Wednesday, 11 September 2013

10. Squirrel, Pig & Bear - the making of 3 friends

It was funny how the puppets evolved. Of course cardboard is stiff and flat and so I used these properties to my advantage with the design and constructed them out of flat shapes making them 3D with seams and visible hard edges. I felt that being constrained in this way by the medium would help to create a very individual look to the film. I had done this previously with Duck Shoot, but the difference and the challenge in this case was to make the puppets seem alive and enable them to express a variety of emotions.


I started on the squirrel, and I found him very easy to make. Luckily he seemed to evolve quite naturally out of the pieces of cardboard. And when I had constructed him fully and added his shiny black eyes, like the Gingerbread Rabbit in one of my favourite childhood stories, he had character. And with just the smallest bit of movement he felt alive.  


The same thing happened when I made the pig. But with his naive personality in mind, I tried to make him appealing in a slightly sorrowful, vulnerable way. The trick with him, I thought, was to put this across and yet avoid making him irritating. In the end, simply due to bad planning really, I made two versions. The first one was great and I really liked it, but unfortunately I made him a bit too small. He was the same size as the squirrel, and visually I wanted the three characters to go up in size small>medium>large. The pig is the only puppet without jointed arms. I did this on purpose so that he felt more stilted and less agile than the others. I felt that this would help to give him that air of vulnerability that I wanted. But I was a little worried that he would be appear too stiff and lifeless compared to the others. I had been working on the storyboard alongside the early models and I thought it would be nice if the pig's snout could move. So when I started on version two of the pig, I devised a mechanism with string running from inside the snout through his head and down the back of his neck, that would allow the puppeteer to pull on the chord and make the pig 'snuffle'. Although the movement would be very subtle, I thought that it might help to bring the pig to life a bit more, especially in close ups. In order for this to work in cardboard I had to make a concertina type piece for his nose out of fairly stiff brown paper that I ripped off some old cardboard boxes. It took a while for me to get this right as it was a delicate balance between too stiff to move and ripping it completely. But eventually I got there. And although this movement is almost invisible in the finished film (we had to cut some of the sections in which it was clearer) I think it adds a touch of life to the puppet. I also loved the fact that when I bent the cardboard the creases and texture created looked a lot like piggy skin. (This came out even more when the puppet was painted).

Pig #1
Pig #2


The bear however was a completely different story... I made a few prototypes, over a period of about a week, before I managed to get him right. After I had made the first one, I looked at it and knew straight away it wasn't working. But it took me a little while to work out why. The shape was too much like a teddy bear, and there was no personality or life in it. Even the shiny black eyes looked dead.

Bear #1

I tried to make another bear's head large scale, but it just looked s**t and I was getting really frustrated. So I decided to work really small with very thin cardboard from a box of tea bags, so I could cut and construct it easily using scissors and masking tape. (At this stage the bear design still had a ruff or collar, as if perhaps he had escaped from the circus). This prototype measures just 8.5 cm to the tips of the ears, so it's pretty small. But because I could work quickly and more roughly, I managed to inject the personality I was looking for into it. So then I all I had to do was translate it into a three foot tall puppet...Errrr...

I had to keep a close eye on the different ratios and proportions on the face e.g. muzzle area : face area; eye size, distance apart etc. But when I had made the basic head, to my disappointment, there seemed to be something lacking. I ploughed on though, making the entire body with jointed arms. And then stopped to have a think.

Again please excuse the pun, but I thought he looked a little bit bear. Then I remembered a picture of somebody at the 'Jack in the Green' festival that I had seen recently. And also a photograph by Tim Walker (Vogue, July 2011) of a similar character in multi-coloured rag coat:

Tim Walker for Vogue July 2011

I really liked the texture and wondered whether I could translate that on to the bear puppet. I thought it would look good out in the woods if we were lucky with the light. But I have to confess that half way through adding all the textured pieces by hand (which took a hell of a long time by the way) I had a slight panic attack wondering whether it was looking 'twee'. Fortunately those around me came to the rescue, putting paid to my fears on that score. Sometimes I find it's good to take a bit of a break whilst making a piece like this. Because if you are working really intensely and closely on something for a long period of time, it is very hard to really see it clearly. When I came back and looked again, I was pleased with not only the texture, but also the personality that I could already see coming out in the puppet, especially through his eyes.


Just a brief note on colour. As I mentioned before I was inspired by the colour palette in Moonrise Kingdom. So I decided to make the squirrel a rich orange colour. I thought that this would look great against the natural colours of the woods - greens, yellows, browns. I also painted flecks onto his tail to give him a stylish illustration-like look. It took a few layers and a few adjustments to the colour mix to get the right tone of pink for the pig (and pork chop), but eventually I was happy with it. Dry brushing helped to emphasize the creases and textures in places like his ears and nose. I felt that it'd be nice to leave the bear natural cardboard but wanted to emphasize his eyes and give him a few highlights. So I just mixed up a dark brown and painted his nose, inner ears and around the eyes. Then I dry brushed the nose with a lighter brown to break up the dark block of colour and give it a bit of texture.

(Note: Oh and if you are thinking 'But I thought the puppets were made by Acceber Yelnam...', just flip it).

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