Hoarder Crab Digital Puppet

Building a Do-It-Yourself computer puppetry program

2013 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?

The IRC worked to realize this concept, designing and programming an app for the iPad that allows 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 generates 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.

T”Kendra” has performed in theaters, classrooms, and festivals — most notably at the outdoor production of Kendra’s Bay at the 2016 Light City Baltimore international arts festival.