The Depraved Appetite of Tarrare the Freak: An Interview with Tobi Poster

Featuring over twenty puppets, a male soprano, virtuosic musicians and a thrilling original score by internationally renowned pianist and composer Tom Poster, The Depraved Appetite of Tarrare the Freak tells the extraordinary true story of one man’s quest to be human in a world that sees him as a monster.  I sat down with the show’s creator, writer and lead puppeteer, Tobi Poster, to find out where this crazy idea came from and the show’s forthcoming tour in Spring 2017.

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Photo: Barney Witts

Autopsies, amputated limbs, dead cats, international espionage and opera?!  How on earth did you come up with this as an idea for a puppetry show?

I found this incredible true story while lost on Wikipedia. My first thought was ‘how come no-one has ever turned this into a puppet opera?’  It seemed like such rich, fascinating source material, which somehow needed to be told through puppetry and music. It’s this grotesque, larger-than-life narrative, which somehow still manages to be very affecting on a human level.

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Photo: Guy Sanders

Wattle & Daub’s background is very much in devised and collaborative work, which I think definitely affected the way we approached the libretto and music. Myself and the composer ,Tom Poster, were writing music throughout what was partly a devising process, led by Laura Purcell-Gates and later by the director Sita Calvert-Ennals.  So we’d be responding to what had happened in development that week, or to discussions with story collaborator Hattie Naylor, or Dr Alan Bates, our pathology consultant – who really helped us get the feel of the autopsy, both in action and music.

Because we have two singers voicing a number of characters, Tom was particularly conscious of creating distinct soundscapes for each character, as well as making use of some of the more unusual parts of their vocal ranges.  It’s a different work than we would have created if we had been writing for human performers.

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Photo: Barney Witts

I was lucky enough to see a performance at the Bristol Festival of Puppetry 2015.  I’m looking forward to seeing how the production has evolved since then for the new tour in Spring 2017.  Where can I catch the show and what hopes do you have for the tour? 

We’ve mainly been exploring the framing of the piece, though I’m excited to get back in the rehearsal room and see what else we can discover.  We’re really pleased to be bringing it back to Tobacco Factory Theatres, who have been a vital part of the development of the show. We’re also delighted to be bringing it for a 3 week run to Wilton’s Music Hall, which feels like a perfect space for this multi-disciplinary work, as well as the North Wall and Bath Spa Live.

We’re looking forward to really bedding the show in over a longer run and getting the work out there. The response has been so strong including from people who didn’t think they liked opera or puppetry, which is so gratifying to hear.  However, perhaps the responses I’m most looking forward to are the visceral responses of disgust we always seem to get in certain moments..!

Interview by Emma Windsor


‘The Depraved Appetite of Tarrare the Freak ‘ will go on tour in early 2017 and will be at venues nationwide including, the Tobacco Factory Theatre, Bristol (25 – 28 Jan) ; Wiltons, London (30 Jan – 18 Feb) ; The North Wall, Oxford (08-09 March) and the Michael Tippet Centre – Bath Spa Live, Bath (10 March 2017).  For more information about the show, visit Wattle & Daub’s website at: http://www.wattleanddaub.co.uk

A Pickled Image Christmas: An Interview with Vicky Andrews

Formed in 2000, Pickled Image specialises in puppetry for live performance and theatre. Since its inception the company has gained international recognition and numerous awards for their darkly humorous visual productions.  I sat down with company co-director Vicky Andrews to talk about what they’ve been up to, what’s in store for Christmas and the latest show in development, ‘Yana and the Yeti’.

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What have Pickled Image been up to?

timthumb-phpWe have been rehearsing Christmas Tales with Granddad, a show we made last year for Cast Theatre in Doncaster.  It has a different cast then, Kathleen Lore and Simon Kerrigan.  Adam Fuller wrote the show, Dik (Downey) and I directed it.  This year I’m in it, doing all the roles that Kathleen did and Vic Llewellyn is operating the Granddad puppet.  We’ve got three shows at the Tropicana, Weston-Super-Mare on 03 – 04 December.  Followed by a run at the Quaterhouse, Folkstone from the 16 to 24 December.   Then we come back to Bristol for a run at the Christmas Speigeltent for 27 – 30 December.

