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.


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!


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.


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!".


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.


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

The debate about sexism in comics/ animation is ongoing but makes fairly depressing reading.
(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.


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.



...finished the last movie. Soundtrack still to come but it feels like a big achievement. The big deal with this one was finding the right ending - needing to show passage of time without resorting to cliches or making it take too long...finally realised the point was that the story was - kind of - cyclic, so the obvious way to end it was by echoing the scenes at the beginning. In fact the narrative changed a lot in the attempt to balance "the story" with the right visuals, images I wanted to show, (just because I liked them) and trying to encapsulate a thought in an image in the most effective way. So it isn't literally cyclic any more; but doesn't need to be. The sense of future and the desirability of repeated events is there...well, I hope so. This particular story presented quite a challenge - but that's why they call it research.


Thinking space

Holiday season...and the power of walking miles staring at mountains, lakes, fields, islands to generate new ideas for films. Emptying your head, disconnecting from the internet, the TV, the press for two whole weeks and listening to the stories floating quietly on the wind. Then coming "home" - to a temporary cottage and drawing them out; making visual notes. Is this a cliche?...It's not about "unwinding" but about creating a space for creative inspiration to happen. Sometimes, your head is full - of anxiety about referendums and governments - of is-that-damp-in-the-living-room-spreading, of friends and family in need of support, of timetables and workloads and oh yeah, of TV. News news news news crap crap distraction .
There are lots of ways that we get "inspiration" - drawing, reading stories, watching other people's animations, outrage and determination to tell the world something, experimenting,(which is just a posh word for playing with ideas)... but my favourite is this, sitting on the thinking stone halfway up the mountain and letting all those things mix and mature until an idea evolves from them.



...has been accepted for the Amy Johnson festival,  http://amyjohnsonfestival.co.uk/ hoorah and whew and oh how pleased my Uni will be that I have something concrete (listable) to show for all the drawings Ive done. So, sometimes, it does pay off making a thing especially for a single festival/output. While colleagues discuss rewriting (dissertations. PhD papers, articles) for specific journals, it hadn't occurred to me that I could re-edit a film for a specific festival or screening...or that this would be a legitimate activity. Meanwhile I have to decide whether I can cope with time-travelling back to my old home in Hull to attend the festival! (of course I can. Too bad everyone I knew there has now moved to either Brighton or Hebden Bridge.)

Meanwhile, the strange tale of "The Slow Lane" continues, appropriately slowly.


in other news

don't get mad...get animating
...people are trying to kill us and other people are writing racist nonsense all over my facebook feed. Hard to concentrate on gentle human comedy when you kind of want to jump around and scream. I could make scathing animations about the EU (Im in by the way) or defiant, solidarity-in-the-face-of-fascist-bigotry cartoons about Colorado...but Im trying to stay sane and, in the words of one of the speakers at the Newcastle vigil, "be the best queer you can be"...which in my case means finish the damn movie.
But now I have typed this, I'm immediately thinking, doesn't it also mean making the animation be mightier than the sword (or the machine gun). It does. Yes, it does.


Just Do It

Thistle Pot Print by Angie Lewin -
shamelessly reproduced from instagram
So, I was looking for inspiration among lino prints, via online communities, instagram, local art galleries and all, looking for ideas about texture and about how to divide an image into just black and white in the most interesting way. Looking at how to adapt this to in - computer drawing. And thinking about some illustrations (still images) I had just agreed to undertake as an experiment, and how I could use the same style.. Then I had a Jean-Paul Sartre moment, and realised that instead of remembering the work I used to make in lino/ collograph, what I needed to be doing was -duh - making new lino prints. Onto actual paper. Cue online shopping for lino and - hopefully - some serious mess. Computers are so clean.


Let Joy be Unconfined...

unlikely fish-person-hero: protagonists don't have to be heroes?
... Finally finished the latest animated short! An attempt to use only black and white  and to use texture without getting horribly visually confused. I made this for a particular film festival, with a theme, and have duly sent it off. & will be sending it further afield...But really of course I made it to see what would happen, to wrestle with the temptation to cut corners or suddenly use red and teal blue, and - as with most narrative work - to find out what would happen to the protagonist in the end.



a protagonist. child who doesn't have a name, or a gender...
but does have a motivation. and a fishtail.
What did we learn this week? Mostly, that no matter how interesting the story is, and how experimental you are trying to be, you still need a "main character"...someone who will mediate between the world of the narrative and the "real world" or what passes for it in the life of the animator. And even when you are trying to avoid anything that smells like a narrator. So I have just remade quite a chunk of movie to unbalance it in favour of a protagonist instead of two-sides-to-a-story.
Which makes the idea I have just started working on, of a one-minute animated Shakespeare play REALLY challenging - the complexity of the plot and the different scenes with different parallel stories and therefore parallel protagonists; do I leave out the subplot? The funny bit with the dog? Even the marvellous Reduced Shakespeare company needed two minutes for Hamlet.
On the plus side, the Viola/Cesario/Sebastian situation will be an interesting place to examine some of those issues of depicting gender in cartoons...


