A lot of my artistic inspiration is triggered by old projects either from college days, university or simply working independently. I tend to forget that I’ve been a practicing artist now for over 25 years, an old rocker. Also, I find reviewing previous projects are helpful not only for inspiration but to continually keep a dialogue going between the past and the present, which enable me to see transitions in my practice over the years with more clarity.
This old Super 8 film hasn’t been viewed for years. I thought it was lost forever and would remain in my ever-increasing, hazy imagination. However, recently my sister informed me that she had found some old Maxell VHS tapes of mine in her loft. Oh no! Nothing incriminating, I thought. When seeing the title, I was chuffed to bits. After finding someone to transfer them from video to DVD, I tweaked the picture brightness, added credits but other than that, the footage largely remains the same as its original cut. The film title comes from a boat trip organised for 2nd Year and 3rd year U.W.E. Graphic students by one of the tutors, Bob Burn. I think we were all doing projects based on Bristol and its surrounding environment and old BB thought that this trip would fuel us with more ideas and inspiration. It did.
It was a particularly hot day and as you can see, everyone was armed with sketch pads, pencils, pens and cameras. I took along my Super 8 camera and a few cassettes of film and spent most of the day panning scenes of interest without any particular aim.
After the film came back from the processors, I toyed with the film speeds, playing the footage backwards and forwards. When reversing the film, I was instantly attracted to the anti-narrative and its similarities to the Beatles’ Strawberry Fields video. Using my dinky Agfa Super 8 editor, I got the scissors out and began cutting it to pieces. A process commonly know as editing. At this stage of film making, I had not learned of Eisenstein’s montage techniques. Ignorance is bliss? Super 8 film has a unique translucent quality. There are scenes especially on the riverbank which are just atmospheric and dream like.
I was so nervous when presenting this to the graphics group. I managing to get past the Q & A session unscathed and fortunately it was well received. I don’t know how Sergei Prokofiev’s Dance of The Knights ended up as the accompanying soundtrack. I think it works though and Youtube haven’t objected to my theft….. yet.
My Graphics B.A. (Hons) program at the The University of the West of England offered modular courses in Year 1 and 2. The modules are designed to develop the student in areas which would be beneficial in their self-directed project in Year 3. As I had a project in mind involving film and animation for Year 3, it was necessary for me to become accustomed to working with sound. The sound modules enabled me to experiment creatively and explore different possibilities. The more I experimented, the more ideas were generated. A Play Without Words: The Suicide was a sound module project in Year 1. The project had to be under 1 minute in duration, voices could be recorded though not in dialogue form. The process of the assignment made me consider the following questions: How is the suicide committed? Which sounds/ sound bites will be used bites? How much time is needed recording outdoor ambience’s? Which sound effects should I employ? In which order will I use the sounds? At which points should the audio levels be high/low? Do I want the listener to understand what is happening? Will my concepts be too abstract or pretentious? The process allowed me to be creative, original and audacious. I could learn how sounds worked together. Also, there were times when I created new sounds accidentally. Smooth transitions from one sound to another were very challenging and often frustrating. Too much going on at once would end up as a cacophony of disorder. By the end of the first sound module I had taken a lot of notes which helped me reflect on how I worked through the process. The experience gained from the modules and my reflective diary became invaluable to me when working on a rotoscope project in Year 3.
Rotoscoping involves the process of drawing on film. A lot of early Disney films were rotoscoped and more recent examples can be seen in Richard Linklater’s work. He employed the rotoscoping technique in films such as Waking Life (2001) and A Scanner Darkly (2006).
The first time I used this technique was when making a short film called The Duellists in my final year at university. The process- Initially, I shot about 9 minutes of footage on Super 8 film then transferred the 8mm film onto a camcorder. After editing ,the film was about 4 minutes long. To animate, my portable 14″ TV was placed face up on the carpet while I positioned myself over the TV with pen and paper. An animator’s peg bar was cello taped to one side of the screen to ensure that the paper would always be placed in exactly the same position. I drew about 3 frames every second. As you can see it’s VERY jerky! I can still vividly remember the laborious process of clicking the VHS frame counter every time I drew a frame. By the end of the week the VHS player was seriously damaged the and tape was just one big glitch. At the time I never contemplated making the sequel for sanity reasons! All in all, it took around 700 drawings before being shot under an old EOS stop frame camera. The sound score is mainly Morricone, though I used soundbites from other well-known films. Looking back at this animation 18 years on, the work employs the same principles as DIY punk ethics. Basically, a heap of shoddy charcoal drawings awkwardly mashed together. The result being a confusing manic montage. After editing the rotoscoped version, it was whittled down to 2:32 seconds in duration. I still have the Super 8 footage-for a future project, I intend to make a digital version of The Duellists.
During a college trip to Amsterdam in 1992, I visited the Stedelijk museum. The museum has a wealth of modern and contemporary art. It was here that I first viewed many works of the Expressionist art movement. While at college I had only read about painters such as Kandinsky, Kirchner and Schiele. However, to see their work in a museum made a big impact on me. At the time, I was particularly interested in German and Austrian Artists especially the figurative work. I was fascinated by how figurative forms were almost caracturesque by appearance; their features distorted and elongated. For me, this approach was so visually engaging. By contrast, my drawings and paintings were still very much representational, photographic looking and flat. I was usually too over-concerned about ‘correctness’ and my approach being very tentative when marking a mark on the paper. I was very inspired after the trip to Amsterdam. I began researching more into Expressionism. For example, the Die Brucke artists and Austrian Secessionism. The Expressionism movement had an overwhelming effect on my figurative drawings and also broadened my horizons in my approach to drawings in general. As a result, my drawings became very linear and outlines were much bolder than before. I was increasingly looking at ways to exaggerate forms with more intensity. When assembling work for entrance to university, the series of self-portraits drawn in conte (below) were very much the spine of my portfolio.
Self-Portrait Series 1993 (Conte on paper)