Kool Kat of the Week: Brian Lonano Explores the Ins and Outs of Goblin Lovin’ With His Latest Short Film GWILLIAM!

Posted on: Jun 16th, 2015 By:

by Aleck BennettGwilliam_Poster_11x17_v03
Contributing Writer

Atlanta filmmaker Brian Lonano has been garnering raves on the festival circuit for humorous horror short CROW HAND!!!, which makes all of us at ATLRetro laugh like crazed lunatics every time we see it. Now he  is on the cusp of bringing us another heaping helping of the hilariously bizarre with GWILLIAM, a tender tale about the love between a man (William Tokarsky of TOO MANY COOKS and YOUR PRETTY FACE IS GOING TO HELL) and a goblin (an animatronic puppet). But he needs your help! That’s why he’s running an IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign, promising an insanely inventive and perfectly perverse variety of rewards for donors.

The short film has long been the weird nephew in the motion picture family. Since theatrical exhibitions largely abandoned the “selected short subjects” of days gone by (aside from, say, Pixar’s commitment to the form) in favor of more movie trailers and before-the-show advertisements, it’s been a constant struggle to get short films in front of large audiences. Sure, film festivals routinely devote chunks of programming to shorts, but the audience is always limited to the people in attendance. In recent years, however, that has changed. Say what you will about the Internet’s impact on the film industry, one thing is indisputable: it’s provided makers of short films with a platform that allows more people to see their work. That, in turn, has had an impact on television programming. Animated TV series have used the “two cartoons in one half-hour” format for a long while now, but some networks—most notably Cartoon Network and its [adult swim] programming block—have embraced the 11-minute episode as a standalone entity. And [adult swim] has taken that short film format into live action, with series like Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim’s multiple offerings (such as TIM AND ERIC AWESOME SHOW, GREAT JOB! and CHECK IT OUT! WITH DR. STEVE BRULE), YOUR PRETTY FACE IS GOING TO HELL and that twilight zone of weirdness at 4:00 a.m. where things like TOO MANY COOKS show up.

Brian Lonano - SXSW

Brian Lonano – SXSW

That’s where we cross paths with Kool Kat of the Week Brian Lonano. Lonano has been making short films for a decade now. His nine shorts have screened at festivals from SXSW to Fantasia International Film Festival, from Canada to Cambodia. And here in Atlanta, he’s been shown at the Atlanta Film Festival and the Buried Alive Film Fest. (He’s done promotional bumper shorts for many festivals around the world as well.) His shorts are typically a deft mix of wacky comedy, horror or sci-fi tropes and inventive practical effects.- a combo no better seen than in last year’s CROW HAND!!! His 10th film, GWILLIAM, is currently in preproduction, and to raise the funds for this endeavor (because while the Internet is a convenient platform, it’s really hard to monetize it), Lonano has turned to the new audience that the Internet has provided for assistance via this IndieGoGo campaign.

ATLRetro caught up with Brian Lonano to ask him about the campaign, his history in short films, what GWILLIAM is all about and what’s on the horizon.

ATLRetro: You’ve got nine short films under your belt in the past decade, including the inspired THE TRANSMISSION and the utterly berserk CROW HAND!!! What first drove you to dive into filmmaking?

I grew up watching films that featured a lot of special effects and puppets. I am a big fan of Jim Henson, Tim Burton, Spielberg and classic STAR WARS. JURASSIC PARK came out when I was 10 and I wanted to make movies ever since. I became obsessed with seeing any and every movie that Industrial Light & Magic did the special effects for. I didn’t have a camera for a long time so I drew comics and made puppets. As I get older I seek out more bizarre film oddities like HAUSU, THE VISITOR and A FIELD IN ENGLAND. Those kinds of films coupled with what I grew up worshiping keep me inspired to make movies.

You’re not only known for your short films, which have screened all over the world, but you’ve also been recognized by the industry for your usecommissioned work for festivals and television, something our readers might not immediately know about. What does Brian Lonano do when he’s not dreaming up weird short films?

My full time job is working at a post-production facility that processes dailies for TV shows and movies that shoot in town. The commissioned work I make is mostly for film festivals. I would direct a short film called a bumper that advertises the film festival and I would more or less have creative control which is great. I’m very grateful to film festivals that show my work so when I’m asked to make a bumper for one, I put a lot of effort in making a kick ass bumper to show how bad ass the festival is.