So it’s a new team out on the road with the show.

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Still from animation for ‘Christmas Tales with Granddad’.
Illustration: Vicky Andrews. Animation: Emma Windsor, White Rabbit Animation

Granddad’s got a huge following in the UK because he’s been around for so long and he’s amongst the most successful puppet character that we’ve got.  The show’s for families with children aged 3 years +.  It’s a really fun family show and a great opportunity for the whole family to go out and enjoy themselves.


And how’s ‘Coulrophobia’ going..?

Well, we’ve just finished some very successful runs in the UK.  We had a great run at the Tobacco Factory Theatre, Bristol which completely sold out.  Then in February we’re off to Manipulate Festival in Scotland with a show on Saturday 04 February.  After that, we’re off to Greenwich Theatre in May; The Gulbenkian Theatre, Canterbury in April and we’ve got a week long tour in Norway with Nordland Visual Theatre, who co-produced it.   It’s been a very successful show, and it demonstrates another of our strengths.  Not only can we produce very popular family shows but also slightly risqué adult shows.  Both have a strong audience bases.

So Coulrophobia is going to be going as long as we can have it on the road!


And what’s in the pipeline..?

We are starting to make our new show, ‘Yana and the Yeti’, which is co-produced by Nordland Visual Theatre and funded by the Arts Council.  We go to Norway at the end of February for a month for rehearsals and it premieres there on 24 March.  It’s a family show with no spoken language, so we can tour the show internationally.  It’s about a little girl called Yana who has lost her Mum and ends up in a Siberian village on the outskirts of the mountains and forest.  She’s a refugee, placed with a mother who has five children of her own and is too busy to pay attention to Yana.  She’s an outsider, bullied by the village children.  Yana still believes that her mother is going to come back for her and the children use this to lure her into the forest near the outskirts of the village.  They leave her there, lost and alone.  She’s terrified as she can hear a wailing sound and can see a large figure looming towards her out of the darkness.  It’s a Yeti – and he’s also lost.  Although it’s a little scary to begin with, they both realise that there’s nothing to be scared of and end up keeping each other warm.

The villagers, of course, realise that Yana is missing and the story follows their journey to find her and bring her back safely to the village.  We’re working with Award winning playwright Hattie Naylor who is co-writing it with us.  Emma Lloyd, from Scopitone & Compagnie, is directing the show (she also directed ‘Houdini’s Suitcase’ back in 2006. )  Adam Fuller, Nikki Warwick and myself are performing.  Simon Preston is producing the music and Adam Laity is going to film some snowy scenes.

The show is for families with children 5 years +.  It might seem scary, but I think children are more sophisticated than we give them credit for.  It’s a careful balance, it won’t be ‘fluffy’ because that wouldn’t convey the themes, there has to be a slight edge to the work that children can handle and appreciate.  The themes are so poignant now with what’s happening with refugee children from Syria and other places.

There are so many displaced children who have lost their families, so it’s reflecting real life and those undertones are in the work.  Many children in the UK understand this. They might have refugee children at school, children from a different country who don’t speak their language and who look or behave a little differently.  So it’s relatable to in that regard.  Interestingly in Stamsund, Norway, where we are making the show, the hotel in this small community has been turned into a refugee centre.  So the location is in the middle of nowhere, in a small town where there are many refugees.  We hope to absorb some of these influences into the work.

We’ve also been involved in a completely different show, ‘Babe the Sheep-Pig’ with Polka Theatre.  Dik has been making some puppets and masks for the performance, working with a great team of makers, including Max Humphries, who made all the mechanisms for the puppets.  It’s been a really great experience for us.   So all-in-all we’ve been rather busy!

Interview by Emma Windsor


Christmas Tales with Granddad‘ can be seen at the Tropicana, Weston-Super-Mare from 03 – 04 Dec; The Quaterhouse, Folkstone from 16 – 24 Dec and the Christmas Speigeltent, Bristol from 27 – 30 Dec.  Coulrophobia will continue to tour next year 2017.  For further information about Pickled Image and their shows, see the website at: http://pickledimage.co.uk

Puppetry in Film & Theatre: An Interview with Joseph Wallace

Joseph Wallace is film and theatre director specialising in animation and puppetry. He is best known for his animated short films, which have received international acclaim and screened at numerous festivals around the world. He has written and directed over fifteen shorts since 2007 including puppet, object and cut out animation as well as live-action, dance and documentaries.

