Category Archives: Uncategorized

Return to Oz: Interview with Zoe Squire, Pins & Needles

Pins and Needles Productions is an award-winning, female-led theatre company in Bristol. Based on a strong Director/Designer partnership between Emma Earle & Zoe Squire, the company is well known for their beautiful stage adaptations of children’s literature. This Christmas they will be bringing L Frank Baum’s classic, ‘Oz’ to Tobacco Factory Theatres. Emma Windsor caught up with Zoe Squire to find out more about this magical production.

Can you tell us more about you and Pins & Needles Productions? 

We create imaginative theatre for all ages and are passionate about finding playful ways to tell stories full of heart, humour and magic. We are well known for our bold and imaginative adaptations of children’s books.  Our most recent show ‘Oi Frog and Friends!’, produced by Kenny Wax Family Entertainment, has been nominated for an Olivier Award for Best Family Show 2020.  In 2018, we won the UK Theatre award for Best Show for Children and Young People for ‘Little Mermaid’, co-produced with the Egg, Theatre Royal Bath.  

‘Oi Frog & Friends’, Pins & Needles Productions

We love working as collaboratively as possible, and one of our biggest strengths is the diverse range of artists we have worked with.  From actors and animators, composers and lyricists, lighting and sound designers, to movement directors and projection mappers, we are endlessly amazed by the talent out there. 

‘The Bear’, Pins & Needles Productions

Pins & Needles are bringing a new show, ‘Oz’ to Tobacco Factory Theatres this December.  Can you tell us more about the production? 

We are thrilled to be working with the Tobacco Factory this year to bring to life such an iconic, well-loved story. We’re luck to collaborating with an insanely talented cast and creative team and everyone involved feels a sense of responsibility to make the process as supportive and positive as possible, and the desire to make something meaningful, magical and memorable for Christmas audiences returning after the events of the last couple of years.

We have been dreaming of adapting L Frank Baum’s story for a while. Being such a big fans of the iconic film, however, this comes a huge amount of pressure with the adaptation process. Where do you honour the original and where do you depart? How do you deal with the fact that the MGM classic is one of the most influential films ever made? Is it possible to look at blue gingham without instantly picturing Judy Garland? But there were plot points, characters and themes in the original book that were left unexplored by the film. Each time Dorothy encounters a new territory, she finds people being controlled, subjugated or manipulated in some way. This orphan child driven by empathy and humanity goes up against the adult establishment, spearheaded by rogue rulers abusing their power.

‘Oz’ show poster, Pins & Needles

The biggest image for us was the green goggles you can see on the show’s poster. In the book, every person visiting Emerald City is locked into a pair of glasses and must wear them day and night, by order of the Wizard. Dorothy has this revelatory moment where she manages to remove her glasses within the city walls, and discovers that it isn’t actually green or indeed made of emeralds, it’s just the effect of the mandatory eye wear. When you start to think about the control involved in this grand illusion, the Wizard starts to feel less like a doddery old man behind a curtain, and more like an Orwellian dictator.

‘Oz’ in rehearsals at Tobacco Factory Theatre

However, despite new elements, we have been careful not to take the magic out of ‘Oz’. The production is jam packed with exciting visuals and moments – from songs to lots of different forms of puppetry, from quirky characters to high energy movement sequences. We hope there is something for everyone in ‘Oz’.

How is puppetry used in the show?  

We use puppetry a lot in the production to help us populate the world of Oz with weird and wonderful characters, ranging in all types of scales and forms. Zoe designed the puppets but we have been working with a collection of South West puppet-makers to bring them to life. Within the design it was important to have a consistent, over-arching language that spans the worlds, but each territory also has its individual identity and community, which gave us the license to be more playful. We also wanted to set up a language to breath life into unexpected objects and costumes. Without revealing too much, our ensemble help to magically create the Lion, Tin Man and Scarecrow in front of the audiences eyes, and our Yellow Brick road takes on many forms.  

Photo: Jess Jones (Puppet Maker, ‘Winkie’) 

What plans or resolutions do you have for the new year? 

For anyone in the industry it has been a massive achievement to have got through the past 20 months and still be making work. However, taking a step back has given the company time to take a good look at the what we offer our audiences, develop exciting projects, and explore new avenues and medians which we may not have ventured into had we not had this creative space. We are excited that live theatre is back, but also feel there is a lot of new things to be discovered with how the digital stage can feed into our storytelling and audiences’ experiences. Watch this space! 

This Christmas you can also see our work in three different stages across the country. Alongside ‘Oz’ in Bristol, we celebrate our 10th years of our adaptation of Raymond Briggs’ ‘Father Christmas’ at the Lyric Hammersmith in London and ‘Oi Frog and Friends!’ will be starting its 2022 tour with a Christmas run at the Wales Millennium Centre. 

‘Father Christmas’, Pins & Needles Productions


Interview with Emma Windsor

‘Oz’ will be at the Tobacco Factory Theatre in Bristol from 10 Dec – 16 Jan 2022. Find out more and book tickets on the TFT website here. To find out more about Pins and Needles Productions, visit their website or catch up on all the latest news on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Puppet Place’s Top 10 Festive Films For Puppet Lovers

Oh the weather outside is frightful but festive puppet films are not! Christmas, puppets and cinema – a recipe for ultimate joy, these special ingredients will warm the cockles of your heart like a spiced mulled wine.

You’ll be so warm you’ll completely forget about the frightful weather everyone’s singing about. Puppets, often fuzzy, are the perfect companion at this chilly time of year, evoking excitement, love and mischief in a way that wouldn’t quite work with human actors. Imagine a big human male gremlin in place of the little fluffy Gizmo we all cherish. With a mix of live action puppetry and stop motion animation, this list will shed light on a selection of the finest films; some famous and some less well-known. Without further ado, here is the much anticipated list of Puppet Place’s top 10 festive films for puppet lovers.

Rankin & Bass

10. The Year Without A Santa Claus (1974)

A Christmas special by Rankin and Bass, combining stop motion animation with the catchiest of musical numbers! The story is based on Phyllis McGinley’s 1956 book of the same name. Feeling under the weather, a weary Santa considers cancelling Christmas. Mrs Claus teams up with Christmas elves Jingle and Jangle to try and change his mind. On their journey they encounter two sparkly, supernatural brothers, Snow Miser and Fire Miser who try to block the path to Santa. A comedic classic suitable for the whole family.

9. Alien Xmas (2020)

John Bartnicki

Based on the 2006 book of the same name by Chiodo and Jim Strain. An alien, bullied for being small, sets out to prove his worth to his Klept peers by travelling to earth and fulfilling supreme leader Z’s orders. Stealing not just all the ‘stuff’ from planet Earth but also stealing the whole of earth’s gravity! Another fun filled family comedy with a poignant message around generosity.

8. A Jugband Christmas (1977)

Jim Henson Company

A wild and unique take on Christmas from Jim Henson. A band of Otters from the deep south singing country tunes in the snow. Their little furry faces sing earnestly and although not a typical festive scene I don’t think it’s one to miss!

7. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (1964)

Rankin & Bass

In 7th place we have another Rankin and Bass production. This time following Rudolph the misfit fawn, whose shiny red nose sends him on a journey from being an outcast to being lead of the pack! This colourful and textural film is full of nostalgia and whimsy. 

6. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Disney Pictures

Tim Burton’s pasty gothic fingerprints are all over this animated Christmas masterpiece. Jack Skellington (The Pumpkin King) grows tired of only celebrating Halloween. When stumbling upon Christmas Town, he decides to make Christmas his own. Many of us grow weary of the same sentimental mush we’re fed around this time of year so here’s something a little different. Having said that, there are still musical numbers!