It’s a tale as old as time: a man and a goblin in love. What attracted you to this story, and just how disgustingly screwed up can we expect the end result to be?

GWILLIAM came about from a drawing my brother did back in 2011. He was drawing a picture of this weird little man—it just looked completely wrong in the best way possible. We laughed about the picture and decided we had to name the weird man. So we asked ourselves, what’s a gross name that would fit this monstrosity? And we decided on Gwilliam. After that we came up with a strange story where a different man was prowling at night and has an encounter with Gwilliam…I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. I’m excited about how gross this movie is going to be because it’s not gore centric like my previous film CROW HAND!!!. It’s a whole new kind of disgusting.

The preliminary sculpt you’ve shown on the website is impressive even in this early stage. Who’s behind the design of the Gwilliam puppet?

IMG_0150The sculpt of Gwilliam is actually created by Splatter Cinema super team Blake Myers, Luke Godfrey and Nick Morgan. They will be responsible for making the creature puppet for the film.

I see designer Rachel De Urioste mentioned in the IndieGoGo campaign. What she’s bringing to the table? Rachel De Urioste is a local artist, fabricator and designer and she’s designing the GWILLIAM perks for IndieGoGo. She designed the crow totem that was featured in CROW HAND!!!. When we were on the festival circuit with CROW HAND!!! I asked Rachel to make some plastic versions of the Crowtem so I could plant them in theaters and see if anyone would pick them up. I loved the idea of something tangible to take away from the movie. CROW HAND!!! is so short that I wanted to make a big impact with the promotion of it. So with GWILLIAM I wanted to make a new prize to give out to potential donors. If I was giving to a campaign, I would want something cool like a toy. I think people gravitate towards tchotchkes like that.

The variety of rewards you’re offering investors range from the innocuous (digital downloads, credit listing) to the utterly depraved (a Gwilliam sex doll???). How did you come up with these ideas?

I brainstormed ideas for prizes with Rachel and my wife/co-producer Victoria Cook. We all agreed the totems from CROW HAND!!! were a great idea and we wanted to take it a step further. Rachel had never dabbled in designing toys and I am a big fan of Archie McPhee‘s novelty finger puppets so I thought a Gwilliam finger puppet would be a great prize to give out. As I said earlier, if I was donating to something, I would want to get a cool toy. Rachel is making full painted Gwilliam finger puppets but she is also making rainbow editions of the Crowtem and Finger Puppet as well as solid color Gwilliams (we’re calling it the ROY G BIV collection) and even glow in the dark finger puppets! The blow up is another prize we allROYGBIV Gwilliams came up with. The doll would be life size (meaning Goblin size) and the goal is make it a functioning doll. We wanted our campaign to stand out and I figured weird finger puppets and blow up dolls would do the trick!

You’ve lucked up in nabbing William Tokarsky fresh off the TOO MANY COOKS brouhaha, but he’s also popped up in projects ranging from THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE to YOUR PRETTY FACE IS GOING TO HELL. How did your paths cross, and how did you know he was the right man to romance a goblin puppet?

William was very easy to get in touch with. I sent him a message on Facebook asking if he would be interested in working together on a project. We agreed to meet in person and I gave him the script to read. I didn’t say much about it until he read it. Thankfully, he was laughing at the script and said he would absolutely be a part of it. So far working with William has been terrific. He’s easy going, very funny and a great team player. I look forward to shooting so I can direct him.

On the local front, you’ve worked with the Buried Alive Film Festival as a judge, you’ve shot a great bumper for them, and you’ve had your shorts exhibited there as well. Any hope you’ll be bringing GWILLIAM to BAFF screens in the future?

If the film is completed in time I would absolutely love to screen it at BAFF this year. But because I am friends with Blake and the whole team (and they are also working on the film), it would be an out of competition entry. I love screening my work here because the audience gets what I am trying to do and they all seem to really enjoy it!

CROW HAND!!! from !ROBOT HAND! on Vimeo.

All photos courtesy of Brian Lonano and used with permission.  Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Growing Up in a World of Pure Imagination: Heather Henson Talks About Her Jim Henson Connection and Sings Along with The MUPPET MOVIE to Celebrate The Center for Puppetry Arts’ 35th Anniversary

Posted on: Sep 19th, 2013 By:

Kermit, Jim Henson and daughter Heather Henson at the grand opening of the Center for Puppetry Arts, 1978. Photo credit: Center for Puppetry Arts.

