The Puppetry Behind Kitty Cone

A line from iSundae II says, “I wondered how a cat could be a wielder.” Well, I did too. It’s hard enough making an eight inch stuffed animal look like he’s thinking and walking and talking, but having him run around with people? People at least five times his size? Thankfully, we had had experience with the basic kitty moves. Wiggle him, he looks like he’s talking. Hop him around on strings, he’s walking. The real pinch was in taking him outside of Mr. Kitty’s Babysitting Set, and putting him in there with the big dogs.

The first thing we worked on was costume. Jordan’s sister Becca came to my rescue and made the wonderful little shirt and pants that Kitty Cone wears. (At the time we knew we were going to be spoofing a certain science fiction badguy, so a lot of black in the costume was a given.) So, we had a costume that the audience could associate Kitty with. Then we pulled a switch. You only see Kitty in his official costume part of the time. A lot of the filming was done with Kitty wearing a sort of elongated black skirt. That allowed us to stick our arm up through under cover of the black fabric and hang onto his feet. Kitty is a very stiff little critter, and you can get a lot of wiggle out of that position. We used this “sock puppet” approach in a lot of the close ups, and particularly whenever he popped up from behind something.

Now, that method was all well and good, but if a character is always standing behind things you start to wonder whether he has any legs at all. It worked with Kitty Cone because he was short—so obviously, if he wanted to talk to anyone he had to stand on something tall. I guess we could have left things at the puppet stage, but we decided to push the boundaries a little bit. How hard could it be to make Kitty look like he was walking on his own?

We ended up with a combination of strings, dowels, and computer magic to make it work. There’s this great spool of gray-brown thread that’s been in our movie kit forever and ever. It blends in with practically everything, and especially our basement carpet. All we have to do is attach it to Kitty somewhere and then tie the other end to a long dowel. Someone stands out of camera view and makes him bounce around. His long sword was a definite plus for this because it weighed him down and kept him from revolving while in midair. Then, if all else failed, we simply edited out the arm or string that Kitty was attached to.

Kitty Cone Puppetry from Phantom Moose Films on Vimeo.

The duel presented a whole new set of problems. I remember one idea we bounced around was that Kitty would grab one of the Norse Guards and have him push a little wheeled cart around so Kitty could duel from the top of it. Thankfully we didn’t have to deal with that. A simple paintbrush attached to the sword made it possible for the two blades to reach each other. (At the time we were keeping the lightsabers as a big secret. We filmed the duel when the parents were away and had plenty of pre-thought out answers, just in case anyone asked what the paintbrush was for.) The fancy flip that Kitty does over Stelen wasn’t really that fancy. We just threw Kitty and told Stelen to duck.

As with any good puppet, you have to add sound effects to make it come to life. Jordan was our vocal and foley artist for this. He did everything from shuffling in slippers to thumping on the wall.

All in all, it was a positive experience. For almost everyone concerned. We had to sew Kitty’s eyebrows and mustache to his face. I’m pretty sure he didn’t like that. They must have itched.

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2 comments on “The Puppetry Behind Kitty Cone

  1. I’m glad that wrote up an article on this, as it was one of the things that I enjoyed about iSundae II. I especially liked the last picture – two camera operators and an actor (Well, puppet actor) packed into a hallway. It doesn’t get any better than that, does it?

    A small question: Do you know (approximately) how many shots you had to mask out strings or a hand for? Were there any strings that you left in because low video quality covered them up?

    Good article.

    – Jordan

  2. Hm, that’s actually a tough question. There are two shots that I can think of that really needed strings or a hand masked out. There might be a few more, though.

    Most of the shots, though, have no masking to hide strings whatsoever. You don’t even notice when watching it at the highest possible quality. That particular string is easy to hide.

    Unfortunately, I didn’t think to have anybody record me shuffling around in slippers. It looked hilarious!

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