5. Shaun the Sheep – The Flight Before Christmas (2021)

Aardman Animations

Rhyming with the previous film, we have Aardman’s Shaun the Sheep latest Christmas special. The Flight before Christmas has a timely debut on Netflix December 3rd.  “Shaun’s seasonal excitement turns to dismay when a farmhouse raid to get bigger stockings for the flock inadvertently leads to Timmy going missing”. Only 30 minutes long, it’ll be packed with slapstick humour, holiday cheer and mischief from the nation’s favourite sheep.

4. Elf: Buddy’s Christmas Musical (2014)

Warner Brothers

Based on the Hollywood film and the Broadway musical, this stop motion TV short is fun for everyone! Stylistically influenced by 50s UPA animation, but with stop motion fuzzy and sparkly puppets, it is a visual treat. The short has the same humour as the original film and music as the theatre production. Full of innocence and charm, this light-hearted film will brighten up a cold winter’s evening.

3. Gremlins (1984)

Allstar, Warner Brothers

Another Christmas film with a fun, evil twist. Gremlins is a horror comedy set around Christmas time, so it’s a Christmas film in the same way that Die Hard is. A kind-hearted teenage boy is given a cute, fluffy pet, but when breaking the three rules given to him by the seller, the pets turn monstrous and ravage the quiet small town of Kingston Falls. The physical effects and animatronics in this film are beautiful and the mayhem of the film is a wild ride.

2. Robin Robin (2021)

Aardman Animations

Co-directors Mikey Please and Dan Ojari partnered up with Aardman animations to create their heart-melting, refreshing, fuzzy felt Christmas short released on Netflix in November. The story follows Robin, a robin raised by a family of mice. The beautiful tale explores themes of belonging, uniqueness and adoption with quick humour and sweet music.    

1. Muppet’s Christmas Carol (1992)

Allstar, Disney

A retelling of the Dickens tale ‘A Christmas Carol’. Ebenezer Scrooge (a human) is visited by the ghost muppets of Christmas past, present and future. This old story is brought to life with Jim Henson’s playful and bashful Muppets! A Christmas classic, one that can be watched and re-watched and is held dear by many.

Out of the Woods: An interview with Vicky Andrews

Formed in 2000, Puppet Place resident artist theatre company Pickled Image specialises in puppetry for live performance and theatre. Since its inception, the company has gained international recognition and numerous awards for their humorous visual productions.

We caught up with Puppet Place resident artist Vicky Andrews of Pickled Image to chat about Woodland Tales with Granddad, making short films during the Covid-19 lockdowns in the UK and their plans for the future.

Over the last 18 months or so, during times when we were in lockdown, you were able to bring Granddad to new audiences via a series of short films; how did that come about? And how different was it producing, writing, and puppeteering for film?

During the first lockdown, Pickled Image was very fortunate to receive an emergency fund from the Arts Council. We wanted to use our time and funds to create little updates from Granddad at home with his pets. The idea was to give people some hope in the dark and lonely times, and we were particularly keen to explore what it was like for old people living alone.

Still from At Home with Granddad, Pickled Image

The films were made in Granddad’s greenhouse, living room, and bedroom where his cat Maud likes to hang out. The final film was shot on location in the Wye Valley, the first opportunity we had to leave Bristol and go on a little break during lockdown. It was quite emotional to see Granddad sitting in a hammock amongst ancient woodland, and it made his message of love and compassion so much more poignant.

Granddad in Bluebell Woods – Episode 4 from Pickled Image on Vimeo.

The process of making a film at home during lockdown was quite challenging, as it was just me and my partner Mark able to work on the project. Mark is a musician and had some experience as a puppeteer, but he really was thrown into the deep end having to puppeteer Granddad with little training. The end result far exceeded my expectations and he pulled off a fabulous performance that was moving and the real essence of Granddad.

The only equipment we had to film on was an iPad and a laptop for sound cues. I had the tricky job of directing, filming, and pressing the cues with my big toe all at the same time! Our friend and colleague Gwen Thomson edited the footage, which was the first time she’d taken on that role, and to our delight, she has developed further and now is a freelance editor for arts organisations.

Still from Granddad in Bluebell Woods, Pickled Image

The whole process was, ‘let’s just make the most of what we’ve got to hand’, and I must admit, I’m personally delighted with what we managed to achieve during quite an emotional and difficult time for everyone. We’ve had feedback from people, including a friend’s 87 year old mother, that Granddad gave them hope and comfort when all seemed dark and scary. I couldn’t have wished for a better outcome.

Woodland Tales with Granddad has just finished a tour in the United Kingdom, what has it been like bringing those stories to life in recent months?

At first we were quite scared to go back on the road. For me personally, I felt that I’d lost quite a bit of confidence during the months of lockdown and wasn’t sure I could puppeteer again. However, I wasn’t willing to give it all up and Pickled Image was lucky to be awarded an Arts Council grant to remount the tour.

Woodland Tales with Granddad (Trailer) from Pickled Image on Vimeo.

The only thing we’ve noticed is that the audiences have been quite loud and fidgety compared with touring pre-pandemic. As the show is aimed at a family audience, with the average age being 5 years, we put it down to the fact that so many children have been out of school for such a long time during very formative years, that their ability to listen and concentrate for extended periods of time isn’t as developed as it would’ve been without the pandemic.

Woodland Tales with Granddad, Pickled Image

Your work, such as Yana and the Yeti and Woodland Tales with Granddad, appeals to children of all-ages, and by that I mean adults too. What do you feel is at the heart of that appeal?

I think the main appeal is love. Yana and Woodland Tales have love as the main theme running through the narrative and it’s universal for all ages.

YANA and the YETI- PROMO from Pickled Image on Vimeo.

Can we look forward to more stories from Granddad, both theatre and film, in the coming year or other works from Pickled Image?

Yes, I’m currently developing the idea of Bedtime Tales with Granddad. I want to create a show that is jaw-droppingly beautiful and magical to take us on a journey of dreams and imagination. Also I’m working on Yana and The Yeti as a children’s book, hopefully I can get it published in the coming year.

If you would like to find out more about Pickled Image, Yana and the Yeti, Woodland Tales with Granddad, or any of the other beautiful stories and productions that Vicky and her collaborators create, then:


Watch Pickled Image on Vimeo (@PickledImage)

Follow Pickled Image on Facebook (@PickledImage)

Follow Pickled Image on Twitter (@PickledImage)

Interviewed by Matt Gibbs

An Interview with Sarah Fornace from Manual Cinema

Manual Cinema is an Emmy Award winning performance collective, design studio, and film/video production company founded in 2010 and based in Chicago. In this interview, Cat Rock from Puppet Place chats with Manual Cinema’s Co-Artistic Director, Sarah Fornace about what makes shadow puppetry such a good medium for horror, and that amazing title sequence for Nia DaCosta’s latest horror feature film, ‘Candyman’ (2021).

Listen to more interviews with The Quay Brothers, Barry JC Purves, The Paper Cinema, Corina Duyn and more on our Vimeo channel here.

Pupaphobia: The Fear of Puppets

As Halloween approaches, Cat Rock looks into puppetry’s relationship with horror. With thoughts from Aya Nakamura, Kathleen Yore, Mike Oleon, and the Puppet Place residents. Featuring a special interview with Sarah Fornace from Manual Cinema about their recent shadow puppetry creation for the 2021 film “Candyman”. Cat explores why and how puppets have been used to unsettle and terrify audiences over the years.

