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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » The little darlings » » Animatronic Puppets are Cheating - Official. (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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Tony James
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I have always believed that the videos I have seen of animatronic puppets have been pretty poor and anything but believable. I couldn't understand people on here becoming so excited about them.

An animatronic may be a clever - and expensive - bit of kit but it doesn't sound good, doesn't move well and frankly isn't convincing.

Well, in the UK animatronic puppets have been declared to be fake, [b]cheating and the act was told to turn off the batteries and leave the stage.

And the audience agreed. I could rather have predicted that.

Couldn't you?

Take a look if you like:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lc6MF-wOk_Y
.
Tony James

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stempleton
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While I believe this is a fantastic product, I would never use them to peddle my skills as a ventriloquist. I agree with the judges on this one, but employed into a routine in which I were not depending on this prop to deceive the audience of my ventriloquism skills, I think it would make a wonderful addition. Definitely unethical in a competititve situation.
Tony James
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buskerscafe

Well, here's another one. Be warned. It's dire. I've never been able to watch it right through at one sitting. The performer is no slouch. As someone said to me, no doubt the performer will improve in time but monkey isn't going to get much better.

The problem is the unnatural, repetitive, mechanical movements. It simply repeats and repeats till it quickly becomes predictable. In the 1950s the hysterically laughing clown at Blackpool Pleasure Beach was as good as the monkey and the clown was driven by electro-magnetic switchgear. Nothing sophisticated!

I daresay a parrot in a cage on stage in a theatre play might be useful for dressing. It only needs to make the occasional shuffle and perhaps a squawk as someone talks to it in passing but trying to run an act with it, well - you've seen what the monkey can do.

Frankly, I'd hate to see what a British club audience would do to an act that was so foolish as to attempt the monkey act, let alone the parrot.

They'd be throwing bottles!
Tony James

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stempleton
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I've got a dog that barks "Jingle Bells," I only paid $2.99 at WalMart two years ago. I think I've got a new routine! Thanks, Tony! Smile
keeblem
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Quote:
On 2009-05-10 14:35, Tony James wrote:
Well, here's another one. Be warned. It's dire.


I believe Lou is a member here. Before you call someone's act dire - I think you should post some footage of your act.

Mark
Tony James
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Mark -

The word dire can be applied to anything. A meal can be dire and I've sent food back as a consequence. I don't have stand and cook a meal myself to be able to judge whether a dish is good bad or indifferent.

Those who know the performer are aware that he is good - and I said so. But that act was dire. He will improve but the monkey is what you see and what you get.

And as you are in the UK you know very well that in some clubs they show acts like that the door with bottles flying after them.

Before the smoking ban it was big heavy glass ashtrays. Have you ever had one slung straight at you? I have so I speak from hard experience.
Tony James

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electric.ceu
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The worst thing about the video is the very poor quality of the audio. Even so I'm sure I heard children laughing. I think I would would rather see the act live to judge for myself.
Timothy James
Bumble
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I can tell you from experiences that the Toucan goes down a treat in the right situations.
Louis' act was'nt given long enough for the principal of what he was doing to be understood.
If given the proper chance this would have been a good variety act the likes of which is something we are lacking on our tv screens.
The interaction that we get with these figures is highly amusing and entertaining.
These figures are not meant to be ventriloquism;more like an interacting double act.
Tony James
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Now then Mr Bumble I'm sure you are correct about a Toucan going down well in the right situations. I simply can't bring to mind what the right situations could possibly be.

Personally I'm very glad that we are protected from seeing "variety act the likes of which is something we are lacking on our tv screens".

Acts like that give puppetry a bad name. The panel were merciful, saving the performer from himself. He would have been murdered in any British club. Children would have thrown broken bricks at him.

He was worse than dire. He was diabolically bad. This puppet bird tottering on an upturned brush sounded like one of those over amplified and distorted railway station announcements.

