Portfolio of Kimberly Johans

A collection of articles created during my stint as a journalist at The Macau Daily Times

Social and political themes are part of the puppet animator’s kit

Posted by Kimberly on August 14, 2007

By Kimberly Johans
Published in The Macau Daily Times
August 14, 2007, page 5 (826 words)

Finnish puppet animator Katariina Lillqvist is determined to hold on to the origins of animation, even in the face of conglomerates such as Dreamworks and Pixar.
“Only last year I started to work with a digital camera,” she says, up to this point having used 35mm film with a “classic Czech camera and laboratory work.”
“The world is changing and it seems that the digital material is so much cheaper than classical film. “Only seldom can we go on traditional material but I am happy that the tradition will be alive,” she adds.
The 44-year-old has been a part of the animation industry for the past 20 years, having begun her training after receiving a grant for further studies in Prague.
“I got to study as a trainee in the famous [Jiri] Trnka Studio in Prague in the 1990s and there I made my first film in 1991, ‘Rider on the bucket’, adding that “it’s also going to be filmed here at the festival, so it’s already 16 years old,” she says.
Katariina doesn’t shy away from serious social and political issues, creating animations about Sarajevo refugees, the legend of St Ksenia of St Petersburg and a series for kids focussing on the Romany minority in Europe.
“We have been using this series as a tool for raising free education in many countries and the results are very impressive,” she says.
She’s currently working on a piece with Tehran girls highlighting women’s rights.
An animator for both children and adults, she brought along two of her puppets for illustration.
“This character [the skeletal ghost] is a symbol for my horror films for adults,” she says, while the bear, which took one month to make, is from her new film, ‘Butterfly from Ural’, created by a puppet maker in Prague that specialise in animals.
She adds that all the puppets are hand-made, still relying on very traditional skills.
‘Even when we use the most modern techniques we still make the puppets by hand and so I think there’s a big difference,” she says.
“We have ten puppet makers in our team. One guy is making the skeletons. the joints are completely moveable.
“Another one is making the hands only. You can even move the fingers. The head is from a special material,” she says.
The puppets are 30cm in height, so the houses created for them tend to be about one metre.
With the creation of a whole town needing the size of a big studio to work with, “we need quite a lot of space.
“If you do something like computer animation you can go with a small space but puppet animation really needs a bigger space with lots of lamps.
“Our puppets are like actors: they needs headlights!” she adds, so the process ends up being an expensive one.
A good character puppet can take two weeks and ten people to create, while a half hour animation can take two years to create.
“My last film took four years because we had an extremely hard time getting the grants together,” she says, adding that on a good day, the animators can get 10 seconds of material.
“During one week we can get one minute, if everything goes very smoothly,” she adds.
Katariina will be hosting a puppet workshop this Sunday at the Macau Cultural Centre to showcase films such as Jiri Barta’s Pied Piper as well as discussing movement and story telling.

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