Monday, 26 December 2016

Goodnight Mister Tom - A Hindsight

What a beautiful production! It has honestly been magical to become so heavily involved with the creation of this play, from my first meeting in Cambridge with producer Louis Ling and director Sarah Phelps to discuss the puppets, to things developing in such a way that I was given the opportunity to also work on the scenic artistry with Esmé Wells ( and fill the role of Stage Manager for the first time.

After Sammy was created and carefully delivered to Cambridge, William Males, puppeteer, set about learning how to create the illusion of life with him - and before the show came on visited not only various schools and the Cambridge Christmas lights turn on, but even BBC Radio Cambridge. Jeremy Sallis, presenter, was so impressed with Sammy that he even took a video and uploaded it to facebook;

After completing the puppets for the production (also including a hedge sparrow and a squirrel - simple rod-operated puppets for the children of the cast to puppeteer), work began on the set after a previous agreement with a certain scenic art company fell through.. The set carpentry was done by Oliver Ellerton in the Scenery Barn, part of the Viva theatre group, where we also painted and detailed it. The set went through a few revisions before completion, and pictures are stronger than words in this case; so here's a few of the process.

Wood textured & detailed door frame. Ply & MDF were used in parts throughout
the set to be able make what we wanted within the budget.

Adding grimy details to Mrs Beech's London apartment.
The cast were very excited to finally get to rehearse with the set after our get in on the Sunday before show week. It's been a new experience for me to work with children and their fresh energy for theatre is very encouraging. The young cast of this production are incredible - both actors and scene changers - and it's inspiring to see them blossom at such young ages. Trying out directing of the puppetry was definitely a learning curve - one must have faith in their opinions of what looks convincing and what does not, whilst still being supportive and kind to the actors - having this boldness is something that I must improve on. Stage managing felt very natural even on the first night - dress rehearsal was full of rushing around and working under pressure and it was great. It's incredibly exciting to be a piston under the hood of theatre, keeping the engine well oiled and running smoothly with every prop and set piece ready and waiting - and on the ball to find mysteriously disappearing prop babies whilst one of the chaperones hurriedly makes a stand-in out of an orange and some knitting...!

Although it's not what I normally do, scenic artistry for this production has been most enjoyable and it's something I'm very open to doing more of. Versatility seems to be a very important skill in theatre arts and it's something I definitely want to continue perpetuating; I've always struggled to pinpoint my creative energy to one particular field and theatre allows me to grow in multiple areas. Whilst I love making puppets more than anything, I love making any sort of art and also doing the 'soft skills' type of work that enables it to exist.

The novel of 'Goodnight Mister Tom' by Michelle Magorian was adapted for theatre by David Wood who very graciously visited the production and did an insightful Q&A session after our Wednesday matinee performance. It was fantastic to meet David (not to mention slyly drop him my business card) who is clearly a considered, incredibly creative and logically minded individual who continues to involve himself in children's theatre into his seventies.
Wood was very complimentary with his words after seeing our play - especially seeing as it was technically the world premiere of the first amateur production of 'Goodnight Mister Tom'. Various individuals have also been singing the praises of the cast and crew across social media, including a very favourable review from Susan Elkin, available here;
Sardines Review: Goodnight Mister Tom

Fantastic photography by Anton Belmonté.

Some of the words from our reviewers still feel like an egotistical fantasy; from Julie Petrucci Regional Representative NODA East (District Four South) "Special mention has to go to Jasmine Haskell who I understand made the "performing objects" and directed the puppetry. Ms Haskell proved a talented member of the team." - I never thought I'd receive such words about the first theatre show I've been so heavily involved with.
The feeling of having a 'theatre family' throughout this production was strong and it was honestly quite upsetting to leave everyone behind to travel back to Kent at the end of it. Louis and Sarah Ingram did a fantastic job of finding such a cast of talented individuals and I'm honoured to have been given the opportunity to work with them. This entire show has been a testament to the power of having the right attitude and being reliable, thoughtful and paying attention to detail, and I can only hope that the others I've worked with have had as positive and dynamic experience of this show as I have.

