Posts Tagged ‘Puppetry’

Tempest build, the boat photos

Cutting the plexiglassThe goal of this project was to make a self-illuminated boat for the opening of the Tempest. It needs to be sturdy enough to tour, but also needed to match the materials in the rest of the design, which were fairly industrial. We first made patterns of stiff paper to find the shape of the boat.

Here, I’m cutting out the base of the boat in a stiff white plastic. The brown paper keeps it from getting scuffed in transit and also provides a handy thing on which to draw the pattern.

Removing the paper
Peeling the paper back you can see the nice glossy surface.

Bending the plastic The plastic for the rest of the boat is a matte polycarbonate, so it handles bending beautifully. To get sharp creases, I used my vise like a metal brake, which worked pretty well.

Testing the light Once I had the basic hull, I started testing light sources. Originally, we were going to use an incandescent bulb, which would also have served as a practical light on stage, but the director decided to free up the actor manipulating the boat and so we had to figure out how to light the boat without the benefit of a power cord.

I’d done another show with self illuminated puppets and had discovered then that a florescent closet light provided the best light. This photo has much more of a hotspot than in real life.

Testing the light on a mirror In an effort to get more light and more diffusion, I tested out a piece of mirrored polycarbonate instead of the white plastic.

The boat in the dark Oooo! Ghost boat.

A bigger light The original light was six inches, and here I’m testing out a twelve inch light.

A bigger light plus a mirror I tried a backing mirror to bounce the light forward. Putting a V of mirror in there really brightened up the boat. Alas, when I got to the final construction, the smokestacks, and observation deck kept the V from being practical.

Boat final assembly For the final assembly, I pop riveted the boat together. This is a view of the bottom of the boat as it’s being held in the vise.

Because I was stupid, I didn’t take a picture of the finished boat. Sorry. I’ll get one later.

The latest things said at work

Things I’ve said, or friends have said at work lately.

  1. Where did I put my lady belly?
  2. Catch the fish eyes!
  3. How many bird kebabs do you want?
  4. I think the crocodile is going to eat us alive
  5. My skull is supposed to arrive tomorrow.
  6. RiteAid is the mother-lode of Emilys
  7. I’ve lost my arm
  8. Go ahead, put your finger inside. It’s really good. So snug and smooth.
  9. His rod isn’t stiff enough.
  10. The logical way to get vaseline off a Galumphus head seemed to be to take in the shower.

What it all means.

  1. We were making fish and I couldn’t find the pattern for the female fish’s belly.
  2. The eyes for the fish were made out of a lightweight plastic and were put outside to dry. A stiff breeze came along and the fish eyes went sailing.
  3. Birds puppets stacked on top of one another with a piece of steel running straight through them. Really. What else would you call it?
  4. The process of building a crocodile puppet was not going well.
  5. I ordered a dog skull for a dead dog I was building for a show.
  6. I needed a 42″ doll, which happened to be called Emily, that was available at the drugstore.
  7. Couldn’t find the puppets arm
  8. Checking the fit of a puppet sometimes makes one say unfortunate things.
  9. Really, this was too easy. We needed heavier gauge spring steel.
  10. This is part of a friend’s hilarious story about making puppets for a Seuss show.

Tempest build, a quick recap

Just to catch you up. The tentacles were cut, though not because of anything on our end. Meanwhile, I’ve missed a week in the shop, because of my cold. Day before yesterday, Emily dropped supplies off at our place so I could work from home. I had reached a point where I felt more or less okay as long as I wasn’t moving around and neither of us wanted to risk the transit or the chance that I might infect everyone in the shop.

I spent the last day or so working on the boat — I’ll upload pictures later — and went into the shop today for the first time in ages.

Classic Christmas Puppetry From Richard Teschner

PuppetVision Blog pointed out this stunning video by Richard Teschner. There are a couple of things you need to understand before watching this short film. It was filmed in 1916, so it is very early cinema. It is also not stop-motion. Both of those things are cool. What is significant though is that Richard Teschner is credited with adapting Javanese rod puppetry for the western world. Before him, you saw marionettes and hand puppets but nothing else. His work was quite revolutionary. I’ve seen photos of his puppets for ages and have been captivated by the sheer artistry of them. This film is the first time I have ever seen them in motion. I would love to see a better print, because even in this the delicacy of movement is beautiful. Despite the lack of dialog, you can feel Joseph’s tenderness to Mary as fully as if he were delivering monologues. It is easy, oh so easy, to see why Teschner’s work changed everything for western puppetry.

Tempest build, Day Three

So, I’m looking at the tentacles again and think that if we cut them down so that they are not quite as long and lose some of the width at the back that we’ve got a fair chance of getting them under the skirt.

I also just tried vacuum sealing them into a bag and hot damn they pack down small then. Plus no unpleasant shifting around. We just have to figure out how to extract them onstage if we go that route.

