An ingenious show of unrivalled originality
This has been a remarkable year at Masterworks. They have exhibited two major shows from the permanent collection as well as numerous, but equally successful, smaller shows including one that brought alive the cultural connection between Bermuda and the American literary icon Mark Twain. Their final show for 2014, 50 Years of Rudolph, explores the significant cultural link Bermuda's shares with the world through the animation of Arthur Rankin Jr. He lived in Bermuda and became a Bermudian. Indeed, it is partly through his philanthropy that Masterworks could realise the dream of permanent home for its collection in 2008. This stellar exhibit reaches a new pinnacle of world-class quality for the Museum.
The show arrives for the festive season and marks the fiftieth anniversary of the animated film, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The film first aired on the American NBC television network in 1964 and is the longest running television Christmas special in history. It forms part of a wealth of Christmas animations from the collaborative production team of Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass Productions. New generations of children – more accustomed to sophisticated modern animation techniques – engage with its cast of rich characters and story telling. Last week's screening was watched by over ten million viewers on USnetwork television, eclipsing stiff competition. The animation technique known as “Animagic” is partly responsible for its enduring appeal in an age ruled by sophisticated computer generated imagery. This exhibit, like the films it celebrates, has a simplicity that belies the complexity of its creation.
You enter the exhibit by way of a passage through a neatly fashioned snow cave tunnel. It a clever idea designed to have maximum spatial effect: the marked change in scale as you make your way through from the confined tunnel to the larger space is a brilliantly crafted introduction. The gallery space has been transformed in to a piece of dramatic light theatre utilising three main set installations as if from the animator's studio. Scenes from the animated films are skilfully assembled. The normally brightly lit gallery space has given way to subtle ambient light that creates the mood to transport the viewer to a timeless world of festive delight. Rudolph plays on a large screen as you progress through the exhibit and photographic images from the film are on display.
The puppets displayed are restored versions from the originals and, as far as I am aware, are not on display anywhere else in the world. Mazaki Iizuka, President of the Pacific American Corporation brought them to Bermuda especially for the exhibit.
Rudolph at 50 is an ingenious show of unrivalled originality in Bermuda because of use of ambient light within the sets. Each set has an individual light board to vary the effects. There is a fine example at the far end of the gallery. It is inspired by the 1985 Christmas special, The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, and features the character “The Great Ak” who looms large in the heart of the mythical Forest of Burzee. Contrasting warm and cool swathes of light are expertly mediated through the colour filters of hand made gantry lights above and below the set. The shadows of the snowy forest floor play beautifully amid ornamental snow blown trees; creating a piece of installation theatre that quickens the imagination.
A set from The Year Without Santa Claus is recreated. The 1974 film had the voices of Mickey Rooney and Shirley Booth as Santa Claus and Mrs Claus respectively. There is a fine level of detail in miniature in the candlesticks and a plate of cookies as well as the firewood stacked by a glowing hearth. A Mitchell Camera complete with frame counter specifically designed for stop frame animation points towards the scene.
Interactivity is a key element to Masterworks exhibits. Rudolph at 50 provides the insight to explore, hands on, the principle of stop frame animation. Using model puppets of “Snow Miser” and “Heat Miser” you can produce your own animated film in one of the installations. An iPad is aimed at a simple set. The idea is to take individual images and, by adjusting the limbs of the puppet slightly between each shot or “stop frame”, you create a pattern for the desired movement. The resultant series of stills are then played in sequence via the device creating the illusion of movement. On opening night the expressions of joy on children's faces were memorable as they saw the characters brought to life. Adults too, seemed genuinely enthused by the discovery of rudimentary animation.
The exacting process of animation is revealed by the accompanying wall text. It took the two Japanese animators who worked on Rudolph an hour to produce just over two seconds of finished animation. Typically, twenty-four frames are required for a just a second of action. Given that multiple puppets often are required to interact within a scene, you can fully appreciate why the production time took 18 months. It required immense attention to detail and co-ordination including adding paper cut outs to the character's mouth to imitate vocalisation. Rudolph at 50, has the fun addition of framed character information displayed as “North Pole Passports” in a grid system. It is an informative and humorous way to learn about the cast of characters and the fantasy world they inhabited. For instance, did you know Mrs Claus's first name is “Jessica”? And if you've wondered about Santa's weight; well, the answer is “500 pounds of jolly”!
Paul Pegnato must take particular credit as curator for a remarkable show. Rudolph at 50, provides a festive flourish to a year of notable highs at Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art. Twelve months of consistently high quality exhibitions have demonstrated creative zeal, knowledge and imagination.
Arthur Rankin died in January but lives on through the beloved Christmas specials. It is yet another way the Island has benefited from the presence of artistic genius.
Now, his name can be added to the list of artistic luminaries who have been inspired by their time on the Island. Names that include Georgia O'Keefe, Mark Twain, Winslow Homer and John Lennon.
Their cherished legacy is both preserved and commemorated by Masterworks and should serve as a potent resource for Bermuda's as yet untapped cultural tourism market.
The show runs until January 13.