“Puppetry as an art form provides a powerful feeling of escapism and is especially good at tapping into our subconscious fears; bringing to the surface hidden imagery and diving deep into otherworldly places. Strange objects or handmade figures that appear to live, to breathe, and to think in front of our very eyes are like magic, interpreted uniquely by each viewer. What a liberating experience! Even when we present something horrid the audience are still thankful for the journey, still amazed at how a bit of papier-mâché and fabric had them transfixed!” (Kathleen Yore – Odd Doll)

Seaside Terror – Odd Doll

Pupaphobia, the fear of puppets, settling in next to the more common fears of Coulrophobia (fear of Clowns) and Pediophobia (the fear of dolls), is an extreme version of a common human reaction to puppets, one of trepidation, caution and disconcerntainty. A reaction that is still used in horror media as a tool to incite terror and fright in many an audience.

From the horror trope of the evil living doll to the use of puppetry in the creations of monsters, aliens, and creatures, puppets and horror go hand in hand. So it begs the question, are puppets really scary? And if so, why?

The idea of an evil living puppet or doll is so common in media that it could have its own subgenera. Demonic puppets and dolls have appeared in films as early as 1945 (and as creepy symbols even earlier) with Hugo the ventriloquist dummies appearance in “The Dead of Night”. Other films and series include Magic, Dolls, Childs Play (featuring the murderous Chucky), the Puppet Master series, Annabel, The Boy, and let’s not forget films that use puppets to enhance their creep factor such as the Saw franchise’s mascot Jigsaw. Even Pixar used spooky ventriloquist dummies in their most recent Toy Story film. It is a wonder that children’s toy shops even sell puppets and human figures any more!

The first time I remember being exposed to the evil puppet concept was with the Goosebumps children’s horror book series, and their title “Night of the Living Dummy” back in 1993. The book went on to have two sequels and is one of the most popular and well known books in the Goosebumps series. Targeting adults and children, and exploring all media, from film, tv, books, and theatre, you cannot escape the connection between horror and puppetry. 

Story by R.L. Stein / Cover by Tim Jacobus

One theory is that puppetry taps into the robotics and computer graphics principle of the “Uncanny Valley”. People have been studying this concept to find out why there is a fine line between a humanoid construction being either likeable or repelling. We connect with human-like creations, in fact we are drawn to them, but only to a certain point, when an invisible line is crossed and that thing becomes too human, like we become disconcerted by its presence. Does this switch in perception evoke a sense of trepidation because it seems as if the figure is trying to trick us, making us believe it is a person when in fact it is a construct? Maybe there is something about not seeing true life behind those realistic puppet eyes that just makes us squirm.

Assume we could make a robot more and more similar to a human in form, would our affinity to this robot steadily increase as realism increased or would there be dips in the relationship between affinity and realism.” (Masahiro Mori, 1970) Ref 1

Puppetry legend Janni Younge once said, “The puppet is a dead thing that’s brought to life.” (Ref 3). Breathing life into your puppet is one of the core fundamentals of puppetry, the magic of manipulation is that you can look at an inanimate object and see a living thing. You connect with it, you believe it, and you feel it.  Depending on the context this can be a wonderfully magic moment or one that can fill you with a sense of wrongness. Puppets are things that are not alive, but act as if they are, if that is not the basis for horror then I don’t know what is.

KWAIDAN – Rouge28 Theatre

Aya Nakamura is Associate Artist of Rouge28 Theatre and has performed in the Japanese Ghost Story show KWAIDAN, she says, “People tend to find puppets scary when puppets are figurative. I believe it’s because it imitates living beings and the viewers can perceive it as being alive yet also, they know that it is not real. They cannot tell exactly how or why it becomes scary. We, as humans, find things that we do not know scary.”  

Can you say that puppets are the living dead?

Puppet Place resident artist Ben Mars says, “They behave as if conscious, but that consciousness is particularly other.”

Perhaps, it is the relationship between audience, puppet, and puppeteer that can trigger us. It is so easy for an audience to imprint on a puppet. That’s why they are such amazing things to use in performance. But if we are using those puppets in a malicious and cruel way, or they themselves are being treated horribly, do we as an audience feel it more because we see ourselves in the puppets? Is our ability to experience these scary situations ourselves through the lens of a puppet what makes them a great horror tool? There is something to be said there also about this lens providing a certain amount of protection to the viewer; we can engage fully with what is happening but from the safety of our own seat.

In Chicago, there is a new theatrical experience taking place created by Rough House Theatre. “The House of the Exquisite Corpse”, a horror peep-show, puppet-theatre anthology, invites the audience to peer through keyholes, cracks, and hidden doors to discover surreal worlds that will terrify and amaze…

Mike Oleon from Rough House had this to say, “Puppets beg to be animated with vital life force, and fear is one of our most fundamental emotions. Fill a puppet with something that provokes that fear and you will find they are perfect vessels through which audiences can experience the most profound terror and emerge unscathed. That is thrilling.”

The House of the Exquisite Corpse – Rough House

Another very practical reason why puppets work so well in horror is that puppet design is only limited by a creator’s imagination (and budget!). Bodies can be elongated, features distorted, and finishings worn and damaged. Puppets can be made to look like something straight out of a nightmare.

As Chris Pirie from Green Ginger says, “It’s all about eye position. Too close together – uncanny. Too far apart – uncanny. Just right – really f**king freaky!”

We can bend puppets to physically resemble the thing that terrifies us. 

Aya Nakamura adds, “Puppets are good at taking the shape of the artists’ imaginations and visions. Puppet makers can create the creature as they wish. And their advantages are different from human actors. Puppets can fly and transform, they can have many tentacles or less limbs than humans. These help to make creatures and make them less ordinary humans or animals.”

From making slight unsettling changes to human figures to large leaps with tentacles, blood red eyes, and gnashing teeth, we can make puppets look like anything, and if we choose that anything can be really scary. 

Queen Takes Bishop – House of Funny Noises

Another notion is that puppets, dolls, and toys are closely linked to our childhood. At this early stage of life we are vulnerable, small inquisitive creatures, unknowing of the dangers of the real world that we come to learn as we grow up. The phrase ‘the past comes back to haunt us’ comes to mind, as a lot of our grown up fears come from our childhood experiences. Older siblings or bullies stealing and mutilating our favourite toys, clutching a doll for comfort whilst grownups argue in the other room, or staring at the freaky frog teddy in the dead of night just waiting for it to blink. By using puppets as a source of ill intent and evil, are we tapping into that childhood sense of vulnerability, uprooting those experiences that have come to mould us as adults?

It is also a time where our imaginations run wild and anything seems possible. Children learn and experience the world through play. By using these playful tools to create a sense of unease, are we tapping back into our powerful childhood imaginations, which now, as adults, are skewed to picture the dark as well as the light? Is that why an old, abandoned child’s playroom and warped children’s music can fill a person with dread? 

The House of the Exquisite Corpse – Rough House

As a puppeteer and puppet maker, I spend my life surrounded by weird, wonderful, and sometimes creepy puppets. I have never felt unsettled in their presence (apart from that one time I accidentally stumbled on a hunched over lifesize old man puppet in a pitch black Puppet Place, then I did jump), I feel in control of my tools and at my place of work. Is that it then? Is the idea of control a key factor? Puppets are designed to be controlled, manipulated, but often in horror there is a dramatic control shift, the puppet comes to life or is possessed for example. Is the fear of losing control physically represented by a puppet? In Nightmare on Elm Street 3 there is a Scene where one of the characters is forced to be a grotesque human puppet, manipulated by Freddy Krueger. In this example, this person could not be less in control. Perhaps, the lack of control of something that is meant to be controlled is what makes the fear of puppets a reality.

