MAAN Creative animates FIREBIRD, a puppet production from the makers of WAR HORSE!

And now for something completely different! This month sees the launch of THE FIREBIRD, a Cape Town stage production featuring animation by boutique Joburg motion graphics and animation studio MAAN Creative.  The show, produced and directed by Janni Younge – formerly of Handspring Puppet Co – features the same puppet artistry seen in that company’s West End […]
And now for something completely different! This month sees the launch of THE FIREBIRD, a Cape Town stage production featuring animation by boutique Joburg motion graphics and animation studio MAAN Creative.  The show, produced and directed by Janni Younge – formerly of Handspring Puppet Co – features the same puppet artistry seen in that company’s West End blockbuster THE WAR HORSE and is based on a famous Russian ballet from 1910. We interviewed Michael Clark of MAAN to ask how they got this show on the road!
BUT before we get into the details – great news for ASA readers. Book your ticket for Firebird directly through Artscape with our special promo code, exclusive to Animation SA, and you’ll get discounted tickets at only R80 each for adults and R60 for kids! The show runs from Friday 24 June to Sunday 26 June so book now! Read to the end for details (see what we did there).
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Still from the animation for Firebird
Tell us about the production and how you got involved. 
‘The Firebird‘ was commissioned by IMG Artists in the US for a summer tour this year. The original Stravinsky score is being used but the narrative has been re-interpreted using enormous custom-made puppets, african dance and animation.
I have worked with Janni previously on a much smaller show called Ourobouros, which she took to Europe a few years ago, and it was on the strength of that relationship that we got involved in this project.
What was the process between yourselves and the theatre company? 
We were involved from quite early on (which is always a huge help) and once the basic script, or dramaturgy, was done I spent a week in Cape Town with Janni workshopping ideas for the execution, style and content of the animation. Janni had quite specific ideas for the content of the animation as it plays quite a specific role in the re-imagined narrative of the piece, and she was responsible for most of the conceptualising and storyboarding before we jumped in and refined and executed it. The process has been very collaborative and the project has evolved organically, like most of the commercial projects we do. This has been a great way to work although it has meant it became rather more ambitious than initially anticipated!
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Creating the Dragon puppets
What techniques did you use?
It is basically a 2D, frame-by-frame animation. We settled on a very painterly style which Janni liked because it ties in well with the puppets on stage with its more hand-made aesthetic and we wanted the imagery to have a more artistic feel; the images needed to be interesting and beautiful to look at rather than needing to have the smoothest animation.
Our initial idea was to paint the whole thing frame-by-frame using acrylic paint on canvas and capturing it with Dragonframe (there is a Van Gogh movie being produced like this at the moment in Poland I believe). We quickly realised this was completely unfeasible within the time and budget constraints and came up with a hybrid technique of doing a previs in Photoshop/TV Paint and then painting the key images on canvas, capturing those and then ‘painting’ the rest in Photoshop. It has sometimes been quite tedious but I am very happy with the final result which I think suits the project and feels quite original.
 firebirdmain         Firebird_paintings
Do you know of other productions that have used animation in stagecraft?
The two that immediately come to mind are Ourobouros (mentioned earlier) and War Horse – the Tony award-winning show for which Handspring built all the puppets. There was also another local show called ‘Tree Boy’ few years ago, a company in the UK called ‘1927’…so there are quite a few people doing it. I think though that it is yet to be really fully explored or utilised as a medium on stage. There is so much potential for animation to play to its strengths and be used to add information or context that is hard to get across on stage through actors or set design. It adds another unique arrow to the director’s quiver.
What projects do you have in the works at MAAN?
Our next major project is an Autism awareness short, “Sam the Hedgehog”, which we are very excited about. It is currently in development with an NFVF grant and in the scripting stage. It will also be 2D animation but composited into live footage taken of miniature sets which we are currently building. Apart from that, we are kind of looking forward to getting back to a bit of run-of-the-mill commercial work as well…
So about that promotional offer…
Book directly through Artscape (021 421 7695) and quote the code “Cape Town Special” to receive your R80 tickets!