Making puppets come to life

Puppeteer Graeme Haddon's latest project brings Lego's Ninjago toys to the stage in Malaysia's Legoland through the use of puppets

Graeme Haddon is exploring combining puppets, techonology, light, sound and projection for his next project.
Graeme Haddon is exploring combining puppets, techonology, light, sound and projection for his next project. PHOTO: KEN NAKANISHI/HIKARI PHOTOGRAPHY

Graeme Haddon is the go-to guy for productions that involve puppetry.

In the past decade, the Australian worked as the lead puppeteer for the United States and South-east Asian tours of theatrical mammoth production Walking With Dinosaurs - The Arena Spectacular; the director of puppetry for popular children's television series The Wiggles; and created the puppets for Singapore Repertory Theatre's Pinocchio - The Musical.

His latest project is across the Causeway at Legoland Malaysia. He is the show director of Ninjago And The Realm Of Shadows, a live puppet show that is a first among the six Legoland theme parks worldwide.

Open since late August, the permanent attraction brings to life the animated TV series Ninjago: Masters Of Spinjitzu which is based on the Lego toy series. Using the traditional Japanese puppetry form bunraku, the 24-minute show features six 1.2m-tall puppets combined with 4-D special effects and video mapping.

Besides puppetry, Haddon, who is in his 40s and based in Sydney, has dabbled in a multitude of disciplines in theatre, film and television, including stage management and set design for more than 20 years.


  • Where: 7, Jalan Legoland, Bandar Medini, Nusajaya, Johor Baru

    When: 10am to 6pm daily

    Admission: One-day entry to the theme park starts from RM165 (adults, S$53) and RM133 (children aged three to 11 and senior citizens aged 60 and above)


Yet, puppetry remains his first love. He says: "I'm not sure why I like it but it all began when my parents bought me a couple of puppets when I was six years old."

The passion has kept him going all these years. He says: "It's a difficult industry to succeed and have some security in.

"But when you get hooked on something you love, you just keep going and do it the best you can."

1 Why did you decide to incorporate puppetry into the Ninjago live show?

By nature, the Ninjago characters are very active and martial arts is a very big part of the show. As such, we thought that you would not be able to achieve the agility and movement if it was just the normal character suits that people wear.

Also, it made sense to use the bunraku style because of the Japanese aesthetic of the series.

2 How heavy are the puppets in the live show and what are they made of?

They weigh between 15 and 20kg and are made of ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) foam, plastic, aluminium, carbon fibre and fibre.

3 Which is your favourite Ninjago character in the show?

It would be the villain Clouse. The evil characters are always the most theatrical and Clouse goes out of his way to get what he wants... somewhat like me.

Plus, he has 10-watt LED eyes that light up during the show. That's always fabulous.

4 Is your home littered with puppets?

No, there are no puppets hanging around in my place. I'm not a fan of sitting puppets. They are either doing a show or in a box as far as I'm concerned.

There is a certain cruelty in being a puppeteer. When you are not using the puppets for anything useful, you don't want to see their faces.

5 Are you for combining technology with puppetry or against it?

We absolutely need to use technology to complement puppetry and other art forms and create new interpretations.

6 Are you a fan of theme parks?

Yes, I love visiting theme parks and have been to many, including every Disney and Universal Studios theme park. They are all worlds of fantasy where you go and forget about everything else.

7 What do you hope to work on next?

I have a particular idea for a puppet that combines technology, lighting and sound and projection that I attempted some years ago but wasn't happy with and gave up on. I think I'm going to try and get back into that now.

It's more of a performance piece meant for adults that is a technological-based creature. Who knows how it's going to turn out.

8 How would you like to be remembered?

As someone who succeeded with determination.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2015, with the headline Making puppets come to life. Subscribe