The Puppeteer is a repositioning accessory that can be used on a variety of lighting fixtures. It is really nothing more than a motor for pan, which the fixture hangs from, and a retracting cable that provides its tilt mechanism. The cable is secured to the front of the fixture, and the fixture's tilt lock is loosened, giving you a moving light, of sorts. Its competition is the universal moving yoke or a repositioning mirror, but Puppeteer is a bit different in that it can be used with a wider variety of fixtures.
The device is delivered as a complete package of hardware: a drive unit, fixture tilt clamp (basically, a common large hose clamp), a d-ring, a quick-link, and some 262 Loctite. It was instantly clear that the packaged hardware was not going to work; the provided d-ring was too large for the supplied quick-link, so the tilt cable could not be attached. Fortunately, the crew at Stages Repertory Theatre in Houston, our test venue, was able to supply an appropriately sized link to make the test happen. Once we had the right parts, setup was simple and quick. The fixture was bolted to the pan drive shaft, and the hose clamp tightened around the lens tube of our sample Altman 360Q. The tilt was loosened on the 360Q and tipped up to the lead of the tilt cable. With the quick link in place, clamp on, cables all plugged, and power applied, the Puppeteer comes to life, exploring its full range of movement.
At this point, setting pan/tilt limits completes the setup. A typical 12-way dipswitch is the control for both DMX addressing and limits setting. Tilt limit is critical, as allowing the fixture to tilt straight down will bind the tilt cable, so the maximum useful tilt range is limited to 135°. Remember, as the manual extensively outlines, “[the Puppeteer] uses a unique gravity assisted tilt system,” so one must keep that in mind when hanging and adjusting the movement. The device only works in a level orientation. Pan range is 260° and should be limited in order to improve resolution and to more closely match travel rate between pan and tilt. One should also make sure there is enough play in the fixture's power and safety cables, the Puppeteer's power and safety cables, and DMX I/O lines.
So does all this really work? You bet it does and surprisingly well, at that. The 360Q hit its positions reliably even when shuttered down to a pin spot. The actual movement itself, however, is not as reliable. This is what sets it apart from City Theatrical's AutoYoke®. The motion is rudimentary and does not offer 16-bit precision. A live move is not recommended. Once there, it is fine, but getting there shows the pan/tilt movements are completely out of sync. In some cases, on slower fades, you can see the pan slide close to the exact position, then stall for a few seconds, and finally roll that extra click into position. This being said, position seems to come back accurately.
Looking at it purely as a “move-while-in-dark” light repositioner, it works well, but a bit of extra attention may be required to keep it working well with some fixtures. For example, if the position of an ellipsoidal's lens tube were to shift, the position of the hose clamp would shift and alter every focus in the show. There are a lot of variables involved with this device.
Safety is another concern and is widely addressed in the manual. This device was designed to modify the original intention of a conventional fixture's design, which is to be focused and locked in place, not moved about. So this is where the Loctite is supposed to keep the yoke bolts in the body of the light and the light hanging overhead. One just has to keep safety in mind when using the Puppeteer.
The repositioner works and, in the right application, could be a great tool. I do not see much advantage in using the Puppeteer over a moving mirror accessory like Rosco's I-Cue. When fitted with an ETC Source Four® ellipsoidal, Puppeteer requires more space and must be rigged level. The mirrors are generally faster, smoother, more compact, and can be rigged in any orientation. The ability to rig in creative ways was a concern of Stages Rep production manager Kirk Markley, who pointed out how low the Puppeteer hung in their space. “I could easily overhang an I-Cue and get the fixture out of the way,” Kirk pointed out. But I do think there are some exciting applications for the Puppeteer, particularly with fixtures that are completely incompatible with other repositioning systems. Something like a Far Cyc, or an ACL set, could really get interesting with some repositionability. So take a look at the Puppeteer, and make sure it is going to do what you want, but also contemplate what you could do with such a universal device.
Thanks to Kirk Markley at Stages Repertory Theatre for his contribution to this evaluation.