So turns out puppet making is a lot harder than I had imagined.
I’ve been through four different puppet designs so far which are as follows:
Simple wire and milliput frame, pennies for feet, foam head covered in plasticine, body entirely plasticine. Result: too heavy, wouldn’t stand up properly. I showed it to David Johnson and he advised using thicker wire for the legs and ankles (which are holding the weight) and using foam for the body rather than solid plasticine.
So then I made another one with a similar wire and milliput frame but with thicker wire on the legs and also building out the butt and chest with foam and a thin layer of plasticine on top. Result: much lighter but the legs didn’t bend properly as this time they were too thick,
Steve gave me an armature that he had made based on an ardman design: the legs and arms are still made out of wire and milliput but the shoulders and hips you soldered k&s pipes which means parts can be taken off and replaced more easily. It also has some sockets for supports to go into. I built up the puppet with foam like the one before and covered it in plasticine. The feet were still made out of 1 p coins, so you can use magnets to stand them up on set. However when I showed it to Tobias Fouracre he said that magnets just aren’t solid enough and suggested using tie downs instead.
So I sawed off the feet of an old armature that steve didn’t need anymore and attached them to my puppet, so I can now bolt them to my platform and hopefully have a puppet that won’t wobble!
We’ll have to see what happens…
Original puppet, as you can see it is struggling to stay upright, but it does have a nice butt!
Second attempt, using thicker wire and a foam body:
Examples of different armatures lined up for comparison…
This week has been all about doing tests, trying to work out the final look of my film. I’ve also had Qun from the year below helping me so it’s been a good chance to try a bunch of things. I asked Qun to build me a bunch of props including hearts, hands and eyes (see photos below) so we could try animating some of the shorter shots.
It’s been nice doing some simpler animation, as the tests involving the character have been painfully slow. But we were able to get a beating heart working in less than an hour, and then I spent an afternoon covering it with eyes as it beat. I’m excited for how it’s going to look in the film.
I’m still struggling with backgrounds, and keep changing my mind about how I want them to look, more tests are clearly needed!
Because of all the community work I’ve been doing recently, with the teenagers at Project Indigo and the older residents at The Albany. I’ve been interested to read some theory to try and improve my community art practice and be more aware and critical of some of my assumptions going into it.
bell hooks’ writing is an engaging mix of theory and personal experience. She writes about being a teacher and tactics she uses to encourage critical thinking in the classroom particularly around race and gender. But in this book she talks about leaving the classroom and the safety of institutions to work with the community. She talks about how teaching can happen anywhere and the need to work against the socialisation of racism in all of the subtle ways in which it is taught to us.
I particularly loved this moment where she quotes Parker Palmer on teaching:
“As good teachers weave the fabric that joins them with students and subjects, the heart is the loom on which the threads are tried, the tension is held, the shuttle flies, and the fabric is stretched tight. Small wonder, then ,that teaching tugs at the heart, opens the heart, even breaks the heart — and the more one loves teaching, the more heartbreaking it can be. The courage to teach is the courage to keep one’s heart open in those very moments when the heart is asked to hold more than it is able so that teacher and students and subject can be woven into the fabric of community that learning and living require.”
I went to this workshop at Goldsmith’s this week because I felt like I was in a bit of a rut with the storytelling in my film, and I was hoping this would get me out of it. It ended up being a fascinating day with some really amazing speakers including Simon McCallan from the BFI film archives, Lucy Robinson a queer historian from Sussex University, Campbell X, a film maker who directed Stud Life and Daisy Asquith who directed the Queerama film.
I left with lots of things to look up including The Celluloid Closet, Storme Delaverie (one of the stonewall rioters), Bayard Rustin (organiser of the march on Washington with Martin Luther King) and Wahala (a film completion fund).
I particularly liked Campbell X’s talk in which they laid out a radical film manifesto. They particularly focused on how few people of colour are in the film industry:
“Everytime I hear the word minority it makes me itch and my armpits sweat because globally we are not a minority … We need to decolonise our minds and remember BAME are the majority. But who is allowed to tell the stories?”
