Motion pictures like 'Team America World Police', and live theatrical productions such as 'The Lion King', show that public fascination with roles played by puppet actors hasn't waned in these technologically-oriented times.
Sellwood-based 'puppet makers to the stars' Steven M. Overton and Martin Richmond of 'Olde World Puppet Theater Studios' have been building hand puppets and marionettes for professionals all over the world.
'We've built about 800 puppets in this building, here on S.E. Umatilla Street,' Overton smiled.
'We build all kinds of puppets; I am a master puppeteer. I'm trained to build all different kinds, including the new electronic and remote-control figures for motion pictures and stage work.
'One of the largest robotic puppets that we built was a 9-foot octopus for 'Wee Sing Under the Sea' video series.'
Those 800 puppets are quite an achievement, Richmond pointed out, observing that their museum, workshop, and soundstage are all the same 16' x 30' space that once was a neighborhood grocery store connected to a 100-year-old farmhouse.
However, Overton and Richmond's real passion is performing marionette puppet shows. 'Yes, these are the puppets operated with strings,' Overton pointed out. 'When we moved to Portland in the 1990s, we performed shows regularly in vacant stores at Mall 205, as well as touring our 'Olde World Puppet Theater' shows up and down the coast.'
Overton went on, 'I've been primarily performing with marionettes, since I was nine years old. The difference between me and the 14 other kids who performed with the family troup,' he said, 'is that I kept working with puppets.'
Realizing that live shows can be enjoyed by only a relatively small group, the duo looked into distributing their shows to a wider audience by filming or videotaping their puppet shows, with varying degrees of success.
'But, with the cost of technology dropping over the years,' Richmond added, 'getting good video cameras and editing software came down in price. It made the idea of producing made-for-television movies something that we could afford.'
With their workshop turned into a movie studio - complete with sets - the puppeteers created their first film: 'Witch Key; a Prince's Adventure'.
'It's the most popular of the 'Tales of Belvuria' series of interlocking stories we've performed for 30 years,' said Overton. 'It's definitely a family-oriented story. And, after the movie, there are additional segments showing how the move was made. Then, kids can go online and work with their parents to build puppets with their movie.'
We watched several scenes from the film. The care used in lighting, fabrication of scenery, and creation of every scene, brings the story to life with the incredible realism one would expect to see in a multi-million dollar production.
'America is as fascinated with puppets as ever,' Overton reflected. 'We're really excited to launch this kind of program.'
Olde World Puppet Theater Studios is located at 906 SE Umatilla Street in Sellwood. But families can learn all about this fascinating project at two Internet websites: www.Belvuria.com - and www.puppetmuseum.com .