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Making Gumby, An Interview with Puppet Maker Nicole LaPointe-McKay

We caught up with Gumby puppet maker Nicole LaPointe-McKay to get the inside scoop on making puppets as a profession. Part One of our interview follows, and Part Two will appear in a future blog post, so stayed tuned; you’ll want to read the full story.

Nicole-LaPointe-McKay animating gumbyGC: Welcome Nicole. Thank you for taking time to join us at Gumby World today to tell us more about yourself and your experiences as a puppet maker. 

NLM: I’m happy to be here. I appreciate the opportunity.

GC: How did you become interested in being a puppet maker?
NLM: I’ve been interested in puppets since I was a kid. I was obsessed with the Muppet Show and stop animation programs. I watched Gumby on TV with my little brother. My mother would craft puppets for me to use in plays that I made up. I put on shows with hand puppets, my favorite monkey puppet, and a few marionettes. I always volunteered to get up in front of people to perform and lead others, such as the Girl Scouts, in plays. I was a thespian in high school, and it seemed natural that I would go on to study theater in college.

GC: How did you get involved with Gumby?
NLM: After college and having gained a few years of experience in puppet making, set design and animation, I applied to a posting on AWN.com (Animation World Network), not knowing what the studio was. I didn’t get that particular job, since it had already been filled, but I kept in touch with the studio—Clokey Productions. When studio producer Joe Clokey had an opening for a set designer, he called me. I worked on the Gumby Namco game commercial and have been with Gumby ever since. You can see some production photos here: (http://www.gumbyworld.com/gumbys-studio/)

GC: What kinds of puppets do you make?
NLM: I’m trained to work with just about any material and style of puppet. In my studies I was exposed to puppets from around the world and different time periods. Some of my favorites were the Japanese bunraku, the French Guinol and the Italian Commedia dell’Arte. Currently I fashion a lot of clay puppets for stop motion. I do have some personal projects in the works that involve hand-rod, big-mouth puppets (like the Muppets-type puppets.) I’m doing some new clay animation, too.

GC: How do you make a Gumby puppet?
NLM: Gumby is made of mostly Van Aken clay—a secret recipe! I whip up a batch following his unique recipe, mix, and boil it down in a double boiler to a unified color and the right consistency. I prep the silicone/stone mold with a floating armature. This is Gumby’s skeleton. I then pour the mixture into the mold and let it cool. Sometimes I chill it in the fridge to speed the process. Next, I pop him out of the mold and clean him up by trimming the seams and patching the bubble marks. Gumby gets an oil massage to make him smooth. I then drop a faceplate on him to mark where the features will go. Finally, I add the delicate clay features of his face.

GC: How many Gumby puppets does it take to make a Gumby TV episode?
NLM: More than you would think. The number of puppets needed really depends upon the storyline and type of morphing and movement that the puppet does. When Gumby morphs and changes shape, he needs to be replaced after every few seconds of animation, because the clay loses its shape. One minute of animation can require 20 Gumbys, sometimes more. The lights can also melt the clay, requiring a change of puppets. Because we go through so many puppets, it’s critical that they are all identical and made to the same specifications.

GC: You were involved in the Gumby Google doodle that appeared on October 12, 2011 to honor Art Clokey’s 90th birthday. Tell us about that.
NLM: It was a collaborative effort, involving a small subset of the Clokey Productions’ crew. We worked long distance—by phone, Skype and email. With the short deadline, I made puppets non-stop for a week before the animator could do his part. We used 3-6 puppets of each character for about 4-6 seconds of animation per character. The individual segments of animation were then sent to Google, where their programming team integrated them into their home page. It was exciting to see the characters come to life and move with the click of a mouse. The interaction was really fun! I think this was the first clay animation doodle that Google has used. The doodle was online around the world, so I hope that it inspired a renewed interest in clay animation. You can view it live and interact with it here: http://www.gumbygoogle.co.cc/

GC: What do you do for fun?
NLM: I’m always brainstorming and designing puppet shows and animations based on the interests of little kids that I know. I watch a lot of cartoons with my two-year-old daughter. I love to create (working in clay, painting…) and most enjoy brainstorming creative ideas with my artsy friends.

