James Kemp Builds Lucky Charms Puppets for Cereal Company
Here is something exciting and out of the ordinary! I was contacted a few months ago by Lucky Charms about doing a couple of Lucky Charms Puppets for an upcoming bit of marketing they were doing, surrounding the launch of their new unicorn marshmallow shape in the boxes of Lucky Charm’s cereal! I was very excited, and began discussing the details with them.
They were creating an entire magical forrest inside of a pavilion at the Brookfield Zoo near Chicago where kids would walk through and guess what the new magical unicorn might look like, or what it’s special powers might be. It was ambitious to say the least. My part in it was to build Lucky Charms Puppets of Lucky the Leprechaun and the new unicorn character for a live show that would be done in the last room of the magical forrest!
Ed Eyth Designs Lucky Charms Characters
After receiving the designs, I began work. I really wanted to make these puppets pop, so I enlisted character designer Ed Eyth to help me work out turning Lucky into a 3D, performable shape. Lucky was very tricky, but I finally got the shape worked out in foam from a sculpture Ed had done. The hat was more complicated to make than I was expecting, but I finally got it worked out with a combination of L-200 foam, poly foam, and armature wire. Lucky’s beautiful costuming was done by Natalie Lessard.
I wanted to make the unicorn as pretty as I possibly could, so I did a lot of tests with materials, colors, and textures to get the best results. The unicorn’s horn is actually made from carved foam coated with many layers of latex rubber. After sanding the latex, I painted the horn and added glitter. The eyes are also hand painted. I left the seam around the nose a bit more noticeable to accentuate the color change, but I blended the seams around the eyes for a nice smooth eyeshadow look. If you look closely, you’ll notice that her skin isn’t white, but just slightly off-white-gray. This was to give the skin a little depth, and to make it closer to the illustration. Her mane and tail are made from strands of ostrich feathers that I hand-dyed, and then braided the three colors together.
Completed Lucky Charms Puppets
Lucky from Lucky Charms Puppet
Unicorn Marshmallow Lucky Charms Puppet
The event was nothing short of incredible, and the performer of the unicorn, Alanna Chuyan, and I had a great time working with the team from the brand.
If you are interested in a custom puppet by James Kemp, visit my contact page and reach out today!
I was approached at the end of 2017 by a marketing group called Prodigious, which handles the marketing for McDonalds Arabia. Every region of the world is its own branch of the McDonalds marketing tree, and the people in charge of marketing the product to the Middle East were wanting to begin a new campaign. For obvious reasons, I was thrilled! I’d been itching to work with another big food chain since my project with KFC in 2016, and the idea of building a McDonalds Puppet was very exciting.
Prodigious told me that they were about to roll out promotion for the two new available Big Mac sizes, and that they wanted to center the content around a crazy character they were calling “The Big Mac Craving”. The premise of this character was that he appeared at inconvenient times, and demanded the person stop what they are doing and go get a Big Mac! I thought the idea was clever, and definitely served the idea that they were trying to get across about the product. I minored in marketing at WKU, and I’m always so glad to be able to put that “lens” on these kinds of situation. It really is fascinating to watch how many wheels are spinning to get a project of this scale through all of the necessary hoops and approvals, and on its way to becoming a full marketing campaign.
They were struggling with the design of the character, but told me they liked the look of one I had done in the past, and wanted to incorporate elements. Now, normally this would’ve been impossible, as every custom puppet I build is unique, and I refuse to diminish that by repeating on another character. However, it turned out that the puppet they were referring to was a character I’d done for a personal student film in college. How fortunate.
So, they lopped off the body and limb design of my character and used the head of another sketch they’d been toying with.
McDonalds Puppet Project Included 2 Identical Puppets
Now that I had a design, I could start building. One of the unique challenges about this project was that there needed to be two puppets of the character built. This is done on large productions to ensure that there is a backup in case something happens to one puppet. This is really tricky, because it means the puppets must be made to look EXACTLY the same. A daunting task, when trimming fur, to be sure. The McDonalds puppets were also made with arms that could be removed easily and replaced securely, making it easy on set to swap them out with alternate pairs of arms that didn’t have rods in the wrists.
McDonald’s Puppet Head
McDonald’s Puppet Eyes
James Kemp and David Stephens Perform McDonalds Puppet in Cairo, Egypt.
The Big Mac Craving Final
As they started gathering all of the pieces to make this shoot come together, they told me it would be happing in Cairo, Egypt, and that it would last for ten days in total. I urged them that on a shoot like this, a good puppet wrangler and assistant puppeteer is a must. So, I messaged David Stephens of All Hands Puppetry in Atlanta, and we were set. David’s one-man puppet company tours all around the country, and I knew he was up to the task.
David and I were overwhelmed by the historic beauty of Cairo. The first few days there were spent in meetings discussing preproduction in great detail. Every shot, every movement, every costume and prop had to be worked out ahead of time. The team in Cairo had sewn these beautiful, culturally authentic costumes for the Big Mac Craving based on the measurements I gave them, so we spent one of the nights just trying on all of the costumes for the McDonalds Puppet.
Everyone we were working with was incredible, and incredibly accommodating. David and I even had a trailer everywhere we went!
After five-15 hour days of shooting (its exhausting), six locations, and countless takes, we had finally shot all of the content. The most interesting part of this whole process was having to give my lines in both English, which would air in the United Arab Emirates, and in Arabic for the version of the commercial that would air in Kuwait, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Lebanon (If you listen closely, they still use my voice in some of the Arabic spots). We even shot video for the stores’ self-ordering kiosks, and an ad for Snapchat! It was an unforgettable experience with unforgettable people. Enjoy the spots below, and let me know what you think!
James Kemp Puppets builds Crash and caricature of the Prime Minister of Norway Puppets
Sometimes, in my line of work, projects come along that really catch you off guard. Part of the fun of doing what I do is getting the chance to see so many wheels spinning in the creative world. You’d be amazed at the ways in which people funnel their creativity. This project was something out of the ordinary. A Norwegian publishing house had contacted me about doing two characters for them as Norway Puppets. The first puppet would be Crash, a curious little boy character. The second character, and here is where it gets cool, was to be a caricature of the Prime Minister of Norway!
They even included a cute little illustration of the characters for me to work from!
Here is a photo of the Prime Minister of Norway.
Caricature Puppet Production
Doing puppet caricatures of people is something I have done several times in the past, but never one of a notable person of interest!
Check out the video below, and as always, keep checking back to jameskemppuppets.com for more updates on all of the exciting projects happening.
Puppets for Norway! - YouTube
Get to know Crash and the Norwegian Prime Minister puppets I created for a project by the Norwegian Government.
Custom Football Puppets Built for Honda Dealership in Knoxville, Tennessee
Last fall, I was contacted about doing some puppets for a marketing agency out of Knoxville, TN. As a Nashville native, I loved the idea of doing something for a client so close to home! So, the great team at The Draft Agency started describing to me their idea for a football season themed ad for a local Honda dealer. I was sent two sketches for football puppets and couldn’t wait to get started!
Puppet Building All Starts with a Design or Sketch
I loved the idea, and loved the sketches even more. After a deal was reached, we started discussing the project more intimately. I had a conference call with their team the next week to talk about all of the finer points of the briefing. It was on that call, that the eventual performers of these characters gave me a sample of the characters’ voices. THAT was when I knew this was going to be a great finished product. Grace and Murray ( the football characters) were meant to resemble a middle-aged married couple. I loved every part of the concept, including the great character sketches they gave me to work from.
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.