Whilst cartoons do not influence Martin in the same way as puppets, they are a source of information. “I don’t get my inspiration from Roger Rabbit for instance. I have to go to see it because it’s my work. For me, the greatest animated film ever made is Pinocchio. It has been with me all my life, I’ve seen it at various ages, it is the first film I ever remember seeing, it’s had an enormous influence on me. But I am not trying to remake Pinocchio because that’s already there, isn’t it? You are not going to compete with those guys, you have got to find out what you want to say.
“I get a lot of inspiration from the great artists of the past. I love going to art exhibitions. It is impossible to say you are not influenced. You are influenced by everything. Sometimes I find I am better off limiting the amount of visual stimulus I get because it can just bombard one until one doesn’t know what to do. I do a lot of sculpture, if I didn’t make films I would sculpt. On the surface this has nothing to do with my puppetry but in another way it has, it is great to play around with different materials.”
When Martin is teaching he takes a practical, hands on approach. “I am usually invited for a specific reason, for example, when I go to Norwich on Wednesday I’ll take as many of my puppets as I can carry. Puppets of differing complexity, because it is quite easy to baffle people with technical information and in the end they think ‘it’s all beyond me’, but it doesn’t have to be like that. You can do it with the simplest of puppets, that’s the magic of it to me.
Some of the students who attend the workshops have never made puppets before, and you go in there with the intention of making them feel they can. So much of what people talk about can put them off as much as it inspires them. There are so many people who won’t do drawn animation because of Roger Rabbit. They think they are never going to be able to do anything as good so why bother, and that’s a shame.”
Update 2010: Martin Cheek now creates and teaches mosaics. Website Martin Cheek.
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Printed in Animator Issue 27 (Summer 1990)