The Nerdist Channel series Blood and Guts pays a visit to the SFX wizards at Spectral Motion (see previous post). Among other things, we get a closer look at that amazing animatronic troll from Hansel and Gretal: Witch Hunters.
Burma (also known as Myanmar) is one of the most culturally rich countries on Earth, but tragically its people have been subjected to decades of suffering and international isolation under a brutal military dictatorship.
Thankfully, after years of struggle, that is finally coming to an end and the Burmese people have new hope. A transition to democracy has begun and the Burmese people are in the early stages of re-taking their rightful place on the world stage. Against this hopeful backdrop it’s sad to see this report about traditional Burmese puppetry – one of the countries most famous cultural traditions – struggling to survive.
One of the most interesting comments in this report comes from a puppeteer who mentions that even as local enthusiasm for their traditional art fades, foreigners enjoy it tremendously. I’ve heard similar very comments from traditional puppeteers in other parts of Asia. They struggle to survive despite puppetry’s resurgence and international interest in their work.
What can we do to help support and promote traditional art forms like puppetry in places like Burma?
I really wanted to like Strings The Documentary – a short film produced here in Toronto at York University – because it features a trio of great local (Toronto) puppetry artists, but I found it incredibly frustrating to watch because of the way it was executed. This had enormous potential and perhaps a different editor could make it captivating, but the way it is I just don’t think that it does its subjects justice.
Forgive the shaky camera work and disjointed editing and watch this to hear what Joanne Bingham of Open Door Designs (a Toronto puppet shop) and the acclaimed Anne and David Powell of Puppetmongers have to say about puppetry as an art form.
Everloving is a hauntingly beautiful 2005 short film made by FX veteran Steve Johnson (see previous posts). The inspiration for the film grew out of Steve’s frustration with the decline in demand for practical special effects in the late `90s and early 2000s and his desire to prove what could still be accomplished with a lot of ingenuity and a little good, old fashioned puppetry:
In 2005 I decided to mount an impossible task. Having grown weary of seeing my budgets cut more and more often in the recent years and handed over in great chunks to digital studios, I determined to fight back.
I wanted to conceptualize, then produce and direct a short film that would be virtually impossible to create with practical puppetry, but…
…I would figure out a way. I would fight fire with fire. There was no real reason to create this challenge, other than to prove something to myself, and in doing so, perhaps utilize it as a tool to shove down producers’ and visual FX supervisors’ throats. “See?” I would be able to tell them, rubbing my hands together as the lights came up after screening my short, “It’s still possible to create the impossible, physically.”
When watching Everloving you really have to remember that (aside from compositing) it was all done practically, on set, in-camera in real-time! How did they do it? Literally backwards, in slow motion and upside down. The Stan Winston School Blog has more about the making of Everloving and it’s a fascinating read with lots of great behind-the-scenes photos. Please do have a look.
…one final bit of interesting trivia, the storyboards for this film were drawn by Kevin McTurk, who has of course gone on to direct the award-winning The Narrative of Victor Karloch and the upcoming short The Mill at Calder’s End.
Did you know that puppetry on film is about 120 years old?
Although not everyone agrees about what the first actual puppet film ever made was, Le Squelette Joyeux (“The Happy Skeleton”) is a good candidate for the honour. It was made by Auguste Lumière and his brother Louis in 1895, the same year that the Lumière Brothers first patented their pioneering Cinematograph camera and began publicly screening short films in France.
Beloved Canadian folksinger Rita MacNeil passed away last week and was laid to rest yesterday in her hometown of Big Pond, Nova Scotia. She had no real connection to puppetry, but her music has been a staple in the act of The Famous PEOPLE Players (FPP) for many years.
As a tribute to Rita last week the company posted two of their performances of her song Flying On Your Own on YouTube:
I especially enjoyed seeing this not only because there is sadly very little of FPP’s usually excellent work available online, but also because it brought back memories of when I was lucky enough to meet Rita many years ago. In the late 1990s when Rita was at the height of her Canadian fame – she hosted a popular TV show called Rita and Friends as well as a long-running series of Christmas specials – and I was working for FPP as a puppeteer when they honoured her with a special tribute performance. Despite the fact that she was a very big deal she was a delight to meet and nothing but absolutely warm and gracious.
My fondest memory of that show came afterwards when she made a point of coming up to each of the puppeteers after the show to hug them and thank them for the performance. As we were leaving the stage, another one of the performers turned to me and said “That woman has a Godly hug”.
And she really did.
Rest in peace Rita.
I had a bit of a bad week last week…between being briefly in the hospital (thankfully, I’m OK but have to take it easy for a bit) and grappling with some back-end issues the site was experiencing I didn’t manage to make a single update.
Now that both the blog and me are on the mend, I plan to double down this week and get busy sharing some great puppetry that has been sent in lately. I wanted to begin with this fantastic video of a street performance by Hungarian puppeteer Lenart Andres, who performs under his company’s name Mikropodium.
I love this!