New Puppet Film – Waiting For Spring

Last month I created a short film for the 48 Hour Puppet Film Project. It was a fun and frantic experience to create a film in a weekend, as I’ve only made a few puppet films before. The final result, called Waiting For Spring, is about a little mouse who anxiously waits for spring, and is happy when it finally arrives. Here is the film, and below I’ll talk about how I made it.

The rules of the 48 Hour Puppet Film Project are that you can’t start until Friday evening, when you receive a list of three elements that the film must include. This year, the films had to include a specific theme – hope, a specific object – cardboard, and a specific action – jump. Upon receiving these at 9 PM on a Friday, I started thinking of ideas.

The inspiration came from the weather forecast for that weekend. We were getting a snowstorm on Saturday morning, and then a warm sunny day on Sunday when everything would melt. I came up with the idea for a mouse who is sadly watching the snow fall, and then later is happy when spring arrives. And I could take advantage of my backyard, which had many spring flowers already blooming.

I built the puppet Friday night, using materials I had on hand. I didn’t even have time to sew, it was held together with pins and tape. I also rigged up a flower pot with an opening in the back, to manipulate the puppet.

Saturday morning, I went out into the wet snow with my video camera and puppet, and experimented with different locations and camera angles to finally get my opening shots. I had to hurry because the snow was already starting to melt by 11:00.

That evening I edited the footage, and worked on the puppet to make it more sturdy. Usually when creating a new puppet, the puppeteer needs time to experiment with the movement, to figure out what the puppet can do, and how to manipulate it. I had almost no time for this, I had to experiment while actually filming. So many of the shots turned out poorly and couldn’t be used.

Most of the filming was done with me holding the video camera in one hand and holding the puppet in the other. I had intended the mouse to be a finger puppet, but I found it was nearly impossible to work the puppet this way without my hand being visible too. So I ended up using a stiff metal wire attached to the back of the puppet (which you can see in a few shots.) In a few instances, I put the camera down to move the puppet, or I put the puppet down to move the camera.

The filming on Sunday, after the snow melted, was a mad rush to get as many sunny shots as I could. Looking back, I wish I had more time to experiment with different locations, camera angles, and movements. I finished filming around 4:00, and rushed to edit the second half of the film, and also finish the music and sound.

The music was created with GarageBand, using the instruments that come with the program. I used the computer keyboard (“Musical Typing”) to type in the notes, and then adjusted them manually, since I made a lot of mistakes. After adding the music, I adjusted the shots again, to better fit the pacing of the score.

As the deadline of 9 PM on Sunday approached, I kept noticing small things that needed to be fixed, and each render took more time. So I missed the actual deadline, but I kept working all evening and finished very late that night.

This project was a great experience for me, because I’m usually a slow and methodical worker, and often start projects that I never finish. So this really got me to focus and get something done.

Hopefully it will inspire more film projects in the future!

Stuck On A Tree

Sticky Burr and friends sing Stuck On A Tree

When I’m not writing or drawing, I’ve been known to dabble in music. In my book Sticky Burr: Adventures in Burrwood Forest, the main character plays the ukulele and sings. I wrote a little song for the book and included the sheet music on the last page, hoping to encourage young musicians.

Stuck On A Tree musicOver the years, readers have asked me if there was a recording of the song that they could hear, and I’m happy to share an animated video of Sticky Burr and his friends singing “Stuck On A Tree.” This animation was originally created as part of my acceptance video for the Beverly Cleary Children’s Choice Award in Oregon a few years ago. You can see that full video here, and now you can also enjoy the song by itself, see below.

My brother Tony Lechner provided the voice of Sticky Burr and engineered the audio, with additional voices by Jill Connolly and John Melley. I did all the animation, and played the ukulele. Hope you enjoy it!

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The Artist, a silent film for the ages

The Artist movie posterI don’t usually write about films here, but I wanted to comment on The Artist, which is like a breath of fresh air in today’s movie landscape. As you probably know, it’s a silent film based on the style of classic films from the early 20th Century. If you’ve seen the trailer or previews, you know that it’s about a silent film star who struggles to make the transition to talking pictures. It’s comedy, melodrama, and film history rolled into one visually stunning package.

Silent films have a unique visual language all their own. The director of The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius, writes on the official website “As a director, a silent film makes you face your responsibilities. Everything is in the image, in the organization of the signals you’re sending to the audience. And it’s an emotional cinema, it’s sensational; the fact that there is no text brings you back to a basic way of telling a story that works only on the feelings you have created.”

In this way, silent films are a lot like picture books, where the images have to convey so much. And since the viewer has to interpret the images to understand the story, it’s a more internalized, intimate kind of storytelling than a film with audio.

But what makes this particular film appealing isn’t just the clever visual storytelling, it’s the story itself — about an artist, the fictional actor George Valentin, who falls down on his luck and must find his way back up again. The director states, “To me, it’s interesting to think of George’s story in terms of a human being in a transition period. The world is always moving, and you might be looking in another direction. One day, the world says to you, ‘you’re part of the past.’ It can happen in your own office, in your factory, in your relationship. It’s a feeling any person can understand.”

It’s rare for such a unique film as The Artist to receive such commercial success, and this in itself is worth cheering. It’s a great film if you’re a fan of classic cinema, silent films, or a good old-fashioned story. And if you happen to be an artist who feels a little bit discouraged with your life or career, well, it’s an inspiration.

Scene from The Artist

Scene from The Artist

Scene from The Artist

Scene from The Artist

Visit the official website for The Artist

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