Eric Novak is a professional puppetry artist and puppeteer who designed and built the reindeer puppet used to portray the character of “Prancer” in the Rose Theater world premiere production of Prancer. Eric has designed amazing puppets and directed the New York Spring Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, performed in The Pee-Wee Herman Show on Broadway, and created puppets and costumes for the Omaha Symphony Christmas Celebration. Eric even consulted on the puppetry design elements for The Rose Theater Production of The Grocer’s Goblin and The Little Mermaid in 2014. He owns his own puppetry arts company, Eric Novak Puppets (check out his amazing creations at EricNovakPuppets.com!). We asked him to tell us more about his work and his Prancer puppet!
Q: Designing and working with puppets sounds like a really unique and interesting job. How did you become a puppet designer?
A: I got my degree in Set Design in 1989, and designed a lot of Off Off Broadway shows in NY in the early 1990s. I became interested in stop motion animation and puppetry, and worked at the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta to learn about mold making and puppet design. A puppet is a fancy prop in some ways, but it’s more than that: it’s imbuing an inanimate object with life and personality. I think it’s this complexity that drew me to puppetry. After making puppets for 20 years, I can build anything I can dream up.
Q: What special skills did you have to develop to be a puppetry artist? Did you take any classes in school that help you in your puppetry work?
A: I’ve always done a lot of different things artistically, and all of them are involved in puppetry: Drawing, painting, sculpture, carpentry, welding, mechanics, dramaturgy, etc. Mold making and sewing were the two skills that I learned to become a puppet maker.
Q: How did you approach creating a large puppet for the character of Prancer? What were the big steps in your process?
A: I developed the technique of using rattan while designing and building puppets and costumes for the Omaha Symphony. The large Prancer puppet is the culmination of this work, as it is much more complicated, and has many more moving parts. Researching reindeer and how they move is a big part of it. To form the rattan, I soak it in water for two days, then tie it to a wooden form in the shape of a reindeer. After it dries, it retains the shape of the form and is very light weight. I take it off of the form, and lash it to an aluminum structure which contains the mechanisms for movement.
Q: You have your own puppetry company, Eric Novak Puppets. What other puppets have you created recently that you’re excited about? Are they different from Prancer?
A: Every puppet project is different, and that is one of the things I love about puppetry. I’ve recently made two backpack skeleton puppets that are 15 feet tall and made of milk jugs. Check out my website or Facebook page for images. I’ve also been doing sculpture work for District Vision sunglasses company, and the band Major Lazer.
Q: What is your favorite part of being a puppet designer and puppeteer? Are there parts of your job that are challenging or even frustrating?
A: Each project is different and a challenge. What I love about puppetry is the problem solving. You are using techniques that you have developed, but adapting them to new situations. What I love best is that I can build anything I can dream up, and I’m only limited by my imagination. I may not always have the answers, but through experimentation, I can figure it out.
Q: What advice do you have for any young artists out there who would like to be puppeteers?
A: Young artists interested in puppetry should collect as many different experiences as possible. People come to puppetry from many different backgrounds: dancers, actors, visual artists, or set design, like I did. Puppetry is a type of art form that you can really make your own, bring your own experience to, and make something unique.