What is puppet?

The word puppet comes from the Latin word pupa, meaning “doll”, but a puppet is not a doll nor it is limited to being doll-like. In The History of the English Puppet Theatre, puppeteer George Speaight describes a puppet as “an inanimate figure moved by human agency.”

So, a puppet is an inanimate object, often resembling some type of human, animal or mythical figure that is animated or manipulated by a human called a puppeteer.

The puppeteer uses movements of her hands, arms, or control devices such as rods or strings to move the body, head, limbs, and in some cases the mouth and eyes of the puppet. The puppeteer often speaks in the voice of the character of the puppet, and then synchronizes the movements of the puppet’s mouth with this spoken part. The actions, gestures and spoken parts acted out by the puppeteer with the puppet are typically used in storytelling.

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The way puppets acquire their own identity and move apparently by themselves is fascinating. Puppetry is an ancient form of artistic expression that is a variation on storytelling or human theatrical productions. In puppetry, a drama unfolds that is entirely or primarily acted out by specialized representational objects, which are manipulated by a puppeteer. The human animator may or may not be visible to the audience. It is a medium that holds no boundaries as a puppet can defy the laws of nature and is bound only by the limits of an individual’s imagination. In the hands of a skilled animator, the possibilities of puppetry are endless. Puppets educate, motivate and liberate. Puppetry is often used as a tool to raise political concerns and influence society.

Physiologically puppets allow us to be more open as they can seem less intimidating when addressing sensitive issues. When operating a puppet, it can act as a shield for us to hide behind and allows us to take on new identities and say and do things we would not usually say or do if we were visible. Visually puppets are very striking and can be used efficiently to highlight events and symbolically put a message across simply and effectively using a universal language.

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Puppetry Industry

Cultural variations of puppetry developed independently in many parts of the world. In Europe, puppets were traditionally used to illustrate stories and bring people together. Today in western culture, they are often associated with children’s entertainment. On television, programs like Sesame Street use brightly colored puppets to make learning fun and the series continues to be an international success since 1969, when it was first established in America. Other companies use puppets to create fantastical worlds such as Garlic Theatre, which was founded in Britain in 1996 and uses puppetry to create lively and imaginative shows that capture our imagination. In Asian culture, puppets are deeply rooted in tradition and are often considered sacred as they are used to portray religious epics and connect one with the spiritual world. In Thailand, different puppets are used symbolically in rituals to commemorate important ceremonies and rites of passage.

Some people utilized this medium for other reasons. Like Khul Ja Sim Sim and Kaliyaan, they saw the benefits of teaching through puppetry. They aimed at children to help them develop social skills, expression and a chance to explore their imagination beyond the limitations of the human body.

Puppetry industry and the puppet art are quite famous in the entire world. People love to watch this art. Through this, the message is conveyed and the story is told. Well, the whole saga can be narrated and performed through puppetry. Puppets work like human actors and this is the class and the talent of the arts who performs it.

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Types of Puppetry

Body Puppets:
Basically, a body puppet is any type of puppet in which the performer’s body is inside the puppet, or otherwise integral to the character’s body structure.Body puppets are usually designed to be part of a large spectacle. These are often used in parades and demonstrations, and are at least the size of a human and often much larger. One or more performers are required to move the body and limbs.

Sock Puppets:
The sock puppet is a puppet formed from a sock and operated by inserting a hand inside the sock. The hand is opened and closed to give the impression of speaking. Sometimes eyes and other facial features added to the sock in order to make the puppet more realistic. Sock puppets are also popular in many puppet performances, as they are simple to make and easy to use. They are mostly used in satirical or children’s works.

Finger Puppets:
The finger puppet is a simple puppet’s variant which fits onto a single finger. Finger puppets, normally have no moving parts, and consist primarily of a hollow cylinder shape to cover the finger. Finger puppets are often decorated with eyes and mouths made out of fabric or other materials. This form of puppet has limited application, and is used mainly in pre-schools or kindergartens for storytelling with young children.

Toy Puppets:
The toy puppet is a puppet cut out of paper and stuck onto card. It is fixed at its base to a stick and operated by pushing it in from the side of the puppet theatre. The Sheets were produced for puppets and scenery from the 19th century for children’s use.

Shadow Puppets:
A shadow puppet is a cut-out figure held between a source of light and a translucent screen. Shadow puppets can form solid silhouettes or be decorated with various amounts of cut-out details. Color can be introduced into the cut-out shapes to provide a different dimension and different effects can be achieved by moving the puppet (or light source) out of focus. Shadow figures need not be limited to two dimensions; rounded figures may also be used effectively.

Hand Puppets:
The puppeteer’s hand is up inside the puppet and is the only thing which makes the puppet move. There are a variety of finger configurations from which to choose (i.e.thumb in one arm, ring and pinky fingers in the other arm, and index and second fingers in head)

Glove Puppets:
The hand puppet (or glove puppet) is puppets controlled by one hand, which occupies the interior of the puppet. The Punch and Judy puppets are familiar examples of hand puppets. A Larger variety of hand puppets place the puppeteer’s hand on just the puppet’s head, controlling the mouth and head, and the puppet’s body then hangs over the entire arm. Other parts of the puppet (mainly arms, but special variants exist with eyelids which can be manipulated; the mouth may also open and close) are usually not much larger than the hand itself.

Rod Puppets:
These figures are also manipulated from below, but they are full-length, supported by a rod running inside the body to the head. Separate thin rods may move the hands and, if necessary, the legs. Figures of this type are traditional on the Indonesian islands of Java and Bali, where they are known as wayang golek.

Marionettes or string puppets:
These are full-length figures controlled from above. Normally they are moved by strings or more often threads, leading from the limbs to a control or crutch held by the manipulator. Movement is imparted to a large extent by tilting or rocking the control, but individual strings are plucked when a decided movement is required. A simple marionette may have nine strings—one to each leg, one to each hand, one to each shoulder, one to each ear (for head movements), and one to the base of the spine (for bowing); but special effects will require special strings that may double or treble this number. The manipulation of a many-stringed marionette is a highly skilled operation. The controls are of two main types—horizontal (or airplane) and vertical—and the choice is largely a matter of personal preference.

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Digital Puppetry

Digital puppetry is the manipulation and performance of digitally animated 2D or 3D figures and objects in a virtual environment that are rendered in real time by computers. It is most commonly used in film-making and television production, but has also been used in interactive theme park attractions and live theater.

Digital puppetry is closely associated with motion capture technologies and 3D animation, as well as skeletal animation. Digital puppetry is also known as virtual puppetry, performance animation, living animation, live animation and real-time animation (although the latter also refers to animation generated by computer game engines). Machinima is another form of digital puppetry, and Machinima performers are increasingly being identified as puppeteers.

In digital puppetry, the character is controlled completely by a relatively simple mapping between a hardware controller (such as a gamepad, a wiimote, a custom puppet controller, or even your body with a kinect-based system) and the character’s 3D animation armature. There is typically no need for physics simulation, and unlike true motion capture, there’s no attempt for the control process to be “natural motion” — you learn to operate a digital puppet, just as you would a real puppet.


Puppetry is one of the oldest art forms in existence, and is practiced all over the world. But the truth is that in the modern world, the centuries-old art of string puppetry is slowly dying. Even though organizations like Thespianz and Peerzada family have taken initiative to keep the art alive, the problem is that very few skilled puppeteers are left to cater to the demand. Unless they receive financial help from the government, the chance of their survival is bleak. But the fact is puppetry does exist today, but it’s medium has been changed. Xbox and animated movies are playing a vital role in destroying this ancient art form.


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