Category Archives: Uncategorized

Puppeteers Wanted! ‘The Bristol 48 Hour Puppet Film Challenge’ Needs You!!!

108097580_106148797841459_4807381349447607488_o

With the lockdown bringing the live performance industry to its knees, many artists are turning to online platforms and film making. The ‘Bristol 48 hour Puppet Film Challenge’ has already received registrations from some of Bristol’s most exciting talent as well as from Scandinavia and the United States. This is a wonderful opportunity for creatives of any age or level of experience to jump in and trust their creative responses. Puppet Place talked to resident artist, Cat Rock, who is curating this exciting online event.

 


How did the ‘The Bristol 48 Hour Puppet Film Challenge’ come about? I understand that you may have had some success in entering this kind of challenge yourself?

‘The Bristol 48 Hour Puppet Film Challenge’ came about after myself and my house mates took part in the LA Puppetry Guild’s 48 hour film project. This was in the height of the lockdown in May.  As a household we had all lost work and for the first time found ourselves free to enter the challenge. Izzy Bristow is a member of the Rocky Mountain Puppetry Guild and she got us involved.

We got to work, hardly slept and produced our very first puppet film in 48 hours called “Belly”. We received an honourable mention,  and were awarded ‘Best of the Rocky Mountain Puppetry Guild Entrants’.  We had a great weekend building weird things with lot of cardboard.  After it was all done, I thought that this was the kind of event we should be running here in Bristol. I’m a resident artist at Puppet Place, Bristol and after chatting to a few people we decided to go for it.  With the future looking unsure for theatre and performance in general, we really wanted to bring an event that anyone, anywhere could enter and take part in.  Professionals, enthusiasts, anyone with a passion for puppetry.  People will have the chance to get their work out there and be able to see a wide range of amazing puppet films.  By hosting the festival online, we hope to reach a wide audience and spread the puppet love in lockdown.

instagram square on cutting mat.jpg

Can you tell us more about your background in puppetry and how you came to making puppet films in particular?

(Cat Rock) I have a Masters Degree in Theatre and Performance from the University of Kent and have been working in the puppetry industry for over 10 years. I’m a puppeteer, fabricator and have worked with all kinds of puppets.  Some fun ones to mention are Greenpeace’s ‘Giant Polar Bear Arora’,  Longleat Safari Park’s ‘Atlas the Lion’, ‘Count Duckula’ and I am currently working with The Paper Cinema.

 I have been mostly theatre based but have been looking for a way to create and produce my own puppet films.  I see all the amazing puppet film productions being made at the moment and I want to be a part of it.  The LA Puppetry Guild’s 48 hour film project combined with the lockdown gave me the push to focus and get it done.  It also helps living with an amazing bunch of puppet people.  We have joined forces and created “The House Of Funny Noises”, and we are now on our third film with a couple more in the pipeline.  We love the weird and the surreal, and look forward to creating our own unique puppet films that are short, sweet and sickening.

The House of Funny Noises is made up of three puppet professionals.  The other members are:

Izzy Bristow is a puppet and costume maker with a Masters in Puppetry from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.  She works internationally building large puppets for shows like Regent Park’s acclaimed production of ‘Little Shop of Horrors”.

Helena Houghton is a filmmaker, animator, props and puppet maker. She graduated from the University of the West of England with a degree in stop motion, and has since fallen in love with all puppet mediums. Helena embraces the weird in her work to make visually stimulating art.

IMG-20200729-WA0008.jpg

How will ‘The Challenge’ work and who are you hoping will take part?  Will there be a theme and guidelines or is it all up to the entrants?

The Challenge will begin at 7pm (BST) Friday 28th of August. This is when we will announce the three prompts to all the individuals and teams that have registered to take part in the challenge. The prompts will consist of an action, an item and a theme.

For example, The action ‘throw’, the item ‘pencil’ and the theme ‘temptation’.

Participants must include these prompts in their film.

The timer is then set and they will have 48 hours to devise, build, film, edit and submit their original puppet film. The submission deadline is 7pm on Sunday 30th of August (BST).

Participants can use pre-made puppets, but the film content story and its actual filming must all be done in the 48 hour timeframe.  The films will then be reviewed by our judging panel (to be released soon.)  We will be hosting an online film festival on the 12th and 13th of September (full schedule to be released nearer the time) where we will show all of the entered films and announce the winners of our categories.

The awards categories are:

1st  Place

2nd Place

3rd Place

Honorable Mention

Audience Choice (voted for by the audience)

Participant Choice Award  (voted for by the participants of the challenge)

Top 10

Age – 16-18, Judges’ Choice

Age – 11-15, Judges’ Choice

Age – 10 and under, Judges’ Choice

Everyone who wants to submit a film in The Challenge must register before 28th August.

Registration is FREE!

We ask those who are able to donate to the event but our main goal is to make this accessible for everyone.  We especially want to reach out to Black, Asian, ethnic minorities and youth communities, to help encourage diversity in the puppetry industry.  We will be in contact with registered participants to give them more information about The Challenge in the weeks to come. If you can’t join us in The Challenge, we welcome everyone to join us at the Watch Party to see what everyone has created.

IMG_0104

What are you hoping to achieve with ‘The Challenge’ and what will happen to the films once they have been made?

We have six main aims for The Challenge:

  • To enable the art form of puppetry to reach new audiences, targeting young people and Black, Asian and ethnic minorities communities. We want to encourage diversity within the puppetry industry.

  • To provide a platform for audiences to become an active part in the creative process, creating their own original work.

  • To provide an opportunity for existing puppetry professionals to showcase their work to a wider audience.

  • To encourage people in these unprecedented times to create and have fun.

  • To inspire creativity, experimentation and growth in the puppetry field.

  • To provide an event which allows people to build bridges and make connections in the puppetry world, developing careers and prospects.

It is important to make events like this accessible and reach out to new people in these unprecedented times. It can be so easy to get lost in the chaos that is 2020.  We hope to give people a creative outlet which will be fun to do, great to watch and give people a challenge.

After the festival, the Top 10 films will be edited together to form an anthology, which will be available to watch online after the event. All of the other films submitted will be in the hands of their creators to do with what they will after the event. We hope everyone will share their work, spread the joy and join us again next year.

 

 

How can people take part?  And how can people help?

You must register to enter, so you can take part by registering to enter a film in The Challenge and you can join us at the online film festival and watch all the entries. Registration is FREE but you must register before 28 August to enter the competition.  Register here.

You can help by spreading the word about  The Challenge and if you are able you can donate for our fundraiser, we can go on to make this event an annual one. We are also seeking sponsorship from any companies or organisations who want to support us.  Email us at houseoffunnynoises@gmail.com to find out more.

But mainly we just want people to have fun!