Here's to a productive new year and a future where our paths will cross, entwine and bridge between each other with all the grace, charisma and energy that this production has embodied.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

A Fleeting Update

Following the end of my degree I have been busy finding work. Currently I'm Designer and Maker of Performing Objects, Director of Puppetry Movements and Stage and Production Manager (what a mouthful!) for a production of Goodnight Mister Tom in Cambridge. The company is a fantastic group of individuals blossoming as a fresh new group into something with a great deal of motivation and artistic energy and I'm hoping to continue working with them in the future.
I am making a Hedge Sparrow (Dunnock), Squirrel and of course Sammy the Border Collie amongst administrative and managerial tasks on the play. My focus currently is on Sammy - I'll share with you a couple of images of his process.

It feels really great to be working back inside a sketchbook, even if my handwriting has become a little unkempt. The client was impressed and has been very supportive from the word go - this was such a fantastic opportunity and I hope I can find more like it after the show's over - this is what I want my career to be all about.

I am so thrilled to be making Sammy - as my first independent commission since I graduated it feels really special to be working on a puppet who has such a huge part in the production. His head will remain uncovered as above, but his ears and the rest of him will be covered in soft, ragged muslin/cheesecloth. The paws below are a revision of the prototype ruffled tube-type legs I initially experimented with, and offer a more polished look whilst still having the soft 'lolloping' movement when the puppet is moved. Since there is only one puppeteer on Sammy, who operates his head and body, the legs really needed to have a good range of movement on them without any extra intervention, and the cheesecloth seems to have provided this well.

The puppeteer, William, is proving very promising on operating Sammy - especially as someone who has never puppeteered before. He has excellent awareness of his movement and will do very well in this production. You can see his Casting Call profile here; William Males

I will post more updates as the show progresses. The set is being made by a company called Curved Elephant in Norwich and I'm looking forwards to seeing what they come up with. The show is airing at the Leys School in the days running up to Christmas. Watch this space!
You can purchase tickets from here;
Cambridge Theatre Company

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Designing the Career Goods

Designing a business card that reflected my style of work was both fun and challenging. My first choice was to lift a scene from the storyboard I had made to support my project, where the Scientist Sophie frees Beef the Dodo from his cage using a humble pair of scissors. This image is really cute on it's own;

However, as you can see it proved quite difficult to add text on it that looked right. The card has a lot of textures and tones going on that make adding a quirky font that's also easy to read quite a hard task. However, I pushed on. Using the texture from the drawing's background, I made the back of the card with my contact information, which you can see worked better.

However, overall this business card didn't feel quite 'there'. I wanted to simplify the design, and make the emphasis as much on the text as it is on the image. I decided to start simple, reeling back the background colour to clean white and putting in a section of a page of designs I'd done of Dodos whilst figuring out how I wanted 'Beef' to look. Whilst my initial feeling that scaling it back this much would somehow look uncreative, instead it really put the illustrations in the limelight. By using drawings of my project on my business card and linking to my website where the viewer can see photos of the project I've drawn, there is a very clear and smooth transition between a physical piece of paper and a website on a screen. The next step was to toy around with text and placement.

The image above isn't 'fun' enough. There is too much writing on the card which is detracting from the illustrations and sucking all the fun out of them. The image below is better with a more playful font, but it still doesn't look right to have the email and website addresses on this side.

You can see above that the card looks much cleaner with just the name and job title. The font above is almost there, but not quite the right thing. The font below, however, is much too elaborate for the slightly naive and playful style of illustration. Whilst it's not boring by any means, it clashes with the drawings; this isn't what I want.

The font 'Moon Flower' looks just right. It seems handwritten but is still tidy and legible from a distance, which is what is needed when the cards are only the size of a credit card. The text is to-the-point and concise whilst still feeling handmade and playful. After getting the initial impact of the front of the card right, making the back of the card came together quickly as I knew exactly what information I needed to put on it. It looked a little plain without any drawings on it so I took another, simpler illustration from my sheet of Dodo drawings to compliment the text. I'm really happy with how this card has come out and in person they feel smooth and high quality.

I was lucky enough to find a very useful web developer through a friend of a friend who turned the simple wix website I had created and made a new, similar but much more polished version of it for me. You can see the original wix website I made below, complete with adverts:

And my updated, handmade website featuring smooth page transitions and better design. I'm really glad I chose to have the website made professionally, as it allowed me to make the website more individual and I can customise any element of it. The new website is also much faster to load thanks to the hosting I purchased through 123-reg. Uploading the website was a new experience to me but it helped me to gain an understanding of how to keep it updated and using the control panel of the web hosting service.

