We don’t say it often but having a blog is a fascinating thing. It truly changes the way you look at things, people and the whole world around you. You are no longer going somewhere just to have fun, meeting your friends or simply hanging around. Now you are on a mission. Wherever you go, you carefully observe the entire place looking for hidden clues, things that you have not seen before. You read every street sign and commemorative plague, you study the faces of passer-by’s. You are becoming a hunter for something new, something interesting, something worth sharing with others and worth writing about. You turn into an artist, a journalist, a social commentator, a political expert or even a fashion critic.
There are millions of personal blogs online, millions of opinions, million voices waiting to be heard. When we started Vanadian Avenue, nearly 4 years ago, we have never thought that we would talk to rock legends, published authors, translators, Star Wars comics writers and our childhood heroes. We never dreamt of 30 .000 readers and subscribers. It was just our small project that grew more and more. New columns were added as time went on and before we knew it – our small project grew into something significant.
A similar thing happened to our today’s guest – a talented animator Alisa Stern, the creator of mega popular “Doctor Puppet” show. From humble beginnings as a simple picture blog to international sensation that has been featured in press, radio and TV around the globe. Alisa is a life-long nerd and fan of cartoons. Her hobbies including walking around NYC, hiking, jewelry making, and eating falafel. A graduate of Pratt Institute in (BFA with honors in Traditional Animation), she lives in Brooklyn with a black cat named Beryl.
In recent months we have extensively covered a lot of Doctor Who related events. We have written about Steven Moffat’s visit to Hay on Wye Festival, Doctor Who Season 8th premiere in Cardiff and reviewed our visit to Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff. When one of our readers contacted us with an idea to speak to Alisa about Doctor Puppet, we didn’t hesitate for a single second. It was a true pleasure to chat to her about the show, the ongoing IndieGoGo crowd-funding campaign and her plans for the future. Ladies and gents – please welcome Alisa to Vanadian Avenue!
Interview with Alisa Stern – the creator of Doctor Puppet
Vanadian Avenue: Doctor Puppet is taking the World Wide Web by storm. Can you introduce us to the team behind the newest Internet sensation?
Alisa Stern: Doctor Puppet is truly a team effort. We’re all professional artists and musicians outside of Doctor Puppet. Rachel has done a lot of stop motion, but also contributed props, sets, and background paints. Erin has also done a lot of stop motion as well as storyboards. Shelby is the engineer and figures out how to build the technical stuff, like the TARDIS and sonic screwdriver. Amanda sews the costumes and somehow finds a way to squeeze all the detail into them. Isam paints backgrounds. Scott composes the music, narrates, and is the resident Doctor Who expert. Phil orchestrates the score for live instruments. Then there’s a whole group of extremely talented musicians in England who bring the music to life. I make the puppets and write most of the scripts and make tea for the others. Of course everyone contributed to the stories and adds their ideas.
Vanadian Avenue: Where the idea for an animated Doctor Who series came from? Do you have any professional experience in animation or puppet making?
Alisa Stern: Doctor Puppet cme about whilst I was teaching a stop motion animation class actually. I needed to make an example puppet for my students, and I though Matt Smith’s Doctor was already so puppet-like, that he seemed like a good choice. I began posting pictures of the puppet on Tumblr, and everyone really like it, so that eventually became the series on YouTube. I’ve been a professional animator and puppet maker for about 7 years. My background is mainly in stop motion TV commercials and preschool TV. Actually, I met Erin while we were working on a Nick Jr. show called “The Wonder Pets.”
Vanadian Avenue: Your videos are receiving rave reviews not only from fans of the TV series but also from mainstream media such as Huffington Post, BBC UK and BBC America. What equipment is being used during the production and how long does the post production take to make a single episode?
Alisa Stern: We used a Canon Rebel T1i camera and Dragonframe software to capture the stop motion frames. It’s all composited in After Effects with backgrounds make in Photoshop. An episode takes 2 – 4 months to produce. Pre-production (storyboarding, sets, props) takes about a month, or more if the set is complicated. Stop motion animation itself takes about a month. Post-production (compositing, music, sound) takes a few weeks. Every episode has gotten progressively more complicated to make.
Vanadian Avenue: There are six main episodes available online at the moment and we have to admit the story is very intriguing. The mysterious door in “The Sign of Four”, disappearing previous reincarnations and the sinister laugh. Can you tell us who is responsible for the script? Was the inspiration drawn from any particular sources outside of The Doctor Who Universe? Favorite books or movies maybe?
