The official News Blog for Puppet Place, your hub for all things animated on stage and film in the UK. Find latest opinion, interviews and reviews from the worlds of puppetry and animation. We are dedicated to sharing our passion for puppetry and animation with the wider public and supporting artists and professionals working with these art forms. This blog is edited by Emma Windsor and..
I first came across ‘Clementine the Living Fashion Doll’ on YouTube when I discovered her wonderfully creative and camp films. Then, last year, I was treated to a side splitting night of hilarious and ingenious puppet cabaret at Cafe Zedel in London’s West End. This featured the mini diva herself along with a supporting cast of extraordinary characters and creatures all performed by a hugely talented cast.
The wizard behind the curtain is Mark Mander, a puppeteer and dress designer who sews couture for one of the great miniature divas of show business. Puppet Place were able to catch up with both Mark and Clementine to find out about some of the hard work behind the magic, glitter and glamour of being a puppet princess.
First of all Mark, can I ask you how your relationship with Clementine began? What came first: diva or couture?
My relationship with Clementine came about when I was asked to create and perform a puppet show for a pub. The landlord wanted me to make something like a Punch and Judy show with Spitting Image style characters based on people who drank at the venue. This struck me as far too cruel a thing to do to people living out of the public eye , as puppet caricatures can be pretty unforgiving.
I had seen the comedy double act ‘The Two Ronnies’ use humanette puppets in a sketch on TV and wanted to use the same technique. A living doll seemed to be the obvious character – and so Clementine was born. Her first performance was warmly received and she has continued to grow and control more and more of my life ever since!
As to which came first, Diva or Couture, I would say the latter.
I went to art school where I particularly enjoyed fashion studies, but I‘m one of the breed of puppeteers who has always made my own puppets. I was creating puppets and the associated miniature clothing since I was about 6 years old I guess. I learned to make clothing by doing it. Good old trial and error.
Clementine, I understand that you are quite a demanding client! I also hear that you have had over a 1000 dresses made for you throughout your career. How do you go about discussing and deciding upon your next glamorous creation?
I wouldn’t say I was demanding in the slightest! You must remember that I was living the American Dream of pink plastic perfection before I came to REAL life. It was only THEN that I discovered my penthouse apartment was made of printed cardboard, my sports car ran on two AA batteries and my boyfriend’s underpants were moulded on. It was all difficult to grasp, I can tell you.
I think we would all like our lives to be like a Hollywood film, with dance numbers and a happy ending. I just want everything to be PERFECT, which I think is a reasonable starting point, don’t you?
Yes, I do have an extensive wardrobe of fabulous fashions, but I need them for my fantastic lifestyle. As a liberated doll of today and multi-platform CELEBRITOY my days are action-packed.
I might be dancing ‘Swan Lake’ after breakfast, helping to remove plastic pollution from a coral reef by lunch time, then fighting alien invaders in deep space by dinner. So in a typical day I look at my diary , imagine what outfits I need, then get my PA to tell my designer to have them ready in an hour or two. I imagine you do something similar?
Just because I’m helping save the environment (PLEASE don’t ask me about my charity work) or battling an extraterrestrial menace, its no excuse for not looking my best.
Mark, as well as being Clementine’s costumier, you also have a special role to play within her performances. Can you tell us a little bit about this relationship? How easy is Clementine to work with? Do you always see eye to eye?
All I can say is that, due to several gagging orders, Clementine and I are seldom seen in the same room at the same time.
Clementine, can you tell us about your live performance? You also include various other guests. What are the important elements to a Clementine show? What are your main sources of inspiration? What is it that you hope audiences will go away with?
As luck would have it, I’m returning home from a live performance in the West End as I type! (I‘m in my clockwork private jet . It’s VERY environmentally friendly, but we do have to stop after every 4 miles to wind it up.) I guess my show is structured like a Variety TV special from the 1970s. I have several guest characters performed brilliantly by Ruth Calkin and Mark Esaias , there are some live sketches, some filmed inserts and of course I sing a few songs wearing amazing evening gowns.
My source of inspiration is pop culture in all its forms. Old TV shows , classic songs from the American Song Book, fashion fads, etc.
I hope the audience go away from my shows having had a good time. I adore making people laugh and according to some research notes, which came with my nurses outfit, science is proving that laughter has a real and positive physical affect on the human body!
There are a million shows out there that are catalysts for deep thought and discussion – probing the innermost recesses of the human condition. My shows do contain a few political references and adult themes, if you care to spot them, and it can be argued, by people who like to argue, that having ANY opinion on stage is a political act, but my main aim is to have the audience leave the show having laughed and feeling better than they came in. I also like it when they pay for tickets.
Mark, as well as the live show, you have also worked with Clementine on a number of fun and fantastic films, some of which can be seen on YouTube. How does Clementine’s film work differ from her work on stage? Which of her repertoire are your favourites?
Clementine on film and Clementine on stage require different technical approaches, each with their benefits and drawbacks.
On screen, Clementine is completely free to move around, do anything and go anywhere she wishes, giving huge opportunities for different narratives. What can be lost is the sense that Clementine is a live performance with her head and body working in unison. I have been asked frequently what computer program I use to generate Clementine’s body. Anything unusual on screen is often now assumed to be CGI.
On stage Clementine is more static but the upside is she is standing in front of an audience appearing like a computer generated avatar but clearly live. It’s a simple illusion but very impactful. Clementine has recently come in a talking version and speaking live on stage creates a direct bond with the audience , making her seem all the more real and strange at the same time.
As to my favourite clips… Clementine made a film for the British Film Institute several Christmases ago in which she raided the archives of the BFI and presented clips of well loved puppet characters like Pinky and Perky, Hartley Hare and Basil Brush. It was shown at the BFI for one night only, but the trailer is on YouTube. The event was called ‘Puppets With Attitude’.
Another favourite film was a tribute Clementine made to the late great animator Ray Harryhausen. Sadly this clip was removed from Vimeo and I can’t find it online. If anyone finds it I would love to know. My most recent favourite film was a collaboration with the BBC, showing how Clementine’s costumes are made and linking her to the program The Great British Sewing Bee.
Clementine, you have recently held a residency in London’s West End at Cafe Zedel. What lies ahead for a star of your stature? Where would you like to take your talents next?
Clementine Held ? HELD ? Wrong tense sweetie! I’m currently HOLDING a residency in the West End at Crazy Coqs, which is the gorgeous Art Deco venue based within Brasserie Zedel. I just finished my Easter Eggs-travaganza, which brought the house down on the 22nd April . My thoughts now turn to my NEXT show at Zedel on the 4th of July. It is American Independence Day of course, but it’s also right in the middle of the London Pride festivities, so I have decided to call the show ‘Clementine’s Liberty Special – A Star Spangled Rainbow’, a celebration of fabulous freedom. I have new songs to learn, new films to star in and have to be fitted for a host of new costumes. I have to give, give , give till it hurts, but that is my duty as an icon of glamour.
There will be at least two more shows at Zedel after that in 2019. Watch the website for details: www.liveatzedel.com
I haven’t forgotten those people who through choice or some form of personal disaster do not live in London. I’m taking my West End Show directly to ‘The Little Theatre, Sheringham’, a gorgeous independent theatre on the North Norfolk coast on the 9th of November. Beyond that I’m hoping to get back onto TV again this year, but whatever the platform – be it the West End Stage, International Travel or the internet (visit my website: livingfashiondoll.com and my Facebook page Clementine Dolly) – I hope I can continue to spread happiness through my appearances as a singer/ actor/ presenter/ model / glamour icon / charity worker… In short, a Celebritoy!
