Best of Bri­tish

The woman build­ing robot boys and in­ter­galac­tic beasts for the big screen

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - Contents -

The magic of pup­petry

BECKY JOHN­SON DIS­COV­ERED her pas­sion for craft as a child. ‘I did dance classes and they needed a pup­pet for Lit­tle Shop of Hor­rors – and my dad of­fered to help make one,’ she says. They made it in their garage, us­ing hula hoops and sleep­ing bags. ‘I re­alised that I pre­ferred mak­ing stuff to per­form­ing.’

Her first job in spe­cial ef­fects was as a trainee on Tim Bur­ton’s 2005 film Char­lie and the Choco­late Fac­tory, in a team that was re­spon­si­ble for mak­ing can­dyfloss sheep, Oompa Loom­pas and a hu­man-sized ham­ster ball. ‘Though I was mainly mak­ing tea,’ she adds.

It was in 2010 that she first met her fu­ture hus­band and busi­ness part­ner, Paul Vincett – while build­ing an eight­foot ogre for the New York Gotham Cham­ber Opera’s pro­duc­tion of El Gato Con Bo­tas (Puss in Boots). ‘Paul showed me his work, and we found each other in­cred­i­bly in­spir­ing,’ she says. They mar­ried ear­lier this year.

Vincett had set up Stitches and Glue, a pup­pet- and cos­tume-mak­ing busi­ness, off the back of a uni­ver­sity project. Af­ter they met, John­son joined him as a com­pany di­rec­tor and they have cre­ated pup­pets and cos­tumes for the­atre pro­duc­tions in­clud­ing The Lion King ,aswellas the films Paddington, Beauty and the Beast and the cur­rent Star Wars fran­chise.

To­day, their work­shop is in the Sur­rey vil­lage of Lale­ham, near sev­eral film stu­dios, and they spend long hours on film sets as­sist­ing the ac­tors. ‘If you’ve built a crea­ture cos­tume and it is worn by a per­former, they’ll need breaks,’ John­son ex­plains. ‘Of­ten you’re the only one who knows how to get them out.’

One of Stitches and Glue’s most re­ward­ing projects was mak­ing a pup­pet in­spired by Ja­panese bun­raku pup­pets for An­i­mat­ing the Brain ,a show com­mis­sioned by The Well­come Trust. The brief was to make a fig­ure that looked like a boy and a robot. The fin­ished pup­pet, Lab­boy, is made of ply­wood, en­gi­neer­ing plas­tic and Air­tex fab­ric, which helps to achieve a me­tal look. To check it moved cor­rectly, the di­rec­tor per­formed what John­son calls a ‘pup­pet Pi­lates class’, be­cause ‘if you’ve got a pup­pet whose legs bend the wrong way, it will spoil the il­lu­sion’. stitch­

Left John­son with Lab­boy. Above An­other of her pup­pets, Boom Box Boy. In­ter­view by Jes­sica Carpani. Pho­tographs by Tori Ferenc

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