GC: What are your favorite recent animated productions?
NLM: I’m into watching Timmy Time, a stop motion animation with clay, foam, and rubber puppets done by the Aardman studio in England. I like this style of animation, because there is little speaking; it’s simple and tells the story through actions. Rather than a lot of words, they use onomatopoeia. Timmy Time is a preschool of animals, which children of all ages can enjoy watching. It’s cute, funny, has bright colors and teaches a lesson.

GC: What inspires you about the future?
NLM: Giving back is essential. I grew up in an area that did not provide many opportunities for kids to learn the arts. I still remember a week in my fifth grade class when our teacher had us make puppets and do a book report using them. That changed my life I think. You never know how you can have a positive influence on the next generation. To do my part, I teach stop motion animation classes and workshops at summer camps for kids.

Today, kids are animating with their phones and digital SLR’s. They have so many opportunities to create animations or other imaginative works. The tools are readily available. I love to help spark their imaginations.

GC: You can see some of Nicole’s work and read more on her blog:
http://www.nicolelapointe-mckay.blogspot.com/

Learn more about the career of puppet making in the second segment of our interview with Nicole. Look for it in a future blog post.

 

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Art Clokey and Gumby Featured in Google Doodle and New Website

Google doodle for Art Clokey's 90th BirthdaySan Luis Obispo – October 12, 2011, we celebrate Gumby creator Art Clokey’s 90th birthday, and Google is honoring this stop motion pioneer with a doodle. Google’s home page will feature a unique interactive stop motion clay doodle created by the Clokey Productions Premavision studios. Coinciding with the birthday fanfare is the premiere of the new Gumbyworld.com website—Gumby’s new home!

“The Google Doodle is the perfect tribute to my fathers work,” says Joe Clokey, Art Clokey’s son and creator of Gumby’s new website. “Art’s life and film career were ahead of their time. My dad would have been thrilled to be connected with Google in this way.”

Art Clokey Animating GumbyA true visionary and pioneer, Art Clokey touched millions around the world with his creations. Art’s clay animation short Gumbasia expressed an exciting kinesthetic brand of film making that has influenced many of our current leading directors. The new Gumbyworld.com website is rich with new, classic and rare film clips, pictures, biographical information about Art Clokey’s formative years along with an in-depth look at his five decade long run of his cutting-edge film making.

From the Adventures of Gumby and Davey and Goliath to surrealistic art films, Art Clokey had a fascinating and influential career. The new website Gumbyworld.com is the most comprehensive look ever at the iconic green clay boy and all of the other characters in Art’s limitless universe of imagination and artistic expression. Included are clips of Art Clokey talking about the creative process and a look into some of his lesser known pilots. Gumby and Art Clokey, two American originals.

Scott animating the Google doodleRenowned animator Anthony Scott created the doodle animation. Scott is known for his animation direction and supervision on CoralineCorpse Bride and The Nightmare Before Christmas. Scott got his start in animation working on the 1980’s Gumby series, under Art Clokey himself. He was also the lead animator under the direction of Art’s son Joe Clokey on the Davey and Goliath Snowboard Christmas movie, which was released in 2004. Gumby lead puppet maker Nicole La Pointe-McKay modeled the various characters for the Google animation.

About Premavision

Clokey Productions and Premavison studios, founded by Art Clokey in 1956, produce stop motion animation TV series, films and commercials. They are best known for creating the iconic characters Gumby, Pokey and friends and Davey and Goliath. Located in central California, they draw the most talented animators, puppet makers and set designers in the industry.

For more information about Gumby, Premavision and existing licensing opportunities visit www.gumby.com

Nicole LaPointe-Mckay Making Gumby

Nicole LaPointe-Mckay Making Gumby

Anthony Scott - Gumby Google Doodle Animator

Anthony Scott - Gumby Google Doodle Animator

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