KakashizaShadow Play Theatre is the first professional theatre company of modern shadow play in Japan and has produced various works that lead people into the world of drama, inventing original drama styles that refresh the shadow play.We spoke with director and performer, Shuichi Iida, about the history of the company, current performances and his passion for shadow play.
Kakashiza has been in operation since 1952. How did the company begin? Kakashiza was established in 1952 as a dedicated theatre company for NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation). At first I was doing shadow theatre live on TV. At that time, we played shadow puppets on the background of paper cutting arts with many layers of “washi” paper and tracing paper, called halftone silhouette. From the 1970s, we started to perform at elementary schools all over Japan. Then, in 2009, we started performances abroad with performances using hand shadow techniques. Currently, there are about 270,000 spectators on 1,200 stages a year.
What type of work does KAKASHIZA shadow play theatre do?
Kakashiza can support various activities related to shadow art:
Planning, production, directing and management of shadow performances.
Performances of shadow play. We have performances that combine shadow puppetry and actor’s performance, including: “Treasure Island”,“Puss in Boots”,“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”,“The Three Pigs” and “Little Red Riding”. We also have performances that are staged with hand shadows only, including: “Hand Shadows ANIMARE” and “Once upon a Dreaming”. In these performances we create over 100 motifs with hand shadows. They’re nonverbal and are mainly done abroad.
Workshops on shadow art (on how to make and perform with hand shadows and shadow puppets.)
Planning and production of “Halftone silhouette”.
Production of shadow animation.
Appearances on TV and PV (promotion video).
When did you join the company? What is your role?
I joined Kakashiza in 1992. I’ve been working for 25 years as an actor, and have performed in over 30 stage performances with over 5,000 performances! Currently, I’m also in charge of direction and management, and sometimes I’m on the stage as an actor. Shadow play is my life’s work. Everybody can have their own image in the shadow. In addition, spectators can see and reflect their present, past and future in the shadows that appear on the stage. After realizing that such a mysterious nature exists in the shadows, I decided to make this work a life’s work.
Where has Kakashizaperformed? Who have you worked with and where will you be performing next?
We have had performances in Asia, Europe, Russia and South America. We’ve mainly been touring our “Hand Shadows ANIMARE” show. We’ve performed all around the world at festivals and the main ones include “Titirimudi Festival (Spain), MATEŘINKA Festival (Czech Republic), SESI BONECOS (Brazil), and Fidena Festival (Germany).
In March 2019, we made a collaborative work with the Korean puppet theatre ArtStage SAN. It is a non-verbal play with various puppets and hand shadows. The title is “Ruru Island Mystery”. It is a story of a girl who came to the island where time is a place, “Ruru Island”, and a black cat and an old man who live there. The performance with shadows and puppets is very unique.
From August to October 2019, three weeks of performances at the Seoul Arts Center will start, and tours will be held in Korea. Then “Hand Shadows ANIMARE”, a KAKASHIZA performance, is scheduled for a performance in Shanghai in November in 2019.
Resident artists Beki Wills and Catherine V Rock collaborate on a life drawing event called ‘Afterlife Drawing’ at Puppet Place with a deadly twist. We got together to find out a little more about their work.
Photo theme: Love
Would you both be able to tell me a little bit about the work your make on your own as artists?
Cat: I am a puppeteer, fabricator and performer. Most recently I have been working with Paper Cinema as a puppeteer on their production of Macbeth (they also do some exciting stuff with drawing and performance.) When I’m not puppeteering, I’m at Puppet place making things. I design and fabricate puppets, costumes, props and prosthetics. I really enjoy having the diversity of creating and performing.
I currently work with Longleat Safari Park making roaming street characters for their seasonal events. I also cosplay and I am a regular at World Zombie Day, making a new zombie each year to terrify the general public of London.
Beki: I’m a multimedia visual artist. I’m currently exploring the uncertainty and fragile existence of modern society in the form of automatic expression and mark making through a series of drawings on various surfaces. You can see my current work at @convergence10
I also teach life drawing to hen and stag parties and now have fulfilled a lifelong ambition … as a cocktail maker! This is where I really get to show my artistic flare.
Working for a youth theatre company for many many productions, I produced scenery and props. ‘After Life’ was an amalgamation of what we’d done before, are currently doing and then fusing it all together… and that’s what you get when you come to one of our events.
Catherine V rock and Beki Wills. Photo Credit: Beki Wills
What role do each of you play in creating these After Life Drawing events?
Cat: My main focus in ‘After Life Drawing’ is the make up and costume design. I have always been fascinated by prosthetic makeup. I love films classics like Alien, Pans Labyrinth and Beetlejuice – anything with a unique story, memorable characters and horror. The thing I love about films like these is the fact that creatures and effects are made of something real, be it a costume, mask, make up or clay. I love that they actually physically exist and that you can touch them.
We really want to create weird and horrific characters for people to draw, horrors that could exist in our world. It’s not only really fun to draw (who doesn’t love drawing a woman wearing a crown of human heads or a someone impaled on a flagpole?) but it also challenges you artistically by making you draw something out of the ordinary. We welcome people of all drawing experience to come and join us.
Beki: We usually collaborate totally on the theme, storyline and any script that needs writing, re-writing, etc. Cat’s expertise is costume and any prosthetics, fake blood and gore, and I will be scenery backdrops, props and music etc. We both host the night and narrate the story. Years of teaching life drawing means I am model liaison and we’ve got some amazing models lined up for future events. Everyone seems to want to get covered in gore!
‘After Life Drawing’ is a combination of life drawing and storytelling with terrifying prosthetics and scenery. How much of this is performance and how much is still life?
Cat: We are still trying to figure out this balance and in the end it comes down to the story we are telling at the time. For example, our first event was the Hanover Horror (a tragic story of a widow trying to bring her love back from the dead, which ultimately goes very wrong.) Here we told the story through a classic life drawing structure but with short scenes before and after the poses; narratively linked tableaus, if you will. This really allows the audience to connect with the story, getting some emotion and character context before drawing the scene. In this case the audience could have ended up with a full story in their sketchbook.
Photo theme: Murder and Possession
In our most recent Valentines Day theme event, ‘Tainted Love’, we decided to explore two shorter stories, focusing more on setting and the characters. We don’t want to hold ourselves to a rigid format. The joy of ‘After Life’ is that every event will be different and unique. Some will be more performative and some will focus on the look of the still image. It all depends on the stories we want to tell, then the character we want to draw. What will always be the same is the feel of the evening, a night of relaxed drawing fun with a horrific theatrical edge.
Where do you think you’ll take ‘After Life Drawing’ in the future and are there any events lined up that we should know about?
Beki: Obviously we love using Puppet Place as a venue, being both artist residents, but we realise that we can only have a certain amount of people attending. Our main aim is for bigger, bolder and more gore, plus multiple venues for the same event, festivals and conventions. There is a lead up time of about a month to build and make for one night and that’s a lot of effort, and if we can share the night with more artists, whatever their creative ability, that’s a bonus.
