Posts Tagged ‘Puppetry’

Hand dancing

I love the music video we are shooting today, which is a good thing, considering how many times we have to listen to it. We did some fun choreography with live hands, pretty complicated stuff involving two puppets and an actor, but we had time to practise it and nailed it in two takes. We were all very happy.

Gummi Þor brought in a puppet today for fun. I’d seen the video of it, but hadn’t had a chance to work with it. It’s entirely remote controlled. If you go here and clicked on one of the videos in the top row you can see a demo of Gummi’s puppets. The last one on the video is the one he brought in. A puppet like this is useful for a stunt shot in which there’s no way to get a puppeteer in place. It’s a nicely engineered thing.


All in all a fairly uneventful day. The puppetry was all on an elevated set, which meant that there was very little for Emily and I to do for the puppeteers. I did a little bit of live hand work, but other than that very little. It’s the sort of day that is fairly excruitating because I’m basically being paid to wait, or to be available. It goes against the grain for me; I’d rather be earning my money. But I won’t complain too much!

The most excitement I had today was hauling my novel out to edit it.


We were released for a couple hours in the middle of the day because they had a lot of scenes without puppets to get through. It’s like we turn into kids on a teacher workday when this happens. Everyone frantically tries to make the most of the time and we all run out of the building. Today, a group of us went screaming over to the mall to shop. Apparently everyone is having a sale this week to get ready for the new merchandise coming in, so things are 70% off. This means that they almost cost as little as a non-sale item would back in the States. Funny how your lens adjusts. I got a pair of trousers and a shirt. I was initially hoping that I could wear the trousers to work, but the rise is too low for my job.

I spend all my time bending over, and thank you, I don’t like cleavage in the rear… Clearly, I’ll need to add that to my list of things that I get to say at work. Which reminds me that at some point last week someone said, “I get good results with rear-entry head.”

Eating apples

As you might imagine, the characters on the show spend a lot of time eating “sports candy.” The puppets can’t actually take a bite, so I wind up doing one of my favorite theater tricks. The apple already has bite in it but that part of the apple is held upstage so the audience can’t see it. Then as the character takes a bite, I just rotate the apple so the bite comes into view. We usually use a fake apple with the puppets because we can pin or tape it to their hands, but today I needed to be able to put the apple down. There were also a lot of real apples in the scene, which meant the fake apple would look noticeably fake. (It’s interesting that fake apples are fine unless there’s a real one close by.) Now, the puppetry here is not particuarly interesting. It was fun, but it was basic live hand stuff, and we were standing, so it wasn’t even painful. What was interesting, at least to me, was the bite in the apple.

The first one was just a guy taking a bite out of an apple and handing it to me. But as we continued shooting the bite turned yellow, as apples do, which made a continuity problem. So they had to bite another apple. You don’t think about these details, but the prop guy had to find another apple that looked like the first one, and then make a bite that looked the same. It’s the kind of thing that seems simple until you watch someone go through the process. It was in fact, two bites in order to make it large enough to read.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think these bizarre mundanities are interesting.

Anyway, I spent most of today live handing and was only off set at lunch. Tonight Rob has invited the post-production crew over for martinis. He apparently planned for it to be about seven or eight people, but when we left the studio the number had blossomed to thirty. Knowing Iceland, the party will go until three so I’m not expecting to get anymore writing done today.

Here’s my update.

Once in the streets of Repp-Virja, the bright mosaic of her family shattered the bland crowd.


Each step made her tunic brighter and her crop more naked.

There is only one sentence between the two, but I went back to earlier sections and added some details that I needed. So I wrote 252 words today.

Readercon, Day 3

Waking up was hard. I had planned on going to the ten o’clock panel, but by the time we checked out and put our luggage in the car it was 10:30. We wound up catching up with some folks and chatting until the eleven o’clock panels started.

