Artisans Stories

In Conversation With Artisan and Founder of Puppets Magic, Daniel Byrne | Artisans Stories

In Conversation With Artisan and Founder of Puppets Magic, Daniel Byrne | Artisans Stories

The chances are you have already seen Daniel’s work before, but you probably didn’t realise it. From a Marmite advert for Gen Z, to Snoop Dogg (his dog counterpart) on the Christmas Just Eat campaign, the charming and quirky characters brought to life in Daniel’s studio, Puppets Magic, are everywhere.

But how do you end up creating puppets for a living, and puppets for some of the most renowned brands in the world?

Daniel attended the prestigious Central Saint Martins and also Goldsmiths in London, receiving both a traditional fine art education and a contemporary and conceptual one. Despite this formal art training, it was puppetry that continued to capture Daniel’s imagination.

“As a child my parents would take me to the local market to buy fabric, which I would take home to cut up on the floor whilst watching puppetry on the television, in an effort to assemble some form of usable puppet. This was back in the days when YouTube didn’t exist and there were no internet tutorials to go from, so you had to figure it out yourself. 

“But what I love is that sense of discovery and freedom to play with materials when you’re young, something many of us lose as an adult. Most of the skills I have now are a combination of many years of experimentation and of course, the formal sculpting and making processes whilst at art school.”

Ancient Craft Meets AI

These formal sculpture techniques are still a huge part of the process, however Daniel is open minded about how technology can be used to push parts of the craft forward.

“We always look to embrace modern technologies where we think it feels right, such as digital sculpting or 3D printing which we sometimes use for small parts or mechanical items.”

“Puppetry is an ancient art form, being traced back in one form or another to 4000 years ago and it is still going strong, albeit with a vast range of materials and media to choose from these days. I’m looking forward to continuing to provide a very small contribution to puppetry’s ongoing story and fascinated to see how it will navigate through the ongoing advancements in tech, such as AI generated imagery and 3D printing capabilities.”

The Puppet Making Process

Despite these small technological adaptions to the process, puppet making is still an accumulation of many specialist handcrafting skills, including sewing and sculpture, with a team of specialist craftspeople involved in taking a sketch to completion as a fully functioning puppet.

“I think in an age of mass-produced products of which you can have delivered to your door the next day (and this probably applies to most crafts) people are often intrigued by the handmade nature of our work - that it takes patience and time. With most hand puppets, the heads are sculpted in foam manually with hand tools and fabricated by hand stitching materials around them. 

“The mini costumes are tailor-made. With puppets, there’s also an awful lot of work that goes into the internal areas - the parts of the puppet the audience will never see, but are so important to make sure the puppet feels comfortable on the performer's hand and that it moves nicely.”

In The Studio

Behind the scenes in the Puppets Magic studio, the team works on multiple characters at once.

“Which is great” Daniel explains, “because it allows us to take a fresh look as we bounce between projects and we also get to work with different making processes depending on what type of puppet is being made.”

“For example, at one point you could be mould making and casting in latex, and next you would be sculpting foam”. 

“Naturally the studio is a creative environment and each day can be totally different. We work with such a wide range of projects and clients, all of which require varying skills and specialisms. All the team will contribute to a project mainly within their specialism, for instance we work with craftspeople from sculptors to costume makers. However, ideas are shared between us as we work together.”

Bridging Craft and Commercial

Bridging both the worlds of craft and the commercial (film and advertising), Daniel must balance time consuming processes with tight deadlines.

We often work on fast paced projects, which require working with demanding and changing expectations. In addition to having artistic making skills, you also need to be able to solve problems at the drop of a hat. For this reason, the hours can sometimes be long as well as working weekends. 

“But like any job, if you love it then it doesn’t feel like work and when we see the finished characters flourishing on TV or lit up on a billboard you know the effort was worth it.”

So next time you see a puppet on a supermarket commercial, a life size bear on a beer advert or a talking monster on children’s TV, picture the team at Puppets Magic, sculpting, and then sewing each of these unique and quirky characters by hand. Craft really is everywhere - including on your TV!

Check out Puppets Magic's website to discover more of their fantastic projects.

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