Tuesday 2 September 2014

Making La Forêt Sauvage

La Forêt Sauvage Joseph Wallace

I always think it's interesting to be able to see behind the scenes on projects, especially when the process is practical and involves constructing a miniature world for the camera. La Forêt Sauvage marks my first foray into real time puppet films. I have made several puppet animations and used puppets on stage often but not in any live action pieces. I approached the film much the same as I would an animation. It was just significantly faster.

I started developing the film at Caravel Collective in France where I had spent the year working in my own film collective creating various film and animation works. I wanted to bring together various elements I had been exploring including visual storytelling, the history of theatrical puppetry and black and white cinema. I was also inspired by two great exhibitions; Metamorfosis at the CCCB in Barcelona which featured a holistic collection of puppets and objects by Ladislas Starewitch, Jan Švankmajer and the Brothers Quay as well as an exhibition of sculptures by Jean-Paul Van der Elst at the Scènes Ouvertes À L'Insolite Puppetry Festival in Paris.

Assorted visual reference. Copyright attributed to respective owners

Working in black and white suited the hands on approach and tight deadline. It seemed to simplify everything; focussing on movement, light and shape and relieved concerns over colour and its related implications. One of the benefits when making animation work is that you can create a world and define an aesthetic from the ground up. You create every detail and manipulate the visuals to enhance emotion, evoke character and talk of the piece's themes. Live action puppetry offers the filmmaker a similar approach and so Forêt looks like an animation but the quality of movement is very different.

The process of making the film was fast and fluid and came out of a period of research and development with two Lecoq School graduates Mélanie Tanneau and Charlotte Dubery. We played with various puppet ideas and shot test footage for other concepts before hitting on the hand puppets. I had already made one head which Mél responded to by making a costume. I then made the farmer and we devised the story as we worked out who these characters were and how they might interact.

Landlord Head La Forêt Sauvage Joseph Wallace
Heads up - the sculptural starting point

I wanted to find a visual narrative that was open to interpretation as to who the characters are and what their relationship might be but that also had a definite sense of conflict through their actions. The film harks back to the origins of Punch and Judy and Guignol where everyman characters would rise up against or mock high status members of the establishment. Forêt touches on the idea of overbearing authority as well as ownership and greed.

Everything in the film is made from recycled materials. The spikey trees were gathered on a previous trip to a local beach in the South of France by Péter Vácz and me, the house was made from Amazon packaging, the sky was painted onto discarded canvas, the dark earth is horse manure. The puppets are made from all sorts including toilet rolls, fabric scraps, corks, washers and other found objects. In the end the characters have ended up bearing a resemblance to the hand puppets German painter Paul Klee once made for this son Felix which I have always admired.

We shot the film using a relatively simple set up. We filmed on my Canon 60d with various manual lenses and used Ikea posable lamps and plasterers lamps to light the sets. We had a raised table with a monitor below so that the puppeteers could crouch beneath to manipulate the characters and watch their own movements. I used a mattress to protect the puppeteers knees, an ironing board and stools to position the lights and the my laptop mirrored the camera view so I could preview all of the footage as we shot.

Back in the UK I collaborated with an excellent new company Doppler and Dubbs who do sound post production, led by Gwilym Perry. Gwilym created dynamic and visceral foley and aural design which punctuates the story and gives a tangible sense of the world. I also worked with my long-term creative collaborator; composer Kit Wilson. La Forêt marks our forth film collaboration together and the style of the music came about from the idea of developing themes for each character, externalising the characters emotions and creating a dialogue between two opposing musical notions. Kit is one of my favourite musicians and his unique music never ceases to amaze me. The sound and music together complete the film and draw the audience into the world the characters inhabit and tell the story as much as the visuals. You can read more about the way I collaborate with composers here and listen to the Sound of Media Podcast I did here.

Composer Kit Wilson creating the final mix at his studio in Hackney

I made the film to enter into the DepicT 90 Second Film Competition which is run by Watershed and Encounters Festival in Bristol. The minute and a half format is a great challenge and my stop motion film Showdown at Yohoko Valley was also shortlisted back in 2007. Amazingly, out of nearly 600 entries, Forêt has been shortlisted for DepicT 2014. I'm also thrilled to announce that the film has made the official selection at Jim Henson's Puppets on Film Festival in New York. You can watch, vote for, and comment on La Forêt Sauvage by clicking on the image below. Thanks for your support.

Thursday 24 April 2014

Sound of Media Interview

My long term collaborator Jack Vaughan has launched an exciting new website called The Sound of Media which acts as a resource for composers and sound designers working in film. The blog and podcast feature interviews, tips, tools and techniques for professionals working in the field.

I joined Jack to talk about my relationship with music, how it informs my process and how I collaborate with composers.


Monday 10 March 2014

Exhibition of dreams

Still from 'Street of Crocodiles' 1986, Quay Brothers © Atelier Koninck

I'm going back to Spain in a couple of weeks for the opening of what I would describe as my 'dream' exhibition in Barcelona. The show, entitled Metamorphosis, is curated by Animac Director and animation connoisseur Carolina Lopez and will feature original sets and puppets by Ladislaw Starewicz, the Russian godfather of stop-motion animation, Jan Švankmajer, Czech surrealist master and The Brothers Quay, poetic American twin filmmakers. These four artists have played a crucial role in my passion for animation and have been a huge influence over the years so I am hugely excited to see these artifacts presented together at the CCCB in Barcelona along with talks and conferences with the living artists themselves.

