19/05/2017

challenge...and challenge

Trump has been elected. We now have a snap election coming up, with the attendant vulgar, scaremongering and deceitful media coverage, and the terror of the future possibilities. And now, my workplace - my artistic context, research support network and daily what-passes-for-normality - has been deranged, to be replaced with something else, not yet known or understood.

And these are challenges, to which I am exhorted to rise, smiling.
People need challenge. Without it we become bored or complacent. So we seek cures for cancer, we train for marathons...but we also die taking selfies on top of crane towers. Not all challenges are equal.

Working as an artist, an animator is challenging. (working as an illustrator when you are really an animator, doubly so) - the frustrations of trying to fit a layout template onto an organic and irregular story form. Of trying to animate rushing water. Or find a sound that will reliably represent the non-existent and unimaginable. Experimentation, and often failure; submission, and often rejection; technology demands and trying to remain sane and civil when these go horribly wrong. Pushing boundaries - challenging your own skills and stretching them.
I believe in challenge, in confronting your own fears, in saying let's see what happens if I... And more importantly, in doing this alone - yes I CAN cycle up that 3 mile 1-in-4, yes I have a fear of heights but I can fly a glider, or perform on stage at the Sage, or travel to Svalbard, or lose a bunch of weight and learn to surf, or put it all on again and smile and say 'hey-ho'.

Now Harry Lime said, however inaccurately...

So - the challenges of coping with systemic fear and uncertainty are supposed to make me produce my best work ever. Big challenges - justice, equality, overthrowing dictatorships and protesting attacks on democracy; here, anger is useful. There are large things you can do, in community with others, helping each other in solidarity. You can write the Internationale, create posters encouraging people to join the quinta brigada, write Ubu Roi or 1984, film Fahrenheit 9/11. Save the world by painting it.

But when you feel, or when you have been told quite categorically there IS nothing you can do... the challenge is to accept, "deal with", make the best of, to find an opportunity in the middle of an imposition of confusion. I'd love to be the kind of person who says "bring it on, I eat problems for breakfast". But I'm this kind of person. The kind who chooses challenges which are interesting, exciting and will make the world a better place. Can I teach this module? Can I overcome my fear of heights? Can I draw a squid climbing out of a spider suit? Can I organise everything when your mother is possibly dying in a foreign hospital? yes. Can I cope with stuff happening at work/ in the government which seems to make no logical sense and which I suspect I am not being told the truth about? with the feeling of powerlessness and being dragged about? Does it motivate me to seize control?  er, no. It simply make me depressed, the opposite of creative.
These are not useful challenges, they may make me more resilient but they will make me less sensitive. They will make me leap to the defence of the people and the things I love, but they will not help me do the things I love (animation, teaching amongst others) better. Of course we survive - but as an artist and an educator I have to do more than simply survive. I have to dream. I have to make those dreams useful. I have to share the useful dreams and make other people believe they could come true.

If challenge is a central driving force in the work of the artist, If challenge is an exciting, dynamic agent of change, then I would like that to be change for the better. To pick a useful and worthwhile challenge. A friend in Hull told me that there are many ways to be a hero, that stepping in front of a bullet to save another person's life is an easy way.. But that surviving day after day living on Hessle Road is a much harder way to be a hero.


04/05/2017

Treeness

Once there was a tree. This isn't it...this is the other tree. Lending a hand.

Not quite how I imagined it, I thought it would be more wild and splodgy/ scratchy/ dynamic...oh Lord, maybe its really boring.
Apparently, I have found a style and am now stuck with it. Ever have one of those moments when you look at someone else's work and think "I wish I could have drawn/ painted/ animated that."? In that style...And you could copy it. But no...as Anna (the Tree story's author) said - you start to write the character and you think you want them to do this or that or develop in this way or that...but then they just decide to do something different. Apparently the same is true of drawings. I wanted wild and crazy lines, but they wanted to be quite neat and detailed, thank you. Bloody kids!

