Fantasy and Puppetry: Animating the Fantastic

On April 1 2022 – April Fool’s Day – the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic at the University of Glasgow will be hosting a very special online event. Fantasy and Puppetry is a celebration of the art of puppets and puppeteers in bringing fantasy and the fantastic to life, on stage, on screen and on the page. It will feature five of the most exciting and celebrated puppet-centred artists, writers, puppeteers and performers working in the world today: Brian and Wendy Froud, Howard Gayton, Mary Robinette Kowal and William Todd-Jones, all brought together by their friendship with World Fantasy Award-winning writer, editor and artist Terri Windling. Between them, these artists have been closely involved in some of the finest fantasy films, movies, TV series and stage performances of the last forty years: The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, the Muppet movies, Sesame Street, The Empire Strikes Back, Dark Crystal – The Age of Resistance, His Dark Materials, John Carter of Mars, The Neverending Story, Who Framed Roger Rabbit – the list is seemingly endless. Join us, with our Master of Ceremonies Terri Windling, to discover how their skills as designers, craftspeople and puppeteers have interacted with their skills as storytellers to animate lifeless matter and awake the world’s imagination!

See full programme below!

Click here to book your free ticket!

Brian Froud (artist and conceptual designer)

Brian and Wendy Froud

Brian Froud is a world-renowned painter and film designer whose portrayal of faeries and the Faerie Realm has influenced a whole generation of artists, writers, filmmakers, and folklorists. Raised in Kent, he studied illustration at Maidstone College of Art, and began his career as an illustrator in London (in the same studio as Alan Lee). He then turned to making books of his own, and designing films – most famously, the now-classic children’s films The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth (both produced by Jim Henson). Brian’s art has been exhibited in museums and galleries around the world, written about in scholarly texts, and won numerous awards. His internationallybestselling books include Faeries (with Alan Lee), the Lady Cottington Pressed Fairies series (with Terry Jones and Ari Berk), Good Faeries/Bad Faeries (with Terri Windling) The Runes of Elfland (with Ari Berk), Brian Froud’s Goblins (with Ari Berk), How to See Faeries (with John Matthews), and Brian Froud’s World of Faerie – all of them inspired by the legends, lore, and landscape of Dartmoor. His recent books, Trolls, and Faeries’ Tales explore the lives and history of the elusive trolls and faeries; they were created in collaboration with his wife, author and artist Wendy Froud. Brian’s latest project is the Netflix series Dark Crystal – The Age of Resistance. Brian, Wendy and their son, Toby, all worked on the series. Brian and Wendy live near Chagford in a seventeenth-century Devon longhouse filled with books, art, goblins, and faeries.

https://www.ferniebrae.com/brian-froud

Wendy Froud (doll artist, sculptor, puppet-maker and writer)

Brian and Wendy Froud (and friends!)

Wendy Froud is a sculptor, writer, and one of the most revered doll artists in the world today. The daughter of two artists, she was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, where she studied art and design at the Center for Creative Studies. She began her career as a sculptor on the set of The Muppet Show in New York,and went on to work on such feature films as The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth and The Empire Strikes Back (for which she sculpted and fabricated Yoda). Wendy’s doll art and mythic sculptures have been extensively exhibited, published in three children’s books (A Midsummer Night’s Faery Tale, The Winter Child, The Faeries of Spring Cottage), and featured in an art book, The Art of Wendy Froud. As a writer, her work has been published in The Heart of the Faerie Oracle, Troll’s Eye View, the Cottington series, and other magical volumes – including her latest books, Trolls and Faeries Tales, created in collaboration with her husband, ‘faery painter’ Brian Froud. Wendy and Brian live in old thatched farmhouse in the Devon countryside. Wendy, Brian and Toby have worked together on the Emmy winning Netflix series Dark Crystal – The Age of Resistance, and are currently working on a few new projects in development.

https://www.ferniebrae.com/wendy-froud

Howard Gayton (theatre director, performer, scholar and teacher, puppeteer)

