In Memoriam, Kamela Portuges

Kamela Portuges-Robbins (1963-2021) was a Renaissance woman; a talented puppeteer, gifted artist and passionate teacher. She was born in Manteca, and grew up mostly in Burney Falls until, as a teen, she moved to the house that she helped her father build in Cottonwood.

Kamela graduated from high school two years early, and at age 16, she started her freshman year at Humboldt State University. By the time she was 20, she had earned a Masters degree in Theater, and a second degree in Marketing. To our knowledge, she never made use of the Marketing, but she took to puppetry and the theater with a drive rarely seen outside those professions. Before turning 30, Kamela had received 3 regional Emmys for her work, as a designer, writer and puppeteer. 

She met her business partner, Lee Armstrong, at a Puppet Guild workshop in 1986. They formed Images in Motion Inc. a few years after and her husband, Kieron Robbins, joined the company in 2002.

For almost 40 years, she was the production designer at Images in Motion, giving their puppets a unique look. She designed sets, wrote scripts, directed, and edited. She was fearless in acquiring skills as varied as welding and fabrication, building radio control mechanisms, computer modeling, and 3D printer repair. Commercial clients included Pixar, Lucas Films, Disney, Academy of Science (San Francisco), Monterey Bay Aquarium, Leapfrog Toys, Mattel, Crayola, and many others.  

Her film credits include The Fly 2, James and the Giant Peach, Being John Malkovich, Monkeybone, BiCentennial Man, Life Aquatic, Pushing Dead, and The Sky Is Everywhere, plus numerous commercials. 

Kamela was a Past President of SFBAPG and taught workshops on puppet construction and performance at national and regional festivals for a variety of puppet organizations.

In recent years, she taught a large lecture course to 300 students at UC Santa Cruz on script writing called Pixar: Story Matters, using Pixar’s animated movies as the model. 

She also taught workshops to hundreds of fire fighters, teachers, librarians and students. She was an amazing mentor to many, sharing her love of the arts with anyone who had an interest.

Kamela Portuges-Robbins passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in Eureka on October 21, 2021, of natural causes.  She is survived by her husband, Kieron Robbins and her sister and brother-in-law, Shelly and Odd Rustand and niece, Aubrey Rustand.

Donations can be made in her memory through SFBAPG, to further the studies of Guild puppeteers. 

Kamela considered being able to do what she loved her greatest accomplishment. She would be disappointed to leave us so soon. She had so much she still wanted to do!

-We’d like to gratefully acknowledge the use of excerpts from A Century of California Puppetry by Randal J. Metz and Kevin Menegus.

Michael Nelson Newsletter Editor’s note: Kamela was a long-time guild member who taught numerous guild workshops, served as guild president, and was supportive of so many of us in so many ways. She will be sorely missed. I know that our members will join us in expressing our deepest sympathy to her family, her colleagues at Images in Motion, and her husband, Kieron. Photo of Kamela with Michael (your editor) and Valerie Nelson by Greg Hayes at the Guild 50th Gala. Photos below shared by Lee Armstrong.

Kamela and Images in Motion gang at a birthday celebration. With (back row L to R) Mary Nagler, Adie Valavanis, Lee Armstrong, Kieron Robbins and, front row, Bill Ferguson and Kamela
Awards! Kamela, shown here with guild co-founder Mike Oznowicz (to her left)
Kamela with long time friend and collaborator Mike Wick.
To Right, above, To Right, Lee and Kamela at a Puppeteers of America Festival in Berkeley in the 1990s.
Kamela’s favorite puppet, now, sadly, missing her puppeteer.