Digital Puppet of President Bush / "The Digital Dubya"

Kevin “KAL” Kallaugher is the international award winning editorial cartoonist for The Economist and The Baltimore Sun. He wants to ensure that editorial cartooning remains an influential form of political commentary at a time when newspaper circulation is falling, and when eyeballs are increasingly glued to the screens of televisions and computers. His idea was to create fully formed three-dimensional caricatures in the spirit and to the standard of Thomas Nast and Honoré Daumier that would not only be able to walk and talk but also to converse with the public in real time. Specifically, KAL conceived of a virtual puppet that could be instantly manipulated for satiric effect. George W. Bush was chosen for this pilot project.

KAL, as Artist-in-Residence in the IRC, worked with IRC staff and students on creating the 3-D real time virtual caricature. The completed figure of George W. Bush can be animated daily in reaction to current news, and it can conduct “live” interviews with the press.

The puppet was unveiled in 2006 at The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, as a major feature of the exhibition “Mightier than the Sword: The Satirical Pen of KAL,” a comprehensive overview of his work. Visitors to the press opening of the exhibition viewed a live performance between KAL and the 3-D virtual caricature bust of Bush. This performance marked a dramatic new development in the art of editorial cartooning.

Digital Puppet of President Bush from ircumbc on Vimeo.

A 4 minute animation of the caricature holding a press conference announcing a new U.S. initiative, “Operation Poison Ivy”, was produced for the Economist magazine’s website.

Residency Progress

The first step toward creating the 3D model was cartooning. KAL drew a large number of sketches and experimented with different facial expressions on which the model would be based. From there, KAL cut the image of the bust from foam and then covered the foam model with clay to form the features. The model was then sent to Direct Dimensions, a 3D laser scanning facility. After the compact curve model was refined from the scanner, it was ready for motion. Texturing, rigging, and controlling the model led to a real time simulated image. The final result enabled 1-4 puppeteers to manipulate the virtual 3D model with hand-held controllers.

KAL also worked with the IRC on

Production Notes

Artist-in-Residence: Kevin “KAL” Kallaugher
Project Director: Dan Bailey
Lead Modeler and Animation: Eric Smallwood
Real-time Programming and Interface: Shane Lynch
Computer Interface Design: Chad Eby
Additional Programming: Katie Chrzanowski
IRC Intern for Modeling: Brian Tootle, Sean Wicks
3D Laser Scanning: Direct Dimensions
Puppeteers: Kal, Eric Smallwood, Ryan Zuber
Video Editing and Sound: Lee Boot
Real-Time Performance: The Walters Art Museum,
Curator: Will Noel
Economist Website:
KAL's Website:
This IRC interdisciplinary collaboration is being supported in part by funds from the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.