When Kool Kat of the Week Heather Henson was just seven, she accompanied her famous father, Jim Henson, the creator of The Muppets, to the 1978 ribbon-cutting of The Center for Puppetry Arts. Today the Center is world-renowned, and the youngest of the five Henson children is coming back this Saturday September 21 at 4 p.m. to lead an audience singalong with the original THE MUPPET MOVIE (1979), just one highlight of the Center’s 35th Anniversary Celebration (Sept. 21-23).

A puppeteer extraordinaire in her own right, Heather founded and directs Ibex Puppetry, an Orlando, Florida-based entertainment company which among other activities, produces the annual Orlando Puppet Festival, the HANDMADE PUPPET DREAMS film series, the Puppet Slam Network and original environmental theatre spectacles. In that role, she’ll be teaching a Community Building Through Puppetry Workshop at the Center, too, on Mon. Sept. 23 from 7-9 p.m. She serves on the boards of the Jim Henson Foundation, the Jim Henson Legacy and the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center.

We caught up with Heather to find out what it was like growing up with such a creative dad, her own road to puppetry, why she’s so jazzed about her recent environmental projects and why to really feel that Rainbow Connection, you and your family should consider costuming as Muppets when you come to the Center on Saturday!

ATLRetro: Being the baby of the Henson family sounds like it has to have been a magical experience. Was your father as imaginative in playing with you as he has been in his public creative life, and do you have a favorite memory of that?

Heather Henson: Yes, he was very imaginative as a dad. We grew up in a house with a ton of crafts projects. You know, today you can get just go to Michael’s and find all these crafts projects out of a box, Michael’s didn’t exist when we were kids. We just had all these craft supplies. We had the little rock tumblers, a silk screen, an enameling oven, a weaving station and an animation station so we could do stop-motion animation. The whole basement was like a crafts project laboratory. So that was really, really, really fun.

That playpen downstairs was amazing. I do a little PowerPoint presentation called “A Daughter Remembers,” and I show some pictures from that basement. We had a set of wooden boxes that were numbered one through 10. I think he must have done them around the same time as SESAME STREET because I look at the counting films and they look so much like that. He painted them in this beautiful limited color palate of the ‘60s—I think it was pink, orange and yellow. On one side, it would have a number, and on the other side us kids got to paint whatever they wanted—animals or insects of that number. It was like one elephant, two butterflies, three horses, four cats. They were so cute. I love those boxes. Again no Michael’s, no Hobby Lobby, no IKEA.

Heather Henson promises a carnival sense of fun at THE MUPPET MOVIE singalongs. Photo credit: Ibex Puppetry.

Did you always know that you’d go into puppetry, too? Or did you ever rebel, and say, no, I’m going to be a fill-in-the-blank?!

Well, I went to college for animation. I guess in high school, I wanted to get into politics, not to become a politician but I liked international relations. I actually still do. A big love of mine is the way that different countries, different cultures come together. In high school, I thought that fell under a political science major. That was the only thing I could think of that would allow me to study other cultures other than anthropology. Right now, I do puppet shows internationally, and that’s still my favorite thing—to go into other cultures and see those relationships.

But then I guess I started college studying art. I thought for a while I could be a political cartoonist. Then I went into, no, I’ll do animation and illustrations, and I wound up right back at puppetry. It took a little bit of a roundabout way, but it’s a total circle. My final project I did in college was in animation, and then when I got out of college, I re-told the story with puppets. I actually found it was a much more satisfying process—the build process and especially delivering it to an audience. Having the live feedback of an audience and the communication between performer and audience was much more satisfying. But it came about from a very personal process. It was not like I’m the daughter of a puppeteer, I have to be a puppeteer.

Photo credit: Ibex Puppetry.

You’ve got your hands on the strings of a lot of projects from IBEX Puppetry to the boards of various Henson-related foundations. What’s one thing you’re especially excited about that you’re doing right now?

The environmental spectacle shows and trying to do them internationally. I do shows without words. We just came back from a puppet festival in Indonesia where we performed CELEBRATION OF FLIGHT, and I’m most excited to do this for an international audience in ways that are also helpful and are of benefit for the community that we go into. I try to make our shows informative about the environment but not going into someone else’s culture and being preachy.