I tried the inflatable tentacle, just to see what would happen. I mocked it up out of 4mil plastic and a hairdryer so it’s a little lackluster. I think it’s a possible if we really can’t come up with any other way to fit the tentacles under that skirt, but we’ll have to go a lot higher tech. Plus, still have to deal with finding a way to diffuse the the El-wire.

Tempest build, Day Two

Hello, learning curve, my old friend.

El wire installedWe focused on the intestines today. Starting by inserting the El wire into our latest concoction and looking to see if we liked the way it glowed. Behold! Something that looks good with the lights off and on.

With El wire, unlitIn this shot, the El wire is lit, but we are under normal room lighting. The red comes from Festive Red Holiday Saran Wrap, which is a bad idea for food products, but makes great intestines.

Sausages?Jane gets all the credit for this idea. In addition to looking just disgusting, the saran wrap nicely holds the cotton batting in place, and gives the bubble wrap some traction.
Adding the bubblewrap
Jane cut the bubble wrap into strips and coiled them, making it easy to just wrap them at a diagonal around the giant coil. This part went pretty fast. The batting and saranwrap was slow.

UncoiledWe put the bubbles on the outside, which really catches the light well and looks all suction cuppy. Gross, huh?

The coil on the floor.  Big.The problem is that it’s huge. Ginormous. I don’t see how we are going to fit one of these under a skirt, much less six of them.

So far my only brainstorms of how to deal with this are not so hot, but maybe they’ll give you an idea.

1) We could have the coils preset under the stage floor and have them rituallistically attached to Ariel in a very sick and dramatic fashion — which totally breaks the idea that she has torn herself apart to become the harpy.

2) I just saw a giant inflatable puppet that Jane Catherine Shaw made. Huge. Twenty feet tall and entirely made of translucent plastic tarp. She had a hose running offstage to a fan, which was pretty quiet. The puppet really got whipped about and appeared to be durable. We could try inflatable tentacles.

Otherwise, I’m at a loss. These things are the size of a human torso.

Erica and I will keep building them tomorrow, just so they have something to rehearse with. I’ll also experiment with the inflatable option, just so you’ve got a choice.

With the Contra Here’s one with the contra, just so you can see it.
Tangle of wire
Look! Spring steel in a tangle.

I have some video of the boat, but am a wee bit tired so I’m heading to bed since I don’t have any direct questions about it. I really do need guidance on the tentacles though.

Talk to you soon!

Tempest build, Day One

You guys are getting this on time-delay, because I’m using these posts to communicate with Emily DeCola, the designer, who is on a trip to China at the moment. So, once she reads and we catch up, I’ll post the pictures of the build.

Just because it is interesting, I’ll also share the commentary that we have going. Feel free to join in, just know that we are three days farther along in the process than you.

Monday, December 10th, 2007

We started the day at 10:00 today, shopping from home and organizing plans. Around eleven, Rob and I headed down to the shop and met up with Jane at noon. While Jane and I worked, Rob did the shopping for us. Gotta love husbands.

Here’re the fruits of our labor today.

Boat mockupI mocked the boat up in heavy paper to get a general pattern and to sort out construction plans of attack. When Rob brought the plastic back, I decided to go ahead and try building the rehearsal mockup from that rather than cardboard. Largely because I also needed to play with the materials, and this gave me an opportunity to do both.

Boat mockup with lightI couldn’t find a clip light, so I stuck two maglights under the boat to check out it’s qualities as a lamp.

Overall my conclusions were:

  1. I think want the material to be more opaque, or I want to put a diffusion gel on the lamp.
  2. You can’t score this stuff, or it will crack. But, you can bend it and it will hold the crease without breaking
  3. Easiest way to have the boat fit under the playboard is to lay it on its side. Having the pieces collapse works, but makes the boat jiggly.
Bubblewrap coil
If the El wire isn’t in the equation, Jane and I both prefer the bubblewrap. She’s wrapping it with the bubbles on the exterior, which looks really great.
Bubblewrap coil on table
This is one of the short coils. We are tappering the spiral, which is different from the way you approached the McCarter harpy.

Batting coilWe tried cling wrap to hold the batting in. Not a good plan. It’s easy, because it sticks to itself. Which is bad when you try to move the puppet.

Batting coil on tableWe didn’t finish putting the batting on this one. Jane suggests trying the small bubble wrap on top of the batting as a compromise. Really, we won’t know anything until we get the EL wire in there.

In performance, tonight

T-rexI should’ve mentioned this earlier, but I wasn’t sure how I felt about my own show. Just finished a run-through and I think it’s okay.

So: Tonight. December 9th, 2007
8:00 pm at Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue (corner of 9th)
Voice 4 Vision Puppet Slam.
I’ll be performing Nails in Our Feet, a puppet monologue by one of Ray Harryhausen’s retired T-Rexes.