16/04/2017

Persistence of Vision

Having undertaken to illustrate a children's picture story (that's a separate category from picture book, who knew?), I thought it would be so much easier to make a simple series of 30 images instead of 1500 per minute. How much more time I would be able to spend on each, making it perfect. How intricate and endlessly fascinating each image could be, like the best of those I remembered from childhood. Those which allowed you not only to enter the image, but wander around examining flowers, delicate grasses and textures...and imagine the backstory; look deeper and invent more stories. The liberating ability to include random extras, red herrings and decorative details.
Hahahahahahahahahahaha.
In fact, I have wildly underestimated the demands of a different discipline; I am struggling not to assume that each illustration must be exactly the same size and shape, filling the "screen" , even though some of them are detailed close-ups and some distant views. The shift from landscape to portrait orientation is easier so far - possibly because coming from painting into animation I found the transition from portrait to landscape was quite hard in the first place.
I failed to anticipate the scariness of trying to draw something well enough to withstand that lengthy scrutiny instead of hurtling past at 25 images per second. Weirdly, this means I am sketching on paper and scanning the sketch in a desperate attempt to get the process going...Not only all of this, but more importantly I have also underestimated the power of persistence of vision. Every image I see in my mind is a "scene" - an animation, and I can't read "the tree was about as tall as a person" without seeing the tree grow upwards, a person peer around the branches and then wave at the reader. Trying to build that sense of movement, of energy...trying to develop the dramatic pace that will match that of the original story...without using animation? Will I be able to complete this project without having accidentally created the e-version, the flickbook, and the interactive animated ebook first??
Watch this space.

24/03/2017

Stanislavski's Cat

Recording voiceovers for the tiny Shakespeares, with a group of local drama types, seated round a massage table. None of us is an "Ac-tor", so we try to find ourselves in the story...to speak as-if. Dressing up "like a witch" in pointy hat and stick-on warts as-if Dressing in our best butch to pre-empt certain types of undesired attention. To pass unnoticed...or to challenge and brazen out. If the story is right we should all be able to find a personal truth in it somewhere, which means we can speak for ourselves rather than try to be a Jacobean era witch/herbalist/batty old lady.

stolen from pinterest. Cat from Maeterlinck's Bluebird
None of us is an "Ac-tor", so there was a certain amount of confusion, hilarity and collapse of stout party. In fact, most of the cackling happened off-the-record as we just chatted, teased and generally improvised around the theme. Our host suggested that instead of one of us making a cat noise, why not record the cat? Ah, I have failed to explain that the point is there is no cat. We fashion an imaginary cat to make believe we are witches. Directing is a whole lot more difficult when there are actual people involved. Let alone cats.

Witch one (which one?) suggested we should just record all the bits in between the script...Woman 1 (not yet a witch) replied that that might be the basis of another and much better film - about 3 women pretending to be 3 witches, who in turn are anachronistically commentating on a play in which they were actors. About how the contemporary sensibilities, politics and social structures would commentate on that. About a group of feminist/ lesbian/ non-actors interpreting the behaviours and words of 3 women who were really men, and whose words were crafted by a man.

No, stop, my head hurts. In the end, there really does need to be a "good bit later where Lady Macbeth goes nuts."

11/03/2017

Community of Practice Revisited

animating painting...
Last week I had a random tutorial with a Masters student... from a course I don't actually teach on.
From a different subject area.
Except that we are both painters now trying to make animations. Trying to animate paintings.

OK, it was his first and my Nth, but while I was talking I realised both how much I had learnt since MY first - and how much I still had to learn; how many things I had to try and to explore...

He was doing things "properly" - storyboards, pencil tests, animatics (I had to look it up to even find out what an animatic was); I seem to have made an artistic career out of doing things improperly. But what was interesting was not which set of processes we each were using so much as how the process affects the form. In painting there are always happy accidents, interesting marks and ways in which the paint reacts with the surface, the solvent, the other paint.It isn't so easy to see but there are ways in which a technical or computer process also affects the form, and offers opportunities for random accidents of inspiration. Where the problems and frustrations - or the need to save time - generate creative solutions.
We talked about the different demands of learning as much as possible through the project, and of completing a fabulous movie...that old thing of process vs product but somehow still hugely relevant, hugely important to remember. We say that the learning is vital...that it's research...but are we maybe too keen to steer our students  - and our practice - towards the perfect product?

We always say - especially to the students - that teaching is an exchange, that we learn from the process just as the students do. That this is a community of practice in which we can all help each other to grow and develop;  to reflect on our own practice and where it fits with other peoples'. So it was nice to be reminded that that does actually work. Cheers, Christopher...

25/02/2017

Scripts, image sequences and videotape

Working on the scripts for the Shakespeare shorts has made me realise how much fun it is to work in a different medium. To explore telling a story through multiple perspectives but using words/ and different voices.
To find creative ways of avoiding too much lip-synching but without resorting to a disembodied narrator...through close-ups, cutaways...keeping the story visual and not letting the images become secondary to the words. I find this means the script changes as I go, as interesting visuals suggest themselves. Forgive me (colleagues) but I seldom stick to a storyboard and seldom even draw one. Its mostly back-of-the-beer-mat/ organic flow - or as we professionals call it Zen Animation!