 

Interview with Josh Elwell

 


To find out more about ‘The Bristol 48 Hour Puppet Film Challenge’ and join in with the fun, visit the event Facebook page  and register now here.

Tokri (The Basket) – A Stop Motion Short From The Heart

Interview with Director Suresh Eriyat , Studio Eeksaurus

Suresh Eriyat is a Mumbai based director and animator, with an Annecy Cristal Award under his belt and a hefty portfolio of over 450 films! After 8 years of production, Suresh Eriyat with his studio, Eeksaurus have released another award winning stop-motion film called ‘Tokri’ (The Basket). 

The film follows a young girl whose treasured relationship with her Father, (visible by pats on the head, nudges and giggles) is threatened when she cracks his prized heirloom – a golden pocket watch. Suddenly there are no more nudges or giggles. Her only hope is to sell baskets in the streets, try to raise enough money to salvage both the watch and their relationship. 

‘Tokri’ has a remarkably intricate landscape of the colourful and bustling Indian city. Time-lapse style cars wooshing by, all with moving characters inside. It’s impressive for an independent stop-motion film to achieve a set of this scale and quality. No wonder it took so many years. The attention to detail is bordering on microscopic, the folded fabrics on the shelf, the pots and pans, characters costumes and individual hairs. It’s these details that give the film a time and place, you know instantly where you are. The nuances in movement and facial expression add realism and make the characters feel human. 

The film’s conclusion is totally moving, earnest and warm, showing the beauty of unconditional love. It’s a touching portrait of the grief that comes with family disputes and the overwhelming relief of forgiveness. Sure to melt the coldest hearts and bring tears to the driest eyes. 

02E32210-BDAE-4095-AC2E-CE2AE28808F1

How did the idea for Tokri come about?

The film is partly fiction, partly real. In India, people beg and come and knock at your car, and they keep shoving their products at you or asking for money.  When I was driving to work one morning in 2008, this kid came up with this basket and I think I shooed her away. It was pretty much routine, I think everybody does it. But the fact that she was wearing a school uniform haunted me.  I also have a daughter who would have been about six at the time who just about started going to school.  For the rest of my drive I began to feel terribly guilty.  I thought why not develop this experience that I’d had into a story?  When I told this story to people, I  could see that they had moist eyes and they were reacting in a very different way, and that created conviction in me to go ahead and do this film. I decided to tell the story in a very subliminal way where you portray a sensitive story and maybe you start seeing these people in the people you encounter in everyday life.

Empathy is something that I wanted to convey to Indian audiences. The need for us to be empathetic to the needy, giving a little part of what you have, to support someone emotionally, physically.  That really was the intent of making this film.

Indian family values are unique. The unique emotional bonding within the Indian family with unsaid feelings for each other, the unconditional love for each other without repeatedly saying ‘I love you’ to one another to reaffirm, the concept of respect for elders and their feelings and vice versa, all these are absolutely not something the Western audience relate with.  In India people are driven by their hearts rather than heads. This is why Indians lead a content life despite so many shortcomings.  Life here is not transactional.  One of the reasons why the people in the West always admire India despite the filth and the poverty on the surface that precedes the deep ethos and values, is probably because of these aspects.

EEEE8B9C-4E57-4251-B5FA-C2D0A5F141E8

Could you tell us about your studio, Eeksaurus?

After 11 years of setting up and running Famous House of Animation in collaboration with the legendary Famous Studios, we felt the need to expand the canvas beyond advertisements and animation services related work we had been undertaking. To work in a medium agnostic way, exploring and experimenting with mediums, formats and platforms where stories played a bigger part than briefs.  Of course being a designer first, working on briefs was important to us for impacting a larger audience. The ads kept rejuvenating our problem-solving prowess and pushed us to outdo ourselves creatively to come up with unique solutions using the art and film medium for making the impact of a brand, a message or a product stronger. But our team’s collective dream to create films from stories for the love of pure cinema was something that pushed us to create different self funded projects at Studio Eeksaurus.  We felt Studio Eeksaurus should change the perception of animation film making in the country by sticking to Indian stories and making them enjoyable for Indian audiences. Nilima and I were very sure that the ethos of our company should be to constantly raise the quality of storytelling using animation.

Mixing analogue ways of working in the digital age is something that we fancy a lot. This interest has created various strange synergies and serendipities in our work resulting in amazing outcomes. With more than 200 films and 150 global awards to its credit, Studio Eeksaurus clearly strives towards quality content. When we won the first ever ANNECY Cristal for India in 2015, we did not know that we were embarking on a territory unexplored by none in India. We have seen many who are inspired by our work and our journey, and taking risks by doing great work by funding themselves and making Indian animation proud. 

5f46bfea-b857-4f1d-a25a-698c58315a25

The film took 8 years to produce, what kept you going through the production process?

First of all the film was self-funded. So we couldn’t dedicate the assigned team only for this project as it would call for us blocking a certain amount of funds for this. In the case of Tokri, as and when we got a commercial project that paid us, we paused work on Tokri,  in order to sustain ourselves. The team always took a while to get back on the track when we resumed again. This resulted in the escalation of time and hence the budget. The biggest learning from this exercise is to dedicate a team for a stipulated time within an allocated budget for a project like this. If we had worked on Tokri at a stretch we would have still taken about 3 years! 6 years we produced just 9 minutes of animation which were mostly the interiors. The more complicated exterior section animation of 5 minutes duration took just 7 odd months including the set making!

90D0F860-E087-4F69-83E0-ECC554F7F2A0

Why did you choose to tell the story from the daughters point of view?

For the daughter the universe is her parents and their happiness. The family is bonded with love and all the shortcomings in their lives are all overlooked because of that. For the father, the daughter’s education is of utmost importance. In my mind he has actually forbidden her from helping her mother even in making baskets as he doesn’t want that occupation to be her future. It is evident in the very opening shot where we see her picking up her study books as soon she hears her father approaching. The father’s story is a self-centred one, mother has other priorities to make both ends meet. The only person who is really affected by the despair at home is the daughter. She is led by the love for her father and nothing comes in between her and the goal. So I decided to see the story from her point of view as she sets off on a difficult path to repair her broken home.

Watch the film ‘Tokri’ (The Basket)

Interview with Amy Baker


To find out more about Studio Eeksaurus, visit the studio’s website at studioeeksaurus.com and catch their latest news on Facebook.

 

‘How It Felt’ – Puppets Talk Mental Health

Deborah Chapman or ‘Big Debz’ spoke with Puppet Place’s Martha King to discuss her Dundee based company ‘How It Felt’ and why she uses puppetry to discuss issues surrounding mental health through workshops and online content.

Untitled

Hi Deborah, could you tell us a little bit about ‘How It Felt’ and what you do? 

Hello Puppet Place! My name is Deborah Chapman or Big Debz and together with my fuzzy friend Little Debz, we are ‘How It Felt’.

