Wednesday, 11 September 2013

8. Puppets - overview

So I have a confession to make - I'm actually not that keen on traditional puppets like marionettes. I grew up watching things like The Muppets and Labyrinth and those are the sort of puppets that appeal to me. I have always wanted to direct something similar and knew that the micro budget for Random Acts was too small to be able to do stop-frame to the standard that I would be happy with. So I decided to take the plunge and make this film a  mini homage to all those programmes that I loved as a child.

My background is in animation and although I have made stop-motion puppets before I had never made live action puppets on this scale. As well as the three main puppets Squirrel, Pig and Bear, which had to be able to last the entire shoot and express different emotions, there were the dog and the flies to make too. 

As a research trip, I decided to go and see a couple of puppet shows at The Little Angel Theatre in Islington in order to get an idea of the movement that could be achieved, the mechanics of the puppets, the position of the puppeteers, and so on. I went to see Boris & Sergey... and A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings

The beautiful A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings

These productions were very different. The former is for adults only and the latter is primarily for children, but they both showed the versatility of puppets and how as an audience member you can forget that there are puppeteers on stage and be totally carried along by the action and immersed in the story. 

The puppet's eyes in A Very Old Man were something that I noticed immediately. (For me the eyes are one of the most important parts of any puppet). They seemed to be simple shiny black beads. But the way they caught the light gave the puppets a depth of expression that I really liked. The arms and legs were jointed with what looked to be fabric or leather and this also interested me. It allowed for a freedom of movement that could not be achieved using stiff hinge joints. In both these productions the puppeteers were visible on stage, but of course I didn't want to imitate this as I felt it would be too distracting on film. So I decided to make them as rod puppets operable from underneath (like The Muppets) so the puppeteers could be framed out of shot. A friend put me in touch with professional puppeteer and tutor at The London School of Puppetry Emma Fisher, and over Skype chat (she is based in Ireland) I was able to hold up the puppets that I had started to build and ask a few questions about mechanics. I was keen that the puppeteers not be hindered at all by my limited technical knowledge in the area. But fortunately Emma assured me that I was on the right track and gave me a few tips which I very much appreciated. And so, armed with a bit more knowledge than before, the puppet build was truly under way!

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