Martin Cheek stop-frame puppet animation – Page 5

Martin Cheek and Simon Gaskin busy making puppets.

Martin has a large box of oddments used in past productions. He picks out a model of the kind of iris found in a camera lens to demonstrate how replacement animation works. There are a number of models, each with the iris progressively more open. “Replacements are a brilliant method of working, it is very heavy on the model making side but the shooting is that much easier. The animation of a real iris that size would be a nightmare,” he says as he picks up a model jellyfish. “I made this for Picture Box. It was directed by Jill Bradley, produced through a company called The Molotov Brothers. They brought me in to make and animate the models because Jill usually does cut-out animation. It is great to work with people who use different disciplines.”

Martin Cheek and Simon Gaskin by set of MTV conservation sting.

When it comes to supporting the puppets during animation Martin uses the pinning method. The base of the puppet’s feet are made of balsa wood and the sets have balsa wood or insulation board bases. The puppets are pinned on the side hidden from the camera. “At Cosgrove Hall they use magnets to hold the puppets. The sets are made from metal sheets, the puppets have metal feet and a magnet is placed below the set to hold the puppet above,” he explains. “When puppets go up stairs you have to be able to get in underneath all over which I find quite restricting in the model making stage. The sets take much longer to build. The set I made for the MTV Conservation sting took about one week, not much more. It had a small budget as it ran for just twenty seconds, so we needed to get it done fairly quickly. The areas where the puppets walk are made from balsa wood and insulation board and we use things like tissue paper, pasted on with flour and water, and other things that are around. Some of the plants are just broom, cut up, glued in place and painted, it looks quite effective. Humphrey and I built it, there are about eighteen characters and we animated nine each, so a three-second shot took three to four hours. You have to remember the order, and go round in the same order each time, then it makes it easier to animate.

Puppets on the set of MTV conservation sting.

“The kind of animation I enjoy most is when puppets do everyday things like sawing up wood or knocking in nails, and because the puppet is doing it, it is magic. I don’t think you need to do amazing things, a puppet has a power of its own if it is a really good puppet, like a Punch head it has a soul. It can make a statement, it is like ‘everyman’, it has a mask-like quality. So, he may come in, sit down and do something quirky, like scratch his nose or pick his ear, and because it is the puppet doing it there is a power there that is saying something about everybody who performs that action, or reacts in a sort of gestural way. It is about observing people and the way they react, and looking at nature and what it does.”

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