The Muppet Puppets Are a Feat of Engineering

Each Muppet character comes to life through a combination of clever engineering and very talented puppeteers.
Jessica Miley

While it might be easy to dismiss the Muppets as mere kid stuff, these famous furry friends are actually small works of engineering ingenuity. Each muppet is a puppet, operated by a trained puppeteer. In most cases, the puppeteer is also the voice actor of the character. The muppet puppets range in complexity from relatively simple hand puppets to two-person full body costumes. Arguably the most famous muppet, Elmo is a very traditional hand and rod puppet. Elmo comes to life by a puppeteer sticking his hand through Elmo’s body to control his mouth and support his little body. The puppeteer's other hand holds on to a rod which can manipulate Elmo's hands. While relatively simple in design, a talented puppeteer can make this puppet seems oh so very real. The only other part of control the artist has is a small wooden handle that can slightly move Elmo’s eyes. Many of the muppet characters like Kermit are operated in a similar way.

For the next step up in puppet complexity, we need to jump over to Big Bird, the tallest of the muppets. Big Bird is, in fact, a full body costume. Big bird's voice artist wears leggings that look like big birds and then the body and head of the costume are placed on top of the actor and strapped to their body. The actor then manipulates the puppet using one hand for big birds mouth and one hand for control bg birds left hand. An invisible wire attaches through the puppet connecting the two hands so that when the actor raises his left hand the right-hand drops and vice versa. To find out more about the fascinating engineering behind America’s most famous puppets watch this detailed video from Concerning Reality.