I’m a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world

As a firm believer that life in plastic is indeed fantastic, when I heard that Montreal was home to the largest permanent exhibition of Barbie dolls in the world, I had to go.

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I didn’t actually grow up with the collection of Barbies that a lot of other young girls and boys did, so I didn’t realise how much I appreciate a good plastic figurine until I stepped into this underground oasis that is literally covered wall-to-wall in over 1,000 of the things. These are no ordinary Barbies, either. They are dressed head to tiny plastic toe in haute couture outfits that have been designed by some of the world’s most renowned fashion houses, such as Dior, Versace and Givenchy, to name a few.

As a household name since the ’60s, Mattel has done quite a fantastic thing. The creator of Barbie, Ruth Handler, had the idea to produce a 3D doll when she found her daughter playing with paper cutouts of smaller versions of herself. Her mission was to provide children with a doll that they could dress up and decorate as they please, and tell stories with. Children are filled with ideas and encouraging them to harness their imaginations can only be a great thing. As Aqua so poetically put it: imagination, life is your creation.

Nothing turns me on more than bright splashes of acid colours, especially in miniature, handmade form. I love seeing “inanimate” objects brought to life in loud, creative ways and the Barbie exhibition did not disappoint. Barbie, you’re my doll, rock ‘n roll, feel the glamour in pink, kiss me here… (and you know how the song goes).

 

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Cheese, Gromit!

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This morning I traipsed into town to see “The Magic of Aardman” exhibition at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI). *side note: I absolutely adore this place and they always put on stellar shows, so make sure to keep track of their program*. Having grown up with Wallace & Gromit, Aardman is certainly a major influence on me and it was a privilege to be able to meet some of my favourite friends “in person”.

Born out of South East England and the imagination of a young Peter Lord and David Sproxton, came a superhero named Aardman. Seeing their puppet come to life on film was such a thrill for the schoolboy friends that they continued to develop their craft. The children’s series Morph was created as their first professional venture and since then the artistic house has expanded, producing shorts for feature films, music videos and ads.

The exhibition starts with a series of sketches, showing the birth of some of the animation world’s most famous characters. The beautiful drawings have inspired me to keep better track of my own sketches, as opposed to scribbling ideas on scraps of paper. I often enjoy these hand drawn scenes more than the finished product, as it provides great insight into the artist’s vision – documenting progress from the conception of an idea to the polished story brought to life.

Another part of the exhibition I found particularly interesting was the famous were-bunny from “The Curse of the Were-Rabbit”. Apparently it took the creative team a year and a half to work out how to construct him. The animators needed to avoid touching the fur during its manipulation image by image, as this would have left visible traces on screen. The image below shows three phases of the construction. The metal framework is essentially the skeleton, from which the animators would insert small levers in the tubes on its back to make it move. This skeleton was then covered in foam and the paws were covered in latex, to define its shape with precision, before being coated in fluffy fur to give him a cuddly look.

Nothing particularly insightful to say about this next picture, but let’s just take a moment to appreciate how brilliant it is. As a fellow knitter, I obviously have a soft spot for little Gromit.

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Specific mention was made to the importance of light and how it can be manipulated to create movement, with an example studio set up for demonstrative purposes. Light is particularly powerful when it comes to three dimensional puppets as it can bring out curves, shadows and depth of shape, when applied properly. Often the lighting in Aardman productions is changed millimetre by millimetre for each frame of film (with 24 frames of film making up every second of animation). This is just one of the many shifting variables to consider when creating a stop motion animation of this calibre, showing the amount of care and thought that goes into their work.

I cannot emphasise enough how much charm everything in this show has. If only the world were filled with more clay, cheese and Gromits.

Hopefully one day something I make will find itself in a glass box…

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A textile journey to infinity and beyond

I heard the other week that the National Wool Museum of Australia is in Geelong (an hour’s drive from where I live in Melbourne), so as the creator of worlds made out of wool I decided it was my duty to go check it out. My learning of this mystical place just happened to coincide with the annual scarf fair, which is a themed exhibition where textile artists are encouraged to submit a scarf at a price of their choice. This year’s theme was Galaxies with a slogan that was fitting for such an epic event: “A textile journey to infinity and beyond”. Needless to say, my interest was piqued.

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So Jerome and I strapped up in my little car and we drove down the Princes Highway.