Max Dorey, from Puppet Place, makes an interesting comparison between puppets and classic novels, “Pinicio, perhaps the atypical and earliest puppet gone rogue, was written in 1883… Frankenstein, also about a creator losing control of their creation was written in 1818. The idea of a living doll I would say is scary because it is a total removal of power that then turns the aspect of control on its head.”

Interesting, that two very different stories have so many similarities when you start to think about them. The idea of control, taking it, losing it, wanting it, being tricked by someone who has it… Do we relate to this sense of powerlessness and futility when we see such a clear representation through a living doll? Do we relate to the manipulator, the controlled and the power struggle between them simultaneously?

Eloise Dunwell, from Puppet Place, adds, “Maybe what’s also strange is that performance can only come from what us humans can think up, so will it always be a representation of the psyche?”

Puppets need to be controlled by something, but by what? Perhaps the notion of a human manipulator scares us because we know how dark humanity can be. Especially when the identity of someone is removed. You need not look far on social media to see how people’s behaviour changes when they have the shield of anonymity. Does a puppet give that kind of shield if used by someone with dark intent, and is that what makes people distrust a puppet in certain instances? The puppet that you see could be so very different from the person hiding behind it.

Seaside Terror – Odd Doll

Humans can be scary, yes, but is it only people who can manipulate puppets? Puppets are literally vessels created to be controlled, so it isn’t surprising that puppets have been used in supernatural stories from ghosts to demons, voodoo to witchcraft. Do puppets give us the sense that we have created an unpredictable path between our world and another?

Emma Windsor from White Rabbit Animation says, “The notion of puppets and dolls as magic objects is deep rooted in our collective consciousness, I think. Pre-history, humanity was carving small objects that represented or were thought to capture the gods or supernatural forces, the The Venus of Willendorf figurine springs to mind. So I think this connection between small figurines and the supernatural is hard wired in most human cultures.”

If we grow up with this idea that puppets, dolls, and figures are innately magical, of course then we can use this to our advantage when telling stories of a dark nature.

No matter how you look at it, puppets are able to connect with audiences in a way that can draw out and enhance the fear within us all. So why are we drawn to the macabre and terrifying especially in terms of entertainment? One great example of a puppet horror stage show is Seaside Terror by Odd Doll. Stuffed with fun frights and ice cream chills, Seaside Terror is a celebration of British horror and British holidays of the 1970s.

Kathleen Yore, Artistic Director of Odd Doll, has this to say, “As an art form it provides a powerful feeling of escapism and is especially good at tapping into our subconscious fears; bringing to the surface hidden imagery and diving deep into otherworldly places. Strange objects or handmade figures that appear to live, to breathe, and to think in front of our very eyes are like magic, interpreted uniquely by each viewer. What a liberating experience! Even when we present something horrid the audience are still thankful for the journey, still amazed at how a bit of papier-mâché and fabric had them transfixed!”

Puppetry is an amazing storytelling medium by adding weight and engageability to new stories. When you create puppets you are creating a world with new rules. The characters, props, and set can all be manipulated to create this unique space, even the gravity can be different. You as the creator set your own laws. This merges so well with horror, where the unexpected and the twisting of reality can create unnerving stories. Again, back to the idea that something is familiar but a bit off. The fact that puppets are physical entities also enhances an audience’s connection with them. You feel like you can touch or be touched by them and bring you deeper into the world. This is why puppets and horror work so well on stage and on screen.

Kathleen Yore says, “I believe that great horror and great puppetry is all about well thought out visual imagery. Experimenting with light and dark, what we see and don’t see, like a living comic book, moving from one picture to the next. So it goes without saying that puppetry lends itself perfectly to the telling of a scary story.”

They goes on to say, “Working with puppets provides a license to see how far we can push things; puppets poo, their teeth fall out, or they can die in gruesome ways. Despite being presented with such darkness, audiences often find themselves laughing. Perhaps working with puppets provides a form of distance from the true horror of what we are presenting?”

Puppets allow ‘space’ (see Sarah Fornace interview) for the audience to fill in the gaps. What we imagine can often be more terrifying than what we are shown. You can address the subject head on but in an abstract or slightly removed way, allowing an audience to insert themselves or their ideas into the story. This is why we are seeing more and more puppetry being used in mainstream media.

In 2021, Candyman hit cinemas nationwide bringing with it an eerie shadow puppet film created by Chicago’s Manual Cinema.

Their piece was used in the trailer of the film and is referred to throughout, a powerful yet disconcerting framing device which enhances the tone, atmosphere, and surrealism of the film. 

I caught up with Sarah Fornace from Manual Cinema to talk about Candyman.

Candyman – Manual Cinema

So let’s start with this idea that puppets address horror and violence with a layer of abstraction that gives the audience space to connect with the material. Here is the part of our interview where we start touching on that subject… 

The shadow puppetry in Candyman is beautifully creepy, working well with the live action world of the main film to enhance key points, emotions and atmosphere. I asked Sarah why shadow puppetry was the right choice for this production… 

As we talked we dove deeper into why puppetry works so well to tell horror stories and why they chose puppets over other performance styles specifically for the Candyman film… 

I love that sentence, “…everything a puppet does is inherently meaningful.”

When we use puppetry to tell a story, as a whole production or as a selected section, we are highlighting the importance of that story. A bit like Shakespeare using iambic pentameter to capture attention at key theatrical moments, puppetry adds weight and importance to a story by its sheer presence. When used within a horror context we are highlighting, without words, the weight of these moments, drawing the audience deeper into the narrative where what they see will hold greater impact.

As Kathleen puts it, “Certain horror films have put the fear of clowns, masks, and puppets into some of our audience, but when a puppetry performance begins, the overwhelming sense of craftsmanship and perfect manipulation which portrays every thought, every breath, every moment of the story, quickly eradicates any doubts about how magnificent this art form is. But of course, being aware of this underlying fear is something we as artists can very easily use to our advantage if we wanted to!”

No matter how you look at it, puppets have the ability to target the fears within us all. From the ideas of control, power and lack thereof, to the physical designs, universal appeal and their reality warping capabilities; to connections with our childhood selves and the idea that the unknown is a thing to fear. Puppets can engage us in pleasant magical ways, but like most things there is always another side to the coin, the more you can connect with something the more power it holds over you. So when used in just the right (or wrong) way, puppetry can tell the most terrifying of stories.

So remember, treat your puppets nicely, just in case, because you never know what puppets get up to when you leave them behind closed doors…

Candyman – Manual Cinema

Article by Cat Rock 

Thanks to:

Sarah Fornace – Manual Cinema

See the full edited interview here

Kathleen Yore – Artistic Director of Odd Doll

Aya Nakamura – Puppeteer • Puppet Maker • Theatre Maker


House of Funny Noises

Puppet Place Residents and Associates

Ben Mars 

Max Dorey 

Eloise Dunwell 

Chris Pirie 

Emma Windsor


Ref 1 

In Search of the Uncanny Valley by Frank E Pollick

Ref 2 

Uncanny Valley

Rosenthal-von der Pütten, AM et al. Neural Mechanisms for Accepting and Rejecting Artificial Social Partners in the Uncanny Valley. Journal of Neuroscience

Ref 3 

Puppetery; Brinning a dead thing to life – Source CNN

The Ray Harryhausen Film Awards: Pioneer of Moving Monsters

© The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation, photography by Brian Robertson, National Galleries Scotland

What do dinosaurs, skeletons, a giant octopus, and a phorusrhacos have in common? Ray Harryhausen’s legendary hands zapped life into all of them!

