Puppeteer for Film
and Television

Reverse or Straight
Scan TV monitors?

NTU  TV Puppetry'

Jim Henson's Memorial (right) is the only time I recall seeing the Muppet Performers not use TV Monitors.
Someone passed me the 'Count' Puppet from Sesame Street to perform. I wore a bright Yellow Suit bought especially for the occassion from my local Nottingham Paul Smith's. Just seemed right. I haven't worn it since. It was a joyous celebration of Jim's life and a very moving occasion.

This is an emotive subject for some Film & Television puppeteers.
Though a seemingly irrelevant one to most other TV professionals.
The TV monitor that a puppeteer works to is however after the Puppet itself their most vital tool.
Intrinsic to the way a Television puppeteer performs their Puppet character.
 In harmony and accord.
Viewing the effect of their puppeteering on the puppet
while instantaneously and continuously adjusting their performance to accommodate.
Without it they are blind like a Cameraman or Director without their monitor.

I can only really speak for myself, of my own view and experience and explain why I started working straight scan, changed to reverse scan and then back to straight scan again.
Why now I work straight scan and why I am happy to work with other TV puppeteers who work using either straight or reverse scan monitors.

If your even only the slightest bit bored now you will never make it to the end of this page

Straight scan monitor
A straight scan monitor has the normal television picture seen by the TV viewer as well as the Director and Studio floor.
 This is the picture used by the Muppets, Bear in the Big Blue House and The Book of Pooh.
 All animation and cartoon character creators too.

You can read normal writing on it!

Reverse scan monitor
A reverse scan monitor has had it's signal switched and the image on it is reversed, back to front to create a mirror image.
This is done solely to make it easier to puppeteer for television.
Normal writing appears backwards on it!

When I started puppeteering on the West End stage show of Little Shop of Horrors I used the straight scan monitor that the previous puppeteers, (both with film and TV experience) Anthony Asbury and  Dave Greenaway had used for reference while performing the Audrey II puppet in the stage show.

I was learning and copying as much as I could.

When I Puppeteered on the Film of Little Shop of Horrors, (1985) Frank Oz the Director gave me both straight and reverse scan monitors.

A staggeringly talented puppeteer himself Frank Oz, creator of Miss Piggy, Fuzzy Bear etc. always of course puppeteered straight scan.
But my role on the film was mostly to perform the 'Pole Arm' from behind the largest of the Audrey II puppets which moved the entire puppet in all directions and so the position of the camera for me could have the effect of switching the monitors from straight scan to reverse scan.

Much in the same way that a straight scan puppeteer looking at a straight scan monitor behind him has it switched to reverse scan.

If this seems complicated now it was, like many things, completely beyond my comprehension at the time I worked on the 'Little Shop of Horrors' film and I can only thank Frank for using his insight and experience to help me out.

When (1985) I subsequently auditioned for 'The Jim Henson Television workshop' straight scan monitors were compulsory and any mention of 'reverse scan' would get very short shrift!
Kevin Clash and Brian Henson taught the course workshop totally straight scan and all my subsequent private puppeteering couching with Brian Henson was all straight scan.

Like sparing partners we met up regularly for years to practice our puppeteering, me to learn how to do it and Brian to have a punch bag! No just kidding, Brian even then was Directing and he simply enjoyed helping me out and keeping his own puppeteering hand in.

Storyteller and
Monster Maker
Jim Henson's
were again
straight scan

Here Brian Henson and
Marcus Clarke check the camera and monitors before
rehearsing with the

When I got my own show Hotdog with Thames TV. (1987) I mostly worked with puppeteers David Barclay ( straight scan ) and Nigel Plaskitt (reverse scan )

Thames TV had converted some old black and white monitors to reverse scan, as they had found on other Puppet TV productions, using the then predominantly 'Puppet Children's Theatre' puppeteers, that these 'Puppet Children's Theatre' puppeteers found this way of working a lot easier when working on a television programme.

Also the Puppet Children's Theatre puppeteers were used to looking up at their puppets rather than seeing an audience 'Point Of View' and with a reverse scan monitor in front of them, right and left were still right and left, to them at least.  (a reverse scan monitor in front of you giving a mirror image)

So on the Hotdog TV Series I had in front of me Dave Barclay 's lovely bright straight scan colour monitors, which my eye was continually drawn to and Nigel Plaskitt 's black and white reverse scan monitors which the struggling novice puppeteer in me was drawn to because it really did make all this hard puppeteering stuff a lot easier.

On Nigel Plaskitt 's reverse scan monitors I could practice lots of puppet moves without going the wrong way, clean up all my animation expressions, reactions etc. and prop handling was a comparative doddle!
It's a no brainer!

I was now working reverse scan.

OK So I was working to a different picture to the Director but only some minor confusion over Camera left or Camera right seemed to arise. All was great!

Season after Series my puppeteering was getting more accurate and better and I began to struggle less and less with puppeteering techniques.
I was really building up my library of expressions/actions to increase the believability of my puppet character, reverse scan was the future!

To this day I have no idea what the ever generous straight scan puppeteer Dave Barclay thought.