Tuesday 25 February 2014

Animac Festival

Péter Vácz and I were recently invited to create a live show for Animac Festival in Lleida, Spain. We put together a performance that included screenings of our film work, live music on guitar and cello and some theatrical elements as well as our history and a look into how puppet animation works. We created the show for a family audience and I finished a handful of songs I'd written over the last few years and Peter created cello parts and learnt all the harmonies.

The festival itself was one of the best I've been to. Held at the excellent venue La Llotja theatre, the people were great, the programme was fresh and exciting and they had an engaging outreach scheme to inspire the next generation of animators along with esteemed international speakers. The theme of the festival was hybrid and the other guests included British mixed media filmmaker Chris Shepherd, Czech stop-motion legend Jiří Barta and Ben Bocquelet and Mic Graves, creators of Cartoon Network's The Amazing World of Gumball.

Here's a trailer for the show that Péter put together.

La Llotja Theatre, Lleida

Photo shoot with the festival guests

Masterclass with the highly entertaining master of mixed media; Chris Shepherd

The morning after the night before;
early morning question time with festival audiences

Photos courtesy of David del Val, Carles Porta and Flavio Perez.

Here are some quotes about our show:

"One of the most exciting moments of Animac '14"
Idem Barcelona: The Institute of Multimedia Education

"One of the magical moments of the show this year."

"Deliciously brilliant"
Chris Shepherd, Writer and  Director

Thanks to everyone from team Animac who made it a great experience; our translator Mariam, the technical staff of La Llotja, Xavier, Aida, David, and all our excellent new friends; Cri, Juan Carlos, Natalia, Carles, Mario and the rest. Last but not least; thanks to the Festival Director Carolina Lopez for  proposing the idea and inviting us.

Friday 29 November 2013

Drawings at La Grande Galerie de l'Évolution

Whilst in Paris I also did some drawings at La Grande Galerie de l'Évolution, part of Le Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle. It is a beautiful building with very atmospheric lighting and stuffed (no pun intended) with great animals.

Paris, Puppets, Paper Cinema and Pixar

I spent the last week in Paris seeking inspiration for a new project, catching up with some theatre friends and seeing various shows, exhibitions and people. I was staying with Melanie Tanneau who is someone I met whilst doing performance training with Fairground Theatre Company in Bristol around 2007. We did some shows together and have always shared a love for similar creative work. After living in Bristol she returned to France to train at École Jacques Lecoq and after graduating founded Compagnie 38 with the rest of her year. She now works as a performer and deviser in Paris whilst working with the company.

My visit coincided with a season of work by experimental American Director Robert Wilson and we went to see The Old Woman at Théâtre de la Ville. The show is Wilson's most recent work and stars Russian dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov and American actor Willem Defoe. Baryshinkov's movement was delightful to watch and Defoe's physicality, voice and clowning were mesmerising but the aggressive and somewhat hollow show left me with a sour taste.

The Old Woman. Photo: Lucie Jansch

Nuit de la Marionette and The Paper Cinema
Mel, Jess (also of Compagnie 38) and I went to La Nuit de la Marionette at Théâtre Jean Arp in the Banlieue. The evening was part of the Mar.t.o Festival and was the fifth edition of the night. We took a coach from Chatalet at 6pm in the evening, watched 10 hours of live puppetry and took a coach back to Paris at 6am in the morning. Despite the evening being a merry time and a unique theatrical experience, unfortunately many of the shows were disappointing and, coming from the rich puppetry scene in Bristol, I felt like I had seen many of the techniques before but realised in a far more memorable and sophisticated way.

Some of the work brought to mind the brilliant UK company The Paper Cinema. Led by the virtuoso illustrator Nic Rawlings and Imogen Charleston with spine-tingling live music by Chris Reed, Paper Cinema are one of the closest things to the oft bandied about term 'live-animation'. Perhaps they are not unique in the use of their technique, in terms of filming live, moving things and projecting them onto a screen in front of an audience. However where they are outstanding, and for my money the best company working in this method, is the quality of their work, their attention to detail and their storytelling prowess.

The Paper Cinema's Night Flyer

I often see work in this vein where the story or technique may be interesting but the visuals will look like a GCSE student has been pressured into using acrylics for the first time with no sense of design, thought of colour or composition. Or sometimes you find the opposite, where the aesthetic may be accomplished and striking, but the technique will be clumsy and unconsidered or more often the story will feel like watching paint dry and however pretty the visuals it is not engaging or rewarding for an audience.