Since the 1950s, Ray Harryhausen has been hypnotising audiences world-over with his unprecedented stop-motion special effects. After seeing King Kong (1933), teen Ray Harryhausen was awe-struck and discovered a new life-long love for creating stop-motion creatures and bringing them to life. Harryhausen quickly became Hollywood’s go-to guy when it came to physical effects for live-action film, making beastly characters for sci-fi, fantasy, and horror films. He’s best known for his work on 20 Million Miles To Earth, Clash of the Titans, and Jason and the Argonauts. Ray’s career spanned three decades and created a strong foundation for future animators and model makers to build upon. His work combined so many skills and merged technicality with creativity in a way that created entire new worlds! Always innovative, he created a new animation/special effects technique called ‘Dynamism’. To quote a critic from The Guardian, ‘This is not just special effects, this is art.’

© The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation, Vanessa Harryhausen’s book, ‘Titan Of Cinema’.

In order to continue his legacy and inspire future generations of stop-motion artists, The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation have set up an awards programme that will be open to entries soon. I’ve spoken to John Walsh from the foundation to learn a bit more about The Ray and Diana HarryHausen Foundation and their exciting new awards programme!

Tell me about Ray Harryhausen’s impact on the film industry. 

Ray Harryhausen was an expert exponent of visual special effects through stop-motion animation. This involved moving a puppet in front of a camera one frame at a time to create the illusion of movement. Other people had been working in this field before Ray, notably Willis O’Brien on King Kong (1933), but Harryhausen would break new ground and influence generations of filmmakers to come. From Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg, and James Cameron. On his death in 2013, George Lucas said, “Without Ray Harryhausen, there would likely have been no Star Wars.”

© The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation

What is the Ray & Diana Harryhausen Foundation, and how can people get involved?

Ray and Diana set up the charity in the 1980s to protect the vast collection, estimated at 50,000 items, and educate other animators in Ray’s working practices. We are active on social media and have exhibitions. You can find our website here and details of our current and most extensive exhibition to date here. We have an active social media presence and an award-winning podcast series too. 

© The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation

Can you describe for us the new ‘Ray Harryhausen Film Awards’ programme?

Ray Harryhausen’s influence on cinema past and present is truly titanic. I devised these awards in Ray’s name to recognise new standards of excellence in the growing field of animation. I hope the awards will promote Ray’s legacy and identify new talent coming into the industry. More information will be released on the Awards website in the coming months. 

Vanessa Harryhausen © The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation

Is there anything, in particular, you’ll be looking out for in your award entries?

Innovation and technique, of course, are critical for any judging panel. However, the quality of the films in that category is crucial in awarding the best examples. It is a case of surprising the judges and hoping you get recognised. I have been on the other side as an award recipient and nominee on numerous occasions, so I know how much an award or even a nomination can help a career. 

© The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation, Ray & John Walsh with Kraken.

How do you hope these awards will influence emergent filmmaking talent?

Animation can be a solitary experience for a filmmaker, so the awards will act as a network and a chance for other filmmakers to discuss their work. It is also part of any filmmaker’s development to see what their peers are working with or even struggling to achieve. In any creative field, growth is the key to success. Sometimes that can be a frustrating and challenging road to travel but satisfying when you arrive at your completed project ready to show the world. 

John Walsh is a trustee of The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation. Watch his documentary about Harryhausen’s life and work, and follow him on Twitter.

If you fancy reading more about Ray Harryhausen’s career and seeing some magic from behind the scenes, the books; Harryhausen The Lost Movies by John Walsh and the award-winning Ray Harryhausen Titan of Cinema by Vanessa Harryhausen are highly recommended.

The Season of the Witch: Discovering ‘The Lost Librarian’

The Lost Librarian is a ground-breaking escape room for inquisitive explorers of all ages. Using interactive books, employing creative technology, groups of up to six people experience a 60-minute journey, uncovering a fantastical retelling of the Devon Witches and the legacy that they have left behind.

The project is the brainchild of Puppet Place resident artists Lizzie Johnson, Kyle Hirani, Matt Gibbs, and Chat Akula, and the installation was commissioned by Libraries Unlimited. We sat down with writer and narrative designer, Matt Gibbs, to find out more about this innovative installation.

Lost Librarian 2021 Tour, testing at Puppet Place – Photo: Matt Gibbs

The Lost Librarian is an innovative ‘escape room’ project that brings together art, design, technology, and storytelling. Can you tell us about the idea and story, and how the project got off the ground?

MG: The Lost Librarian began at the end of 2018, when Lizzie (Designer, Fabricator and Project Manager) and Kyle (Roboticist and Creative Technologist) were commissioned by Libraries Unlimited to devise and produce an interactive creative technology experience for Exeter’s libraries as part of their Evolve programme with funding from Arts Council England. The aim was to get more teenagers engaging with the library. Lizzie and Kyle approached me soon after to help them shape the narrative and puzzles for the books that they wanted to create; wooden artefacts that would live on the shelves of any library, each containing a different puzzle and an element of story.

In January 2019, the three of us began exploring approaches, not only to the narrative, but the sorts of creative technology – capacitive touch, light, motion, and sound sensors, magnetic viewfinders, thermochromic paint, etc – that we wanted to incorporate into the puzzles. We explored several themes related to the history of Exeter, but eventually settled on a fictional retelling of the Bideford Witch Trials; three Devon women who were accused of witchcraft and condemned in 1682 at the Exeter Assizes. It is a subject that is very much aligned with our own interests, enabling us to explore feminism, persecution of women, and even fake news, in an engaging way through these books.

Lost Librarian 2021 Tour – Photo: Libraries Unlimited

The Lost Librarian’s first run in Exeter’s Central, St. Thomas, and Topsham libraries was a great success; with over 20 books being spread across those locations, forming a puzzle trail that the public could freely interact with, as well as being setup especially for Library Late events, where the library was opened up to older audiences to explore and play.

Based on the success of the initial run and these events, Libraries Unlimited commissioned us again, this time to reimagine and rework the installation as a touring exhibit for all of Devon libraries for 2020. This gave us the opportunity to completely re-examine what worked and what didn’t, and collaborate with Youth and SEND groups to gather their input and feedback. All was going well… and then Covid 19 changed the Arts world.

But, after three lockdowns and reworking the installation and creative technology for a post Covid world, the Lost Librarian is on tour again!

Libraries Unlimited: The Lost Librarian Puzzle Trail

The Lost Librarian project combines many skillsets including fabrication, technology, and interactive storytelling. Can you tell us more about your collaboration? What were the main challenges? What are you most proud of?

MG: There’s a whole host of talented folk involved in the current touring version of the Lost Librarian. Joining the core creative team is Chat Akula (Robotocist) who has written the complex coding for the new books with Kyle. In addition, we’ve been lucky enough to work with: Nick Wilsher (Creative Technologist), Luke Gregg (Fabricator & Carpenter), Helena Houghton (Fabricator & Prop Maker), Katie Hood (Fabricator & Prop Maker), Est Johnson (Prop Maker), Cat Rock (Voice Director), Michael Basri (Composer), and Sheila Atim (as the voice of Molly Allison).

It’s been exciting to work with so many people, but it hasn’t been without its challenges. Covid 19 has been our biggest obstacle; the stop-start nature of our work and access to the studio at Puppet Place has been hard. We also had to redesign the experience with Covid in mind, bringing it off the library shelves and onto three podiums to make access and cleaning easier. We’ve even had to remove creative technology we’d planned to employ – for example, breath based puzzles were immediately no longer suitable!

But we can all take pride in handling these obstacles, finding solutions and ways forward together, and with the help of Libraries Unlimited who have been hugely supportive throughout.

Lost Librarian 2021 Tour – Photo: Libraries Unlimited

Where has the Lost Librarian been run? What have participants gained from the experience? What have they enjoyed the most?

