Jeff Scher

As part of my contextual research, 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)

Maquette No 2: Film (Part 3)

Filming

The animated rotoscope and motion picture footage were played on a loop while I filmed the interior of the maquette. Around 10 sequences were shot in total. Each sequence being between 15-30 seconds in duration. For continuity purposes, I intended to film all the footage on a tripod. However, difficulties arose with cinematography issues (i.e. framing, filming (blurred vs in focus) and obtrusive light getting into shot). Though filming hand-held gave me more freedom, I wasn’t particularly pleased with the overall tests and as a result, I scraped most of the hand-held test footage.

By filming an area of the bathroom, I could focus on other objects; moving away from the animated/motion picture shower scene. By doing so I could build a tension between object and subject. The inspiration came from Repulsion (Roman Polanski, 1965). The black and white film is predominantly shot in an apartment. Polanski builds psychological tension focusing on inanimated objects for lengthy periods of time. I experimented in similar style using a penetrating buzzing sound to enhance the tension and to create a disturbing fusion with the soft lounge music and the fierce electric saw audio.

Watercolour and Lighting

The watercolour paint and lighting failed (gloriously!). My intention was for the watercolour paint to slowly drip down the cling film. Slow moving slimy liquids are considered a cliché in contemporary horror films. To fulfil my aim without involving digital effects would be something of an achievement. However, while filming I continually kept painting on the cling film. Due to the heat from the monitor, the paint just dried in seconds. Also, the monitor light was too bright that the paint became silhouetted. I had far better results using the PET bottle. When constructing Maquette No 3, I’ll use the same technique again but employ alternative strategies such as a lighter interior, acrylic paints and my daughter as an art assistant perhaps?  As for the decoration lights, they were far too weak and didn’t have any overall impact though I was encouraged with subtle gentle flickering.

 

The Pub (Joseph Pierce, 2012)

The Pub (Joseph Pierce 2012)

Joseph Pierce’s ‘The Pub’ (2012) is a rotoscoped animation which focuses on a day in the life of a barmaid who works in a gloomy pub in North London. The animation was inspired by Pierce’s time living above a pub in Camden. The narrative flows from barmaid to the various assortment of characters that surround her. Pierce uses his distinctive figurative style (Family Portrait, Stand-up) by exaggerating their suppressed emotions and social awkwardness. He exposes their features by morphing from a physical representation into sinister and sometimes crude forms. The barmaid gives off that British stiff upper lip culture and seems unfazed in the face of adversity. Elements which are indicative of films by Mike Leigh and Ken Loach in their portrayals of British social realism.

I’m Inspired!