Thursday, 29 September 2011

Stone and antler sketches

More sketch book images for the Shrewsbury Museum project. The bottom one is the time line colour palette, with the colours changing as the time does - the scope is 10,000 years!

Friday, 23 September 2011

Museum object sketches

I thought I would post some of the sketches I have been doing for the Shrewsbury Museum animation project I have been working on. They are amongst the first ones I did, from the other side of the glass cases, trying to get a sense of the objects and what they did. The elk antlers are just an amazing object, you have to walk round them to really get a sense of their huge sculptural presence.
I love the axe mould because it's so practical ; a big lump of stone which has a different axe head size and shape on each side. It might have been lugged around by a itinerant bronze metal worker, and would have been a much more efficient use of space and weight than individual moulds. It was very heavy though...

The harpoon was made out of antler, and has little soft teeth to catch a fish without shredding it.

Finally the infamous iron age spoons, as discussed in my last post. The torn looking gap on the plain spoon is where the little hole would originally have been, through which 'liquid' would have been dripped onto the patterned spoon held underneath. Time and erosion have eaten away at the metal so now it looks kind of accidental, especially as the hole isn't in the centre as you might imagine (well, I did).

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Shrewsbury Museum animation project

I've been commissioned by Shrewsbury Museum and Art gallery to make a short animated film about their pre-historic collection, to be displayed in the new space which they are currently renovating (the Music Hall in Shrewsbury town square, it will be an amazing space). I just visited the museum to have a closer look at some of the objects which will be featured in the animation, and they opened up some of the cases so I could handle them. I've been sketching and drawing them through the glass over the past month or so, but it was a very special opportunity to finally get to hold them in real life. Plus I had to wear CSI style gloves! Cool.
These are the Nesscliffe spoons (above) a pair of Iron Age spoons which are very rare and thought to be part of some kind of Druidic rituals. In the Portable Antiquities Scheme annual report (05/06) they state that "It has been suggested that liquid (not water) was allowed to drip or pour through the hole in one spoon, perhaps on to the bowl of the other". I love that "not water", so very understated. It has also been suggested that the liquid might have been blood (or, less excitingly, beer), which is most categorically not water.

Me holding a tiny, fragile and beautiful flint arrow head.

For me the most thrilling object was a hand axe (below) from early Palaeolithic times, by far the oldest object in the collection. It would have been used before the end of the last ice age, as a general all purpose tool, for anything from cutting wood to skinning an animal.

The truly amazing thing about it though is that it wasn't used by humans, it was used by homo heidelbergensis, the most 'recent' relative of homo sapiens (i.e. us).

I held it in my hand and the edges were all really sharp, until I eventually found the one position where it sat comfortably in my palm. You would have cut your hand using it in any position but one, and that one allowed you to access all the cutting edges from lots of different angles. It was incredible to think how long ago someone else had the same thought processes I had about how to use it.
Hand axe

Monday, 19 September 2011

Fantoche 2011

I'm just back from Fantoche, which was a wonderfully warm and friendly festival in Baden, Switzerland. There was a theme of animated documentary running throughout the festival, and I was invited along to take part in a day of lectures and discussion on the genre. The other speakers were very high end - it was chaired by Marcy Goldberg, and had Bella Honess Roe giving an over view of animated documentary, Dennis Tupicoff talking about animated documentary and trauma, Shira Avni talking about animated documentary and therapy, Rokhsareh Ghaemmghani talking about animated documentary and portrait and me talking about animated documentary and music. Overall it was a really stimulating event and the topics discussed seemed to prompt some really interesting and thoughtful responses to the genre of animated documentary. 

The cafe and bar for film makers and audience to mingle

Sign to the thermal baths, too tempting a detour...

The lovely Annegret Richter, animadoc curator of the Leipzig Dokfest

Documentary maker Rokhsareh Ghaemmghani, artist Akram Sarakhti and her grand daughter

Friday, 9 September 2011

PhD: end of first year

I've just finished my first year as a full time PhD student, and on Monday had my first year panel, where I officially passed from being on an M.Phil to being a Ph.D candidate proper. In order to pass that I had to write a 10,000 word report, including a literature review, a breakdown of my methodology and a schedule for my work over the next two years along with examples of my written work (I included two papers I've presented at conferences). 

This past year has been much harder than I ever imagined. Everyone who has done a PhD told me it would be tough, but did I believe them? Not really. I've had twins, I thought, nothing could be tougher than the first three years 6 months of that (...except maybe triplets). I've made films for tiny budgets under huge amounts of pressure, how could this be more stressful? I've taught in HE for years, I have nerves of steel. I've done all these things simultaneously, I'm a multi-tasker, it'll be fine. 