The final step of my 'career goods' process was creating a good Creative Curriculum Vitae which fitted in neatly with the design of both my business card and website. I kept the font 'Moon Flower' to create a good sense of continuity between all these pieces. I wanted to make my CV essentially an elaborate business card, with all the details a potential employer would need. By making my CV to-the-point like this, I can open up to the client with further details about my personality, whilst having a starting point to discuss on. Because the CV is also easily legible, it could be printed onto A5 or possibly even A6 flyer to be handed out.

Reflective Evaluation

When I first entered this project, I had ideas of wanting to make a large roaming puppet, because it is something that I have become increasingly interested in - particularly examples where the wearer has a set of fake legs, and their real legs operate the puppet’s feet. Initially I wanted to make a horse or unicorn because of their majestic movement and size, but I wanted the costume to be operated by one person only - helpful when roaming around a festival - and it’s very difficult to make a horse’s four legs look good when the wearer only has two. This lead me on to consider two legged animals; kangaroos, ostriches, emus, penguins and many other birds. With such a selection of animals, it seemed like it’d be fun to make something quite comical, and with a shape that would translate well to being ‘ridden’. I also wanted to make an animal that comes to mind when people think of a bumbling, friendly creature - naturally, a Dodo came to mind.

The neck of the puppet was possibly the most challenging part of this entire project, and because it was intimidating, naturally I made it my first priority to get sorted out. I started with making a tentacle-style neck with styrofoam vertebrae and foam board plates after a small prototype worked so well, but it was clear upon being scaled up that a large form of this wasn’t good at supporting it’s own weight without a huge amount of tension between the plates, which would compromise the longevity of them and encourage snapping. My second experiment was the anglepoise lamp because of its pleasing aesthetics and smooth movement. However, it was very frustrating that after rigging up a plate for it to spring off of, welding it all together and testing it out - the lamp base just couldn’t handle the weight involved with putting a whole bird’s head on it, and simply drooped. This would have been ok with a puppet where the user holds the weight of the puppet’s head, but it must be considered that with a roaming puppet the performance time can range on average from between thirty minutes and two hours, and this simply wouldn’t be viable whilst carrying a whole head away from the body. One of the things I learnt from this was that simplicity was a key factor in making moving or weight-supporting puppet parts; upon further research, it seemed apparent from a similar style of roaming puppet that perhaps the head only needed to animate at the head-neck join in order for it to look effective. Upon encouragement from my tutor I stepped this up to having a PVC tube which hinged side-to-side at the base where it attached to the body frame, and then using a flexible attachment for the head made it have a good, organic range of movement. I also used a small section of PVC pipe in making a prototype moving jaw, and when cut down the middle it functions as an excellent spring. It was again a simple solution to a problem I had been making some very elaborate plans for, and was a huge relief, considering I haven’t done many moving parts of this type.

Bending the PVC pipe using the pipe bender seemed like a good solution to getting curves in the tubes for the neck and body at first, but after some time it became very tedious. After making all the different parts of my drawn out body frame plans, when I went to assemble them underneath the foam body shell it was apparent that it just wasn’t going to fit - it is hard to translate two dimensional front, side and top down technical drawings into a three dimensional frame that fits into a separately sculpted shape. I spent around five days bending pipe which I only used half of, but I’m glad I realised this before spending any more time on it. The saddle I made was just far too big to fit in the gap between the inside and outside of the bird’s body where the user stands, because the one-inch thick pipes were very difficult to get a tight bend on without folding. My method of combining bent pipes with sleeve-type joints secured with pop rivets was good for low-tension areas, but when I applied more force and heat to try and fit the frame inside of the foam shell, the pop rivets came out from the pressure. I ended up changing my plans for the saddle and making the inside of it out of a simple bar between the two main side braces of the frame, then adding 20mm pipe with right-angle elbows to form a back brace, which was then covered in upholstery foam to give it the organic shape that I was looking for.

Transferring the 1:5.7 scale sculpt I did of the dodo’s body on top of the mannequin to full scale was something I’d never done before, and it was an enjoyable and satisfying process that I hope to revisit in the future. It was very pleasing to make a tape pattern over this bird, trace it onto funky foam, and see the shape come to life in 3D with added wings. I then scanned this pieces and sized them up to full scale, printed, joined together and traced them onto my 1.5” upholstery foam. These pieces were then joined with high strength contact adhesive, which was a potent smelling but very strong glue which I had never used before this project. The bond remained fairly flexible which was very important for the ‘bobbing’ movement of the bird.

