Tuesday, March 2, 2010...9:37 pm
Behind the scenes: Doctor Knowgood part 3
In another slice of Indonesian puppet animation, Arnold Zwanenburg (below with his set) discusses the making of props and sets for his production of Doctor Knowgood – the story of a know-all monkey in a lab coat – and how the local environment inspired his creativity.
Tell me about your props and sets – has being in Indonesia influenced or inspired you? What materials have you used – and what has been your biggest challenge?
Indonesia is vibrating with life. It is impossible not to have some kind of effect on you. Animals are everywhere, even around the house: chickens, sheep, pigeons, singing birds, but also rats, ants and sometimes the 5cm big cockroaches. Everytime you move, something in the corner of your eye is shooting away. Sometimes you have to be careful not to crush it: one day I found a snail moving across the stairs with its house as big as a chicken egg. A mansion more like, for his size!
For the set the house where I stay has inspired me directly, it’s such a beautiful place. We use water from a 15m deep well. Tropical plants fill a small garden next to the kitchen. There you often find a beautiful green and orange striped gecko staring at you from its spot on the ceiling. As I am writing this from my bedroom a bat just flew over, and escaped in the night through the open shutters. There is a bit of magic here.
Before coming to Indonesia I decided that the monkey would be living in some kind of colonial building. It would be abandoned by people and partly taken over by plants. Inspiration for colonial buildings would be easy to find here, I thought. I didn’t expect it to have it right in my bedroom. The shutters are copied straight from there (see original, right, and the model, below). I made a technical drawing for it, and modeler Ade materialised them in wood 8 times smaller. It looks perfect! With these shutters I would have some light coming in without having to make an outside directly.
The plants in my house have found a place in the monkey’s dwelling too (see pictures, below). I asked the modeler, Nino, to use aluminium wire for the stems, so I could animate them if a breeze would ever reach that corner… Not yet, but I’m sure one day it will. The puddle was made with clear resin. I thought of it as a still corner in the room that would set the mood.
Inspiration for the lift entrance (see pictures below) and the floor come from the sultan’s palace five minutes away from my house. In fact, all animation is shot from the sultan’s palace, as the studio is situated within the walled part of the city known as the Kraton, the sultan’s palace. Entering the small space of the studio does not feel so royal anymore, but it is well equiped with tools and materials. It’s the workshop of puppet theatre Papermoon, who were friendly enough to let me use their space and tools while they were traveling.
All the walls of the set are made of plywood, covered with plaster and painted. I asked Nino to find a way to really make cracks in the wall, not just to paint them on top. Somehow he managed to do exactly what I wanted, but how? He’s keeping the secret to himself.
Coffee is commenly used in the film world for aging props. So did we. Even the colour of the wall has been made with Java coffee. Always good to have around. And it has a great taste too.
I have been amazed by the talent of modelers here in Yogyakarta. It is very rewarding and stimulating to see what these people can make. This sink was finished yesterday by a third modeler called Fida (see pictures above). Notice the drop on the tap! He made a structure of aluminium wire, and moulded Milliput over it. Then sanded it and painted it with acrylic paint. The design came from an old pamphlet I found online.
Anaïs, who has come here to Indonesia with me, has made the beautiful paintings on the wall (see picture, right). She made them as small as they are, about 4×5 cm! Frames were ordered from an online doll house store.
My biggest challenge for the set was the animation table. I just couldn’t find the right plate of steel for it. I wanted a grille, a steel plate with a pattern of round holes to use as the table’s surface. During animation, screws or magnets would be used from under the table to attach the feet of the puppet to the table surface. Problem was, the steel plate I found was to so thin that it would bend if you lean on it. When I had bars welded under the steel plate it was a lot stronger. But now the table sometimes pops from a hollow position to a bulging position if you lean on it. With everything loose to the table jumping in the air. Big frustration!
A thicker grille (like 2mm instead of 1mm), would have been a solution but was simply not available. Glueing two plates together didn’t work. As a workaround, I fixed every prop to the table, and I now use a wooden bar over the table whenever I have to lean on it, like manouevring on thin ice. Other disturbing factors during animations are mosquito bites, the wet heat, and the little electroshocks I get from camera and laptop. Little tortures. But I have come this far, with this set – nothing will stop me now!