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Tell us about your practice.
What are the links between film and theatre for you?

My practice as a film and theatre director focuses predominantly on animation and puppetry where the puppet as a vessel for the audience is central to the pieces. I grew up with stop-motion animation and live-action puppetry in film and television alongside puppet theatre and that particular hand made approach has always held a lot of truth for me.

I have very little aptitude or desire for the world of computer animation as my passion lies in materials and the stories of objects.  I have a need to get my hands dirty. For me, puppet animation is an ultimate métier for the way it combines many of my preoccupations, from theatre and performance, to cinema and photography, as well as sculpture and painting.  It really is an alchemic medium where you are artist, technician and performer in one. I think animation and puppetry appeal to my interest in heightened and surreal aesthetics and both these mediums allow you to build the world from the ground up and invest in the symbolism and metaphor of the image.

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I’ve always seen theatre and animation as being very closely related. They both operate on a non-literal plane.  Animator Barry Purves once talked about both having a fluidity of space which I think is absolutely true. The film work I make tends to be theatrical and the theatre work conversely cinematic, so the two constantly inform and infuse the other.

I lecture about puppets on stage and screen at universities and I talk a lot about the tangible link between the two although often the approaches are very different. But certainly artists like Peter Greenaway and Patrick Bokanowski make what I would describe as very theatrical films and theatre companies like Complicité or the performer Al seed can often evoke a sense of cinema or animation. I think it’s important to constantly stalk the darkened corners of libraries for the often forgotten or largely obscure works. I’m consistently inspired by the lesser-known elements of well-known artists, for example the sculptures of Picasso, the short films of Man Ray or the collages of Max Ernst.


You were recently involved in the production of a stop-motion music video for the the band ‘James’.  How did that come about?

The music video ‘Dear John’ really came about through my colleague Péter Vácz who’s a Hungarian animator based in Budapest. We met whilst studying together on Animation Sans Frontières; a trans-European animation production course held at animation schools on the continent.  We developed a close collaboration, which has continued over the years. Péter and I have been an outside eye for each other on various projects, I’ve helped translate some of his pieces to English, we’ve made films together as well as a live show which was part theatrical-lecture, part screening and part music concert.

Péter had already made the video ‘All I’m Saying’ for James in 2014 through the production company Picasso Pictures in London and they liked that so much that he was invited him to do another and he brought me in to make it with him. We began by Skyping back and forth between London and Budapest whilst developing ideas. Péter designed all the characters and locations and I pulled them together into a visual narrative that made sense of the song lyrics and we then worked on that together to refine the visual storytelling.

I went out to Budapest for a month or so for the main production where we worked on the film from a small studio near the river. People often comment that Péter and I are quite stylistically similar and I think we’ve had a lot of similar influences so we slip into each others visual realm very easily. Independently, we have quite different ways of working but our approaches seem to compliment each other and we’re quick to challenge each other and push to make things the best they could be.

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We were mostly three working on the project.  Péter and I making puppets, creating the lighting design, animating and editing and Milán Kopasz making all of the models and sets.  Then later Attila Bertóti joined to work on the drawn animation. So it was a very small affair with only two animation stages shooting at the same time. We had duplicate puppets of the girl and boy characters so that Péter and I could animate simultaneously.

The animation was roughly split up so that Péter animated a lot of the torso of the film and I worked on the opening and end of the piece including the final shot which was created using an Ikea lamp on it’s side animated millimetre by millimetre for the rising sun. The video was awarded a Vimeo Staff Pick on its online release and has since screened at a handful of international festivals. It received an honourable mention at AOC awards in Los Angeles and won Best Animation at both Los Angeles Independent Film Festival and the Kinsale Shark Awards.

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What projects do you have in the pipeline?  How is puppetry involved?

quay_4_rebecca_bagley2Over the last couple of years I’ve worked on various projects including directing Green Ginger’s Outpost which toured around Europe and the UK as well as curating the film programme for Bristol Festival of Puppetry which featured 12 events and screenings with Barry Purves and the Quay Brothers as special guests.

