Pod - The Concept
...And the history of Pod's genesis
Pod is a character that evolved in my mind over about 18 months in the mid '90s. And continues to evolve.
It started with an unlikely dream (the sleeping kind) of a Christian sketch of a rider and a horse. In my dream the rider was sat on the horse as they walked through lanes with high hedges, like those found amongst the farmlands in England's West county. The horse was only seeing the lane and hedges, whereas the rider could see above the hedges and had a clear vision of where he was heading.The horse kept loosing focus on the eventual destination because of his lack of overview and was frequently distracted by the tasty grass at the roadside, etc. But the rider could always see his destination even when the lane appeared, at least to the horse, to be taking them in the wrong direction. Although that was all the detail the dream gave me there was clearly comic potential for the conversation between the rider and horse as well as a deeper symbolism where the the horse represents our narrow material view on life and the rider represents God's higher spiritual vision and overview. So over the next 18 month's my mind pondered how to bring the essence of the sketch to life.
The evolution started with a comic pantomime-style horse. And once the character of the horse had started to develop in my mind, it's original form evolved through several steps, that I now forget, but that eventually arrived at the concept of an alien visitor. The advantage of an alien is that he knows nothing of life on earth or of the faith of earth's inhabitants. He was to be childlike in character. He would be excitable, thrilled with the triumph of discovery and understanding at one moment, then crestfallen the next with the realisation that he had got the wrong end of the stick. From my observation of other children's characters I was able to construct how he would interact with the rest of the world. For a while I considered ventriloquism, but that seemed too much of a challenge for me. But I did, for a while, think about Pod not speaking at all, for the same reason that Mickey Mouse doesn't speak at Disney world. Because when character doesn't speak anyone can pull the suit on. I was thinking that Pod could be manned by a team of people. By this stage by vision for Pod was that he could be a weekly visitor to my church's Sunday service and I was considering the burden that it would place on me to be there all the time!
The philosophy would he of a high quality presentation with high set up cost but then low week-by-week maintenance effort. The stumbling point was the fabrication of the Pod character. My initial design was a full body suit with a large head and a space helmet that had been removed and was being held under one (false) arm. This would leave me with one hand free inside the suit to operate the mouth and other facial features of the creature. I had a friend at work who had a high forehead and when he showed surprise his eyebrows would go up and ripples would appear above them all the way up to his receding hairline. I was keen to get this effect when Pod said "really?!" and was sure it could be achieved with latex skin and fishing line. But I knew that I didn't have the skills to create this myself. Unfortunately everyone I knew who did have the skills to fabricate such a suit just didn't get what I was trying to achieve and so declined to help. With no other option I abandoned the idea of a full body suit and headed off to ToysRUs to see what I could find. I bought the largest cuddly toy that I could find (that wasn't a recognisable animal) who happened to be an Elmo from Sesame Street (which you've probably spotted already). A couple of my craft friends were happy to 'adapt' Elmo so that he looked more like Elmo in cognito and Pod was finally born. We cut a hole in the back of his head so that I could get a hand in to operate his stiff plastic mouth and he was ready to go.
I made up spaceship landing and takeoff sound tracks with 3 levels of base rumble and some sampled sound effect (still in use and courtesy of the B52s - if you listen carefully!) I took photos of the outside of the school where our Church met on a Sunday. I transferred these onto overhead transparencies and on another transparency stuck the silhouette of a small spaceship as an overlay. Slide it down, it lands; slide it up it takes off. So with coordination between the sound man and the overhead operator and I had an impressive and delightfully tacky arrival and exit. It would be suggested to the audience that images were being routed from the school's security camera. On landing and once the overhead was off a door would open and Pod appeared from behind a piano that had been dragged in front of the door. It was very important that no one saw Pod before or after his visit or two Pod's during the presentation.
So that was my high set up effort. All I then needed was a volunteer or successive volunteers to be spokesman for the audience and all I had to do was generate a script every week. This last part I found comparatively easy as once the character was formed and a relationship established I just needed to provide a subject and the scripts almost wrote themselves.
Pod was an instant hit both with the children and with the adults who enjoyed his ironic sense of humour and deeper underlying messages.
Over the years of Pod existence the presentation has become higher tech but without losing the delightful tackiness of the original. He now has a collapsible spaceship which is essentially an plastic frame of electrical ducting material covered over with thin fabric. As soon as the church converted form overhead to data projector I reworked the landing and takeoff sequences as Power points (also now transferred to DVD). There is also now a 'theme tune' which, rather like the original Star Trek programs, tells a brief story of how Pod has come to visit earth. There is fishing wire attached to Pod's arms so that he can flap them about if needed but, to be honest, working his mouth and following my script is enough for me to do inside the spaceship suit. Inside I have a head mounted torch to see the script and extra strong reading glasses to enable me to read what is literally two inches from my nose.