Monday, 29 November 2010

Norman McLaren, the creative mind

Norman McLaren's place in the history of animation is that of a pioneer of technique. Transcripts of interviews with him later in life bring the reader in touch with a shy sensitive, multi sensory man who saw the world in a very unique way. He was deeply affected by the world around him and his films respond to that world . My interest is in examining the man behind the films.

Just as the architect's work has no meaning if you do not look at the space it encloses, we as humans would not be alive if not for the spaces between our heartbeats or our breathing in and out. As a choreographer I am interested in the spaces between things also. the interim between one pose and another is filled with movement and the choreographer's task is to find a unique way to make that transition. This seems akin to the animator's art. What lies in the mind of the creative artist between idea and realisation also holds great fascination for me.(As does the space between the performance and the audience interpretation and reaction).

McLaren also discussed the space between. In his own words;

Animation is not the art of drawings that move but the art
of movements that are drawn.What happens between each
frame is more important than what exists on each frame.
Animation is therefore the art of manipulating the
invisible interstices that lie between the frames
( Collins 1976)

As a dancer the appearance of stillness is difficult to to achieve without extreme discipline. It is intersting that McLaren subjected himself to sucha test of discipline (in his field) in making 'lines vertical' and 'lines horizontal' (Furniss 2007).

McLaren's sensitivity and acute awareness of movement, stillness, dance and music makes his work unique. Maynard Collins' book on Norman McLaren does give great insight into McLaren the man(1976). Maureen Furniss examines the context in which McLaren's work now sits in 'Art in Motion, Animation Aesthetics (2007).

A dancer can never achieve total stillness.Every muscle will be twitching to keep balance, your heart and lungs still performing their essential movements.Animators recognise this and manage to achieve that constant
'flicker'in the shift from one frame to the next.

Stanislavsky suggested stillness is the ultimate movement skill.

(to be continued!)

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Exploring Practce

Coming to an animation and visualisation  masters course as a choreographer has been an interesting journey so far. There are many skills to learn order to make informed choices for my film and animation work. To date,skills explored have included SLR camera work,digital video camera, filming in a group..class topic -Dundee-, life drawing, after effects, brief introduction to 3D animation on Maya, and of course learning to blog!

Life Drawing
It is a long time since I last did life drawing so my first attempts were a bit rough! I felt I could only sit for a short time on the first two sessions but things improved slowly and I now feel I can concentrate quite some time.
Taking this into thoughts about animation I feel I would certainly like to do some sketches of dance to work with. I will contact Janet Smith at Scottish dance Theatre to arrange to sit in on class.

quick sketches....sept/oct 2010

I have already made a decision not to use 3D myself but have identified artists who would willingly collaborate with me should I change my mind on this. I have also made a decision to include 2D animation work and am working on my own drawing skills with this in mind. Again there are artists who would work on this with me. The life drawing is a challenge I am really enjoying, and would like soon to try to capture some quick images of movement. Perhaps the best way is to tee up a session at Scottish dance Theatre, so I will talk to Janet Smith about this. I had a phone call on Friday from a year 2 animation student who would not only like to work on some animation with me but was also an accomplished dancer herself. There seems to me an ideal opportunity to have dance/ film /drawing/ animation crossover here so later in the term we will meet up and test the water.....or maybe snow!!! as right now I am looking out at 8 inches of snow on the roof tops and hedge!!! I am already thinking of movement sequences to work with, and on Friday looked back at some of my past choreography searching for material. I will get into the edit suite and make a short clip of my work for this purpose.

Newburgh shoreline in the snow.............
On Friday I also spent 2 hours with Malcolm looking at after effects...lots of ideas there for me..thank you Lucy for setting this up.

life drawing ....getting there slowly!

I have tried a mix of materials to draw with. I like softer pencils but also graphite sticks. I love working witrh charcoal but have not tried to sketch figures with this yet. My tutor, Sharon should be able to help me with this!!  I have looked at animation withcharcoal and really like the effect. It seems to me this would lend itself well to dance drawings and help achieve the sense of fluidity I am looking for................   
At last I managed to buy a decent camera. I want to do some stop motion work so a camera is an essential! I found a Fujifilm finepix HS10 and so far am pleased. My first shot was this majestic tree on the back road to Sheriffmuir. The stormy weather had suddenly given way to a patch of sunshine!!


Norman' skates
These are not actually Norman's skates, but my dad's. They are from the same time in history and I remember my father wearing them when he taught me to skate in Dunblane's ochlochy park. When I found these in the attic, I thought of the letter Norman wrote home to his mum about skating on the ice behind his home in Canada in 1943. The war was on and my dad was a prisoner of war in Stalag 20 B in Germany.  Norman was a free man skating in Montreal!! While my dad's skates would be sitting unused at home. I thought these ice skates could be used to tell a little tale of their own!!!           

