stop-motion in action

After months of preparation, we have begun animating! My husband Rob and I have wanted to try out this technique for years, but life just got in the way. Lately, the Wee Folk Players (They’re a Stitch) theater troupe has inspired us to bring these little characters to life through the magic of stop-motion animation. For the film, I’ve adapted and expanded a familiar cautionary tale to tell the story of our recent presidential election.

The learning curve is steep, but we are committed to working through the hurtles that are sure to come. A retired engineer, Rob’s technical expertise with photography and computers is integral to the success of the project. Animation is a marriage of art and science, so we are quite dependent on each other. We’re both detail oriented, so I hope we will have the kind of patience this process demands. It’s also fortunate that neither of us are big talkers, as chit chat would ruin our concentration. We got a little taste for animation while filming Mr. Pence Goes to Washington and want to bring our storytelling to a whole new level of professionalism.

First, I thought the whole thing through in my mind and mapped out the progression of the film on paper, scene by scene. The story board shows the overall plan, with rough illustrations and descriptions for each shot. There are 15 scenes, each with several shots, so we’ll be filming from 75 to 100 different camera angles.

I wanted the scenery to be adaptable and free-standing, so it can be rearranged in different setups. When making the tree leaves, I used thick thread and tried for a loose, playful effect.

I’ve been saving interesting vines for years to make trees like this.

With the exception of the hands, the characters’ heads and armatures are made the same way as the wee folk dolls in my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk. Their heads are not glued to the neck, so they can swivel back and forth. Their pipe cleaner arms and legs move in different positions, too.

I used a variety of materials for the sets, including cardboard.

To decorate, I got out my stash of gems and jewels and discovered the joys of glitter glue.

For now, we’re not sure how long the filming will take or how many minutes the finished video will be. At 24 frames per second, progress is very slow. For each frame, I have to move the figures 1/16th of an inch! We’ve learned so much by practicing and feel ready to forge ahead. We laugh when we play back the scenes and see the characters move. We’re aiming for a dark comedy, full of cameo appearances. Now, we just have to stay focused and not rush the process. It has become clear that, in animation, diligence and methodical attention is rewarded.

It seemed like I came up with new ideas for props every day, like this balalaika for one of the cast members.

We set up a mini theater in the basement, with lights and a black cloth floor and backdrop. It figures that just as the weather gets warm, we a will be staked out underground. But we have toys to play with, including a new 3 ft. slider that allows you to pan a scene, one frame at a time. I love how the movement adds life to an otherwise static setup!

Another method we’re trying involves wire rigging that holds the figures upright. For research, we’ve looked at videos that show how professional animation studios do their work. Their sets and equipment are impressive and it’s intimidating to see the amount of people these productions employ. With just the two of us, it often feels like we’re in over our heads, but having only a pair of personalities to deal with can be an advantage.

Of course, my style is not slick and we want to feature the natural found objects and hand made quality of the scenery and characters. The project is both exciting and daunting, but we feel it is important to bring this story to life, one step at a time. I’m not sure how much I’ll show during the filming, since I don’t want to give everything away, but I may share photos from time to time on Instagram and Facebook. Wish us luck, as we enter the deep, dark forest!

To keep up with new posts, subscribe to this blog (top right column on the home page). And to find out about my post-election satire, please read  this interview.

Family Intervention

Inspired by this week’s White House meltdown, the Wee Folk Players (They’re a Stitch)  bring you this domestic tableau. For the impromptu skit, the leading man borrowed an appropriate period costume from wardrobe and the backstage crew quickly dressed the set with existing props.

As the saga unfolds, one burning question lingers — Will the family finally step in and save their loved one from himself? Perhaps there’s a chance he’ll listen, since they are the only ones he trusts with undying loyalty. Of course, he will kick and scream, but sometimes you have to take the bull by the horns. Please, if not on his behalf, then for the sake of the country (and the world)!

The Wee Folk Players (They’re a Stitch) formed after the 2016 election and have produced a string of episodes in the American Drama Series. To keep up with new posts, subscribe to this blog (top right column on the home page). And to find out about Salley Mavor’s post-election satire, please read this interview.

Abraham’s Lament

The Wee Folk Players (They’re a Stitch) take a pause from high drama to bring you a present day interpretation of Abraham Lincoln’s frequently quoted and insightful words. Reflecting the pensive mood of this scene, the one man (and bird) show is staged with a minimal naturalistic set.

The makeup department used reference photos to create a likeness to Mr. Lincoln and the wardrobe mistress made their first stove pipe hat…

and the Tweeter-in-chief was appropriately cut down to size.

