Superimposing & Performativity (2015)

After being inspired by Jeff Scher’s experimental animations, I thought it best to start working before the desire ends up an after-thought.  I chose five animations to experiment with, four with human actions (playing the piano, putting on make-up, sitting down/ standing up and an exaggerated walk). All the footage I shot myself over the past few years. My work colleagues come in handy. The non-action animation involves passengers on a train in Tokyo. Incidentally, my original project proposal, only five months ago, was to make a film about the Tokyo Underground. My, how things have changed! After selecting the animations, I began layering and experimented with the visuals. It was a very stimulating process. I aimed to keep a continuous rhythm, movement coming into shot then morphing or fading out. Some of the animations were filmed on a small screen size which meant I could consider juxtaposition in more clarity. Paying homage to Jeff Scher’s White Out (2007), the viewer is exposed to vast spaces of white screen, heightening the graphic representation and making the composition more identifiable, that is what I was aiming for here.  The experimental film is finally finished off with classic 80s synth-pop. Early electronica music- Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark- Electricity.


Jeff Scher

Recently I have been looking at the work of Jeff Scher. He is an animator, underground film-maker and painter based in New York. As a rotoscope film-maker, he has a very individual approach. Since 1980 Scher has made 33 films. Most of his films are abstract experiments lasting approximately two and half minutes long. His last film to date, For All The Wrong Reasons, was made in 2008. For the past seven years he has been an instructor at NYU Tisch School of Arts Kanbar Institute of Film & Television’s Animation program.

His films are mainly non-narrative, experimental and combined with music. His intentions are for the viewer to create their own stories from his visuals. His methodology is quite unusual and has been described as animated still life. He often uses paintings and collages by overlapping the colours and textures. When film making, he employs the rotoscope technique though not in a traditional manner. Rather than using up-to-date software to speed up the frame drawing process, Scher still uses vintage machinery to enrich each image as to affect the mind senses. Just in the same way a film maker might use Super 8 film as opposed to digital film. The traced images are then separately shot as a single frame. As Steve Fore noted in his essay Romancing the Rotoscope: Self-Reflexivity and the Reality Effect in the Animations of Jeff Scher (2007), when critically analyzing Reasons to be Glad (1980), Milk of Amnesia (1992) and Garden of Regrets (1994). Scher renders each individual scene initially as a series of small gouache paintings, sometimes layered over cut-out text and advertising images from magazines, newspapers, and consumer product packaging. His colour palette is varied, but it skews toward vivid, intense colours. Similarly, while most scenes, and individual drawings within scenes, are sufficiently detailed to provide a fairly detailed suggestion of facial features, background details, the movement of clothing, etc., some scenes (and individual frames within otherwise more detailed scenes) are little more than single-colour sketches of movement and figures against a white background.)

For material to rotoscope, Scher uses a variety of live action cinematic sources including Hitchcock films, experimental films, televised sporting events, educational and documentary footage and home movies. After analyzing a few of his films, I began to notice his individual technique in greater detail. For example, in Reasons to be Glad (1980), the entire three minutes, 15 seconds is a pulsating array of fragmented human action footage such as a women smoking, two lovers kissing, a man walking a dog, dancers etc mixed with cinematic footage from Film noir or gangster films. The imagery is frantic, morphing from one scene to another. Also, it was noted that through varying the colours and drawings,still images filmed in rapid succession appeared to move as though animated. I feel very inspired by his work and it has made me consider my approach when rotoscoping.

Reasons to be Glad, Jeff Scher (1980)