School of Fine ArtsBallard Institute and Museum of Puppetry
About Us

You can add a brief statement here briefly describing your office, school, or group. For example:

The University of Connecticut (UConn) is a public research university in the U.S. state of Connecticut. UConn was founded in 1881 and is a Land Grant and Sea Grant college & member of the Space Grant Consortium. The university serves more than 30,000 students on its six campuses, including more than 8,000 graduate students in multiple programs.

Spiffy Pictures: Adventures in Television Animation

July 14, 2018-October 7, 2018

Spiffy Pictures

The Chicago-based television and film production company Spiffy Pictures was founded in 2003 by brothers David and Adam Rudman and their colleague Todd Hannert. Specializing in puppetry and animation for family entertainment, the company has created, produced, written, and directed live-action and animated projects with puppets for PBS Kids, Nickelodeon, Disney, MTV, Comedy Central, Sesame Street, and Warner Brothers.

 Spiffy Pictures’ work includes creating and producing Jack’s Big Music Show (2005) for Nick Jr., which was nominated for Emmy and Prix Jeunesse awards. The Rudmans and their colleagues also created and produced the Emmy-nominated Bunnytown (2007) for Disney; and Nick Jr.'s Curious Buddies (2005) home videos, which won a Parent’s Choice Award.  Spiffy Pictures has recently produced a puppet adaptation of Scooby Doo for Warner Brothers, titled Scooby-Doo! Adventures, The Mystery Map (2013). This year, Spiffy Pictures’ current animated PBS production Nature Cat (2015) was nominated for the Outstanding Preschool Animated Series Emmy Award; second and third seasons of the show are now in production.

 Both David Rudman and Todd Hannert attended UConn in the 1980s, where they studied puppetry and worked on productions with Puppet Arts Program director Frank Ballard.

Spiffy Pictures and UConn Puppetry

It should come as no surprise that, like many prolific and successful United States puppet companies, Spiffy Pictures has a strong connection to the University of Connecticut’s Puppet Arts Program. Two of the company’s three founders--David Rudman and Todd Hannert--were UConn students in the 1980s, when Professor Frank Ballard’s puppetry productions were at a particularly prolific peak.

Todd Hannert studied scenic design and puppetry at UConn’s School of Fine Arts, earning his M.F.A. degree in 1986, after which he worked with American Repertory Theater and Sesame Street before co-founding Spiffy Pictures with the Rudman brothers. At UConn he designed sets and puppets, performed, and worked as assistant director on Ballard’s 1984 production of The Blue Bird, at which time he commented to a Daily Campus reporter: “Frank Ballard is incredible. What the man does is nothing short of genius.”

David Rudman first came to UConn as a Highland Park, Illinois high school student in the summer of 1979, building and performing puppets for Frank Ballard’s production of The Fantasticks as part of a summer theater arts program. As an undergraduate student from 1981 to 1985, Rudman majored in Dramatic Arts rather than puppetry, but built and performed puppets in numerous Frank Ballard productions, earning praise from the Puppet Arts head as an “incredibly talented” puppeteer. In 1984, while still studying at UConn, Rudman began to commute to New York City to work with Jim Henson’s Muppets on Sesame Street, and when he graduated with a B.F.A. degree the following year, Rudman was ready to begin his puppet career in earnest. 

Thinking back on his UConn experiences, David Rudman writes: “Before I met Frank Ballard, the only puppets I was aware of were the ones I had seen on television.  Frank Ballard introduced me to an array of wildly talented puppeteers from all over the world and opened my eyes to a variety of puppetry styles and creative techniques I never knew existed.  Through his incredibly imaginative designs and vision, Frank Ballard inspired me to push the boundaries of puppetry and continuously encouraged me to develop my own unique style.