I did ask the ladies at the front desk if there was any form of quality control/selection criteria, or if pieces of all levels were welcome (after seeing the following), and they explained that yes, just about anybody can get involved. I guess there’s nothing stopping me from submitting a woolly worlds scarf next year then!

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Your princess is in another castle

I have always had a love affair with video games. Some of my earliest memories involve playing Super Sonic with my brother on our (now very retro) Sega, and battling it out in Mario Party with the kids who lived in our apartment. My first gaming experience was assisting my Dad in Duke Nukem (for those of you who are unfamiliar, this is a “shoot ’em up” style game where the main character, Duke, interacts with strippers while eradicating the earth of an alien race of deadly space pigs. On reflection, possibly not the most appropriate game for an eight-year-old girl, but hey). As the assigned medic I was responsible for hitting the “health level up” key when hearts were running low. We then moved onto The Ocarina of Time (the first of many Zelda adventures I would later embark on) and I remember how satisfying it was, solving puzzles and beating bosses together as a team.

I love the visual and mental stimulation provided by games and am pretty sure I have gaming to thank for my excellent hand eye coordination, ability to stay cool under pressure, and sharp problem solving skills. The classic characters we all know and love compliment my knitting style perfectly (simple blocks of bright, fun colours) so I’m looking forward to drawing inspiration from them while I attempt to reinvent these stories through crafty magic.

The art of storytelling

Exciting news – animation powerhouse Pixar has unveiled plans to provide a free online course to educate creatives in the art of storytelling. The first lesson is currently available through Khan Academy (a not for profit educational platform), with the remaining five instalments of the series to be rolled out throughout the year.

Peter Docter (director of Monsters, Up and Inside Out) leads the first class and explains the concept of writing about what you know and the process of refining an idea. We then hear from other animators who give advice on harnessing imagination by asking “what if” questions, before developing worlds and characters and bringing all this together through effective storyboards. “We hope that by sharing how we tell stories, we’ll inspire students all over the world to tell their own stories” says Docter.

If you’re like me and interested in conveying compelling stories, then getting some (free!) tips and tricks from some of the best in the industry is a must.

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There’s a circus coming to town

I have always loved circus. It’s traditional but also timeless. It spans across generations and cultures. People never grow out of being bewildered at the limits the human body can reach. I’ve dabbled in juggling and have always been drawn to the tight-knit community that carnies create for themselves. Perhaps it’s something to do with travelling so much as a child that led to “running away with the circus” feeling so natural, or perhaps it’s because I’m attracted to the quirky and obscene. Either way it was the only logical progression to start my own circus, and so the Woolly Wonders Circus: the cutest show on earth was born. If I’m going to do something I’m going to do it properly, so I came to Montreal last year on a reconnaissance mission to learn the tricks of the trade. I lived at Cirque du Soleil and obtained access to their facilities through my unknowing human boyfriend. I had already gained decent exposure to Australian circuses but wanted to make sure I had an international view, and becoming a professional groupie seemed like the most foolproof way of going under cover(s).

 

I will be recruiting only the most courageous and talented (and fibrous) acrobats. Some acts will feature animals and their tamers, but with a playful twist that will leave you wondering who is taming whom. There will be daring, death-defying stunts as well as crafty magic that will need to be seen to be believed (or knot).

This wondrous circus will be limited only by the absurdity of my imagination, so step right up. Can I count on you to buy a ticket?

Winter came and went

I moved to Montreal with my two boyfriends in the last days of Autumn 2016. Knowing that winter was coming, I wasted no time knitting beanies and other essential accessories:

Jerome and I managed to get in a few leafy walks before the winter hit (I have to say the auburn leaves really complimented both of our gingery complexions):

Then the snow hit. Hard. Whenever I meet someone new here in Montreal and the question of how long they’ve been here comes up, they proudly reply in terms of the number of winters. As though the more winters you manage to survive, the more rightful a Quebecois you are. I laughed this off, until I made it through my first winter and then felt the need to boast about it loudly (hence this post). To give some feel for the intensity of the snow, here are a few pictures (yes, those are cars):

I’m grateful for all the time spent trapped indoors as it provided the perfect environment for woolly-worlding. I have also vowed to never complain about Australian winters ever again. I do wonder though if the settlers who came to Montreal and decided it would be a sensible place to set up shop were playing some kind of cruel joke, or if it happened to be summer when they arrived and by the time winter hit they just couldn’t be arsed packing up again. Who knows.