Howard Gayton

Howard Gayton has worked for over thirty years as a theatre director, performer, and teacher specialising in puppetry, foolery, and Commedia dell’Arte; his work is inspired by all manner of mythic tricksters, zanni figures, jesters, buffoons, and sacred clowns. He has directed and performed many puppet shows for the acclaimed Little Angel Theatre in London, as well as for Norwich Puppet Theatre, Light Theatre at the Eden Project and other venues; he teaches glove puppets at The Curious School of Puppetry and tours a traditional Punch & Judy show. Howard was the co-founder of Ophaboom, a Commedia company which toured across Europe for twenty years; he is now co-director of Columbina Theatre, with playwright Peter Oswald. He recently completed a 500-mile theatrical pilgrimage, walking from London to the Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, and is currently researching The Esoteric Art of the Fool at the University of Exeter.

https://endicottstudio.typepad.com/howardgayton/

Mary Robinette Kowal (Hugo, Nebula and John W Campbell award-winning novelist and short story writer, puppeteer)

Mary Robinette Kowal with cat Sadie and puppet Lee!

Mary Robinette Kowal is an author, a professional puppeteer and voice actor (SAG/AFTRA). Mary Robinette has performed for LazyTown (CBS), the Center for Puppetry Arts, Jim Henson Pictures, Sesame Street, and founded Other Hand Productions. Her designs have garnered two UNIMA-USA Citations of Excellence, the highest award an American puppeteer can achieve. She records fiction for authors such as Seanan McGuire, Cory Doctorow and John Scalzi. Her own fiction has won multiple Hugo Awards, as well as Nebula, John W Campbell and Locus Awards. Mary Robinette lives in Nashville with her husband Rob and over a dozen manual typewriters.

maryrobinettekowal.com

William Todd-Jones (master puppeteer, puppet-designer, performer, movement consultant and writer)

William Tod-Jones

Todd began his career as a builder and performer of puppets for Jim Henson’s film Labyrinth. Other award-winning projects include Harry Potter VWho Framed Roger Rabbit, various Muppet movies, Batman, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, John Carter of Mars and many others. He travelled the world as the Master Puppeteer and Manny performer of the Monlove/Stage Entertainment touring show Ice Age Live. Todd established the ground-breaking and award-winning Creature FX department for the BBC/HBO TV series His Dark Materials.  In recent years, he has specialised in combining the disciplines of puppetry and computer graphic animation, developing techniques in optical motion capture, performance animation and digital puppetry. He is determined to use art in the service of the environment, drawing people’s attention to our dependency on nature. ‘Puppets are not about the person performing but about the person looking’ (William Todd-Jones).

Terri Windling (writer, editor, artist)

Terri Windling

Terri Windling is a writer, editor, and artist specialising in fantasy literature, folklore, and mythic arts. She has published over forty books (The Wood Wife, etc.), receiving nine World Fantasy Awards, the Mythopoeic Award, the Bram Stoker Award, and the SFWA’s Solstice Award for ‘outstanding contributions to the speculative fiction field as a writer, editor, artist, educator, and mentor’. She writes fiction for adults and children, nonfiction on folklore and fantasy topics, and a mythic arts blog (Myth & Moor). She has edited fantasy fiction since the 1980s, working with many of the major writers in the field, and she’s published numerous anthologies for adult and young readers, including the sixteen volumes of The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror series co-edited with Ellen Datlow. Being married to puppeteer, she has a particular interest in the ways puppetry is portrayed in fantasy texts.

http://www.terriwindling.com/

Marita Arvaniti (student, theatre practitioner, scholar)

Marita Arvaniti is a Greek PhD student at the University of Glasgow, investigating the representations of theatre in contemporary Faery Fantasy literature. She holds a BA in Theatre Studies from the National Kapodistrian University of Athens and an MLitt in Fantasy Literature from the University of Glasgow. Marita is a member of the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic, and the Administrative Assistant for the Once and Future Fantasies Conference. She is currently working as an archivist with Company of Wolves, a Glasgow based laboratory theatre company, and directs fantasy plays with the amateur theatre group Puck’s Players.

