The Hickboo: An Interview with Sophie Cheshire

Sophie Cheshire is a visual artist with a background in sculpture, animation and projection mapping.  Her enchanting stories will feature at the Bristol Festival of Puppetry’s Opening Party on the evening of the 27 August.  Sophie caught up us recently to chat about her work, The Hickboo and what new technology can bring to traditional storytelling.

Hick-Boo_1

Can you tell me a bit about yourself. How did you become involved in animation?

I was very lucky to grow up on a working pottery in a beautiful part of North Wales and was immersed in all forms of creativity from a young age. I initially studied fine art and sculpture, and then moved towards digital mediums like film and animation. I was drawn to animation especially for its unlimited ability to portray life and the varied mediums and techniques that can be used to tell stories. Later, experience working as a VJ exposed me to more stage and projection mapping mediums. When I studied for a Masters in animation at UWE Bristol, I found a happy meeting of my interests in new technology, sculpture, visual art and storytelling and worked on a projection mapped installation. I love using technology as a mechanism to tell a story rather than a display of technical prowess.  In my spare time I make little models and interactive pieces, experimenting with an Arduino, processing and sensors.

Can you tell me about ‘The Hickboo’ project. What are the story origins? What is particularly innovative about the production?

‘The Hickboo’ is an animated installation, projection mapped on to a wooden set, similar to a tiny theatre. It tells the story of a friendship between a boy and a transparent goblin that only children can see, following their adventure as the set changes and evolves. The story was adapted from the book “The Hick-Boo a Tale of a Tailless Transparent Goblin” by M.H Stephen Smith from 1945. The adapted story represents the sense of the magic that we lose when we grow up and how my father taught me how to see the world. It was his favourite book, which he used to read to us as children and the installation was made in his memory. The beautiful accompanying score was composed by Simon Eastwood from the Royal Academy of Music, London

‘The Hickboo’ installation is special in that the animation was designed to be projected onto a 3D set away from traditional screen based storytelling. The aim was to create a projection mapped piece that harnessed the medium in a creative different way but also added to the story and heightened the experience. Having previously worked as a VJ, the advancement in projection mapping techniques particularly interested me. I wanted to create a piece that had the feel of magic that projections can create, combined with a narrative that had resonance. It is an intimate installation based on traditional storytelling complimented by the hand drawn style of animation, combining artistic flair with new technology and digital art.

What does the technology bring to the production? Why did you choose to explore this technology?

I wanted to create a more immersive experience, using technology and new media that we come into contact with regularly to tell stories that people can relate to and which resonate with them. The growth of open source code and cheap hardware means more experimental tech art is more possible than ever. The great thing about projections is that they add a layer of mystery and magic to a performance, audiences are left to anticipate and locate the next projection.

The challenge was to find the best mapping techniques that would compliment the story being told. Using projections on the simple shapes of the set meant they could be used for multiple scenes, changing their form depending on what was projected.

In 2013 with help from the Arts Council, I was part of a collaborative research and development project with Mappa Mundi Theatre, where ‘The Hickboo’ was brought to the stage. The development show was a small demonstration of how projection mapping and animation can be fused with a full scale set and actors. The processes used gave me great experience working on a large scale production. The mapping techniques were similar but on a much larger scale, with bigger projectors and higher resolution content. It was a challenge to translate the hand painted style of the original installation to such a large set and maintain the magic and intimate feeling.

What is the relationship between animation and puppetry, with particular regard to ‘The Hickboo?’

‘The Hickboo’ is similar to puppetry in the way that an inanimate object is brought to life. I use light to create characters that tell stories on a miniature stage. Unlike traditional animation the set is an integral part, creating something physical and tactile. I am currently collaborating with storyteller Bevin Magama on a couple of new projects using animation and projection mapping.

Interview by Emma Windsor


The Hickboo can be seen at the BFP Opening Party, 9:15 on 27 August at the Watershed. The party is open to everyone and admission is free!  Performances also include: Lionel The Vinyl – The Grover Grocer from Green Ginger and DJ Tasch.  Get BFP15 started in grand style with puppets, animation and music in the Watershed bar. For more information, see the Bristol Festival of Puppetry website.

For more information about Sophie’s work and to view her portfolio, see her website: www.sophiecheshire.co.uk

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