Untitled
Photo by Y Photography

‘How It Felt’ provides supervised and interactive puppet building, drama and filmmaking workshops with an emphasis on mental health and emotional well being.  At the workshops children, adolescents, adults and staff can make puppets of themselves (or any character they want) and learn to operate and puppeteer through them.

This involves drama, games, team building exercises, empathy, communication, expression and understanding their relationships with others and themselves through puppetry activities. Then we look at how to use these tools to break down the barriers surrounding the stigma of mental health and help the individual with their own personal issues or anything they wish.  Other options can include creating a short scene/film about an issue that is important to them.  We’re also happy to adapt the themes of our workshops to the organisations and groups we work with.

At the end of the workshop the participants can keep their puppets and, if made, copies of films they have worked on. The final product is usually a finished puppet and a finished film, created by the participants. Our hope is that the experience can be educational and fun with clients going away with a new found sense of creative and emotional confidence.  This allows them to express themselves in a safe space and to understand themselves and others better with added fun!  Our services have also grown into doing more one-to-one and in depth sessions with clients, sensory storytelling, commissions, films, collaborations, events and educational talks with ‘Little Debz’.

How did you discover puppetry and what was it about this art form that made you want to use it in this way? 

I think puppets have always been around and influenced me but I didn’t understand the complexity and beauty of them until was I older.  Growing up in the late 80s and 90s, I was very fortunate to be exposed to British children’s shows and films, which had a huge variety of types of puppets.  Examples were things like Button Moon, The Clangers, Bagpuss, The Herbs, Tots TV, Watch with Mother, etc. I also grew up watching a lot of animation and puppet films, and also how puppetry was being used with groundbreaking effects in the film industry.  Of course Jim Henson, Tim Burton, Jurassic Park, Wallace and Gromit etc.  I remember getting an Aardman stop motion animation kit for Christmas and learning how to make models with wires in them for the first time.  I would watch the shows and films on repeat, and would always watch the behind the scenes of the whole process.

My love for the art form has never died and anytime there are puppets on television, the big screen, theatre, or performers in the street, I can’t help but be engaged and fascinated. During university I was lucky to go see a production of ‘War Horse’ and the experienced moved me in a way that made me realise that maybe I could be a puppet maker and puppeteer.

While pursuing a degree in the arts, me and my friend at the time ended up creating puppets that look like ourselves, which then lead to the creation of ‘How It Felt’.  This led to our short dubbed puppet films that were based on real conversations we had about our own mental health struggles. Then eventually our first funded puppet project working with young people and their families ‘How do you see ADHD?’ film.

During the process of ‘How It felt’ we have found that people don’t judge puppets as much as we judge each other. Puppets can get away with expressing and saying quite powerful subjects, even if the subjects are serious.  Mental health doesn’t discriminate but people do.  Our puppets don’t judge anyone and people want to engage with them and hear them out.  We have found the art form is powerful in being used as a tool to say what is important to them and we want to make it accessible. It has been giving people voices and has allowed them to feel like they are being seen.  Everyone deserves that.

Untitled
How It Felt puppet making workshop

What have you been doing over lockdown to keep bringing us content from ‘How It Felt’ in this unusual time?

It was difficult adapting our workshops to move online to begin with.  We usually do group workshops in person as I feel it’s really important in the creative process to be present and make connections with someone during the experience.  But I think I’m quite fortunate to be part of a generation where being self-employed means doing a lot of work online, especially through social media and film.

Over lockdown we have been providing crafting and puppet making workshops remotely over platforms such as Zoom. We understand that it has been harder for people to go outside and go to shops, so we have adapted our puppet building to materials you would find around the home – such as old boxes, packaging, and spare office and art materials you may have laying around.  It still has the elements of group connection and also some of the sensory tools you would have using your hands, with the same guidance and support. This has involved collaborating with local organisations and charities with themes to the workshops.

Untitled
Dragon Egg Boxes with ‘Befriends’

My puppet ‘Little Debz’ has been interacting with everyone online. She’s quite well known in our community. She’s been answering the Q&As people have been sending in and also doing small interactions.  She has also been writing postcards and sending them out to people who may be feeling lonely during this time or might know someone who would appreciate it.

Untitled

We have also been creating free online puppet making tutorials ‘Fuzzy Finger Crafts’ for viewers to have a try and enjoy at their own pace at home. Some of our videos have also been addressing mental health education and support with our own puppets ‘Fuzzy Thoughts and Feelings’ as we love integrating creativity and mental health together with this art form.

We also have a ‘Fuzzy Friends Adventures Group’ Facebook community page, which is a safe space for people who like puppetry or have been to our workshops and who want to connect and share.  We’ve been posting behind the scenes content, activities, giveaways, news and updates before anyone else gets to see it. ‘Little Debz’ has been doing streams and interactions with everyone and sharing her adventures. You can check this out here.

Finally, we’ve had time to make a website, which we’re quite excited but also nervous about launching. It’s been really positive to have the extra time to grow as a creative but also as a human during this time.  You can have a look at the new site by going to howitfelt.org

What do you think might be next for ‘How It Felt’? Have you got any plans for the future?

We will be turning six years old this November and we have made over 300 puppets with our workshops and collaborators.  As for the future, we now know we can work remotely with our workshops and support content online.  We’re hoping to expand our mental health education videos and also interview more people in our communities and make puppet films with them. We also love collaborating and were hoping to connect and work with more puppeteers and puppet builders working in different fields such as theatre.

Untitled
Puppet Building Workshop with ‘Mix It Up Theatre’

We’re in the planning stages of setting up a creative hub for our local community and would love to invite puppeteers and performers to be involved.  We’re always learning and training within the art form and my mental health training has been growing as well as learning how we can combine the two together.  We would also love to create a puppet club for others who want to try out the art form and make films/productions. These are our long term goals, but continuing to let the art form be accessible and give people the tools to be seen and listened to is our main focus.

We’re open to collaborations and continuing to do our workshops remotely along with talks if anyone would like to get in touch. We are also accepting donations on our website to keep ‘How It Felt’ going.

Interview by Martha King


You can donate or find out more information about ‘How It Felt’ by going to their website or by checking out their YouTube Channel.

Or you can join them on their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

All The World’s A Stage – Our Theatres in Lockdown

The on-going lockdown due to the coronavirus has had a dramatic impact on us all; on our businesses, our livelihoods and our personal lives. Many organisations in our arts and culture sectors have been particularly affected due to the performance nature of their work and without the means to bring live audiences in their venues; their core business has suffered a great deal. Whilst some organisations are arguably better placed to shift their business models online, such as organisations involved in film, the experience of theatre has live performance at its heart. We looked at three of our beloved theatres here in Bristol, to find out how the lockdown has affected them.

