Imagine a handmade sock puppet headed on a journey where it recounts a story about... anything you want it to. Or think of a gray shaggy-dog puppet interviewing your local barista amid sci-fi sound effects and dancing animated mythical characters, asking tough questions like "Where did you get those pants?" and "Does coffee hold the true meaning of life?"
Dream big or go home. That's what a Broward foursome of professional storytellers recently devised. They got together, developed a ten-year business plan, and are set this July to launch Live Animation Studios, a filmmaking production company that combines ancient storytelling media theater and puppetry with new media, animation genres, sound effects, and digital technology.
"Welcome to Live Animation Studios, where we tell your story," cofounder Jim Hammond, of the Puppet Network and the Florida Day of the Dead festival, says in a promotional video.
Joining the spunky Hammond in this unique endeavor is Dean Lyon, a visual-effects and computer-graphics guru who worked on the blockbuster Lord of the Rings trilogy; Joann Yarrow, artistic director of Miami Dade College's Teatro Prometeo, a Spanish-speaking theater company; and attorney Marilyn Krantz.
On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Hammond, Lyon, and Yarrow are seated in the studio room at the Bunker, a "collaborative arts space" in Wilton Manors that will be home to Live Animation Studios. A gray dog puppet named Stranahan lies on a table nearby. The trio are all wearing black. "We're artists," Hammond jokes, responding to my fashion observation.
There's a palpable giddiness in the room. So... what is this new concept you guys came up with?
Lyon grabs a piece of paper and reads aloud the vision he has written: "Live Animation Studios is a creative and talent-based content creation studio dedicated to the state of the art of visual storytelling, combining live performance of puppetry with the numerous animation genres, including 3D, holograms, stop motion, and apps."
Pulling from each of the team members' backgrounds, this collaboration allows for something magical, according to Yarrow.
"The idea of combining the four of us gave me a chance to think bigger," says Lyon, who not only has serious film-industry cred under his belt but has also been a pioneer in computer graphics.
This complex and ambitious vision doesn't immediately digest.
To clear things up, Yarrow offers an example. "So let's say you run a donut company, and let's say you have a couple of franchises and you want to have more of a virtual presence online, YouTube," she says. "You come to us, since we are professional storytellers, and we'll take the donut..."
"We'll turn your donut into a puppet," quips Lyon.
The studio contains high-end cameras and editing and production suites, turning the space into a filmmakers' hub.
Looking over at Stranahan, the dog puppet, Hammond begins to explain what he's been up to.
"We are developing a travel show from a pet's perspective using Stranahan the dog where we have point-of-view shots, and he's wandering through different communities and interviews people," he says. "So we plan to pitch this to a pet-friendly travel show. This is just one of the 20 properties we are working on."
The group plans to host educational workshops for would-be filmmakers as well as host live-performance events open to the public.
"We are the only firm that is currently doing this not only in Florida but maybe across the world," Hammond claims. "What's specific about this is it is creative-driven, and the direction comes from very different creative sectors coming together."
"Live Animation Studios is authentic storytelling, mythmaking, a magical place where we are able to touch people's humanity regardless of race, language, or country," says Yarrow.
"A puppet can tell a story very differently than a talking head," says Hammond. "Digital effects can tell a story very differently from a talking head. And to pull this team together, and with the strength in these four different arenas, we can tap in and bring those stories to the global world. We want to find those stories and tell them in a unique way."