Print and Animation

Since making Imperial Provisor Frombald in 2015, there have been nice invitations to think more about print and animation, specifically from Tricky Women and Kim Noce at LCC.  For me the draw of using print on 35mm was that I had the material restriction of scale that lent itself to a dramatic simplification of the line, and I enjoyed the challenge of finding movement in boiling loops and registration mislaps.  This month, I’ve been working with BA students at UAL (LCC) to see if they might find something in printmaking  that they can assimilate into their practice.  It’s a lovely working environment, because the presses and printmaking department are well managed and flourishing and students (and visiting practioners) are able to use the department with support on hand.  With a potential 170 students, it wasn’t practical to work directly on 35mm film, which in my view is a nice introduction to print and animation:  with the smaller ‘canvas’ you can get an animated sequence in a shorter amount of time, without getting distracted by the blood, sweat and inkiness of relief printing.  So we are working directly with small 16:9 pieces of lino, max 8 plates per student.  They are thinking about making a loop, or single images that could be used as a digital or stop motion asset back in the studio.  There has been some lovely work produced so far.

I’ve since done a little research into other people working in the area, and here are some good examples:

I Steal, you Steal II by Oddbodies;

Dehisce Linomation Print – Hand Carved Animation Mark Webber, “Dehisce Linomation (print)”, Animated linoleum cuts

and then most recently Domenica Harrison who has made some lovely work using screenprint, and who is just about to release her graduation film Illusions online.

My Adventure with Moominland

It was brilliant to have the chance to work on a little film offering an interpretation of the genesis of the Moomins.  The very first Moomin was scribbled on an outhouse wall by Tove Jansson, in a temper.  She was furious after a squabble with her brother Per Olov, and vented her spleen with a little graffiti.  The character that she drew travelled with her over the years, and eventually gathered his own friends and adventures.  The adventures are so beautiful and quite rightly have become popular all around the world.   The commission for this 3 minute film was for an exhibition at The Southbank called Adventures in Moominland.  I created the animation using a mixture of drawn and puppet animation with ink on cel, with a little storyboarding help from friend and fellow animator Shelly Wain.

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Kentridge at the Whitechapel

William Kentridge (b.1955, Johannesburg) is well known for his animated expressionist drawings in charcoal, exploring the history of colonialism and ‘the aspirations and failures of revolutionary politics’.  Thick Time is a great exhibition that shows the breadth of William Kentridge’s practice, how much more than an artist working with animation he is.   It’s really epic, and the impression that remains is of a wonderful, slightly mad reflection on time and history created with dance, film, kinetic sculpture, flipping books, dance, sticky tape, and the sound of the hurdy gurdy.img_2763 img_2766 img_2767 img_2771 img_2773 img_2774 img_2775 img_2777 img_2778 img_2779 img_2780

FAFF at the Genesis

Factual Animation Film Fuss (FAFF) came around again, celebrating animated documentary from around the globe, whipped up by Daniel Murtha.   How nice for me that I could cycle down the road to an event of this quality to see great films and brilliant people in person (more on that later).  I made it on the Saturday to ‘Onion Skins’, which was a selection of animated docs with a personal theme.  FAFF has moved into the cinema, which is great for the films but perhaps less good for the discussion part.  The large seats are really comfy, but you feel a bit isolated and cushioned from the chat at the front.  Anyway, in this screening there were many films to think about.  Kingston graduate Jennifer Zheng’s film Tough sticks in the mind, for it’s lovely spare colours and simple line but most of all for it’s engaging personal story told well.  Here she is on It’s Nice That.  I’m not surprised that she’s working with Moth Collective.  Busy Alex Widdowson‘s film Escapology in which a psychotherapist and former heroin addict reflects on his experiences and the nature of addiction.  In this film, it’s pleasurable to enjoy a telling and a showing taking different narrative paths. The Divide by Mary Martins was really interesting.  It was a beautiful and poetic tribute to her experience of being a single mother, created on 35mm.  She talked a little bit about wanting to be a part of imagining the future through her work, as opposed to dwelling on the past, which is a nice way of using animation.  In the case of her film The Divide the tone is necessarily nostalgic, but I think that she hopes that her experience of being a single mother will travel into the future and counter the myriad of unsympathetic representations.  There was a lot about it that was rough or not quite right, including really tiny text,  but it had a proper beating heart and spirit, and she’s a filmmaker to watch out for, especially once she’s had her spell at the RCA.  I liked Daniela Sherer‘s funny, creepy film There’s a man inside Mickey too.  Everything is Waiting for Something to Happen was Emma Calder‘s very thoughtful film made about and with Richard Wright from his social media data, and I’ve been looking forward to seeing it for ages.  I wasn’t disappointed. There was an especially brilliant scene in which Richard outlines his extreme baking activities, and describes how it helped him in his recovery from cancer of the bowel.  It’s very much worth looking up.

