Creating a 90s TV Sitcom Intro Look (with Puppets)

That might be the weirdest title I've ever written. Weirder, but much less pretentious, than Whispering Shadows, or Deuce (which even had a character called Mrs. Janus... I know, sledgehammer).

Puppets & Pandemics

We like weird; we like offbeat. With this in mind, the recent Covid19 lockdown and general cabin fever led us to buy two puppets. We already have two cats, and so it seemed the next logical step. Animals -> Puppets -> Children. Well, it worked for Gepetto anyway,

We were pent up with boredom and we wanted to express ourselves by doing some filming with these puppets. We wanted to make little skits and scenes, maybe a kind of magazine show or parody children's' show, we didn't know. We sat on these puppets for a while, not literally of course - that would be a kind of weird I wouldn't do. Or wouldn't admit to, at any rate.

So we waited a few months for inspiration to strike. It didn't. Then in late July, we were asked to make a short 'happy birthday' video for my dad's 60th. I've lived in America for over three years now and have seen my Dad (who lives in England) only once in all that time. So I really wanted to do something special for the video. Long story short, we used the puppets to make a kind of Sesame Street skit, riffing on the number 60. It turned out really well, and we were pretty proud of the outcome of all of the hard work.

Generating Ideas

The experience really enthused us. We were finally ready to create, and we had learned a valuable lesson. Or rather, we remembered a valuable lesson. That is, a writer needs to be disciplined. They need to keep notes, remember keenly, and set a routine to sit down and try to write. We had no choice with my dad's video. There was a deadline. This really focused the mind, and we came up with some fun concepts.

A month later and we've been coming up with loads of ideas. We've been enjoying the process of being daft. Actually scheduling time to just piss about and see what happens. In a nutshell, creativity. This is where we came up with some character ideas for our puppets. Those ideas were a catalyst for story concepts and skits. Without giving too much away at this point, we settled on a particular idea that needed an intro video.

As children of the 90s, we grew up watching the likes of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, The Golden Girls, and Home Improvement. This inspired us to make an 80s/90s style TV show intro. We watched loads of TV intros from the era in order to refamiliarize ourselves with the kinds of cinematography and art direction we would need to try to emulate.

We found a great copyright-free tune that we knew would fit perfectly, and we set to work on brainstorming shot ideas.

The music really inspired the visuals, and with the research we had done into 90s TV intros, the puppet versions seemed to coalesce in our minds. However, one thing we realized straight away was that wide-angles were going to be difficult to pull off with two-foot hand puppets. Despite this logistical issue, we knew we wanted some dynamic shots with movement.

Simultaneous Production & Edit (yes, really)

We have a drone, and living in Chicago gives us the opportunity to get some epic footage. We shot the final scene of the intro on the balcony of our apartment. Golden-hour came and perfectly lit our shot - a drone climb from the puppets on the balcony to the skyscrapers of Chicago's downtown district.

We worked out that we were going to use this as the final shot and overlay the titles on top. What we didn't know yet was what else we would film. We had ideas, but we weren't settling on a big theme or concept. Our suggestions were disjointed. So we went back to basics. What were our puppets going to be like? Well... us.

And we like dark comedy, irreverence, and silliness. This was when we hit on two darker ideas that involved pouring a salt pentagram on the kitchen floor and creating fake blood to splatter all over the bath...

After this, we had some more ideas for dynamic shots, all the time allowing the music to guide us. An important aspect of this whole process was creating scenes to fit a beat. We had to try to create and film scenes whose action played out to fit the beat of the theme tune. My experience as a musician, mixing songs together, really came in handy here. In some instances, we had to splice and speed ramp footage in order to make it work.

During the photography and the edit (which ran in tandem), there were several times where the process of collaboration ensured that the end product was as good as possible. Two heads are better than one, as they say, (unless those heads belong to Zaphod Beeblebrox, in which case ignore this idiom).

In order to achieve an authentic look, we used layers to create a 4:3 aspect ratio effect. We also color graded the footage and titles to show channel blur in the reds and blues and sharpened the footage to create a brittler look that was reminiscent of those early 90s shows. We used some subtle VHS distortion effects to complete the look.

New Videos Coming Soon(ish)

It took us just one week from starting filming to completing the final cut, as both phases ran simultaneously. This normally wouldn't be our process (although we do like to add extra inspirations in the edit), but it worked with the nature of this project, essentially a music video. We finished this evening, and we are now ready to begin filming some skits and stories.

We intend to begin releasing content before Christmas.

'Which Christmas", you ask?

"Why, you sharp-minded bugger! Columbo would be proud", I answer.

"That didn't answer my question", you retort.

"Ah, but surely by now you know the answer to all questions?", I reply.

"What is the answer to all questions?", you despair.

"Because Puppets", I bow.

We won't be releasing this intro until the first videos begin to be uploaded, but our site members can access a sneak preview in the Members Only Area. If you're a member, log in and see the finished video! And if you're new, it's free to join and you can enjoy exclusive and early release content by simply signing over your soul to Colin and Stella.


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