Hoarder Crab Digital Puppet

Building a Do-It-Yourself computer puppetry program:

Summer Faculty Research Fellows Professor Collette Searls of the Department of Theatre and independent animator Lynn Tomlinson approached the IRC with an intriguing challenge. They wanted to build a digital puppet and use it both for live performance and for making animated films with real-time character control (as opposed to traditional stop-frame animation, done manually, frame-by-frame).  The IRC had worked with Colette on digital puppetry before, and developed other digital puppet projects including KAL's Digital Puppet of President Bush. Artists are increasingly using digital puppetry, augmented reality, motion capture, and other hybrid technologies, in live performance and filmmaking. They are working with programmers to experiment with what is possible. But digital puppetry in particular still requires a great deal of programming expertise. Could the IRC develop a user-friendly digital puppetry program for visual and performing artists, an animated character whose movements could be performed by actors in real time, enabling them to interact spontaneously with other virtual characters, performers, and audiences using the touch-screen tablet interface on an iPad?

Over the last year, the IRC has worked to realize this concept, designing and programming an app for the iPad that will allow the tablet to function all-in-one as a touch-screen interface for controlling the puppet, a compositor for integrating the real-time animation into a scene to be presented on another monitor or projector, and the computer to run these functions. The app will generate a digital puppet of a "hoarder crab" that picks up debris from the bottom of the sea and carries it around on its back (this is an artistic interpretation of the real-life decorator crab), which performers and animators will use to tell a story with an environmental theme.

The project is currently in the programming phase; artwork for debris objects and aquatic backgrounds are being created and added to the crab puppet in the app. A fully functional version is expected to debut this summer, offering a program that is both accessible and aesthetically driven, so that artists and performers can easily use digital puppetry to create imaginative media.

Production Notes

Project Oversight: Lee Boot
Collaborators: Collette Searls and Lynn Tomlinson
Lead Programmer: Wallace Brown
Technical Oversight: Mark Jarzynski