I'm a puppet maker with a degree in theatre. A former lighting techie, stage manager and producer. And I like to think that with puppetry, the only limit is your imagination. More...
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Not to be confused with blacklight puppets - which us neon/glow-in-the-dark paints and UV lighting - a light curtain is a way of creating a performance where the puppets are visible, but the puppeteers are not. While the UV lighting/neon paints uses similar concepts detailed here, it is not exactly the same, and there is a different post written up on that particular topic. A video example of this technique is shown at the bottom of the post.
Basically, how it works is that some lights on either side of the stage create a thin beam of light. Because the beam runs directly across the stage (ie. horizontally, in a straight line from stage left to stage right), it forms a ‘curtain’. Behind this curtain, nothing can be seen. – Imagine it as an invisible piece of cloth, hanging in front of the stage. However, place anything in front of the light, or in the light, and it will be seen. So if a puppeteer walks into the light, they may be quite visible; stay behind the ‘curtain’, and they won’t be. So the puppeteers stay behind the light curtain, but hold the puppets in the beam of light. Voila! Magically disappearing puppeteers.
|Sun puppet, built by my company, Sticky Apple Legs. The foam sun has blinking eyes, and other special features.|
|The same puppet, only with the camera flash on. Now you can see the puppeteer.|
This is a very confusing thing to understand without seeing it yourself, so this is the point you scroll down and watch the video. But as another example, I’m going to show you two images from the same show as in the video: on the left is what you would see if you’re an audience member in a light curtain show. Click on each image for a larger view. The image on the right is of the same puppet, but this time with the camera flash on. The camera flash makes the light curtain effect stop working, since you are now lighting the puppets from the front, instead of the sides. (A light curtain must have omnidirectional lighting - lighting from side-to-side - in order for it to work) In the right-hand side photo, you can make out the puppeteer, who is dressed in black clothing, hood and gloves. Amazingly enough, you don’t have to use rods in order to make the light curtain effect work: gloved hands holding the puppet directly as perfectly acceptable.
From this little video and images, it’s clear that the magic trick of a light curtain is much harder to explain in text, without requiring some knowledge of physics and optometry. However, you don’t have to understand how it works to use it. For a more detailed explanation of how to create your own light curtain, read this.
There are several things required to make this particular type of staging work effectively. As with blacklight, the puppeteers must be dressed head to toe in black clothing. And just like blacklight, the light curtain effect is used extremely well for presenting unusual or abstract scenes, along with ‘realistic’ things like underwater scenes or flying.
Generally speaking table-top puppetry or rod puppetry is used in combination with a light curtain; however, really any puppet type can work so long as you are able to hide yourself well. Because of the use of lighting equipment for this technique, it is limited to indoor performances and those with a reasonable budget; and often those who tour are required to provide their own ‘blacking’ (ie. curtains, etc.) to cover any windows or doorways.
Australians may want to buy locally. Where? I explain here.