Programme

11: 00 am: Fantasy and Puppetry (Film)

Brian and Wendy Froud, interviewed by Terri Windling

A whole generation of filmmakers, puppeteers, and fantasists have been profoudly influenced by Brian and Wendy Froud: through their bewitching art, their best-selling books (Faeries, Trolls, Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book, etc.), and their ground-breaking work on the Jim Henson puppet films The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. In this wide-ranging discussion, Brian and Wendy will talk about their extensive work on the original Dark Crystal film, as well as on the recent Netflix television series, Dark Crystal: The Age of Resistance. We’ll learn about the creation of the goblin world of Labyrinth, of Yoda for The Empire Strikes Back, and of other creatures for film and stage, while discussing the artistic techniques and philosophies that imbue these characters with vibrancy, authenticity, and soul. We’ll explore the distinctive nature of “Froudian” magic, rooted in the ancient landscape of Dartmoor, and we’ll talk about why this kind of enchantment is so important in the world today. Come join us for art and conversation, with a question-and-answer session at the end.

12.30-1.30 pm: Lunch

1.30 pm: Bringing Fantasy Creatures to Life (Film, TV, Stage)

William Todd-Jones, interviewed by Terri Windling

Puppet designer and performer William Todd-Jones has spent many years bringing fantastical creatures to life for film, TV, and large stage shows. In a discussion with writer-artist Terri Windling, he discusses the techniques and methods he uses for each of these mediums, not only in productions where puppets take centre stage (Labyrinth, The Adventures of PinnochioThe Muppet Movies, etc.), but also those in which behind-the-scenes puppetry is used to create visual magic onscreen. For the BBC/HBO adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, for example, he was the Beast Master in charge of the puppets on which the animated ‘daemons’ were based. He’ll explain this process with photos and clips from the set, showing how a fantasy concept is translated into screen drama.

3.00 pm: Bringing Fantasy Creatures to Life (Theatre)

Howard Gayton

In this talk/demonstration, director and performer Howard Gayton invites us into his studio to show how puppeteers create magic in live theatre settings using the traditional tools of the trade: glove puppets, rod puppets, etc.. He’ll discuss the process of turning folk tales and other magical stories (The Selkie Bride, The Musicians of BremenKing Arthur, Jack and the Beanstalk) into puppet shows for children, and fantasy texts (such as Angela Carter’s story The Bloody Chamber) into puppet shows for adults. He’ll introduce us to such classic figures as Punch and Judy, and the stock characters of a puppet Commedia troupe, and demonstrate how to breathe life and spirit into objects made of wood and cloth.

4.00-4:30 pm Break

4.30-6.00 pm: Panel on Puppets and Puppetry in Fantasy Narratives (Novels, Film, TV)

Terri Windling, Mary Robinette Kowal, Marita Arvaniti, Rob Maslen

Puppets are often used to create the fantastic in performance, but magically animated puppets also feature in fantasy books for adults and children: think of Angela Carter’s The Magic Toyshop, Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio, Susan Cooper’s The Magician’s Boy, Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean’s Mr Punch,Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker, Mary Robinette Kowal’s ‘Body Language’, and Diana Wynne Jones’s The Magicians of Caprona. This panel will consider the history and power of the puppet in fantasy narratives, from novels, short stories, comics and picture books to film and TV.

Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic Launch: Report and Reactions

It’s already been almost two weeks since the launch event for the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic, and we’re still receiving so many messages welcoming this new development at the University of Glasgow, and reactions in mainstream and social media. We are listing links to press reports on the Centre further below, but we’d like to share with all of our members and followers a wonderful report from the launch event by our PhD student Grace Worm. Grace is working on the YA fantasy novels of Tamora Pierce, and is in the second year of the PhD. She tweets at https://twitter.com/dressandsword.

Fantasy and the Fantastic

By Grace Worm


On good days as a research student, it feels exciting to know that you’re contributing to something new within your field. But then days go by in front of a computer, working on the same introduction sentence for four hours, and no matter how helpful your supervisors are, it can feel like you’re all alone in a race to an impossible feat of writing.

This last year was my first as a research student. I came in so excited – seeking opportunities all over campus to discuss and evolve my research and status as an emerging scholar. Then of course COVID and lockdown happened, which left me feeling alone and questioning why my research on gender and social equality in fantasy worlds was important in a global climate of panic, fear, and a growing distrust in science and research—how could my seemingly esoteric research be meaningful now?