I like to do that for my own community, too. Right now I am in Milwaukee because we are going to be presenting CELEBRATION OF FLIGHT at the International Crane Foundation gala next week. This group does a lot of education about cranes and wetlands. Crane education is really about habitat restoration because cranes need wetlands and the wetlands are being destroyed. They are advocates for the cranes, but they are really advocates for the environment. So I am presenting this show to them and to a school. That’s the work I’m really excited about—trying to do stuff that is being an advocate for the environment. If it’s at all possible that I can use my energies in that direction, that’s exciting to me.

As a child, you attended the ribbon-cutting of the Center for Puppetry Arts.

I know!

Jim, Heather and Jane Henson at the Center for Puppetry Arts opening, 1978. Photo credit: Center for Puppetry Arts.

What do you recall about that day and how does the Center fit into preserving your father’s legacy today and into the future?

I cannot recall anything about that day. I look at that photograph, and I remember the Snoopy sweatshirt that I was wearing. It was one of my favorite sweatshirts. I look at that picture, and I can see that I am wearing SESAME STREET Big Bird corduroy pants, and I remember those pants. I look at that picture and I can remember my clothes.

September 24 was my dad’s birthday. What was amazing about this story was that my dad was in the middle of shooting THE MUPPET MOVIE in LA, which was the first movie that they had. This was like his company’s ultimate creative success at this point. My dad had worked so hard pitching the Muppets to an adult audience for so long, and [THE MUPPET SHOW (1976-81)] was finally picked up in London, and as soon as it was on the air, it became a huge hit. Now he got that opportunity to make THE MUPPET MOVIE. The movie is not about THE MUPPET SHOW, which was based on vaudeville theater in London; it is about the Muppets coming together to make millions of people happy. They all find each other, and they say we’re going to work together, and at the end, they make it to Hollywood. It’s so beautiful.

So my dad was in the middle of making that movie, and that’s when the Center for Puppetry Arts opened. My dad left that movie to come to the opening on his birthday. He didn’t even tell Vince [Anthony, founding executive director of the Center for Puppetry Arts] it was his birthday.

So he thought the Center was pretty cool; it was a sure sign that he thought that something special was happening here?

Yes, he thought it was worth coming to. It’s like, oh, my God, he’s in the culmination, in such a peak in his creative career, and he stops what he’s doing and comes to Atlantato open the Center. It means he really believe the Center was an important place.

The grande finale of THE MUPPET MOVIE. Photo credit: Jim Henson Company/Walt Disney.

Coming back to THE MUPPET MOVIE, what’s your favorite part or scene and why?

It’s such a beautiful movie, by far my favorite of the lot of them. All of them have a special place in my heart, but that one I love just because how pure the message is, how clean the story is. It’s just all these amazing, idealistic people that came together, such as Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher who wrote some amazing music.

My favorite part is the ending, “The Rainbow Connection.” [The Muppets] are so excited, they’ve made it to Hollywood and they’re finally getting a chance to their movie. It all crashes down and then the rainbow comes through. It’s so beautiful.

Can you share a little bit about what’s happening on Saturday and why folks who grew up with the Muppets should attend and bring their children?

And dress up! We’ve got to tell people that they can dress up! Come dressed up as Muppets, and we’ll bring you up on stage.

We’ve found the show works so well for all audiences because the kids like it, the adults like it. We’re getting a lot of kids that are seeing it for the first time. I can’t tell you how many times people say they loved the movie as kids, and now they are bringing their kids. Sometimes the kids know SESAME STREET but don’t really know the rest of the Muppet gang. Or sometimes the parents will show the kids the movie before coming, so the kids will already know all the movie and the lyrics. It’s really funny. The parents and kids can enjoy it together. It’s a big party. It’s a big laugh. We have a really good time. We’re really loud. It’s just like a big carnival for a couple of hours. We sing and dance and just revel in the joy.

You’re also doing a workshop on Monday.

Yeah, it’s a webinar, and it’s on community engagement. Megan Boye and I are doing it together. I don’t just like making shows that are one-sided. I like doing things that are interactive. We are giving audiences things to do, to dance and sing and play. It all started with THE MUPPET MOVIE singalong, and then the LABYRINTH singalong. We’ve added this interactive element to a lot of our [IBEX’s] shows.

We have this whole show called ENDANGERED SPECIES PARADE. We book it like a show, but it’s more like we bring a whole presence to your event. We set up a musical station where kids can play instruments. We set up a tableau of all of our puppets, a display where you can walk around and see them. We set up workshops where you can make puppets. And every hour or couple of hours, depending on how often the venue wants us to do it, we do a parade where we pick up a puppet and we parade around. That type of engagement is something we now do in a lot of our shows, so we’ll talk about how we do that.