Tobacco Factory Theatres, Raleigh Rd, Southville, Bristol

As a charity with only 5% of its annual costs coming from public subsidy, Tobacco Factory Theatres has always depended hugely on its loyal audiences. When it closed its doors in March, for the safety of all of its communities, the sudden loss of income placed the charity in imminent danger of permanent closure. However, due to the generosity of so many people who have donated and the Job Retention Scheme, Tobacco Factory Theatres is still here in August.

During that time, a skeleton team have been distributing grants, on behalf of The Gane Trust, to freelance artists who are experiencing hardship, and working tirelessly to ensure the survival of Tobacco Factory Theatres. A grant from Arts Council England’s Emergency Response Fund will enable the organisation to stay afloat until October. But sadly, with the Job Retention Scheme closing at the end of that month, Tobacco Factory Theatres has had to make the heartbreaking decision to make redundancies, reducing staff costs by 70% in order to keep the organisation afloat.

“Whilst audiences are the lifeblood of Tobacco Factory Theatres, our staff are its beating heart and most valuable asset. We thank them for their skills, passion and wisdom which have made the theatre a place to be proud of, and for their patience, understanding and courage during these hardest of times. We are working hard to plan for the reopening of our theatres as soon as it is safe and financially viable to do so and to continue talking to all of our communities in the meantime, finding out how Tobacco Factory Theatres can best serve them in this changed world.


For anyone in a position to help secure the future of Tobacco Factory Theatres and those we work with, with any level of donation, you can visit www.tobaccofactorytheatres.com/make-a-donation/. Artists can also find out about our free Artist Membership scheme at www.tobaccofactorytheatres.com/artist-membership to talk to us about the impact of Covid-19 on our communities and the future for our sector. An enormous thank you to everyone who has already made a donation.”

Mike Tweddle, Artistic Director and David Dewhurst, Acting Executive Director

To donate to Tobacco Factory Theatres: https://tobaccofactorytheatres.com/make-a-donation/ and stay in touch on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram

The Wardrobe Theatre, 25 West Street, Old Market, Bristol

The Wardrobe Theatre has cancelled all performances from March-August 2020 and there is a big question mark hanging over everything booked in from September 2020 onwards, including Christmas. With the current rules soon allowing indoor theatres to reopen to social distanced audiences, we’re going to be running a couple of very small test performances to see how we could run a night with these rules in place and whether it’s practical for us to run a whole season like that. We’ll have to see how those go!

We have no definitive date of when we will reopen yet but when we do, we will be launching a crowdfunder to help us reopen and to support the artists and theatre companies we want to bring here.”

Matthew Whittle, Co-Director of The Wardrobe Theatre

To donate to The Wardrobe Theatre: https://thewardrobetheatre.com/livetheatre/donate/ and stay in touch on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Bristol Old Vic Theatre, King St, Bristol

In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, Bristol Old Vic has embarked on a consultation process with affected staff in the face of a significant reduction in the work it can undertake and the income it can generate.  It is anticipated that over 20 roles from its full-time workforce of 60 could be at risk.

“We’re used to having to fight for our funding in the arts, but this time we are in the same boat as tens of thousands of businesses from Penzance to Pitlochry. On 17 March, 75% of our income disappeared and we’re clinging to the lifeline of the Job Retention Scheme to keep our heads above water, until lockdown eases…”

Tom Morris, Artistic Director & Charlotte Geeves, Executive Director

“…We are hopeful that the Government’s Cultural Investment will support our survival further as we prepare to reopen the theatre gradually over the coming 18 months. However, there is no avoiding the fact that the current circumstances mean that we will be unable to recover the income levels we’ve built up over the last decade with any speed or predictability. Therefore, in order to ensure Bristol Old Vic survives and is able to emerge, we have to reshape our business.”

Bristol Old Vic’s Executive Director Charlotte Geeves

“It is with enormous regret that Bristol Old Vic has begun a consultation process to reduce the size of its workforce due to the COVID-19 crisis. The last 5 years have brought astonishing success for Bristol Old Vic and the Board are very clear that these successes have been achieved through the skills and dedication of our wonderful workforce. Nonetheless, by taking these steps now, we are putting ourselves in a position to emerge flexible, solvent, and fighting fit to meet the challenges of the post-COVID world.”

Bristol Old Vic’s Chair, Liz Forgan

Bristol Old Vic is launching a campaign to reopen the theatre and would love your help. Every pound you give will go directly into making shows and employing the artists who work with the theatre to make them. To make a donation visit: https://bristololdvic.org.uk/support-us.

Stay in touch with Bristol Old Vic Theatre on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

It is clear that despite their remarkable flexibility and the dedication of their staff, our theatres need the support of their patrons more than ever in these unprecedented times. Reduced activity and closure doesn’t only affect those directly working for our theatres, but the thousands of performance artists, designers, technicians, makers, musicians and countless others who work to bring us their craft. Furthermore, in the words of Victor Hugo, “The theatre is a crucible of civilization. It is a place of human communion… It is in the theatre that the public soul is formed.” In these times of great change and unrest, our theatres are a crucial part of our sense of community and ourselves.

Article by Emma Windsor


There are many ways you can support our theatres in these difficult times.  Direct donations make a real difference and can help support both staff and the artists who rely on theatres for their livelihoods. Becoming a member of the theatre also provides a vital lifeline for their survival and journey ahead, during and following the coronavirus pandemic.  Some theatres are also involved in initiatives that support their subsidiary businesses, such as the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme that runs throughout August, and run their own online stores with great gifts for theatre lovers.

Finally, if financial support is not something you can do at the moment, joining their mailing lists, and liking and sharing theatre social media posts, ways to donate, and online shows, is a great way to show your support and appreciation.  Your theatre needs you more than ever, and with your support a better and brighter future for our theatres is possible.   


Breathing New Life into Lockdown Puppetry with Half a String

Peter Morton of ‘Half a String‘ Puppetry talked to Puppet Place about their unique collaborations and how the lockdown has inspired a new wave of creative work. This includes a series of online films called ‘Seedling‘.
 

Tell us about your background and interest in puppetry. How did Half a String come about?
 

I grew up doing “muppet” style hand puppets in my Dad’s church, writing sketches etc. I then went to the University of Kent to study Drama & Theatre and then a Masters in Contemporary Performance.  As part of this, I discovered Bunraku and War Horse, etc. and fell in love with making things move.  I have always been a builder,  and designing and constructing things that move is the most interesting form of this for me. That live moment when an audience fully invests in the puppet and world constructed around it is really special and something I really like to explore.  I love the dishonesty of everyone pretending a puppet is alive.  There is something really communal and honest about it.  Half a String came about after Avi Simmons, a singer/songwriter and physical performer, collaborated to create ‘A Heart at Sea‘. We wanted to create a puppetry and live music show that could be performed anywhere and things snowballed from there. I run Half a String now, creating and touring shows as well as designing for other productions.