I went to the Interstitial Arts discussion, which was talking fiction that falls between the cracks of genre. I have to say, that I felt as if I were hearing conversations about the role of puppetry in the larger theater context. Puppetry tried to coin the term “figure theater,” which some people still use, to suggest puppetry for adults. I think that coming up with a term is not about creating the art or fiction, but about trying to expand audience. The most effective things that puppetry has been doing to expand its audience is to work to become incorporated into mainstream fiction. Take Lion King, it’s a great big puppet show, but no one thinks of it that way. They think of it as theater which incorporates puppetry and mask. Even so, it opened up Broadway to Avenue Q. So to me, it makes the most sense for someone whose fiction falls between the cracks to say, “I write fiction which incorporates elements of fantasy, science fiction and…” or “I write literary fiction through the lens of classical mythology.” I mean, why make up a new term knowing the definition will shift? Why not just make the definition shift of the existing words?

Anyway. After that, I went to a panel called, “Social Class and Speculative Fiction.” The program description said, “Any completely satisfactory imaginary world will include some sort of class structure (not necessarily rigid or hierarchical), or an explanation for its absence. Are all novels without social class utopian by definition?” I thought this sounded very interesting, but the moderator shifted the focus to the mythology of social mobility in America. While this is an interesting topic, it is not what I came to hear. It was frustrating. China Mieville did touch briefly on some things about the myth of the single protagonist that causes great societal change. Which made me want to ask a question I’ve long wondered about, but I couldn’t get it in so I’ll ask it here. Why there are so few small-scale fantasy novels? I mean, it’s all “the pig boy who became king,” why aren’t there more novels which are “the pig boy who fell in love with the miller’s daughter?” The same for science fiction. Everything seems to be about “the fate of the universe,” but clearly it is possible to support novels with smaller personal stories, or the vast majority of literary fiction wouldn’t exist. What is it about the speculative genres which encourages these sweeping plots?

I had lunch outside with Joy. It’s so nice to eat outside. Ah, warmth.

During the lull after I ate, I took advantage of the hotel shuttle to run to the mall and pick up shoes for the wardrobe department. It was interesting watching the sales clerks try to figure out why I was asking about a shoe size which I clearly did not wear.

David Louis Edelman
David Louis Edelman
Once I had the shopping finished, I went back to the hotel to say goodbye to everyone. David Louis Edelman offered to share the cab that he and John Scalzi were taking to the airport. This was the best offer I got all weekend. David is funny, charming and a real gentleman.
John Scalzi
John Scalzi
Scalzi was ridiculous, fun and if you can make him blush, the tips of his ears turn red. The conversation ranged from astronomy to Civil War to book tours to the World Cup. And then they had to catch a plane.

I spent the time waiting for my plane catching up on email and instant messaging. I was so tired it hurt. I got lucky on the plane. I had asked for a window seat, so I could lean against the wall and sleep. Instead, I got a seat in the middle aisle but no one else was in my row. As soon as we reached cruising altitude, I stretched out across all three seats and slept.


Well, I’m on my way to Readercon today. I’ll be in the U.S. until Sunday. My plane won’t land in Iceland until Monday morning, so I’ll be walking straight onto set. That should be fun. Mmmm. Jet-lag and puppets. Who could ask for more.

While I’m there, I’ll have my cellphone for dire emergencies, but any call will cost me 75 cents per minute. So don’t call me unless it is a dire emergency. You can still reach me via email, of course.

I’ll keep you updated on how the conference goes.

Long day

Today was long, but good.

One of the puppets had to throw this thing, which was challenging but not impossible with live hands. There were a limited number of configurations in which it could happen, but we knew that going into it and were planning on using the easiest of those options.

Then, of course, during the wide shot, the rodded puppet threw the thing in a different way. When we watched the playback as we were getting ready for me to do the live-hand throw, the puppeteer put his head in his hands and said, “This is impossible. I don’t think you can match that.”

If it had been any other puppet he would have been completely right. With this particular one though, just because of a slight difference, I’m able to put my arm up through the back of his shirt and down his arm. My elbow becomes his shoulder. I have to do a weird contortion to get the rest of my body out of the way, but it means that he could throw the thing and match the other shot.

