Playing with paper puppets


In addition to teaching and making art and animated films, I like to make and sell articulated paper puppets for my Etsy shop. Think I just enjoy the straightforward, playful simplicity of puppets and paper dolls.

I recently made this short stop-motion video “commercial” to promote my shop — but, honestly, I just wanted to get some of these puppets under camera to see what I could do with them. Their range of motion is limited (most of the heads don’t move), but I was up for the challenge.

The music is just some royalty free loop I downloaded from Soundsnap.

Experiments with phonotropes

Sorry for the weird aspect ratio of the video. Shot on my smartphone. If you’d prefer a video that you can make full screen, try this. 

Hello, gentle readers. I’ve had a busy couple of months working on various art projects in my studio, so I felt that a blog update was long overdue. One of the projects that has kept me occupied lately is the creation of an animation device called a phonotrope.

What is a phonotrope, you might be wondering? It’s a contemporary update to a zoetrope, a 19th-century pre-cinema animation device consisting of a cylinder with vertical slits and a sequence of still images placed inside. When a zoetrope is spun rapidly, a viewer can peer through the slits to see the animation. These devices were very popular as toys and entertainment in the era prior to the advent of moving pictures on film.


The phonotrope works on a similar principle to the zoetrope, but replaces the cylinder and vertical slits with a record turntable, lights, and a video camera. A polar grid is designed with a certain number of frames, and a sequence of images is printed onto this grid. The grid is rotated on the turntable at a certain speed, with the animation made viewable when seen through a video camera set at a specific frame rate — the animation cannot be viewed with the naked eye. Other phonotropes have used a strobe light in lieu of the video camera to make the animations viewable, but I’ve found my images appear much crisper and clearer with the camera.

Now, your goal with the phonotrope is to first find the “correct” number of frames so that the image will appear relatively static or stationary when rotated on the turntable at a certain speed. Since I’m the least likeliest person to ever figure something out using math, there was a lot of trial and error with this part of the process. After a few trials, I discovered that I could stabilize an image at the 12-inch mark using 32 frames. If I had less than 32, then I would see the animation working but the image itself would drift forwards or backwards on the turntable. With 32 frames, your image area is quite small — 1.158″ wide, to be precise. This very small space created a design challenge, but I reasoned that my images could be as tall as I wanted if I oriented them vertically, hence the vertical rings of printed paper for my phonotrope.

Polar grid example

Polar grid I created in Adobe Illustrator.

Since the 8-inch diameter circle is closer to the axis of rotation (the centre of the grid), it rotates at a slightly faster rate than the images at the 12-inch diameter. Therefore, I required fewer frames (16 frames rather than 32) and each frame could be slightly larger (1.5″ wide). You’ll note that I had a circle marked out at the 6-inch mark. I had a third ring of paper planned (at 16 frames) but abandoned it for design reasons. Incidentally, images with high contrast definitely work best for this medium.

Phonotrope 16 frame scale small

The flattened out artwork for the 8-inch, 16 frame animation loops. The drawings were done by hand with pencil & paper, scanned, tweaked, and coloured in Photoshop.

Here are the specifications for my phonotrope:

  • Two rings of vertical paper, one 12-inch in diameter and the second 8-inch.
  • The 12″ circle has 32 frames.
  • The 8″ circle has 16 frames.
  • The phonotrope is rotated on the turntable at 45 rpm.
  • The smartphone video used to capture the animation is set at 12 fps.


May festival update 2019

Hi Darklings,

Quick update as to what’s happening in the world of all things papercut: Papercut Pictures and Papercut Puppets.

Firstly, my latest animated short Wunderkammer will screen May 11th at the Anifilm 2019 international animation festival in Třeboň, Czech Republic in the non-competitive programming block “Midnight Animation: Body”. This feels like a stylistic homecoming for this project, since it was inspired (in part) by Czech paper cutout animation, most notably the work of Jiří Trnka Studio in Prague (who created the feature-length cutout animation film Fantastic Planet).

In June, Wunderkammer screens on Thursday, June 6th at the granddaddy of North American underground film festivals, the Chicago Underground Film Festival.

Lastly, I continue to add to the paper puppets in my Etsy shop. Check in at regular intervals for the latest additions.

Plans for new downloadable paper puppets on my Etsy shop

Recently, I’ve been creating designs for a series of downloadable, articulated paper puppets for my Etsy shop Papercut Puppets. One of these designs will end up in a magazine later in Summer 2019 (more on that later).

The one featured here is called Hermione, who has a very rare genetic condition called hypertrichosis which causes excessive hair growth in portions of the body. It was sometimes referred to as the “werewolf syndrome”. Hermione celebrates her hairiness by decorating her thick tresses and beard with lovely satin ribbons.

The assembled Hermione paper puppet.

I think my next design will be a doll with a parasitic twin. It’s a nice change to not have a big major studio project that takes years to complete (although I’ll be back to that in the future). What type of paper puppets would you like to see? Leave me your suggestions in the comments.

Festival updates (Spring 2019)

Hi there, gentle readers. March has proven a busy month for my short animated film Wunderkammer. It has screened (or will screen, at the time of writing) at three film festivals: the Boston Underground Film Festival, the Midwest Weirdfest (great name!), and the Las Palmas International Film Festival in the Canary Islands, Spain.

Sadly, my teaching commitments + costs of travel have prevented me from attending these festivals, but below are some screen captures from the festival web sites plus a nice little mention in a blog review from BUFF. Gotta love those naughty Victorians.

Blowing off the dust from my Etsy shop.

Over the Christmas/New Year’s break, I turned my attention towards the business side of my art practice. In the spirit of renewal for the New Year, I decided to resurrect my cobwebbed and long neglected Etsy shop and upload some new listings. Ultimately, I plan to add these to this web site/blog — with an option to purchase via PayPal button — once I figure how to actually do that.

The link to my Etsy shop is

Below are the listings on offer:

December 2018 update

Hello darklings. As we approach the quiet dark of the Winter Solstice, I have two pieces of news to share with you. Firstly, I was thrilled to have my short animated film Wunderkammer featured on the Cult of Weird web site. Fans of this compendium of all-things odd and weird are the perfect audience for this project.

Cult of Weird write up of Wunderkammer

Second, Wunderkammer will have its world festival premiere at the Medusa Underground Film Festival in Las Vegas, Nevada on January 11-13, 2019. Here’s the description of the festival from their web site:

The Medusa Underground Film Festival is a three day event in Las Vegas, NV showcasing underground/strange and unusual films created by women. Dreamt up by filmmakers for filmmakers, the goal behind the fest is to provide a space where everyone can watch each other’s movies together, get inspired and network.

Not sure what is considered “underground”? We accept all genres and if it’s strange, experimental, cult, genre mashup…or is just all around hard to define, you’re probably in the right place.


Yep, that definitely sounds like what I do. Can’t wait. I’m slotted into the Erotic Block. I anticipate questions, many questions.

medusa erotic block