Dragon Hill Close.jpg

 

Half a String started as a collaboration between you and Musician and Performer Avi Simmons. You have a beautiful design style and Avi writes equally stunning music. How did you find each other and how does the creative relationship work?

I met Avi when I co-ran Knuckle and Joint, another puppetry company.  We got her involved puppeteering an outdoor show with giant bird puppets.  I heard her music after that and we started collaborating.  We actually went to the same university and did the same course but a few years apart so missed each other then. The creative relationship differs from project to project.  I take the lead on producing all of Half a String’s work.  Avi is usually there at the beginning; helping with forming the idea, funding applications and writing music etc.  A lot of ideas come in the tour van for new projects!  For ‘A Heart at Sea’ we sat and wrote the story together, then she went away and wrote the songs and music and I went away and built.  We would come back and share, then go away and repeat until we had a show. ‘Boulder’ was led by myself more as a director, so I wrote a loose script and a fantastic devising team worked on it in rehearsal, with Avi taking the lead on the music and song-writing during the rehearsal process. For ‘Under the Frozen Moon’, I collaborated with a poet called Alice Bryant to write the script and story and Avi came a little later into the process to rehearse and add songs to this. So we are quite fluid in the way we work project to project.

 

Boulder Principle Image 2.jpg

 

Can you say a little bit about your shows ‘A Heart at Sea’, ‘Boulder’, and ‘BEE’? How has the current situation affected this work? 

‘A Heart at Sea’ was the first show that we created.  It was an epic folktale about a boy who bottles his heart up and throws it out to sea.  Lots of wooden puppets and a mechanical transforming box that turns into different set pieces, and which does steal the show. This was a very intimate show that had a lot of our personalty in it, so the songs were personal to Avi and very much her style. The puppets and set were very much what I wanted to build out of wood and design.  ‘Boulder’ was a more ambitious project and a lot harder to produce.  A bigger cast, projection, animation; lots of different scales to the puppets and big set pieces. This was based on the myth of Sisyphus, the guy pushing a boulder up a hill, and the show explored this in quite a real way.  We looked lots into philosophy and got quite dark as points. It was really great working with that fantastic team of puppeteers and a cellist, and it had a more epic nature.

‘BEE’ is an outdoor show with a 10 foot man and a giant bee puppet that wonders around festivals, more pure puppetry this one and a lot of fun. More of a design challenge for me than anything else.  We are starting to book ‘BEE’ more now because of the focus on outdoor work, which was something I hadn’t been putting a huge focus on previously due to other projects.  This year was meant to be the final year of touring ‘A Heart at Sea’ and we had a few dates, one being the studio in the Royal Albert Hall and a festival up in Orkney, which was really exciting but of course all got cancelled.  Hopefully there will be some kind of ending for the show that’s a little more triumphant.  ‘Boulder’ was meant to go out touring as well.  With the larger cast it’s a lot trickier to tour without funding, which is what we usually aim for.  We are thinking of new ways our work can reach people, which might mean shelving the more intimate indoor work for a while. There has all been a lot of blue sky thinking about how to present our work in the future, all to be confirmed though!

Under the Frozen Moon’ is taking bookings for Christmas and beyond. What are your plans for this piece?

We have a tour booked this Christmas, a little reduced due to the situation, and we’re keeping fingers crossed that it will go ahead.  We are also beginning to look at next year, but currently trying to get this year sorted really.  It was really fun touring this winter show last year and we hope to be doing it for a couple of years yet.  It’s a very magical and visual show with a lots of room for puppetry and moments of silliness.  We also have big plans for the book that we produced with the show – a fully illustrated story book – and plan to try and get that out into some kind of book shop or other outlet, as we do still sell it on our website.

No 1 MAIN PUPPET FACE

As a response to live performance being shut down you have created a series of charming online films. How did those come about and where do you see that work going in the future?

We have been wanting to create work online for a while actually, something to compliment our live performances and keep the conversation going.  So the opportunity to make Seedling with First Art, who funded the piece, was amazing and something we were really grateful for as an outlet for our work at this time. The idea came from a project we were already and still are planning and rehearsing called ‘Breathe’, which is about trees and finding space in a busy world. We were really amazed by the different effects on nature the lockdown was having with animals and plants reclaiming places they would otherwise be isolated from. Our Seedling was our envoy from nature to see what was going on.

So the collaboration from Suitman Jungle and Avi Simmons will continue and we hope to launch ‘Breathe’ the live show Spring/Summer next year.

Interview with Josh Elwell

 


For more information about Half a String Theatre, visit their website: www.halfastring.co.uk and find out the latest news on Facebook and Twitter.

Living With An Invisible Octopus: An Interview with Corina Duyn

In this Puppet Place podcast, artist Corina Duyn talks with Emma Windsor about her ‘Invisible Octopus’ project. Corina worked with Dr. Emma Fisher through a mentoring bursary from the Arts & Disability Ireland Connect Scheme, to explore alternative forms of puppetry to accommodate the physical challenges due to her chronic illness/disability M.E.

Further information about the project and Corina’s other work can be found on her website at: corinaduyn.com. With thanks to Arts & Disability Ireland (adiarts.ie)

It’s going to be O-Clay. Interview with Aardman’s Top Model Maker, Jim Parkyn.

What a treat it was to have been able to talk to Jim Parkyn, whose thumbs and fingers have moulded the faces I’ve watched on TV as a child and now as an adult! Jim’s a highly skilled model and puppet maker best known for his work on things such as “Wallace and Gromit”, “Chicken Run” and now for his Instagram streams of “Community Clay Time”.

It’s here that he demonstrates how to make plasticine models in real time before our very eyes. Viewers send him comments and pictures of their masterpieces for him to share with the world. He can make just about anything! (Interview with Amy Baker.)

Image from instagram @jimparkyn

Image from instagram @jimparkyn

Could you tell us a little bit about your life as a puppet maker and how you got into it?Well!  It’s been a long time. I have been working in animation for 22 years now as a freelance model maker and have worked around the country for various studios, including Aardman Animations.  Over the years I have worked on Chicken Run, Robbie the Reindeer, Wallace and Gromit, Pirates in Adventure with Scientists, Creature Comforts and Shaun the Sheep, as well as several small series and a string of commercials.

I am now a senior model maker and Aardman Ambassador, as well as running my own very small studio.  In recent years I have worked more in the live circuit, running workshops at schools and universities, festivals and corporate team builds and teaching at the Aardman Academy.

image00001


I know Community Clay Time has been valuable to so many people and families in the lockdown period (including me!). What were your reasons for starting that up? 
The reason I started community clay time was  finding that, faced with no work and being in lockdown, I really missed putting on a show every day and how much I enjoyed sharing what I do and teaching those skills to others.  When faced with what to start with, I thought the reason we are all still here is because of the virus, so let’s start there in a fun and not threatening fashion. Rainbows seemed a natural second step as it was something different to put in your window and a visible encouragement to people as they pass their neighbours houses.

