Category Archives: Bringing my creatures to life

Manchester Museum film

I am really excited to be making a film with conservationist and curator at Manchester Museum and two very experienced TV guys, Joe Bendinski who has worked on all the major kids TV programmes and Fraser Durie who makes wildlife documentaries and is the media course leader at Salford University.
The idea was to give the creatures in Manchester museum vivarium a voice through my puppets, to tell their stories.
Huey played the museums first ever chameleon tour guide professor Hulio Diego Franchesco who introduces us to all the different live creatures in the museum. The script is very funny by Rik Thorpe with Imput from Andrew Gray and myself.
The puppeteering and voices were by Matt Crowther and Rik Thorpe who both did a fantastic job!
We filmed in the museum at night, when it was closed to the public which was great because all the frogs were really active and singing, we got some great sound effects for the film!
it was fantastic that we could work with the live creatures.
Part of the filming was done in the studio using my textile trees and plants as the set. It was great to be able to use them in this way as it looked quite different to the exhibition, the idea was that we were recreating one of the display cases at the museum.

I am really excited because they are going to give Jose the frog animated eyelids in post production.


Mark Toners painted glass shadow screen

Painted glass shadow screen
By Mark Toner

After seeing Mark’s silhouette paintings on glass, I knew they would make an amazing shadow screen for Wired, Wild and Alive!
I have experimented with coloured shadow puppets on a white screen and love the idea of reversing this and having the silhouettes against the vibrant colour of the seabed!

Mark uses pigment reactions of paint on glass to create an a magical effect.

“my work is all about energy and where it all started nature”
Mark Toner

Interactive coral reef

Interactive coral reef

Interactive coral reef

Interactive coral reef

After making a living reef animation, I thought it would be interesting to explore how I could make an interactive reef, so children could move it and bring it to life. I liked the idea of corals being a community working together to build structures and people from the community working together to bring Wired and Wild to life. I worked with mums to explore hyperbolic coral techniques and their children to make the digital panel. Jeff Fox helped me achieve the interactive element by creating a wooden ledge, that children can work from underneath. The bleached reef was deliberately not interactive to show the contrast of the dying corals.


Crochet and cake club

Exotic flower wall hangingCrochet and cake club.
Wall hangings and coral reefs were made with the help of a lovely group of ladies who crochet, mainly mothers whose children go to Barlow Hall primary, we meet once a week on a Thursday, our children play while we crochet, experimenting with different crochet techniques starting with the hyperbolic coral, we researched images and ideas and invented our own corals and flowers. Each week we shared our creations. I wanted to give the opportunity for the ladies to put something of themselves into the project rather than tell them what to do, I wasn’t after a production line, I wanted them to get something out of it, which freaked them out slightly at first! Being used to crochet from patterns and doing it for more practical reasons like clothing or blankets. I wanted them to have freedom to be creative within my project, they soon started adapting techniques and coming up with new ways of working to create.
I was very much one of them not a tutor, I provided materials and showed them some ideas and techniques and they gave me ideas and techniques too!
Thank you to Samantha Stibbe who generously made delicious cakes and hosted the sessions in her home!
We plan to continue Crochet and Cake club it’s been a lovely social gathering and really positive for us all! It is also the highlight of our children’s social calendar!

What the ladies said about crochet and cake club.

“For me having some time to do something for myself has been really rewarding and helped my confidence. Being part of a group and feeling that I am contributing to something creative has, for those couple of hours each week, made me feel I am achieving more than just going to work, coming home and being a mum.
Working towards a collaborative project has been really motivating and seeing the progress and the individual’s creations develop week on week has been totally inspiring!
Everyone has been really patient with me and taught me new skills (as I was a complete novice when we started!)
I hope I can learn more techniques as we continue. As well as eating gorgeous cakes it’s also been great getting to know women from our school community better and establish new friendships. It feels like being a part of something women have done for generations; sitting and talking non stop and creating and through that of course supporting and inspiring each other.”
Jennie Thompson

Attending crochet and cake club with Mandy and the other ladies has increased my confidence in my crafting skills, particularly in engaging more freely and creatively with the medium. Along the way, I’ve grown closer to the other ladies and feel a genuine sense of community forged as we craft. Some of my first (astounded!) words in the initial session were; “where’s the pattern, though?!” and reflecting back on that shows just how far we have all come. Gone is my reliance on following patterns, replaced by growing understanding of how the stitches, yarns and various techniques affect the final piece of work. This underpinning knowledge has opened a floodgate of creativity and joy, as we each bring our own ideas to create something far greater than the sum of its parts. What a wonderful experience we have shared through working alongside Mandy! ” Jen Playforth

“I have thoroughly enjoyed our weekly crochet sessions. It has been a fun social gathering; getting to chat with lovely ladies in a relaxed and friendly environment, full of encouragement, support and creative ideas, whilst drinking tea and eating delicious cakes.
My crochet skills have improved along the way as I have learnt new techniques. This has inspired me to research further ideas as my confidence has grown. I feel proud to be part of a fabulous group that is contributing to such an amazing project!”
Michelle Clough

