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

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