We just have a date confirmed at Puppet Place, 30th of May … so join us on Facebook and watch this space!
The MakeShift Ensemble explores physical ensemble performance in all its forms as a tool for engaging, affecting and passing on the story. In an age of uncertainty and change, it sneakily aims to incite small acts of revolution through live theatre. We caught up with Creative Director, writer and performer Jacqueline Avery to chat about their latest engaging performance, ‘I am Turtle’.
Can you tell us about The Makeshift Ensemble? How did it get started and what is the ethos behind the company?
MakeShift came into being 4 years ago now when my main collaborator Laurence Aldridge and I met working on another show. We had similar ideals and many years of experience in making new work, so joining forces seemed natural. We had a mutual love of traditional storytelling alongside contemporary theatre technique, and thus was born our first show based on the ‘Owl and the Pussycat’ by Edward Lear, complete with live loop pedals and pig puppets with rockabilly quiffs. We also thought it important that the merriment on stage should carry a message of responsibility, that it should hold a mirror up to the key messages of our time and incite our young audiences to create change.
‘Owl and Pussycat’ carried a message about looking after our bees. We worked in association with Friends of the Earth and handed out wild flower seeds at every performance. We even had photos sent from audience members of their flowers in bloom! Since then our shows have always followed this path and it felt right, so we ran with it. Our following show, ‘The Children in the Moon’, which was a show about celebrating differences, came complete with an anti Donald Trump song for three year olds. I wrote this in response to the rise of the right in the immediate wake of his election. Bringing ‘I am Turtle’ into the world now, at a time when we see the youth of the world rising to create change, feels like a logical conclusion of collective energies. Every show is performed in solidarity.
So what is ‘I Am Turtle’ about? And what drew you to the subject matter?
After our last show, ‘The Children in the Moon’, I wanted the next step for MakeShift to be a contemporary book adaptation, so I started researching modern children’s books with an environmental message. ‘Turtle’s Song’ by Alan Brown and Artist Kim Toft really stood out. The lyrical nature of it is just beautiful and the images so strong. Keeping key elements of the narrative, we have adapted it to include clear messages about our use of plastics and how this impacts both our world and the world of others. We were extremely lucky to have Norwich Puppet Theatre supporting us in the final making stages and premiere performances of this show in April. Having the run of their incredible building for a week was invaluable to getting this piece and its narrative past and present in just the right place. Our two main characters are Pocket, a spritely, newly hatched turtle, and his (very) great uncle Archie, who take us on a journey to the past of the magical sea turtles as well as visiting a future that leaves them in huge peril.
Can you tells us about the puppetry design and materials used?
MakeShift believe in practising what we preach and, as such, our puppets and entire set for ‘I am Turtle’ are made from recycled materials. The only thing bought new was glue for the puppets, because puppets like good glue. A lot of the materials came from the Dorset Scrap store and from my own kitchen as an experiment in how much plastic I could reuse creatively. Doing this made me realise how much plastic my family used and we have since made huge steps to reduce this. For ‘I am Turtle’ there are a lots of recycled fabrics and our two turtle puppets are made largely from recycled hessian coffee bean sacks.
Where and when can people catch the show?
We have a great Spring/Summer run of this show lined up including exciting places like The Boo and festivals such as Latitude. So watch this space!
Soap Soup are proud makers of devised visual theatre, using their many years combined experience of puppetry, object manipulation and clowning to create theatre for family audiences. We caught up with Artistic Director, Tomasin Cuthbert Menes, to chat about their latest show, ‘MathildaMathilda’.
Your latest show in development is ‘ MathildaMathilda’. Can you tell us a little about the story and how it came about? Who are the creative team?
About 4 years ago my Mum, Ros Cuthbert RWA, was rummaging around in her studio and found a bag with her old doll, Rosebud, inside. All the joints had perished and she was a bag of doll parts, but her sister’s doll’s head was also in the bag, making all the parts of a two-headed doll. A few days later she was in the village and found a white paper heart with a child’s writing who had been practicing writing her name: Mathil-daMath-ilda. The two things came together in her mind, and she began working on a series of mixed media paintings inspired by this two-headed baby diva. That year my parents went to New York to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary, Mum found an image of two-headed girl made from stained glass and MathildaMathilda’s story began to unfold.
I found the paintings very inspiring and suggested that we see what it might be like to make a show together, combining my love of puppetry and theatre with Mum’s two-headed character, love of Jazz and a combination of our visual aesthetic. This was the start of what has been an 18 month journey of story-craft, puppet making, design, composition and song. We brought together people that we both loved to work with from Mum’s pool of talented composers and musicians and my trusted collaborators, creating a very special team of people with a wide variety of skills.
The jazz is composed by Ashley John Long, one of the London Philharmonic’s young composers of this year, and our MD is Jannah Warlow, a Bristol based singer and theatre maker. My husband Chris Menes is bringing the sound world together with his sound design skills, and all the elements are combined under our Director Adam Fuller’s experienced eye. I am designing the show, and working with a widening pool of skilled makers. Pod Farlow from Croon Productions is our set builder, Abi Kennedy our costumier, Jess Jones created a prosthetic head/puppet and Rhyannan Hall is our textile artist working on the painterly fabrics in the show.
Photo: Paul Blakemore
You’re working with co-artist and performer, Ros Cuthbert, who is also your Mum. What is it like to work with a parent? What are the challenges and rewards?
I wanted this show to be a gift to Mum. She is probably the most talented person I know, and has fought hard over the years to get her art and jazz out there. I wanted to do something where she could let all her talents shine, where she could sing to audiences and show off her amazing visual world. In a way, working with a family member feels quite normal and natural. My husband and I have been collaborating for about 3 years and my parents have worked together for most of their careers, so it doesn’t feel as strange as it might for others. Having said that, there are the inevitable patterns that show up. I am fighting the urge to turn into a stroppy teenager and when Mum is fussing over me, worrying I’m going to cut myself with a Stanley knife; it is quite amusing seeing as I’m almost 40!
You have supported the show’s development by fundraising. How did you go about doing this?
Fundraising is something I’ve had to do a lot of over the years. For this project we have pulled out all the stops and done a bit of everything! We’ve had two fundraising events, both exhibitions, with the added bonus of a cake and vintage clothing sale tacked on. We’ve got some Arts Council funding, a seed fund from BARN and from Theatre Orchard, as well as raising £2000 through crowdfunding. Because this show is a little more ambitious than my previous work, we have needed an extra financial boost, so have worked that bit harder. The main extra thing we have needed to find money for is forming the Soap Soup Community Choir – costuming them, paying for music composition for them, as well as paying our fantastic choir leader, Jannah. We will be supported by about 15 choir members at the premiere at Weston Museum on the 18th and 19th of May, who we will have been rehearsing over 6 weeks.
It’s going to be amazing!
Interview with Emma Windsor
Catch ‘MathildaMathilda’ on 18- 19 May, 7pm at Weston Museum (Co-Presented by Theatre Orchard); 02 June, 2pm at The Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol; 19 October, 07:30pm, at Theatre Shop, Clevedon and 20th October, 7pm at Creative Workspace. Find out more about Soap Soup Theatre on the website: https://soapsouptheatre.com
Joseph Wallace is an acclaimed animation and puppetry director. He is currently working on a new animated short, produced by Delaval Film, which received a development residency at the Open Workshop in Denmark and won the 2017 Visegrad Animation Forum pitching prize in Czech Republic.
