Sunday, 4 December 2011

dance film

over the last weeks I have been working on choreography for film...but with the intention of using that dance film for a specific reason. I am trying to visualise the feeling of skating....not just the look of it. I have tried sketches of skaters but it just did not capture how I feel about what skating suggests to me . And it seems to suggest more to others too.It has been amazing to see the reaction from a variety of people when I talk about it and I feel my practice is beginning to capture that sense I have of skating being a flowing experience both in the watcher and the accomplished skater. In this short test I am trying to capture the imaginary line that surrounds the skater.....

I took the film and with some work in after effects managed to capture something special. Clearly Mclaren has influenced me but it is not simply an aping of his work. The choreography was geared to getting this shape......and to giving me another view of the dance. I have made clear choices about the time between repeat frames ( 0.5 seconds)and slowed the whole sequence down for maximum effect.

I worked on another section of the dance, not shown here, where 1 second separates the multiple image repeats but it is not as effective...and yet it shows something different in the sequence...and it definitely has some possible use for future....

next phase for the storyboard

From the storyboard I have worked on an animatic. Pinning down the timing was a great process.....and the music and images follow the plan . And again I dwell on the process of the choreographer in comparison to that of the animator. I think the feedback for the choreographer happens more instantaneously as there is an opportunity to watch a playback as you go along. However this will always involve having your dancers with you to perform the sequence you have been working on. You can film of course and look back at it afterwards and in a sense you can edit...which will involve another major rehearsal time. And you can then imagine how it will be with light...but you would have to have  a technical rehearsal with technicians and dancers to verify this. It does not generally involve sitting at a computer although some choreographers have done this. Merce Cunnungham worked with a choreogaphic tool and John Anderson has also developed a computer tool for choreographers.

Anyhow, for the present, animatic is the method employed at this stage in the game...that has been frustrating and exciting.....I am making great progress in the edits and realise how much I have learned...but in the end it is vital to practice what you have learned at the next possible opportunity. Again the parallels with dance are clear. If you do not practice what you have rehearsed there is no chance of that memory reaching or staying in your muscles. So when I meet up with Malcolm to learn more it will be a two day tutorial ..with a heap of practice between!!

So here is version 1 of the animatic

script development

This was the first draft of the story which I used to develop the ideas with the composer and the dancer.

Norman's Skates

1.Title page
2.Skates appear
3. Norman is seen at the typewriter
3. We see his letter (or hear?) in which he describes skating in 1943
4. Fade
5.We see a skater alone on the ice making patterns on the ice..tall and graceful.
    (possibly this is Norman dressed in icelandic sweater from letter)
6.the ice patterns begin to take on a life of their own, rising from the ice to make patterns in the air
7.the loops become a dancer
8.a second dancer joins to make a pas de deux
9.A hen is briefl;y disturbed at the edge of the ice is sprayed up to accompany the scene and one dancer becomes a swan.
11.the swan flies off
12.A final loop(from the remaining dancer) on the ice becomes Norman's signature
as the dancer disappears
13.the letter is folded and put into an envelope
14 Norman stands puts on his coat and picks up the letter a multiple image

This gave Finn a really clear idea of where the film was going and of the key images within it. the music he produced as a result is beautiful and we have been working with this music.
The script has changed a little as we progress...some things seem not so relevant while other parts seem suddenly more important to emphasise. I am sure we will change things again as the process develops and I decide what is possible (and probably impossible!) to achieve!

Habitat and Iain Gardner

Last year I was introduced to Iain Gardner's work and watched this clip of his work with a dance company in Dresden. At the time I was in the early stages of my course and not sure of my direction. I met Iain first in Stirling while at The University of Stirling Archive when he came to meet up with Karl and Don McWilliams.
There was not time then to go into his work as we were all discussing Norman McLaren and his upcoming centenary, but I went away and looked at the video he made about the process and how his thinking had developed on the links between animation and dance. Now of course this is totally relevant to me in my quest to collaborate between both art forms, and I feel I could benefit from a lengthy discussion with Iain on the topic.