MG: The first leg of the Lost Librarian tour began in July and covered Exeter, Barnstaple, and Newton Abbot libraries. And feedback has been wonderful and overwhelmingly positive so far from the families and groups that have experienced it.

From our testing and the feedback from Libraries Unlimited, participants often get swept up and engaged in the experience. The wonder people experience interacting with these wooden artefacts, especially the capacitive touch elements – enabling them to trace their finger over wooden surfaces as they would use their mobile devices – is a joy to behold!

What is usually an hour of play, feels like only half an hour has passed for most folk, and everyone enjoys the increasing levels of difficulty and variety in the puzzles. This sparks group collaboration; and that, coupled with the narrative, seems to set it apart from escape room experiences. There was a lovely piece in The Bookseller about the tour that sums it up well.

One delightful aspect we discovered is that because Molly, our Lost Librarian, voiced beautifully by Sheila Atim, reads the ‘story’ of the first book out to participants, they then take it upon themselves, usually in turns, to read the later books to each other. That too, is a joy to hear!

Lost Librarian 2021 Tour – Photo: Matt Gibbs

Are there plans to tour the Lost Librarian again in the near future? And/or do you have any similar projects in the pipeline that you can share?

MG: The Lost Librarian has just finished a run at The Hayridge in Cullompton, and is about to head to Tavistock (from 23rd October) and then Okehampton (from 13th November). We’re then having it back at Puppet Place over Christmas, where it will be having a bit of TLC, before heading out again to more Devon libraries in Spring.

As for other creative technology and narrative led projects, the short answer is ‘Yes!’ As a group; Lizzie, Kyle, Chat, and I enjoy collaborating and working together and there are many other ideas that we wish to explore at the intersection of play, narrative, design, and creative technology. There is one we have been talking about developing for a couple of years now – and we have just received an Arts Council Grant to help fund the R&D for that!

Interview by Emma Windsor

More about the team

Vāsthu (Kyle Kyle Hirani & Chat Akula)
Founded in 2017 by Kyle Kyle Hirani & Chat Akula, Vāsthu provides R&D services for projects at the intersection of Arts and Robotics. Clients include, Amalgam, Pif-Paf, and the Center for Fine Print and Research. Visit the website:

Elizabeth Johnson
Elizabeth Johnson is a designer, fabricator, and project manager, whose work includes interactive installations for The National Trust, and work for Daphne Wright, Bristol Old Vic, Raucous, Rusty Squid, and Tobacco Factory Theatres. Facebook: ElizabethJohnsonMakes

Matt Gibbs
A WGGB award nominated writer and narrative designer, Matt Gibbs’ work includes games, such as Battlefield 1 and Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot. Visit the website:

Bristol 48 hour Puppet Film Challenge: Thoughts and advice from our Judges

With registration about to close and the Bristol 48 hour Puppet Film Challenge weekend fast approaching (27-29th August, 2021), we caught up with three of this year’s Judges to get their thoughts and advice on puppetry, fabricating, and film making.

What are you looking for in a Puppet film? What is it that excites you about puppetry in film?

Colleen Smith (CS): I prefer performance over fancy puppetry. I mean, I’m always impressed by beautiful puppet work. But it needs great acting to back it up. I love puppets over special effects. I like how you can forget it’s a puppet and think that it’s a living breathing creature. But I also get excited when people embrace the fact that you have a doll on the end of your arm that you make talk with your hand. I guess, I mean, I like it when people don’t take it too seriously and have fun.

Dik Downey (DD): Personally, I’ll be excited to see anything where they’ve made an effort. Obviously weird, dark worlds are something I’m drawn to, but I wouldn’t rule out the opposite either. Passion and attention to detail are things that will stand out for me.

Olivia Racionzer (OR): The most exciting thing for me is creating a world for your Puppets to live in, using everyday materials in the process. Puppets are non-prescriptive and can be whatever you want, the world comes with them and is an exciting part of it for me. Filming gives you the chance to curate what the audience will see. Every shot is a thought out frame, which means you can really focus on the parts of the puppet that will be seen, for example a single moving tentacle rather than a full body with ten moving tentacles.

THE BARBARIAN AND THE TROLL – Colleen Smith (Photo: Colleen Smith)

What are the key differences and challenges in doing Puppetry for film compared with live performances, such as theatre?

CS: It’s the same for any kind of performance. In film you can build elaborate sets, travel all over the place, and do smaller more nuanced work. As well as insanely complicated work. Especially with greenscreen. Stage has the benefit of the energy from the audience and the excitement that comes from not getting multiple takes. I’ve seen an audience gasp when they saw Big Bird walk out on stage. To see a giant puppet like that in person is incredible. But then again Kermit and the rest of the muppets riding bikes in The Great Muppet Caper is incredible too.

Dwynwen puppet for LLYFR GLAS NEBO – Olivia Racionzer (Photo: Olivia Racionzer)

For those new to puppetry, taking up this challenge for the first time, what would be your advice on fabricating and puppeteering?

OR: Playing and having fun is the key to it all. Puppetry gives you the opportunity to create life from any object. If the making scares you, just start simple and add onto existing objects, for example a potato masher, a teapot, or a pillow. Once you’ve discovered the character you can develop it from there and see whether you want to translate it into a full puppet build or whether the found object does the job.

Puppeteering was, and is, the hardest part for me. What made it less daunting was the idea that I don’t need to use my voice to communicate a story. The aesthetic and movement of a Puppet can be extremely effective and finding that out has relieved the pressure for me. I usually start by recreating specific gestures and movements, then put the characters personality into them.

COULROPHOBIA – Adam Blake & Dik Downey (Photo: Stephan Poller)

Any additional advice or tips for the folk taking on the Bristol 48 hour Puppet Film Challenge?

CS: Make something you love. And make it for you. That way whatever happens at the end of this you have something you like and you can take with you. Have a point of view. It doesn’t have to be revolutionary, but show us how you see the world. Even serious stuff should have humour in it. Life does. Keep your head out of the shot and watch your eye focus!

OR: I would say don’t get caught up with complicated storylines, start with a simple idea and develop it from there. Play with light, levels, rhythm, and sound. Most importantly have fun, improvise and accept that things might change once you start filming. 

DD: Don’t stress and document the process as you go along, as this may inform other work you do if you continue working with puppets… and try to enjoy yourselves!

There’s still time to register for the Bristol 48 hour Puppet Film Challenge, which is taking place on the 27-29th August, and is being run by Puppet Place in association with the House of Funny Noises.

An international challenge to make a short puppet film, the event is free to enter, but donations are warmly welcomed, and it is open to all-ages and levels of ability – first-timers and professionals – in puppetry, fabricating, and filmmaking.

More details, including how to register, can be found via:

Bristol 48 hour Puppet Film Challenge 2021 Trailer by House of Funny Noises

Colleen Smith is an actress, comedian, and puppeteer who has worked on several Jim Henson Company projects and most recently The Barbarian and The Troll for Nickelodeon.

Website: / Twitter: @ColleenSmi

Dik Downey is a Puppet maker, puppeteer, performer, director, sculptor, artist, and clown! And is part of Opposable Thumb with Adam Blake.

Website: / Twitter: @dikdowney / Instagram: @dik_downey

Olivia Racionzer is a designer, maker, and puppeteer, freelancing in theatre and film & television, most recently working on His Dark Materials for the BBC in the Creature Effects Department.

Website: / Twitter: @oliviaracionzer

Interviewed by Matt Gibbs

The Bristol 48 hour Puppet Film Challenge will run this August bank holiday weekend, 27th – 29th, and is open to people of all ages and backgrounds, from absolute beginners to seasoned professionals. You must register in advance to join in with the fun and registration closes at 12:00pm (BST) on Friday 27th August. The Challenge is free to enter, but donations are warmly welcomed.