Finally, in a world of CGI, where do you see the future of puppetry as an art form? Do you have concerns or do you think it has a special quality that will keep it vibrant and sought-after?

I deal with some film and video, but right now only in my HANDMADE PUPPET DREAMS film series, which is another project of mine that I bring to Atlanta to the Center for Puppetry Arts every year. In my personal work, I don’t do much film work, but when I do film it’s all about practical objects. CGI has been beautiful in a lot of areas, and my brother Brian [Henson] is really into it. I know the Jim Henson Company has invested a lot of time and money and energy into it.

I’m not that scared of [CGI] because I think also the pendulums will always swing. People are interested in new technology, but at the same time, they’re interested in real things, too. Lately I’ve been into live things, so I guess CGI has a place there, too—I guess I have seen live events with CGI creatures—but it really hasn’t come into my world that much yet. But no, I don’t have concerns. I think people are always going to want the craftsmanship of the built physical thing. There’s always a place for that because you want something real in front of you.

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Take Us Away, Oh, Goblin King, Mon Cherie Throws a LABYRINTH-themed Masquerade Ball at The Masquerade

Posted on: Jun 8th, 2012 By:
When a young Jennifer Connelly wishes that the goblins would take away her baby brother, she conjures up David Bowie in blonde ’80s mane, blue cape and exquisite pointy eye liner. “Go back to your room, play with your toys and costumes, forget about the baby ,” bids The Goblin King and then offers her a crystal, “not an ordinary gift for an ordinary girl that takes care of a screaming baby.” Thus starts LABYRINTH  (1986), Jim Henson’s second foray into fantasy with puppetry after THE DARK CRYSTAL (1982). The film, which now as an affectionate cult following fueled by lust for Bowie, is the inspiration for the Labyrinth Masquerade Ball Sat. June 9 in Heaven at The Masquerade by event planner extraordinaire Mon Cherie, grand mistress of  legendary Atlanta night club The Chamber, the Rockabilly Lounge, Va-Va-Voom Burlesque Show and lately Mad Lib-Ations Thursday nights at The Little Five Points Corner Tavern.
Mon Cherie kindly agreed to share a sneak preview of the fantastical festivities and also what else she has planned for the near future.
Why a Labyrinth Ball? 

The Labyrinth Masquerade Ball concept came from a conversation I had with Magenta Costly of The Modified Dolls.  When we met, we hit it off so well that we knew we wanted to “do something” together. Ever since I founded The Chamber, I enjoyed making people’s dreams come true and watching them beam with delight.  When I watched Magenta talk of her love of the movie and her dream of wanting to hold a masquerade ball, I said, “Let’s do it.”

Can you tell us a little more about what will be going on in terms of performers, decor, etc?
You can expect to see Flying Fairies, Goblin Kings and a Masquerade of debauchery. The performances will amaze – fire fans, aerial artists and sparks will fly with a grinder show. Belly dancers and a bit of burlesque to cap off the night.
How should attendees dress? Is it strictly fairy tale or all types of fantasy?
Since it is very important to me that everyone feels welcome at my events, I will never insist that people dress to theme, meaning nobody will be turned away at the door, if you are not in costume. That said, I hear the costuming that the guests are wearing will exceed all expectations of a true Masquerade Ball.

David Bowie as The Goblin King in LABYRINTH; Sony Pictures, 1986.

What types of masks are acceptable and what happens if someone shows up without a mask?

Also, in case guests have not found that perfect mask, I will have several mask vendors on hand, selling their wares – even have a few in the raffle.  So, I have decided to split the raffle and give away the masks early in the evening, so they can wear their prized masks for the event.
Will there be vendors and the usual Mon Cherie raffle? In other words, how much cash should we stash?
I have twice as many sponsors than I have ever had for this event.  So the prizes are twice as amazing, including Lux Deville handbags, Sacred Heart Tattoo, Jezebel Blue Hand-Crafted Jewelry and so much more.  To see the entire sponsor list follow this link to the event page:
What’s next for Mon Cherie Presents that you’d like to share?

