Brooklyn-based artist pulls strings at Winter Olympics
Nicholas Mahon remained humble while he beamed with pride as an audience of more than 30,000 attended the Winter Olympics opening ceremony, showcasing his art projects at the forefront on Feb. 9.
The giant white tiger, the bird-man and the other monumental puppets that greeted the excited public in the first five minutes of the two-hour show were the result of one year of the Brooklyn-based puppet designer’s work, culminating in the Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium.
“These things started as pencil lines and they turned into these magical three-dimensional creatures with personality and life,” Mahon said.
One year ago, when the Pyeongchang Olympic Committee was planning which puppets would appear during introductory spectacle, they agreed that Mahon was the perfect fit.
Mahon has received recognition in the circuit of ceremonies since 2015, when he collaborated with the famous production designer, Michael Curry in the European games in Baku, Azerbaijan, which brought him a Daytime Emmy nomination as a scenic designer.
“Land of Peace” was the Winter Olympics’ opening ceremony segment that Mahon brought to life with dozens of other creatives, most of them Koreans.
“When I came to the project the puppets already had concept rendering that was done by the creative team in Korea,” Mahon told the Brooklyn Eagle. “My role was … take their vision and to try to make it a reality.”
During the ceremony, Mahon aimed to tell a wordless story about a giant white tiger and other mythical figures from Korean folklore. The shapes joined a group of children from Gangwon province on a magical journey, introducing them to their history and culture.
The main challenge for the designer was to play two audiences: the public that filled the temporary stadium in Pyeongchang and the tens of millions watching the show on television.
“It’s all about movement, emotion and character,” the artist said.
From a tiny nook of his apartment in Bedford-Stuyvesant, the puppeteer created detailed renderings, technical drawings and structural designs. Then he worked with about 30 people from the Red Circle Project in Malaysia to build the giant characters.
Once the 85 figures arrived on site, he worked with more than 100 volunteers, primarily students and soldiers to teach them how to perform with the figures, some up to 15 feet long.
Mahon grew up watching Sesame Street in a small village in Quebec, Canada. Fifteen years ago, after studying theater design, animation and fine arts, he came to the U.S. to work with “the master of puppets,” Michael Curry. And as a kid that saw his dreams come true, he got to work for the Jim Henson Company.
He has also worked for Cirque du Soleil, Blue Man group, Walt Disney Entertainment, Universal Studios and several Broadway shows.
“I feel honor to be able to make a living playing puppets all day,” he said.
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