Chloe Lang is the name of the ten-year-old American actress who plays Stephanie in the next season of the TV series about LazyTown, which is currently being filmed. Chloe is a great athlete who loves to sing and dance. She is excited to see herself on screen. What is your full name and how old are you?My name is Chloe Lang and I am 10 years old. Where are you from? I live in Connecticut,...
From the puppet box, a young man peeks who might as well be a fairytale character himself. Every single piece of material he touches seems to come to life and after six years of preparation, the life of ‘average person’ is left behind. Sigurbjörg Þrastardóttir met Guðmund Þór Kárason who says he probably only has one talent: patience.
If Guðmundur Þór Kárason could be hired, he would cross out words like “genius” and “diligence” about himself in a text. However, the ratings are not taken lightly, as they are reflected in numerous recommendations that experienced artists have given him following the collaborations in recent years. After him lie two hundred working puppets made of sponge, silicone, milk bottles, leather, latex and happiness, and who knows what else, and each of them holds a shaped personality and biography that Guðmundur knows on his ten fingers.
He is mostly self-educated in puppetry and puppet management, but has covered many books, videos and magazines on the subject. The creativity he says he got from his mother’s milk, because his parents are Jenný Erla Gusmundsdóttir artist and Kári Halldór Þórsson director and acting teacher.
“I’ve always been making something, for as long as I can remember” he says, recalling planes made from kitchen rollers and Cheerios kits, Lego villages and other masterpieces in Grandma’s basement.
His interest in film-making and cartoons was dormant from an early age as a boy, but it was not until a visit to Disneyland in Florida that the magic of puppetry came to him. While he was waiting to buy tickets for a 3D movie about the Proud Actors, he watched a very entertaining puppet show on TV screens above the ticket office. “Then it dawned on me that this was something I could think of to do. In my heart I am an entertainer and I enjoy telling stories that make me happy, and in the puppet theater I get to build puppets, create characters, direct them and tell stories – this is a platform that combines everything I have always been interested in” he says brilliantly at a glance.
After a little push, Guðmundur got his first real project after graduating in 1994. “I was asked to turn a puppet and a script into an advertising campaign for Svein the baker, which actually turned out to be a final escape as the company was sold shortly afterwards. It was still an extensive and good experience for me, because in addition to making the puppets, I wrote a script for eleven TV commercials” says Guðmundur, who hasn’t found his way out of puppet-land since then. His works on television include the children’s program Úr Skrytnaskógi on Stöð 2, Sjónvarpsin’s Christmas calendar in 1997 and twelve Icelandic politicians’ speculators for RUV’s election television in 1995.
In recent years, Guðmundur has devoted his energies and time to the puppets, but at the same time he has quenched his natural thirst for learning. “I studied philosophy at the University of Iceland for two years because I thought it was important to train the mind no less than the hand,” he explains. “Many puppet artists I have met abroad have forgotten themselves in that world. There is a lack of a broader background, but it is precisely from such a background that good ideas emerge. “
Although his studies were successful, Guðmundur found out that he was “no scholar” in himself – he switched to art studies and is now immersed in graphic design at the Iceland Academy of the Arts.
Three invitations from Jim Henson
In a surprisingly short time, he has managed to make a name for himself in the Icelandic puppet world and some of his puppets have become personal friends of Icelanders, such as Klængur snidugi from Sjónvarpsinn’s Christmas calendar, Lúlli and Góri from Stundinn okkar and most recently the furry rooster Haninn in the new play about Glanni glæpur. The rooster was built by Guðmundur at the request of the guardians of Latibær and he also plays him on stage in the National Theater (Þjóðleikhúsið).
“It is worth noting that puppet building and puppet management are separate areas. “Although I have built 129 puppets, either alone or in collaboration with others, I have focused no less on puppet management and the invitation I have received from Jim Henson Company have been based on the latter” he informs, but the company in question is taught by the one and only Jim Henson, the godfather of the Pranksters. Guðmundur has been invited three times to participate in company’s rehearsals and workshops, on both sides of the Atlantic, including for the Jim Henson Company, among other things, for the entertainment series Sesame Street, the remote-controlled pig Badda and other well-known film characters. “For the first time, I got through two of the three days of the workshop, because the group that is invited each time is more than enough to cover what they need” informs Guðmundur.
The next time, earlier this year, in New York, he passed through all the filters and was then invited to join a group that had been selected long before to participate in a workshop in London this summer. He went there and is still excited about the experience. “I learned an enormous amount from that work and was in the final group there as well. They paid attention to my craft and one of the heads of the company’s puppetry department in London was exceptionally decent. “You have actually achieved what many others have done in a lifetime” is what he said after looking at my folders” says Guðmundur and adds as an excuse that the foreman is a also a very positive fellow. Finally, however, he admits that he is deeply proud of the acknowledgement he received from the Jim Henson Company. “I have always compared myself to the best and if the best in the profession accept me, I feel I am achieving certain results” he says.
