MUSIC VIDEO: PRETTY POLLY
Behind the scenes of Trunk’s video for Shirley Collins
How Trunk created handcrafted puppets and a cardboard forest for folk singer Shirley Collins’ latest music video
THE BRIEF Layla Atkinson
When Domino Records approached us to make a video for Pretty Polly, a track on Shirley Collins’ first new album in 38 years, one key stipulation in the brief defined not just the look of the video, but the spirit and direction of the entire project. Shirley requested that the video incorporate a special kind of puppet called a jig doll. These are wooden dolls that are controlled with long sticks and jig about on a vibrating board. They’ve been popular with street entertainers for hundreds of years. The dolls suit the song perfectly because it’s a ballad set in America around the time of the Revolution.
REAL WORLD CRAFTS
My initial thoughts were to shoot the puppets in front of a green screen, then add in the backgrounds using After Effects. But the prospect of sitting in a hot room, staring at a screen, trying to key out puppets and then create ‘handmade’ artwork in Photoshop wasn’t enticing. After listening to the song a few more times I ditched the idea and, inspired by the timbre of Shirley’s voice and the stripped-back music, decided to create something different.
I wanted to use rough cardboard and simple drawings inspired by American folk art, combined with beautiful lighting, to form the video’s aesthetic handwriting. I then decided to make my life harder still by keeping the camera locked off at all times, and shooting scenes in real time with no edits or cutaways, so the final piece would feel more like watching a play than a film.
Shirley Collins and Bart McDonagh at Domino Records loved the idea. I talked to photographer Peter Ellmore, and we decided to shoot on film – this too felt within the spirit of the project, and it gives a softer, more forgiving drop-off in the depth of field.
The price of film also meant each scene could be shot only six times, with no chance of seeing rushes before we dismantled one
set and built the next. I made an animatic that laid out Polly’s story – she’s a young woman who falls in love with a US soldier – and worked with stopmotion expert John Harmer, illustrator Jock Mooney and puppeteer Garry Rutter. We gathered a small army of people to build and paint the sets, elements and puppets.
BUILDING THE SETS
Nearly everything was made from cardboard. Each set as the story progresses is made up of four planes forming the fore, middle and backgrounds. These were made from huge sheets of cardboard that were cut to the right shapes, and then the scenery was painted onto them. The puppets themselves were handmade from wood and painted by Jock.
Most of the set elements were designed so that they could be moved off-camera by our crew to generate motion and a sense of action in the scene, while the puppet characters were the focal point – dancing, running, riding horses and so on. By shifting the four planes from right to left, each at a separate speed, we created a charming parallax effect, but it was tricky to achieve.
Eventually, we used the tempo of the music to keep time and choreographed the sliding scenery. Richard Barnett, the MD at Trunk animation handled the timing of the movement of the set elements, literally calling the count during filming in real time. During a shot, the background plane might have to travel 4m at