‘Better do a thing than wish it done.’ Crowcombe, 1955 (Tongue, R. and Briggs, K. (1965). Somerset Folklore)

You may recall from my last blog post that I have been experimenting with the techniques used by Lotte Reiniger in creating her shadow animations and I promised to show you some of the techniques that she used to make her puppets.

Crowcombe bench end
The Crowcombe Dragon

For my first animation I have been focusing upon the dragon, illustrated on the bench end in Crowcombe Church. You can see from the photograph he is an extremely unusual dragon with a second head coming from his stomach. However, for reasons I will go into at another time, this dragon is quite relevant to the project and therefore my first puppet is an illustration of this strange creature.

Reiniger would cut all her silhouette figures with articulated limbs to provide as much movement as possible. In the early days the puppets would be cut entirely from thin rolled out lead, however this progressed to a combination of lead and cardboard.  Obviously at this point I need to point out that working with lead can cause health problems and therefore precautions need to be taken, alternatively let me work with the lead and you watch from the safety of your own home!

Silhouette Puppet of Crowcombe Dragon
Silhouette puppet of the Crowcombe Church Dragon in the style of Lotte Reiniger

I did find myself wondering why Reiniger would use the lead and whether it would be far easier to just use cardboard. However, I continued exactly as she directed and I hope you can see that the dragon’s thigh and base of his wing are cut from lead.  When lifting the puppet the lead can pull against the card requiring more support than if it was all made of card. This awkwardness made me doubt Reininger’s method. Yet, when I began animating the dragon I found the lead really helped to stop unwanted movement and keep the puppet flat on the glass.  It would be nice to find a more healthy alternative for the lead but I am not sure what this would be – feel free to send me any suggestions you may have.

Detail of Crowcombe Dragon
Detail of Silhouette Puppet showing figure of 8 hinges

You might also notice from the photos that Reiniger used her own method of hinging the limbs. This consisted of a figure of 8-wire hinge made from fuse wire. I could have used a paper craft split-pin and saved a huge amount of time but once again I wanted to do things by the book. Obviously modern fuse boxes don’t use fuse wire and it is expensive and difficult to get hold of. Therefore, I used jewellery wire, which is cheap and readily available. I am not going to post a ‘how to make wire hinges’ but if anyone wants to know any more I am more than happy to share the information with you.

Finally I have included my first animation test so you can see how it all came together. Overall I am really pleased with my first attempt, but the tests have given me a number of issues to work on and I will let you know more of that next time.