Your last interview for Puppet Place was in 2016 and you have achieved great success since then. You talked about the cut-out animation ‘Natural Disaster’ and you also mentioned you were hoping to start working on your longest animated short yet at fifteen minutes and told through puppet animation.
That gives indication to how long the new short has taken to get it off the ground in terms of finance. It’s changing now but for the past fifteen years the UK, England in particular, hasn’t really had any dedicated animation funding which is a real shame. When you look at statistics from the eighties, early nineties, it was British films winning top prizes at Annecy, Ottawa and Zagreb. And then all of that disappeared for a while and the scene here has become much more focused on commercial content, children’s series and advertising. It’s due to a number of different factors including; broadcasters stopping funding animation or the British Film Institute stopping investing money into animation.
Things are starting to change now which is great but consequently it has meant this film I’m making now, ‘Salvation Has no Name’ has taken about four years to get off the ground and that’s not just finding finance, that’s developing ideas and getting producers on board. Because of the lack of funding infrastructure for animation it means that there are very little independent animation producers out there. There are some but they tend to be producing within a company so it’s hard to find producers that are interested in taking on animation shorts. I’ve always self-produced my own work in the past but I knew with this film I wanted to focus more on the creative side of things without having to production manage it all as well. It’s been a long long journey to get to this stage but we are finally going into production now so that’s a really humbling and exciting place to be.
You are doing a co-production with Delaval Film and Animation People in the Czech Republic. It seems like the cooperative spirit, especially between countries, is as critical as ever at the moment.
The film itself is about xenophobia and nationalism and borders, and I suppose fear that comes from misunderstanding other people. A lot of my training and expertise in animation has come from being within Europe. I did this course called Animation Sans Frontières, which means ‘animation without borders’ and that was a course that was taught at four different animation schools across Europe. So I studied on that, I found a lot of collaborators through that and that led to working as part of a collective in France and also working with a director called Péter Vácz from Hungary. We’ve collaborated a lot over the years and all of that came from being in Europe. I often work in France, Hungary and Scandinavia, and this film is a commentary on current politics.
I pitched the film in Czech Republic at the Visegrad Animation Forum (which is now called CEE) and in the pitch I said it was really important for me to try and do this as a co-production, not just for financial reasons, but also for artistic reasons to have an international cooperation between two countries at this point when the UK is building walls and separating itself from Europe. So I’m really thrilled and feel really privileged to be able to do this co-production with Czech Republic. Also because nearly all of my inspirations are Czech and Eastern European filmmakers, like Jiří Trnka and Jan Svankmajer, Karel Zeman. At the studio we’ll be shooting in, a lot of people who’ve worked with Trnka shot there. It’s in an old church in Prague so it feels like it’s very much ingrained in the Czech animation history. I’m really excited to be able to shoot there. There’s an element of cut-out animation in the film and we’ll shoot all of that in Prague and the rest of it (the puppet animation) will be shot at my studio.
Could you tell us more about the Hangar Puppet Animation Studio which you founded last year?
I’ve been doing bigger and bigger projects and needing more space to create works. I was aware that there were lots of young independent stop motion artists in Bristol who were working from their bedrooms or attics. I also have a lot of equipment which I’m not using all the time and I was keen to create a space, almost like I did in France, where I could share a lot of my resources and equipment, and work around other artists who are doing similar work. So I found a space which is part of Estate of the Arts and it was the biggest warehouse they had. I pulled together a lot of artists I’d worked with or people whose work I knew to see if they would come and share the space with me and help to renovate (what was essentially an empty warehouse) into a little stop motion hub. We’ve spent a year on and off doing up the space, installing electrics and creating shooting space and an office space. Now it’s up and running and there’s seven of us in there including Roos Mattaar and Heather Colbert, who are making their own work. By the end of the month there will have been five projects shot there and that’s been really heartwarming seeing work coming out and being able to facilitate projects there and share resources. Everyone put a lot of work into get it set up. It’s still a bit messy but it’s full of creativity now, which is great.
Do you think you will want to collaborate on projects together?
The space is set up as a shared workshop space, so it’s not a company or a collective or anything although there are collaborations happening between artists who are based there, which is really exciting. People have been helping each other out a lot, which is really great to see.
Going back to ‘Salvation Has no Name’. Could you tell us, from an animator and puppet maker’s perspective, what do you think will be the most challenging part of the process of making the film?
If I’m honest, probably the most challenging part was finding my producer and finding the financing. Now I’m just really excited about getting on with making it. I mean there’s going to be a lot of challenging elements in there and it’s the most ambitious film I’ve ever embarked on in that it’s fifteen minutes longer than the other animated films I’ve made. There are a lot more characters and a great deal of dialogue. The script I wrote draws a lot from the theatre work that I’ve done in terms of there’s a Shakespearean sort of feel to it in the dialogue, in the conceit and the drama of it. So there will probably be a lot of challenges in terms of animating puppets and also in balancing the ambition of the film with the budget that we have. Other than commercial work, all the short films I’ve made have been made on shoe string budget. They were produced in my spare time or subsidised by commercial work or made as part of a collective, so this is the first short that I’ve had real support to make it. But at the same time it’s never enough money to do it justice so it’s about finding compromises all the time in terms of detail, scale and ambition.
How do you get your ideas and who or what are your main sources of inspiration?
It’s interesting, I think usually ideas come first. I don’t necessarily sit down and say “I’m going to make a new film, what’s it going to be?” I think there’s two types of process for me: One where the story comes fairly fully formed as an idea and I’ll write it down and it will still evolve but in the first instance it seems quite whole. And the other is more like ‘Salvation Has no Name’ where it actually came from a lot of research about the refugee crisis. I started working on it in 2013-2014, which was in the early stages of the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, and people who’d been displaced from Syria, from North Africa.
I read a lot, watched a lot of news and responding to that, wanting to make something that responded to those themes in a poetic way, in a way that was almost a cautionary tale, a folk tale. So that narrative was pieced together over a long time. Not out of intention necessarily but partly because it’s taken so long getting everything together funding wise but that gave it time to bubble away, introduce ideas and really research a lot. I read a lot of books and also looked at a lot of painting. I think for me, I’m more inspired by going to museums and art galleries than going to film festivals. Seeing a great film at a film festival can be motivating but when I go and see a painting or a sculpture I think about how that might transition into animation, how would you take the essence of a painting and put in a film? That’s what really keeps me excited creatively.
I watch a lot of live action films and a lot of old live action films, like Ingmar Bergman, Luis Buñuel, F.W. Murnau, black and white cinema, partly because it feels like these experiments were being made for the first time narratively and cinematically. So that’s the kind of period I get a lot of inspiration from. Sometimes it’s real life, sometimes it’s paintings, and meshing these things together.
Where did your interest and passion for animation, in particular stop-motion, come from?
