Creating Mary and Max: The Exhibition

Mary and Max - The Exhibition

Mary emerges from her bubble-wrap slumber

When production wrapped up on the stop-motion animation film Mary and Max, Melodrama Pictures and writer/director Adam Elliot had to decide what to do with the enormous amount of material in their studio, which they had to vacate.ACMI agreed to store the surviving character puppets, props and sets. ACMI shares a storage space with Museum Victoria, and the materials were packed up and taken to our warehouse in Spotswood.           


When we started to discuss Mary and Max: The Exhibition, Adam wanted to check that things were in a good enough state to display, as plasticine can start to break down over time and he didn’t want to scare children with zombie-like visions of Mary with her face falling away!                          


We started the long process of opening and checking the many boxes and containers. While some things were a little worse for wear (the plasticine can dry out and start to crumble like in the photos above ), most were in pretty good shape, and it was really exciting to open the bubble wrap and see how much charisma and personality the puppets possessed, even in this context.


Everything was then measured, photographed and assessed for damage, from the big sets, such as Max’s Apartment, to miniature props, like this kitchen chair and teacup that would be used to dress them.

We took everything we wanted for the exhibition back to ACMI, where Adam and Darren Burgess, one of the most experienced animators on the film, spent a few weeks painstakingly cleaning and repairing the materials for the show.

Meanwhile, we started to prepare the exhibition space in Gallery 2. Adam was keen for the environment to be inviting and domestic, rather than a typical ‘white cube’ art space. Guided by the design of the film, I spent a few weekends trailing op shops for wallpaper and old picture frames, which we painted in warm browns and blacks.

As this exhibition is going to tour throughout regional Victoria we hung the wallpaper on removable panels rather than directly to the wall. Adam suggested it should look as if Mary’s mother Vera had applied it after a few sherries, so the install team had to work against the grain of their usual perfectionism and put in a few wrinkles.

We weren’t trying to exactly replicate either Max’s world, which is all in black and white, or Mary’s world which is in shades of brown, but rather to create a warm and comfortable space in which all the objects could sit well together.

Once the character puppets had been fitted with stands to hold them up, and had been cleaned, repaired and in many cases given new pupils, they were ready to go into the specially designed shelves, that are lit internally with strips of LED lights. These lights are great because they don’t create heat, which could further damage the delicate puppets. The shelves follow one of Adam’s rules for the look of the film – no straight lines!

Darren’s handiwork in repairing the vehicles transformed them from sad to spectacular:

The sets were dressed, lit, and covered by Perspex lids to keep them safe:

Finally the little props were laid out in display boxes. Adam was very involved in this part of the installation, and carefully placed things so they would be ‘just so’.

Adam was always keen for this exhibition to highlight the work of the film’s art department, and now that the exhibition is open, it is truly gratifying to see how much time and attention visitors give to these beautiful hand-made objects.

– Fiona Trigg, co-curator with Adam Elliot of Mary and Max: The Exhibition

Max's beautiful Noodle Kugel set

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