'We get the weirdest requests': Edmonton puppet maker becomes marionette master

The strangest thing Brendan Boyd has ever been asked to do was to turn a stuffed deer head into a working marionette.

'We gutted it and made it talk ... it wasn't as graphic as it sounds'

Puppet maker Brendan Boyd is artistic director at Odd-Lot Puppetry Co. (Brendan Boyd/Facebook )

A guy comes to puppet maker with a stuffed deer head and asks, Can you make this thing talk?

Turns out, yeah, sure. No problem.

"We get the weirdest requests to build just anything," says Brendan Boyd, artistic director of Odd-Lot Puppet Co., an Edmonton company that creates puppets, masks and elaborate disguises for film, television and stage productions, and for private collections.

From a mammoth moving shark carved from clay to wild-eyed characters made from stuffed plush, the company takes commissions from all over North America.

"Recently, a local production company brought us a mounted, taxidermied deer head, and said, 'We need this to talk,' " Boyd said.

"So we gutted it and made it talk. It wasn't as graphic as it sounds."

'You start with an idea, a sketch'

Over the last year, business has been so good the work has become a full-time job for Boyd and three other puppet makers on staff.
Brendan Boyd and his puppet alter ego Nino dropped by the CBC Edmonton studios Thursday morning. (CBC Edmonton )

"It's been really popular lately," he said. "Puppetry has had a bit of resurgence in popular media. So that's helped."

Boyd became fascinated with puppeteering at an early age and began pursuing it professionally in his early 20s. 

"When I was about five years old, I saw a puppet show and came home and told my parents, 'When I grow up, I'm going to be a puppet man,' " Boyd said.

"Honestly, I didn't think it was really what I was going to end up doing. But we started performing as a collective in college, and we kept performing, and soon enough people started saying, 'Hey could you build a puppet show for us?' "

Before Boyd's creations come to life with strings, pulleys or sleight of hand, each is carefully planned.

"You start with an idea, a sketch,"  Boyd said in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"And then we narrow it down, circle the one we like, move on and refine, refine, refine until we have a nice drawing. Take that drawing and translate it into the 3-D world."

'He's sort of my alter ego in the puppet world'

Their latest creation is a 40-foot long dragon with a wingspan of more than 20 feet.

The red-and-gold dragon is in the final stages of construction in a downtown warehouse. It will make its debut in a production of Sleeping Beauty in Leduc later this month.

"A lot of the same techniques that you would use in movie special effects went into making it, so the head was sculpted and cast in silicone," Boyd said.

Another one Boyd's creations is Alex, a sad-faced puppet with the face of a cracked and aging hospital, which is being used as an unlikely mascot in a new fundraising campaign for the Royal Alexandra Hospital.
This custom-made puppet named Alex is the face of a new fundraising campaign by the Royal Alexandria Hospital Foundation. (Odd Lot Puppet Co./Facebook )

But of all the puppets Boyd has created, Nino remains his favourite. The green, gravel-voiced monster was one of his first projects. Nino started out as a puppet for kids.

"Very quickly, I found I could say whatever I wanted with him on my arm," Boyd said. "And he's sort of become our adult entertainment host. He hosts an adult improv show called Rear Entry. If you can tell by the title, it's not PG but it's a lot of fun.

"He's sort of my alter ego in the puppet world. He's actually the brains behind the operation."

With files from Alex Zabjek