Welcome to the DummyStore.net blog, chronicling the adventures (and misadventures) of building professional ventriloquist dummies.
It features tips, tricks and utter failures. Please feel free to submit comments, critiques and helpful suggestions.
A solution has been found. I put the problem to my wife (who's quite clever), and she came up with this idea. It's a cardboard box with two arm holes cut into it and covered by a piece of plexiglass.
Y'see, I don't build my vent figures in a typical garage workshop. I build them in a spare upstairs bedroom. I was procrastinating sanding my latest l'il dude because of the mess. To prevent dust from getting all over everything (as has been the case), I tried out this workaround to keep those pesky particles in their place.
Well, I'm happy to report the invention worked great.
I've noticed a debate on WORLDVENTS as to which has provided more exposure and value to ventriloquism... the Letterman appearances, the Jeff Dunham Comedy Central shows and DVD sales, the Jay Johnson Broadway show and on and on...
In no way does this comment mean to detract from the power and influence of any of those milestones. But when you add up all of the audiences for all of the shows ventriloquists do at hospitals, schools, churches, community theaters and dozens of other so-called 'minor' venues everyday, the impact on the art and appreciation of ventriloquism is substantial. We may labor in relative obscurity, but the combined affect we ventriloquists have is also powerful.
My hand-building experiment is not going very well. Not the fault of the fine instructions from Al Stevens, but rather my own lack of (fill in the blank... artistry...experience...competence...knowledge of anatomy). I'm too embarrassed to show a photo, but I promise to post one no matter how bad the outcome.
Meanwhile, I'm happy to report that "Professor Jeebers" has found a good home... in Belgium. I shipped my first Worldwide package yesterday. It wasn't as difficult as I had feared. My next figure is only days away from introduction. He's undergoing wig-fitting and eyebrow painting. (Sounds like I have beauty salon for dummies).
I am moving ever so slowly toward creating my own figures from scratch. Not because I think there's anything wrong with "recycling" Charlies, but because I'll have even more creative license. Toward that end, I stumbled upon Al Stevens' online instructions on how to make a hand from scratch.
The first step is to cut a wire frame from a coat hanger and use styrofoam (or foam pipe wrap in my case) and masking tape to create an armature. Al uses wood dough, but I will try MagicSculpt for the surface sculpting. Success or failure, I'll post the result.
I shot lots of photos of my Coast Guard rescue adventure yesterday. The Coast Guard Auxilary and the Coast Guard helicopter/rescue swimmers participated in a training exercise. My wife Joyce and I were invited to board the "Miss Linda", a 76-ft former fishing vessel, now used as a target vessel for raising and lowering rescue baskets and Coast Guard rescue swimmers. The engine noise and rotor wash was overpwering as the helicopter (a big sucker) hovered just a few feet overhead. It really got your blood pumping!
What about ventriloquism? It was so cold, no one's lips moved when they talked. P.S. Oh yeah, that's my wife Joyce steering the boat (photo op only).
The Ebay auction for Professor Jeebers closes tomorrow. I'm just about finished with another figure, who'll likely be introduced sometime next week. And then there's this feller. He's probably a few weeks from completion.
I would usually spend my Saturday working on him, but I have an outdoor adventure scheduled for today. My wife Joyce and I have been invited to board a 72-foot Coast Guard rescue vessel and observe a rescue exercise (with helicopter). When Joyce accepted the invitation yesterday, I was a little nervous about it having just seen "The Guardian", a Kevin Costner film about Coast Guard Rescue teams. I live on the Oregon coast and the weather was stormy yesterday. However, the weather is partly sunny and calm today, so I'm a bit more relaxed. I'm taking my camera. If I get a some cool photos, I'll post a few here.
I loved Jim Barber & Seville on Letterman. From the imaginative and complex "Figaro" performance with Jim Barber as "the dummy", to the elegantly simple bare hand puppet ("I'm a nudist"), Jim Barber was brilliant. I hope we eventually get a Ventriloquists Week 3 sometime in the near future.... maybe a "Best of...". Jim Barber would certainly make the cut.
