Sunday, August 31, 2008

Where have all the puppets gone?

Puppetry has had it rough over the last fifteen years or so. Puppets could once be seen in prime-time TV shows, films, and touring companies around the country. Now puppetry has all but disappeared from the cultural landscape. Perhaps the worst part is that no one even talks about this phenomenon, like it's not even worthy of discussion.

But here is a great article about the state of puppetry called Pulling the Strings, from the Canadian website the National Post. While the contention that puppetry is now "enjoying a renaissance" seems a bit optimistic (maybe in Canada it is!) -- nonetheless it offers a very insightful analysis of the forces working for and against puppetry, the most recent being CGI animation, which has all but displaced puppetry in feature films.

Read the full article here.

It's sad to think that after all these years, and the amazing work pioneered by Jim Henson and others, that puppetry hasn't made greater strides as a cultural force in this country. I think one reason is that puppetry is really hard to do well, a fact which no one seems to take seriously. And when someone sees a bad puppet performance, they blame the medium rather than the performer. And the perception that puppets are only for children is sadly entrenched in this country. There is hope, though, as the internet is bringing together puppet enthusiasts and giving them an audience. (I will include some puppetry links in a future post.)

By the way, the photo in the article (and above) is from the amazing Frogtown Mountain Puppeteers, in Maine.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Found Art Sculpture

We did a little collaborative art project in our weekly Artists Meeting today. Our task was to bring in a found object in the hopes of assembling some sort of group sculpture. The premise might have seemed a little silly at first, but once we gathered the juices certainly started flowing.

Jonah got the ball rolling by hanging a worn out tire wheel from a pipe with wire thread. Sam brought a hollowed out egg, which I hung from the wheel. I think with the intention of making some kind of mobile. But after a couple more objects, it was obvious that a face was emerging. So we continued to decorate. Allie brought in a picture of her hamster, which worked perfectly to connect draping arms to. Every idea was a good one, and eventually our friend was born into existence.

If you look closely, you can see the words INVENT, EXPLORE, and SHARE behind the wheel on the wall (there previously). Does that say it or what?

The most amazing part for me, aside from the fun group effort, was when someone noticed the shadow the sculpture was casting on the wall. I don't think I've laughed with so much pleasure in a while (maybe since a good episode of SpongeBob). It was one of those occurances that couldn't have been planned, but couldn't have been more perfect. Honestly, a moment of artistic genius—even if accidental.

So there you have it. Go pick up something random, invite a couple friends, and make something!

Special thanks to Sam for the idea, and Renée for taking photos.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Welcome to the Land of Minuit

--> Minuit

This is a really fun site I just found on Beautifully. It appears to be a the website of a New Zealand indie band. You start by picking and naming a character, who you navigate around a circular landscape. It's simple, but a playful way to seek out and explore common band info like News, Guestbook, Gallery, etc...

Meet Emily

"Emily - the woman in the above animation - was produced using a new modelling technology that enables the most minute details of a facial expression to be captured and recreated. She is considered to be one of the first animations to have overleapt a long-standing barrier known as 'uncanny valley' - which refers to the perception that animation looks less realistic as it approaches human likeness."

Here's a link to the Times Online article.

I found her mouth to look a little strange (wide?) in parts. I think it could have interesting applications for video games, but I still have a hard time seeing this widely used in film or television. Actors, for the most part, already look fabulous! And it seems like a lot of work when you can just point a camera at someone to get genuine human expression.

UPDATE: more discussion over at Cartoon Brew

via Slashdot

And for something still looming in the "uncanny valley," try this video on for size:

via BoingBoing