What Andy Stanley Taught Me About Puppets

You can’t be everywhere.

It’s just true.

Neither can your best actors and presenters.

So when your job involves building and programming experiences, that can present a problem.

A few years ago my wife and I visited Atlanta on vacation. We visited a church called Buckhead Church and when it came time for their pastor, Andy Stanley, to speak, a large screen in the middle of the auditorium started playing a recording of him on stage.

It was pretty awesome!

(I may be slightly, a tech geek)

He couldn’t be there in person but several times during the service I found myself thinking he really was! They had duplicated one of their best presenters with technology.

Now I’m the first one to tell you that the best method to replace your best presenters is to train more presenters. The issue is that takes time. There are some times, seasons, and contexts where it’d be nice to duplicate a specific presenter. (All the people in kids ministry just said “Amen”).

So I came back from vacation and asked for a giant screen and huge projector to pull it off in kids ministry!

Okay so maybe not.

But it did get me to start thinking; is there a way to use technology to make a character more accessible to our programming? What if our most iconic characters weren’t tied down to a person or their schedule?

One of our most popular characters is a puppet named Artie.

Screen Shot 2019-01-13 at 2.29.34 PM.png

As fun as Artie is, he comes with a problem of always needing a clunky puppeteer to make him work. (I’ve written before about the challenges with puppets.)

So this Christmas Eve with Artie’s puppeteer tied down elsewhere, we set up a plan to use him digitally. And it worked marvelously.

We have a puppet stage that is just a large styrofoam box on wheels. It has a couple access panels that lift up or remove to allow puppets to pop out.


Interestingly enough and not at all planned, awhile back we realized that we had a tv that would fit in an access hole perfectly. So by adding some framing for our tv we created a digital puppet stage.


The way it worked was we simply removed the tv and filmed some footage with Artie at the right angle and the right distance. I measured the screen and then we made sure our camera frame matched that layout. So what we were filming looked like this.

Then we had Artie perform the script like we had planned. Including, pausing and reacting appropriately what the live person would say during the actual performance.

One note I would add is the more you can have the puppet go up and down the less your filming has to be one shot. It also allows for the live person on stage to have moments where they can step off script depending on what the room needs. (I’ve written on that before).

So by leveraging the technology we had available we were able to duplicate one of our presenters and make a lovable character available when he normally wouldn’t be. Here’s a couple snippets from that service below.

So if you’re strapped for presenters, you don’t necessarily have to go the same extremes we did. Ours took some pretty specific set up on filming and not only that but it also took some pretty savvy presenting on the part of our live people on stage and the tech people firing the videos that had Artie in them. But there’s several ways you could duplicate presenters that we’ve done before.

For instance what if you had a presenter “Skype” or “FaceTime” into your program by simply filming a video with that person the week before.

What if you went the opposite direction we did and instead of retrofitting a tv to a stage you built a simple foam facade to fit over a tv? It would disguise the fact that it’s a tv and you could easily film something, even with your phone (depending on it’s quality), to play inside it.

What if you built some of your iconic characters to be less dependent on people? For instance we’ve used a robot character in our environments to help engage kids. We built an awesome looking costume using just cardboard, foam, and some spray paint and colored duct tape. But then when we did a voice we used a voice changing app (or a nicer voice changing piece of equipment) so the voice sounded robotic. The great thing about this? Anyone could voice the puppet.

With puppets one advantage you have is recording the audio on a puppeteer and then having another puppeteer lip sync the puppets lines. This is great if a puppeteer can’t be in person a specific weekend but you need their iconic voice.

I think sometimes in church world we tend to think that when it comes to solutions with tech that those happen the most in adult ministry. The truth is though kid ministry and it’s unique challenges give lots of opportunities to find creative solutions that leverage tech or the unique skills or resources you have at your disposal.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s