Yesterday we had a really exciting meeting with animal behaviourist Elaine Henley, who is advising us with our responsive animatronic An1mal. She described her experiences with elephants, gorillas and monkeys, as well the techniques she uses daily in her work with dogs and parrots. She talked us through the body language and sounds of non-human animals, introduced us to ethograms, and mocked the inaccurate behaviour of the dinosaurs in the last Jurassic Park film. It was great.
Today I read through the notes I took and sketched up this animal behaviour flow-chart to help us plan the interactions and responses we will need to programme An1mal with at a later stage.
I don't know if it's the scientific sounding words, or the big red arrows, but I've definitely convinced myself it makes sense.
Starting work on An1mal this week - a collaboration with Roy Shearer which uses responsive animatronics to simulate an interaction between a human and an animal. The animal uses a camera, microphone and proximity sensor to investigate viewers around it, as well as sound and servo-powered movements to respond to their behaviour. Above are some very early designs.
Below are some short clips showing a few of the mechanisms. First up is the snout which curls up and down, then the ears which flap, and finally a test using a cable to control the jaw and eyebrows which work together.
I've been working this week on the articulations for a cable controlled animal puppet and a template pattern for a glove puppet. Hopefully both these projects will go on to become finished puppets next year, but for now I'm having a lot of fun trying things out and practicing techniques which I don't often get to use.
Here's Ronan McMahon performing with a giant elf puppet I made last week for Bridgemanarts.
I set out to make a cheery, approachable character, with simple body shapes. So the design focused on a clear smile, a circular head, a bell-shaped body and clear colours to define the different body parts. I knew I wanted to use flexible plastic ducting for the arms and legs, so I designed the elf using the wobbly, elongated look it gives.
The head is a hollow plastazote foam sphere. I made a template using an exercise ball, joined the foam pieces with contact adhesive, heat moulded the nose over a can of spray paint, fastened a cane through the middle of the head to support the ears and to join the head to the hat later on, then spray painted the head and features before glueing them in place.
The shoulders and hips have lengths of cane to support them, there is a hula hoop at the waist to fill out the body shape, the body frame is built from foam pipe lagging and covered with lining material, the skirt and collar are plastazote shapes covered with fabric, the belt is a length of wide ribbon, the arms and legs are flexible plastic ducting covered with fabric which tie to the hips and shoulders with ribbons, and the hat is a smaller hula hoop with a pipe lagging frame and fabric cover.
The hat is supported by a cane structure which extends through the head and fastens to the bamboo poles coming from the body which means that the head itself is suspended and doesn't have to support any weight.
The hands are builder's gloves stuffed with plastic sheeting and joined to an old gaffa tape roll which holds the wrist shape open and gives a solid point for the arm canes to tie to. The shoes are 1cm plastazote foam shapes, contact adhesived together, tied to the legs, with velcro straps to hold them to the performer's legs. The buttons are baubles and the belt buckle is another plastazote shape sprayed gold.
Below are some photos taken at the events the elf visited, it was really fun making something so cheery and even better seeing the response of the family audiences.
Here are a few photos of the wonderful Weird Sisters performing last weekend at Galoshans Festival in Greenock.
It was really thrilling seeing the performance for the first time, I think it has a magic mix of spookiness, strangeness and humour which reminds me of great horror/comedies like The Abominable Dr Phibes, Phantom of the Paradise and Death Race 2000. (images below) The masked characters in these films embrace their own oddness and are transformed into outsider heroes, stylish symbols of isolation and freedom. It was great to see female characters with the same magnetism, authority and twisted weirdness as the male leads in these films.
The Weird Sisters are mysterious and odd, ethereal, high status and otherworldly - yet they are also very funny and surprisingly sweet. Are they the Fates of classical mythology returned to spell out our ruin, or the living descendants of the Delphic Oracle? Were they born with the memories of each and every one of their ancestors like Alia, the Abomination in Frank Herbert's Dune novels, or are they virginal, naive and indoctrinated like Tenar, The Priestess of the Nameless Ones in Ursula K Le Guin's Earthsea series? (images below)
The confidence, shameless self-belief and aloof, charismatic attitude of the Weird Sisters is reminiscent of the way celebrities, politicians and religious leaders act, but they also come across like children, excited and half-convinced by their own made up stories.
