Thursday, 29 October 2009

Finding stories from life and borrowing from theatre

Today's session was led by Jörg Bochow who is head dramaturg at Staatstheater Stuttgart. His background is in collaborative theatre and literature also having taught in Germany and Canada and published books on German and Russian theatre. So today was of particular interest to me as someone who's own practice is informed by and often involves live performance. Bochow took us through a process he had recently used to create a piece of theatre where he used interviews with real people to translate into a fictional piece of performance. He took us on a rapid tour of the history of theatre from Aristotle to Stanislavsky - taking us through various approaches to performance and storytelling and highlighted the way these methods have been appropriated in film and animation.

He explained techniques of interviewing and ways to deal with, and be sensitive to the interviewee, whilst at the same time asking questions that should get the desired response. Towards the end of the day the conversation turned to politics and the role of the artist in relation to their political context and how the artist is not dissimiliar to, or rather, is arguably in danger of becoming a politician, or a dictator. The ideas raised were useful to think about for motion picture artists and certainly reaffirmed my belief of the blurring of approaches to different mediums.

I spoke to him briefly about my theories regarding theatre and animation, more specifically puppet animation and we exchanged contact details as he is definitely someone I'd like to question about this relationship between animation and theatre for some of my writings.

He gave me a book which they made for the show which shows some transcriptions of the interviews made and also acts as a sort of socio-political scrapbook.

All of us participants made a big meal last night and today we had to interview each other as one of the tasks so the group are inevitably bonding - it's a really great group of people and a pleasure to be spending time with such enthused, creative filmmakers.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009


The following are a series of photographs visually documenting my trip to Germany for the first part of Animation Sans Frontieres 09-10 so far...

Leaving grotty, grey Newport

The Filmakademie in sunny Ludwigsburg

German fashion in 2009...

On the street - amazing junk

A type tray which will be returning to UK with me. Found it on the street. Priceless

As if we don't talk about animation enough,
here we are talking illustration and design in a bar

Early morning sunlight - walk to filmschool

Mike Dicks of Bleedinedge

For people in Bristol or surrounding area thought I'd plug a few events at this years Encounters International Short Film Festival. Find the animation programme here, two things not to be missed:
  • A screening of the absolutely brilliant Mary and Max by Australia's master animator and storyteller Adam Elliot. I caught this film in Annecy this year and it is not just a great piece of animation, it is a truly great film - a wonderful piece of cinema that is so emotive and funny that most people I've spoken to who have watched it have been moved to tears. It won the joint prize (along with Coraline) for best feature at Annecy. I got a chance to speak to Adam at Annecy and I can safely say he is as lovely, friendly and enthusiastic as you could hope, for a man who makes such touching and brilliant work.

  • and the second event... another masterclass from legendary animator Richard Williams, with a preview of the new animators survival kit expanded! Check out the full programme for more events. If you're around don't miss out.

Multi-platforms, multi-culture, multi-food...

We're eating a lot of food here. We have a large buffet breakfast in the mornings, then a paid-for lunch which is a big cooked meal, then snacks throughout the day in the lecture room and evening meals... animators obviously need nurishing, in more way than one.

To elaborate slightly on our time with Harrison Ellenshaw... a lot of what he dealt with involved more traditionalist ways of thinking, grounded approaches & techniques and ways of storytelling which have transcended the 'golden age' of Hollywood. He talked about various practitioners from Powell and Pressburger to George Lucas - it was interesting revisiting the early Star Wars films, on which Ellenshaw did effects work, these are pieces of cinema that I really grew up with, they taught me filmmaking, they made me want to make films and take audiences on amazing journeys to amazing places. I don't have time to now, but I'd love, at some point, to write a list of films which I think are critical to my ambitions now as a filmmaker and how they affected the way I think and work in the way I do.

So if Ellenshaw was looking to the past to inspire us, today's session, taken by the charismatic Mike Dicks, looked to the future. Check out Mike's linkedIn profile for info on his career - he's really on the cutting edge of developing formats and ideas within 'new media'. He talked content, multi-platform storytelling and usages, viewsers (a neat new media term for video users) and more. It really opened my eyes to ways of working I'd never considered before and he went into a lot of interesting detail about the internet, how it works and ways of harnessing it for good use.

All food for thought and I started getting excited about things like digital interactivity which isn't a thought I'd normally relish but I guess part of the point of this course is that we open ourselves up to new ways of thinking.

Flavio Perez, one of the animation producers on ASF has created a blog for us all to share photos, thoughts, comentaries, work etc made on and around ASF 09-10. Do subscribe and take a look around if you're interested in seeing who we all are and what we're up to.

Me, Nicole Gallagher and Laetitia Grandjean. Image: Flavio Perez

Free things are always nice. I won a competition on the wonderful Imagine Animation network to get a signed copy of the new updated, extended, brilliant Animators Survival Kit by Mr Richard Williams. Thanks to the lovely people at Imagine for doing these competitions.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Puppetmaking and more

I had my last puppet making session on Friday. It was pretty productive and I managed to get quite a bit of the body structure glued and the hands made. I'll have to catch up on the rest when I'm back in the country but I'm possitive it won't be an issue to have it completed quickly. It's been great making these, using the workshops, all being together in the studio, talking, discussing, helping each other out - a sense of community which I've felt has been previously absent. It feels like people are really finding their niche now and really engaging with what they're making. It was also a real pleasure to have Ian Matthews in from Calon who was both inspiring and helpful.

