Lizzie Makes! An Interview with Elizabeth Johnson

lizzie_johnson_portriatElizabeth Johnson is a freelance fabricator for animation, theatre and public engagement works, and resident artist at Puppet Place.  She graduated from the Bristol School of Animation in 2013 and has since worked with some incredible companies based in theatre, puppetry and robotics.  She is driven to learn new technologies to compliment interactive design and performance. 


Can you tell us about yourself and your work as a stop motion animator and model maker. What’s your background and how did you get into animation?

When I was at college really wanted to get into film production, but after not being able to make up my mind of what course to go for, I decided to do an art foundation instead, which happened to coincide with the year that Laika’s ‘Coraline was released. I went and saw that film at least 4 times at the cinema – the magic of it just didn’t get old for me, which got me thinking about doing animation. It was the perfect combination of all my interests, story telling, film making and fabrication. Hoorah!
Lizzie Johnson Music Video
Still from music video ‘Higher Love’ by Hanami Family
I studied animation at UWE, and through that discovered Puppet Place and swiftly fell in love with the community and work that was being created here. Since graduating, my work has broadened from just working in animation, although the skills I learnt from studying seem to be forever useful – and since graduating made a stop motion music video for a friend of mine

Thanks to the companies I’ve worked with over the last few years, Rusty Squid and Pickled Image in particular, my imagination and artistic direction has begun to lean more towards design and fabrication for interactive and immersive art works.
neutral puppet large 1
Neutral puppet for Rusty Squid Summer School
Pickled Image Yana
Set from ‘Yana and the Yeti’ by Pickled Image
You were recently involved in a collaborative project with Puppet Place resident artist company, ‘Rusty Squid’.  Can you tell us a bit about that?

The last project I worked on with Rusty Squid was their channel 4 documentary, ‘How to Build a Robot’. It was an amazing experience to be a part of. I got involved through working with them previously as I’d been working as their studio assistant for a couple of months and before that had made some neutral puppets with Rosie and Dave for their summer school.
neutral puppet - small
Neutral puppet for Rusty Squid Summer School
The team working on the project was amazing, it felt like Rusty Squid had brought the most extraordinary group of talented people, I knew how lucky I was to work alongside them and see their process develop throughout the project.

My role on the project was assistant fabricator to Designer/Fabricator/Engineer, Emma Powell – this was a brilliant opportunity as I’d worked with Emma before so knew a bit about her process and she’s a brilliant teacher so I never felt out of my depth – she supported me in developing my skills as a fabricator and was always open to discussing her thoughts and ideas with me, making me feel really included and valued in the fabrication process.
Lizzie with friend: ‘How to Build a Robot’ with Rusty Squid.

The most challenging thing about this project was the time we had to complete it in, as David says in the documentary – the team could have used at least twice the amount of time we had. Also, I had another project lined up from the start of December and so didn’t get to see ‘How to Build a Robot’ through to completion which was a real shame.  It felt very wrong to be leaving a project before it had finished. The camera crew was tricky to navigate too, although I did very well at staying out of shot for the most part! We had to accommodate their requirements for filming which meant altering the studio lighting to just using spot lights – not awful, and after doing stop motion animation low lighting seems kind of familiar, but still, for fabricating it isn’t ideal!

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on a project with my fellow animation graduate, Katie Hood. We’ve been commissioned by the National Trust to make a bespoke installation for their property Wray Castle, up in the Lake District. Its going really well so far and has been so enjoyable to work on an installation like this.

As well as this I’m working as an assistant artist for Go Sketch which is an after school arts club based in primary schools across Bristol – its great fun and hopefully it will help to encourage some future artists!

Also, I’ve started a craft club up at Better Food (where I have a part time job). It’s a couple of hours long on Thursday evenings in the Cafe, a group of us get together and I come up with fun little projects that give people the chance to try out new processes and just take a bit of time out for themselves and to enjoy being creative. Its really helped me take time out to do a little crafting just for me too!

What projects do you have in the pipeline?

In the pipeline…. I’m working with Hannah and Rachel at Puppet Place HQ to set up a puppet making club for kids, we’re going to do an initial 4 week run in March which is great!  Also Katie and I have been really inspired by the project by the National Trust and so are applying for other funding opportunities and commissions to hopefully get to design and make other interactive installations.

I’m most excited by opportunities that allow me to make accessible work that has a social impact, I want people to find fun in art and be surprised and inspired by it.

To find out more about Elizabeth’s work, see her Facebook page ‘Elizabeth Johnson Makes‘ or read her blog.

Saturday Puppet Club with Elizabeth Johnson
A friendly Saturday morning puppetry club for families. Puppet maker, Lizzie Johnson, will take you through the process of creating your very own puppet, building craft and artistic skills each week. Find out more on the Puppet Place website.

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