 Although I have not taken the film on ice I chose a concrete surface which seemed to me to be close to the colour of muddy ice and to sepia photos. This gives the images a timeless quality I think....

 so this is Norman working away in his studio...not in 1943 but much later..he had his new specs which he felt he had to have...his old tortoiseshell ones seemed rather old fashioned he said..            

and below is a picture of my dad, Jim, in 1943 sent from Stalag XXB on the Eastern border of Germany. Such a contrast for two cousins!!!!!!!                                                                     

 Here is a fragment of a letter sent home from Germany from my dad in 1943      

and this is a fragment of a letter from Norman to Jim in 1981. He has mistakenly called Jim his nephew!! and Jim has penciled in COUSIN!!

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Norman as choreographer?

These are short clips from a film made by Norman McLaren. Pas de deux being one of a number using dancers.It is clear McLaren had a great interest in movement and dance.My recent research has evealed, in fact that he loved dancing. His film made at art college, 'Camera Makes Whoopee' ,has a large section of dance in it and I already see in this the accute spatial awareness that I think made him unique.It is interesting to note that one of the reasons he engaged in dance film was as a teaching aid for ballet dancers. Ballet Adagio was expressly for this purpose. He always seems to have been ready and willing to share his ideas and although he was a shy man in many ways, he was nevertheless a good communicator.

Norman McLaren was a pioneer of technique. He was an animator but also a director, musician, artist and keen observer of humanity.A multi faceted individual who had so many great ideas . It probably goes without saying that he was also an incredibly hard worker! He threw himself heart and soul into his projects, and that shows in his films. It is interesting to note how many of his films still seem relevant today. The film techniques may in some cases seem quite dated but often the subject matter overrides this, I feel ,and  films like 'Neighbours' have as much power to move emotions as they must have done in 1950.

He had a great sympathy for oppressed people of the world.I wonder if his mother encouraging him to go to visit the 'slums' near his home increased his awareness of those less fortunate than him.I have recently wondered if those 'slums' were in fact 'The Raploch' which is at present undergoing an amazing regeneration.

So what was it that was so special about him as a person? How did he generate ideas?
He once said that if he had been a dancer he would have created movemnt in a very different way, but movement was nevertheless his main language as an animator.His was constantly trying to bring some sense of motion to his paintings as a student, and film presented the solution.

So how would a Norman McLaren choreography look?
This is one of the questions I hope to explore in my masters degree.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

music and film

I am always amazed that Norman was doing this by paper...straight on to the film!!
The ultimate marriage of image and sound.....showed this to my son `finn who is a musician and we had a great conversation about it. He felt he would like to try the technique!!
This must also be amazing for him since now when you play a cd on your pc you have a visual automatically to accompany it!!

atmosphere, simplicity, music

Thank you Kaye for introducing me to this wonderful film. I have watched it again in the light of your detailed analysis of it. The music ...funny that I was so entranced by the film that I did not remember that it was an accordion..the father of european folk instruments!( Actually my musical son tells me it might be a French musette...that is also the name of this type of tune...)This of course immediately sets the film as a kind of folk tale I think. Certainly it takes place in the countryside..perhaps there is an inherant supposition of country values too.
The visual of the film was so beautiful. the simplicity of sepia tones and black/ brown and cream. Line drawings..not too much detail to distract you from the message but always enough to trigger your emotional response.Again I am reassured that my love of simplicity in visual art is grounded. I found this film very moving, totally gripping and very satisfying. Less is more!!

Dance and film possibilities

This Australian company have some unique exploration into dance and film.
This one particularily highlights a possible linking of dance and the pattern in space.
I used to imagine what a dancer and a pot of paint could create on a huge white floor.
I guess this is something like I dreamed? How is it done I ask

Monday, 22 November 2010

the artist's path

Having looked at Norman McLaren's life a little , and realising the impact of the Spanish Civil war on him, I was moved by the recent programme on Peter Howson. War has been a huge topic in art and writing. From Picasso's Guernica to Howson's Bosnian war paintings one can see the agony of human suffering war causes.
Again looking at these I am reminded of the creative path and the importance of the process for the artist.  For Howson, working on a piece about John Ogilvie, his work over 9 months was in the end the preparation for the final work. Almost completed, he painted over what he had created, ruining the work, and completed another painting in little more than a week. But without that process one could say he would not have been 'ready'. Peter is autistic, only recently diagnosed, and struggles to communicate emotionally. Without his art he says he would go mad. But like all good artists he pours his body and soul into his work. If you missed the programme about him catch it ...'The Madness of Peter Howson'.

