Enjoy the pictures below.
I find that puppet building is never without surprises. I was contacted recently by a client who frequents the video game convention circuit. He wanted to do a Sonic the Hedgehog themed Cosplay, which I found super appealing. He asked if I would be able to recreate Sonic in puppet form for him to take with him to the conventions. I accepted and the work began.
My first thought going in was one of a curious, faux-anxiety. I had never taken on a project that required this intense level of patterning ability and time consuming detail. It was a challenge I was happy to approach. I cannot begin to describe the hours that went into the making of this puppet.
The first decision to make was how I was going to get my patterns. I could try to sculpt the character in clay, as I have done before with other characters, or I could try to find some sort of totem or statue of the character to base my patterns on. I decided that the complexity of the shape was above my sculpting ability, and so I set out looking for an accurate representation of Sonic. I settled on a VERY expensive, limited edition toy that had been produced of the character. The piece was rare, and I had to pay $100 just to get my hands on one. That said, it was entirely worth it, even though the toy had to be disassembled and destroyed.
Check out the gallery of photos below to see how this project came together. Enjoy, and as always, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for inquiries about custom builds.
This is such an incredible pleasure to share. Steve Swanson, creator and host of The Muppetcast podcast for ALL things Muppet/Henson/puppetry, asked me a few weeks ago if I would sit down for an interview for an upcoming episode of The Muppetcast. I was excited beyond measure. Many years ago, around 2008, while I was still in the beginnings of my puppet building journey, I sent Steve a Youtube video of mine featuring impressions of Muppet characters, an he was seemingly impressed enough and kind enough to play it on the show. So, I invited my close friend and co-puppet conspirator David Hosay and we sat down for an hour and a half chat. If you’d like to hear me gab about my experience with puppets, my love for Jim Henson, and how I’ve turned a hobby into a business, check out this episode of The Muppetcast, and if you like it, please share it around!