But...I have only just realised -while updating the website - that every narrative I create is also told (differently) through a series of still images (the thumbnails) which compose a sort of trailer in comic-book form. In fact, another adaptation.
Damn. Now I've realised that, I'm going to have to start being more creative with the shape/ layout/ size of the thumbnails.
Maybe with speech bubbles...

08/02/2017

The Slow Lane

...now leads to Sunderland, where this tiny road movie has been selected for the short film festival. Which means I will actually get to go to a festival which has my film in it - so that's a new combination.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, a short post (about nothing to do with animation, but involving thinking rocks and goats) has been accepted in this fine blog Febulous February.

And a second set of cackling witch woodcuts is underway, this one exploring the thorny problem of careers for young girls/ witches (virgin, mother, crone and ...er...the other one).


I had originally set out to create very short versions of Shakespeare films...but this is so much more fun. Apparently, what I'm doing here is adaptation.

24/01/2017

MacBeth/ Macbeth/ mac beith ...

...is turning out to be enormous fun. Read Learned Papers! Disagree with them! search the internet for mad German woodcuts of what Choleric temperament looks like;confuse yourself with Elizabethan/ Jacobean customs, attitudes and belief systems; wish you still had a copy of "1066 and all that".

Some of the papers I found were student dissertations and essays; some of the evidence and rationale was scanty. But all of it was interesting. Put it in a sack, shake it up, and pull out some mildly controversial fragments which I hope will encourage people too look at and enjoy the plays. For those "forced" to study them at GCSE/ A level. For those frustrated by the deeply gender-divided and unequal world view of the day but looking for a way through it. Or bored by the passnotes which are just that - notes to get you a pass, but not necessarily to make you think deeply/ or sideways-on. (yes, it's "about ambition". but also the pointlessness of war, gender politics, philosophy, Brechtian devices, "Mock the Week" and the perils of patronage. A cultural mash-up) (maybe...you decide)
And now, even more fun, I get to draw woodcut-esque and intricate Black-and-White images with a vulgar disregard for perspective, anatomy... or anachronism.
God, I feel Shakespearean!

10/01/2017

Toonies Bar...the club for People.

Finally. The latest experiment - working Hi-resolution - is completed. This has been a major challenge technically but also because the film has a larger cast of characters. ..many of whom have no obvious or unambiguous gender. Some of whom - being robots, blobs and scribbly yellow things - don't need a gender anyway.

It has been very difficult to keep gender and sexuality assumptions out of it; to establish two characters being friendly or even intimate but "not in a sex way"; and to establish simple identifiers of masculinity which operate as clearly (and as annoyingly) as long eyelashes or hair-ribbons do for femininity.

Also problematic is how to suggest the shrugging off of gender - which is so central to human identity - without simply suggesting transitioning between genders. Is is even possible to discuss gender-freedom in a way that is not overtly political and essentially "queer". Or NOT to be defined by gender, nor in relation to it nor by its absence?



I suspect this will be the first in a long line of tries and possibly fails - but that is sort of the point of research, no?


15/12/2016

it's that time again...

Happy Christmas... I always make my own cards, and I always make a christmas animation. why? because it's FUN. Because home-made gifts are the best in almost every case; they come with more love, more thought, and an investment of time which is most of my friends' most precious commodity. Mine too.
12 days of Christmas from Fin McMorran on Vimeo.

24/11/2016

What she said...

in case you were confused, cows are female
Other people looking at the tiresome sameness of female characters (visually) versus the startling variation in male characters' faces
http://every-flavored-bean.tumblr.com/post/112569173199/every-woman-in-every-disneypixar-movie-in-the
https://www.behance.net/gallery/28461793/Infographic-Pixar-Animated-Faces
Animated characters should have a visual representation of their characters, they are designed, not cast and so every curve, angle and idiosyncrasy is deliberately added - or left out. Which sort of suggests that the female characters are themselves less well developed and differentiated in terms of attitude, characteristics, behaviour.
Have we really not progressed since the days of 3fold women virgin/warrior, mother and crone?Babe, Carer, and Wicked Witch. I wonder how many animators (heterosexual male) are happily married - you know, to an actual real woman with attitudes, ambitions and mis-matched underwear?

