Puppets exist essentially to evoke a character in a performance, whether that character is embodied in a human being, an animal, a spirit, an idea, a feeling or, possibly even a gesture.
Matter and form come together to create this character: tracing a sketch, sculpting wood, moulding plaster, twisting wire, sewing fabric, shaping foam, layering papier mâché, modelling fibreglass, cutting out paper, tooling leather, applying paint ... recycling a found object. There is an unquestionable connection between the making of a puppet and creation of the visual arts.
Next, this combination of matter and form needs movement: the essential pulse of life. Strings, rods, pulleys, joints and weights, the lightness of materials used, and a centre of gravity . . . a puppet's design and conception definitely call for some engineering. Whether the movements intended are simple or complex, construction must facilitate the manipulator in his or her task, which is to put expression into the puppet's movements. The engineering within the construction is rarely visible. Only the person animating the puppet can determine whether or not its design makes for easy and subtle manipulation.
A puppet's visual and technical qualities can, of course, only be appreciated in performance. In the theatre or on the sound stage, all the elements work together: movement, volume, colour and costume, facial expression - not forgetting lighting, music and vocal inflection. The puppet is truly an instrument destined for theatre.
But how can a puppet command such dramatic presence? How can this lifeless (despite all the artifices of animation) - and, in truth, quite rudimentary - object somehow move us? The puppet succeeds, it seems, not by pretending to re-create reality but, rather, by suggesting it, thus capturing its essence.