Feature – Performance
A Blanck Canvas – White Night and Beyond
A Blanck Canvas is a Melbourne-based company that creates unique, custom 2D and 3D artwork. Known for their Melbourne White Night performances of ‘The Messenger, a 5.5 metre tall humanoid puppet, March saw them take the show on the road to Ballarat for that city’s second annual White Night. Jason Allen dropped by the studio and into Ballarat to witness the magic…
Blanck Canvas is the brainchild of Director Joe Blanck, a talented and experienced puppet, creature and prop designer, builder, and painter that has worked in the industry for over twenty years. Joe started his own company five years ago and has added an exceptionally talented group of individuals to the team. In addition to puppet and prop-making wizards, core members of the team include mechatronics engineers, special effects professionals, international performers, costume designers, graphic designers and event co-ordinators.
A Blanck Canvas’ clients include the Melbourne Museum, Jakarta Aquarium Indonesia, Cirque Du Soleil, Coles, ICC Cricket World Cup, White Night, and The Victorian Opera. Following a colourful beginning in the street art scene, Joe landed work at Scenic Studios, Melbourne. Many years later, after training under Ross Turner and Paul Kathner, Joe was painting backdrops and sets for some of the biggest theatre productions to hit Australia.
During that time Joe branched out into other mediums such as pavement art, exhibitions, illustration, design, directing, puppet creation, manipulation, and performance. In 2007 Joe finished up at Scenic and began working for The Creature Technology Company, the world leading animatronic and creature workshop behind the ‘Walking With Dinosaurs’ and ‘How to Train your Dragon’ stadium shows, and theatre production ‘King Kong’.
If You Build It…
For the last three years, A Blanck Canvas has made its home in a warehouse in Coburg. “I spent all my savings setting up Coburg as a shared space where other artists could rent workspace temporarily,” said Joe. “I had no money left when we opened here, but we soon got work, and then we needed the whole space to ourselves.
“I’ve now employed a core team of six for the last three years. The configuration of the space itself changes to suite our different projects – one week it’s fibreglass sculptures, the next costumes, then steel sculptures. Everyone is multi-skilled, and our whole building changes to suit our workflow.”
“Most of our work is for theatre,” Joe continued. “We make a lot of large scale puppets. We also do a lot of work for festivals, installations for nightclubs, and fibreglass sculpture and suit puppets for movie promotions.
“We just did a series of big puppets for the Moomba Festival, and we’re starting on a contract with Melbourne Zoo to make a series of big creature puppets. We also develop our own productions and performances, which is where ‘The Messenger’ came from.” Spreading The Message ‘The Messenger’ is an awe-inspiring, futuristic-looking Archangel. Eight puppeteers activate this puppet which is internally lit with DMX controlled LED lights that highlight the armour-like body. Projections appears on the face, under the hooded head of the puppet, that transition between faces of different ages, genders and nationalities.
When extended, the six metre long wings are also projected with dreamscape patterns. ‘The Messenger’ is operated by a counterbalanced boom -arm chassis weighing about 800kg which gives it the ability to walk as well as fly off the ground. Loudspeakers mounted on the chassis pump out ambient electronic music that synchronises with the projection and lighting components.
‘The Messenger’ also speaks quotations from a variety of different religious leaders, artists, musicians and authors. We already knew how to build ‘The Messenger’ as we’d built a similar character, ‘The Don’, for the ICC World Cup,” Joe explained. “We did the R&D, built the chassis, and then pitched the idea to White Night. They loved it, and funded the rest of the build. It’s all run off QLab on a Macbook Pro 15”.
There’s a Cellulon PicoPro projector in the head for the face projections, and the wing projections are handled by Casio Core XJ-V110W data projectors. The soundscape and speech comes through two JBL EON15-Ps and an Alto sub. Six Tec Art Control 4 LED drivers run the 24 metres of RGB LED strip, and the whole thing is run off three lead acid batteries with inverters.”
Chrysalis Mass While
‘The Messenger’ strode up and down Ballarat’s main street, another Blanck Canvas work, ‘Metamorphosis’ was installed at the edge of the celebrations. ‘Metamorphosis’ consists of 25 giant cocoons built by A Blanck Canvas in conjunction with The Indirect Object, a puppetry and experimental arts group. Their creative director Beth McMahon had the idea,” related Joe. “We then all pitched in, and came up with interactive, touch-sensitive, light and sound activated cocoons.
“There are speakers inside them which played sound effects when touched, and a soundscape by Tom ‘Soup’ Campbell, who worked on ‘The Messenger. The lighting changes colours when touched. We ran it in a couple of small festivals, and it went well, so we pitched to White Night. It’s spread over eight square metres and it’s a beautiful place to hang out. Next time we’ll add deck chairs!”