Following yesterday’s blog containing films of of the village made for The Mare’s Tale, today I’m posting one of the puppet sequences. This is quite a long one, edited by Pete Telfer and me, and from which only fragments were selected for the performance. (I wanted enough footage available at rehearsals to be able to choose the best bits.)
This is a hybrid puppet technique drawing on mixed traditions. The skeletal horse is similar in construction to the articulated paper figures made by Lotte Reiniger for her silhouette films, though with the addition of control-rods.
Made of thin card loosely held together with brads and loops of button-thread, mine is a flimsy thing that couldn’t be manipulated against a vertical screen like a regular shadow-puppet. (It wold flop about like washing drying on a too-loose line!) I originally intended for it to be worked on a horizontal playing-board, but in tests decided to slope the board downwards so that gravity would persistently pull the figure away from the puppeteers. Ann Prior and I operated the puppet, and the sheet of muslin in the sequence was expertly waved about by my old friends Mike and Susie Savage, who innocently turned up for lunch with their daughters one day and were immediately requisitioned to be our special-effects team!
Cameraman Pete Telfer filmed the board from a high angle (see above) with the puppet upside-down through his viewfinder. When turned the right way up and back-to-front and projected onto a verical screen, the puppet action has a floating quality that makes it far more like an apparition than a horse.
We only briefly considered ways of removing the control-rods from the final imagery, before realising that we weren’t trying to create some CGI creature for a big-budget film, and that the visible techniques of the puppetry were all a part of the character and beauty of the sequence. You have to know when to leave things a little bit messy!
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that is one terrifying horse….
Thanks for posting this. Eerie and beautiful. The techniques you’ve developed for this piece are so effective. I’m so drawn to doing something similar for the puppet challenge!
It all kind of evolved from the process of maquette making. Originally I’d been determined to make a three-dimensional puppet to be operated in a water-tank. However before I got working on it I ran a few stop-motion and ‘rodded’ tests with the maquette to figure out how locomotion for the finished Mari might work/look, and somehow became so enchanted by the results that I never pursued the ‘water-puppet’ I’d planned.
Fabulously ethereal and beautiful…the sort of horse that appears in dreams and disappears with the dawn. Wonderful!
Ha ha! Well it’s not very often that my explorations of the Mari Lwyd have been called ‘beautiful’… in fact, I think probably not at all… and here you and Phil have both used the word.
I’m very pleased that you think so. I aspired to beauty in the work, but have become accustomed to people being disturbed rather than seduced by the eerie beauty of the phantom horse. This is an interesting change of perception. Thank you.