Behold the Fantastical, Uncannily Lifelike Puppets of Barnaby Dixon

Barn­a­by Dixon’s incred­i­ble two-piece cre­ations rede­fine the notion of hand pup­pets, by mov­ing and respond­ing in high­ly nuanced, real­is­tic ways.

The pinkie and index fin­ger of one hand slip into the crea­ture’s arms, leav­ing the thumb free to oper­ate the tiny con­trols that tilt head and mouth move­ments.

The pinkie and index fin­ger of one hand slip into the creature’s legs, an attribute few hand pup­pets can claim.

A waist­line mag­net joins the pup­pet’s top half to its bot­tom.

His goal is for view­ers to “for­get the mech­a­nisms and for­get the process that’s gone into mak­ing it so they can just enjoy the motions.”

Each char­ac­ter has a unique set of motions and a cus­tom-designed plas­tic, sil­i­cone and met­al assem­bly, informed by many hours of anatom­i­cal obser­va­tion and study. Their struc­tures speak to Dixon’s ear­ly years as a stop motion ani­ma­tor, as do his fab­ri­ca­tion meth­ods.

His frus­tra­tion with the glacial pace of achiev­ing the end prod­uct in that realm spurred him to exper­i­ment with pup­pets who could be filmed mov­ing in real time.

His first pup­pet, Dab Chick, below, holds a spe­cial place in his heart, and is also one of his mouthi­est.

Dab Chick­’s tiny head cocks on spec­ta­cle hinges and a hand-wound spring wrapped in sil­i­cone. The mech­a­nism that opens and clos­es his beak is a minia­ture spin on bicy­cle hand brakes.

While many of Dixon’s recent pup­pets thrive in a Day-Glo, synth-heavy envi­ron­ment, Dab Chick is a crowd-pleas­ing cur­mud­geon, spout­ing opin­ions and repar­tee. He even plays drunk… a hard assign­ment for any per­former to pull off, but Dixon nails it.

Phil the fish is oper­at­ed with two rods. He per­forms best in water, appro­pri­ate­ly enough, high­light­ing his tal­ent for blow­ing bub­bles, as well as Dixon’s for using physics to his advan­tage.

Many pup­peteers match their breath­ing to that of their puppet’s in an effort to get into the zone. Dixon takes it to the next lev­el by stream­ing real time video of his mouth to a tiny screen embed­ded below the nose of the pup­pet he is oper­at­ing.

In addi­tion to cre­at­ing and direct­ing orig­i­nal work, he pup­peteered the True His­to­ry of Thra, The Dark Crys­tal: Age of Resis­tance’s play with­in a play and designed the origa­mi-inspired, ani­mal-shaped demon pup­pets for the Bridge The­atre pro­duc­tion of Book of Dust – La Belle Sauvage.

The Guardian laud­ed the lat­ter as “gor­geous,” a “mar­vel (that) seem like Jun­gian pro­jec­tions rather than airy, fan­tas­ti­cal crea­tures.”

Watch more of Barn­a­by Dixon’s pup­pet videos here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Hand Pup­pets That Bauhaus Artist Paul Klee Made for His Young Son

Meet Lit­tle Amal, the 12-Foot Pup­pet of a 10-Year-Old Syr­i­an Girl, Who Has Been Tour­ing the World

Hiroshige, Mas­ter of Japan­ese Wood­block Prints, Cre­ates a Guide to Mak­ing Shad­ow Pup­pets for Chil­dren (1842)

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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