Over the years, Paper Cinema have got it right and their most recent show Odyssey is a culmination of exploration, expertise and exacting their craft. Nic's drawings are beautiful and even as illustrations alone are evocative, full of weight, life and story. Then their puppetry and movement work developed with Imogen Charleston takes the illustrations into a new realm where depth is created, camera moves are replicated and characters are hidden and revealed. The energy and dynamic movement they create with 2D illustrations is amazing to watch. And watch it we can as the puppeteers sit in front of their screens so we are aware of the process as much as the final piece. Chris Reed's music is complex, sensitive and bold and has all of the ferocity and vitality of a live-gig, so when partnered with the visual storytelling the show becomes completely absorbing, emotive and immersive.

As part of the same festival my collaborators on Dream, Handspring Puppet Company, were in Paris with their show Ouroboros. Directed by Handspring’s Associate Director Janni Younge, the piece poetically explores the circle of life, our connections with the land and each other and interactions with death from the perspective of different ages. The puppets are human, delicate and expressive and Janni’s direction for the show takes audiences on a mesmerising journey. Basil Jones and Adrian Kohler who I worked closely with on Dream collaborated with Younge on the puppetry direction and it was lovely to see their touch in the performance.

Pixar Exhibition

On the banks of the Seine, near Gare D’Austerlitz, a new museum has opened. La Musée Art Ludique is a museum dedicated to the entertainment industry; comics, video games, animation and live-action cinema. Their opening exhibition is Pixar: 25 Years of Animation which started life at MoMA, New York back in 2006. Since then it has toured around the world from Japan to Taiwan and all over Europe giving visitors a glimpse into the amazing artistry that goes into creating Pixar’s animated features and shorts. The exhibition features hundreds of pieces of concept art in different techniques including pastels collage and digital paintings as well as character sculpts and behind the scenes films. Having seen various Pixar art already and owning many of their books a lot of the material was familiar yet nonetheless interesting to see up close. By far the most exciting addition for me, worth the price of admission alone, was the Toy Story Zoetrope.

For those with less of an obsessive interest in the ancient history of animation, a zoetrope is a contraption originating from the early 1800s whereby sequential images are viewed through slots in a spinning cylinder; the intervals giving the eye the impression of moving image. Zoetropes are traditionally made using still images but the Japanese Studio Ghibli changed this when they created what I believe is the world’s first three dimensional zoetrope Bouncing Totoro. The device uses sequential figures, each with a slightly different poses which together form a looping action. Instead of being viewed through rapidly moving slots, the effect is created by strobing lighting which tricks the eye into seeing 24 separate images per second.

Inspired by their Japanese friends, and keen to create a piece for the exhibition which would explain to audiences and young people how animation works, they set about creating their own. The Toy Story Zoetrope is one the most amazing tricks / illusions / joyful things I have seen in a long, long time. The characters from the Toy Story films, appearing in three dimensions at their actual size in the film appear to bounce and run around in front of your eyes. The impression is that they are moving on their own accord and is the closest thing I have ever seen to ‘live’ stop motion animation. The above video from Pixar explains the process and thinking brilliantly, take a look to see the machine in action.

Monday 15 April 2013

Grad film ONLINE

My graduation film The Man Who Was Afraid of Falling made at Newport Film School is now online for everyone to watch.

For more info check out www.themanwhowasafraidoffalling.com

Friday 29 March 2013

Conviction Trailer

Guilty Party, a new theatre company emerging from the Bristol Old Vic's Made In Bristol scheme asked me to create the trailer for their new show Conviction. The piece is about young convicts escaping from a maximum security prison and finding refuge in an English seaside town.

I made the trailer in about three days; one day shooting in Bristol and Weston-Super-Mare and two days of processing footage, editing and sound. The company composed the music and a great guy called Ky Witney made the pumping second tune.

Conviction storyboard

I shot the film on my Canon 60D with a 50mm lens and a zoom lens, we did all the tracking shots using  Jack's long board - low-fi. Lots of footage shot on a high frame rate and slowed down in post. The bird in the first shot was a lucky accident!

I highly recommend the show. Lily Drewry was my shoot assistant on the day and took a few pics:

Filming water

It was freezing

Almost like we were on holiday

Rehearsing for the 'go in the water' bit

The money shot. Photo by Kitty Wheeler Shaw

Sunday 23 December 2012

Merry Christmas

Myself and visual artist Becca Rose decided it would be nice to make an animated film to send out to friends an colleagues as an alternative Christmas card. I'd been away from animation for a while so it was great fun to make another short. The film is low-fi, playful and silly and very Christmassy (it even has snow). Click on the still below to watch the film.

We wanted to make something immediate and simple and I saw the project almost as an extension of my 2007 short Showdown at Yohoko Valley. I started by sketching out a really quick storyboard illustrating the main beats of the story. I then scanned these in and made a rough animatic to work out timing but I didn't want to let this dictate the shoot too much as there are always new options presented whilst animating.

We sourced and borrowed the toys from various people and made the set really quickly from cardboard, fabric and paper. We shot the film in one day in Becca's studio using basic posable lamps and shot on my Canon 60d with the brilliant Dragonframe. Here are some photos of the process:

Becca Rose cutting out tiny letter for the credits

Me animating the sheep

The set up

Making the star appear above the shepherd on some very stable string rigging..

Teeny weeny words

Working with Dragonframe

Animating the credits

Merry Christmas and a happy new year!