I’ve also created a lot of projection for stage both in this country as well as in the States, often with animated imagery which brought the film and theatre sides of my work together.  I am currently very pleased to be working on a new short film which features a combination of puppet animation and live-action puppetry and will draw on storytelling approaches I’ve developed in my theatre work. It’s wonderful to be back in production on a short film with all the difficulties and delights that brings. At fifteen minutes, the piece will be my longest animated film to date and is due for release next year.

 

Interview by Emma Windsor


To find out more about Joseph’s work visit his website at: http://www.josephwallace.co.uk  To see some of his short films, including the making of ‘Dear John’, visit his Vimeo channel at: https://vimeo.com/josephwallace

‘Sex and Puppets’, Wondering Hands: An Interview with Alicia Britt.

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One of the best things about being a volunteer at The Wardrobe Theatre in their new home at Old Market Assembly, Bristol is that I get to see a great variety of shows and performances, many of which if I’m being honest, I probably wouldn’t have otherwise seen. Doing this role has not only matured me as an artist, but puts me in the best place possible to be able to tell people when something unmissable comes along.

Such a performance occurred in October.  The amazingly talented Corina Bona had brought her Smoking Puppet Cabaret to our stage.  The evening was filled with a veritable smorgasbord of twisted puppetry, eclectic sounds and off-beat humour colliding in a cabaret for our pleasure – all presented in association with Puppet Place. The line-up included: Puppets & Pizza, Araceli Cabrera Caceres, Gongoozler, Wondering Hands and Maragrita Sidrokastriti.

The honour of headlining the show went to Wondering Hands.  The anticipation and excitement in the air was tangible and people’s faces beamed with smiles, which were destined to remain there throughout the performance.  One of the Wondering Hands performers, Alicia Britt, later described the Bristol audience as being the loveliest humans; you could see why she would think that.

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After the show, I took the opportunity to chat with Alicia about Wondering Hands. She explained that Wondering Hands was formed when she and Dan met Edie at Curious School of Puppetry‘s weekly Soup Nights early in 2016. “The atmosphere was just so relaxed and inviting. The food and the lectures gave everyone something lovely to talk about that it really didn’t matter who you were talking to. From famous television puppeteers, successful directors or simply fans of puppetry- everyone found something in common at the soup nights. It was just the most welcoming atmosphere.”

They decided they wanted to make politically current and challenging work for everyone from young children, to teens and adults. “We think that puppetry is a medium to be taken seriously and will not shy away from using it in new, exciting ways!” she told me.

She and Dan already knew each other from working at the Royal Opera House.  Alicia was working in costume and Dan was as a fully trained armourer, leather and metal worker.  She had also trained as a maker at Wimbledon College of Art and has designed puppets for shows in the West End before committing to puppetry performance this year. All three Wondering Hands performers have trained at the esteemed Little Angel Theatre in Islington. So the team have ample experience under their belts and are eager to keep learning as Alicia told me with excitement about her plans to attend the Curious School of Puppetry again in 2017.

Their latest performance, ‘Sex and Puppets’ began at a house party.  Alicia was writing a puppetry show about sexual consent and discovered a close friend happened to be reading her masters positive sexual health promotion at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.  Her friend thought Alicia’s idea to make a puppet show about sex was a brilliant one, so they soon began working together to create a show. The show has since turned into a cabaret bursting with new puppets, concepts and ideas exploring how we talk and learn about sex.

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“I’ve been making puppets for ‘Sex and Puppets’ since March this year! Every time we had a new rehearsal there’d be another idea. There’s just so much to talk about with this topic- it’s been so hard to squeeze it all in” she explained.  Sex and Puppets’ has all kinds of puppets, from monster puppets, singing vulvas and aliens, to contemporary marionettes, socks, cuddly toys and even pizza boxes. “I just really want adult audiences to see how versatile puppetry can be.”

I felt the performance was both entertaining and informative, so would recommend a visit.  ‘Sex and Puppets’ will go to the Newcastle Festival of Puppetry in March with possible shows planned at Camden People’s Theatre in May, Brainchild Festival, Edinburgh Festival Fringe and Smoking Puppet Cabaret at Shambala.