This clip on process really is a mirror on my thinking!! What a shame that he was not still teaching on the masters course!!
He was at the 2011 dance film festival in Edinburgh and I went along to hear him talk about dance in animation.He also has looked at McLaren's work very closely and argues that animators in some ways are dancers. He was very open about the problems he encountered in trying collaborate with dance. This is a (dance)journey which for him has only started and which he will be on for some time!
I feel I could learn a huge amount from him and will endeavour to meet up with him again during the next phase of my work.

Film trailer from Habitat 2010

edit re-edit ..up skill...

Working with drawings and film in the edit for hours and hours over the last few weeks.....trying to decide what works and what does not. Nothing to show really at this moment. There are two moments in my film which will require a lot of attention...and as yet I have not solved the issues of how best to tackle them.
So far I know how I want it to look and so the tests need to see if this is possible. I feel I have learned so much in the process about edit skills so the practice will never be wasted.

In finding the poses I lost some of the quality of the original                
 but this is is still an experiment at this stage. Always need to see how these will look in film.... I have booked up a session with Malcolm next term as I have identified a need to upskill in a few areas mainly edit and film. I have also now identified a few potential team members for the next phase which is great.

I sometimes feel my expectations are set too high..and so I am often dissapointed at how slowly things move on. I expect this will change with a team. Sometimes I am reminded of that phrase..The more I learn the more I realise how much I do not know!!
I am itching to get back to filming more dance in better conditions tho.

There are just so many problems to solve....
tho I realise I am not the only one who can do that ...             
and I need to ask for help more often!

It is all such different process from choreography but I am really enjoying the challenge of it. It is amazing to examine my choreography in this detail...frame by frame as it were. De constructing movement in order to re construct it again. Once or twice I have also wondered about the motion capture experiments which did not ever develop. It is a shame that we did not get to Ninewells to pursue this as I would have liked to see what this produced. I have heard that there was some dance work done there very recently and I am hoping to see the results

For the meantime I have to work with my choreography and constntly try to find ways to integrate it with animation in order to visualise how both can portray emotion.....and ideas. It is in the end all an exploration of how animators use movement and how that is comparable with how I as choreographer use movement. Finding the common ground and then crossover value is going to be an ongoing question... Back to the drawing board..... edit re edit and up skill!!


Saturday, 3 December 2011


Having narrowed down the script somewhat since the original draft ... now have a storyboard to work with...and have been working with for a few weeks..a few new image shave made their way into this.

The first is the use of one of my horizon/light/water photos...originally done to explore the light around the areas where McLaren went walking and which he said influenced him greatly in his pastel animation scenes from films such as La Haut sur Ces Montagnes.
I visualise a swan taking off from the water across this skyline has become a symbol for me of transformation.
My exploration of these skies also has some relevance in my search for evocative scenes which stir emotional response.

The second addition is the photo which was accepted for exhibition and which I felt reflected the exact light Mclaren found within that same film. I have here added my version of the face in the sky.
As I write this I wish I could now have a dialogue with Norman!!
My version is Scottish rather than canadian...but the face seems Greek to me. This was meant, i am sure to represent ancient folk tradition which is the basis for the set of films mclaren made. I recently found text to accompany this scene which describes a skier returning from the mountain and stumbling across a little hamlet where there was folk song and dance going on in the ancient tradition.

Next was my version of a McLaren first i wanted the hen to be disturbed at the edge of the ice...then I thought maybe he could feature near the end...and he appears in the storyboard but I am still not sure about him(or her)..I have discussed this with lots of people who were generous with their feedback and criticism.....I am not sure if the image is congruent with the overall feeling so far....maybe instead the hen could look more like one of Norman's original drawings from the book??

This hen has a slightly more comical look...and could easily become the line again since it is one continuous line itself...this is my version of Norman's ..tho my original idea was to hint at his 'trademark' feels as the film idea progresses this gets more irrelevant.

Norman is in the essence of the film...but maybe the audience do not need to know that?

maybe it is enough that I have explored the hen in all its guises..and not necessary that it is around......