The Weird Sisters tell you their version of the truth, and seem to say that the rest of your life story is just fake news.
I was reminded when uploading Elizabeth Booth's guest blog that Julia Simmons-Collar also got in touch some time ago about a giant robot puppet she was making after seeing my robot puppet. I found a photo she sent me of her completed robot, and here are all three giant robots - from left to right - mine, Julia's and Elizabeth's.
I LOVE that these giant robots are popping up around the world, and that they are all different. As far as I can tell, we have all used some combination of metallic ducting, plastic buckets, foam, a metal frame backpack and silver spray paint. But the exact sizes, shapes and details of our robots have varied depending on what materials have been available/affordable.
So if you're thinking of making a giant robot puppet of your own, here are some links which might help.
And please send me a photo of your robot when you're done!
My robot -
Blog post 1
Blog post 2
Blog post 3
Video documenting the making of my robot
Elizabeth Booth -
The Puppeteers Cooperative -
This page contains a huge amount of traditional giant puppet making techniques, designs and ideas. It's a great place to work out what type of puppet your character should be
Welfare State International -
The book Engineers of the Imagination by Welfare State International has some great giant puppet making information as well as a wealth of really valuable information about street parades, festivals and outdoor events in general
I was so excited when Elizabeth Booth contacted me at the end of last week to say she had been inspired by my robot puppet and had built one for herself, which she took to the Maker Faire in Fredonia, NY.
I'm always looking at other makers work online to learn new techniques, solve problems and come up with ideas, so it was great to hear that one of my projects was helpful to someone else.
Elizabeth was kind enough to share these lovely photos of her puppet, as well as some making tips and solutions to problems she encountered along the way - over to Elizabeth:
I think connecting the arms and legs was the most challenging part for us. We cut circles out of the insulation board that fit into the flexible dryer vent.
These circles were glued to the bottom for the legs, and hinged to the shoulder area for the arms. This gave us the ability to use metal clamps to hold the arms and legs in place.
We had a blast with this project, and we thank you for being our inspiration!"
Elizabeth and Bob Booth
I've been working for the past week on these visors for the Weird Sisters, a walkabout street performance for Galoshins halloween festival.
Combining ideas from the witches in Macbeth, and the classical characters of the Fates, the Weird Sisters are three mysterious women who weave the threads of life, and sing songs of the past, present and future. The three performers are clowns, and the piece has a mock seriousness to it.
In designing the costumes for this performance I knew I wanted to work with the idea of second sight, by focusing on the eyes of the characters. The Weird Sisters exist outside of time, so I went for a retro-futuristic mash-up of Arts and Crafts, Art Deco, Mayan, Egyptian and Sci-fi to try and get a design which could be from the past or the future. I wanted this part of the costume to draw attention from a distance, to clearly identify the performers amongst other people in the street, and to trigger curiosity in passers by which could lead to engagement. So I went for a shape which distinctly alters the performer's silhouette, a shiny gold surface which stands out at a distance and draws attention to movement, and a simple pattern which focuses around the enlarged eyes.
You can see the making process for the visors, and an explanation of the stages below -
I began by hacking together a rough shape in cardboard - chopping bits off and adding new bits until I had a shape I liked - which I gave to the performers for testing. I then chopped the rough model in half and broke it down into four main pieces. I used these half-pieces to make four symmetrical templates, and a fifth template for the embossed detail. I transferred the template shapes onto 5mm plastazote then cut them out and used contact adhesive to join the pieces together. I engraved detail into the front of the visors using a Dremmel. To seal the surface I coated them all over with five layers of slightly diluted PVA glue and a final coat of white Gesso to provide a good painting surface. I was aiming for an aged, warm, gold effect, so I gave the visors two layers of black acrylic paint, then dry-brushed a mix of gold and crimson paint trying to build a bit of texture, and making sure to leave the black paint visible in recesses, at edges and around details. I then dry-brushed several patchy layers of gold acrylic, this time trying to leave the red-gold and the black visible in areas, and building up more reflective areas on flat surfaces and details. Lastly I dry-brushed a brighter red gold onto the eyes to bring them forward a bit.
I am a Glasgow based visual artist and maker.