Sorry Mr Bumble. Perhaps American audiences are far less demanding than British audiences.
Tony James

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stempleton
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Quote:
On 2009-05-10 18:36, Bumble wrote:
I can tell you from experiences that the Toucan goes down a treat in the right situations.
Louis' act was'nt given long enough for the principal of what he was doing to be understood.
If given the proper chance this would have been a good variety act the likes of which is something we are lacking on our tv screens.
The interaction that we get with these figures is highly amusing and entertaining.
These figures are not meant to be ventriloquism;more like an interacting double act.


I agree that, in proper context, this would have been a great act. I understand what you are saying about "variety acts." I miss the old Ed Sullivan-type family variety acts, and I believe they can be revived, if someone takes a chance (but "reality" shows seem to be much cheaper to produce, I guess.) I think this performer ran into trouble by entering a talent competition, then mixing his talent (ventriloquism) with mechanics, which the judges deemed a "cop out." I do see this as a viable act, however, in the right place.
Matthew W
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Does it matter if you are cheating or not. The first video, he was performing for the wrong audience. You can only blame the performer for that.

The animatronic puppets are made for family and kid audiences. There is a video of Steve Axtell using the bird puppet for a family audience and everyone loved it.
-Matt
Bumble
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Mr James for your information I am from the UK.I am sorry to say that if you cannot understand what situations an animatronic character would go down well then I can only assume that your act (presuming you are a performer)could be lacking in creativity.If you had been at the recent Blackpool convention and seen and heard the positive comments from a heck of a lot of people who saw these items on the Axtell stand then your opinion would be different.Last weekend I had my Toucan at a garden centre in Stoke on Trent and the amount of people that enjoyed what we did and commented as to how much they enjoyed what I did was very satisfying.Or if you had seen the act that Steve Axtell did at the recent South Tyneside convention then you would see some 'situations'.
MagicSanta
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This shouldn't be a question which becomes a Pro Axtell vs Other Opinion. First off Axtell produces and absolutely beautiful product. His puppets are creative, look great, function well, he is an amazingly talented man. He has shown great artistry in his creation of the animatronic puppets and I think they are wonderful products for those that are not capable of producing artistry with puppets. So the question isn't if Axtell puppets are great, they are, but the simple fact is some of the most successful puppeteers have done so with very simple puppets. So keep Axtell out of the picture, if you want to purchase an animatronic puppet god bless you and go forth and do so.

The question is, I believe, is if there is something lacking with animatronic puppets in general and the answer is yes. I started in puppets over 30 years ago and they are really entertaining when done well. This guy going on TV with an animatron in this day and age, when the science isn't impressive anymore, is taking the easy road and the art loses out. The man may be talented as all heck but he made a mistake. It isn't because it is a puppet, look at how well that guy did with the monkey puppet a couple years ago. I view the thing like I view vases that are molded rather than tossed, there is something missing. It is like someone going on stage and saying they are an impressionist and they play tapes of actual celebrities talking while the 'impressionist' lip syncs, it just doesn't take the same level of talent to do actual impressions but I'm sure some would say "do you realize how hard it is to move your lips while the tape plays? People love it!".

Puppets should be manipulated by people completely and given voice by those people not just pushing a button and letting mechanics do the work.
Futureal
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If I'd spent thousands on one of these silly contraptions I'd be telling everyone (and myself) how good they were too.

The word "dire" was used previously, I agree with it completely.
muzicman
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The animated puppets are an amazing tool to entertain with. If you are going to judge based on what you have shown us then you are missing the point.

Lou had just received his chimp and didn't even know how to fully operate it when that was shot. The video was shot to share his first performance with it. The hand positions were not set right.

The first one was unfortunate that he didn't use a better sound source and have better material. He set himself up for failure by saying he was a "Ventriliquist".
He should have just said he was an entertainer. His use of the puppet was not very strong and he was booted from the stage. NOT because he had a animated puppet, but because his act with the puppet was less than entertaining.