The really valuable part of the evening was the discussion. Alys Scott Hawkins quizzed Samantha Moore about her work, specifically the Wellcome Trust funded Loop, which was one of  the Silent Signal series of scientist/artist collaborative projects produced by Animate Projects last year.  Alys warmed everyone up by finding out who was in the room so we all felt more engaged from the comfy chairs.  There’s alot to report form the discussion.  Samantha’s collaborative methodology is so interesting, it seems to me that it was such a clever plan to encourage all the scientists in the lab to draw what they visualised but couldn’t see.  I can imagine that their relationship to their research (in this case – zebra fish) was quite changed by encountering Sam.  Sam and Alys involved other animators in the room, including Emma Calder, Mary Martins and Katerina Athanasopoulou so that other films in the programme were discussed too.  At the end of the evening there was a truthful exchange about Animated Documentary.  In a way, it was similar to last year, FAFF creates a small chance to take the pulse of Animated Documentary and see where it’s at.   It was described as sometimes being thought of as a ‘stocking filler’, soft and illustrative, and in a cul de sac, or a bubble of it’s own.  Myself I felt more optimistic this year, the work was more diverse, there were more experiments, and the ‘subjects’ more like collaborators, but it was felt that more can still be done to build on what’s there;  more rigour, more attention to different modes of participation, more experiments, proper critique of work,  both during and after production and in spite of the fact that the work takes ages to make and there’s no budget.  I’m sure it can only help.   Roll on next year and big congratulations to Daniel Murtha.

“40 years of Ottawa, Blowed-up-by-the-brain and Boo Ya Ya”.

‘We were too lame”

Festival signal films are hard to get right, most festival visitors will see it more than 10 times.  The trailer to celebrate 40 years of OIAF could have grated on the nerves, but the audience response was increasingly bawdy and I expect it’s creators Andreas Hykade and Theodore Ushev would have liked that. Yells of ‘No you’re lame!’ echoed around the Bytowne Cinema by the last few screenings which made it different every time. Result.

I was visiting the festival with my film G-AAAH, a 75 second film that I made for The Amy Johnson Festival in Hull this year.  Amy Johnson was a solicitors typist, I used an Underwood typewriter to make the film, using flicker to create movement.  I was really pleased to get to Hull, so it was an extreme excitement that the film was chosen to be in competition at Ottawa. (Thank you Chris) The British Council paid for my travel too. (Thank you BC). Abigail Addison from Animate Projects came too, it was great to have a friend to flaneur with.

OIAF was, as always, an exciting adventure in current animated film making.  It’s an adventure curated by maverick Chris Robinson and Keltie Duncan, which makes this a singular and exceptional festival to visit.  Over the course of the week, we saw around 100 animations which covered not just an enormous spectrum of techniques, subjects, themes and duration but also a huge range of budgets and personal investment.  Some films had been made in 2 weeks (my hand is up), some had been years in production and had teams of professionals working on them.  Alongside the screenings, there were special guests Caroline Leaf and Don McWilliam giving a talk and a special screening respectively, there were a lot of industry events, pumpkin carving, yoga and presentations by Laika and Julia Pott.  All the OIAF venues were busy, the audience a mixture of students, graduates, fans and veterans from near and afar.  The first group are dominant so sometimes the audience response to the work is a bit snickery, but always invested and warm.

Alongside the programme of current films, the 40th anniversary meant brilliant compilations of Grand Prize winners from the last 40 years.  We made it to two of these screenings, I was overjoyed to see The Street by Caroline Leaf, 1976 and the amazing, raucous Ubu by Geoff Dunbar, 1978.  As an aside, here’s a really nice blog entry from Lost Continent about Ubu.