Jack's Big Music Show

Jack’s Big Music Show was created in 2004 by Spiffy Pictures founders David Rudman, Adam Rudman, and Todd Hannert, and aired on Noggin and Nick Jr. from 2005 to 2013. As David Rudman writes, the show “is designed to enhance preschoolers’ appreciation and understanding of music--including tempo, rhythm, and dynamics--through interactive play, and expands their awareness of the diversity of musical instruments and styles.”

The lively, colorful, and tuneful series focuses on three music-loving puppet characters: Jack, his best friend Mary (who plays accordion), and the drum-playing dog Mel. The show takes place in Jack's backyard clubhouse, and centers on the characters' passion for music. Jack, Mary, and Mel sing and play instruments in each episode, often accompanied by other puppets. The episodes also include a capella singing by the puppets of the Schwartzman Quartet, and musical guest stars including Angelique Kidjo, Buddy Guy, Sweet Honey in the Rock, and Andrew Bird. Principle influences on the show are The Jack Benny Program from the 1930s and 40s; Little Rascals comedy shorts from the same era; and the iconic 1960s television appearances of The Beatles. 

Jack’s Big Music Show was nominated for a 2008 Emmy Award for Outstanding Pre-school Television Series, and an International Prix Jeunesse Award for Excellence in Children’s Television. It is currently available on Amazon Prime and iTunes.

The Schwartzman Quartet
Three Large Bugs
Three Small Bugs
Jack’s Big Music Show
2004
Hand and rod puppets
Designed by David Rudman and Todd Hannert
Constructed by Rollie Krewson
Costumes by Polly Smith
Foam rubber, fleece, rubber, beads, pipe cleaners
The almost identical Schartzman siblings sing a capella in almost every episode of Jack’s Big Music Show. Two versions of the Bugs allow for close-up and long shots of the characters. The rubber tube attached to the large purple Bug allows its proboscis to unroll.

Phil the Coo-Coo Bird
Baby Bongo Bird
Three Birds
Jack’s Big Music Show
2004
Hand and rod puppets
Designed by David Rudman and Todd Hannert
Constructed by Rollie Krewson
Costumes by Polly Smith
Foam rubber, fur fabric, pipe cleaners, beads, rubber, wire, feathers
Baby Bongo Bird hatches inside Jack, Mary, and Mel’s clubhouse; they make baby bird sounds with their musical instruments in order to find the bird’s mother.
Jack
Tiny Jack 
Mary
Mel
DJ Turtle
Four Monkeys
Don Elephant 
Giraffe
Jack's Big Music Show
2004
Hand and rod puppets
Designed by David Rudman and Todd Hannert
Constructed by Rollie Krewson
Costumes by Polly Smith
Foam rubber, fleece, pipe cleaners, beads, rubber, wire
Jack, Mary, and Mel, the main characters in Jack’s Big Music Show, anchor the production’s episodic structure. The title character, Jack, is performed by Spiffy Pictures co-founder and UConn graduate David Rudman. Note the cable control for DJ Turtle, which controls the puppet’s mouth

 

Marvin Squirrel
Leonard the Country Squirrel
Mama Squirrel
Sheldon the Grumpy Squirrel
Four Squirrels (dressed as the Beatles)
Jack’s Big Music Show
2004
Rod puppets
Designed by David Rudman and Todd Hannert
Constructed by Rollie Krewson
Costumes by Polly Smith
Foam rubber, fur fabric, beads, rubber, wire, feather boa
The arrival of Leonard the Country Squirrel allows Jack, Mary, and Mel to create a “down-home jamboree” of country music. In another episode, four squirrels in 60s mod suits sing like the Beatles.

Three Penguins
Golden Goose
Jack’s Big Music Show
2004
Hand puppets Designed by David Rudman and Todd Hannert
Constructed by Rollie Krewson
Costumes by Polly Smith
Foam rubber, fur fabric, beads, rubber, wire
The penguins appear when Mel’s sand making machine accidentally turns into a snow making machine, and a beach party turns into a winter carnival.