“I’m not showing this to anyone …”
And to emphasize that he wasn’t always the best, Guðmundur pulls out a folder with big letters: GUÐMUNDUR ÞÓR’S FIRST PUPPET. “I do not show these pictures to just anyone” he says, making a fleeting glance. Scrolling through the photos it is as if he discovers that the old puppets aren’t finished at all. “They’re definitely raw, but the characters are still strong and the creativity is great” he says as an elderly critic on a student show.
A lot has changed since the first puppets, and from there Guðmundur has come to create remote-controlled puppets, animatronics, which he creates by taking apart and mysteriously reassembling the remote controls of airplanes. “Sometimes, when I’ve taken apart the equipment I bought and the ends are loose, I sometimes wonder what I’m getting myself into” he admits, laughing and shaking his head.
In the end everything goes well, but the path to get there is sometimes different: “After all, patience is perhaps my only talent. To make the effort to start all over again when everything goes wrong and to say “Now I’m doing it again and doing it better.” And it can actually be very helpful to go back to the beginning of something that seemed like an empty mistake and see what works and why.”
Latex, Magnús and the basement
He says he is constantly looking for a challenge in his job, once he reaches the calm sea, he looks for new goals. The latest creation is a latex puppet he has been working on with another man this summer in connection with Latibær’s entry into the foreign entertainment market. The adventurous results of this summer work can currently be seen in the lobby of the National Theater, where the Sport elf and fellow residents can be seen.
“On a good day, Magnús Scheving, a man I did not know at the time, called me. He was very interested in what I was doing and wanted to get me to join the Latibær project. I struck out and it is safe to say that our collaboration with Magnús has been the gold standard for me. He has an incredible artistic intuition, is a fiery “businessman” and has quickly become one of the people I have the most respect for.”
Guðmundur decided to make the Latibær puppets out of latex because of the possibilities it offers for fun facial expressions, because the puppets are intended for film-making where details are important. “The first tests today did not actually have many good results, but Magnús saw it so far that he bought the idea. I got a talented film magician with me, Stefán Jörgen Ágústsson, and together we have been working on an enormous and expensive project to develop and prepare the puppets, in a total of thirteen.
We were actually stuck in the basement of the Latibær’s office for four months, surrounded by oil clay, heat-resistant fiberglass and liquid rubber resin in ammonia” Guðmundur says with a chuckle and still shakes his head over the prank. “For example, for a whole month we wore masks because of the danger of toxic fumes. That’s why we have the most sinister photos.”
The future of aircraft
He adds that all the necessary materials had to be “excavated” by ourselves, ordered from abroad, whipped, weighed and mixed according to the rules of the art. “Stefán Jörgen contributed his chemistry knowledge, I came up with the puppet activity and the result was a great collaboration.”
In unsolicited news throughout the conversation, Guðmundur has praised his colleagues, both the employees of Latibær and the two television stations as well as assistant chefs from the ranks of family members. He says he would never have gotten this far without good collaborators – but says the sequel is certainly in his own hands.
“The situation today is that I am standing on the doorstep of the Jim Henson Company. And whether it is through those connections or others, the policy is set abroad, as more opportunities and challenges are available there. The Icelandic market is fine in that it is possible to get into large projects relatively quickly, but the main drawback is that the material must preferably be suitable for all age groups at once. Although I actually enjoy the sincere and childlike, I’m no less excited to work for adults – and then of course with the humor in my suitcase as before. The most fun thing I do is to make life happy with dead things.”
How are funny puppets born?
Sponge gets the leading role
“I have always studied people: facial expressions, body movement, gait and expression,” says Guðmundur when asked about capturing the character gallery. “Somehow, I might use that in the play. I could start with one small sponge and an idea for a face, but once the creative process starts it’s just as certain that the character will be used somewhere. I might try to put big teeth in it, then all of a sudden I find it really funny and decide to keep the teeth in. Then I start playing with the puppet in front of a mirror, even let it sing songs and move in a certain way. This is how the character really comes to life halfway through” he says, and the spark flies in all directions as he flips through the photo folders and reads his character descriptions. “For example, this is one of my favorite characters” he says warmly, pointing to the deep blue hare. “The Indian is also very clever, his goal in life is to market ‘Curry-cola’ and he has played a role in several advertisements for the soft drink that I have recorded on video” says Guðmundur and smiles at the picture.
Then he points out some characters from the whole idea of children’s TV shows that he developed in collaboration with his cousin and close colleague, Olvi Gíslason, a few years ago. The idea is for a live TV studio, where lively creatures live in every nook and cranny, such as the TV-sick rats Ægir and Kári, the zealous pest control Sergei Bubkov and the night watchman Þorvarður, who is often tricked into playing a role in the play. In this way, each pile of sponges and rags gains life and color if done correctly.
“Puppets who only move their eyes, mouth and hands may not seem to make it big, but with that you can still show everything. That’s really weird about it; the diversity that is achieved out of simplicity” explains Guðmundur.” “In addition, there is the character creation and when it works, people make up in their minds what is actually not there in the appearance. For example, many people do not remember better than Swine blinking her eyelids – which she does not – just because everything else she does is believable. This is the attraction of the puppet theater, it’s subject to such pleasantly strange laws.”