Performance of Puppets’ Skin Material

Work thumb

Views: 80

  • Title: Performance of Puppets’ Skin Material: The Metadiegetic Narrative Level of Animated Puppets’ Material Surface
  • Author(s): Vincenzo Maselli
  • Publisher: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Collection: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Series: Design Principles & Practices
  • Journal Title: The International Journal of Visual Design
  • Keywords: Stop-motion Animation, Puppets, Meta-narrative, Skin, Performance, Material Design
  • Volume: 13
  • Issue: 2
  • Year: 2019
  • ISSN: 2325-1581 (Print)
  • ISSN: 2325-159X (Online)
  • DOI:
  • Citation: Maselli, Vincenzo. 2019. "Performance of Puppets’ Skin Material: The Metadiegetic Narrative Level of Animated Puppets’ Material Surface." The International Journal of Visual Design 13 (2): 17-37. doi:10.18848/2325-1581/CGP/v13i02/17-37.
  • Extent: 21 pages


In his book “Narrative Discourse. An Essay in Method,” Gerald Genette describes the relationship between narrative levels, and defines “metadiegetic” the level that runs parallel to the primary narrative. Genette does not specify who or what the narrator has to be in the metadiegetic narrative level; it could be also something lifeless, like an object, or a material. This observation is particularly suitable if applied to stop-motion animation technique. In this article, I suggest that in stop-motion films the superficial qualities of the materials that the puppet is composed of perform a metadiegetic narrative. Exploring the definitions of performance in both design and puppetry, and the qualities of material skin, I apply these theoretical assumptions to the analysis of animated puppets and formulate the concept of the “performance of puppets’ skin material.” The analysed performer, therefore, is neither the actor/animator/puppeteer nor the actant puppet itself, but the puppet’s material skin, and its performance is defined through qualities the viewer can haptically experience through the screen. By approaching puppets’ skin from an interdisciplinary perspective, the article provides a definition of its performance based on qualities (“functional,” “processual,” “active,” “pervasive,” “ritual,” “evocative” and “multi-dimensional”) that describe the puppets’ skin power to satisfy technical aspects of our experience of the object moving on screen, to engage our senses, allowing us to haptically experience the objects, and to stimulate our thoughts and memories. The article aims at providing a theoretical premise to the analytical approach that considers animation to be a powerful expressive material medium that opens up possibilities of analysis through design tools.