Don't use an animated puppet if you don't want one. But to say that everyone that has one is a fake and audiences don't like them is absurd. The devices are new to their owners and they do take skill to program. The puppets are limited due to the passing of it's creator.

There is an entertainer is Southern California that has had a successful show for years and a local celebrity that uses an animated toucan. His name is Kevin Barnes and his Toucan is Socretes. His costs closer to $50k USD. It has made him over a million dollars. I'm sure he could have made a million without Socretes. In you opinion, probably more.
Gerry Walkowski
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Last summer I was at a festival and saw a puppet show whereby the entire act was on a tape player of some sort. The whole thing was very lethargic and uninspiriting.

On another occasion I saw the same type of thing with a different puppet show while I was doing my magic act. At this particular event they had a power failure and the performer had to stop her act because it was recorded and dependent upon electricity. She really felt kind of stupid trying to explain to her audience why she couldn't continue with her show.
Red Shadow
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On the Britain's Got Talent act, I believe he wasn't given a chance to get into his main routine, and for that we will never know what the Animatronic portion of the act could be like. However, that was his fault for starting off insulting the Judges and quite frankly doing very boring vent. Perhaps a stronger script, and not making fun of Pierce would have been better for him.

As for animatronic puppets, You can buy the Squawkers McCaw Robot Parrot, for £39.99 from most Gadget shops and eBay. That is a fully Animatronic puppet, with built in speech synthesizer. It does everything the axtell puppets can, and more, for one tenth of the price. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mqIKeUXRh-8

But I will still not buy any Animatronic puppet for these reasons:

1) Kids like to hug, kick, hit the puppets. Normal puppets can handle this, Animatronic would crush under the pressure. Some do it on purpose, but others do it defensively to protect themselves from the scary animal coming at them.

2) If you leave the puppet alone, the kids will be inclined to push it over. There not trying to be mean, its just the way they work. This would break the puppet.

3) If you leave the puppet alone, and it starts talking suddenly to the children, you are going to scare them senseless. They will go into frightened mode and you will lose them for the rest of your show. You will lose any trust you had with them and they will not join in any games later on.
The parents will see you as this evil person and you will lose referral and repeat work, because you scared the child and didn't entertain them.

4) Batteries die. I hate any electronic device that takes batteries as they always die when you need them to work the most.

5) They move like a robot. Children might be convinced, but unless you address the situation, like putting a terminator eye on it, or doing a science based show - this could be an issue with older children, who will shout it out and ruin the pace of the show.

6) They cost a fortune. Sorry, but they do. Squawkers is a great, cheap alternative. But when they cost so much more, what can they really do that a bit of practice could do for free.

7) It's cheating. I didn't care about this to begin with, but after it was announced to the world on national TV, it will now be drilled into everybody's heads around the country and therefore, it has ruined the effect for everyone else.

8) Some of them require two people to operate. One on stage, and one with the remote off-stage. I work alone, and so they are utterly useless to me.


The book and drawing board have possibilities, but only in a controlled environment, with a well scripted routine. But I believe that the opportunity to utilise one of these puppets is slim, and not worth the investment in purchasing it, due to the lack of opportunity to perform with it safely.
kimmo
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I spoke to Louis on the phone about his appearance on Britain's got Talent. Performing with the animatronic Toucan was not his first choice and he was pushed into it by the producers of the programme. I firmly believe that if he'd gone with his instincts and performed his vent mask routine, he would have done very well.

Audiences are very familiar with animatronics and don't find them particularly impressive any more. Go to Disney World and even the rubbish bins are walking around and interacting with the crowd. Animatronic birds have been there since the fifties and the pirates have been buckling their swashes in front of increasingly jaded tourists for decades. I bought a talking dog for my step-daughter last christmas that looks so alive it's incredible!