They ended with an exhortation to “speak to people who do not look like you, think like you, talk like you” which I am going to take on.
Lucy Robinson who talked about how difficult it is to unearth queer history because so much of it is unwritten, instead you have to hunt for clues in documents like divorce proceedings and criminal records. She said often if a young man and and an older man were caught in a flat together, they would pretend that the younger one was a robber so that they wouldn’t get caught. She argued that “writing our own history is part of the revolution” and that if we must “challenge the present to imagine a different future.”
The day ended with a screening of Queerama, which was a collection clips from the british film archive of queer moments whether explicit or implicit, woven together to tell a history of the last 50 years of queer history. It was a brilliant piece of research and editing with wonderful music. Here is the trailer:
Finally animating! All the young people were really excited about this week but it was definitely the workshop I was the most anxious about. I was worried they would find the slow fiddly work of animating boring or frustrating and give up quickly. And for some that was definitely the case. However some of them got really into it and made some amazing little gifs.
I need to cut them all together and post them up here but for now here is the workshop outline and some photos.
5.30Checkin (20 minutes)
5.50Intro to Animation – how does it work? How are we going to do it?
Discussion about how many photos we need per second to make a smooth movement.
6.10Model animation: Lily will show how to set up your animation station with tripod, ipad and character and move the character little by little to create smooth movement. Explain timing and pacing (ie some movements will want to happen slower or faster than others).
6.20Exercise 2: Animating!
Brief: In groups of 2 or 3 each you will take turns animating your character moving from a position of euphoria to dysphoria and back or vice versa! You may have to do it several times to get it right! Susy and I will come round to help you.
My second workshop with Project Indigo I was a lot less nervous. About 16 participants showed up, similar to the week before, which was more than I had expected, but it actually worked fine, because the session was quite free flow. We spent most of it sculpting the puppets and then some time at the end storyboarding our animation for the next week. Because we are only going to be making gifs the actual storyboarding part didn’t take long at all.
I really enjoyed working with the young people, asking them about their characters and helping them with technical problems, this feels like work I would like to do more of. I had been worried about working with teenagers, having mostly done this sort of thing which much younger children in the past but I was overwhelmed by their excitement and enthusiasm as well as their kindness and support towards each other. It was a really fun session.
Below you can see the workshop outline and some photos from the session.
5.30Check in (with sculpting)
5.40Continue sculpting and recap of last session with Euphoria and Dysphoria posters.
This week we are going to focus on storytelling, we are telling a story about a character moving from comfort to discomfort or vice versa through movement. Animators will often use their own bodies to model what they want their characters to do, so Susy is going to lead us in a fire walking exercise.
6.00Exercise 1: Firewalking exercises Susy leads
6.15Exercise 2: Life Drawing
Brief: Choose a euphoric pose, a dysphoric pose and an inbetween pose. Susy/Lily will do these poses and you will have one minute to draw each one in the boxes on your sheet of paper. When you have drawn the three poses you should have a rough storyboard. We will do three of each, nine poses in total.
Prompts: What postures make us feel powerful? Which ones make us feel weak? How do we move through the world when we are trying not to be noticed? How do we move through the world when we want to be seen? If we were wearing our favourite outfit from last week and walking into a room full of trans people how would we walk? If we were getting on the tube how would we walk?
Set up: Pieces of a4 paper divided into 3, pens.
If sculpting takes longer we can scrap the life drawing exercise and just go straight from fire walking to break.
6.40 Exercise 3: Storyboarding – design a movement for your character, where they move from one posture to another – you can work in pairs if you would like them to interact with each other. Use Travis Alabanza’s poem Warrior to inspire you if you like.
Set up: Paper, pens, puppets from last week, print outs of Travis’ poem Warrior.