 ‘Sex and Puppets’ is a fresh take on a topic that isn’t always so easy to discuss.  A must-see!

Interview by Stephen B. Watters


Wondering Hands Theatre uses puppetry to explore the issues young people face today.  They believe in talking about complicated things with children, seriously complicated things with young people and everything with adults. They want to bridge gaps between generations and encourage communication even when it is difficult. They believe puppetry is the perfect way to start.  For more information about the company and their work, visit their website at http://www.wonderinghandstheatre.co.uk or their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/wonderinghands/

Chuck Steel – Night of the Trampires: An Interview with Sam Holland

Sam Holland works as Head of department and is a highly experienced puppet and model maker for film, television and exhibitions.  He is currently ‘Head of Puppets’ for the forthcoming feature length stop motion film, “Chuck Steel: Night of the Trampires” – the latest installment from director Mike Mort.  We spoke to him about his involvement in the project, how the puppets were made and the challenges and rewards of running a film studio facility for stop motion puppet production.

 

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You have an interesting job title ‘Head of Puppets’.  How did you become involved in the project and what does this role entail?

I worked with the line producer Ben Halliwell on ‘Frankenweenie’ and I worked with Mike Mort twenty years ago on lots of commercials. I had a company called ‘The Puppet Factory’, so I was employed to make puppets by him through ‘Passion Pictures’.  He called me up about this project and invited me to discuss an idea he had about a feature film.  So I went over and met Mike and Ben, laughed my head off at the ideas and cried at how much work that would have to be done (laughs).  It was so immense, fun and technically interesting.  I was gagging to be on board.

Unfortunately I had to wait two months to find out.  It was a happy day when the guys said ‘yes’ I’d got the job.  So now I’m ‘Head of Puppets’, which involves working very closely with production and the director.  Basically, I’m in charge of making Mike’s ideas come into fruition – the character design and construction methods. I run a team of twenty-five when we build and then scale down to about ten for the maintenance.  I have lots of procedures running through my head continuously with seventy-five processes to make a puppet and four hundred odd puppets to build.  It’s been fun. Not for the faint hearted!

 

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The ‘Chuck Steel’ films are a pastiche of 80’s action movies.  Why choose puppet stop motion to tell these stories?

Well, Mike has been thinking of Chuck for years and he’s one of these directors who is so knowledgeable about 80’s cop hero movies and action/horror movies.  He has an amazing memory of all of these off-beat B movies and I don’t know why he doesn’t just make an actual live-action movie!  Maybe he will someday but for the moment, Chuck has always been stop motion in his head.  You can do so much with the medium.  You can have fun with it and do some great effects with it as well.  It’s a great medium to work in and Mike’s been a successful contributor to the medium for the last twenty years, so why not carry on.

 

 

What informed the character designs and why the choice of materials for puppet fabrication?

I was bought into this production with a set budget and team number, which isn’t the way that I normally work.  I had to work out a technical way of building these puppets within those constraints, so it’s very modular.  How can I work through a system of making hands correct, every single time, for example? So everything is about the success rate.  How do I get a pair of hands, a body or a paint job out with the highest success?  I worked with the team and in ZBrush to get our generic body shapes made so our armatures would fit in a modular fashion.  In this way, we knew that our success rate would be good as everything would fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.  That’s how we were able to turn out thirty odd puppets per week with only a crew of twenty or so.  When we were running we were running!  It was exciting!! It was very much like a chef’s pass at times.  A lot of adrenaline going on for everybody, we were just flying.  A lot of clever thinking to make it work, but we enjoyed it.

Mike loves the work of special effects guys of the 80s era, like Rob Bottin and Rick Baker.  So instead of trying to be too clever with our finishes, by using silicones and materials like that, we ‘dumbed down’ the finish a bit, so we were using latexes and foams to give a slightly dated look.  It was homage to our great American buddies in special effects really.

 

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‘Night of the Trampires’ follows ‘Raging Balls of Steel Justice’.  Have there been any significant developments to the puppets over these productions? 

