Saturday, 28 June 2014

Making a Stand

Most of the work I do on puppet projects ends up being not the work itself, but the work that has to get done in order that I can do the work.

For example: I'm in the process of attaching fabric to Atlatl's body, in a preliminary way. But once again, there's the perennial problem of how to hold the puppet up from the inside while I work on the outside. He's too heavy and complex now for me to use my old camera tripod technique. And it's not enough that the puppet is held up, but the neck also has to jut out at a 45-degree angle.

Julie managed to talk me out of buying a mannequin. (She's right, we don't have room.) So instead I decided to modify a big metal stand that I'd inherited from my friends Allison and Chris when they moved to the Yukon.

The stand separates into three pieces, so I had to convert the joint between two of the pieces into a 45-degree bend, while still keeping it solid and secure enough to support weight. And the best way to do that would be to support it from both the inside and the outside.

To support it from the inside, I used two pieces of skinny PVC pipe connected with a 45-degree elbow:


I kept the pipes long so that even without any adhesive, there would be a severe limit on how much the pieces of the stand could wiggle.

For the outside, I used a 1 1/2", 45-degree copper elbow:

I epoxied everything together at the joint. None of these pieces fit very tightly against each other, so I laid the epoxy on thick, and put most of it on the underside, where gravity would tend to make the pieces touch each other.

After I let it dry overnight, the attachment was really solid.

Just to make sure it wouldn't budge, I wrapped the joint tightly in duct tape.

So here's the completed stand:

And I can't believe how incredibly well it works!

It holds Atlatl up perfectly, freeing up both my hands to attach and adjust the fabric. And although one of the stand's attachment points is now permanent, it still separates into two pieces for easy storage.

Now that all that work is done... I can start working.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Against Gravity

Last weekend I went to see a puppet show called Against Gravity at the Ottawa Fringe Festival. It was created and performed by Mind of a Snail, a shadow puppet troupe from Vancouver consisting of Jessica Gabriel and Chloé Ziner. They'd contacted me before coming to Ottawa, so after the show we hung out as well.

Photo from their website.

In a departure from most shadow puppet shows I've seen (and, it turns out, a departure for them as well), the performers were in front of the screen, fully visible to the audience. Jessica did most of the puppeteering, while Chloé provided the dialogue, music, and sound effects with her voice and a guitar. The audience was encouraged to join in with any sound effects we felt were appropriate. (They later told me that they'd once performed this show at a rave, where most of the audience was on drugs. The sound effects they created were unreal.)

The show was an expanded version of a piece they originally created for a puppet slam. The story itself was pretty loose, more focused on experience than narrative, which is perfect for a medium that has so much potential for wonderful weirdness. It was generally concerned with the adventures of the human figure pictured above as he(?) literally followed his heart. The journey took him to varied locations, from under the sea, to a decaying urban environment populated by anti-gravity protesters.

These ladies are adept with an overhead projector and they pulled off some neat tricks. The first scene involved a backdrop of lace. To transition to the next scene, they slowly pulled the piece of lace downwards, creating the effect of panning upwards, but stopped when it was halfway off screen. The ragged edge of the piece of fabric then became a field of grass, the setting for the next scene. Some other transitions were achieved by physically lifting the backdrop off the projector's base, bringing it closer to the lens and thereby out of focus, and bringing in the next backdrop in the opposite way.

My favourite part was close to the end, when Jessica suddenly broke the frame by standing up in front of the screen and becoming a character in the show herself. Chloé then used a transparency and a dry-erase marker to draw "on" her! The effect was like watching a film that combined live-action with animation, except it was happening live on stage.

A still from their promo video.

Against Gravity was really neat and a lot of fun, and Chloé and Jessica are really cool and fun to hang out with. Right now they're putting together a new show about crows, called Caws and Effect. They showed me some photos from the development process, and it looks like it's going to be awesome. Check them out!