When I was growing up, I was lucky to be immersed in this period of children’s television in the UK where it was a world of pre CGI and there was a lot of stop motion around. So I grew up with Postman Pat, early Aardman work, the first Wallace and Gromit film, Ivor Wood , Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin. It was a whole landscape. The children’s television was very physical, very tactile, you know, all these little worlds that you were invited into. I think that’s really transpired into the work I make now. I am really interested in worlds and drawing the viewer into a complete world. So I think that was a big influence and I was mad about Wallace and Gromit when I was a kid. I used to make a lot of plasticine models and I think I was always interested in very tactile artworks and animation. I felt like I didn’t really understand how 2D animation was done with cells and everything else but I could understand that if you had a blob of plasticine and put it in front of a camera you could move it frame by frame and bring it to life.
I did a couple of courses when I was a child and obviously now it’s incredible because if you’re growing up wanting to do stop motion you can shoot with an iPhone. The technology is so accessible you can really make plasticine models and animate them straight away. I made models and sets and things but I didn’t get to animate until I was much older. Now I really I don’t like to spend too much time in front of a screen so I try and do as much in-camera as I can, and avoid spending too much time faffing about on computers. Trying to keep it as tactile as possible, you know, painting, sculpting, making things with my hands. I have a lot of respect for what people do with 2D and digital techniques but it wouldn’t really fuel me creatively in a certain way, I think.
What are you interested in exploring next?
Well, right now I’m about to go to Cardiff to direct a commercial which is going to use object animation, which is something I’ve always loved but haven’t done for a while in my personal work. When I got asked to do this advert it was really a nice opportunity to return to using objects and shooting bigger, broader stop motion. ‘Salvation Has no Name’ is a mix of puppet animation and also cut-out animation, which is bringing two slightly disparate parts of my practice together. I’m also making sequences for a documentary feature film which I can’t really talk about much right now but I will probably be posting about it on social media in the next few months. And for that I’ll be exploring puppet animation and cut-out animation again and trying to also mix the two a little bit.
Are you planning on finishing the short next year?
The short will be finished in the spring/early summer next year and getting into festivals in the summer, all going well.
Resident Artist Theatre Company Green Ginger, known for their inspired mix of art and lunacy, are in the midst of another artistic adventure with the UK tour of their brand new show, ‘Intronauts’. We caught up with Green Ginger’s Artistic Director, Chris Pirie, and the show’s Director, Emma Williams, to find out more about the creation of this fabulous futurist puppetry performance.
Photo credit: Emma Windsor
‘Intronauts’ propels audiences into a madcap, microscopic journey through the human body. Where did the original idea come from and how did the story evolve through the theatre making process?
CP: Three strands: submarines, nano-surgery and hazardous waste, converged during the early part of the creation process of Intronauts. Ever since Green Ginger made Rust in 2005, an obsession with submarines has never really been shaken off. These are, essentially,- extraordinary craft travelling in extraordinary places and provide perfect contexts for the company’s approach to fantastical story-telling. Another kernel of inspiration goes back even further, to a childhood comic strip called The Numskulls, featuring tiny white-coated technicians inside the head of a man, and each in control of his sensory functions.
Photo credit: M Dawson
Thirdly, a fascination with hazardous waste and its production, management and disposal informed the initial research and development week. A team of eight, comprising performers, writers, composers and designers met to throw ideas around, create new provocations and improvise material suggested by the theme. A loose narrative structure was then taken up to Norway by a small team of four, who spent a week working with our co-production dramaturg to develop it into a story that would inform the design and fabrication team. Some key decisions were made at that time; to restrict it to tell the tale of two central characters and to work with Hologauze, an innovative gauze material developed in Bristol that we would project animated sequences onto.
Once the design team had fabricated skeletal scenic structures and prototype puppetry solutions, the whole lot was shipped out to Norway where the full production team – performers, director, lighting designer, composer, VFX animator, makers and producer – spent seven weeks in a devising rehearsal process to finish the show. The story continued to develop throughout and even now as we tour, we are able to tweak things in relation to audience feedback.
INTRONAUTS by Green Ginger - YouTube
The show uses performance, puppetry and projected animations to create it’s visual universe. What were the challenges and rewards of bringing these mediums together on stage?
EW: When we started working on this project our biggest question was: how? How is this going to actually work? How are these very different ways of communicating going to fit together? They not only say different things to an audience, they are made in different ways. Live performance is very fluid, you can shift and change elements right up to the last minute. Filmmaking is completely different and once its finished it is fixed.
We also didn’t know what the world would look and feel like when we placed a screen with animated projections between the audience and the live action. Would this affect the puppetry language we normally use and Green Ginger’s distinctive story-telling style?
Photo credit: Paul Blakemore
We spent a long time trying things out in the space, discovering a rhythm, a tone and a visual aesthetic where we hoped these mediums worked together. It was a painstakingly slow process with lots of experimenting and collaborating. Discovering the solutions was incredible rewarding. We were trying something new, something none of us had ever made before, and that is a fantastic way to create theatre, even if it is exhausting at times.
The show is highly cinematic. How did you work with composer Simon Preston to reflect this cinematic vision in the soundscape of the performance?
EW: Initially we had meetings with Simon to discuss the concepts of the show. We talked about the two central characters, their personalities, internal struggles and the musical themes that might exist in the very different worlds they inhabit.
We talked about the technology we were using and the cinematic effect this would have on the show. We discussed the great sci-fi films of the 70’s as well as Fantastic Voyage and Inner Space. Two films that had thematic similarities to the show and distinct and bold soundscapes. Finally, we discussed the sound world of the body and what this might be.
Photo credit: Emma Windsor
Simon then created a library of extraordinary sounds and musical compositions. At first these were just short thumbnails, 15 second examples which we discussed and catalogued. Then a number of tracks were selected and developed into longer, more complex compositions. Finally, Simon came out to Norway while we devised and rehearsed the show. He would come in and out of the room trying out musical scores and sounds he had been experimenting with. He had to deal with some odd requests, for example what’s the sound of a hiccup heard inside the body? Or, if you went into someone’s brain, what would you hear?
Simon played a crucial role in the overall creation of the show and the complexity and richness of the sound design is the result of his skill and craft and hard work.
Photo credit: Paul Blakemore
Intronauts is co-produced with Nordland Visual Theatre and has played to audiences in both Norway and the UK. Is the show received differently by audiences in other countries or are its themes fairly universal?
CP: While Intronauts – alongside other Green Ginger shows – embrace quite universal themes, audiences can differ greatly from country to country and that’s partly what makes international touring so fascinating. We have performed for many years in Scandinavian countries and are quite used to very quiet auditoriums during shows; in itself unnerving as it feels like we may have ‘lost’ the audience, but they are simply concentrating, listening and thinking; by the end they will break out into loud applause that invariably merges into a sustained collective rhythm. It’s disconcerting to experience for the first time, but we’ve become accustomed to it over the years.
Further south, cultural festivals in Mediterranean countries have a tendency towards performances starting later in the evenings and that (particularly when combined with light alcoholic lubrication) can make for some feisty audiences! Green Ginger has been creating internationally-focused productions for four decades and will continue to make work that transcends borders and speaks to different cultures without translation or modification.
Interview with Emma Windsor
Intronauts is currently touring the UK until the end of March 2019. For information on tour dates and venues, visit Green Ginger’s website. For all the latest news from the company, check out Green Ginger on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Laura Bacon is a puppeteer/performer based in London, who was thrown into the spotlight following her appearance on the hit talent show, ‘Britain’s Got Talent’. Josh Elwell caught up with her to find out how her sudden stardom affected her career and her life, and to find out what she’s been working on since.
