Making cinema live in Lula del Ray
Manual Cinema have brought their cinematic puppetry experience to the Edinburgh Fringe this year
The original concept for Lula del Ray came out of my desire to create a quest narrative with a strong female protagonist. In 2010 we created a very simple production with one overhead projector, two puppeteers, pre-recorded music and sound design. As we kept working over the years we discovered new techniques on the overheads, adding projectors, live actors, and a live band. Every few years we would return to Lula to incorporate these new discoveries and tighten the story.
Originally we performed the show hidden behind the screen so the audience couldn't see us. But we wanted to shake this up - we had experimented with live feed video feeds before so it seemed like a great way to expand the show. We took a camera that was focused on the small screen and fed it to a digital projector focused on a large movie screen hung above the stage.
We then flipped the puppetry setup so the audience could see the overhead projectors, puppets and actors working. That way you can see the final image on the big movie screen and the puppets and actors creating all the images in real time right below. We perform all our shows in a variation of this set-up now and feel it captures the handmade quality of the work while also presenting it in a cinematic format.
Lula del Ray is one of our oldest shows and I think we might actually be at version 4.0 or 4.5 by now. We made the show in our early 20s and the focus was on how you can't go home again once you've grown up and left for the first time. Lula goes on this big adventure but when she tries to return home, it isn't the same place. She isn't the same person. When we reworked the show in our late-20s/early-30s we spent more time on the relationship between Lula and her mother and refocused the ending to incorporate that.
Our productions are multimedia which is also reflected in our process. We combine techniques from animation, film, music and theatre. When making a show we start with a written outline that has the main story points. The outline gets turned into a storyboard, which is used as a blueprint to design and stage the show. We shoot a rough video demo of the storyboards and edit it together to see how it is working. Since it's a visual medium we need to see it to know what works and what doesn't.
The video demo then goes to the sound team for scoring and sound design. The puppet team then takes the demo and tries to stage it in real time with the puppeteers. The last step is to put it all together, rehearsing the puppetry with sound design and the live band. It's strange - even though we started as a theatre company, we've also segued into becoming video animators.
Lula Del Ray runs at the Underbelly Med Quad until 27 August.