Mike had ideas about how he wanted us to work on this film, but we couldn’t do that as that was a very small team of people working very hard but with only twelve or so puppets.  So I had to persuade him to do it another way.   I wanted to work with ZBrush for years and this was the perfect job for it, so we put it to him and he said ‘OK, let’s go for it.’  So we used technologies in the right areas but we still do traditional methods of construction. It’s a balance.

It’s very difficult sometimes for a director to visualise without something tactile in front of him, which he can see.  On computers, as much as you can rotate an object, for some reason it doesn’t always click.  So that was probably the biggest change; the use of technologies and materials that would assist us and allow us to spend more time on the pretty stuff, like all the effects and finishes.  Our production systems allowed us to make puppets at high speed.  We knew we had to hit certain standards for Mike to be happy.  As everybody is good at their work and everybody is striving to finish a great puppet, we were able to move quickly.  Finished, signed-off, next one.

 

PrintAnd lastly, do you have a favourite puppet?

I would have to say Chuck, for without him I wouldn’t have been able to make the other 399 puppets.

 

 

Interview by Emma Windsor

 


‘Chuck Steel: Night of the Trampires’ is currently in production at Animortal Studio in Wales and is due for release in 2017.  For more information on the production as it unfolds, visit the studio blog: http://nightofthetrampires.com/blog/, join the Facebook page or follow the team on YouTube, Vimeo or Twitter.

 

 

 

Meet the Intern: An Interview with George Northcott

Sat drinking a latte at The Old Market House on West Street Bristol, home of the Wardrobe Theatre, waiting for stop motion practitioner, model maker and Puppet Place Associate Artist George Northcott to join me, I think back to the first time we met when I joined the Puppet Place associate artist family. George was at that uncertain but exciting time in an artist’s career between leaving full time education and the reality of having to make a living from their art out in the real world. I’m struck by how much more confident and self assured he looks now as he joins me. 

20161008_122414Hi George, thanks for agreeing to this interview.  I’d like to start if I may by asking about your background and how you came to be a stop motion artist?

Of course. During my studies for a Level 3 Extended Diploma in Art & Design at Truro college I’d stumbled across animator and film maker Jan Švankmajer  whilst watching stop motion videos on YouTube.  I really enjoyed his subtle blend of reality and imagination and soon became a big fan of his art. He and Chris Sickels of Red Nose Studios, who manages to create stunning backdrops for his characters, sparked my love of moving image and model making.

Those two artists were the biggest influences for my first major project (FMP), a stop motion animation called Endless Hunting, for which I was recognised for outstanding achievement in art and design at our final year exhibition at the Truro College Lemon Quay Exhibitions. I felt that stop motion gave me the best and widest use of both materials and processes and also allowed me to use the fullest range of skills I had been taught on my course. With these influences, and the success of the exhibition, I was pleased to be awarded a triple distinction. 2After college I applied to UWE to study illustration, with the intention of doing animation in my second year, but ended up doing illustration and animation because of the stronger focus on storytelling and narrative. It also allowed me to focus more on model making towards the end. Working primarily in a 3D manner creating a range of stop motion animations, puppets and models – my final exhibition enabled me to showcase all my creations in a mixture of animated shorts, puppet shows and concept posters and prints. I completed my course with a BA first class honours in Illustration.

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At my final year exhibition at the Bower Ashton Campus I sold some prints to UWE which will be displayed at their new Frenchay building when it is complete in 2017. They also want to discuss using some models as part of the signage around the new building.  In July, the exhibition went to the Hoxton Arches in Shoreditch, London where I sold my first 3D work, a piece called the ‘Brexit Bike’. This opened my eyes to the potential of puppets and models being artworks in their own right. I also had a very welcome opportunity to meet sculptor Wilfred Wood who shared both his knowledge and good advice with me.

You’re currently engaged on a three month operations and production internship at Puppet Place, how’s that working out for you?

It’s been amazing to be surrounded by so many professional creative artists who have so much ‘how to’ knowledge for me to tap into. Rachel, Emma and Luke have been very supportive throughout. They have allowed me time and space to work on my own skills and projects, as well as supporting me in my role to contribute to the smooth working environment Puppet Place provides. Working with the artists at Green Ginger, Rusty Squid, Pickled Image, together with any number of freelance and associate artists, has undoubtedly been the best next step for me on my journey to become a professional artist. I am very grateful to Puppet Place for giving me this opportunity to learn from and to network with so many talented and kindred spirits. I will certainly be looking for ways to maintain my close association with the team when my internship ends soon.

