27 January 2007

Tadam: reinventing the puppet theatre experience

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Puppet theatre is a triple craft. It is about the crafting of the puppets and the set. It is about the skill of operating the string-suspended marionettes in a convincing and lifelike way. And it is about theatre, which means storytelling and continuous engaging interaction with the audience. It is, in short, about the making of magic.

A few months back I was a jury member of the EUROPRIX Top Talent Award, a contest for the best in European multimedia from young producers, and was delighted to see the puppet theatre reinvented in Tadam, an entry by students of Gobelins, a Paris school of visual communication.

The young team responsible for Tadam (a French onomatopoeia used to express an excited announcement) have deeply understood the fascination of this magic and the three essential aspects it implies, and created an interactive and computer-supported experience that brings delightful freshness to the old art.

The joy of crafting is present in just about everything the project contains: from the soldering of the theatre frame out of metal tubes, to the knitting of the red and gold theatre curtains, from the careful computer rendering of the puppet faces (based on the actual faces of the project members) to the hand-sown clothes of the digital marionettes, from the intricacies of computer coding to the hand-drawn storyboards, and from the electronics-in-a-wooden-box prototypes to the sweet toy instrument music.

The marionettes are digital and only exist on a projected screen. Yet, they are operated like any other marionette: a skilled puppeteer holds a wooden cross that manipulates their arm, leg and head movements, and brings thrilling life to the inanimate forms.

Finally, the direct interaction between the puppeteer and the digital marionette allows for a direct dynamic with the audience, which is essential to this type of storytelling.

As a bonus, the making-off video is a splendid presentation of the project, conveying very well the pleasure the young team felt while working on their challenge.

Technical description

Tadam is a multimedia puppet show which brings computer animations to life and stages the animation film in a traditional theatre. Users initially build up a plot scene by scene through the director module and can select different well-designed graphic environments and themes. The show can be pre-cut in several parts. Using software similar to moviemaker, static sequences (e.g. transition, fade or text) or sound effects can be added, edited and saved. The puppeteers are free to manipulate 3D marionettes in real time by interacting with a wooden cross lever which is equipped with movement sensors. The puppet’s mouth can even be animated by speaking through a microphone. Once the show is performed, it can be burned on DVD. Tadam is hand-crafted and fully customisable for beginners or professionals.

Tadam, which was rightfully selected as a Europrix Top Talent Award 2006 winner in the category “Digital Video & Animations”, has a project website in French only. The Medias section also contains a shorter presentation video (which is however not as good as the “making-of” one, due to poor music and voice choices).

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