Laura you achieved great success and charmed audiences on Britain’s Got Talent in 2014 and managed to get through to the semi final. Most people who take part in that competition are seen as themselves. What was it like as an (at that time) anonymous puppeteer to be taking part in such a high profile television show?
BGT was great fun. I was always very nervous about appearing as myself. I think I would feel very awkward talking as me, and it wouldn’t be terribly interesting! When we discussed the possibility of having Patsy May BE the contestant entirely, it just clicked for me. THAT was my act, being the character. So all the VTs I felt were my performance as well. It can be quite difficult to explain to people that I puppeteer for TV – I’m not a ventriloquist. We are always hidden and completely become the character. A lot of the crew were new to it, and didn’t realise the complexity involved with something that looks so seemingly simple. For example, the my positions and the importance of having a monitor! Seeing a monitor is essential for TV puppeteering. It would be like performing a play on a stage wearing a blind fold, or being a camera man without opening your eyes.
Laura Bacon - Puppeteering Demo reel - YouTube
I really enjoyed being anonymous. Because heaven forbid, if I had been an utter fail, no one would’ve known! And I wouldn’t be recognised. One of the tabloids labelled me ‘the Banksy of the puppet world’, which I rather liked. I sometimes wonder if I should have revealed myself at the end, but I like to keep Patsy as a real person. My only little regret was that production pretty much took over all my ideas for the semi-final and made her into a Miss Piggy-like diva. That wasn’t really my idea. I wanted her to be more of a wannabe, struggling artist. Like the epitome of an average contestant. It made no sense to me to film her at lavish locations, leading a celeb lifestyle as she hadn’t ‘made it’ yet.
I requested that there was to be a joke at the end of VT where Patsy assumes all the luxuries are being paid for by ITV, then upon realising they aren’t, she scarpers with a screech of car tyres. This was filmed, but when they screened it live, I realised they hadn’t bothered including it.
As well as being a puppeteer you clearly have a real sense of comedy and a wonderful singing voice. How did you acquire your skills and talents? What was it that brought about the fusion of all of these things in Patsy May and why puppetry?
I’m not sure how I acquired it! Watching Sesame Street as a kid is one of my first television memories and I absolutely loved it. I’ve always seen everything from a comedic point of view and I find it quite hard to take anything seriously. I don’t really do written jokes and punchlines though, I guess my stuff is more observational with improvised reactions. I’ve never really thought of myself as a singer, more as a puppeteer who can sing! I used to be involved in AmDram years ago and was in a few musicals. But even then I was mostly cast as the comic relief character.
I started making puppets when I was in school. Then for four summers working at a US summer camp in upstate New York. When I actually performed them in shows, I had way more fun being hidden and bringing a character creation to life, than being myself.
I actually always wanted to be an animator or puppeteer. Both are quite similar, in the sense you are creating characters, moving for them, and deciding how they emote and behave. A lot of puppeteers start off as animators or have a big interest in animation. I still illustrate as well as puppeteer.
Since BGT you’ve been working on various other interesting projects. How has it been working on those after the glamour of a live Saturday Night show?
I had just been in a small North London production of Avenue Q right before BGT, so that was super fun. I’ve done various jobs since the show, including panto, live cabaret acts, jobs for companies including ITV, Lucasfilm, Henson and even some in the Netherlands and Germany. I also got to train at Sesame Workshop in New York and learn alongside veteran puppeteers, giving me the opportunity to really hone in and develop my puppeteering skills further.
It’s great to work with other established puppeteers on some incredible projects, but I think I prefer to develop my own material.
What particularly impressed me was that you recently staged your own 90-minute live theatre show called ‘An Evening with Patsy May’. How did it differ from other things that you have done? What did you discover by putting the show together? Who are your main sources of inspiration both as a puppeteer and as a comedian?
Yes, it was quite liberating to do exactly what I wanted with Patsy for that show, without rules or censors. She works best with adult comedy and it felt just right. It was quite a challenge from the very beginning, because the main issue is how to cope with holding your arm up for over an hour. Most TV and film puppeteers can manage around 5-10 minutes at a time. Again, it’s worth stressing that this is very different to ventriloquism, as your whole arm is raised above your head.
I had the idea of dividing the show up with short little 1-2 minutes videos of Patsy so that it would introduce the next scene smoothly and allow me to have a quick arm break. It also let me show how I enjoy making films with her on locations around the world. I had to recruit some other cast members because Patsy works so much better when reacting with another person. I had a couple of singers (some via a ‘Skype’ video link) a magician, a pianist and a special celebrity guest to interview. I tried to make each skit as varied as possible, so the audience wouldn’t get bored. It was quite a new challenge arranging everything myself, including editing all the videos and ‘Skype’ calls, creating the poster, marketing and advertising the show, sorting the tech cues, finding the right music, and writing the content. Most of the dialogue was improvised as I find it easier to keep it natural.
I think every puppeteer is inspired by Jim Henson. There was a lovely tribute to him at the end of the show. For me in particular, Frank Oz is probably my favourite puppeteer. I love the way he can portray emotion with such small movements, but also be brilliantly funny without trying too hard. Sometimes when people try too hard with comedy it feels very forced, and it loses its charm. But comedy wise I am also hugely influenced by classic episodes of The Simpsons. In fact, Patsy’s true character is close to Krusty the Clown – demanding, cynical, living to excess and slightly rough around the edges. But with the addition of having female allure and charm. Though most people tend to assume she’s a Miss Piggy-like diva, which often frustrates me!
The character of Patsy May is a real wannabe star and prima donna who clearly loves the celebrity world. As we all know this world can be fickle and cut throat. You yourself experienced the darker side of the business when a German TV show ripped of your act word for word and then invited you onto the show for further humiliation. Tell us a little bit about that experience and how it left you feeling as a performer.
Hahaaa yes, Germany.. Now ‘Die Puppenstars’ was a BGT style show where puppeteers from around the world were invited to showcase their work and subsequently judged. I was alerted in early 2016 about a German TV show that had completely ripped off my entire act from BGT. A blue girl puppet, (similar to Patsy) singing ‘All That Jazz’ with dancers, steps that swivelled, a costume change, and even spoke the exact same ad libs that I had said live on the night. Obviously I was confused and upset. It turns out that apparently, within the German TV laws, it was legal to copy, and it would have cost me thousands to even attempt to sue so I decided to contact the TV company myself. They were apologetic, offered me a small pay off and invited me to be on the show. I agreed. I had great fun filming Patsy in Berlin for the show VTs and I had to learn quite a bit of German for some lines. They wanted me to do the same thing that I did on my first BGT audition with Ant and Dec but with the guys on their panel. I was reluctant to do the same thing but they changed the song and I eventually agreed. They also insisted on me pre-recording the song, which I don’t really like doing. After Berlin I went back a month later to the studio in Cologne.