All films submitted will be screened online from 11th – 12th September, 2021, and the winning entries, selected by a team of top judges, will be screened at the Finale on Sunday 12th September, 2021, at 7:00pm (BST), both online and on the Big Screen in Bristol’s famous Millennium Square.

Don’t miss this fantastic opportunity to flex your puppetry prowess on the silver screen – there will be prizes! Find out more at and keep up to date with all the latest news about the Challenge on Facebook and Instagram.

How The Bristol 48 hour Puppet Film Challenge Was Born: An Interview with Cat Rock

Last year, Cat Rock, Izzy Bristow, and Helena Houghton came up with a brilliant plan to inspire creative people around the world with a puppet film challenge that must be completed in just 48 hours. The online event was such a success that Cat decided to bring it back this year and challenge anyone from anywhere to make a short puppet film over this August bank holiday weekend, 27th – 29th. We caught up with her to find out more.

Who are you and what inspired you to organise the Bristol 48 hour Puppet Film Challenge?

I’m Cat Rock, Resident Artist and Trustee of Puppet Place, and Co-Director of The House of Funny Noises. I am a puppeteer and puppet maker working in theatre and film, who loves the surreal and bizarre world of puppetry. I have had the pleasure of working with weird and wonderful characters, both puppet and human, and I am excited to see what the future holds for the puppet industry.

I started the Challenge last year in 2020 with help from the other soon to be members of the House of Funny Noises, Izzy Bristow and Helena Houghton. It was April and we were in the midst of the pandemic, staring longingly out of the window and looking at blank work calendars all round. It was a hard time for everyone. I know I was very lucky to be trapped in isolation with a house filled with creative puppet people. It sucked, but this gave us an opportunity – the first time ever – that we all had free time at the same time! So, Izzy brought to our attention that the LA Guild of Puppetry were doing a film project, making a puppet film in 48 hours. Well, time is the one thing we had last year, so we decided to enter.

I can’t tell how much fun and what a creative relief it was to just throw yourself into such a challenge. There’s no time to question, there’s no time to doubt, you just have to get stuck in and puppet, puppet, puppet! This was the first puppet film I had made as a group and not just as a hired puppeteer, and it was an amazing time. We made a film called ‘BELLY’ and I’m very proud of this weird and scrappy piece of puppet film. ‘BELLY’ did well, receiving an honourable mention and winning best of the Rocky Mountain Puppetry Guild, which Izzy is a part of.

After this we decided to form the House of Funny Noises and explore deeper into the world of puppet film. We are up to ten films now and recently completed a commission for the Beverley Puppet Festival. We gained so much out of taking part in the LA Puppetry Guilds project that I wanted to start one here in Bristol. Puppetry from the UK and Europe has such a different feel to it than a lot of American produced projects. I wanted to create a platform that would help get our stories and puppets out there, whilst also giving people a creative challenge during a very difficult time.

Thus the Bristol 48 hour Puppet Film Challenge was born!

Last year’s Challenge was a huge success with over 70 entries submitted from around the world! Why do you think people were so eager to take the challenge?

2020, what an interesting year (readers you can replace interesting with whichever cursing adjective you like!). I believe that so many people gravitated towards the Challenge because everyone was looking for a way to engage, communicate, and express with other people in a time where direct contact was not allowed. Even though you were more likely working by yourself or with those you lived with, by participating you were a part of something bigger, and that is what we needed, a connection to a larger thing that wasn’t plague related.

Photo by Arran Glasss

The Challenge provided people with an opportunity to do something practical, it was not a Zoom call, or staring into the abyss of the Netflix homepage, you had to get up and create and produce a fully formed thing. You got the enjoyment and adrenalin of working under pressure as well as coming up with your own story and creation. We received so many comments from people saying how much this short event helped them in the pandemic – having a goal, having a target, a reason to do something. It sparked people’s imagination and in the end 70 wonderful puppet films now exist because of it. People will always surprise you with their passion and talent.

Photo by Josh Elwell

What were your favourite entries from last year’s Challenge?

What were my favourite entries!? Oh, that’s a hard question, I loved so many. A few that stand out to me when I think back are “Little Red Parting Gift” by Anima Mundi Figurteater. I loved the story, action, characters, it’s one I could watch again and again. I also love “Switch” by Stooge Films; who doesn’t love puppet noir, so brilliantly shot and creative. I also have a place in my heart for “Why Am I A Stick?” by NonSuch productions. It’s a film about a man who turns into a stick! So bizarre yet done so well with wonderful puppets and props, I’d watch the feature of that one.

“Why Am I A Stick?” by NonSuch productions

One more I’d like to mention is “The Monstrosity of Time Travel” by SandyLang Co. I loved this one. Short, sweet, totally my jam. Unfortunately last year this film was actually not eligible for judging as it was a full stop motion piece… However, after seeing some of the amazing stop motion entries we have changed the boundaries for this year’s event, and fully stop motion films will be eligible in 2021!

What do you hope for this year’s Challenge?

This year we hope to be able to reach more participants and viewers, we want to expand the diversity of engagement, and become a more inclusive event. It will be a slow and steady progression, but we are on the right track. This year we hope to see even more amazing films and connect more puppet people with other creatives.

We also have a new thing happening this year. We are partnering with We The Curious in Bristol to bring the Finale of the Challenge to the Big Screen in Millennium Square. So all the films that make it into the Top Ten, the Honourable Mentions, and Award Winners will be shown on Sunday, 12th September at 7pm on one of Bristol’s biggest outdoors screens! Bringing puppets to the public!

We The Curious – Big Screen in Millennium Square, Bristol City Centre

In regards to what kind of puppetry can be used in the Challenge, all direct manipulation puppetry is accepted. So that means any kind of puppetry where someone directly moves the puppet to bring it to life. For example hand and rod puppet, object manipulation, strings and marionettes, stop motion, basically if you move it with your body, or you move it with a physical force it is accepted (for example wind dance puppets). The only type that is really excluded for the Challenge is computer generated animation and manipulation. These can feature in films, but there must be practical and direct puppetry elements.

We are excited to see what people do!

Photo by Ana Colomer

We hope that people will get a few things out of participating in the Challenge:

1) A fun challenge to be creative with puppets where people produce fully completed films.

2) The opportunity to see and engage with other puppet films and puppet creators from around the world.

3) A chance to get your creations in front of a wide audience and under the eyes of our panel of industry professionals.

Lockdowns may be lifting and things are very slowly returning to some resemblance of what was before, but there is always a place for creativity and puppets.

What does the future hold for the Challenge?

I want the Bristol 48 hour Puppet Film Challenge to become a well known and eagerly anticipated cultural event. I want the people of the South West to get involved and I want to see participation from all over the World. The goal is for the Challenge to become a self-sustaining exciting event that grows and produces amazing puppet films every year, eventually becoming an integral part of the Bristol Puppet Festival when it is able to return. This in turn could enable us to produce similar events creating more platforms on which puppet media can stand.

Another main aspiration of the Challenge is to grow its legacy. We want to do this by creating feature length anthologies of select films from the Challenge that could go on tour to puppet festivals, venues, and even reach out into communities who don’t have great access to the puppetry world, encouraging local community engagement. We might be starting our legacy this year, so keep your eyes peeled and please feel free to get in contact if you have a venue or organisation that would like to talk about the possibilities.