“Being out of work and being treated for depression life has been tough for the last 2 years. Crochet club gave me friendship, fun and focus. My crochet skills were basic but I’ve been challenged to learn new techniques and use it to make totally new things. I am going back to work but will definitely keep up with crochet club as it’s been the best therapy ever!”
Sam Stibbe

Creating a yarn bombed forest

My initial challenge was making trees and plant life that would be sturdy enough to withstand children moving around them, I was really lucky because the post office next to my studio was closing down, I was allowed to take all the stands that they used for queuing. I had the idea of creating a yarn bombed forest, I covered branches in crochet and attached them around the bases, crocheting in between to create a webbing effect. I made big leaves from hula hoops and a job lot of irish green stockings from ebay.

Rainforest Adventure

We were very lucky to have frog expert Andrew Gray join us, with his live creatures at leigh Central Primary school, children helped Alice look for the Lemur Leaf frog, made the endangered giant, Birdwing butterflies with me and created superteams to save the planet with Rik, they had great fun while learning important issues about the environment!

photo 1-4

Wired and Wild in Schools

We had a fantastic time taking Wired, Wild and Alive into schools, the children were so excited by Alice and the creatures, amazing reaction, it was lovely to see!

There was a special assembly, the children went on underwater adventures with Alice, wrote Fab fishy poems with Rik and made underwater shadow puppets with me for a special performance at the end of the day!photo 2-3photo 4-4
What people said about Wired and Wild Outreach programme in Schools

The Wired, Wild and Alive art project captured the children’s attention from the start. They were engaged and motivated throughout the day, responding well to the expertise of the storyteller Alice who really brought the sea creatures to life and mesmerised the children with her array of props, creatures and costumes . The children embraced a number of aspects of the arts in a project which which looked at animals and there habitats, which culminated in a high quality performance at the end of the day involving puppetry and poetry.

“It was great to be involved in the Wired, Wild and Alive Projects. Both the children and staff learnt lots from working alongside the artists on the day and developed skills and techniques which can be used again in the future. We are looking forward to being involved in more environmental projects with Wired and Wild !”

“A very creative day crossing a number of art forms!
Art: Mandy’s knitted puppets are so detailed!
Laminated shadow puppets by yr 4 magically displayed in show!
Drama: engaging performances by Alice took the children on a journey.
Poetry: lively and funny
Great characterisation of Spike and Huey by Rik!
Visuals also great on screen on a backdrop to final performance, animated art.
Please let us know details for show in Manchester.”

“Everything really enjoyable, children focused and joining in, suitable for all ages”
Would you like them to come again? “Yes please!”

” Presented in a fun way, keeping the children engaged and enthused!
Even the children who were unsure took great pride in presenting their work to the whole school!”
Would definitely want Wired and Wild to come again!”

“So rich, the storyteller brought the story to life and captivated the children!
Alice captured the children’s imaginations, the colours, costumes used, the expression she used, the way she got the children to move around and put themselves in the creatures shoes all aided this
One of the few sessions where the boy I work with was mesmerised and left having learnt about the Amazon and the coral reef and the creatures that live there. He still talks about the sessions to date.i think it’s a positive way for children to learn, particularly those with special needs who find the classroom setting difficult.”
Mandy Brooks
Learning support assistant for a boy with autism
Barlow Hall primary Manchester

“It was the best assemblies we have ever had at our school!!!”
Sophie aged 7, Leigh Central primary School

MARS diary


I was delighted for my proposals to be one of the first collaborations to be chosen for the MARS project at Federation House with Benji Reid. MARS is about giving Manchester artists free creative space to network, collaborate and make art happen, the space to be allowed to experiment and explore ideas.

The collaboration involved Jim Parris, an experienced and talented musician, bassist and manager of Carmel. Hannah Richmond creative film maker from Manchester Music Videos, Greg Foster interesting, gaming concept artist and two of the original wired and wild puppeteers Rik Thorpe and Matt Crowther . Later joined by brilliant storyteller Alice Penny.

The collaboration was initially for four Saturdays.
Working on Fridays with Hannah Richmond on filming.

My original idea was that I wanted to create some digital content for a performance idea that involves Wired and Wild going into schools and creating a performance.
I wanted to create a living coral reef that could be projected and used as a window into the imagination of a storyteller, a character,  I was making a colourful felted coat for, she is inspired by the wonders of nature! She has a collection of exotic creatures and her relationship with them is at the heart of the action.

Day 1
We brainstormed and talked through what I was trying to achieve, Greg had lots of ideas around audience participation and what it means to be involved in a performance, we talked about the narrative and how the creation of the creatures a could be part of the performance.
We went on to work with puppets to play a game lead by Rik, that builds up a narrative, myself, Rik, Matt and Greg worked the puppets and Hannah filmed, Jim played his bass, jamming along to the movement of the creatures to create an atmospheric melodic sound.

