Back in Pittsburgh’s industrial heyday, amidst the cast iron, and the blast furnaces and the smelting and such, there flourished a noble foundry run by puppets.
Or something like that.
So goes the “backstory” to The Puppet Foundry, the newest endeavor of Shmideo, a production company run by three local Chasidic guys known for its imaginatively quirky videos commissioned for organizational dinners and other events.
The Puppet Foundry is intended to provide a solution to any professional or amateur puppet creator who has a character in his head but limited time to bring it to life.
Of the three Shmideo partners — Dovid Taub, Sruli Broocker and DovBer Naiditch — it is Taub who is the puppet master and who has created the many different creatures that appear in a host of Shmideo videos.
Taub’s puppets are inspired by the late Jim Henson’s Muppets, he said, so making a puppet from scratch is time-consuming, resulting in “many days worth of work.” The process involves either using a pair of scissors to painstakingly carve foam into a puppet form, or using sheet foam.
Taub began searching for a way to make the puppet creation process faster, he said, and found that by using a 3D printer he could create a mold in which to pour flexible foam to make a puppet head. Moreover, he could 3D print plastic body parts for the puppets, such as noses and ears.
When Taub realized what a huge time-saver the 3D printer was, he knew he could help other puppet creators as well.
Through the newly formed Puppet Foundry — which will launch at the end of October with a crowd-funding campaign — Shmideo will package the head, body, arms, and a choice of facial parts, into a kit that a typical family will be able to assemble into a puppet in about a day, Taub said. Families will still have to visit the craft store for products like paint and felt to help add details. The puppets will be sized to fit into Build-a-Bear clothes.
A more advanced option will be available for sale for professionals.
The kits will be a welcome product on the puppet-making market, according to puppeteer Mike Quinn, who was Frank Oz’s right-hand man in the puppeteering of Yoda in “The Return of the Jedi.” Quinn literally performed Yoda’s right hand, according to Broocker.
Many puppeteers are not puppet builders, Quinn explained in an email.
“Many performers don’t have either the time or the knowhow to build their own puppets, so have to randomly search the Internet in the hope they can find something usable,” Quinn said. “When I was starting out, I wanted to get going quickly on learning TV style hand puppetry, but there was nothing available. So I had to spend a lot of time and expense figuring out how to build these things. I would have given anything to be able to buy a kit and put something together quickly.
“Often, performers need to make a performing reel or show up with a puppet for an audition,” he continued. “This is where having a kit to create your own really hits the sweet spot.”
Another important factor is “early gratification,” he added. “It’s important to have that while the excitement and enthusiasm is there, as it spurs the potential puppeteer to keep learning and experimenting.”
In addition to the kits, Shmideo will also provide puppet-making tutorial videos, with the demonstrations conducted by puppets in true Shmideo style.
“The face of the Puppet Foundry is the puppets themselves,” Taub said, underscoring the narrative that puppets run the Puppet Foundry, creating puppets for people.
“Our primary love is telling fun stories and entertaining people,” he added. “People who want to make puppets are playful. And if they’re not, we hope this kit will inspire them.”
Shmideo’s puppets not only have caught the eye of Quinn and other puppeteers, but also a persona that is pretty much the opposite of someone who plays with puppets: YouTube phenomenon “Pittsburgh Dad.”
The online sitcom character, played by Curt Wootton and co-created by Wootton and director Chris Preksta, is being cloned in puppet form by Shmideo for use in upcoming episodes of the show, which has been compared to “All in the Family” and “Roseanne.” “Pittsburgh Dad” has more than 90,000 YouTube subscribers.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.