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Featured Artist: Zack Buchman, Furry Puppet Studio - Bringing Awesome Back to Puppetry

Straight Outta Oregon: Old Man Puppet Design.
Straight Outta Oregon: Old Man Puppet Design.

Puppetry is, perhaps, one of the original forms of character animation. In many ways we've come full circle with both 2D and 3D computer based animation making use of digital 'puppet rigs' in order to animate characters more efficiently and allowing computers to do more of the grunt work of 'tweening'.

In this feature interview I take a look over the fence into modern, real world, puppet design and creation with Zack Buchman, the Creative Director and founder of Furry Puppet Studio, based in SoHo, New York. The studio, specializes in designing and fabricating custom puppets for the entertainment industry.

TET: Hi Zack, tell me a little bit about Furry Puppet Studio? What does the studio do? 

Zack Buchman. Creative Director and Founder Furry Puppet Studios.
Zack Buchman. Creative Director and Founder
Furry Puppet Studio.
We design and produce custom puppets primarily for clients across various industries like television, advertising, and the music industry. 

Alongside conceptualizing the puppets, we often prefer to be more involved in a project, including the creative process. 

We also like to assist with selecting the puppeteers and working with them on the character from the very early stages. That's really important and helps to more organically create a strong character. In my mind, the puppeteer is as important as the puppet. You want to make sure that you have the right energy on set.

TET: You have a background as an animator. Can you tell me a little more about that and how you transitioned to puppets? What set you on this career path and is there much cross over from animation with the work you're doing now?

I feel that calling myself an animator might be doing a disservice to people who are actually dedicating their lives to animation. Having said that, I gave it a try very early in my creative life and it did not last long. 

Donald Trump Puppet Design.
Donald Trump Puppet Design.
I clearly craved that physical interaction that you get with a puppet. There's something very real, and maybe a bit enchanting, about being able to have an inanimate object come to life in front of you, being able to touch it, and speak with it. Once the suspense of disbelief is there, it's just alive. It's magical.

I still work with many character designers from the animation industry. There's definitely a crossover there, both ways. I feel that many animated films borrow from the visual language of puppetry. And it makes sense, there's something warm about puppets that is difficult to pin down.

TET: Your website mentions that you never went to college yet now you're the creative director and business owner of your own studio. How do you think this has shaped your career path and do you think college may have sent you in a different direction?

That's a good question. I'll try to give you the most honest answer I can. 

I would like to start by saying that in this case, unlike what you hear in certain biopics that tend to glorify the experience, I actually wish I had gone to college. I think that it could have made things easier. I feel that for most working artists, the tools and experience you can acquire in college are invaluable. Having said that, here I am.

I do think that it gave me an outsider perspective that allowed me to think outside of the box. For example, questioning the often linear process of creating a character. When I join a production, I like to fully understand the concept, the creative. Ask some questions that some people are embarrassed to ask.

Dancing Marionette Puppets.
Dancing Marionette Puppets.

Another way in which it helped me in my career path, is that it forced me to work and collaborate with talented people, who have the skills and the tools that I did not. There was not much competition there, or ego. I feel very thankful for those collaborations. I've met some of my favorite humans that way.

TET: Can you tell us a little bit about the process of designing your puppets and are there any similarities to animation character design? Do you think about materials from the very beginning or do you work this out once the design on paper is complete?

The process of designing a custom puppet usually starts with us just doing a bunch of sketches and playing around with materials. 

Puppet making at Furry Puppet Studios.
Puppet making at Furry Puppet Studio.

I think that the biggest difference between designing a puppet and designing for animation is that you can't really "cheat" the 3D structure with a physical puppet. You have to think of how it will look from every angle. Additionally, the mouth has to be functional. 

So many things have to be taken into consideration and essentially come together organically. There's lots of R&D and you get to experiment with different materials and different ways to structure things. It's fun.

TET: Furry Puppet Studio is on the rise, working on productions with some fairly high profile talent like Jon Hamm and Michelle Obama. How challenging has it been getting noticed in the industry?

Good question. I think that we've been getting attention from the very beginning. I feel that when you do something different, it stands out to people. Fortunately, the entertainment industry is always on the lookout for unique things. If you have that, and you cover so many different styles the way we do, your phone will never stop ringing.

TET: Your website talks about your intention to reinvent puppetry. How are you doing that and where do you see the studio moving forward? Do you have plans to expand, create your own shows etc.

Window Puppet Design.
Window Puppet Design.
In some ways, we are going all in on some traditional techniques, such as our hand-carved foam sculptures. In other ways, we are embracing new tools and materials. 

We do a lot of different things, including product design, and have our own team overseas sourcing and producing textiles. 

Another thing that sets us apart is that I try to keep the creative process centered around the unique talents of the individual artist. There are a lot of benefits to working in a big team, but if you want a character to have a soul, it better be creator-driven.

Where do we see ourselves in the future? I really hope I get to work on more music videos with artists I like. 

We are currently working on a new line of toys that I’m pretty proud of, and a long form comic. There’s a lot to do and I kind of feel sometimes like a kid in a candy store.

Find Furry Puppet Studio online at:

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