Earlier on this term we had Nick Waring talking to the masters students at DOJCAD about his walking project. He had put forward an application for funding to document his journey to the exhibition ...walking! He was accepted. His talk was about that journey but also about walking as art, his notebooks, the importance of keeping notebooks and journals and where his inspiration comes from for some of his other projects.I found him very inspiring, and talked with him later about my own practice of journal keeping.I have a number of journals all for different topics. I have one which I only ever write in it is often a long time between entries. I also have one in which I have recorded my exploration of what it means to be scottish and my current development of that idea into a more general theme...still starting with Scotland. And now of course I have another journal about Norman . What I really loved about Nick Waring's  journals for his journey was the fact that he had so little space in his rucsac that he had to summarise everything into little drawings and tiny books...obviously he could not carry 20 notebooks across Europe!!! I would like to try this!                                                                                            

Interesting paths/ visualisation of ideas/emotions


Dance Artist  Tricia Anderson
Photographer Marysia Lacowicz

Earlier this year I collaborated with photographer Marysia Lachowicz. Our piece entitled' The Road Not Taken' was inspired by Robert Frost's poem sharing this title. I have always been tempted by the less obvious path. I am not a rebel, just curious. I always asked 'Why?' as a child...and I think I still do!!! The film 'Pocohauntis' makes my neck tingle..especially when she opts for the dive off the cliff as a route home rather than the slow walk!!.I see myself as an explorer...left to my own devices I would stray for days...months...years discover the meaning of everything!!I am always tempted by what might lie 'just around the river bend' !! So this photo was an exploration of that side road and what may lie there! It was part of an exhibition at The Birnham Arts Centre in Dunkeld .                                                                             

The wheels of emotion (PLUTCHECK 1980 ) from Kevin's blog

This diagram seems to me to be the perfect tool for a costume or set design department!! As a choreographer I will certainly refer to it from now on. To know what colours (supposedly) represent which emotions seems like great information to have. Though maybe I will not always agree-there must be many situations where you can say more than one feeling is present? In the chackra diagram, these colours seem to be representing something different...maybe we need to chat about this Kevin?

In fact, during my research I came across this little drawing sent by norman to his two nephews...

This is a fascinating take on 'process' and the animator.If the artist has taken himself through a particular experience on the artistic journey the internalising of this will show in the final work. I love the way Kentbridge expresses this in his own words when talking about the film.It is the key to the integrity of the artist's process.
The film also confirms for me the power of simplicity.
To leave space for the audience to have an emotional response and thoughts about the work is important.
A very powerful piece of work.

Creativity matters

Having just heard an interview with Sir Ken on radio yesterday i am prompted to add this to my blog. Apparently he had polio as a child and attended a special school! only the chance intervention of an inspector allowed him to go forward for his 11+.He was the first from this school to pass. Now he is the most inspirational speaker on creativity.Every time I hear him I scream YES!!!!!
If you have not looked at this you must!

Another similar film, (i am sure itis the same artist!!! same arm...must be!!)this time about where ideas come from and what might be the best environment for creativity!! It is so similar in style to the Ken Robinson one that I find myself choosing.....but I love the style....of visualisation of ideas.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Another Birthday

And today it's mine!! I reflect on many things today. I am a twin so cell development must have been a hectic process in utero!! And i am hoping someone else is making my cake. In fact when I got home there was a star shaped chocolate cake awaiting me!

Today I presented Norman McLaren's 'small phantasy on a nineteenth century painting' to the class.
The film begins with a painting , surrealist in style, and through animation sets a scenario McLaren has invented. It is interesting to note that McLaren started out at Glasgow School of Art as a set design student. This painting becomes a set within which a new scene emerges.
McLaren explores atmosphere by his additions of changing shape and colour. The lighting changes as if on stage, a coffin appears from which emerges a ghost who sets in motion destruction. Walls crack, fire blazes from a burning bush !The film was made in 1946 and I feel it portrays a sense of the havoc and destruction wrought by Nazi Germany during the second world war. At one point the Nazi Eagle even soars above the scene. The Eagle re appears later like a skeleton, perhaps reminding us that there will always be war somewhere on the planet? McLaren used subtle changes of pastel shading to alter the light in the background, and often used this effect in the background of future films.(see attached 'Phantasy') He was deeply affected by war , and had first hand experience while working as an animator in Spain in 1936 during the civil war there and again in 1951 in Korea and China. He remained a staunch pacifist and films like Neighbours give a sense of his strength of feeling.

Have also been watching Norman McLaren's film 'Spheres' which he later used as part of 'Phantasy'. (1965)
His awareness of spacial orientation was intense. It is something those of us who have it take for granted. It is only when you see someone who does not have it that you truely appreciate it. For me it was a eureka moment. I was a great athlete, sprinter and jumper ( finally finding a perfect purpose for my oversize feet!!)I also loved art at school, and discovered I was quite competent at drawing. But on my first introduction to the theory of Rudolf Laban and the body in space, I was the only one in the class who 'got it' right away. PERFECT ALIGNMENT, DIAGONALS, PLACEMENT. I just knew where I was in space. And so began the combined use of art and physical ability. Art and movement. The Art of movement.