There are a lot of changes in the Mon Cherie Camp.  I’m planning another Rockabilly Lounge for Sat. July 21, with Ghost Riders Car Club, and we are planning the next Chamber Reunion, as we speak. My most favorite new thing is Mad Lib-Ations, which we hold EVERY THURSDAY night at L5P Corner Tavern.  Where all my potty mouth friends get to mingle, network, play games and win fabulous prizes. To keep “A” Breast with my shenanigans,  feel free to visit my website at www.moncheriepresents.com.

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Retro Review: THE DARK CRYSTAL: Returning to “Another World, Another Time – in the Age of Wonder” at the Plaza

Posted on: Jun 7th, 2011 By:

By Geoff Slade
Contributing Blogger

Art Opening & A Movie Presents THE DARK CRYSTAL (1982); Dir: Jim Henson and Frank Oz; Conceptual Designer: Brian Froud; Starring Jim Henson, Kathryn Mullen, Franz Oz; “The Small Game of Revilo”art exhibition featuring works by Brian Colin; also appearing will be Heidi Arnhold, artist, LEGENDS OF THE DARK CRYSTAL. Tues. June 7, opening reception 8-11 PM with movie at 9:30 pm; Fri. June 10 at MIDNIGHT; Sun. June 12 at 3 PM; Plaza TheatreTrailer here.

Jim Henson was at his creative peak when THE DARK CRYSTAL first hit theaters the week before Christmas in 1982. His Muppets were already firmly established cultural icons thanks to over a decade on SESAME STREET, five seasons of THE MUPPET SHOW, numerous television specials and two feature films. The song “Rubber Duckie” (sung by Henson as Ernie from SESAME STREET) had spent seven weeks in the Billboard Top 40 in 1970. Kermit the Frog had even filled in for Johnny Carson as guest host of THE TONIGHT SHOW in 1979, for God’s sake. And despite the mass-market, multigenerational appeal of the Muppets, Henson’s bearded genius was still, and always would be, artistically sound. This is likely because he never considered what he did as an entertainment exclusively for children. The original producers of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE agreed and featured “adult” Muppets in their own skits during the show’s inaugural season.

Jen the Gelfling pauses in a beautiful place on his quest to restore THE DARK CRYSTAL. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

There would be additional triumphs on television and in film before his unexpected death in 1991, but THE DARK CRYSTAL stands as Henson’s greatest achievement. The movie tells the story of Jen, the world’s last hope to end a thousand-year reign of evil and bring harmony back to the universe by returning a lost shard to the cracked Dark Crystal. “Of all projects that I’ve ever worked on, it’s the one that I’m the most proud of,” he said at the time.  Sure, he probably said something similar at LABYRINTH press junkets four years later, but THE DARK CRYSTAL achieves more without the benefit of a single human performance on-screen. Not to mention the charisma of David Bowie. Continue reading “Retro Review: THE DARK CRYSTAL: Returning to “Another World, Another Time – in the Age of Wonder” at the Plaza” »

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Rediscovering the Magic of THE DARK CRYSTAL at the Plaza Theatre with Atlanta Comics Artist Heidi Arnhold

Posted on: Jun 6th, 2011 By:

Art Opening & A Movie Presents THE DARK CRYSTAL (1982); Dir: Jim Henson and Frank Oz; Starring Jim Henson, Kathryn Mullen, Franz Oz; “The Small Game of Revilo”art exhibition featuring works by Brian Colin; also appearing will be Heidi Arnhold, artist, LEGENDS OF THE DARK CRYSTAL. Tues. June 7, opening reception 8-11 PM with movie at 9:30 pm; Fri. June 10 at MIDNIGHT; Sun. June 12 at 3 PM; Plaza TheatreTrailer here.

Cover art for LEGENDS OF THE DARK CRYSTAL: TRIAL BY FIRE, the series' second volume written by Barbara Randall Kesel, illustrated by Heidi Arnhold and toned by Jessica Feinberg. (Tokyopop, 2007)

With the popularity of Yoda and the success of stop-motion movies like NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, it may be hard to imagine how revolutionary THE DARK CRYSTAL actually was when it came out in 1982. Long before CGI, Muppets creators Jim Henson and Franz Oz wanted to show the celluloid potential of puppetry—they even billed it as the first live-action movie with no humans on screen—and take fantasy. So they came up with a mythic tale that provocatively took place in “in the age of wonder,” in which two noble, elf-like Gelflings set out on a quest to a fulfill a prophecy that will free their world from the grip of the evil Skeksis. For the imaginative character designs, they turned to fantasy illustrator Brian Froud, with whom they would collaborate again on LABYRINTH (1986). The project was highly anticipated by science fiction and fantasy fans and won some critical acclaim, but sadly tanked at the box office.