What other projects are you working on at the moment?

I’m currently working as a freelance 3D illustrator on a number of projects including making a series of models for a new company called The Social Skills Agency who create classes in film, drama and music for children with Aspergers to help develop their social skills while learning about subjects they are interested in. I’ve recently finished some imagery for their website and I am exploring the potential for my involvement with them to develop into a collaborative production.  This may give me an opportunity to be more involved in the delivery of these workshops. It is a very exciting project with lots of potential for the future.

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I’ve also just finished making a life size model of a Yeti for Anorak Magazine for their 10th Anniversary Drawing Imaginarium at Dalston Square, Hackney in London this October. Cathy from Anorak Magazine approached me after she saw my creations and puppets at the UWE exhibition at Bower Ashton.

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And the future, what are you hoping that will bring?

I’m especially keen to work collaboratively with the artists at Puppet Place, and with the Social Skills agency as we discussed earlier, to develop and create projects with a new, innovative approach to the use of puppets and stop motion. I’d also love to do a solo  exhibition one day if I can to show case my fascination with both materials and processes.

If someone reading this interview wanted to follow your path to becoming a professional artist, what advice would you give them?

If something feels right, do it. Enjoy what you do, follow your own path and don’t be afraid to be unique. Make opportunities happen by networking and when they come, take your chances…

Interview by Stephen B. Watters


To find out more about George’s work and to browse his portfolio, visit his website at: http://www.georgenorthcott.com

Based in the heart of Bristol, Puppet Place offers workspace for artists and creatives including puppeteers, prop makers, graphic designers, animators and filmmakers. We also run an Associate Artist Scheme to support like-minded artists working in other locations.  To join us or to find out how we can support you, contact Rachel McNally at rachel [at] puppetplace.org or call 0117 929 3593.

Passion For Puppet Making: An Interview with Mary Murphy

Mary Murphy is a professional maker and senior technical instructor in stop motion animation at the University of the West of England in Bristol.  She has an eclectic background in ceramics, craft design, prop making, live action puppetry and film.  We sat down with her for a coffee and chats, to find out about her passion for puppet making and her thoughts on the differences and similarities between stop motion and traditional puppetry.

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What’s your background?  How did you get into puppetry?

My mum and Dad are Irish, but emigrated to the United States, so myself and my sisters were born out there.  My earliest memories of television are shows like Sesame Street.  We had a lot of friends with older children and inherited a lot of toys, and as this was America in the 1970s, these were Jim Henson muppets and Fisher Price toys – all with very bright, saturated colours.  We were plucked out of that in the early 80s and dropped into the middle of nowhere in Ireland knowing very little about the culture.  But what we could watch still was Sesame Street, so all the puppets and characters were like all of the friends we’d left behind, a little piece of America.

Also in the bag of stuff that we bought back to Ireland were the Fisher Price velcro muppets and some marionette puppets. They weren’t the type of thing you could buy in Ireland at the time so they made us like celebrities in our little housing estate in the middle of Tipperary.  I think that had a big impact on us all.  I became a compulsive maker.

It came to going to college and I decided I was going to do stop motion animation.  I took a little bit of advice from a chap who worked for Aardman that my teacher knew, who said, ‘tell her to do mould making, casting, sculpture, ceramics and to just keep making characters.’  So I went to the National College of Art & Design, spent my foundation year making puppets.  Then the second year, I decide to do ceramics.  I really enjoyed making and the process of making, and was able to transfer those specialist skills into stop motion fabrication.

I came to Bristol to visit my current partner, I was just visiting and I still am (smiles).  I got a job teaching ceramics at Bristol City College and started teaching a little bit of media on the side, so that I could use the cameras for stop motion.  I then applied to do the MA in Animation at UWE.  All of it was about getting into industry and keeping moving and learning.  In the second year I was given the opportunity of being the teaching fellow at UWE and since then, I’ve continued being really interested in processes and learning.  I gather processes, I gather information, I gather knowledge and I disseminate it out.  I am the conduit through which stop motion happens; I am the cause of stop motion in others (laughs).