Community clay time has been such a comfort for me. It provides me with structure in a fractious time which I had lost. I have daily interaction with the audience (albeit written on a timeline), which is encouraging and a constant reminder of how lucky I am to be doing what I do, and is also an artistic challenge to create something new every day that people will want to make.

What sort of role do you see arts and puppetry having in the community?
I think that this is an interesting time for the arts and especially puppetry as both seemingly are reliant on a physical audience.  There is a new challenge to find a platform for your story or message and this could be seen as a brave new world of new and exciting avenues for expression.

Puppetry is such a brilliant medium for telling stories and communicating in a way that is unlike any other.  There is a level of interaction between the puppet and the audience that is unique and the challenge now is how to have that using new technology and ways of performing.  I am excited at the  prospect of seeing new projects and how we might share that with a larger audience despite the social distancing.

image00024


Is there a project in your career that has influenced you the most?
The very clear influence for me throughout my career – and is certainly manifest in Community Clay Time – is Creature Comforts.  The simplicity of concept and the purity of the concept is still compelling and something that I return to time and time again.  I think I just like making funny animals!

image00006

Do you have any special hobbies that keep you sane whilst being locked down?
I have re engaged with some old projects I had neglected through workload previously. So I am print making, wood carving and foraging the abundance of wild foods popping up all around us at the moment when I’m not pushing plasticine.  I’m not sure they are special  hobbies but they are certainly a stabilising element in this time.

Wallace or Gromit?
Gromit obvs!

image00002
Gromit!

Join Jim each day at @JimParkyn on Instagram to learn how to make a variety of curious creatures, selected at random on a weekly basis! You can also learn more with Jim and other professionals with courses from the Aardman Academy. Find out more on Aardman’s website: https://www.aardman.com/course/

Beverley Puppet Festival Comes to Your House

Beverley Puppet Festival is one of the UK’s largest celebrations of puppetry in all forms. This year however, due to the extraordinary times we find ourselves in, we are experiencing this festival in an entirely new way. Puppet Place’s Martha King spoke with Co-Artistic director, Kerrin Tatman, to find out more about the events still in store for us and how to access them.

thumbnail_93828916_1126163257718188_4838078640862265344_n

 

Hi Kerrin, would you be able to tell us a bit about Beverley Puppet Festival? What would we usually expect from this event?

Every two years, the award-winning Beverley Puppet Festival attracts 13,000 people to the quiet East Yorkshire town for a weekend of performances, workshops, free outdoor theatre and much, much more. Giant creatures roam around the Beverley’s town centre streets; tiny, magical worlds are revealed to unsuspecting audiences in the Friary Gardens and many indoor shows for all ages including adults take place at various venues across the town, including at East Riding Theatre.

The festival has grown to be a much-anticipated event of family arts provision in the Yorkshire calendar but also as a meeting place for puppeteers from around the country and internationally. The Scratch Space offers a platform to puppeteers wanting to try out new ideas to get feedback from a critical audience – the five selected companies receive a festival pass and a small bursary so they can fully immerse themselves in the festival. Networking meetings through Puppeteers UK and Equity take place as well, allowing puppeteers to take part in sector conversations.

Our usual programme of around 30 events across one weekend caters for all ages and genres of puppetry, including some of the best adult puppetry shows from the UK and overseas. Previous visiting international companies include Close-Act, Sofie Krog, Magische Theatertje, TAM-TAM objectentheater, Zero en Conducta and Compagnie with Balls. We always try and make sure that there is something for everyone – from comedy to the avant-garde – and so that everyone can understand that puppetry is for them, no matter their age or interests.

Of course, due to our current situation, the Beverley Puppet Festival has been slightly different this year. How has it differed and how will you continue to bring us content from the event?

We made the decision early on in the coronavirus epidemic that we didn’t want to cancel. Cancelling would have meant the loss of income for the full team and programmed artists, plus our audiences would be in lockdown without their biennial dose of puppetry arts. Instead we decided the only way forward was to go online. All of our pre-programmed artists (apart from two companies) and a few new editions were re-commissioned to design, create and film 25 videos of puppetry-related activities that could be completed by audiences in their homes using simple materials. Three activity videos per week are being posted on our website until July 12th 2020. Activities range from shadow puppets, moving mouth puppets, illusions, rod puppets and even a step by step guide on how to create a toy theatre.

We will still be running the Scratch Space but instead the 5 selected companies will perform their work-in-progress pieces through live streaming on our Facebook account across 5 Fridays in June / July. We were able to open this opportunity up to international artists for the first time due to it taking place online and are thrilled to have puppeteers taking part from Puerto Rico, Italy, Greece, as well as two from the UK.

The third main output we are focusing on for 2020 is our Education Project, which saw festival Co-Artistic Director / Founder Anna Ingleby of Indigo Moon Theatre create shadow puppet theatre packs sent into Beverley care homes. Residents under the assistance of care workers can play and create shadow stories, with participation from family members on Zoom / Skype. With families not being able to visit residents during this time, we wanted to put together a project that would creatively draw families together through digital means.

All activities are free, however we ask audiences to consider making donations to our Go Fund Me page. The money raised will be split between the festival delivery costs and some of our usual partners who missed out due to the festival going online, such as East Riding Theatre, our caterers, marquee hire company and festival technical team.

thumbnail_BPF 2020 cover

 

What inspired the chosen theme ‘Back to Nature’?

Our festival theme of ‘Back to Nature’ was already in place before the transition to an online programme. We chose ‘Back to Nature’ to inspire people more about our natural surroundings and to raise awareness of the climate crisis. The theme feels more relevant than ever with what is happening in the world right now.

Originally we had planned for giant birds, tortoises and sea creatures to greet audiences on Beverley’s streets, but instead now all of the festival activities are linked to the theme in some way. Some activities teach people how to make animal puppets; others ask audiences to collect and use materials from their gardens, and one even shows people how to make a potato marionette monster! We hope that during these difficult times, the festival theme keeps nature and the environment at the forefront of people’s minds and if they are unable to get outside at the moment they are at least bringing a little bit of nature into their households through these activities.

 Will Beverley Puppet Festival go ahead in its usual format at a later date?

We have repurposed all of our secured funding to deliver the online version of the festival. For this reason, as well as team members being involved with Moving Parts: Newcastle Puppetry Festival on alternate years, the next live Beverley Puppet Festival will be the 10th edition in 2022.

Although the online festival is unchartered waters for our festival team, we have been looking at the change as an opportunity to develop the event for future years. For instance, we are still printing a brochure of the 25 activities on offer but rather than distributing these nationally and regionally as normal, we are focusing on our immediate geographical audience by sending them to every single household in the Beverley area and surrounding villages.

