Saturday, 28 March 2009

Newport animator in residence scheme


The lovely people at University of Wales College, Newport (where I began teaching undergraduate animation, ooo, ages ago) are offering a one month residency to an experienced animation director using any animation technique. Past participants in this scheme have been Leigh Hodgkinson and Matthew Walker (so no pressure then). The cute image (right) is from last years film Breaking the Mould by Luca Paulli and Rebecca Manley.

It's such a great idea, as it gives the students at Newport a chance to get some hands on work experience on a live project, and also encourages animation directors to make more independent films. All good.

You work at the uni for a month with students, and make a short (30-90 second) film with sound track. Happily this length fits the criteria for the Encounters Festival 'Depict' Award (held down the road from Newport in Bristol), where all three films commissioned to date have done very well.

The residency will take place mid-May to mid-June 2009 and you can find out more on their website http://jamanimation.com/air_scheme/ (where you can also see all the films in full).

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Tea is important



Tea drinking is punctuation. Boiling the kettle is a nice little displacement activity when everything is going wrong and I can't think what to do next.

Tea is a way of dragging my brain back to something that's in the real world. Tea is two minutes to think.

The type of tea is therefore very important, and must be deliberated upon before deciding.

Everyday, rooibos does the trick for me. Recently I have begun experimenting with Earl Grey (bergamont) flavoured rooibos which seemed like a travesty until I tried it and became instantly converted. If I'm feeling the need for change then I'll have a pot of mint tea. If I'm flagging then I'll have a cup of rose tea (black tea with rose petals) - it's like Turkish Delight flavoured tea but it has caffeine in it so I may start to boiing off the walls a little after a cup of this.

Today, as well as drinking numerous cups of tea, I have also finished animating 2 seconds of the inside of a train carriage. Hooray (boiing).

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Tate Modern Animation Day


On Saturday I went to the animate! organised Tate Modern Animation Study Day, part of the Animation Breakdown weekend.

It really tickles me (as someone who grew up in the furthest reaches of London Zone 5) that I can actually buy a one day travel card from Shrewsbury to London - just how big must London be now?

Anyway at the Tate there was some interesting talk about animation depicting reality "Drawn to Life" by Stoffel Debuysere and Maria Palacios Cruz from the Brussels based Courtisane collective. They screened a mixed bag of stuff - the short I've Got a Guy Running by Jonathan Kirk I found interesting and moving and shocking, but a couple of the other pieces seemed more like exercises rather than something that could connect independently with an audience.

I was happy to see the artists' panel on drawing - it was good to see attention given to the unmediated mark, although I guess that's an illusion since all out marks are mediated digitally through the computers we use and the screens that show them. I found Ann Course's work (and lovely sparkley silver eye lids) funny, rude and challenging. I also liked the way she talked about her films being about 'feelings', it seemed such a defiantly unfashionable thing to say.

Anyway; the sun was shining, London was all twinkly and grand and seductive, so I spent the afternoon wandering round the galleries and soaking up the art.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Music collaboration


Working with sound on this project is really important because it's the bedrock of the work. We took a series of lots of sound effects (frogs croaking, squeaky rubber shoes, water hissing on a hotplate, mobile phone interference) and gave them to the audio-visual synaesthetes to comment on. What did they see with the sound? How did it move? What colour was it EXACTLY? What was the texture like?

Some of them have taste or touch synaesthesia too so we would sometimes go off into other senses "it's lovely .. I can taste it in my mouth.." which really threw me! To them it's all part of the same experience whilst I'm wrestling with getting my head round the basics.

We recorded their responses to the sounds, and also interviewed them about what it's like to have synaesthesia. I then took that recorded material to the composer to try and turn it all into a coherent film sound track, before animating to it.

I have worked with composer Adam Goddard for two previous projects and we have reached an understanding about the ways in which we both work. I always find it really interesting working with sound artists; in theory you share the same creativity but in reality you have totally different ways of expressing it and there can be less common ground than you'd think.

Anyway, he's just sent me the newest version of the middle section of the film and it's completely wonderful so I'm all cheery. He uses some static and describes it as "warm and cottony". I'm not sure if it's working on this project or if we have unearthed some latent synaesthetic tendencies .. hmm.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Flatpack Festival

This weekend I went to the Flatpack Festival in Birmingham; an amazing mixture of animation, live action, live performance, music and cakes. It is always interesting and very often jaw-droppingly fantastic. This years head-expanding bit for me was the Paper Cinema, a live animation performance with beautiful music.

On Friday there was the 'unpacked' session, a day of artists talking about how and why they make their work. It was all very good, and incredibly thought provoking (I'm still digesting bits now, I'm a slow thinker).

Paper cinema were in the last session of the day. Nic Rawling showed us the beautiful black and white ink-drawn paper puppets he uses to enact dramas in front of a digital camera wired up to a big screen with lyrical music performed by Kora. It made your eyes greedy it was so good. I'm not really into puppetry (an incident with the crocodile in Punch and Judy when I was four has left me wary) but something about the alchemy of mediating the work through a screen just brought it all to life so vividly.

The next day I dragged my family over to the Electric Cinema in Brum to watch a proper performance of The Night Flyer; a beautiful fairy tale about a boy, a bike and a search for a lost girl. It was blissful, and great fun to watch with kids. Mine were transfixed, and watched with huge attention. They also loved seeing the puppets afterwards and, turning them over, realising they were all backed with cereal packets and biscuit boxes. You don't see Pixar doing that.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

"It's like saying - 'when do you remember having hair?' It's just the way it's always been."

I've just had another chunk of the sound track from the composer Adam Goddard. He lives in Toronto so the collaborative process with him involves lots of e-mails, some skyping and a few phone calls.

Luckily I've worked with Adam a few times before so we are tuned in to each others way of thinking. And idiosyncratic use of the English language.

This time Adam has sent me a chunk of the middle section of the film where Dr Jamie Ward, the neuro-psychologist we are working with on this project, is talking about what exactly synaesthesia is. It's lovely because Adam has also cut in snippets of the people with synaesthesia talking about their experience of it too, which is a nice counter point.

It's so exciting getting new bits of the sound track. I love the amazingly creative responses to my (usually) clumsily expressed and slightly surreal briefs.

The image (above) is Emma's visual of rubber shoes walking on a lino floor.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009



I have just come back from the Tricky Women festival in Vienna. It runs annually, celebrating the best of women's animation internationally.

My film The Beloved Ones got in - hooray! - so I got to attend thanks to the British Council (who fund the travel) and the festival itself (which provides accommodation). I got to meet lots of amazing film makers from all over the world, including Katrin Rothe (pictured here - she's on the right), a documentary maker and animator, amongst many others.

It was a great atmosphere, very welcoming and warm, and Vienna is a beautiful city despite the rainy spring weather we had for most of our trip. The festival had a 50 film competition alongside other programmes including a Vera Neubauer retrospective, which was excellent.

The highlight for me though was the screening of the work of Mary Ellen Bute, American abstract film maker, who made several ground breaking animated films under the banner of "Seeing Sound". I've only seen a few blurry clips of her work before on YouTube, so to see these beautiful 35 mm prints projected was a huge treat. The colours were just incredible.

Academic Sandra Naumann from the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute in Linz presented the work and her huge enthusiasm for the subject was infectious. She has been on a one woman crusade to reinstate Bute's reputation as a pioneer of animation - travelling to the States to interview Bute's friends and relatives, getting new prints struck and publicising Bute's work world wide.
I came back home all enthused and keen to get on with my own seeing sound project..!