I initially planned to have two ‘plates’ in the bottom of the bird with holes in, which the user would put their legs through when putting the costume on. However, as I was assembling the puppet I noted how helpful it was to have more access to the inside of the puppet from underneath, and how it would be very tricky to get the puppet to sit on a mannequin with a central stand if the leg holes were two separate entities. Instead, I ended up leaving the port open, and adding bulk to the top of the feet. A fur cuff that matched the bottom of the bird’s fur filled the gap, and was held up with a sewed tube of stretch black hose, offering an elegant solution that meant the wearer wouldn’t have to change their trousers, just pulling the leg sleeves over the top of their clothes.

One of the main points in the design process was deciding what to cover the bird with. The obvious option was real bird feathers, but this project whilst being humorous also intended to look into conservation and ethics, so taking feathers from a bird didn’t feel right. My next port of call was making synthetic feathers, but this didn’t feel like a good use of a lot of my project time. The next place I considered was using materials which mimicked the appearance of Dodo feathers. Upon researching further, this seemed viable as the Dodo didn’t have defined feathers according to a lot of the artworks of it, and instead was covered in a downy fluff. The Mongolian faux fur samples were perfect and I’m really pleased with the result; they allowed me to spend more time on developing the movement and characterisation of the puppet instead of repetitively making feathers, or sticking real feathers onto a base. The tail of the bird was made out of a more ‘typical’ faux fur, and gave the impression of being a soft, fluffy ball which was pleasing to touch. I used dimple fleece on the feet which had the look of plucked chicken skin, and worked very well.

I started to make a fur covering for the head as the seam between the two pieces of vacuum formed plastic, but had issues shaving it down to a short length where it looked less like fur and more like peach fuzz. It was also challenging to make it look right over the rigid plastic base, as it’s very difficult to make a perfect fit when sewing a non-stretch fabric to fit a hard base. At this point I reached out to an online community of puppet makers who were both pleasantly complimentary on my progress so far and also helpful in suggesting that painting would be the best way to go. I tackled the hurdle of filling the gap with body filler and a lot of sandpaper, and some very useful advice from a friend about using acetone on a paintbrush to smooth out the filler as it is applied. I’d hated using body filler in the past but this little tip really revolutionised the way it could be used for me. After this, finishing the head was a simple case of priming, painting with acrylics and sealing. I had considered airbrushing but I find the airbrush very temperamental, often unreliable and as such only used it for small areas like the tongue. The airbrush also has a lot less personality than a brush or sponge because it is so soft and consistent; personality is something I definitely wanted this project to have so it was a better fit.

The final assembly of this project took a lot longer than expected but I still managed to finish in time to have a great outdoor photoshoot, and took video footage to show the personality and movement abilities of the Dodo. I feel my organisation on this project was much better than the last one, and unlike my last project I completed everything I had set out to do from the beginning. Although not doing as well as I’d hoped in the last project was a huge blow to my confidence, it also spurred me on to push myself to the limit on this project and I’m proud of what has come out of it. I hope the Dodo will impress the puppet companies I hope to show it to, and I learnt a lot about not only large scale puppetry, but also time management and commitment. At times this project was exhausting and frustrating but I feel I could very happily do projects of this sort for the rest of my life.

Poster Bird!

Friday, 15 April 2016

Chosen Furs

Reflecting on my concept art and research into the shape, size and colour of the dodo, I found the overriding tones that kept coming up in the scientific images and paintings to be warm shades of grey, with some yellow-orange hints. I wanted to reflect this using more than one colour and texture of fur, as to add visual interest and variation to the puppet. I decided on using fur because it doesn't always have to be the 'traditional', straight texture. Some of the furs I ordered were extremely sparse - so much so that you could easily see whatever was underneath the fabric. I didn't want to have to add another layer of fabric underneath the foam to disguise it as it would add extra weight, so decided to continue the search. I found the following three fabrics - all of which have a fluffy, clumped texture often referred to as 'Mongolian' fur. This represents the 'down'-like texture of the feathers the Dodos apparently had; it seems they didn't really have many, if any well-defined feathers. This makes them look appealingly soft.
The first fabric I chose is to go on the head, neck and feathers, and is very soft and fluffy. I look forwards to it being stroked; it's really appealing and has a nice movement to it. It's a very soft grey and reminds me of the tiny feathers ducklings have when they first hatch.
The second fabric is a longer, more stranded and curly fur. It is an off-white, cream colour and will sit nicely down the front of the neck, offering a contrast in colour. It has a great 'shake' to it. The third fabric is a darker, mottled curl that sits closer to the weave and gives the appearance of larger strands of feathers. It isn't as soft to the touch, but has a pleasant slight shine and will sit well on the back of the bird.
I also plan to use a more 'typical' fur for the tail of the Dodo, rolled up into sections and attached to the orb base of the tail. This should provide a good contrast in texture and also move nicely. If the Dodo looks like it would benefit from them, I may also add some individually made 'accent' feathers around the chest and neck.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Haruka Miyamoto's Junk Dodos