We’ve used the time to develop a festival app (available through Apple App Store and Google Play Store) so that people can access puppetry content easier and quicker, and we hope to repurpose the foundations of this app for future live festivals. We’ve explored new ways to improve our festival image and branding, such as commissioning artist Rachael Horner to design the front cover of our brochure rather than using a photograph. Rachael’s beautiful design is a real-life collage of a pop-up toy theatre which we hope will inspire audiences to get involved in the activities on offer. To help us deliver this online adventure we have also brought on a new team member Rachael Jones as a Digital Specialist to train the team up and help us reach as many people as possible.

thumbnail_2 CH Summer 2019 Puppets

Do you think the restrictions to our way of living due to Covid-19 could influence a new way to experience live puppetry in the future?

We have to keep positive and obviously the ideal will be that after this is all over live puppetry and other arts events can go back to normal as soon as possible. Although putting the festival online is an exciting adventure for us and our audiences, we will be thrilled to deliver the festival as normal again in 2022 – but maybe with some additional digital elements that we wouldn’t have thought of including before!

That being said, we will emerge after the Covid-19 crisis into a different world and no one knows what that will look like yet. Arts funding (in England and Wales at least) is currently in flux with necessary emergency grants being given but resulting in rolling Project Grants coming to a halt. This will affect puppetry and arts organisation in 2021, unless rolling Project Grants are reinstated very soon. For instance, unless Project Grants are reinstated by September 2020, Moving Parts: Newcastle Puppetry Festival will not be able to happen as planned in April 2021. Adaptation is key though and in the case of the latter we will push the festival back to October 2021. There is also concerns about people not buying lottery tickets in the current climate which may affect arts funding and more worrying, a potential ‘hangover’ after lockdown of audiences not wanting to attend live events for a lengthy period of time.

Puppetry, as with other art forms and lots of different industries, is having to adapt to the situation. It is brilliant seeing lots of puppeteers putting up activities and performances online around the UK and internationally. People are coming together more than ever before across social media and with puppetry being a primarily visual art form, puppetry will withstand the current challenging circumstances. But we must fight it together – watch puppeteer videos, share knowledge, look at festival programmes, support organisations and artists in need. We will get through it and puppetry will be stronger on the other side.

The festival is live NOW until 12 July and the full festival programme can be downloaded at www.beverleypuppetfestival.com  You can also follow the festival and find more information on their facebook page  @BeveryleyPuppetFestival  and their twitter account @Bevpuppetfest.

The Stuff That ‘Handmade Puppet Dreams’ Are Made Of: Interview with Heather Henson & Sam Koji Hale

Heather Henson’s (daughter of Jim Henson) extraordinary puppet TV series ‘Handmade Puppet Dreams’, featuring different directors, has recently been released on Amazon Prime. There are 16 short films within the series which feature the work of puppetry artists around the country, showcasing the various forms of puppetry and storytelling styles of top-notch storytellers active in puppetry today. We caught up with Heather and Producer/Director Sam Koji Hale to find out more about this eclectic puppetry short film collection.

Handmade Puppet Dreams is a long established series of puppetry short films that was collected in editions and is now available to watch on Amazon Prime. How does it feel to see so many puppetry films released to such a wide reaching audience in one hit?

Heather Beth Henson (HMPD Executive Producer): Launching on Amazon Prime is very exciting! We’ve been screening these films at various festivals to get them out there, but it’s been a challenge. Now, anyone who has Amazon Prime can just click on the film and watch it right there in the comfort of their homes! We’ve been making these films for years – for the love of it – but now the Internet has gotten to the point where all this streaming is available for content, and we can put it on Amazon Prime and reach a number of countries we couldn’t before. We have access to communities that we never thought were possible, who we hope will watch these films. We want everyone to see this cool art form – it’s so unique. It’s not like anything you’ve seen before. It’s like animation, BUT it’s not! It’s puppetry – with puppeteers moving things in real time and making worlds and characters. Each artist has made their unique world, brought life to it and put it on film. And now you’re just a click away from watching these films – to see these artists and their artistry. It’s very exciting – I’m proud that we are able to do this.

MELVIN THE BIRDER – Directed by Spencer Lott.

Sam Koji Hale (HMPD Producer/Director): It’s great to land at Amazon Prime and present our short films there! Short films are a great format for modern viewers, who have just little snippets of time between their busy life schedules. You can watch a short bit, go do something, then sit down later and watch another short. It’s a place to discover a wonderful variety of stories in small doses! So we’re very happy to be in one place that many people can find these puppet films.

What makes the short film format particularly appropriate for Handmade Puppet Dreams? What does it offer that maybe feature-length production does not?

HBH: Handmade Puppet Dreams is a collection of films where independent artists make unique, compact pieces of visual artistry. We call it “Handmade Puppet Dreams” because the idea is to allow artists to let their “dreams” come to fruition in short puppet film pieces. It’s already pretty rare to be a puppeteer and most puppetry is in theater, so I wanted to make sure there was a place for puppeteers making films, an umbrella for independent people making their puppet craft or artistry in the recorded medium and sharing with a community. That’s what we’ve helped to create and nurture with the shorts.

SKH: Doing shorts is a way to showcase existing and emerging puppetry artists. They have a year to make something 6-10+ minutes on a fixed budget. It’s a challenge both creatively and logistically. We want to help give filmmakers who work with puppets a chance to express their idea and show their talent without the deep, time and budget-intensive investment of a feature film. What we do is provide a place to gather puppet storytellers and showcase their talent in a small package.

LESSONS LEARNED – Directed by Toby Froud.

Handmade Puppet Dreams is highly eclectic, featuring work that audiences will no doubt already feel familiar with from popular culture (notably ‘Lessons Learned’ directed by Toby Froud) through to works from emerging or unknown artists. What does this offer audiences? And who will this appeal to?

HBH: Each of these puppet films is a unique gem, as different as the people that are making them. Some are marionettes, some are tabletop puppets, some are puppets you didn’t even know existed until you saw the artist using it in this way. It’s a collection of a variety of different artistic techniques and styles, all in this world of live performed objects. Toby Froud (“Lessons Learned”) is an amazing artist! He’s got these great genetics – the son of Brian and Wendy Froud (“Dark Crystal”/“Labyrinth”) – and Toby’s a spectacular puppet builder, sculptor, craftsman. He has this great vision and did a lot of work on it with a huge crew. We’re very proud to have it in this collection. It’s gorgeous with amazing characters like the Spider Woman!

Other familiar touchstones include “Harker” out of Orlando, Florida done in the style of “Nosferatu” – black and white German Expressionist films; the classic tale of “Ichabod” with puppeteer Hobey Ford’s amazing mechanisms and puppets; and an adult retelling of the Russian mystic “Rasputin” with Jamie Shannon’s unique and funny puppets. We want everyone to see this cool art form.

