Handmade Puppet Dreams Recap by intern, Emily

Short puppet films and their place in the digital age

On September 10, 2015, the Gregg Museum hosted a viewing of a series of short films, all featuring puppetry. The show took place in the Talley Student Union on NC State’s campus. The room quickly filled up with curious students, a class, and a number of non-students that included couples and even a few children. While most people may think of puppetry as a group of people hiding behind a stage with hand puppets or marionettes, it became clear to me during this showing that puppetry is also a distinctive option for storytelling in film, and can be used with or as a substitute for animation.

The group of films was collectively called “Showcase,” and featured five short films curated by Heather Henson, daughter of Jim Henson, the creator of the Muppets. Heather Henson is the founder of Ibex Puppetry, which created the collection of short films and also produces artistic puppetry.

The films covered a broad range of puppetry styles and storytelling techniques. The first, called “Junk Palace,” told the story of two brothers living in New York in the 1940s and their lifestyle as hoarders. These puppets and their surroundings appeared to be made entirely of paper. Following that was “Too Loud a Solitude,” about a man in Prague who destroys books for a living and the love he once lost. The main character was voiced by Paul Giamatti. The third film utilized experimental storytelling and puppetry techniques to adapt the fable, “Crane and Tortoise.” The film even incorporated water and smoke effects into the story. “The Narrative of Victor Karlock,” told the story of a man who had recently returned from sea, after a supernatural encounter. These puppets were relatively lifelike in appearance and had very natural movements. The characters were also voiced by well-known actors, such as Elijah Wood and Christopher Lloyd. The last film, called “Yamasong,” was a short film utilizing a Japanese-style puppetry technique, mixed with animation. It was followed by a preview for the feature-length film, which extends the storyline and incorporates dialogue.

Yamasong still image

Following the presentation, I heard a student approach Zoe Starling, the Gregg Museum’s Curator of Education to discuss the puppetry used and the different media incorporated into the presentation. The student was especially interested in “Yamasong.” He expressed surprise at the use of puppetry with animation and was excited to see the full-length film.

As a student of Art + Design, seeing the use of puppetry as a modern storytelling technique was surprising. This art form has history in multiple cultures globally, and is highly varied. However, in the age of computers, it is so easy to get wrapped up in animation and digital imaging that tactile art forms tend to be forgotten. Especially in the case of “Yamasong,” I found that the production of an image or film does not have to occur exclusively on the computer. This technique can be combined with other art forms to create something entirely new and different. It was exciting and refreshing to see that these “older” art forms still have a place in the digital age.

Emily Stafford
Gregg Intern, Fall 2015
Senior, Art + Design

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