11 Principles of Puppetry

The directors of the Handspring Puppet Company in South Africa and the artists behind the internationally-acclaimed production of “War Horse” detail the essential elements of a lifelike puppet performance, most of which apply equally to animation – especially game animation where, as in the theater, the framing of the scene and the timing and placement of the characters may not always be under your control. A great complement to the 12 Principles of Animation from Ollie Johnson and Frank Thomas’s seminal work, “The Illusion of Life”

Some key takeaways:

#2 Eyes & Eyelines: So important! We are attuned from our earliest moments to pay attention to the gaze of others and so we need pay extra attention to ensure that the eyeline between characters is always correct, especially in games where the eyeline may need to hold up from many different angles.

#3 Breath: Even when the character is in the background and not the focus of the scene, it is important that they are always breathing and their breathing should communicate the emotional state of the character.

#5 Stillness: Characters should remain still when they are not the focus of the moment (but always still breathing) – avoid the urge to “earn your keep” by overselling the motion.

#7 Passing the Ball: Make it clear when the focus of the scene passes from one character to another by minimizing distracting motion that might pull focus.

#9 Speed: Puppets should move slightly slower than real-life in order to clearly communicate the gesture.

… and my personal favorite:

#11 Touch: They describe touch as an “Emotion Prosthesis” through which the audience experiences the contact between the puppet and the scene, and it is absolutely essential to good animation as well. It’s through contact with the ground that we feel the weight of the character and when one character punches another, or gently touches another character’s hand, if it’s done right, you can feel it in your own body.


11 Principles of Puppetry from Handspring Puppet Company on Vimeo.