I met the ‘fake’ Patsy who was very nice to me (she was just doing her job, being cast as this character) and we filmed a few backstage things. When it came to performing my actual act, after the song, the judges told me that they did not like my act and buzzed me out of the show, because they believed I had copied THEM and their ‘Miss Izzy’ character! Keeping in character (though rather enraged) I swiftly made an exit. After all I had been through, from discovering them copying me in the first place, back and forth with lawyers and producers, I felt humiliated and deflated. The crew and everyone I worked with were lovely, and up until the last moment I had enjoyed it, but the show in general seemed quite badly produced. When I saw the final footage, it was weird to see that they had dubbed over Patsy’s English speaking segments with a gruff, German man’s voice. It was weird, but an experience and bit of a learning curve!
As well as the star struck side of Patsy, she is also feisty and intelligent with a longing for love. As actors, performers or even puppeteers we often draw on our own personal experience. How much of Patsy is you? Are you from upstate New York with British roots and longing for love?
Well, I’m not from upstate New York, but I made the first Patsy puppet in Long Lake NY, so that was a little tribute to her origin. I only claimed that she was born in the UK so people wouldn’t assume I was American and demand that the contestants can only be British. But then it turned out that, despite being interviewed in person, The Daily Mail did an article featuring Patsy as a ‘foreign’ contestant who shouldn’t be allowed to partake in the show! I’m 100% British but I have friends and family in the US and Canada. Sometimes I say that Patsy is me after a few beers – she can get away with saying a lot more than I can though! I also have a character called Mavis Mayes, who is an elderly lady fox puppet with a strong Suffolk accent. I have used her for a few online videos and features occasionally on BBC Radio Suffolk. A complete opposite character to Patsy, she is based on many people from around my hometown, including my late grandmother. So she is definitely a part of me somehow.
Can you see yourself getting into more live talent TV show scrapes? Has Patsy been burnt by the darker side of celebrity or does she still have a desire for fame and fortune? What lies ahead for both you as a puppeteer and for Patsy May?
Maybe! It depends on what kind of context. But iI think I would want full control of what I want to do. I need to always go with my gut instinct nowadays! Not sure about Patsy, you’d have to do a separate interview for her! But she’s definitely got what it takes now to feature in an adult comedy show on TV. I don’t think that five years ago I was confident enough and I remember being a little thrown when I appeared on ‘This Morning’ as it was all new to me, but now after all the work and live comedy I have done, I’d be so ready for it! I’d definitely like to do some more live shows, and I’m tempted to take it to the US. I’ve recently tried to join Spotlight for more potential work. But they currently won’t accept people who are primarily puppeteers, despite puppetry being listed as a skill that any actor can put down. Which is very frustrating bug that’s a whoooole other kettle of fish!
Based in the Midlands, Leviathan Workshop are a company of exceptional prop makers and puppet specialists who have worked on commissions for television, live events and theatre. We chatted with Managing Director, Jake Linzey, to find out how the company got started and some of the fabulous fabrication they’ve produced.
Leviathan Workshop produces puppets and props for a range of organisations worldwide. How did you get started? What sparked your personal interest in fabrication?
Puppets have always been an obsession of mine and my parents still have a photo of me taped to the fridge (aged 7 or 8) with a puppet I’d proudly made from newspaper. As a teenager, I always preferred to be in theatre rather than in class, and so I trained as a dancer before progressing to technical theatre as a part of Oxford Youth Theatre at Pegasus Theatre.
I always preferred “learning by doing” rather than academic study, and my days working as a circus performer taught me invaluable skills like load calculation and applied physics. At that age, I always thought I wanted to work in the film industry, but soon came to learn that I far preferred the immediacy of live events and touring shows.
I studied Theatre Design and Production at Trinity College Carmarthen, where I now return as a guest lecturer to teach the fundamentals of puppetry and puppeteering. Whilst a student there, my passion for puppets really came to life and I knew this was what I wanted to do for a living. After three years of studying, I was very ready to get into the “real world” and began working for Blunderbus Theatre Company (sadly now closed). This was fantastic for my professional development, as the environment encouraged creative thought and no idea or suggestion was ever wrong. I could experiment (occasionally making the odd mistake) to find new solutions to problems and work autonomously in a place always filled with laughter, despite the usual long industry hours and creative challenges. Bill Davies made it a place that was a joy to work, and I stayed with them until I was in charge of puppet mechanics and scenic construction.
After that, I settled in London doing some fantastic projects as a freelancer, working on events and shows like X-Factor, and alongside I ran a small puppet and theatre company. Life had its ups and downs but the list of clients I was working for grew and I was often subcontracted to do large puppet builds. After a few years, I took a full-time job at an opera company but after a few months I realised I was psychologically becoming ready to be my own boss full-time. With my severance pay, I brought a load more tools and set up Leviathan Workshop in a single garage. That was back in October 2013. My dream for the company was always to focus on creating high-end, bespoke, large-scale props and puppets as we do now, although for the first few years we also built scenery and sets to help expand our client list and establish our professional identity.
After a year or so of trading, I moved the company to Tamworth for a much larger workshop. Here, I met my business partner Carrie- Anne Badhams, who after working with us for a year became a director of the company in May 2016. She brought with her a wealth of sales and management knowledge and, despite not being originally from this industry, is a very talented scenic painter. Our differing backgrounds and working styles are a real strength and we work exceptionally well together. We have a balanced, creative, realistic outlook of our work and the future of the company. In the last few years we’ve gone from strength to strength, developing a fantastic team and amazing clients, and our journey is proof that if you’re willing to work incredibly hard for your passion, you can achieve anything.
You often produce large scale puppets for stage and other events. What has been the most memorable puppet build so far?
The one that always stands out for me is the Brit Awards in 2017, it created a fantastic working relationship with one of the worlds biggest pop stars. I was away from the workshop late one Sunday afternoon at my parent’s house in Oxford. Carrie-Anne was in the office when a peer from Brilliant Stages called out of the blue. They had a huge problem with two large puppets and we were asked if we could help to fix the puppets, which of course, we were more than happy to do. The problem was that we only had a little over twelve hours to make it happen, the puppets were in London, and we had no idea what technical issues we were up against. It was one of those “drop everything” moments.
After a swift phone conversation between myself and Carrie-Anne (our conversational shorthand is beyond efficient), we kicked into action. I packed up my tools and set off to 3 Mills Studio in London to pay a diagnostic visit to the puppets. Meanwhile, Carrie-Anne began organising an emergency overnight crew. An enormous volume of people were contacted; our regular staff, people they recommended, new applicants to work for us, anyone who might have the technical skills to help. At this point, we still had no idea what we were up against, so it really was a case of “all hands on deck”. People came from as close as Birmingham to as far away as Cardiff – all with backgrounds in puppetry but with hugely varied skill sets. I arrived at the studio and assessed the puppets. They were over four metres tall, designed to be worn on the back of the puppeteers, and they weighed probably close to 100kg each. Problem identified. Whilst chatting with the Production Manager, Jay Schmidt, I casually enquired who the music artist was. Jay looked at me like I was bonkers and replied “Katy Perry”, to which I rather stupidly responded “Oh! I know who she is!”… as though that was some unexpected feat.
Whilst me and the huge skeleton puppets were on our way from London to Tamworth, our crew were travelling to the workshop, and Carrie-Anne was frantically clearing enough room for us to work (we had another job ongoing) and ensuring we’re fully stocked with caffeine, sugary drinks and snacks for the night ahead. Within a few minutes of one another, everyone and the puppets arrived, and we worked out the “plan of attack”. Our goal was to strip as much weight as physically possible from the puppets and completely rebuild them in less than twelve hours. And less than twelve hours later, the workshop was strewn with removed aluminium, polystyrene and PU coating…and we’d done it! The puppets now weighed less than 30kg, and were comfortable to wear and moved beautifully. There was certainly a case of the giggles as they were loaded back into the van, and very much a sense of “did that just really happen?”