Then one day I was watching my Hotdog Series go to air, watching closely my puppeteering technique and of course it was going out straight scan.
I hadn't seen it straight scan before and not while making the Series.
No time for playbacks, no post editing and we edit tech'ed so if anything went wrong we had to do the whole thing again from the top, but it struck me watching the programme that something was very wrong with my Puppet character Hotdog?

My stuff just seemed slightly odd, unbelievable.........fake ?

I couldn't believe it?
Here I was years on from my practice tape days with Brian Henson, with a whole new armoury of puppeteering skills, ploys and clean animation expressions, my own TV Series too!
Yet my 'Hotdog' stuff seemed less 'believable' than my old practice tape puppet stuff with Brian Henson way back when.
I was learning more puppetry skills to increase my puppets believability but my puppet characters weren't gaining any believability?
What's wrong?
I phoned Dave Barclay!

"It might be something to do with the way your balancing the frame when your performing using a reverse scan monitor"
(like looking at a painting in a mirror.)
Or maybe you just can't get into the puppet reverse scan.
The Muppets Sesame Street Fraggle Rock and all the great puppeteers Jim Henson Frank Oz, all those guys and Karen Prell all work straight scan why don't you?'

Good point Dave!

So I worked my way back to working straight scan and I won't say it was easy, because it wasn't.
But my characters did get better and at least now I believed them and whatever that strange alienation effect was? It had gone!

Now I'm happy to work straight scan giving myself the best chance of creating a believable puppet character possible and when I think of it.
Apart from it simply not making any sense to be creating a Television Programme using a different picture to the Director, everybody else involved in the process
and the eventual TV viewer.

I can't think of a single believable puppet character ever created on a
reverse scan monitor?

Or even a famously successful one here in the UK except for Roland Rat and he wore sunglasses?
It's not just a USA - UK thing as lots of puppeteers in the UK work straight scan like the brilliant Kathy Smee, (right) who was originally trained by me, and the extraordinarily talented and hard working Geoff Felix and many others, whilst lots of the puppeteers that I have worked with in the USA, especially in L.A. work reverse scan.

Though not the very best such as Alice Dinnean,
Kevin Carlson, Drew Massey etc.

Bear in the Big Blue House and The Book of Pooh in the USA exclusively use straight scan monitor Puppeteers.

The very successful Zig and Zag here in the UK and Ireland (Irish puppeteers) also work straight scan.
daveandm Dave Barclay and Marcus Clarke here taking the straight scan message to the Gallic speaking puppeteers of the Western Isles of Scotland
For me working straight scan makes my characters more believable and helps me to create successful characters.

Karen Prell
Nice also that I am emulating my heroes, Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Kevin Clash, Steve Whitmire, Dave Goelz, Dave Barclay, Mike Quinn and  Karen Prell, (left) in at least one way.


Kathy Smee and Frank Oz performing Yoda the Jedi Master in Star Wars the Phantom Menace, review their work on a straight scan monitor.

Should there ever be a very successful Puppet character performed by a puppeteer on a reverse scan
... well I might just reconsider?
Change back again to reverse scan? but until then I'll take the character creating advantage I think puppeteering straight scan gives me and let other Puppeteers work whatever way they want to.

There is no practical reason why puppeteers who work straight scan and reverse scan cannot work on a TV Show in the puppeteering team together. Most monitors nowadays are switchable and puppeteers soon isolate the monitor (usually the one with their script pasted to it) that they will be working with, or the few
if dancing about etc.
I myself have worked in several mixed monitor teams quite happily.
Monitors are plentiful, cheap and pretty compact and portable nowadays so there's no need even to have to share one.
I have my own switchable LCD's and individual chest monitors too.

So if you're a curious producer/director who's wondered when putting together a puppeteering team, why your reverse scan puppeteer adviser, begins to scratch, break into a sweat and nervously assert all sorts of bazaar excuses when it's suggested a straight scan puppeteer join the puppeteering team........

Regardless, lets just enjoy us all working together, yaw eht revetahw, whatever the way!

Marcus Clarke Puppeteer

Since writing the above I have found myself on several occasions working reverse scan by accident. I hadn't noticed. I now seem to be able to go from one to the other with complete ease. To work both on Straight and Reverse scan monitors. Maybe that happens when you reach a certain professional level? Or after a lot of practice? I don't know.
Certainly for teaching novices I take all the early advantage of them learning on reverse scan monitors and teach then using predominantly reverse scan monitors. It's very helpful while they build their Puppetry Skills and Animation library.
I always have a straight scan monitor to hand for them to use and experiment with. To apreciate the differences.
This is an inclusive and holistic approach.
I suggest to students that when they have built their skills and confidence that they then consider switching to working predominantly straight scan. So as to be creating to the same picture as the Director and working to the same picture that the viewer will eventually see.
I'll work to whatever the Director wants personally.
Its certainly an advantage to be able to work both reverse scan and straight scan.
Brian Henson once told me that if you've always worked reverse scan, it took less than a day to then switch or learn to be able to work straight scan.
A good investment and well worth the effort I would have thought.
Just to have the extra skill.
Marcus Clarke 2008
Jumping - Hands Up Puppets 1989 Logo
copyright©marcus clarke 2003 all rights reserved