Monday, July 16, 2012

Bio-Art: War Horse.

There's something called the "Uncanny Valley" in CGI art and robotics. In short, when they try to make something as human as possible, the non-human or unnatural aspects of that work stick out. Although the term "Uncanny Valley" is usually limited to humans, I say, "why?" Animals can have the 'uncanny' dissonance, too.

Ladies and gents, I present to you the Uncanny Valley - horse version:

Meet Joey, one of the puppets of the War Horse theatrical production. The actual play tells a story about a boy and his horse at the start of WWI; if that sounds familiar, it was based off of a novel and has a film version of the same name. Our focus, however, is on the riveting horse puppet that has captivated audiences worldwide.

If it walks like a horse and talks like a horse, ummm...never mind.

Joey and several other lifelike puppets were made by the puppet company Handspring. It is managed by two men in South Africa. They and a few other people dodged army service in favor of art and culture. Aside from Joey, they have articulated a rhino, a giraffe, a few humanoids, and a goose. The list probably goes on. 

(Pretty sure this is their doing, too.)

Joey acts very much like a real horse. The actors within the puppet frame can  make him paw the ground, rear, and even whinny realistically. Considering that there are three people operating him - one on the head, one in the front legs, and one in the rear - this coordination is quite a feat. He's made from cloth, cane, and aluminum, but despite the simple design, this puppet horse manages to act a lot like the real thing.

The key to making the puppet horse come to life was extensive study of equine body language. The production team studied horses in about a million different ways, including YouTube and trips with mounted police, just to get every single hoofbeat down. They want you to hear the horse, see the horse, and feel the horse entirely by the movement of the life-size puppet.  For those of you who have never seen a bunraku play, know that the puppeteers there exhibit a similar level of skill, going so far as to make their puppets breathe.


If you want to see Joey on stage, fear not. Any place with a theatrical inclination will be making room for the horses soon. It started in London, but is on a tour in North America. It might already be on Broadway.If you think they look weird, just bear in mind that they'

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