Bechdel test for animation

from the "Dykes to Watch Out For" series, Alison Bechdel
It may have been invented as a joke, as well as a comment on contemporary cinema, but the Bechdel test is now a respectable metric of film industry's consistent tendency to default to the male. Briefly, the test - if you don't know it - asks Does the film have at least two women, do they communicate with each other, about something other than a man. It's a small test, and there are other things we could compare female vs male characters - number of speaking (or main) characters, % of screen time, % of dialogue, how well developed and visually differentiated are the characters. Big mainstream animations seem to be following the live action pattern - with some exceptions - of creating characters which are only female if their gender is a key issue. Ho Hum.

People are beginning to notice, to research it, and to publish their analyses, which is good... e.g. www.washingtonpost.com/. But meanwhile, I'm going to do an inventory of male and female roles in my own animations, and apply some of these tests

so, a quick survey of past animations: for comparison
Films with male protagonists 13
Films with female protagonists16
Protagonists with no (apparent) gender3
Films with NO women in8
Films with NO men in10
Total main characters (female)29
Total main characters (male)29
Films that wouldn't pass the bechdel test? if you discount those which have only one character or only characters without identifiable gender15
Films that would pass the bechdel test5
seems there is still work to be done then!



plus they have cracking sheds in Swaledale
(field barns actually, in Gunnerside)
so Henry Miller said that to paint is to love. and  I have just spent two days walking in Swaledale, loving the scenery, the wind, the sound of the sheep calling to the lambs, the extraordinary variation between the desolate, charred moors and the intimacy of tiny becks, with wood anemones under ancient moss-shaggy trees...

but I wouldn't want to paint it (too hard to attempt any improvement on nature? Lots of painters do, and some manage to put the love, the passion, the pride and a sense of enormity into it. I do take photographs...)

and I definitely wouldn't want to animate it (no story?). But this scenery is full of stories! The story of stones, of sheep, of communities...the timelapse story of the life of the land, mountains shrugging human endeavour off their backs and flower meadows washing over the greenfields and away again like waves on the sea...but unfortunately, as much as I love these places,I am doomed to make ludicrous animations of talking sheds and flying grannies. I love them even more.


animation will save the world

The infamous Dr Calamari  - a known squid - is unmasked
And if anyone else had suggested drawing a squid  trying
 to get out of a giant spider suit I would snort in derision
OH! yes, of course life would be easier if I made live action movies. I wouldn't have to knit every frame...
which is why I feel animation has to have something live action doesn't - mermaids, old ladies who can fly, spherical people... (hm. Splash/ Mary Poppins/ Monty Python)
It's not just that doing those things in live action would be expensive, tricky, involve expensive post-production and or stunt players.... Its not just that I like drawing, and prefer both the process and the end product of gesture, painting, splodgyness to those of photography...and not just that I prefer to work alone in what colleagues refer to as my splendid fortress of solitude, author - auteur if you must - of my own stories and characters...
It's more to do with the difference between a recording of reality (however artificially constructed) and the depiction of a dream (however lifelike). Building a dam to stop our imaginations running away down the valley of GrownUp...and eventually running dry.


...but is it art?

Malcolm ponders the nature of art & animation
Just visited my local art gallery (Biscuit Factory, Newcastle), and reflecting on animation as an art practice...(when I was studying Foundation and making choices, they didn't really have animation degrees) Interesting to see where Universities now place this study; within computing, design/illustration, journalism (?) and in Film Schools. Certainly animation covers a wide area, including storytelling/ narrative, drawing/ illustration, movement, sound, technology, communication/design. But so does Fine Art...and artist's film is well recognised as a genre/ even a section in film festival submissions... But what I'm wondering is why do there seem to be so few fine artists working in animation? (aside from the equipment, the time - which usually suggests teamwork, the difficulty of getting it shown, the lack of commercial saleability, the industry system, the un-fashionable-ness of narrative in fine art...hmm)


animation for adults

according to the BBC, the top ten animations for adults includes Bambi. (which I haven't seen; I hate the wide-eyed cuteness of Disney animals and can't forgive what they did to the Sword in the Stone). They are basing this list on feature-length movies, so some of the more joyous visuals and characterisations can't be included as they belong to TV series or to shorts.

But Id certainly agree with When the Wind Blows, Persepolis, and Belleville Rondez-vous...(Great storylines, great drawings with their own style ...and faithfully adapted from the books to recreate the whole mood). They have Curse of the Were-Rabbit, which was great but if I could only take one Aardman onto a desert island it would be The Wrong Trousers. (Deeper exploration of the relationship between Wallace and Gromit, more visual energy...).But what makes an "adult animation"? (does rotoscoping count?) ... this list implies (apart from "adult themes" which might mean sex and/or drugs) darkness, depth, but also truth - historical fact, biography or documentary.. with a serious issue at its heart. A balance of joy and horror...



So this week I discovered something about matching...
At the beginning of a new animation, you plan your characters and you know what you want them to look like - simplified, light on gender-specifics...you worry about character development - or lack of it - but tell yourself this is a story about how people behave in groups, not individuals... But then you want to put in a dog.
The first dog was great, sort of a cross between two dogs from my past (Jason, a cocker spaniel, and Cassie, a german shepherd)...but much too...doggy. It made the people look half-made. It didn't match.
So I had to simplify it. The new one looks a bit like a sheep, but it works better...  There's a moral here - but not so much about the need for planning and storyboarding and pencil tests, more about looking for the simplified indicators of the character, of gender, of species. Oh and looking at what you're doing!!