Tag Archives: Bristol 48 hour Puppet Film Challenge

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: bristol48hpuppetfilmchallenge.co.uk

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: colleensmi.com / 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: opposablethumbtheatre.com / 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: oliviaracionzer.com / 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 bristol48hpuppetfilmchallenge.co.uk 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 bristol48hpuppetfilmchallenge.co.uk 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).

For more information about visit bristol48hpuppetfilmchallenge.co.uk