The project Indigo youth worker, Susy, and I spent a long time planning and refining a workshop outline for the three sessions I would run with the young people. This was partly because this is the first time I have done this particular kind of workshop and I want it to be good and also because we are dealing with quite big and complicated concepts as well as slightly technical know how and we need to make sure that it is presented in a way that makes sense to the young people.
The first of the three sessions was character design, the outcome of which would be that each participant would have a clay puppet with which to animate. The workshop outline was as follows:
5.30Check in (20 mins)
5.40Intro Lily introduce their film and project – explain that is is about the moment of change between euphoria/dysphoria – comfort/discomfort. Susy to check for permission about photos/filming.
Brief: Write and talk about what makes you feel euphoric/dysphoric comfortable/uncomfortable.
Set up: Two large pieces of paper with Comfort/Euphoria and Discomfort/Dysphoria written at the top, everyone gets post its to write things to add to both posters. While they are doing this we share a verse from Travis Alabanza’s poem written on another big piece of paper.
I take a selfie before I go outside to remind myself of
How I looked in that moment.
To archive my existence before physical danger.
To remind myself of how I looked before I change.
I take a selfe before I go outside to remind myself of
How I looked in that moment.
To remind myself that it is not me who is the problem,
more the world that cannot hold me.
Explain: Sometimes we can feel good in ourselves but the world makes us feel bad.
After we have put post its on the posters and talked through people’s different ideas we will put away the dysphoria poster for next week and focus on EUPHORIA!
6.00Exercise 2: Draw your character
Brief: Draw a character that is a representation of your ideal gender/ how you feel most comfortable/ what it would feel like to be euphoric in your gender. Use the prompts on the cards spread around the table to help you.
Set up: paper and pens and cards with prompts including:
When and where is your character most comfortable? Where least?
What would your character wear if they knew no one would judge them?
What would it feel like for your character to go out in the world in that outfit?
What things apart from clothes makes your character feel comfortable? Make up, jewelry, special charms? A way of walking, standing? A particular thought?
What kind of body does your character have?
Does your character have a gender? What makes them that gender?
Are they fat or thin? Why?
Do they have a race? What is it? Why?
How many arms or legs do they have?
Do they have a tail?
Can they see? And how?
Have they always looked like this or have they had experiences that have changed their looks?
Are they animal, mineral, vegetable or other?
Do they have hair? Is it long or short?
Do they have an afro?
Do they have big arm muscles?
Are they like you?
How long are their eyelashes?
Do you love them?
6.15 Exercise 3: Sculpting
Brief: Make your character out of the materials we have here! Lily will model how the to build up the clay around the skeleton and show some examples of puppets they have made.
Set up: 10 stations with puppet skeletons, colourful clay, polystrene balls, beads, sequins and sculpting tools. Cards spread around with prompts.
While this is happening maybe show some claymation animation eg: Show some character designs from claymation animation. Eg: Creature comforts(5 minutes)
7.10Show and Tell
I spent a day making armatures for the puppets so that we would be able to animate them. The armatures were very simple as you can see below. Just a base with some wire forming body and arms and a polystyrene ball for the head. I used milliput to hold everything together.
The session went really well. The young people seemed really engaged and didn’t have any trouble getting started on their characters, however the sculpting took a lot longer than we had originally planned so we will have to spill over a bit into next week, but luckily planning allows for that!
The first back this term we had to pitch our graduation film to Steve and Sarah Woolner. Below I outline my plot summary, the process by which I want to make the film and some of the inspirations that went into it. I want to keep adding to this inspiration board as I move through the process of making the film and will be posting more of those sources up here.
My first film For Those in Peril On The Sea is now online so I thought I would share it here.
The film is based on music from Benjamin Britten’s opera Noye’s Fludde, which was a huge pleasure to work with. I have tried to bring together elements from his original production with contemporary images from the news cycle about what is happening in the Mediterranean right now, where people are every day putting their lives and hopes to sea in search of uncertain futures.