Ricky Syers is a street performer who works with marionettes that can move like their real-life companions. Each one is inspired by someone he's met in the park or in his day-to-day life. Ricky walked us through creating an outfit for one of them and what it's like to perform in parks in New York City. Visit Insider.com for more stories.
The following is a transcript of the video. Narrator: That dog right there is a puppet. But the way it moves is so realistic that it makes other dogs think it's just like them. It can walk, run, and even wag its tail, but it was made entirely by hand. That is Ricky Syers. He's the master behind this marionette and a bunch of others he's made of some of his favorite people he's met in Washington Square Park in New York City. But Ricky didn't start out making marionettes or performing as a puppeteer in the park. He would bring along his marionette when he went to perform as a drummer, and one day it clicked. Ricky Syers: They wanted to see the puppets. In three visits, I discovered I am a marionette street performer. Narrator: The marionettes aren't just any random characters, either. Each one is based on a real person. Ricky: Going to the park there for a few weeks, you meet these people and, you know, become your friends there, and you look after each other. But Ricky is selective about who gets a marionette and who doesn't. You only get one if he's met you and your story or your personality has left an impact on him. Ricky: I don't make famous people. I make people famous, you know. That's so much better than making somebody that's already up there, you know. Narrator: He makes each of the marionettes by hand and creates a personality for each of them. Ricky: Larry, for instance, the pigeon guy. So, he saw Doris already made, too, and he was always saying, "Oh, wow, yeah, you'll make one of me." Just kinda messing around in hopes, you know, and little did he know that I liked him that much where I said, "Hey let me get some of your hair," and I cut his hair and I used it and made a marionette of Larry. And Brandon Stanton caught that. It put Larry in Humans of New York. All of a sudden, 75,000 likes. You know, now people are coming from all over to see Larry and his little marionette. So I let him use it now, let him hold it, and he goes and makes money on MacDougal Street. Narrator: Rusty is based on his late cat, but he said it was more fun to create a dog because there were more movements and personalities he could create through the marionettes, like tail wagging, running, sitting, and playing. Mastering the hand control in maneuvering different parts of the marionette is extremely important to make the movements smooth and realistic. But that's only half of it. Once he's built the body, every single accessory and piece that goes onto the character is crafted to fit the personality perfectly, from their favorite outfit to their hair. Rusty's mechanics are actually thanks to a bicycle chain. This helps create all the realistic movements that give Rusty his personality. Ricky: Made of wood, Sheetrock screws, piece of clear tubing to have the spine flexible, Glade Air Solid for the rib cage. I used bicycle chains for his joints. You can see some of the chain right here, see? Coming through. Narrator: And almost all of the clothes and other pieces are made out of recycled items. He takes the needed material, in this case it's denim, and begins cutting the fabric into manageable pieces and appropriate sizes. For his marionette Chops, he's making overalls. After that, he takes one of the larger pieces and lines up the material with the length of the puppet's leg. This helps him get an idea of where he should cut and sew the denim. Narrator: He trims the excess and realigns the piece with the puppet to double-check if it'll fit. Once perfect, he cuts a slit up the middle to make two pant legs and begins to sew them together. Then it's time for Chops to try on his new outfit. Ricky takes off Chops' shoes and shimmies the pants on. Then, Chops is ready to hit the park again.Join the conversation about this story »