Puppets, 3D Printing and Pop! – bringing Beep to life
Beep and her friends have come a long way since their premiere Adelaide season in 2017.
After a new paint job for Beep, a fur coat for Mort and a nine-week tour of mainland China, 2019 sees the gang making a few stops across Australia, before a 12-week tour of the US and Canada in early 2020.
Like Grug and Grug and the Rainbow before it, puppeteering is at the heart of Beep, and a lot of behind the scenes work goes into creating the characters and bringing them to life.
“Most of Beep’s externals were 3D printed… to get the manufactured, clean lines the design brief called for.”
Marshall Tearle, Beep Puppet Maker
Tamara Rewse, the magician behind all the Grug puppets, was brought onto the project early to help bring Beep and Mort to life.
“It always begins with drawings and I try to stay as true to the drawings as I possibly can,” Rewse said.
“I really try to nut this all out and think about the physics of things…I love the challenge of trying to make the puppets do as much as possible while retaining the exact look required.”
From the concept drawing right through to the first performance, Rewse was hands on throughout the entire process, also training the performers in how to operate the puppets.
“The process for the development meant I could do some puppet direction and tweak some things in the breaks.”
An extra challenge on top of it all was to incorporate technical elements into the Beep puppet.
Technical Designer Chris Petridis worked together with Rewse in the rehearsal room to bring Beep alive with lights and special effects.
“Jonathon Oxlade’s design and concept images were very evocative and clear which made it very easy,” Petridis said.
“I spent a lot of time in rehearsal jamming with her eyes and power bar.
“We used a series of colour changing LEDs to convey emotion [and] an array of small 8×8 mini-LEDs which allowed us to make different shapes with Beep’s eyes.
“There are actually four times as many lights inside Beep than there are in the rest of the show!”
After the show’s first season, the Beep puppet was found to be quite heavy and in need of some upgrades.
At that point, Marshall Tearle was brought on board to make Beep 2.0 – by 3D printing her.
“Most of Beep’s externals were 3D printed…to get the manufactured, clean lines the design brief called for,” Tearle said.
“The strength of the 3D print itself is suitable for most applications, but to give the body more strength, it was printed in four sections, assembled, moulded then reproduced in durable fibreglass.”
Given all her additional technical aspects, there were added challenges to Beep’s recreation.
“A number of parts had to be machined in aluminium in order to mechanically withstand repetitive movement during shows.
“I also made sure during the modelling of Beep, there were separation points hidden between parts that would allow Beep to be opened for access to electronics.”
Bringing the puppets to life on stage was the last step in the process.
For original cast members Antoine Jelk (Pop) and Kialea-Nadine Williams (Beep), it completely flipped the characterisation process on its head.
Instead of starting where they normally would with character movement, it was the voice and emotion that was created first.
“In playing with [Pop’s] voice and starting to adapt to the new skills of puppeteering, a sense of physicality started to emerge,” Jelk said.
“It is almost entirely different to acting because rather than using your own body and voice, the puppet becomes the medium through which you tell the story.”
“I’m usually performing as a dancer expressing through my body, so it was a challenge to express through a wee puppet.”
When you add lights, a smoke machine and special effects as well as narrating the story, it can be quite a task for the puppeteers to bring this show to life.
“It’s an interesting balance! I narrate the story of the characters and as soon as Beep enters, I transform into her language, her behaviour and her lovely little personality,” Williams said.
“It’s been an amazing journey.”
Beep is back in Adelaide for a sold-out season at the DreamBIG Children’s Festival in May 2019. After that she flies off to the Arts Centre Melbourne for a week in July, followed by the Sydney Opera House.