Stephen & Timothy Quay were born near Philadelphia in 1947. After graduating in 1969 from the Philadelphia College of Art, they studied at the Royal College of Art, London where they made their first short films (mostly lost), and met fellow student Keith Griffiths, who first collaborated with them on Nocturna Artificialia (1979). Working together as Konick Studios, with Griffiths'producing, the Quays have maintained a steady output of fastidious and hybrid puppet animation films, supplemented by design work for opera, theatre and ballet.
The Quay are renowned for their craftsmanlike methods and their unusual sources of inspiration. Apart from their puppets, which typically look like old dolls abused by many generations of children, they construct their own sets, arrange the lighting, and operate the cameras. The films draw heavily on early twentieth-century European visual and literary culture, particularly as represented by the Polish writer Bruno Schulz, Robert Walser, Frank Kafka. The Quays'cinema is short on conventional narrative but long on enigmatic visuals. Their work relies exclusively on the power of music as dramaturgy and this is reflected in all their short films along with the two feature films: Institute Benjamenta and The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes.
Recent collaborations with the choreographers William Tuckett and Kim Brandstrup and their small insert in Julie Taymor's Frida (US, 2002) have introduced wider audiences to the Quays; while The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes (2005), a live-action fairy-tale where a piano tuner attempts to rescue an opera singer from the clutches of a mad doctor in the Carpathian Mountains, is so bizarrely beautiful in its foggy, artificial, de-colorized way that it sure to attract new admirers. But the Quays remain director-animators for the cognoscenti-happy to live, like their films' characters and objects, in a remote, hermetic maze.