The Wee Folk Players (They’re a Stitch) formed after the 2016 election and have produced a string of episodes in the American Drama Series. To keep up with new posts, subscribe to this blog (top right column on the home page). And to find out about Salley Mavor’s post-election satire, please read this interview.

play therapy

On the occasion of the new administration reaching its first 100 days mark, the wardrobe mistress, makeup artist, set builder, and casting director of the Wee Folk Players (They’re a Stitch) steps out from behind the curtain. In the following interview, I (Salley Mavor) reflect on my foray into political satire, talk about how I deal with critics, and describe how speaking out through art has affected my work and life. I answer questions about subjects my followers have been curious about over the past few months and also reveal what’s next for the theater troupe.

Salley making trees for a stop-motion animation project

How did the Wee Folk Players come about?
The theater troupe evolved naturally in the first days after the presidential election. I did what I always do when distressing events loom large — I occupy my mind with creative thoughts and ideas about what to make and how to do it. Lying sleepless in the dark, I imagined wee folk characters acting out scenarios with pithy captions, like in New Yorker cartoons. The unfolding political drama seemed to translate seamlessly into little vignettes with ironic twists. I read the news from a less emotional and more analytical point of view, picking up on the terrifying absurdity of it all. During dinner, I tested out possible parodies and punch lines on my husband Rob, to see if he laughed. Soon, I was making a growing cast of characters with removable heads that fit on a variety of bodies and costumes. For a stage set, I unearthed my old doll house and Rob took photos. Every news cycle presented a surplus of ideas for more episodes in the series. The project took over to the point where I had to postpone starting a new children’s book that has been in the pipeline for a while. In the past 6 months, I’ve published about one installment a week on this blog, which are listed at the end of this post. Our creative partnership continues to evolve and Rob and I are currently working on a stop-motion animated video that includes many of the Wee Folk Players.

Spicey the Press Secretary bends over backwards to please the boss.

How did you go from making sweet fairies to political satire?
All along, I’ve said that the fairies made me do it. Fairies aren’t really sweet, but feisty, mischievous creatures who tease and prod. So they were just doing their job, acting as inner voices or muses, coaxing me to follow my path as an artist. For the past few years, I’ve felt a push to make art that addresses topical events, so in a way, I was ready to jump into the fray. I usually avoid confrontation, but this election hit me in the gut so hard, I knew I couldn’t sit idly by, hoping it would all work out without getting involved. Almost immediately, the new administration’s antics unleashed my comical side and inspired a flood of creative ideas. It’s been said that ridicule is one of the best weapons against bombastic authoritarians, so I figured it was worth a try.

Will you get over the election and go back to making fairies?
Some of my fans are probably wondering when this seemingly never-ending preoccupation of mine will run its course, so that we can all return to a non-threatening fairy land. I can certainly understand the need to escape into fantasy, but it doesn’t feel safe for the fairies to come out yet. Even if they did, they’d first have to gird up their loins. In the meantime, the wee folk are freely exploring new territory. Maybe it’s not so sad to leave the land of innocence. It can be liberating to branch out and move through the world with one’s eyes wide open, with more of a sense of purpose (and humor, too).

set for “Coffee Break”

Isn’t it risky to take a political stand while running a business?
I’ve always been politically neutral on professional platforms, so sharing my reaction to the election was a major shift. In the past I would’ve stayed silent out of fear of alienating someone. In this case, the artist in me won out over my pragmatic business side. I’ve become more outspoken with age and feel that if I’m ever going to break out of complacency, now is the time! I knew full well that some of my followers would be turned off, but decided it was worth the risk. I believe that trying to please everyone can stifle artistic growth and now more than ever, it seems most urgent to shed light. We must keep creating art that recognizes and reflects the irony and tragedy, as well as the beauty of the world we live in. Expressing myself through art is how I’ve dealt with the angst lurking inside and I’ve since learned that it’s also helping people cope with PTSD (Post-election Trump Stress Disorder). At first, my satire created quite a stir, which I addressed in a message to my followers. It’s an invitation to come along on my search for understanding of the real world around us, as I strive to make art that speaks from the heart, in my own way. For those who feel that they can’t come along, I say make your own art that reflects the world the way you see it.

Yes, I’ve lost fans, some out of frustration and anger, but I also suspect some people have left because they find it unpleasant to be constantly reminded of the whole fiasco. I find laughter to be very beneficial, but not everyone gets my jokes or thinks what I do is funny. (I discuss dealing with criticism further ahead in the interview.) At the same time, more people than ever are finding out about my work because of this series. I hold no illusion that the Wee Folk Players will change anyone’s mind, but rather hope their performances serve as a balm to those who enjoy my particular brand of humor. Sure, it’s preaching to the choir, but we need to sing loudly in this brave new world!