We-e-ll, turns out, not so much. It has been a salutary lesson in how to eat humble pie with a big spoon and no custard. 

High points: the sense of community and support from my fellow students, having my horizons widened so far they're barely even in my peripheral vision, the delight of getting papers finally accepted for publication, meeting amazingly interesting people who actually seem happy to meet me, learning to use an academic library properly, realising that I can join new communities and learn to speak a new language ('academic english' - I'm barely getting by), getting to travel to interesting conferences in incredible locations, getting a young person's railcard and NUS card again, 10% discount in Top Shop, being asked for ID buying alcohol in Asda aged 40 (I think that was related to the PhD, it was definitely a highlight anyway).

Low points: realising how unbelievably badly read I am, realising how much I don't know, realising that other people do know how much I don't know and they're not going to cut me any slack at all, the process of getting my first paper published (peer reviews? pointing and laughing more like), sinking under the weight of my reading list, the emotional ups and downs (which somehow I really didn't think would affect me but did), developing an Amazon habit so humungous it's embarrassing, travelling to odd places too far away, not understanding entire sentences people say (just before they say, "what do you think?"), feeling lonely and stranded at conferences, getting bone tired.

Anyway, this lovely outfit is keeping me going a bit. I know it's shallow, but when I finally get my hands on the "purple stuff of the London style" and that hideous black cloth bonnet (with a cord and tassel? oh joy) I shall feel like I've truly earned something worth having. And, thank the Lord, it'll mean it's over.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Jonathan Hodgson at the Animation Forum West Midlands

It's taken me ages to read over my notes from the Animation Forum West Midlands talk with Jonathan Hodgson but since I finally have, here's what I wrote...

Hodgson described his career which began with the 1981 film Dogs. His work has always seemed to encompass non-fiction elements; meticulously documented observational based life drawing. He described his obsessive sketchbook work, and how he filtered the world through his drawings. He cited George Grosz and Roger Hilton as influences.

Roger Hilton, untitled, 1974
George Grosz
His early work seemed to be a development of those observational drawings into moving image, and there's a really lovely pace and feel to those films (I love Nightclub) which still seems fresh and unusual. 

In 2002 he made Camouflage which is when he started to see the work as documentary as opposed to just documents. He described beginning to 'package' himself as an animated documentary maker, which he said was to do with the reception of the work as much as a change in his perception of his work or a change in his role. I thought it was interesting that he saw it as a 'market driven' label. He said that when he did begin to identify himself as an animated documentary maker he realised that it was what he'd always done. 

Hodgson discussed his own work alongside work he'd animated for other directors, such as The Age of Stupid (2009) and Wonderland: The trouble with love and sex (2011). Wonderland.. was decided to be made as an animated documentary (with director Zac Beattie already attached) before the subject of the film had even been chosen. The topic of sexual / relationship counselling was deemed appropriate for an animated doc because of the need to keep the real identities of the subjects hidden, due to the social stigma attached. The subjects were shown the work at the end and given the power of veto over the final product. He talked a lot about the design of the characters, he was trying to make them distinctly different from their real-life counterparts but at the same time staying true to they spirit - a kind of "truthful fictionalization" as he described it.. He also fictionalized the place that they lived in (in reality scattered about SE England), in this film they live in a slightly idealised version of Letchworth (he even made a huge map of the town with each character's house located).

Quick Snack - Jonathan Hodgson

During the making of the film he said that "less is more" was their mantra; partly because the squeezed budget and production schedule, and also because he felt that by keeping the animation very minimal and simple he was able to foreground the emotional content of the film.

There were some elements of animated documentary which he felt were able to be fully exploited by the genre in a way that wouldn't be so fully realised in live action. I didn't agree with all of them but they were an interesting take on the subject; he cited magical realism, symbolism, flashbacks and fantasy sequences as some of the areas that animated documentary did well.

He talked a bit about the authenticity of the sound track, even when it wasn't perfectly recorded he thought it had a presence and resonance that re-enacted sound tracks (he cited Waltz with Bashir) lacked. Ultimately he said that animated documentary isn't 'the truth' but it's a way of telling the truth. Since it is clearly fabricated from the start, he argues that it frees the audience up to forget the indexical detail and concentrate on the story they are being told in a novel way. He admitted to stretching the truth in the way the material is presented; "it all happened, but not necessarily in that order" (this could though be said about all edited documentary though?). In the end what he said seemed to me to have as much application to modern live action techniques as it did to animation.

The talk was really well attended and there was lots of enthusiastic questioning afterwards, both in the Q&A and during the drinks afterwards. 

Ticket Barrier - Jonathan Hodgson