Moving Big Bird's Head.

Naturally I haven’t seen Sesame Street since I was a little kid. But I recently saw one of the characters, Big Bird, on Jimmy Kimmel Live. And seeing him actually brought back a question I have had since I was little: How on earth do they move his head and beak?

Follow my observations: Big Bird’s feet and hands move very naturally. Obviously the guy in the suit is using his own feet and hands for that. But the head parts also move very unusually. Actually, and I could be misinterpreting things here, but the head and beak move as if done by a puppeteer. In other words they move like they have a hand in them!

Now I was watching the eyebrows very closely on Kimmel. And they may have been done by remote control. But not the head and beak. Clearly the movement was done by the man in the suit. But how?

Also, FWIW, I think the neck is too thin and the head too small, to say nothing of the fact that no man could be that tall, to have a man’s head in the bird costume head. But then again, I don’t know for sure.

And thank you in advance to all who reply:)

Only one of big bird’s hands actually move- the other one is still. The puppeteer has one hand in one of big bird’s hands and the other arm sticking up and controlling the beak.

eta: apparently ( ), the other hand does actually move some, sometimes controlled by a second puppeteer and sometimes by some contraption with fishing line.

Here’s how.

What? You mean Big Bird’s not real? He’s just a man in a costume? No, you’re lying! Big Bird is real!I refuse to believe it!

Next, you’ll try to tell me Operation Repo is scripted.


You notice the same thing with The Bear in the Big Blue House – one hand is obviously attached to the other so that it doesn’t stay completely motionless, but it’s relatively quiet – the Bear only has one really active hand, while the other puppeteer hand words the head.

IIRC, it’s a woman in the costume. Yeah, she’s pretty talented. Ah, and Wikipedia tells me that the original Big Bird was Caroll Spinney, but that she’s trained new ones to take over.

Actually, Caroll Spinney is a man. Back in the day, Caroll was a man’s name. (Carroll O’Connor is another example.)

Spinney also plays Oscar the Grouch.

And so he is! My mistake. Apologies.

The first-ever photograph of Spinney wearing his Big Bird legs was recently published by The New Yorker. This drawing by Jim Henson shows the basic concept of the Big Bird costume.

The La Choy Dragon was an early Henson creation which was more or less the direct inspiration for the Big Bird suit- note that only one of the Dragon’s arms moves while the other just flops around when he moves the other one.

I went through the muppet wikipedia one time and was amazed at how they do the different characters. Ernie (and other puppets like that) are the ones that surprise me, beign done by two people. Ernie’s head is done by one hand, and one of his hands by the other. His second hand is done by another person and isn’t even necessarily connected to him!

This is how most characters who utilize both of their hands are done- the main puppeteer does the head and left hand, while a second puppeteer controls the right hand. Most puppet characters have their arms attached to strings, while Cookie Monster and a few other characters have hands large enough for the puppeteers to slip their actual hands into and control them that way. The secondary puppeteers are referred to as “right-handers,” which is usually the first step a new puppeteer gets- they have to prove their worth as a right-hander before becoming the main performer on the character. A rare and interesting exception to this rule is The Muppet Show’s Swedish Chef, who had real human hands- both hands were performed by a seperate person from the head, which usually helped when it came to the Chef’s trademark chaos.

I would just like to say that I figured out how Big Bird was done when I was a little kid. What do I win?

A condescending pat on the head and an imaginary cookie.

If you get a chance to see Avenue Q, you can see how two people use the same puppet.

The image that conjured up in my head is, I’m willing to bet, not the one you intended.

Well, Avenue Q also teaches us that, among other things, for creatures that don’t exist below the waist, puppets can have very wild sex.

Puppeteers must have some impressive stamina to animatedly hold and manipulate objects above their head for a significant period of time.

Which brings us, in a very twisted full circle, to Puppet Rapist.