Every year VCON adopts a theme. This year it is “Muppets, Puppets and Marionettes.”
What has the theme got to do with science fiction and fantasy?
A heck of a lot!
First, there’s the wonderful Supermarionation shows Gerry Anderson used to do back in the 1960s beginning with SUPERCAR (1961-1962). Modern fans are perhaps most familiar with THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO remake series broadcast 2015/2016 which uses CGI, unlike the puppetry of the original THUNDERBIRDS (1965-1966). The appearance of the marionettes in the 1960s grew more sophisticated series by series, but always exhibited the timeless charm of their particular and peculiar style of movement. There was even a THUNDERBIRD F.A.B. play staged in London where mime actors adopted the high-stepping walk and waving arms of the “wooden” characters to hilarious advantage. All of Gerry’s shows are remembered by their loyal fans with great fondness.
We are extremely lucky to get Jamie Anderson, Gerry’s son, who is, to put it mildly, well informed about his father’s creations. He maintains Anderson Inc. which is devoted to preserving his father’s legacy, even to the point of adding to that legacy with the creation of FIRESTORM, which features marionettes manipulated with rods rather than strings. He calls this method “Ultramarionation.” We are looking forward to him revealing in panels and lectures insider info and detail covering the entire Anderson phenomenon. Author GoH Robert J. Sawyer will interview him on these topics as well.
Secondly, everyone is familiar with the Muppets. Eric Chu (currently working with Jamie on FIRESTORM) has worked with the Muppets, as have other locals. Hoping to put together a panel revealing how the Muppets (their operators) are as hilarious to work with as they are to watch. Plus we are still working on acquiring another GoH with Muppet experience.
Third, stop motion armatures are another form of puppet, and in the days before CGI accomplished near miracles in presenting the illusion of life on the big screen. From THE LOST WORLD to KING KONG to THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD the stop motion animation skills of Willis O’Brien, Ray Harryhausen, and many others stirred the sense of wonder of generations of fans. MONSTER ATTACK TEAM CANADA, whose members include local film SFX experts (Eric Chu for instance), will give insight into how these effects were accomplished, as well as exhibit beautifully painted models of some of the more famous animated stop motion movie monsters.
Fourth, men-in-suit creatures are similar to the larger Muppets, and often their external features (wings, tails, antennae, jaws, etc.) are controlled by wires in a puppet-like fashion. Expect our resident Godzilla expert Stan G. Hyde (World renowned expert by the way. Not kidding. He knows everything!) to deliver the inside story on how such movie monsters are filmed. The Japanese are the most famous for this, but they’re not the only ones. Ever hear of “Gorgo,” the British Godzilla? Stan knows them all.
Last, there have been innumerable movies featuring puppets as characters, be they ventriloquist dummies, people turned into puppets, puppets turned people, or even remote controlled robots if you want to stretch the definition of puppet (as we certainly do!). All of them worth more than one panel or lecture methinks. We’ll see what we can come up with. (I personally am fond of a walk-and-act like a Supermarionation character contest myself. Hope to get Jamie Anderson to judge.)
Yes, obviously we’re going to be milking our crazy theme for everything we can. But here’s the REALLY crazy part. All of the above is but a small portion of what VCON 41 will have to offer! More on this in future blogs.
Cheers! R. Graeme Cameron – VCON 41 Chair