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

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