When we set up to rehearse it, to see if it was going to work, I heard the director yell, “Shoot it, shoot it! Roll!” He wasn’t serious, but it was nice that he recognized the near miracle we pulled off. We did the take, and my primary puppeteer said he was very pleased.

We got lucky and it felt so good.

Wayne at work

Wayne came to work with us today. He got to see a couple of stunts, which are always fun and he got to see some puppetry, so that was a pretty good mix. The puppetry today was fun, but unfortunately the details are really plot specific so I’m not going to go into them this time. I know, I’m a tease.

The puppeteers got wrapped early, except for Þor and me. Everyone else left around four-thirty. I sent Wayne with Emily to the pool. I went into the puppet shop to practise my Icelandic with Sigga and Tóti. At the end of the day, when we were getting ready to leave, I decided to try to use my Icelandic to ask, “Do you want me to close the window?” What I actually said was, “Will you me fasten this?” We got a good laugh out of that. I’m glad Sigga can explain why it’s funny. If this were really immersion, then she’d be laughing and it would be months before I understood what I had said wrong.

Audrey, hands and more trash

When we arrived at the studio, Audrey immediately started sniffing the ground of the lobby, like she could tell her human was there. So I let her off lead and she started tracing the path, looking for her girl. Oh, what a happy reunion they had. It was really sweet. Audrey was vibrating with excitement.

I spent the rest of the day on the studio floor, except for lunch and a half-hour massage. I didn’t even unpack my computer. A lot of it was the basic stuff, fetching carts or standing around just in case the puppeteer needed something. But I did get to do some fun things as well.

Remember that shot we tried to do yesterday when the puppet was stuck to the floor with a piece of taffy? We shot it again today with the dugar firmly taped to the floor. But, it was in a different part of the set and we suddenly developed a lighting problem. I couldn’t be in the same relationship to the legs as I was yesterday because I cast a shadow that gave away the fact there was a puppeteer.

The shot we were doing used only his legs and then a brief moment of his hands reaching down to try to free his shoe. Yesterday, Thor was in front of the legs, and I was behind reaching over so that my hands came down at the right relationship to the puppet’s body.

Make sense? If I was in front of the body reaching down, it would look like the puppet’s hands were on backwards because my thumbs would point the wrong way. Except that today, I cast a shadow if I was behind his legs. The only place I could be was in front of the puppet. Too either side would put me in the shot. And here’s where we get into a lucky thing. I have hyper-mobile joints in my shoulders, so I can rotate my arms a full 360. That allowed me to twist enough to make it look like the hands were in the right relationship to his body.

I can also turn my feet backwards, (not all the way) but it’s never come in handy except as a party trick.

I did a little more livehanding for two of the puppets. It was a very busy day.

Back to the trash mines

Today was the first day back at work and I seemed to spend most of the day working trash in various forms. I started off with manipulating the trash can that one of the puppets was “holding,” then on to the giant ball of trash that another one was “holding” and then a trash can that yet another one was, yep, “holding.” See, these puppets all either had rodded hands or some other reason that they couldn’t actually hold the trash that they were supposed to carry.

I also spent a portion of today guiding Thor’s hand into his puppet’s butt. Really. See, Thor was under the bench and his puppet was sitting on it. Because the bench just had a hole cut in it for Thor’s arm to pass through, he couldn’t find the hole in the puppet, so I had to help him enter the puppet. It should be fairly clear, if the puppet is sitting on the bench, and Thor is under the bench which part of the puppet’s anatomy has the entry point.

I also did a tiny bit of live-handing for him today when he got stuck in the taffy. Nothing exciting. We’ll have to do that shot again because the dugar kept moving–the dugar is the road surface in the studio. It’s basically a giant sheet of linoleum.

Poor Audrey ran into the building and straight for her room, but her girl wasn’t there. Such a sad little dog. We went for a long walk after work and then I gave her a bath. She was a sad, stinky little dog.