12/11/2016

Black & White

Finally, after years and miles and forgetting what I'd even written, and losing heart and pretending not to care (draw breath) and hoping they hadn't changed their minds...THE BOOK is out. A text book, a theory, some big words, Colin the Dog immortalised in black and white (and no green). Available here http://www.brownsbfs.co.uk/Product/Dobson-Julia/Mapping-Cinematic-Norths--International-Interpretations-i/9783034318952. First brainiac thing Ive written since the PhD (and covering a totally different area). If anyone ever reads it, do search Youtube for the accompanying video...
Now I've an idea to serialise Colin's trip in the form of a blog...not a piece of academic writing obviously, but an account of his travels as a serialised...um...surrealist novelette? Since I have actually been to Norway ( though not via North Utsire sadly), and seen the northern lights (Iceland, and again, sadly not from a hottub but a very cold hilltop cowering in the windshadow of a coach), I might be able to pull this off. Now, if I can just learn to speak Dog...

07/11/2016

Animation Pig-out!

still from Mr Madila. Rory Waudby-Tolley 2016
...at the ASFF festival. It runs over the weekend so I can actually go, although I still wish schedulers would consider the possibility that someone might want to watch (eg) ALL 6 of the animation sessions - rather than a random selection or a broad overview - and not schedule them back-to-back on opposite sides of York!! However, manged to do all 6, one family friendly (but the not the one I really wanted to see) and a couple of randomly selected experimental/ artists selections. ... 60 films over the weekend. Plus, caught a samba band, some art galleries and a couple of specialist shops, with time left over to walk the walls. Hoorah!
This year again a major theme seems to be autobiographical and "illustratory" - adaptations of existing stories which have a narrator reading the story. Some of these have no "events" , more an exploration of feelings or relationships, which makes the animation a challenge but also renders the images incomprehensible without the sound. Is this a good thing? The sound and vision should be integrated and complimentary...or a bad thing? I remember being taught back in artschool days that if a (static image) cartoon wasn't funny without the caption, then it wasn't funny...which I suppose should also work for sad/ mysterious/ challenging/ mindbogglingly thought-provoking...etc
For myself I like the challenge of working without dialogue or narrators, (as opposed to the hideous technical challenge of lipsynching).
So I saw some great imagery, some interesting stories, (and some horrors)... but my favourite in the festival was Mr Madila...or the Colour of Nothing. It had great pace, propelled along by a well-considered dialogue which ranged from the profound to the ridiculous with a natural rhythm. The drawings were energetic and expressive; the humour made it popular with the audience but it was more than jokey - after I stopped laughing I went away thinking about it...about why it was so affecting and about what the colour, and the importance, of nothing might be.
check out the trailer...
https://vimeo.com/131544900

11/10/2016

Goin' Posh

 Hastings Tall Sheds. Not, as family legend had it,
tall inside for mending fishnets (or fishing nets),
but a 3 storey shed, to exploit limited beach space.
Well last year a kind reviewer  (Eugenie Johnson) described one of my films as a breath of fresh air...but also as Crude line drawings... http://narcmagazine.com/review-sunderland-shorts-opening-night-sunderland-minster-2-7-15/ . Now I'm going to up my game crudewise - specifically to make the original drawings on a larger scale that wont get crudified so much by being enlarged on a big screen. Having resisted this for a long time because of the limits of the size of the monitor I'm working on, clearly its time to invest in some bigger better techno. Meanwhile an experimental pilot project (with a storyline around gender and specifically gender in cartoons) should help sort out what else needs to change with size - the scale of marks? the type of marks? - and how much longer will it take to complete?
Also, I realise it is some time since I attempted to animate an inanimate object...like a shed. This raises interesting ideas about the nature of the word animat/e/ion and why anyone would think a shed was not already animated by the dense layers of history and human intervention...and fish.

03/10/2016

Having a plan...

wasps don't actually have teeth like this...OR DO THEY?
Finally, latest 4 minute animation (about gardening, magic realism and - er -  wasps) is completed and sound mixed, ..Actually, I spent today so far redoing the soundtrack, because it just didn't quite have the pace; but I still made my deadline of  the start of the new teaching year. Last week was induction but my bottom line was to be done by my first (PT) day of the teaching year - tomorrow. I don't usually have a strict deadline for films, except for a few ludicrously quick submission dates for themed shows... it's usually more like...just do it! and when it's done, do another one... But it is motivating to have a timescale, a plan, a deadline. It also means you can actually get ahead of it and give yourself time off, which is hard to do for an artist/ animator when that isn't your (every)day job.
And some of those things that annoyingly motivational business people say are useful... If work expands to fit the available time, it can also be made to contract to fit it...but only if you have a clear sense of how much time you're giving yourself. I'm always telling the students the importance of planning and managing their time... so you'll all be pleased to know that my house looks like Mr Trebus lives here (google it) and the garden looks like an amazonian rainforest...but the film is done...TaDa!

