S1 E3: MONKEY BOYS PROD - PUPPETEERS
“What’s a puppet?”
That was the first question we asked Marc Petrosino and Michael Latini, the co-founders of Monkey Boys Productions. It was a joke, which was funny because the studio tour they had just taken us on showcased what seemed like infinite characters of infinite designs fabricated using an infinite number of materials. We were in awe of the scope of their imagination and skills.
The conversation with Marc and Michael revealed not only their outlandish talents but also their savvy in dealing with all kinds of different clients, from philanthropies to Saturday Night Live. Yes, you’ll hear all about how they designed and fabricated tailored costumes for Kanye West and Lil Pump for SNL’s season premiere.
With that in mind, there are a lot of insights to take away from Monkey Boys Productions. This episode’s Three Big How’s are broken into two sections. Michael took us through the things to focus on from a Fabrication (making puppets) standpoint, and Marc took us through Performance (playing a character):
THREE BIG HOW’S
Characters, special effects, making things with your hands, sculpting, painting, taking things apart to see how they work…the list goes on. There’s no better way to build a foundation than studying the machinations of things, spending time building things yourself, simply investigating how an action figure is able to move or how a toy or other object is able to move or be controlled. It’s one or two levels beyond how far most people go, which is to observe. This is about getting your hands dirty and learning.
DIVERSIFY YOUR KNOWLEDGE BASE
Sign up for art classes or, better yet, go to art school. Once you get there, diversify your course work to become familiar with various disciplines and mediums. Maybe you’ll become multi-faceted or maybe you’ll end up specializing. Both directions are extremely valuable in terms of puppet fabrication. Michael said the four most important disciplines in what his team does day to day are Foam Fabrication, Sewing, Painting, and Sculpting.
THE INTERNET IS GOOD
Michael was a big fan of the Muppets, Sesame Street, and Fraggle Rock growing up. He was interested in how all of that worked. But there was not Internet back then, so he had to walk uphill to school both ways in the snow. In other words, he had to figure it out himself. Today, there are tutorials and how-to’s all over the web that give you the ability to try things yourself. From projectpuppet.com to stuff all over youtube, there are learning resources that can give you quite a head start.
Performing as a puppet or character requires several skills. Acting, singing, dancing, voice work, even directing. You have to commit to doing those things to start building your skills. Whether you’re an adult or a kid, theater classes hit several of the notes pretty hard, so that’s a start.
Watch people and other living things in real life. See how they behave and how they move, and then mimic it. Marc talked about playing a T Rex and basing his movements on watching birds and seeing dinosaur movies. He “played” a child in a production of Madama Butterfly at The Met, and he studied how toddlers walk to enable himself to properly manipulate the character. It is all based on observance.
As a child, Marc owned a puppet who was a character from the Muppets: Animal. (Look it up, great character.) He used to practice with Animal. He explained to us that as time went on, he observed that when people talk, only their bottom jaw moves. Translated into the way you actually manipulate a puppet like Animal, he told us that the thumb is the key. Practicing that movement makes the puppet look more real, and it also strengthens the heck out of your thumb.
That’s a lot. It’s impressive to understand how many things Marc and Michael need to be good at. If you like characters, storytelling, working with your hands, performing, art, imagination—you name it—then you’ll love what they share in this episode.