Review – Manual Cinema’s “Ada/Ava”

Last week “Manual Cinema” (for whom I have ever increasing respect and admiration) decided to stream a video recording of their live theatre show “Ada/Ava” for free. I watched it through twice and was delighted to see that it included a little behind the scenes video at the end for the benefit of online viewers as a replacement for the usual live demonstration that they do for live audience members at their shows.

I will not explain the full modus operandi of the theatre company and this particular show, as the video above (which I found subsequently) says it all, really.

The breakthrough “aha” moment for me was discovering that they use multiple OHPs to achieve the cinematic “cut” effects live.

I was aware that it is possible to get a layering effect with multiple shadows by using more than one light source at the same time, but the idea of using more than one OHP to do this simply never occurred to me before.

I have also seen the use of live actors combined with shadow puppets before and shadow head pieces. This was a particularly good choice for this story because it meant that the facial features of the actors not only matched the puppet versions of the same character but that they could use non-identical actors to portray the identical twin sisters.

I liked the fact that nothing was done just for the sake of being clever – everything was done to serve the story arc. However, many clever effects were used for the right reasons (e.g. to create dream like or supernatural effects or to show the distorted reflections in the “Mirror Maze”). As it says in the video above a lot of the silhouettes and puppet mechanisms are very simple but are used well in combination with everything else to create powerful and rich story-telling.

I liked the blurring between the world of reality and the world of the supernatural/dream state and this is something that could be achieved very well through this medium. The way that the ordinary every day routine was set up so meticulously at the beginning of the story really pays dividends once everything starts to unravel for Ada. Supernatural effects need a contrast with ordinary reality to make them effective and the ordinary reality for the twins was set-up with wonderful care at the beginning (even if it was an unusual old-fashioned Gothic sort of existence as lighthouse keepers in an exposed and isolated location).

There was also carefully chosen use of colour in the show. Ada and Ava’s life in the lighthouse being largely monochrome and colour being used for the bright new goods at the “Boxmart” and for the carnival lights and backgrounds etc. The sky and seascapes/backgrounds also used colour whilst the puppets were kept as black silhouettes. They used their computer to print out photorealistic backgrounds on acetate for most of these.

I was also particularly impressed with the effects the created of the signs made from illuminated lights at the fairground. It strikes me as particularly clever to create lights using shadow puppets and I am almost 100% sure I know how they did it.

I was also very pleased that everything turned out right for Ada in the end. There was a point in the plot where the audience are left wondering if Ada is going to be tempted into suicide in order to re-join her sister. I am generally only a fan of horror/violence if it a prelude to a moral or a happy ending. What is the point of a story if not to give us an emotional lift and sense of resolution and satisfaction? The way we perceive reality is coloured by the stories we tell ourselves about it and if we constantly tell ourselves the world is a dark, dangerous and negative place then that is how everything will seem to us. I am glad to say that in this story she comes to terms with the death of her sister and is able to move on and be her individual self but also to remember and treasure her sister at the same time.

A big THANK-YOU from me (and my husband Tim Austin who also watched it) to “Manual Cinema” for their generosity in sharing this video with everyone for free and for sharing the techniques that they used. It has given us much food for thought as well as wonderful entertainment. What a wonderful set of talented folk! I don’t normally do stars with my reviews, but if I did, it would be 5 stars from me πŸ˜ŠπŸ‘βœ³βœ³βœ³βœ³βœ³.

It was also Manual Cinema that created the Candyman film trailer that gave us a lot of inspiration for our current online shadow puppet series that we are working on:

We are still working on a funding application for “The Secret Keeper” at present so work is paused on that for a while (as they do not fund work retrospectively). As soon as there are any developments on that I will let you all know 🀞.

Making the Profile Police Chief Lip-Synch Shadow Puppet

The Police-chief design is meant to look futuristic but also firmly routed in present day military and police uniforms and body armour. I also wanted the design to obviously be a version of the British Police uniform because the story is set in a future version of the U.K. That said I also took some inspiration from the uniforms of other countries and a bit of sci-fi. You can draw your own conclusions on what those inspirations were but the very outsized hat was a deliberate choice.

The character has what you might call “small man” syndrome and feels he has to compensate with big status symbols (Hat and body armour). The other regular police officers/underlings will not have hats like this.

The uniform and hat also have the emblem of the City on them (a stylised phoenix) which you will see in lots of places in the course of the story.

I chose the same nodding mechanism design as I had used for “our hero” (the head pivoting on the neck rather than the neck pivoting on the body as I chose for the Prime Minister) as with the high collar on the uniform, this character would not have a lot of free movement of his neck.

This character has very close cropped hair or stubble and I was not quite sure how to achieve this at first but I am happy with the finished effect. The fact that the hat covers most of his head meant I did not have to do too much stubble cutting out!

We have now got a producer on board and we are looking for funding for the project. We are firstly aiming to secure some R&D money to produce the first 10 minute episode. This means, sadly that I will have to pause the making side of things for a while (as anything we do before securing the funding we will not get paid for). I will however be able to blog about other things and keep you up to date and progress (if any) with “The Secret Keeper” show.