The remarkable thing that Steve Axtell's team has done is that it has brought this technology within the reach of us kids performers and a lot of us have gone crazy about the idea of owning one of these creations without giving any thought to how they should be best used. There is a video clip of Louis using his Toucan as a 'greeter' for a local zoo. He works as an unseen operator and interacts with guests while controlling the bird 'live'. It's a great clip. I think being able to offer smaller enterprises like Louis's zoo a chance to have an animatronic greeter during busy periods is fantastic and it's this kind of job where these puppets really come into their own. Employed in this manner, they'll pay for themselves pretty quickly too.

Using one as part of a show is another matter entirely - this is going to take a LOT of work, heaps of creative thought and a lot of TALENT to make it entertaining - I'd venture to say even more so than with a regular puppet because the range of movement is more limited and it will take a lot of careful thought and planning to work around that. Anyone who has bought one believing that the fact they are animatronic will be enough to impress a modern audience is going to be bitterly disappointed.

Returning to Louis Taylor from Tony's original clip - he's a good performer who got stitched up by a TV programme. His mistake was in taking the Toucan with him when his instincts told him it was the wrong routine for the job.

I've got to add that he also got further in the competition than me. I entered two years ago and was rejected in the first round when I refused to say what they wanted me to say during my interview!
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muzicman
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Kimmo, as a spectator, I was disappointed that the sound quality of his Toucan was distracting. His entrance was mediocre and his opening dialogue appeared patronizing.

When you are introduced on a large stage with a tv audience, you have to come out strong. The Toucan should have taken a sidekick role and let the performer let his personality shine.

I would think that any act would fail that came out saying "Look, there's Pierse". It's too bad we didn't get to see what he had prepared as his main act. Our loss.

ku7uk3, the Squawkers is a great animatronic "toy" but it doesn't do well on stage. I have one and it does magic using just voice commands. The problem is, he easily is overcome by noise. For this, I just use him for promo's and small living room gatherings. He is only capable of repeating back 6 words or phrases less than 6 seconds long. His movements are totally random but fairly lifelike. I was holding mine like a real bird on 2 fingers and petting it. A minivan with a mom and 3 kids drove by and saw this. They turned around and drove back and asked me if it was a real bird. My Squawkers is nothing like my Toucan.

Buster can sing entire songs and perfom skits. The Axtell animated puppets can be used 3 different ways.

1.)Completely preprogrammed, voice, music, sound effects and movements and played back with 1 button. Axtell owners have educational shows that this is very useful for. A dentist office bought one to teach kids about dental higiene.

2.) Remote controlled. As a hidden operator, Axtell owners are getting trade show gigs that would otherwise not consider a magician or puppeteer. Some of these pay for the puppets in 1-2 gigs.

3.) As a vent puppet! Yup, instead of using a traditional vent puppet or doll, you can stand away from the character and press a small FOB to open and close the mouth and control the head. The art of vent takes a new perspective when the vent artist is not even touching the character.

Again, it's not something for everyone. Like Kimmo said. It still takes talent to program and operate these things to make them entertaining. Are they entertaining? My audiences love Buster. I have even stopped at my local Starbucks and had him order for me. A local news crew spotted us one day and wants us on their morning program. The happy "Bird-Day" skit that Steve wrote for it is fun and easy to learn and perform. It gets me higher fees and even though I just got mine in December, it's already paid for itself and it's still like new.

I'm glad everyone doesn't like them, but to say they are cheating then if your claim is ventriloqism and it's not, then you're right. However, BGT is not the authority on entertainment and anything they say is far from official.
ColinDymond
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If I could afford one, I'd have the toucan or the book. If it were the toucan I'd have a normal one as well so you could start the way Steve did with it on his arm, then move it onto the stand and use it as a third character in the act.
Vents and magicians are always going to have a hard time on Britains got talent so you have to start very strong. Have you seen the clip of Terry Fator in his first round appearance, David Hasslelhoff says "oh it's a ventriloquist" but then gets blown away by the talent!
Unfortunately this will be Louis' bigest audience and it didn't show him at anywhere near his best.
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