The Bristol 48 hour Puppet Film Challenge will run this August bank holiday weekend, 27th – 29th, and is open to people of all ages and backgrounds, from absolute beginners to seasoned professionals. You must register in advance to join in with the fun and registration closes at 12:00pm (BST) on Friday 27th August. The Challenge is free to enter, but donations are warmly welcomed.

All films submitted will be screened online from 11th – 12th September, 2021, and the winning entries, selected by a team of top judges, will be screened at the Finale on Sunday 12th September, 2021, at 7:00pm (BST), both online and on the Big Screen in Bristol’s famous Millennium Square.

Don’t miss this fantastic opportunity to flex your puppetry prowess on the silver screen – there will be prizes! Find out more at and keep up to date with all the latest news about the Challenge on Facebook and Instagram.

The Winners! 2020’s Bristol 48 hour Puppet Film Challenge

As much as it is all about taking part, I’ve been told that winning is an experience that feels very good. At last, you can stand tall on that podium, sit up on that high horse and look down at all the little runners up! Joking aside, we’re getting close to the 2021 Bristol 48 hour Puppet Film Challenge and there’s excitement in the air.

Finishing the challenge itself is a tremendous feat. Coming up with a concept, constructing puppets, making all the little set bits, animating/puppeteering, filming, and then editing the whole thing in 48 hours – it’s a little bit crazy and a lot of fun! Creating a puppet film is difficult, but what’s more difficult is pleasing both a panel of expert judges and all of your screaming fans. Last years winners will already know this very well! There were so many gems in last years competition, I can’t imagine how hard it was to agree on the winners.

In third place we had ‘Joey of the Past’ by Taylor Bibat. A music video-style film with a score from his band, ‘ElvisBride’. This film took the theme of last year, TIME and used the item, THREAD and created something pensive and surreal. Joey is a time traveller swinging across the screen clinging to a thread, maybe representing string theory?

Tell us about your film Taylor.

I was told about the Bristol 48hr Puppet Challenge by Chris Pirie who I had recently performed with in an opera in Chicago. Because of COVID-19 I decided to do my best with just my own two hands and readied the apartment for 48 hours of creative flurry! The three cats were confused, but along for the ride. When the prompts of “thread,” “flip,”and “time” were announced I realised that the song “Joey of the Past,” written by Troy Martin for the band ElvisBride of which I was a member years back, was perfect. With support from Bry Sanders, I teased out the images I wanted to play with; time represented by thread, Sisyphean struggle and problem solving around it, that dreamlike state between waking and sleep. Ultimately my plans were mostly thwarted by lack of extra hands because two is never enough, an ever failing monitor set up resulting in puppeteering blind and other tech challenges that left me exhausted and frustrated. I remember thinking that I wish the filming process had been itself filmed as it felt like an ongoing clown act with me constantly “eating” problem after problem. At a certain point I stopped shooting and got to editing, putting aside the plan and collaging with whatever footage I had. The only measure of success I cared about was turning something in before time ran out. 

Did you already have the song to work with or was that created for the challenge?

The song was already written and recorded years prior. I was in a band called ElvisBride when I lived in Chicago and the music is very special to me. This song in particular always fascinated me and I was so happy to get to explore it visually. I love for ElvisBride music to be heard by new people, even all these years after the band has broken up. 

What was it like watching the screening and hearing from the judges? 

To be honest, winning any sort of recognition was so far from my mind that I didn’t think to watch it live as I knew I could come back to it later. It wasn’t until I got a text from a friend saying I was in the Top 10 that I got to a computer and turned it on. I was then shocked that I placed in third! To have the amazing judges refer to the “excellent animation and movement” and “really skilled manipulation,” along with comments on its relationship to COVID, “Intriguing design ideas”, the mechanics of the simple set being “enormously satisfying” and of course the music. I was just beside myself and felt a profound sense of confidence and joy. This specific feedback from these brilliant puppet artists was invaluable. I had surpassed my goal of just getting something turned in and felt so proud of the work I had done just with my two hands over the course of 48 hours. Thanks Bristol 48hr Puppet Film Challenge and House of Funny Noises. What a pleasure to participate in such a wonderful event!

In second place, was ‘Why am I a Stick’ by NonSuch Productions. An epic adventure where a man wakes up and turns into a stick! We follow his journey in solving the mystery of why he is a stick and how he might return to his human form. A bit like Freaky Friday! Existential and funny, with lots of charm and a lovely fly. Let’s hear from Jennifer Sinclair, one of Nonsuch production’s puppet creators and wranglers.

NonSuch Productions

What gave you the idea to turn a man into a stick?

The inspiration for the film came from many different places, and the storyline itself was inspired by the prompts of the Challenge. Stickington (the name of our lead character) however, was created because of a picnic. We were on a post-lockdown, two-household, socially-distanced picnic and were discussing the upcoming challenge and what we might do. Somebody mentioned that it might be difficult to get puppet-making materials with the restrictions still in place and so we were discussing what household items might make good puppets. We then chanced upon a stick that looked a bit like a face and the rest is history! We had our protagonist and after a long night of brainstorming, storyboarding (and some wine!) after the announcement of the prompts at 7:00pm on the Friday, we decided to send our stick-man on a journey of self-discovery and adventure!

How did you get involved in the challenge?

We heard about the Challenge from some friends in the Bristol Puppetry community and thought it sounded like fun (and it was!). We aren’t professional puppeteers, but love to be creative and make things together and we really enjoyed making the film and seeing all of the entries!

Which element of the challenge was the most fun for you?

Being together and making something we are proud of. There were times that things didn’t work how we wanted or we felt like we were running out of time, but throughout we were laughing (even ruining takes because we were giggling!) and enjoying working collaboratively. Having limited time and resources is challenging, but necessity is the mother of invention and the Challenge gives you an opportunity to really flex your creative muscles, think on your feet and work together to get things done.

NonSuch Productions

And the winner was… ‘The Moon, the Sun, and the Sweep’ by Bear Thompson & Áine de Siún! A unique and dreamy film with a porcelain doll protagonist who falls to her death whilst sweeping. She ascends through a glittering spacey scene as we all reflect on the concept of time and the fragility of life. Here’s what Bear had to say about his time doing the 48hr challenge.

‘The Moon, the Sun, and the Sweep’ by Bear Thompson & Áine de Siú

Can you describe the concept of The Moon, the Sun, and the Sweep?

The Moon, the Sun, and the Sweep is about not letting the day to day get swept away. 

How did you manage your precious 48 hours?

On the first day we brainstormed lots of different ideas. It wasn’t until the second day, when we started making things, that it all came together. We both had different roles so we could work on different things to save time and it was a lot of fun working together too. 

What advice would you give to future competitors?

Our advice would be to crack on and start making and trying things out, but don’t panic if after 24 hours you still don’t have anything. Allow the story to change and use what’s around you to inspire ideas. Use the prompts to shape the story and try to think outside the box and include them in as many ways as possible. Make it your own style, because every single film last year was so unique and it was amazing to see them all. You’ll have a great time!

‘The Moon, the Sun, and the Sweep’ by Bear Thompson & Áine de Siú

If you fancy having a great time making your own puppet film in 48 hours, then lucky for you, there’s still time to sign up! And you can also watch last year’s films for inspiration.

The Bristol 48 hour Puppet Film Challenge will run this August bank holiday weekend, 27th – 29th, and is open to people of all ages and backgrounds, from absolute beginners to seasoned professionals. You must register in advance to join in with the fun and registration closes at 12:00pm (BST) on Friday 27th August. The Challenge is free to enter, but donations are warmly welcomed.

This years Festival is 11th – 12th September, 2021, with timings and viewing platforms to be announced! The Finale will be screening at We The Curious in Bristol on Sunday, 12th September, 2021, at 7:00pm (BST).

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