Alisa Stern: When I wrote the first episode, I also I wrote an outline of the whole story, from beginning to end. I’m so glad that you’re intrigued by it! As we’ve make the episodes, the story has changed a bit, mainly because the others have given their input. I always brought the scripts to Scott because he knows Doctor Who better than anyone I know. So he adds many of the Doctor Who references, and also makes sure that the script isn’t too American. He’s caught some of my Americanisms, especially in Episode 5, which was set in London in the 80s. I don’t think there’s a particular influence outside of Doctor Who – it’s influenced by all kinds of stories I love, specially serialized stories.
Vanadian Avenue: “Doctor Who” series is owned by The BBC. Did you have any contact with them? If so, what was their reaction to “Doctor Puppet”?
Alisa Stern: Yes, I’ve had some really nice interactions with the BBC. They enjoy what we do, and have given us some nice press. We’ve been included in the BBC America blog a number of times, and had episode clips air on BBC America. Also, I was interviewed for a documentary about Doctor Who fans. The documentary crew was able to record Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman, and so Erin got to animate the puppets speaking with the real voices! She did an incredible job. The documentary is called “Earth Conquest” and will be included on the Series 8 DVD, so be sire to watch it!
Vanadian Avenue: Let’s talk about the puppets. You have created Clara, all previous incarnations of the Doctor and even some of the most famous monsters like Zygons. Do you have a favourite puppet? Any new creations in the works? The Ponds, Sarah Jane or River? We have to say we love the 80’s version of Clara! She’s looking very New wave-y.
Alisa Stern: I love Eleven because he was the first I made. My favorite at the moment is probably Four though. I’m so pleased with how he came out I have a few more puppets planned. (Not saying who!) 80s Clara was especially fun because we could do anything we wanted to with her.
Vanadian Avenue: We have mentioned the New Wave so let’s focus on the music for a moment. The soundtrack is one of the strongest points of the series. You even had an entire choir singing carols in “Time Lord Christmas”. Do you have a professional composer working for you?
Alisa Stern: Yes, I do! Scott Ampleford has composed everything you’d heard in Doctor Puppet. He’s written all the original music and the songs, plus the lyrics. Also, he sings the songs. And he narrates. He’s a bit prolific. I love how he’s created a unique musical style for nearly every episode. The first few episodes are pretty standard orchestra, but Episode 4 is all synth. Episode 5 and 6 both have scores that sound like the music from those Doctor Who eras. He did an especially fantastic job capturing Dudley Simpson’s 70s era music for Episode 6.
Vanadian Avenue: You are currently using IndieGoGo, a popular crowd-funding website to collect funds to make a Christmas Special. What can fans expect for backing up your cause?
Alisa Stern: There are a lot of cool perks being offered, including an exclusive thank-you video, behind-the-scenes updates, music, your name in the credits, and chances to meet the crew and puppets.
Vanadian Avenue: 2013 and 2014 were highly successful years for Doctor Puppet. Next year, what can we expect from you guys? Where will the Doctor go in 2015?
Alisa Stern: In 2015, we hope to wrap up the series. There are 2 episodes left in the Eleventh Doctor’s story. After that… I’m not sure. We want to do more Doctor Puppet, as well other projects.
Vanadian Avenue: What are your plans for the future outside of Doctor Puppet? Are you involved in any other projects?
Alisa Stern: We all have other things going on, and I hope we can do more projects together outside of Doctor Puppet. We’re a great team and I hope we can stick together for a while!
Vanadian Avenue: Thank you for your time Alisa. It has been a real pleasure.
Alisa Stern: Thank you!
If you’d like to learn more about the Doctor Puppet please use the links below.
After the interview was conducted, we have received a note from Alisa with excellent news: An exclusive animated Doctor Puppet clip using the real voices of Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman was featured in “Doctor Who: Earth Conquest”. The 45-minute documentary about the 2014 Doctor Who World Tour was broadcast on Canadian SPACE channel. “Earth Conquest” will also be available on the Series 8 DVD!
An exclusive promo picture has also been released! Congratulations to the entire team!
Official SPACE channel website: http://www.space.ca/
You can pre-order 8th Season DVD here: http://www.bbcshop.com/science-fiction/doctor-who-series-8-dvd/invt/bbcdvd3935
Please do not forget to help Alisa and her friends to collect enough funds to produce the awaited Christmas special! If you cannot donate, please spread the word. It is worth it!
Have a fantastic Day and thank you Alisa! You are the best!
Rita and Malicia Dabrowicz