I watched Otto & George's performance on Letterman. Pretty distasteful, I thought. And as it did others, it bothered me that he twirled the dummy around so haphazardly showing the cavity in the back. It's hard to describe why it bothers me, but he seems to be disdainful of the art. Otto's schtick is showing disrespect to decorum and ventriloquist traditions for the sake of cheap laughs.
"Shock" entertainers are more common, so it shouldn't be a surprise that sooner or later we'd have a "shock" ventriloquist.
I haven't seen the Letterman performance yet. I'll watch it this evening (Tivo, y'know). However, I did watch Otto & George's YouTube video. (That's one ugly dummy). The jokes were not my cup of tea, but Otto & George are obviously crowd-pleasers when using the X-rated material.
There was a lot of criticism written about lip movement. Yeah, there was plenty of it. Apart from the style and content, the lip movement didn't really bother me, just as Edgar Bergen's lip movement doesn't bother me. (Actually, as a kid it bothered me, but for some reason as an adult, it doesn't). I'm not advocating that vents should flap their lips, but I don't think it's the overriding measurement of a vent performer's effectiveness. I think strength of character development in the figure is more important. And is the show truly entertaining?
Personally, I pride myself in my ability to speak without lip movement. But undoubtedly there are better performers out there whose lips move more than mine.
I enjoyed Kevin Johnson's Monday night performance on Late Night with David Letterman. His bird puppets are great, but that dubbed movie effect he does is absolutely mystifying. I've tried to duplicate it, but the wiring in my brain immediately begins to misfire in all directions. I can only imagine the hours in front of a mirror it took for Kevin to master that effect.
I tried to do another of his effects, a "delay" effect where he mouths a sentence silently, and then the sound emerges (of course without his lips moving). Again, I tried to do it in the mirror. After about 10 minutes of my grey matter short circuiting, I actually did it... once. And it totally freaked me out. I even did a double-take!
One other thing... I think the Letterman show initially thought up "Ventriloquists Week" as another one of those weird humor stunts. In fact, one of Letterman's recent jokes was "Anything worth doing is worth doing right... except ventriloquism". But I sense Dave is actually quite impressed by this line-up of gifted performers.
I mentioned that Mike Brose makes the Bright Blue eyes sported by Professor Jeebers. I should also give credit to Buzz James of Braylu for making the wood bodies and control posts I use. Both suppliers have been more than generous with their advice. My thanks to both of them.
Here's my latest completed vent figure. I'll call him "Professor Jeebers". He has side-to-side self-centering eyes (Bright Blue) made by Mike Brose. The Professor also can raise his eyebrows in amazement when he finds out he's always wrong about everything. Of course, his mouth moves so he can utter polysylabic babble when pontificating.
Late Night with David Letterman will feature a second Ventriloquists Week next week. One of the most amazing vents I've ever seen, Kevin Johnson, will be one of the featured guests on Monday night, February 12th. Here's the schedule:
Monday 2/12 Kevin Johnson with Clyde & Matilda
Tuesday 2/13 Dan Horn with Orson
Wednesday 2/14 Otto Petersen with George
Thursday 2/15 Jim Barber with Seville
Friday 2/16 Brad Cummings with Rex
Unfortunately, I can't stay up that late, so I'll be firing up the Tivo to catch their acts. Hey, I think ventriloquism is becoming cool!
Some vent builders design and build figures that attempt to resemble real humans. Some even cover the slits on the sides of the jaw. As for me, I like figures that are more like charicatures. I enjoy figures that flaunt their puppet-selves. Nothing too garish, but I like faces that are slightly odd and imperfect with a hint of comic personality. I'm also attracted to figures that seem to be in a constant state of subtle surprise. Faces that are slightly different and uneven on one side versus the other are more interesting and expressive. I prefer three-dimensional cartoon characters.
When I get to this stage, I get so excited about the dummy I'm making I can't sleep. I just keep thinking about him. When the vent figure gets mounted on the control post, I can see the finish line.
Today, I went shopping for this character and the other two I have under construction. The fella pictured will likely be dubbed "Professor Jeebers". He'll wear plaid slacks, a vest, white shirt and bow tie.
One more coat of paint on his neck and control post and he'll be ready for final cord attachments. Then comes the wig, eyebrow painting, facial highlights and applying the eyelashes. I'll assemble his body this weekend.