Barney Dixon has recently taken the internet by storm with his highly innovative and astonishing micro-puppetry. His videos, which have reached millions of viewers worldwide, are charming vignettes that feature his characters Dabchick, Raptor and MANU. He also joined us for our Generator 16 fundraiser event last year, where he and his dinosaur entertained our enchanted audience. We caught with him to find out where his fascination with puppetry stems from, how he comes up with his designs and what might be next for him and his extraordinary creations.
What is your background? Where does the fascination with puppetry come from?
My professional background is in stop-motion animation, my shift to puppetry has been relatively recent. My interest in both comes from a similar place, which is (in part) a fascination with movement. However puppetry can be created in real time, which is a new and exciting concept for me.
You create smaller puppets with unconventional mechanisms, often involving your hands. How did this come about? How do you come up with these ideas?
People use their hands a lot and practice regularly with them in their day to day tasks. Designing puppets that fit (or partially consist of) our own hands, capitalizes on our skill with them. The scale of the puppets is a result of that approach. The unconventional mechanisms I use might be partially a result of lack of knowledge regarding conventional puppetry mechanics, this forces me to be creative. Also my understanding of stop-motion armature construction (although not entirely the same) does help.
In terms of coming up with ideas and concepts, it usually starts with my hands. What shapes and actions they can make with relative comfort and is there a particular form this could lend itself to. Ideas can also come in the construction process. The aim is always to make the puppet as dynamic as possible, in its articulation and movement possibilities.
You had some stellar success online recently when a video of one of your creations went viral. How did that feel? What plans do you have in the pipeline ?
I was certainly surprised, although there are many controllable factors that make a video go viral, the final (and most important) one is luck. The experience was overwhelmingly positive in every way you might expect. However it’s not an easy thing to go through, especially as suddenly as it all happened. People were trying to contact me constantly, and the motives weren’t always that clear. My inbox and brain space was full to bursting for about two weeks and sleeping for that time was also a challenge. I don’t generally focus on the negatives but it’s a side of the experience that was really unexpected, so perhaps worth mentioning for that fact.
This set the ball rolling for a lot of opportunities that seem to be coming my way, many of which are still confidential. However I can now tell you that I took part in a televised international puppetry competition called ‘Die Puppenstars’, that was aired on the German RTL network in late January.