A fairytale projection
In 1918, May Gibbs published her beloved book Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. Generations of Australian children have since grown up loving the two intrepid gumnut babies and the many characters they meet during their various adventures — from the evil Banksia men to the kindly Little Ragged Blossom.
To celebrate the book’s 100th anniversary, Vivid Sydney acquired the rights to project the immortal characters onto the facade of Customs House.
“It’s quite an exercise to get permission to use May Gibbs’ work. We are the first team to have been granted permission to animate her work,” says Lucy Keeler, managing director of Ample Projects, who are overseeing the project.
Ample Projects is a Sydneybased collective run by Keeler and Nicholas Tory who create public art experiences within urban environments. They have created similar animated installations like this before, and have had work at three previous Vivid Light festivals.
To pitch for the May Gibbs project, they put in hundreds of hours of work.
“We were given access to the State Library where they have all of her original works on file, so we spent some time reviewing (that) to make sure that we had all of the specifics of her work correct, her colour use and her line weights,” Keeler says.
“But we also spent some time at her studio and recorded the sounds that we heard, including all of the things in her garden. We have had a wonderful time.”
Their Vivid installation will last 10 minutes and features just under 15,000 drawings that faithfully capture Gibbs’ charming, old-fashioned storytelling style. Their key reference was the current publication of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, which has three main stories in it.
“What we have done is taken her three works Little Obelia, Little Ragged Blossom and Snugglepot and Cuddlepie and journeyed through her body of work, with a narrative arc, so you get to meet all the key characters that she introduced,” Keeler says.
“It’s almost like turning it into a moving, animated, sculptural version of the essence of May Gibbs,” Tory adds.
They gathered a team of around 25 people to put it together, including 2D and 3D animaters, and a dozen second year students from the University of Technology Sydney’s animation design degree.
They also used a composer who is drawing on the music of the era in which it was written.
“So, it’s flapper and it’s Charleston,” Keeler says.
All the text used was written by Gibbs herself, with Noni Hazlehurst narrating the voiceover, while children help make the sound effects.
“So, when it rains, we have little people going ‘drip, drop’ and when the characters dive into the sea we have little children going ‘blub, blub, blub’ to make the sound of the bubbles coming up from below. And that’s all integrated with a sound design of those real effects as well, so it’s a bit of both and it’s all seamlessly interwoven.
“It’s a bit like an old silent movie,” Tory says.
Working on the facade of Customs House is an incredible challenge because it has so many windows and protruding elements — all of which Ample Projects has had to take into account.
“Of all the buildings we’ve used before, Customs House is the hardest one to use for narrative storytelling because it has almost no flat surfaces, it’s incredibly complex. But once you nail it, it is absolutely superb and it can transform like no other building in Sydney,” Keeler says.
VIVID SYDNEY RUNS MAY 25 — JUNE 16. CUSTOMS HOUSE IS ILLUMINATED EACH NIGHT 6- 11PM
Vivid Sydney will project May Gibbs’ treasured children’s book Snugglepot and Cuddlepie onto Customs House.
JO LITSON ARTS WRITER