Large-scale puppets used in Katy Perry’s performance at the Brit Awards
But, it didn’t end there. I went to the O2 to help with rehearsals as a puppetry consultant, grabbing a couple of hours sleep on the way. After sending the overnight crew home, Carrie-Anne and a fresh member of staff tackled the ongoing job in the workshop which had a deadline of the very next day. Supervising the rehearsals, working with the puppeteers, and the performance at the O2 went smoothly, and it was great to work with such an incredible team. The performance was four minutes long, and I knew the workshop team would be glued to the screen at home, cheering it on. It was a massive team effort, and a testimony of what can be achieved if you have the knowledge, technical ability, and an infallible work ethic.
To this day we still have a fantastic relationship with Katy Perry’s entire production team and have worked with them on several more projects. I couldn’t be prouder of the work we did as a team that night. And what happened to the puppets? They live on and have been touring around the world on Katy Perry’s The Witness tour.
Large-scale puppets used in Katy Perry’s performance at the Brit Awards
What’s next for Leviathan Workshop?
Whilst I can’t talk about specifics, there are a lot of things on the in the pipeline. What I can tell you, at the time of writing, is that we are currently in communications about this year’s Brit Awards, work on cruise ships, holiday parks, shopping centres, large-scale live events, and exhibitions. Some of those will happen, some of them won’t, but it’s always nice to be asked to the party. In terms of going forward as a company we are always looking for ways to create better puppets that perform better and can be operated better.
Elephant built for P&O’s ‘Mr Tinkerton’s Clockwork Circus’
We don’t believe in doing things the same way every time, as we strive for constant improvement with everything we do. Last year projects included a full-size elephant for P&O, giants, animatronic cow costumes, Cadbury commercials, and “dead” bodies for The Lieutenant of Inishmore West End show. I love how varied our work is. We’ve just completed work for Butlins which spanned multiple and varied items: everything from Punch and Judy puppets to 4-metre-long dragon puppets. The dragons are a real source of pride for me and the team. They’re based on a bespoke puppet rig we have been improving and perfecting for a few years. The boom system is great and allows incredibly dynamic and responsive puppetry. Since we knew we had weight limits and didn’t want to lose any detail in the sculpture of the dragon heads, we created our own method of crafting them from carbon fibre. The heads are unbelievably light, being 9ft front to back and only weighing 5kg – I can lift the skin with one arm!
I feel incredibly lucky to do what I do, I have a fantastic business partner who keeps impressing me, and a team who really love what we do, be it sculpting, or foam fabrication, or mechanics. Every job comes with new, unique challenges and opportunities to redefine how puppets are created and operated the world over. We’ll keep investing our time in new techniques and materials, so who knows how big the puppets will get or where they’ll be seen! There are always exciting things on the horizon and its great to get to share our love of puppetry with you and your readers.
Alba E Garcia-Rivas is a film director from Puerto Rico with a passion for puppetry in all forms. We caught up with her to find out where her fascination with puppet animation started and how her love for Puerto Rico has influenced her work.
You are an animation director, animator and artist who works primarily in stop motion. How did you get started and what appeals to you about stop motion animation? Is it popular inPuerto Rico?
It all started in my childhood, when my father worked in a TV station and he taught me his love for film. I got to learn with him the tricks of the trade so to speak. For example: green screen, camera angles, special effects. I started as an oil painter at age 8, then did exhibitions and sold my artwork pieces at age 16. This got me into college and I studied Fine Arts, including acting. When I was at the University of Puerto Rico, I saw that computer animation was the thing to study, and the university didn’t have any computer courses at the time, so off I went to New York and graduated with a second Fine Arts Degree in Film, Video, and Animation. Here I won the Outstanding Dusty Film Festival Award at School of Visual Arts, NY. And no, stop-motion is not popular in Puerto Rico. I learned about it when I went to SVA, NY.
Your latest stop motion film in production is ‘Dangerously Ever After’. Can you tell us about the film?
As I was completing work on my short stop-motion film, Time Space Reflections, my 7-year-old daughter showed me a copy of a book she loved so much, she’d memorised it word for word. As a girl who loves science, magic, and danger, she found a kindred spirit in Princess Amanita. “Mommy, can you animate this book?” she asked.
The book spoke to me as well. The beautiful botanical illustrations, the wild costumes, the danger and whimsy and, most of all, the message of acceptance, openness and joy. Princess Amanita looked like one of my own creations. I knew we had to make this movie — to inspire girls like my daughter to be the stars of their own dangerous and beautiful adventures.
Not all princesses are made of sugar and spice–some are made of funnier, fiercer stuff.
Princess Amanita laughs in the face of danger. Brakeless bicycles, pet scorpions, spiky plants–that’s her thing. So when quiet Prince Florian gives her roses, Amanita is unimpressed . . . until she sees their glorious thorns! Now she must have rose seeds of her own. But when huge, honking noses grow instead, what is a princess with a taste for danger to do? Well, she goes on a QUEST! This is an award winning picture book and the author Dashka Slater and I partnered to make it happen.
Stop-motion has a unique energy. It’s warmer and more intimate than computer-generated animation, imbued with the magic of solid, three-dimensional objects and the mystery of a doll’s house. Stop-motion allows artists to create miniature worlds and bring them to life with the freshness and playfulness of children but the artistry and technical wizardry of adults. It takes up to two days to make 24 seconds of animation. But the result is like no other form of animation.
Dangerously Ever After Trailer - YouTube
You have also recently directed a live action puppetry film ‘Dak’toká Taíno’ (‘I am Taíno’). Can you tell us about that?
I was animating my fourth film when Heather Henson (Jim Henson’s daughter and founder of Ibex Puppetry) asked me if I would be interested in making a short puppet film about my Taíno culture. Soon after that conversation, on September 17th 2017, Hurricane María hit Puerto Rico and her winds were between category 4 and 5, which is extremely dangerous. It was a shock to us all. Hurricane María destroyed homes, plantations and it is estimated that 4,645 people died. I was devastated for my Puerto Rico, the land were I grew up, and the land I love. We saw how the Trump administration abandoned their own American, Puerto Rican citizens. During the making of the film I reconnected with my Taíno heritage, as my grandmothers were Taíno. Now, I have a daughter and I have a responsibility to teach her my culture, our ancestral Taino language and our traditions.
Stop motion takes years in the making, while in less than 9 months we finished the I am Taíno live puppetry film with 4 days of shooting. The live puppetry was shot at the Carriage house, Jim Henson’s house; it was such an honour to be there and feel the creative energy of the space.
I am Taíno, Dak’toká Taíno was so successful that it won 3 awards and now we are trying to qualify for the Oscars 2020. I just partnered again with Heather Henson to do a new film! This one is a dark fantasy about the detention camps in Texas. We are using silicon monster animatronic design and a mix between puppets and actors. Can’t talk that much about it but it is definitely an activism piece. I guess I found my voice by telling meaningful stories and helping mankind.