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Kaile Lucas: Bringing Inanimate Objects to Life

Updated: Apr 12, 2019

How do you make a show that tracks the entire life of one man - without the help of Hollywood CGI – Puppets!

Puppet Designer, Kaile Lucas, tells us a little bit behind one of our secret ingredients to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button…

In the Bellows is a puppetry company based in Brighton. We make and tour our own work as well as direct, design and build puppets for other companies. The two artistic directors are both from Cornwall so this project has been and continues to be a nice reminder of home! We got our name from our first project which was a miniature puppet show that took place inside a working accordion - hence - In the Bellows. The person answering these questions and building the puppets is me Kaile, hello!

I am making a total of three puppets for the production. Two children - a toddler and an 8-10 year old, and a life-size old man.

The story has been transported to be set in a fishing harbour in Cornwall so I have endeavoured to use materials that one might find in and around a Cornish harbour. As well as being from the ocean and fishing industry the materials used on each puppet should represent the time that they are from. For example, the chest of the old man (in 1918) is made from a wicker lobster pot, his head and arms are driftwood and his torso is hemp rope. I even went so far as to learn how to whip the ends of rope with string and chord! The two younger puppets are from a more modern era and so are made and decorated using things like waste plastic, plywood and blue polypropylene rope.

The first difficulty we faced was the sheer size of the old man puppet! Being life size and intended to be operated by three puppeteers it was certainly a bit of a handful! And then, I encountered a steep learning curve having to work with plastic. Polyethylene (the sort of plastic bottles are made from) is notoriously hard to bond so finding ways around that has been a big challenge. Also, because the puppets are all made from quite unusual materials, finding the right level of abstraction in the design has been an enjoyable and creative challenge!

Puppetry can bring any inanimate object to life, give it character and make us care about it. I hope that the audiences of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button won't realise there are puppets until they start moving, and then I hope that they quickly forget that they are puppets.

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