What is compelling about a doll house sized theater and cast of characters?
Even though it’s clearly play therapy, I just love the excuse to fuss over my doll house! This gray-haired lady is truly at home combing through miniatures, rearranging furniture and decorating rooms to suit each scene. Finally, a use for a doll house that has been practically untouched since I made it 40 years ago! Besides the cathartic benefits of controlling and manipulating doll house sized characters, there’s the cuteness factor. Everything looks so innocent to the unsuspecting eye, until you look closely and see what’s going on in those precious little setups! There’s something satisfying and even subversive about having everyone cut down to size — especially boastful, grandiose personalities who are dangerously delusional. We loom large over them, as they are exposed and held captive in miniature scale and for a moment, their power is diminished.

setting up “Palace Intrigue”

What’s it like to copy likenesses of unlikable characters?
For me, the process of making dolls is a way to confront and engage with people and situations that scare and upset me. Just the process of researching and painting their faces can be therapeutic. Some wonder how I can put so much love and care into rendering portraits of people I obviously do not admire. One person commented that these individuals don’t deserve my attention and it’s a waste of my talent. Others think my portrayals should be more exaggerated and less attractive, but my style tends to be on the subtle side, instead of grotesque caricature. I actually think that the juxtaposition of “cute” little characters playing out the horrific real life political drama is more incongruous. It’s also comforting to hold and manipulate the figures and choose their outfits. Then you can put them in compromising positions and make them say and do what you want!

How do you deal with criticism?
This has been the most stressful and educational part of the experience. Over time, I’ve become more used to the controversy this series has caused and see it as an important part of understanding and coming to terms with the starkly different ways people in our country live and believe. It’s also refreshing that my new work is generating discussion about content rather than technique, which in my opinion, is over-emphasized when talking about fiber art.

I knew that my scenarios would stir debate, but I wasn’t prepared for the intensity of the responses, both positive and negative. In the beginning, there were a lot of complaints from followers who were upset with my parodies, which they described as disrespectful and divisive. I’ve been told that I’m not qualified to have a political opinion and that I should leave the country if I don’t like it. My favorite was from a woman who said she was throwing my book in the recycling bin! Many act like exasperated parents scolding a naughty child, saying that what I’m doing is disappointing and unbecoming. I cannot lie and say these comments didn’t sting at first. I tell myself that this is what to expect when you do the unexpected. I usually post negative comments as long as they are civil, but I’ve learned to wait before answering them, so I can be as thoughtful as I can, without succumbing to the temptation to argue back. I try to acknowledge people as individuals and not make them wrong for having the reaction they have. After all, they are exposing themselves as well. On the other hand, I am encouraged by and thankful for the overwhelmingly positive feedback that keeps coming in!

What have you learned from the Wee Folk Players?
This quirky ensemble has taught me that the power of storytelling should not be underestimated. I am grateful that their voices and actions serve as an outlet for expressing what is going on my head and heart. Throughout this series, I have learned to trust my creative impulses and have discovered that speaking out has more benefits than downsides. I have come to know that every theater group needs an audience and that the Players have the best cheering section ever! And they have taught me to be more appreciative and protective of the rights and privileges we enjoy as Americans.

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Do you plan to make a book with photos from the series?
Many people have suggested the idea of publishing a book with photos of the Wee Folk Players. While I have thought about it and think it would be great, sending out proposals and doing the necessary work to find a suitable publisher requires time and focus that I don’t have right now. I know that I do not want to self publish and all of my connections are in children’s book publishing, which is a different category all together. Right now, I’m in making mode, which can be all-consuming and in direct conflict with promotional impulses. But, if there’s a publisher or editor out there who’s interested, please get in touch.

What’s next for the Wee Folk Players?
More material is coming, including an episode with guest star Abraham Lincoln, but the troupe will soon have to go into recess. I’ve felt committed to keeping the series going through these tumultuous months, but now need to get to work on a long-delayed children’s book, which I really can’t show in any detail until it’s published in a few years. That doesn’t mean the Players are completely folding up their tent. Rob and I are currently working on location in the basement, filming a stop-motion animated video. It’s a political take-off of a cautionary tale that you will all find familiar. We are at the very early stages of the project, which will require an immense amount of time and patience. I just hope our marriage survives the process! We don’t know when the film will be finished and ready to show, but you can be sure that it will debut before the next presidential election!

