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'Galaxy of Pride' short creator on the power of puppets and sharing our authentic selves
Pride Month 2021 is here! In celebration, SYFY and Tongal, a global community of content creators, invited animators and filmmakers of the LGBTQ+ community to create video shorts expressing their unique perspectives through the lens of science fiction and fantasy.
These shorts will premiere on the SYFY network and will be featured on SYFY's social handles this month and onward. To dive deeper into the original shorts, SYFY spoke with each artist to learn the meaning and inspiration behind their works. Below, we caught up with Troy Mullin, creator of “Galaxy of Pride,” which explores identity through the use of handcrafted alien puppets.
Tell us about yourself!
My name is Troy Mullin, and I’m an illustrator, fabricator, and puppeteer. I run a studio called Mullin Entertainment that creates works of live theater, film, and media, as well as collaborates with clients to make anything we can imagine. I’ve created work for Nickelodeon, BIC Pens, Harvard University, Detroit Zoo, and my first short film was awarded in a competition by The Jim Henson Company.
Mostly, I think of myself as a storyteller. Over the years I’ve picked up a bunch of oddball skills and talents, which have all helped me in bringing the stories I imagine to life.
What inspired you to make this piece and what does it mean to you?
Everyone loves a baby alien, so why not create a whole nest full? Each one represents a color in the Pride flag, and each was created from scratch. Every little detail was handcrafted, from sculpting and casting the faces, to hand-painting the eyes, to dyeing the fur. I puppeteered the orange alien since orange is my favorite color.
I wanted to tell a story about Pride that celebrates identity. No one knows why this nest ended up on a colorless planet or why the aliens hatching are the colors of the rainbow; they were just born that way. Now that they’re out of their shells, I wonder what kinds of adventures they might go on.
What do you love about genre? Tell us about your favorite works or artists and why they speak to you.
In the world of genre, anything is possible. Aliens are landing; people are flying; dragons are having conversations with unicorns; no dream is too big, and no dream is too weird. And that’s why I love it.
I wish I could live in a Hayao Miyazaki film or get lost in a labyrinth with Guillermo del Toro, and the only way out is to make a movie about every magical creature we encounter. I find myself always being drawn to the creators who aren’t afraid to invite you into their imagination and show you something you haven’t seen before.
But if your movie has a kaiju, or an alien, or really any creature feature — I’ll bring the popcorn.
This industry is not easy! Who or what initially inspired you to become an artist and what keeps you going when the process or business gets tough?
I’ve always loved creatures, and for as long as I can remember I’ve been coming up with new ones — the stranger the better. I started drawing them around the time I started elementary school. And when drawing wasn’t enough, I started sculpting them and fabricating critters out of anything I could find. As much as I love computer-generated monsters, and there are some really good ones, there is nothing better than reaching out and touching something from your imagination in real life.
Sharing my work keeps me going. Seeing people’s eyes light up when they meet one of my creations makes any struggle along the way worth it. For me, my art has been a way to communicate with people, to show people who I really am. As a puppeteer you can be a princess, a robot, or a talking teapot, maybe even all in the same day, and folks accept the characters you’re bringing to life and the aspects of yourself that you’re sharing as valid. I think there might be a princess, and a robot, and a talking teapot living in all of us. Who would have thought that puppets would give us a way to share our authentic selves?
What does Pride mean to you? Do you have any favorite traditions, events, or forms of expression to honor your identity, either this month or throughout the year?
I grew up in a very rural area (think Luke Skywalker on Tatooine), where I was discriminated against regularly, even spit on at times. So to me, Pride is a time to celebrate the strength of the LGBTQIA+ community, remember the people in our community we’ve lost, and reflect on the ways we can make the world a more accepting place for everyone.
For the longest time, Pride has been a sort of personal experience for me. Sharing my work with SYFY is really one of the first big ways I’ve been able to invite others into my celebration. Like the little aliens in my short, this was a way for me to come out of my shell and share a piece of myself I’ve never really gotten the opportunity to share, and I hope when LGBTQIA+ folks out there see it, it makes them smile, and it makes them feel seen.
When did you first recognize LGBTQ+ representation in the fantasy/sci-fi genre? Did it feel like an authentic portrayal?
This is a good question, and I’m really scratching my head here. Until recently, there really haven’t been an overwhelming amount of LGBTQIA+ storylines, have there? Growing up, I suppose I would see myself in the characters that didn’t have romantic storylines.
Now there are more shows that are opening this door, such as Steven Universe, the new She-Ra series, and some anime that bring more authenticity to the storytelling. It is surprising though, that in all the detail and complexity of fantasy and sci-fi worlds, worlds with entire fictional languages and lengthy written histories, very few creators could imagine even a single LGBTQIA+ character living in their universe. I’d love to change that!
What would fully equitable representation of LGBTQ+ experiences and artists in the media look like to you?
In a perfect world, everyone would have at least one character in a movie or TV show that they see themselves in — one that isn’t a villain, or a background character, or just there for laughs. And LGBTQIA+ creators would have equal opportunities to pitch their ideas and share their talents. If we continue getting better at including everyone, there is really no limit to the experiences that can be shared and the stories that can be told.
Who is your dream collaborator and what would you make?
Honestly, collaborating with anyone would be a lot of fun! I’d love to bring any characters from the world of Nintendo to life as puppets. Creating new creatures for Star Wars or Nickelodeon’s Avatar Expanded Universe would be high on my bucket list as well. Working with the Universal Monsters brand would be pretty amazing, or anything with RuPaul’s Drag Race. RuPaul always says, “Everybody loves puppets!” and I can’t disagree!