VCUarts Department of Kinetic Imaging would like to congratulate alumna Emma Cregan on her recent Fulbright Artist Research Award win! Cregan will be traveling to Indonesia to study puppets and how puppetry has remained a prominent form of expression even in 21st century Indonesia. The American animation industry has moved away from hand-drawn and stop-motion animation techniques in favor of computer-generated images (CGI). However, in Indonesia, the Wayang style of theatre, encompassing shadow puppetry, rod puppetry, mask performance, and dance, has thrived alongside the country’s technological advancements through their digital revolution in the early 2000s.
During her stay in Indonesia, Cregan will create a stop-motion animation using the Indonesian puppet traditions of Wayang that depicts a story about the intersection between present-day Indonesia and traditional mythology through which she will explore how new media and traditional culture can coexist. Her trip begins in Bali where Cregan will be affiliated with Professor Nyoman Sedana at Indonesian Arts Institute (ISI) Denspasar, where a contemporary version of Wayang (kontemporar) was developed by students and western theatre artists. In this version of Wayang, traditional techniques are combined with modern technology, such as projections used to provide light and scenery, and synthesizers combined with gamelan music.
After learning from young puppeteers in Bali, Cregan will travel to Bandung where she will interview dalangs Bhatra Séna, Endo Suanda, and other prominent Indonesian puppet masters about their practices to understand more traditional elements of Wayang. Following this Cregan plans to interview three-person artist collective Tromarama, which creates work about the intersection between the real and digital world to see how they apple traditional Indonesian values to their more modern ways of making.
Moving on to Yogyakarta, Cregan will speak with theatre troupe, Papermoon, who utilize both Indonesian and western puppet techniques. While here, Cregan will explore Indonesia’s hub for traditional arts and continue to gather research for the final stop-motion film.
“By studying wayang in Indonesia, I will unlearn the aesthetics I was taught in America, thus expanding on my skills and knowledge as an animator,” states Cregan. Elaborating, “In Indonesia, living dancers and actors aim to be as puppet-like as possible while western animation strives to be a copy of reality. Animation owes much of its inception to puppetry because many of the principles of character design and movement come from puppet theatre”…”The hyperrealism of 21st-century western animation doesn’t allow the audience to develop their own thoughts about a story because all the blanks are all filled in for them. In the limitations of puppetry and hand-crafted animation, there are more nuances which allow the audience opportunities to explore the story and think critically.”
Cregan’s work focuses on exploring cultural heritage and family history, creating animations that emphasize the value of cultural knowledge and ways that traditional culture has shifted over time. Since completing undergrad at VCU, Cregan has become more focused on the written elements of her films, dedicating more time to writing dialogue, crafting narratives, and refining the story structure and character development.
In true “Alumni Feature” fashion, we asked Cregan if she had any advice for current KI students:
“Don’t focus on what’s currently trendy or popular in the animation industry or art world. You should find and do what you like, work hard on developing that style or skill and the rest will fall into place. As an animator who primarily uses stop motion and other old school methods of animating, I’d often worry my interests would prevent me from finding opportunities after graduating, but my willingness to pursue what I was passionate about and follow my own instincts got me my first job at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. My employer told me it was my weird stop motion animations that made him want to hire me. People will see and appreciate your honesty and authenticity when you pursue what makes you happy.”
Click here to view more of Emma Cregan’s work.