 

Gertrude Groundhog
Little Bad Wolf

Scat Cat

Bugle Bunny Jack
Bugle Bunny Mel
Jack's Big Music Show
2004
Hand and puppets
Designed by David Rudman and Todd Hannert
Constructed by Rollie Krewson
Costumes by Polly Smith
Foam rubber, fur fabric, beads, rubber, wire  
Gertrude Groundhog appeared in a special Groundhog Day episode of Jack’s Big Music Show with Jon Stewart. Mel’s friend Scat Cat specializes in scat singing. Little Bad Wolf (the Big Bad Wolf’s younger brother) learns from Jack, Mel, and Mary which musical instrument will suit his talents best.

Bunnytown

Spiffy Pictures’ Bunnytown, as David Rudman describes it, “is a preschool variety show disguised as an average day in the life of a kooky little place called Bunnytown.” Each of the series’ 26 episodes consists of Bunnytown’s rod-puppet citizens singing songs (often in 70s-style rock concert settings) and performing comedy segments influenced by 1970s television variety shows, Mad Magazine, and Laurel and Hardy. 

The wide range of Bunnytown characters includes a king and his court, pirates, superheroes, astronauts, inventors, farmers, cave bunnies, and dinosaurs. The series began airing in Canada and the U.S. in 2007, and has since been broadcast around the world. As can be seen in this exhibition, the foam-rubber and fake-fur Bunnytown rod puppets are constructed with complex mechanisms controlled by triggers and monofilament strings operating the puppets’ mouths and body parts. These sometimes require up to eight puppeteers to operate a single puppet.

Bunnytown was nominated for an Outstanding Set Design Emmy Award in 2008, and is currently available via Hulu, iTunes, Amazon and Disney Movies.  

 
Two Bunny Band Members
Little Bad Bunny
Game Show Host Bunny
Chef Bunny
Super Bunny
Inventor Bunny
Cave Dinosaur
Cave Bunny
Bunnytown
2007
Rod puppets and hand puppet
Designed by David Rudman
Constructed by Rollie Krewson
Costumes by Polly Smith
Foam rubber, fur fabric, push pins, wire, pipe cleaners, metal tubing, Model Magic, Delrin
Bunnytown’s variety-show combination of short skits, comedy routines, and songs allowed Spiffy Pictures to bring together a wide array of very different rod-puppet characters in the 26 episodes of the series. As can be seen here, the central operating mechanism of these rod puppets consists of two functions: a trigger to open and close the puppet’s mouth, and a horizontal bar to move the puppet’s head and body from side to side. The Game Show Host Bunny also features a rod to operate the character’s left hand and microphone; otherwise, the Bunnies’ limbs are manipulated by means of monofilament line. The Cave Dinosaur, in contrast, is a plush hand puppet.
These characters were performed by Spiffy Pictures puppeteers Alice Dinnean, Eric Jacobson, David Rudman, and Nigel Plaskitt.

Curious Buddies 

Created specifically for preschool viewers, the six episodes of Spiffy Pictures’ Curious Buddies series first aired on Nick Jr. in 2004. Designed to enhance preschoolers’ social and interpersonal skills, as well as their early literacy and understanding of singing and music, the series features five puppet animals--Dog, Pig, Cat, Bear, and Elephant--who explore the world around them through their interactions with real children and a variety of musical styles and segments. In the different episodes the characters visit a park, a beach, or a construction site, and learn to play, dance, make music, and encounter nature and the human environment. The show’s cast of puppeteers includes UConn Puppet Arts graduate Frankie Cordero.

Curious Buddies received a 2005 Parents’ Choice Award, and is currently available on iTunes and Amazon.


Bear
Dog
Cat
Pig
Elephant
Curious Buddies
2003
Hand puppets
Designed by David Rudman and Todd Hannert
Constructed by David Rudman and Rollie Krewson
Foam rubber, fur fabric, push pins, felt, pipe cleaners
Especially compared to the highly differentiated characters of Jack’s Big Music Show, the Curious Buddies hand puppets reflect an effort to simplify and unify design for preschool viewers.