The finished business cards printed up...


We have just finished the first day of Animation Sans Frontieres 09-10 at the Filmakademie in Ludwigsburg. We had a tour around the film school which is truly impressive, lunch in the student canteen complete with waiters, sun loungers and a delicious lunch (some kind of peppered burger with baby carrots and white whine sauce). In the afternoon, our first lecture which was by Harrison Ellenshaw - amazing guy, check out his credits on the link... Photos to follow!

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Animation Sans Frontieres

I leave for Germany on Sunday for the first part of my training in Europe. Whilst in Annecy I was very fortunate to have been put forward by my tutor Caroline Parsons and selected to participate in this scheme which encourages European co-productions, links between animation schools and introduces students and graduates to real-world animated filmmaking.
ASFThis advert was scanned from the Annecy 2009 festival guide

The course is made up of 18 students from various institutions from across Europe and takes place at four prominent animation schools in Germany, Hungary, Denmark and France. I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who has made my attending possible including the Screen Academy Wales and the International Film School Wales. The training will be invaluable. I’m feeling very privileged but also somewhat nervous being the only English person on the course. There’s a certain pressure to perform but I’m ‘rising to the challenge’.
The course website and an article about my attendance from the Screen Academy.
In preparation I’ve been updating my CV and business card and making a better showreel dvd with my shorts on as we have to do a presentation on our work and our careers.

BUSINESS CARDBusiness card front

DVD Menu - Short Films DVD Menu - ContactDVD menu and contact page

I wanted to keep everything relatively simple, graphic and economic and there’s a visual continuity between all of these items.
I was also very excited to find out the other day that two of my films will be showing at the Montreal Stop Motion Film Festival in Canada. This is the first big screening for The Scientist and the Omnipotence of Dream and the sixth or so outing for Curiouser and Curiouser.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Threre are moments of this film that are amazing, breathtaking, hilarious, touching. But, despite being a huge fan of Gilliam's work, and despite it's richness, I left feeling slightly hungry.

Copyright © 2009 Sony Pictures Classics

Monday, 19 October 2009

The future of home cinema

coraline dvd

I have just watched the first fifteen minutes of Coraline, in 3d on my computer. I was sceptical but I have to say it does actually work, to a point. They’ve reverted to the old-style red and green 3d glasses for the dvd release, which takes a little while to get used to (they forewarn 5 minutes on the dvd) but once you’ve settled the red and green start to fade and you can begin to enjoy the physicality of the world through stereoscopic 3d in the comfort of your own home. It’s not as good as the polarized 3d they used in the cinema but I supposed the technology is in its infancy and just hasn’t been developed enough for home viewing. So the colours are distorted, and the depth of field isn’t quite as impressive but I still think it’s exciting stuff.

There are about thirty five minutes of extras on the dvd which go into some detail about the process covering nearly all aspects of stop-motion production. It really makes you realise how groundbreaking this film is in terms of the techniques used and how many artists from such varied backgrounds came together to work on the project. There’s a particularly interesting section on the sets with art director Matt Sanders guiding us through the flower garden. I was lucky enough to meet Matt when Barry Purves introduced me to him at an event in Bristol. I had a long chat with him about Fantastic Mr Fox, which was then in production and his experiences on Coraline. Also, on the extras Coraline: A visual companionthey go through and explain, in basic terms, how the stereoscopic 3d works. It’s all to do with scale and perspective of the world you’re shooting, eye distances and camera distances. There is a lot of information on the dvd which is not covered in the richly illustrated accompanying book and vice versa so they complement each other nicely. 

As for the film itself, I thought it would be worth posting a review I wrote of it when it first came out…

Coraline is pretty astonishing. Selick seems to have taken stop motion performance to a whole new level; there are some epic sequences in this film. It's a work of art; from the intricate sets and costumes to the carefully observed performance of the title character. The music was rich and atmospheric, the story compelling and the characters engaging. Any worries about it being a little too 'cg-looking' were soon dispelled by fabulous textures from tiny knitted jumpers to clay earth crumbling off a well cover.

The voice talent is spot on and French and Saunders take a particularly hilarious turn as two old theatre lovies. The puppet designs are marvellous and the characters look fantastic - almost like they just wouldn't translate to puppet animation, with huge heads and tiny feet, but somehow the animators perform them with grace and so much expression.

The 3d business is a little odd to begin with but actually, rather than being a distraction, it goes some way to a more vital viewing of the physicality of the sets and the puppets. With this movie, as he did with 'Nightmare', let's hope Selick convinces a whole new wave of children to pursue stop motion.

I for one can't wait to see it again.