Shipping Coraline

Well, my three lovely ladies are leaving home tomorrow. I’m shipping the Coraline puppets to Bill Shaffer at Subterranean Press. He in turn will send one to Neil Gaiman, one to Dave McKean and one to someone who pre-ordered the special edition of Coraline.

I wanted to make certain that I had good photos of the dolls, so I went over to Ellen Datlow’s this evening and let her do her camera magic. Behold.


Coraline built by Mary Robinette Kowal

Coraline built by Mary Robinette Kowal

Coraline built by Mary Robinette Kowal

Coraline built by Mary Robinette Kowal

Coraline's bathrobe

Coraline's hand and cuff

Coraline's slippers

Happy Thanksgiving!

Rob and I, despite invitations to spend the day with friends, are staying at home today. What am I thankful for? That the nation comes to a halt today, which gives me time and license to spend the day with my husband.

I also sent off an email to a man I’ve been meaning to thank for a while now. My college writing teacher, William Hallberg, had just had his first novel come out the semester I took a class with him. Much like my experience with puppetry, until meeting him it hadn’t occurred to me that publishing a novel was something that was attainable. Now, I haven’t spent the ensuing twenty years in desperate pursuit of getting a novel published — in fact I only really started writing seriously about five years ago — but the early lessons from Mr. Hallberg stuck with me. Among other things, that it is possible to write a novel and hold down another job.

So, besides spending time with Rob, I’m going to treat myself to a writing day today. Meanwhile, may I recommend that you pick up a copy of Rub of the Green, by William Hallberg?

Edited to add: Mr. Hallberg wrote back to say that he remembers me. Wonders never cease. He asked me to send him something I’d written, so I’ve sent him a link to For Solo Cello, op. 12.

Tiger Tale and Good night

We just finished the show and are tucked safely away in the hotel in Albany. It felt really good to be performing. I’ve missed it.

And it’s very nice to have nothing on my docket for the evening.

World Fantasy and Dead Dogs

Me and FlassieToday started with me sleeping through my alarm, though waking up in enough time to make the 8:15 train to Saratoga if I hurried. I ran out the door, struggling along with pounds of Shimmer magazines in my backpack, and came down to the steps of the subway station just as the train I needed was arriving. Whew.

And then, in a bonus stroke, when we got to 96th street, the express train magically appeared across the track. I hopped over and started breathing a little easier. I even got a seat.

Then the train stopped in the tunnel.

It crawled forward finally arriving at NY Penn Station at 8:07. Gah! I ran into the building, sweat pouring down under my coat, knowing that I wasn’t going to make it, but having to try. After all, Amtrak had sent an announcement to expect delays. Maybe it was late pulling in to Penn. Sure enough, I checked the board and it was still there. I grabbed my ticket, no line, and turned to the gate.

Which I couldn’t find. Oh, sure… there was a track 5 E, but it was only accessible by an escalator, which was going up. I needed to go down. A station attendant saw me and another man run to 5 E and look panicked. He shouted, “The stairwell behind you. Run! It might still be there.”

I ran. Top of the stairs. Glory be! The train was still there.

At the first landing, the doors shut. Halfway past that, the train pulled forward. I stopped and dropped my bag. The other man did the same thing. Almost in unison, we cursed.

I turned around, lugged my bag upstairs to exchange my ticket for the afternoon train.

That done, I walked back to the red line to go home. A line from the platform wound down into the main terminal. It wasn’t moving and from where I stood, I could see the crowd at the top, filling the platform. Someone said, “Train’s not running.”

“Any of them?”

“Not on this line. An ‘incident’.”

Groaning, I walked back to the other end of the station to take the C train home. As I waited, I watched six E trains come by and a couple of A’s but no C. Finally, an announcement said that they were running “slower than usual due to an earlier incident.”

What’s with all the incidents? After waiting for forty-five minutes, a C finally came, just as I was about to give up.

I got home about 10:30 and collapsed in bed.

Half an hour later, the phone rang. The production had run into a problem and wanted to know what they should do. With a sense of grim irony, I said, “Fortunately, I missed my train this morning. I’m still in town.”

So, I skipped the afternoon train, fixed the intestines and the dead dog and will go to World Fantasy tomorrow. Somewhere in all of this, I’m planning on sleeping more than half an hour.

Willamette Week reviews Cinderella

Bizarre. I designed these puppets years ago and evidentally they are being used in a remount now. Willamette Week reviewed the production and had this to say about my work.

The puppets, designed by Mary Robinette Kowall [sic] ((Oddly, I only ran across this because, for the first time, I ran a search on a common misspelling of my name. The review was posted today.)) , are detailed, lifelike and sometimes capable of expressing quite nuanced emotions.