I’d like to note down my own favourites, so that I don’t forget.  From competition 1, The Wrong End of the Stick by Terri Matthews, 2016, Happy End by Jan Saska, 2015 I Like Girls by Diane Obomswain, 2016 and Erlkönig by Georges Schwizgebel, 2015The Wrong end of the Stick was in the mould of Alison Snowden and David Fine’s Bob’s Birthday, a little marriage crisis, gently resolved.  The script and animation were very fine and there was a beautiful misunderstanding under the kitchen table that resulted in a rather too-long shot of the hero’s nuts from behind.  Happy End went at a cracking pace, the story told backwards with the punchline at the end, an old folk joke.  I Like Girls is a really charming film, with excerpts from younger women about coming out, crushes and first loves. I was really glad for Diane and the NFB that the film won the much coveted Grand Prize.  Georges Schwizgebels film was a real pleasure to watch, based upon Goethe’s poem Erlkönig; a father and son gallop through a wood, the whirling animation and unreal colours reflecting the feverish journey they are undertaking.  Abigail and I were lucky to meet Georges and Diane over our hotel eggs and bacon one morning.  In competition 2, I enjoyed PES’s Honda ‘paper’, and the lovely Anna Ginsburg’s film Private Parts.  Both Anna and PES are full of great ideas and just get them done, that’s an inspiration.  In Competition 3, I enjoyed Janet Perlman’s film Let’s Play it Like it’s 1949, Fired on Mars by Nick Vokey and Nate Sherman and of course Blind Vashya by the masterful, prolific Theodore Ushev (winner of the best narrative short and best Canadian film.)  In competition 4, the programme was beautifully set up by one of two of Gina Kamentsky’s films Tracheal Shave.  I think Gina’s work deserves a blog entry of it’s own one day, I’m a big fan.  Spoon by Markus Kempken was a film about a parent bullying a child over a long period of time, it was beautifully ad carefully told, and it was no less dramatic for revolving around a kitchen implement.  Frankfurter Str. 99a by Evgenia Gostrer was a fantastic, spare film about a garbage collector at lunchtime.  It doesn’t sound promising does it? Definitely worth a watch.  In competition 5, Velodrool by Sander Joon was amazing, the story was good and Estonian dotty, the animation so masterful. Sander was very modest during his Meet the Filmmaker interview, if I could animate like that I would be very boastful.  Our Crappy Town by Andy and Caroline London has a pooh joke that had the audience in stitches. I think it gets my top prize for the funniest film of the festival.

I have to mention that there were also many films with an old fashioned stance towards women. There are too many films gratuitously depicting women as sex obsessed, or large-butted.  There was an infertile women who was of course a demented stay at home mum and a childless women who was of course obsessed with dolls, a snake with boobs, some long boobs that got mixed up with bread dough (another eye roll).  Some of these films were actually really great, if it hadn’t been for the stereotyping and lapses in thoughtfulness. I love the crazy, unusual narrative threads and I enjoy animation for it’s random moments of crudeness and violence (Our Crappy Town, The Wrong End of the Stick) but responsible, modern crude without stereotype would be better.  Old fashioned work seems to go unchallenged, either because it takes a long time to make (respect) or because many of the big films are made by students, or perhaps just because the animation community is inclined to be generous and cheerful.  I don’t know, it’s not the first time I’ve had a little grumble about this.

I was very sorry to miss Caroline Leaf’s talk with Don McWilliam.  Caroline won the first Grand Prize at OIAF, so she was the very special guest.  Don McWilliams programmed Eleven Moving Thoughts, which was shown twice.  I think I would have gone twice if there had been the chance.  Amongst other films he showed an excerpt of Rybchinski’s The Orchestra film, Damon the Mower (1972) by George Dunning, Blinkety Blank (1955) by Norman McLaren, Jiri Trinka’s The Hand (1965), Motion Control by David Anderson, and at the end, a beautiful film of his own, depicting Earle Binney reading a sound poem about a train.  Don also pointed me in the direction of Primiti Too Taa (1986) by Ed Ackerman and poet Colin Morton, which was made on a Remmington typewriter. The film is based on a 45-minute sound poem “Ur-sonate (Sonata for Primitive Sounds)” by Kurt Schwitters.

I would liked to have written about the VR experience, (see below), and visiting the NFB in Montreal on Monday.  It was extremely motivating to get a glimpse into the on-going productions there, each artist and production was fascinating in a different way.  A highlight for me was seeing the Alexeïeff-Parker pinscreen being skillfully and thoughtfully put to use by Michèle Lemieux.

It was a really great trip for me, thank you to Chris and everyone at the festival. Thanks to the British Council and thank you to the NFB for some lovely meals and conversations too. I hope I’ll be back.

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Run Wrake’s poster for Ottawa 2000

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Me with the VR headset on, watching Pearl

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Janet Pearlman in her Meet the Filmmakers interview with Chris Robinson and David.

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Me in my Meet the Filmmaker interview with Chris Robinson at St Brigid’s church.

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Alconbury Magic Mountain

In July I was lucky enough to be a part of a theatrical production called Top Secret with Nie Theatre.  A brilliant group of young people were recruited to create a theatrical production called Top Secret, which was performed in the bunker itself.  The venue was amazingly evocative and the performance in the space took everyone right back to 1989 to be a part of the departing Colonel’s farewell party.  The animations that we made together were shown both before the performance and at the very end, to offer reflections about possible future use of the space from the young people’s perspective.

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