"The idea of this work is based on life cycles in nature.

Haruka rescues materials from the bin and gives them a second life, so they don't end up in landfill.

The impact that humans have on nature can be devastating. The dodo, which became extinct due to human activities, is a symbol of extinction.

Haruka's extinct animal collection is formulated from her childhood memories. Coming from a small village near Hiroshima in Japan, she was privileged enough to grow up with nature all around her: mountains, natural forests and a wide range of animals.
This beautiful environment has changed dramatically over the last 20 years, through the thoughtless actions of humans.
She expresses anger and sadness through her use of the colour black."

 The Dodos appear to be made out of a mixture of scrapped materials such as leather, rubber, wire and plastic. Their proportions offer an appealing contrast between round, chunky bodies and necks and slender, spindly beaks. The texture of the feathers is satisfying as a mixture between the hard edges of the fabric and the softer feathering that's been cut into it. However, the dodos seem to be lacking a certain element of connectivity with the viewer - we are reminded that they are objects, extinct, and merely a representation - through the lack of eyes. Whilst these birds are a more solemn reminder of the fragility of life, they don't offer the playfulness or lighthearted side of interaction that can put a more friendly face to awareness and conservation.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Storyboard: The Release of Beef

The storyboard is drawn and written in such a way that it is palatable to children whilst still being able to be appreciated by adults. I have drawn it in a simple, bold style that makes use of tonal values over colour to allow the emphasis to be on the shapes and movements of the characters. This makes it more legible and easily understood. I used Adobe Photoshop and a graphics tablet with some 'real-style' brushes I downloaded off the internet that give the panels a more interesting texture.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Sculpt Completion, Vacuum Forming and Plaster Casting

This post contains a lot of images that do a better job of showing you how the sculpt processed than I could describe. The process of splitting the face made it much easier to make the sculpt symmetrical because there is a solid line marking the clear middle point of the sculpt. It also added a fresh look to the sculpt when it was split in half and laid out, and it was simple to put the two sculpts side by side and use a ruler to compare the height and proportions of both sides. Whilst in nature nothing is symmetrical, it is good to have a general level of logical symmetry in the sculpt in order to make it attractive and to make the parts match neatly.

After finishing the sculpt as you can see in the time lapse above, I put each half of the sculpt on buckets and used a copper wire to push through the sculpt at the low points and details of the skin folds, mouth edges and eye corners. Because I had planned this, the holes drilled in the MDF guide made it relatively easy to locate the parts of the sculpt that had no MDF underneath them, so the wire could be pushed in at an angle and pulled all the way through and out of the other side. These holes allow the vacuum former to suck the details in whilst the plastic is hot, and prevents any air bubbles and loss of detail.
Vacuum forming is always a little nerve wracking on a soft clay sculpt, as it's often only the one chance you'll get before the sculpt is heavily damaged. I was very lucky in that both sides of the sculpt pulled perfectly first time in the vacuum former.

Shiny, smooth and detailed!

As you can see, an unfortunate side effect of using the plastic baubles as the eyes in the sculpt was that they got absolutely stuck to the inside of the vacuum formed face, causing more destruction to the original sculpt in removing the face from the sculpt. Whilst this is not a huge issue because they don't add any considerable weight, I wanted to make a plaster cast of the inside of the heads before I began cutting them up, just in case I made a mistake or needed to modify a part of the shape.
To fix the problem, I used a Dremel with a cutting wheel and a sanding end to remove the excess bauble until it sat flush against the eye socket. After doing this I began filling the inside of the face with a fine casting plaster, propping it up with styrene blocks I cut on the bandsaw to be the same height as the highest point of the face, double checked with a level.