One of the projects I backed on Kickstarter earlier this year was Monster of the Sky, a short puppet film by Sam Koji Hale. The film will use a combination of puppetry and computer animation. The puppets themselves are rod-controlled, and it can take up to four or five people to control one puppet, depending on the type of motion required. In the final shooting, the rods and the puppeteers’ arms will be dressed in green so that they can be digitally removed. In addition, Hale plans to use motion capture to animate the puppets’ faces.
I was pleased to discover that the film will be shot here in Portland, Oregon. Hale was in town this weekend to rehearse with his puppeteers, and I was able to get a brief look at the process. When I arrived, they were working on having Sky, the main character, walk across a small section of ground. It was only about three or four feet of walking, but with three people controlling Sky it took a lot of coordination.
One person had rods supporting her head and body, one controlled both arms, and the other controlled the two legs. Later they tried changing things, removing the rod from the body and controlling both arms together by having Sky hold a large pail. Hale stood by the side with a camera, recording takes and watching the results in a monitor. Sky’s long dress was catching on the rough edges of her feet, so the team jury-rigged a solution and kept practicing.
Hale explained to me that the puppeteers (Afsaneh Aayani, Emily Alexander, Geahk Burchill, Bill Holznagel, Leah Renee Pecoraro-Eddy, and Lance Woolen) were rotating through, trying out different controls, so that they could all get used to controlling the puppets. I could tell that manipulating the rods would get pretty tiring after a while, so it makes sense to be able to switch out puppeteers during filming.
Hale also had a portion of the shooting script and storyboards, which I was able to flip through. You can see a lot of these posted as updates on his Kickstarter page. The sets are being built by Charles Daniels of Portland (thus necessitating the shooting here). The day I visited I just saw the bit of cracked-looking ground, and then a rough mock-up of part of the shifting walls of the clockwork tower. In the story, Sky climbs up the tower as portions of it rotate in different directions, and the set piece for the shifting walls was pretty impressive even as unfinished plywood parts.
At one point five of the puppeteers were all crowded around the platform, when Sky and Squijj were walking together. It was magical, watching them bring in the second puppet and try to work out how he should walk. You could tell they were having a lot of fun with it—check out the brief video below.
Hale is planning to return to Portland to shoot the film next month. Having seen just a small snippet of what’s going into the film, I’m even more excited for the final results.