In the meantime, if you would like to make a donation towards the project please use the donations box below:

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Thanks so much for contributing to our work! πŸ˜ƒπŸ‘

Thanks so much for contributing to our work! πŸ˜ƒπŸ‘

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Making the face-on puppet of our “Secret Keeper” Hero!

As I wanted the character to have white hair I had made the decision to make most of the hair as a cut-away so that it would appear as light as possible when I made the previous “in profile” puppet. For this one, however, there was rather more hair to cut as the head is bigger! It was a bit challenging to cut out such curly hair but it felt like less of a slog than the pin-stripe pattern on the Prime Minister puppets!

I found it relatively easy to transfer the profile image of this character into a front facing drawing but realised after drawing it that the glasses the character wears could be problematic when the eyelid/eyebrow pieces are in position as they will obscure the top part of the frames. I worked out, however, that the frames would appear in silhouette as the clear eyebrows pass over the top of them if I made the glasses frames as a solid shape and the eyebrows as a cut away shape. We tried out the eyebrows in different positions to see if this worked and both Tim and I were satisfied that this was effective.

What I am not sure about is whether the shape of the eyebrow/eyelid pieces and the lower lip needs to be changed as the character is looking permanently grumpy regardless of the eyebrow/lid position. I had spent so much time trying to get the puppet right by this stage though that I decided to leave the puppet looking grumpy for now and sort this issue out later if necessary.

I’ve just realised I didn’t include any pictures with the eyeballs in position, as I forgot to take any! So that’s something to look forward to for another time 😊.

If you would like to make any comments or have any questions, please do so at the bottom of the post!

If you would like to contribute towards this project please feel free to give a donation below (many thanks!) :

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Thanks so much for contributing to our work! πŸ˜ƒπŸ‘

Thanks so much for contributing to our work! πŸ˜ƒπŸ‘

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Making “Our Hero” In Profile Puppet

I was completely happy with my original drawing of the head for “Our Hero” (otherwise known as the mystery solving librarian or “Secret Keeper” from the title of the series). This is his “at home” lounging round the house look. I managed to blow up the image on my copier so that it was exactly the right size relative to the “in profile” Prime Minister puppet.

Having completed the head I re-drew the torso as the original drawing was a bit sketchy and lacking in detail. I also wanted to show him in a profile rather than 3/4 view. I’m not sure if the finished image isn’t slightly on the skew, but I knew I was happy with it, (whether it was a true profile view or not).

I decided that “Our Hero”‘s character called for a more upright stance than the Prime Minister so decided to create a head nodding action in a different way. The Prime Minister has a head and neck joined together and the whole neck pivots forward and backward on the body. This time I made the decision to have a rigid neck with the head pivoting forward and backward on the neck (I hope that makes sense – if not look at the pictures). It made it a little more challenging to join the joints on the jaw and neck as the pivot points for both were quite close together. I am creating the joints using thick thread (the same kind as I use for the joints on the miniature shadow puppets in my Shadow Puppet Suitcase shows) which is knotted on both sides of the joint.

I secured the jaw shut with elastic in the same way as with the Prime Minister (which still allows the mouth to be opened when he needs to talk). The joint is not very flat because the elastic knot is quite big but the shadow on the screen looks fine.

Please feel free to ask questions or make a comment on the post (there is a reply box right at the bottom) and if you would like contribute towards the project you can make a donation below:

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Thanks so much for contributing to our work! πŸ˜ƒπŸ‘

Thanks so much for contributing to our work! πŸ˜ƒπŸ‘

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Open for Donations πŸ˜ƒπŸ‘

Hi everyone, as you probably already know in these difficult times I have been trying to bring a new revenue stream into our Rough Magic Theatre pot by monetising my blog. I created certain content that was subscriber only and which could be viewed by people willing to contribute a regular monthly amount.

I have been finding that it is an awful lot of extra work creating 2 separate lots of content so this is taking away precious time from actually being able to get on with our latest project “The Secret Keeper”. In addition to this I am going to fess up now that I have not had a single subscriber so far.

So as the subscription system doesn’t seem to be working, I am going to try offering all of the content to everyone for free but include a donations button so that anyone who would like to contribute towards the making of the show can do so. I am leaving all payment options open so people can choose a suggested one off payment amount or put in an amount of their choosing. People can also choose to contribute regularly if they wish with a monthly or annual payment.

If you go back through the posts for “The Secret Keeper” that I already created you should now be able to access all of the previously “subscriber only” content for free. See the list below to click through and see the content you have missed:

Behind the Scenes with the Secret Keeper

More Behind the Scenes with the Secret Keeper

More Explosions

Experiments in the Puppet Closet

Writing “The Secret Keeper” – Part 2

Making the Prime Minister

Creating the “Face-On” Prime Minister Puppet

If you enjoy it, I would appreciate a donation of whatever you feel you can afford. If you can’t afford anything, that’s fine but if you can,…

Many thanks everybody and please share this post with your friends.

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Thanks so much for contributing to our work! πŸ˜ƒπŸ‘

Thanks so much for contributing to our work! πŸ˜ƒπŸ‘

Thanks so much for contributing to our work! πŸ˜ƒπŸ‘

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