Winning three regional Emmy Awards at the age of 30, Kamela Portuges-Robbins was a woman of many artistic talents, including building puppets for films like “Being John Malkovich” and sculpting the models used to make dolls. celebrities like the Spice Girls. The longtime Boyes Hot Springs resident died suddenly in Eureka on October 21 when a pulmonary embolism stopped her heart. She was 58 years old.
âShe was always ready to share what she knew, information, skills, materials, anything that would help anyone be successful,â said Lee Armstrong, longtime friend and business partner of Portuges-Robbins at their Springs-based media company, Images in Motion. . âShe has taught television puppetry and puppet building in national, regional and local puppet groups. She taught firefighters how to use the puppets to teach children about safety issues. “
Growing up in Burney, California, daughter of Paul and Barbara Portuges, Portuges-Robbins has always loved art and doing things. Her intelligence and drive got her through school and she entered Shasta Community College at the age of 16. She transferred to Humboldt State University and at age 22, she completed a double master’s degree in theater and corporate marketing. By then, she had discovered her love of the puppet.
âShe loved art and the theater. The Puppet presented a way to do everything from design, writing, puppet building, performance and more, âsaid Armstrong.
She landed a job with Chris Walas, the Oscar-winning special effects artist behind classics like “ET the Alien” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. Portuges-Robbins worked on “The Fly II” shortly before moving to Sonoma Valley in 1991.
âShe was thrilled to discover a cabin at Boyes Hot Springs in beautiful Sonoma,â Armstrong said. âEventually, she bought two houses and built a film studio in Springs. Kamela loved the small town vibe and accessibility to hiking and the splendor of nature here. â
In 1996, Portuges-Robbins met Armstrong, a former puppeteer on Jim Henson’s famous “Fraggle Rock” TV show who was teaching a puppetry workshop in Santa Rosa. The two became quick friends, and in 1998 opened Images in Motion at Boyes Hot Springs, a business that specializes in building puppets, sculpting models, writing and producing video content, and more. They designed the strangely elegant puppets featured in Spike Jonez’s “Being John Malkovich” in 1999.
âShe loved having the opportunity to design, sculpt and supervise the puppets forâ Being John Malkovich. âIt was a low budget project with tight deadlines, but she loved that the main character was a puppeteer. In three weeks , she and her Images in Motion team had two puppets sculpted, cast, assembled, costumed, strung and ready for rehearsals in Los Angeles, âArmstrong said.â The following week, seven more puppets headed to LA and the at the end of the fifth week, a 6 foot Emily Dickenson with a radio controlled muzzle was completed. “
Portuges-Robbins has also worked on “Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou”, “Bicentennial Man” and “MonkeyBone”. Under his leadership, the Images in Motion team also molded, cast and 3D printed the characters Pixar animators use when building a movie. Most recently, they won their fifth Telly Award, this time for a public service announcement that taught children proper handwashing skills during the pandemic.
âShe was not afraid to learn skills as diverse as welding and fabrication, building remote control mechanisms, computer modeling and repairing 3D printers,â Kieron Robbins said of his wife.
Robbins met his future wife in 2002 during an art class at Santa Rosa Junior College. She offered to guide him and, like her, her talent was clear. Soon he was helping build characters and creations at Images in Motion. They married in 2008 and continued to develop their manufacturing skills. She wrote children’s books with scripts, in addition to radio controlled mechanics.
âShe was accomplished in so many arts, which is why I call her my Renaissance wife, gifted at so many things. No matter the time or budget, she always made the highest quality possible. She always brought the same intensity to everything she did, âsaid Robbins.
This tenacity was useful the day the people of Alanis Morissette came to call him. It was a Friday, and they needed a 5 foot tall microscope for a music video on Monday. Usually, such a request would take two weeks to complete. Robbins said they should refuse, but his wife wouldn’t hear about it – it was for Alanis Morissette.
âShe was a huge fan,â Armstrong said. “Three short days later, Alanis Morissette was looking through this intelligently made microscope for her video ‘In fire.‘”
She added: “Kamela considered being able to do what she loved her greatest achievement. She would be disappointed to leave us so soon. She had so much she still wanted to do!
No memorial service has been scheduled, but memorial donations can be made to San Francisco Bay Area Puppeteer Guild, to deepen the studies of puppeteers.
Kamela Portuges-Robbins is survived by her husband, Kieron Robbins; her sister, Shelly (Odd) Rustand, and her niece, Aubrey; his stepmother, Sarah Robbins; his sister-in-law Kemplen Robbins; its business partner, Lee Armstrong; and the many friends and co-workers.
Contact Writer / Editor Emily Charrier at [email protected].