Day 2
I worked with Hannah to film my corals, I showed her how they could be animated and I described the living coral reef like a living digital environment. Hannah came up with the idea of filming them in a black box, which would enable the background to be keyed out. I wore black gloves and animated each one individually through a hole in the back of a cardboard box that was lined in black fabric. This low cost, innovative idea gave brilliant results!. They really looked alive in the footage! The footage would be montaged together to create a moving, living reef.

Day 3
We took the footage into Federation House and projected it on to a big white sheet.
It was starting to look more like a digital art installation than a traditional performance piece! Jim played along as the footage played I started to imagine it in a gallery setting. We talked about sound effects like bubbles and underwater sounds that may work with the bass, Jim worked with garage band on his computer to create a track. We also decided to record the piano harp that was there to create some interesting sounds.

Day 4
I worked with Hannah, taking a fish tank in to Federation house to film some underwater footage, I wanted to create some flowing movements making sea plants with hairy wool, I made jelly fish from shredded plastic bags and nets. The movement looked great although it was quite a challenge because there was quite a lot of noise in the image so it may prove difficult to key out. We looked at using After Effects to edit the footage with Phil from CSV.
This project coincides with a media course I am doing, so I have decided to combine both projects to get access to expertise and resources.

Day 5
Meeting with Alice Penny, Alice has been travelling in Asia so hasn’t been available up until this point, she is perfect for the role as the storyteller and I was delighted when she agreed to play it, I have seen her work when my daughter went to one of her sessions, she takes children on a journey, engages them in her world and they are involved in the performance. After talking to Alice, who was very excited to be involved! I realised that she doesn’t perform in the traditional sense in front of an audience, everything became clear, the show would be an art installation with Alice taking the children on a journey through the space, the creature puppets would come to life in their environments and interact with the viewers.
This was also an area I was more comfortable with being a visual artist,
I also did some research and found some sound effects for Jim to listen to.

Day 6
Jim played sound track adding the sound effects which worked really well together.
Talked about ideas with Rik, we discussed breaking the show up into sections,
Section discussed
A tactile interactive coral reef, making an environmental exhibit with gloves attached to corals that can be animated from underneath, either as a kind of table top or standing frame. Also discussed using a mirror so children could see how it looked or viewers could see double.

Digital video projection of living coral reef.
Children’s creative writing from schools project being used with Jim’s soundtrack.

Environments with puppets rainforest or desert created, puppets would come alive as viewers approached, Matt Crowther is particularly good at this skill as he proved at Manchester Museum.

Children’s work from the school projects would be displayed.

Coral reef shadow screen, children would have a chance to have go at working the shadow puppets on the overhead projector to sea how they look maybe create some simple ones to use?

Storyteller would use the different elements to tell her stories.

Day 7
Making a photographic montage of photoshop corals to be printed for shadow screen on Media CSV course.

Recorded piano harp in the basement to send to Jim.

Day 8
Brought in Storytellers coat I have been making, for a fitting on Alice Penny who was able to join us for the last session, it was great because I was able to get an idea of how it could all work together! Both myself and Hannah brought our children in to get an idea of the audience participation element. Alice and the puppeteers worked with a script to introduce the characters. We talked about the idea of the coat being magical and that the creatures could come to life when she wears it! We plan to develop this idea more. This was the last day of the collaboration as planned. We plan to meet up when the coral reef film is finished.

The MARS project has given me the creative space to get together with talented artists to develop ideas, I am on my way to creating a film and soundtrack which I intend to use to apply for ACE funding.

Day 9
I have started learning After Effects on my media course, I have learnt how to key out the black from the coral footage, scale down, duplicate and montage the moving corals together, i use my photoshop background as a starting point and add the video footage. I am impressed with what I have learnt so far although frustrated because of my professional vision, I am getting support from tutors Phil McDowell who will help me with the skills to make it more professional. I plan to show it to Jim and we will put it together with the sound track.

Day 10

The video I am editing is looking too busy and not 3D enough, I have done really well to learn after effects, although because I have only just started learning, I can’t achieve what I need for this project, this is a complicated process for someone who is experienced! I have to call in the help of Mike Thomas who is very skilled at editing in After Effects, he helps create the background using the photoshop image, making it more 3D in the space, creating lighting effects to give it more depth and adding particles to give the impression that the still image is moving.

Day 11

The original footage of the corals wasn’t working with the new 3D background, it was really hard to key out the black and it was moving too fast, it was really hard to slow it down with out it becoming robotic. I decided to do so filming with the green screen, I filmed my jelly fish puppet using a fan to create the movement in the water, this worked really well!, I also filmed some of my knitted wire fish.  This footage worked really well with the background Mike was working on which is starting to look really atmospheric and magical!.