Catching up on the last couple of days

Monday, April 17th, we stayed with Tóti and his family. His wife, Hannahlið, made a fantastic vegetarian meal, which was a really pleasant surprise. After dinner, Rob and Tóti ran some errands and I stayed behind to teach Marsibel (their daughter) how to make a puppet. She’s been out of school with a cold and then the holiday so she was really bored. The exciting part of this is that she’s seven and doesn’t speak english yet. That’s right, I taught puppet building in Icelandic. And mime. She was really good about figuring out what I meant and helping me learn new words. Hannahlið was standing by, but didn’t need to help as much as either of us thought she would.

Dog friendsDog friendsThe funniest part about the visit was the reaction of their very large dog to Audrey. Their dog was horribly jealous and tried to sleep in Audrey’s little basket. Have you ever seen anything so ridiculous?

So on Tuesday, April 18th we left Tóti’s house and met Bernd, then went for coffee at Bláa Kannan (the blue pot). Then Rob and I took Audrey for a walk at the Akureyri Botanical Gardens, which were completely covered in snow. Someone had gone through the park before us, leaving a single trail of footprints. Audrey bounded between the footprints like some kind of snow porpoise.
After stocking up on groceries for the road, we went to Bernd’s for coffee. Bernd and his family live in a valley outside of Dalvík, north of Akureyri. Jodi, Sarah, Julie and Sam met up with us there and we had a grand time talking about travels and puppetry. Just in case you don’t remember, Bernd Ogrodnik is my friend who did Strings (Go watch the trailer) and he has a number of the puppets at his place. He also has a fantastic workshop that is the envy of every puppeteer who has seen it.

Jodi, Sarah, Julie and Sam continued on their way while Rob and I stayed around for the night. Great conversations with Bernd, his wife Hildur and his intern Ava. It was a lot of fun.

On Wednesday, April 19th, we planned to drive up to the northern most part of Iceland but that plan changed. Bernd is working on a new show and as we were walking to the car he asked if I wouldn’t mind ducking into the workshop (Seen from above in this photo) and showing him some fast connections for shadow puppets. Well…you get two enthusiastic puppeteers in a room and the conversation will quickly become more involved. We went through the connection pretty fast and then moved on to a story issue and some other concerns he was having with his new show. Rob went for a hike with Audrey but when he came back, Bernd, Ava and I were still working. We wound up staying through lunch and leaving around five o’clock.

At that point we revised our plans and drove straight to Egillstaðir where we stayed at Gistihús Olgu. Road 1 was long and wild. I won’t try to describe it, but will just give you a collection of photos. Not all of these are from the drive to Egilsstaðir.

On Thursday, April 20th, we got up and began our drive around the southern part of Iceland. We had planned to stay at Skalafell, but realized when we reached the glacial lagoon, that it was still early in the day. We had driven to Skaftafell when Eve was here, so we’d be seeing landscapes that we had seen before. Rather than staying we decided to head back to Reykjavík and have an extra day at home.

And here we are.

Raining Trash

I’m building a rig to make trash rain at work. The director wasn’t happy with the way the trash falls, because it’s heavy. He thinks it falls too fast to look good or “real.” So he asked for options and along with the other things brought to the table, I mentioned a possible puppetry solution. He asked to see a test of it, and liked that.

Basically, each puppeteer will have a spray of rods with pieces of trash on them, in each hand. We’ll have them fall through frame at the speed and direction the director wants. The rods are all painted green so they can key them out, leaving only the trash visible. We’ll have to co-ordinate movement so that trash never passes behind someone’s rod, but we ought to be able to get some good movement. The director knows that the quality of movement will be totally different from the real falling trash but still wants to try it.

I just got the supplies, so I’m going to assemble the trash sprays tonight. In theory we shoot it on green tomorrow.


I can’t remember if I mentioned that I’m the puppeteer liason, which means I get to sit in on production meetings to represent the puppeteers. Tonights was three hours long, but felt like we got some good work done. I’m not going into detail, but thought you’d at least like to know why I wasn’t posting anything interesting about puppets.