Coraline still

All images © 2008 Focus Features LLC

Beyond the Reservoir


Puppet Making II

Images from the second session. I’ve made the hips and the shoulders, all the k&s and wire has been cut to size…cracking on.
making a puppet 2

More tools and books

Another book arrived in the post. A collection of film essays by film critic Jonathan Romney (The Guardian, Sight & Sound, Time Out, currently with The Independent ). I predominantly bought newport2 176the book for a six-page essay on ‘Institute Benjamenta’ by the Brothers Quay as any writing on their work is hard to come by, however there are some interesting pieces on other works such as La Haine by Matthew Kassovitz (a film I couldn’t get enough of when I was heavily into French cinema), Dick Tracy and the aesthetics of prosthetics, Sally Potter’s Orlando, Les Nuits Fauves, Le Roman de Renard (Starewicz), The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb (Bolex Brothers), Priit Pärn and The Lion King to mention a few.

newport2 218 Soldering iron, table vice and multi-tool. Sorted.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009


I have just posted an article which is a transcript of a presentation I gave on Jiri Trnka's 'The Hand' over on Tumblr as part of a communal blog for a Soundscape project at uni.

Red Nose Studio

Having mentioned the genius of Red Nose Studio earlier I thought I would example Sickels creative process when making his work. There is a huge amount of information and insight into the way he works on his blog but I wanted to illustrate it here with a specific example. This is a cover for a magazine called Angie’s List.
cleaning_house_rough3-704x1024 cleaning_house_lores
From sketch to final image…(click to enlarge)
And here is a stop-motion-esque video documenting the set-up of the shot; adding all the possessions, creating the lighting, and adding details to the set.

I see the way Sickels works as being utterly relevant to the practice of a stop motion animator, I think videos like this one demonstrate really well what I call the ‘alchemy’ of what it is to create and shoot little worlds. There’s a time in the studio which is a constant play between, puppet, props, light, composition, shadow, staging and proxemics before filming takes place.
 All material © Red Nose Studio.

New Kit

Spent yesterday morning wondering round Wickes and Wilkos collecting together some new kit and updating some old tools for puppet-making.
tools The veritable tools of a stop motion puppet maker
Also a book I ordered arrived in the post this morning; Me and My Mammoth by the prolific, talented children’s illustrator and newport2 169author Joel Stewart. I suppose people making animation are influenced by various formats from comic books, to games, to novels. For me  the picture book is a key inspiration for my filmmaking; the economy of the visually-led storytelling, the unpatronising nature (in some) books as they’re aimed at a young audience and most importantly their layered use of meaning and cumulative metaphor. Stewart’s stories are endearing and whimsical and his illustrations are lyrical and wonderfully textured in an age of flat computer design.
On the same subject, a very precious book of mine is The Look Book by Chris Sickels, the mastermind behind Red Nose Studio. TheLookBookExtractSickels is a 3d illustrator from the states and has been a consistent inspiration since I first came across his work three or so years ago. He creates artwork for promotion, books, editorial, packaging etc. Look book is his first book and it’s a real masterpiece, full of wordplay, stunning delicate imagery, tactile vignettes and epic landscapes. He creates these intricate worlds that completely draw you in.
The puppet I mentioned I’d worked on at the Aardman workshop wasn’t completed due to lack of time in the session so I finished that off over the weekend except for the feet which still need ‘tie downs’ installing. So hopefully by the end of the next five weeks I should have two decent fabricated puppets ready to bring to life.
Aardman armature

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Puppet making

What I find interesting is the little differences between different studios approaches to model making. We had our first session with Ian Matthews, a model maker from Calon, who will be taking us through building a basic armature. We’re talking k&s, tie-offs, aluminium wire and lots of filing.
It’s great to be doing some really hands on work in the workshops and learning craft skills from someone in the industry. It’s refreshing to have someone new come in with a different dynamic and I’m eagerly anticipating what comes out of these workshops.
A month or so ago I did a model making workshop with Aardman as part of the new Bristol Festival of Puppetry. The workshop was application only and a great chance to quiz the makers from Aard about their technique. We made a similar armature to the ones we’re making with Ian but it’s the subtle differences (of which I’m probably not at liberty to disclose) that really fascinate me. To my surprise Ian said that all of Calon’s series work use ball and socket armatures whereas at Aardman a lot of the series work is done with these wire builds.
Here are some image from the first session with Ian (where we’ve just about got all our k&s cut and wire twisted) and from the workshop and talk with Aardman.
making a puppet 1aardman workshop

Thursday, 8 October 2009


I have been busy recently what with Cutting Room and making the move back over to Wales. Thought this card sent from my parents was particularly pertinent…
The Cutting Room scratch performance on Sunday went well and it was nice to see so many friendly faces in the audience. For further info on the project see our specific blog here
It’s been a pretty intense summer with a number of projects. Traces, a live-action dance film made in collaboration with Miranda Cromwell and Twisted Theatre is currently in post production – editing. This is a quick pro-mo poster I made to get people interested.
Had a great lecture today by David Surman, really interesting break down of semiotics on a level which I think most people came out understanding which is quite an achievement.