23/09/2016

life isn't all animation...

13 maniacs and a bunch of drums at the taiko workshop
photo: by David (Mugenkyo), rehearsal at the Dojo
...apparently. I took some time out to do Taiko drumming with Mugen Dojo this summer.  (a week's workshop and performance at the Edinburgh Festival) Unlike animation which takes for ever, drumming is instant gratification and while both are seriously good fun, drumming is something you do with other people (and unicorns...that was the German taiko connection), learning together, laughing together. Contributing - maybe in small ways, within what is essentially someone else's creation - but live, organic, and physical. Every animator should also be a drummer! I planned to make an animation about the workshop/ performance /process...but, you know, in my tea break.

12/09/2016

rejection letters

heyho...more rejections from more film festivals.
I once met a woman (artist) who, having sent a proposal to a major art gallery, was really angry that it hadn't been accepted ..."but it was good!" she cried, passionately convinced there was some kind of conspiracy theory or at least rampant nepotism going on.
Alas...good isn't enough. Lots of people are good and film festivals like gallery exhibition spaces are hugely competitive. We-e-ell, that's what I'm telling me. But I think it's also time to admit that those particular two festivals are just not looking for the kind of work I do and its time to move on ("But I love her!" "forget it, girl, she's in a different world"). Not out of my league so much as playing a different sport.
So - be true to your own style, format, vision and just keep on. If just doing it - making the movies, drawing the vampire blackbirds, dreaming the storylines -isn't fun, isn't passionately, wretchedly, magically, hysterically good fun...then stop, because you'll never be better than hohum at it.
Meanwhile, back at the dayjob, the University has elected to give me some research remission so I can make even more animations. whoop!
...and also, possibly "argh!".

14/08/2016

What did we learn today?

Normally, I work from beginning to end, perhaps more like writing a novel than making a film. I make a first draft - seldom a pencil test unless it's really hard to draw - and then go back over it, to re-edit, also in order beginning to end. BUT - Just because it's a cartoon, doesn't mean you can't shoot it out of sequence. So, what did we learn today... stop banging your head against the sketchbook going "wah! it's too hard to draw a little fat man doing 360 degree rolls in mid air" and - duh - move on to to the part where he's admiring his wings in the mirror. Go back to the hard part when you are feeling more energetic, have better references...or maybe rethink the sequence based on what it is supposed to show/generate/ suggest. Of course this does imply you have to have a reasonable idea where the story is going...

A proper storyboard is not in fact essential unless you want to ...maybe, work to a pre-planned deadline.
Lately I have  started annotating the cartoon-in-progress with days so I can see how many frames I actually managed in that period. This will be an invaluable aid to planning and resource budgetting  - or possibly invoke despair.

05/08/2016

Character, Gender, Comics...and the triumph of hope over expectation.

The debate about sexism in comics/ animation is ongoing but makes fairly depressing reading.
superhero-sexism-is-alive-and-kicking
(Im wearing sparkly hot pants because I like them, not so men will look at my arse.. Excellent, good for you. But how do we stop the men in question from assuming you are wearing them so they will look at your arse. Aye, there's the rub. They believe they have a god-given right and a hormonal imperative to look at your arse) Meanwhile, back in what passes for real life, trying to develop believable and empathic characters of unknown or ambiguous gender/ whose key identification is as Gardener, Fantasist or Self-sufficient rather than Man or Woman/ is proving challenging.

01/08/2016

Virtual gardening

Soundtrack for The Slow Lane is done, and the finished movie has gone off to some festivals for rejection. Updates completed to the website, to create pages for the most recent movies and , oh yes, re-link every single page to the blog via the OTHER menu. (which I forgot about) Yes, this is why style sheets are a good idea. (ask your Mum)

It's beginning to feel very much like the website is redundant, and that the blog is as much information as anyone would be bothered to read... But for me it's important to close the projects, to reflect, to tidy my virtual desk and get ready for the next idea. Digital projects that are infinitely copiable, tweakable and clone-able can sometimes feel like they are always in flux, that it isn't necessary to commit to a single, finite version and move on. But I believe it is. Let the narrative find its natural ending, its most expressive face and then frame it.

Then, move on to the next project which right now is some "virtual gardening" with added magic realism. It's an idea from the thinking stone, and a tiny bit metanarrative-y, investigating the nature of the animated world, where things can become other things quite easily, seamlessly and without the need for stunt-shrubs.