This last week, I attended the UofG’s launch for the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic and for the first time in months, I felt that I and my research were important. At the event, I got to listen to authors Dr Brian Attebery, Terri Windling, Ellen Kushner, and our own professors Dr Dimitra Fimi, Dr Matthew Sangster, Dr Rhys Williams, Dr Robert Maslen, Dr Laura Martin, Dr Maureen Farrell, and Dr Matthew Barr discussing fantasy and our university on the forefront of something that has never been done before.

In my research field and the general public, these people are legends, celebrities, people who built the building blocks of the research we’re all following now and they were talking about my university, my research, and a new age for Fantasy studies at the University of Glasgow.

In online fan communities unrelated to the university, I saw people posting about the event beforehand with captions like “Don’t you wish you were in Glasgow now?” or “A real-life place for magic” and I felt a bubbling sense of excitement and pride that we were changing the future of my field forever.

The event was for the University of Glasgow to become the first dedicated centre for fantasy studies throughout the world but it was also a declaration that we will not stop or slow down, no matter how separated we may be.

In the event chat, academics and fans alike posted where they were attending from – all over the UK and US, Europe, Asia, South America, Australia etc. If this had happened in a world without COVID, how many people could have travelled to attend the event? Would it have been recorded or published? Now it was an event for anyone who was dedicated to the fantastic.

Before lockdown, I would have been happy my university was leading the world, but now, as I watched these people discuss the future of fantasy through a Zoom call, it filled me with hope and a sense of comradery, as we, the unshown audience, shared our outfits on twitter, told others where we joined from, and asked questions from distinguished speakers.

We were together, despite everything, and in these uncertain times. We were full of life, ideas, and hope for a future we were making happen. We were celebrating Glasgow becoming the leader in fantasy studies, but now we were also leaders in how to navigate meaningful.


Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic – Video and Media reactions

Our launch event was recorded and is available to watch via our YouTube channel:

Press stories about the Centre launch:

STV News: University to launch world’s first fantasy research centre

The Herald: Scottish university which featured in TV show Outlander to officially launch fantasy centre with author Ellen Kushner

The Sunday Post: Game of Thrones and The Hobbit worlds researched by academics in new specialist centre

INews: University of Glasgow launches world’s first ‘centre for fantasy’

MuggleNet: University of Glasgow Launches Brand-New Groundbreaking Fantasy Research Center

Lonely Planet: Why the University of Glasgow is the new hotspot for fantasy fans

Launching the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic, University of Glasgow

Jessie Marion King, The Frog Prince, 1913

The Eventbrite tickets for the launch webinar are now SOLD OUT, but the event will be live-streamed via our YouTube channel so please bookmark or subscribe to https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCv3mkKQUDyZ_OcP-uLqJTMA/ and access it on Wed 16 Sep at 18:00 BST.

We are delighted to launch the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic at the University of Glasgow with a lecture by acclaimed fantasy author Ellen Kushner, and a discussion panel on fantasy with Terri Windling, Professor Brian Attebery, and Dr Robert Maslen.

Join us on Wednesday 16th September, at 18:00 via Zoom webinar. Tickets are free. Please book your ticket to receive the Zoom link on the day of the event and have the opportunity to take part in the Q&A with our speakers.

Acclaimed fantasy author Ellen Kushner will speak about her creative practice and her engagement with Scottish folklore via her retelling of Thomas the Rhymer in her eponymous award-winning novel, and will answer questions from attendees.

Her talk will be followed by a discussion panel on the affordances and futures of fantasy, featuring:

Terri Windling, award-winning fantasy author, artist and editor

Professor Brian Attebery, Professor of English at Idaho State University, and Leverhulme Visiting Professor in Fantasy at the University of Glasgow (2019)

Dr Robert Maslen, Senior Lecturer and founder of the Fantasy MLitt, University of Glasgow

Book your ticket via this link: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/launching-the-centre-for-fantasy-and-the-fantastic-university-of-glasgow-tickets-117998060375

Header image credit: Jessie Marion King, The Frog Prince, 1913