Tests and Introductions: My Professional Placement

Good day, everyone!

This is my first time posting here so I’ll introduce myself right quick. My name is Eric Kanius and I’m a student at the University of Regina taking film and video production. I have one year left to get my degree, so it’s very exciting stuff. Since my time in school is potentially ending soon I decided that, instead of taking the regular old humdrum classes, I would broaden my horizons and look for more exciting things to do. So when an opportunity arose to get a professional placement at the Filmpool, I jumped at it.

Chrystene and I Blow Flour on the Rooftops

Now, I get the amazing ability to work with artist-in-residence Chrystene Ells in the “Puppetworks” studio below the Filmpool offices. Chrystene is a pro on many levels including puppet making, painting, drawing and all sorts of neat stuff that you can check out on her website.

What we do in the Puppetworks are many splendid things. “Smoke and Mirrors” is the theme of the third set of workshops currently being put on by Chrystene and the Filmpool in the Puppetworks studio. It focuses on special effects in puppet films like green screen and stuff done in programs like After Effects, moving slightly away from the purely analogue nature of the previous two workshops. What this gets us is a whole lot of testing to see what we have to do in order to get the intended result. Below is an example of how a baby puppet in front of a green screen, flour being blown around, and a saucy picture found on the internet can be turned into a crazy weather report:

That’s just one example of what I’m helping Chrystene with at the Puppetworks. The flour was our first test for what to use as smoke in the puppet film Chrystene is working on. What ended up working better for us was incense in front of a black background. It was put into a shot of an awesome oil painting Chrystene did and pieces of paper floating through the air on green screen.

All of these tests just open the possibilities of what can be done with these films. The hands on nature of puppetry has really swept me away into doing whatever I can think of. It is a look that is wholly its own and I’m really starting to fall for it. Luckily for me, Chrystene is allowing me to make my own puppet film as part of the work placement.

The general theme for these puppet films is Saskatchewan history. Going through the prairie history room in the downtown Regina Public Library I happened upon a book entitled Those Were the Days. It is about the town of MacNutt and surrounding area. In the beginning are the autobiographical memoirs of John A. Sawkey. He was the principal of the school in MacNutt during the 60s and is the one who created the book. From his “exciting” tales of employee mischief I extrapolated a tale of wonder and adventure as Sawkey comes out of a shallow grave to get the job of principal by force in a western-like tale of revenge.

Using the shadow puppets on an overhead projector I was able to remove the white background and keep the shadows. With this and a few tricks in After Effects I’m able to create a layered environment as Sawkey and his dog walk across the prairies. The problem now? Learning how to walk.

All three attempts have their own quirks, but it’s fun to play around with everything. This also pretty much encapsulates my time so far at the Puppetworks. I’ve never made a puppet film before and I don’t possess natural artistic skills when it comes to making things like puppets so it’s all new territory. It’s always a good time to venture into unexplored lands in filmmaking, or in anything, and this is no exception.

But, I’ll have to leave it at that for now. We can talk about fabrication next time and how I coerced someone to do the art for me. They’ll get all the credit they deserve though, so don’t worry. I’ll keep you posted on the goings on in the Puppetworks so check back soon!

-Eric Kanius

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