Like BLADE RUNNER (also 1982), DARK CRYSTAL was perhaps ahead of its time and destined to gain more appreciation with age. The fantasy film is the latest in a parade of under-appreciated and cult features which the Plaza Theatre has brought back to the big screen. If you’ve only seen it on a TV screen or haven’t seen it at all, here’s a rare chance. Afterwards, be sure and visit The Center for Puppetry Arts’ museum to appreciate all the craftsmanship and detailed costuming that went into an actual Skeksis which appeared in the film.

The screening is part of the Plaza’s Art Opening and a Movie series, featuring an opening reception for the exhibit “The Small Game of Revilo,” a collection of surprising sculptures featuring whimsical and fearsome small forest animals by Brian Colin which will be on display in the lobby through July 3. Also on hand will be Heidi Arnhold, the artist of two volumes of LEGENDS OF THE DARK CRYSTAL (THE GARTHIM WARS and TRIAL BY FIRE), a manga graphic novel prequel published by Tokyopop and set hundreds of years before the film. She’s also drawn a manga version of STAR TREK and is one of the artists for Archaia Entertainment’s upcoming FRAGGLE ROCK, VOL. II anthology, out July 2011. ATLRetro caught up with Heidi to find out how an unknown artist won a professional debut as cool as DARK CRYSTAL, why she thinks the movie has such staying power, and a little bit about her affection for rabbits.

How did you get the opportunity to be the artist for LEGENDS OF THE DARK CRYSTAL?

When I was a senior at the Savannah College of Art (SCAD), I met Tim Beedle [former Tokyopop editor] at Editor’s Day. The Sequential Art Department hosts the event once a year and invites editors from various publishers to visit and give portfolio reviews. I made [Tim] my top priority because my style seemed best suited for them. Much to my surprise and excitement, he liked my stuff and gave me his card! I walked out of the review room clutching it in my hands like he’d just given me the golden ticket.

The evil Skesis, as drawn by Heidi Arnhold in LEGENDS OF THE DARK CRYSTAL (Tokyopop).

I kept in touch with Tim after I graduated in hopes that a project in need of an artist would open up. Little did I know that he was working on LEGENDS at the time, and the first artist had decided to walk. Initially Tim had intended for me to work on something else, but he needed someone to take over the book fairly quickly. One day he asked me if I was a fan of THE DARK CRYSTAL, and I thought he was just making small talk and didn’t respond right away. Shortly afterward he hinted that there was a reason he was asking me that, and I got it through my thick skull that this could be my chance to move forward in the career of my dreams. After sending him sketches and several test pages over the next couple months, I was approved! Tim told me over the phone, and I did an awkward victory dance in the back room at my workplace—thank goodness nobody was looking! And that’s how it all began.

Were you a big fan of the film already, and if yes, when did you first see it and what impact did it have on your art?

When the prospect of illustrating LEGENDS was placed on the table, I’m embarrassed to say I had yet to see THE DARK CRYSTAL at all. I missed out on many awesome things when I was younger, mostly because VHS tapes were pretty costly—or so my parents tell me—and my family wasn’t doing so great financially. I never saw LABYRINTH or FRAGGLE ROCK as a kid either. I’m very glad I was able to grow up watching shows like SESAME STREET and MUPPET BABIES at least!

Another page drawn by Heidi Arnhold for LEGENDS OF THE DARK CRYSTAL (Tokyopop).

However, once I had seen the movie, I was enchanted by the characters and backgrounds. I’ve always had a connection to the fantasy genre, its whimsical elements in particular. Even before I was green lit as the artist, I could tell the world of THE DARK CRYSTAL was going to give me the opportunity to cut loose and have some fun.

Your artwork is very detailed and really makes the movie come to life in the graphic medium. How did you prepare, any funny stories and how many times did you visit the actual skeksis at the Center for Puppetry Arts museum?