YAMASONG – Directed by Sam Koji Hale.

SKH: Our audience is as eclectic as our filmmakers’ backgrounds. Kevin McTurk (“Narrative of Victor Karloch”) taps in to the Hollywood creature/horror film world of which he’s a part. John Kennedy (“The Sure Sheep”) reflects the sweetness of Sesame Street, which is his background. Pam Severns (“Bunny Love”) takes a popular live comedy she tours and brings that unusual love story to grown-up puppet lovers as a short. Our films are a place to find variety, discover new artists to follow, and show the breadth and depth of puppetry out there today. We hope it’ll be a place for people to discover the unexpected!

THE NARRATIVE OF VICTOR KARLOCH – Directed by Kevin McTurk.

In our modern age of high-tech computer generated imagery, what is it about puppetry that endures? What do you love most about this art form?

HBH: Thanks to availability of technology, there are more puppet films being made now, since cameras and the Internet are more accessible and people are becoming masters in their own unique places. Technology – high-end technology in people’s hands allows people to do things like green screen and rod removal – the kind of things that used to be available only at the high end companies. Now they are in individuals’ hands – it’s extraordinary! But I really do like that many of our films are made simply, so someone watching can say “I can do that!” and be inspired to make their own film. To show that puppetry is very accessible. A lot of our films are accessible and I hope they will inspire people to make things and puppeteer them in front of the camera and tell stories this way. I hope people are inspired by this series – to make their own film.

BUNNY LOVE – Directed by Pam Severns.

SKH: I think with puppetry there’s a kind of tug-of-war conversation happening. There’s a part of the community that rejects technology for what puppets represent – the real world, practical, tangible storytelling forms. And there’s a space in the community, where I’m operating, trying to figure out the balance between technology and old forms. My work, for example, centres around the puppet, but also looks for a way to enhance their world that is a mix of real and digital. I think what we all love is the physicality of the object, the things that we can sense have real mass, intent through performance, life through art. What takes a team of computer artists to imbue a believable “reality” can be achieved be a really well-built puppet in a skilled one or two puppeteers’ hands.

I think this art form endures because there will always be someone out there that takes an object and then follows that urge to give it life. To make the inanimate suddenly alive! Puppetry is a vessel for our liquid imaginations. That’s what I love about the art form, and the ability to be chameleons – to become whatever you imagine.

That’s powerful alchemy!

Interview with Emma Windsor


Handmade Puppet Dreams is available to watch on Amazon Prime now.  To find out more about the series and IBEX Puppetry, visit the website: www.ibexpuppetry.com  

Poetry in (Stop) Motion: An Interview with Tim Allen

It was a pleasure to interview Tim Allen, an acclaimed British stop-motion animator whose filmography spans far and wide. His character animation and performance skill can be found in well loved films and programmes such as ‘Corpse Bride’, ‘Isle of Dogs’, ‘Postman Pat’, ‘Chuck Steel’ and ‘My Life as a Courgette’.  Read on to find out why he enjoys moving small fiddly puppets millimetres at a time!


What led you to become an animator?
Well I’d always loved programmes like ‘Morph’, ‘Chorlton & the Wheelies’ and ‘Wind in the Willows’ as I grew up. As an art student I loved ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ but never realised that was even a career option. Once I discovered there were university courses available that taught animation, I was completely in love with the idea that I could chase this new found dream!

After uni, I spent one and a half years approaching every stop motion company I could find in the UK. I phoned and posted them my showreel, then arranged a visit to show my portfolio of model making work also. I did unpaid work experience at a few places, before getting occasional assistant model making work. I was speaking to as many friends as possible to find out where and when opportunities may be, and who to contact.  My first animation job was offered to me basically because they were happy with the quality of my animation, plus I was super hard working and cheap!


Tim painting a set piece he’d made in his early career.

You’ve worked on so many projects.  What’s been the most enjoyable or challenging?
There are so many! I was of course proud to have been able to work on ‘Corpse Bride’, ‘Frankenweenie’, and ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’. ‘Creature Comforts USA’ and ‘Shaun the Sheep’ were a real privilege, as was being Supervising Animator for ‘Magic Piano’ and for Disney on ‘Club Penguin’. The child in me was very proud to do things like ‘Postman Pat’ and ‘Fireman Sam’. I always try to earn and appreciate the chances I’m given. I also love intimate short projects like ‘Bunny and the Bull’ where we had an insane two week schedule and little budget but had a wonderful time working day and night with a small crew, bonding on a unique creative project.

Fox miniture puppets“Fantastic Mr. Fox” 2009 miniature puppets.

What are the key ingredients for successful animated performance?
For me the key ingredient is creating the moment within the film that is required. This is a combination of elements. First and most obviously we must believe the character, that they are engaged with the emotion and thoughts of that moment. Secondly we are also creating a sense of atmosphere as appropriate for the moment in the movie. Is there a sense of urgency, panic, peace, romance, rage at boiling point, etc? The camera angle, lighting, composition, timing to music and more all come into play to enhance this. The shot also has to be timed correctly. You have a limited number of frames to convey what you need to so you keep certain moments efficient to linger on other aspects. It is a refined decision making process. Lastly, and in keeping with the last point, you are directing the audience’s attention to watch and feel what you want them to see, and equally what you want them to not notice. They will be drawn to different parts of your puppet’s body as you highlight eyes, hands and other key details in the same way that a painter designs their composition.

My Life as a Courgette
Photo from the “My Life as a Courgette” 2016 production.

You’re currently teaching workshops on character animation. Could you tell us a little more about that?
I started doing bits of teaching and guest speaking early in my animation career, so I’m almost as experienced at communicating about animation as I am actually doing it. As I found myself being asked to teach character animation more and more, I came across recurring issues that students stumbled into, so my classes kept evolving to best help them reach their end goal of believable stop motion character performance. I’ve found that firstly people normally need a period of time to understand how to control a puppet and focus on balance and human movement, before going deeper into acting and emotions.

This is complicated by the fact that animation takes years and thousands of hours of practice to get to a higher level of proficiency. My problem is I’m normally given just days to enhance a group of student’s work. I’m constantly improving the techniques I use to help the students absorb as much understanding as possible in a short time. It’s a version of developing ‘muscle memory’ through repetition and gradual increases in complexity. Repetition and simplicity is the key to help retain understanding, but I avoid boredom by adding layers of ongoing progression. I love the art of seeing how different people absorb and respond to new information. It is a fresh challenge for me to tailor how I present ideas to each individual.

Isle of Dogs - Poison Sushi 2

“Isle of Dogs” 2018. The animating of the sushi sequence.

Interview with Amy Baker


To find out more about Tim, his work and workshops, visit his website: https://timallenanimation.co.uk/ or join him on Twitter and Vimeo.