Please scroll down to see a complete list with links to all Wee Folk Players episodes. To keep up with new posts, subscribe to this blog (top right column on the home page). And for a wide-ranging look at new and old material from my studio, please follow along on Instagram and Facebook.

set construction for stop-motion animation project

Episodes in the American Drama Series:
Click on titles to see individual posts with photos, videos and corresponding commentary. For the complete Wee Folk Players archive click here.

DECEMBER 2016: the fairies made me do it,  Flat Earth Society, The internet today5 Stages of Post-Election Grief, It’s going to be SO beautiful!

JANUARY 2017: Women’s MarchMr. Pence goes to Washington,
The Great American BallFireside Chat

FEBRUARY 2017: Chaos Advisory, Civics LessonWell Suited,
Strategy Session, Coffee Break

MARCH 2017: Little Red, White and BlueTap Dance, Wonderland ex-Press, Artificial Intelligence, Nightmare on Pennsylvania Ave.

APRIL 2017: March for Science,  Class Outing, Palace Intrigue, Backstage Tour

MAY 2017: Abraham’s Lament, Family Intervention

Backstage Tour

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Oh, theater people can be so wonderfully impossible! Somehow the Wee Folk Players (they’re a stitch) stayed together in one spot long enough to take a group photo. It didn’t take long before the cast and crew rushed back to work on the next episode in their American Drama Series. I know that you like to see private glimpses of the stars backstage, so here are some candid shots of the troupe in action.

Leading strongmen left their egos in check and helped move rugs…

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and co-stars lent a hand sifting through and organizing the store room…

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and hauled props to their spot on the set.

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Costumes were fitted by the wardrobe mistress.

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And here, Abe Lincoln gets made up before his appearance as the guest star in an upcoming episode.

Next week, the creative director of the Wee Folk Players will step out from behind the curtain and answer questions about how this series has affected her work and life, and reveal what’s next for the troupe.

backstageabe

The Wee Folk Players (They’re a Stitch) formed after the 2016 election and have produced a string of episodes in the American Drama Series. To keep up with new posts, subscribe to this blog (top right column on the home page). For a wide ranging look at new and old material from my studio, please follow along on Instagram and Facebook. And to find out about Salley Mavor’s post-election satire, please read this interview.

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Palace intrigue

The Wee Folk Players (They’re a Stitch) never turn down an opportunity to tackle a period piece, especially a court drama so full of grandiosity and spectacle. The troupe dove head first into making costumes and a set for this scene in the throne room/banquet area of the royal palace.

Supporting actors were brought up from the castle dungeon to play their roles as royal apologists. Knees shaking, they demure to his majesty, who guards his claim to the throne, declaring “I rated 5 stars and you didn’t!”. Just ask the royal chief strategist, lurking in the shadows with staff in alt-right hand, awaiting his fate after irking and upstaging the leading man. The court is teaming with suspense over whose head(s) will be the next to roll!

Meanwhile, the wardrobe department had their hands full fitting and dressing the cast in regal attire.

On the set, the director staged the actors for maximum dramatic effect.

Between rehearsals, the Wee Folk Players took a well deserved break backstage.

What royal table is complete without a bowl of grapes? Cast members kept trying to nibble a few, only to find out they were as hard as glass! It can be a challenge to figure out what is real and what is fake around here!

The Wee Folk Players (They’re a Stitch) formed after the 2016 election and have produced a string of episodes in the American Drama Series. To keep up with new posts, subscribe to this blog (top right column on the home page). For a wide ranging look at new and old material from my studio, please follow along on Instagram and Facebook. And to find out about Salley Mavor’s post-election satire, please read this interview.

Needle Nonsense revisit

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While cleaning up my studio last summer, I came across a plastic bag full of small characters and other props I’d made years ago. The items were used in place of words in a rebus I wrote and illustrated sometime around 2000 for Threads Magazine’s Closures page.

Since then, I’ve shared cell phone photos on Instagram and Facebook of little things I’ve found around my studio. The easiest way to do this was to hold them in my left hand while clicking the camera with my right hand. I realized that showing the scale of these tiny objects with a human hand as a reference point makes you see them differently. The uptick in viewer responses to these images led me to look for more small scale items to photograph in my fingers.

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I looked at the printed rebus again and noticed how the images floating on the white page give no sense of scale. Other than the found objects like the buttons, needle and spools of thread, there’s no way of knowing the real size of the handmade objects.

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With these new photos, you can see just how small everything is.

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