How do you see yourself?   

If you boil it right back to what I do, I am absolutely driven by materials and what materials do, and I would say that, more than anything else, I’m a maker – a maker who wants to share knowledge.  I’m very interested in how you can push something, in how you can maximise the potential in something.  If you introduce me to a new material I am going to work with that material until I know exactly what it does.  As soon as I figure it out then others want to know, and it’s nice, it’s gratifying.  I would never say that I am this thing or that I am that thing… It depends on who you’re talking to and where you are, but if you did put a gun to my head, I’m a creative person.  If you took stop motion out of the world tomorrow, I’d find something else.  I enjoy working with young artists.  I see what I do a lot of the time here at UWE as collaboration.  I see myself as a kind of production assistant or producer.  It’s enjoyable to problem-solve.  It’s enjoyable to help figure that out.

It means that you keep learning and that is really important to me.  I think if you go into an industrial context and get a job somewhere you’re learning but within a very tight pipeline.  I quite like knowing I can sit at a desk and with around £50 worth of materials make an entire puppet from scratch that will work and perform really well.

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In your opinion, what are the key differences between stop-motion and live action puppetry?

I think if you look beyond education, beyond the needs of students, and into stop motion, then you do have quite a high proportion of young, hungry creative people who feel that the mastery of particular materials or of silicone casting, for example, is the answer – that if they have a ball and socket armature, for example, they will make a better film.  I think the more questioning, experimental kind of creatives don’t want to go into a very specific, highly intense pipeline for something that is quite risky.  It may or it may not work.  They are the same people that if the had just a feather and a bit of foam, could probably produce something gorgeous.  I think with live action puppet making that happens because you make a puppet and you then perform with it.

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With stop motion, there is the further hurdle of knowing how to stop motion animate in order to make well.  So you’re kind of constantly one step forward and two steps back.  You can make something that looks amazing, but if it does move properly then you have to go back to the drawing board and re-make it.  You can animate really well, but if you don’t have the technical ability to present that on screen at 25 frames per second, with all of the terms and conditions that you need, you might have the most amazing looking puppet in the world, but if it moves like a truck, it hasn’t done the job.  The problem is that the process is so lengthy, requires so much focus, I think a lot of people that are experimental – are very witty and have a light touch – can drop off.  In stop motion, what you wind up with in the end are the very tenacious people, the very driven people and quite often the people with their eye on industry.  Independent animated filmmakers will quite often decide on a less intensive processes, such as paper-cut out.  Not that cut-out isn’t stop motion, but compromises often have to be made.

Traditional puppetry and its relationship to stop motion is something I wish I had more time to play with because if I go right back to when I started, for me it was rod puppets and string puppets.  It was that thrill and joy, not of just creating movement, but having a performance with the puppets communicating.  At that level, it’s the same process between stop motion and live action puppetry.  It’s just the interface is different.  The interface isn’t the craft, it’s just the interface.  The actual creative process is exactly the same.  I think a key difference between the puppets for stop motion and stage performance, are that stop motion puppets are self supporting; the joints are flexible but self supporting.  For most theatre puppets the joints are non-self supported.  I think that’s the only major difference.  If you look a little bit deeper, what happens between the frames is exactly what the manipulator of a traditional puppet is doing.  It’s just they’re doing it in front of an audience.  In a way it makes it easier and in another way it makes it harder.  So for me, they are just two versions of the same thing.

 

Interview by Emma Windsor

 


Mary Murphy’s book, ‘Get Started in Animation‘ is the complete beginner’s guide to making animation. The book starts with clearly illustrated instructions on how to set up a simple animation station at home and includes a list of low cost but essential items that make a complete animator’s toolbox.  Buy a copy on Amazon.co.uk here

Based in the heart of Bristol, Puppet Place offers workspace for artists and creatives including puppeteers, prop makers, graphic designers, animators and filmmakers. Benefits of becoming a resident at Puppet Place include a profile on our website, advice and information, discounted rates on hire rates in the fabrication and rehearsal studios and more.  To join us, contact Rachel McNally at rachel [at] puppetplace.org or call 0117 929 3593.