Sci-Fi Filmmaker Mixes It Up with Puppets, Pixels and Poetry

What could throw a proverbial wrench in the works of an elegant Clockwork Universe? Love can. And not just any love, but a forbidden love. Can mechanical, predictable worlds survive the chaos of romance and betrayal brought on by two young lovers?

In the new short film Monster of the Sky, award-winning filmmaker Sam Koji Hale explores the theme of forbidden love, betrayal and revenge in a futuristic universe of enslaved humans on a massive clockwork world, while paradoxically drawing inspiration from the 19th-Century Lord Byron poem “Manfred.”

What makes this story more curious is the actors we see onscreen aren’t human at all but 20-inch beautifully sculpted and exquisitely costumed puppets. These aren’t your momma’s Muppets but more the descendants of classic Japanese theater or Bunraku. The modern twist is they are shot on greenscreen and the puppeteers, sometimes upwards of 4-5 per puppet, are removed in post-production. Adding an extra layer of realism, the lifeless puppet faces are animated with eye blinks and other expressions in the computer using real-time motion-capture data from the voice actors.

One could describe Monster as Dark Crystal and Spirited Away meets Count of Monte Cristo.
Sam’s previous film Yamasong was called “visually stunning, this combination of puppetry and digital wizardry has to be seen to be believed. Think Monkey’s Journey to the West meets The Dark Crystal.” (Animation Ideas website, Sydney, Austrailia).

There’s a nostalgic connection to the classic Henson epic puppet film, and comparison is not too far-fetched. Yamasong actually opened for Dark Crystal at the Puppets On Film Festival in Brooklyn in 2011. “It was a high honor to be paired with that film!” says Sam, “One thing I’m doing with puppetry is telling dynamic, thrilling stories of fantasy and adventure while exploring the technology horizon, inspired by Jim Henson at the height of his career.”

For many puppeteers, the name of that beloved bearded film and TV trickster draws a smile and a sigh, and for Sam it hits even closer to home. His boss is Heather Henson, youngest of the Henson children and founder of IBEX Puppetry, where Sam works to promote puppet films. His own short film for IBEX, Yamasong, won both Best Fantasy Short and Best Animated Film at Dragon*Conmonsterofthesky Independent Film Festival in 2010.
To learn more about Monster of the Sky, visit its Kickstarter page at: