Puppets. So fun. Years ago I was hired to mix location sound on a Radioshack commercial starring the legendary Alf. It was such a fun day, both with the character actors but also learning a lot about TV puppets; how they work, how many people are required to operate 1 puppet, the animatronics, the DIY behind these things and of course, how they like to be miked. More recently, I received the pleasure of working with Elmo for a series of promos for the new off-Broadway musical for Sesame Street.
At this point, I've already learned from experience and research, both, what TV puppets and Sesame Street have done for sound over the years, but also, what would work best for us on our shoot with the technology we have today. I never worked on the TV series, so I can't say much about that, but based on my research, methods for capturing sound for the show, Sesame Street, has really ranged over the years. The method we used on Alf was a very good miking method both for me ease-wise and sound quality but also works wonderfully for the talent as well.
With Alf, we used a headset mic as requested by the talent. Today, as a sound engineer, I prefer a headband mic over a headset mic, because on a headset, the mic is positioned near the jaw, which isn't ideal for sound quality. The forehead placement catches a more natural high end and no plosives or beard scratching issues. Puppeteers move their heads around a lot and are usually looking down at a monitor under the table, so mic placement that isn't attached to the head is not best, plus they're off screen so an uglier setup is fine. On the Sesame Street promos, I talked with our talent and his team and they agreed the headband would be best. They provided me with one of their custom headbands that is very comfortable, stretchy and has molly straps sewn into the exterior of the band to run wires. With this, I ran my DPA 4061 through it and secured it with tape, handed it to our magnificent talent and it was gold after that.
Many laughs flew into my ears, what a day. It's always so fascinating to see how a different craft works, such as puppeteers for TV or theatre; their DIY rolling stools, hidden monitors, etc. I hope they're comfy down there!
Brett Ainslie is a NYC based freelance non-union Production Sound Mixer owner/operator.
He has been mixing sound on location for Film & TV since 2010 for narrative feature films, TV commercials, corporate videos, musical and corporate event live streams and broadcasts, digital content, documentaries and network reality shows. Brett has mixed sound for TBS, HBO, Showtime, Bravo, Disney ABC, Discovery, Food Network, Fox, VH1, A&E, ESPN, MTV, National Geographic, Bloomberg, Vice and more.