Back then I was working at the UPS store, and on my slow days I used their printer to fill a binder full of Dark Crystal reference material—shhh, don’t tell them. I watched the movie over and over. I sketched from screenshots. I referenced Brian Froud’s art book [THE WORLD OF THE DARK CRYSTAL]. I coveted the days when it was quiet at work because I’d get to practice drawing Gelflings and Skeksis to my heart’s content. Skeksis anatomy turned out to be a source of frustration for me. I could not draw the Chamberlain with the correct

Artist Heidi Arnhold.

proportions to save my life. Tim was being so patient as he repeatedly tried to help me visualize how Skeksis were supposed to look. Before too long I began to have dreams about drawing the Chamberlain constantly, and I think that made something inside me die a little—I stopped sending revised drawings for a brief period after that. Tim graciously allowed me to send several test pages containing Gelflings only, claiming that I’d be able to draw Skeksis in my sleep the more I worked on the comic. Luckily, he was right!

And yes, I did visit the Center of Puppetry Arts in 2008. I remember how exasperated I was, because I wish I had gone sooner! I could actually examine the Garthim Master up close, and I understood certain details in his robes much better in person than I ever would have from a screenshot. I was kicking myself that I’d never even considered going down there earlier to use such a valuable resource.

DARK CRYSTAL was really groundbreaking in its use of puppetry in a feature film. How do you feel it holds up today and why should people come see it?

The Dark Crystal has always been such a unique film to me. It gives a fascinating insight into the scope of Jim Henson’s vision, and it redefined the boundaries of puppetry, both technologically and in subject matter. I’ve never seen anything quite like it before or since. I think the movie sits in a specific category all its own, and for that reason it has earned a special place in cinematic history. Everyone should see it at least once!

The cover of Archaia's FRAGGLE ROCK Vol. 2, coming July 2011.

You’ve also drawn FRAGGLE ROCK for Archaia’s anthology. Is that out yet and what was that like and are those stories from the TV series or original ones?

I illustrated a lead story for Volume 2 , Issue 2—that’s a mouthful, isn’t it?—titled “The Meaning of Life,” written by Joe LeFavi, which came out in January of this year. It’s part of a three-issue run that will be collected into a hardback book in the coming months. Volume 1 is already available, and I highly recommend it! All the stories in the anthology are original, and they really hold true to the feel of the show. I think they’ll hit home with a lot of longstanding FRAGGLE fans and give newcomers a chance to fall in love with them as well.

A page drawn by Heidi Arnhold for FRAGGLE ROCK, VOL. II (Archaia Entertainment)

What are you working on right now?

Currently I’m in a holding pattern to see if a project I’ve been visually conceptualizing will be picked up. The story is really fantastic, and I hope that we’ll be able to share it with everyone soon! In the meantime, I’m working on a short-term project that I’m also not allowed to talk about. I know, it’s super interesting, right? Being sworn to secrecy doesn’t make for fun interview responses.

Finally, how many rabbits do you have and have you played with them today?

I have three bunnies! Two boys, a Netherlands Dwarf and a Rex, and one girl, a Mini Rex. The boys are roommates and haven’t bonded with the girl yet, so playtime is sectioned off to different areas of the house. The boys have a room all to themselves, and my little lady is downstairs with me right now! She keeps nudging my feet while I’m sitting in my office chair, because she knows it will make me turn around and pet her. Bunnies are the BEST.

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Retro Review: Cowabunga at the Plaza

Posted on: Mar 14th, 2011 By:

By Mark Arson, Contributing Blogger

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (1990); Dir: Steve Barron; Starring Elias Koteas, Judith Hoag, Josh Pais; Screening at Plaza Theatre, Wed. March 16, 9:30 PM; Fri. March 18, Midnight; Sat. March 19, 3 PM

Hardly any fictional universe has gotten rebooted or re-imagined in such a short period of time than that of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Why is that, though? The turtles certainly have remained popular, to the point that you’d be hard-pressed to find someone of any age that didn’t at least know of them. They are basically a pop-culture anomaly, an absurdist parody of serious and gritty comics developed into their own ubiquitous cultural phenomenon. More so, for most of their history, they’ve been marketed as something for children, when they are…well…ninjas that fight with weapons. That is obviously a difficult balance, but kids’ entertainment in the ’80s was all about violence without the violence. As a child growing up I would typically question everything (No, I didn’t believe in Santa. Ever. Jesus neither.) so I couldn’t help but notice how ridiculous it all was. I remember yelling at the screen when a cruise ship sank in BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES and more lifeboats than possibly could have fit on said boat sailed off, going out of the way to prove that NOBODY DIED. Of course, entertainment for kids requires fantasy, and fantasy is expensive. Continue reading “Retro Review: Cowabunga at the Plaza” »

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