Michelle Zamora, of Viva La Puppet, has worked as a puppeteer on titles such as “Garfunkel & Oates”, “Adult Swim Fun House by Comedy Central” and “A Black Lady Sketch Show”, to name a few. . But getting into “Waffles + Mochi,” Netflix’s food-based series that starts airing Tuesday, raised the bar for what the puppets could do on camera – by making them eat.
“I didn’t think I would eat soup like a puppet”, says Zamora Variety. “Puppets usually don’t touch human food because it’s just not practical: you could ruin the puppet, why would you want to do that?” Just bake a mousse cookie or whatever – usually just something that looks like food and they say “Om name, name, name, name.” With Waffles, the challenge was that we really wanted to see her experience these foods – and do it in a way that wasn’t disgusting. “
“Waffles + Mochi” follows Waffles (played by Zamora), whose father is a frozen waffle and mother is a yeti, and Mochi (puppeteer by Russ Walko and voiced by Piotr Michael), as they leave their icy tundra with dreams of being a cook. In the 10-episode season, travel around the world and experience new types of cuisine alongside celebrities and renowned chefs, including former First Lady Michelle Obama, actors Jack Black and Zach Galifianakis, and chefs Samin Nosrat, José Andrés and Massimo Bottura.
At the start of the show, Waffles and Mochi’s personal cooking skills are relegated to making different types of ice cream, as this is what is readily available where they live. But as they embark on their adventures, they’re introduced to everything from tomatoes and potatoes to soups and pasta.
“She is able to eat anything you put in her mouth. It had a hidden pocket, and it’s wipeable, so we could wipe it between takes. I also created this glove that I could put on in case she had to eat something hot, ”Zamora says.
One of the biggest lessons Zamora learned from this way of working was that “the tasting experience isn’t as connected” if she couldn’t try the food alongside the waffles. So they rigged the whole thing so that Zamora could also eat, and therefore provide honest and perfectly synchronized reactions. “I got to taste every single thing the waffles taste and respond in a very real and real way. I received spoon tortellini from Massimo Bottura, world famous chefs! “
Zamora watched the monitor as Waffles chewed and swallowed to see “how it went” and communicated with the directors about their needs for the shoot, as well as hers as a puppeteer. Sometimes they could skip straight to the rest of the scene, but sometimes she had to stop production first to clear the cover.
Zamora knew there might be concerns the puppets would get stained during production – and she admits Mochi was when he – spoiler alert – “got all immersed in the cumin”, but it was is one of the reasons they make so many backups of each other. puppet. (Another reason is in case of loss or damage during the trip.)
Zamora first heard about “Waffles + Mochi” through director Jeremy Konner, with whom she had previously worked and had a relaxed friendship. She remembers sending her an email telling her he was going to work on a puppet show and asking her, “How do we do this? Zamora had some discussions with production during the development phase of the series, she continues, but was later chosen to play the role of Waffles and recruited as a consultant to work with manufacturers. Manufacturers help “choose what things are made of so that the hands can gesticulate inside and respond effortlessly,” she explains. The team told her they wanted to “adjust the mouth to your specifications to give us more expressions than a puppet ever has.” She also sat in the writers room after the episodes had been trained to provide an overview of what was “doable” from the puppeteer’s perspective.
Often, she said, she wanted “yes and” ideas pitched to make sure the writers and directors realized their vision. This included finding ways to backflip Waffles, as well as having the bee character, which she also worked on, “water a plant with a life-size watering can and make it look like it’s is effortless “. It also meant improvising with potentially intimidating episode guests including Obama and Black, who Zamora recalls having such great energy just when he walked into the room that she wondered how she was going to follow up.
“It was largely revolutionary because it was really, at the time, figuring out,” she continues. “This show is a literal dream come true as a puppeteer.”