Thursday, 1 December 2011

drawing the choreography

I have taken the film of the choreography and been working  on finding which sequence I want to use for animation. I also looked again at Norman's dancer drawings. The idea is that these drawings also contain the spiral shape which I want to use from the skating patterns

In the end this particular position is one I really like in both the live action film and in the drawings..After adding the spiraling line around the figure I felt this could work for a transition point..where the dancing figure begins to appear from the ice................from the loops and upwards...............this must be a next step to try.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011


Have been working on choreography based on the theme of skating. It has helped to also visualise this feeling in another form..i.e. drawing..and to talk to people about skating and what it makes them think of or feel. Working with that sense I have experimented myself with some moves...trying to internalise what that feeling is retain the memory of that movement in order to translate it to a dancer. It has been quite a journey. Having a film script worked out has also helped...something to show the dancer as well as talking about my ideas. Sharing my collected images has also somehow helped to tranlate my feelings to the dancer. I have never worked on one plane in my art...always wanted to draw from other disciplines in my pursuit of visualisation. I have so many photos too which I use as a satrting point .Having music commissioned is great.
The process for that also needed the images (and script of course). The dancer really responded well to the music....actually everyone I have played the track to has said it really captures my images (or imagined ideas?)well.

 with the dancer I worked on two distict sequences. One for floor..with the transition from drawn image to live action in mind....and the other across the floor...with skating in mind..and perhaps the transition to mentioned before.

The camera was hand held..and although we thought at first this would make the edit quite has given some quite interesting effects. Someone also said it had a kind if old fashioed feel to it....mmmm

I certainly aim to re take the footage...and to do it again with lighting from the side. The technical crew were not available for this take...but I want to see how that will work out.

having Emily dressed in black but with arms showing gave us a good idea of how white...costume maybe....looks and highlighted the effect we worked on afterwards.

When we take it again I will try less white on the legs...and would like to try in the SDT dance studio which is mostly light...with darker costume.

The lines on the floor also threatened to present a problem..but like the hand held camera they also provided interesting opportunities ...

All in all I am happy with the choreography and have a lot of materrial to work on before I next see the dancer.

more light and water

I am now really getting into landscape photography. What relevance I hear you ask?? As Calum Colvin said....'A study of light and form'...and I feel it is entirely relevant when I will certainly be dealing with water in my film..even if it is frozen...and I will also have to work with light!

And water and light are emotive...everyone responds to the sunset and sunrise...the coming and going of the is human nature to follow the light....although those of us living in the depths of the city (and the college!)do not really mind if it is light or not....others among us find rural life tricky when it is dark...we pay heed to the light...we notice when our veg patch stops growing because of the lack of light.And there is also the old Celtic myth about the worlds end (Finisterre) being where the sun sets in the West......I notice the light every day...and especially on my journey to Dundee!!!..............................................................

Humans react to light...we are meant to.....we are designed to wake at dawn and sleep in the dark....!!!
Tho few of us really pay heed to that instinct....

The Tay bridge really sits very nicely on a horizon at dusk!!! This kind of sight always makes me stop to look

Then there are days that end like this.....not too many of these...and you really have to stop...and go to the water's edge to take it all in..all this it the end? or another beginning?

So dramatic it looks like the moon...if it had water that is.......and from all this....close up the water is amazing...maybe I could use THIS in my film????

water or ice?

On a recent visit to of my favourite places...My son took this photo, looking into a pool of water. When I saw it after it struck me that it looked almost as if the water was about to freeze. I have collected many images now of water,,flowing, still, a quest to find the perfect setting for my film.

I probably have more than enough material for more than one film!!

skating visualised

Talking to people about skating has been fascinating.Even for those who would never be able to experience that gliding, effortless motion of a perfect skate on ice, the feeling they have is strong. Skating evokes a E Motion....almost like it suggests you can fly. I need to capture this in some way. I have tried drawing people skating but this does not get across the sensation. It is definitely more to do woth visualisation and less to do with reality.I close my eyes and imagine I am able to do anything I like across the ice...How does this look in my mind?

And this is what I have come up fact it is a still from an animation of my visualisation of skating.
I recently talked witha a dance group about this concept and a few of the group immediately began to trace a very similar pattern in space. What is it about ice skating that does spark this reaction?

becoming a swan!

Have been looking at how to make this tranformation in my a swan. Like the metaphor of hard work to produce a beautiful is a challenge! I have tried out a number of possibilities. I took a still from the short film test and felt this image is already half way to becoming a bird! I will work on this again, redoing the film footage and the after effects to see if I can tighten up the transition possibilities.


Sunday, 23 October 2011

Swan...character development?

Looking at swans ( as  I will have a swan within my film)..I decided I wanted to have a drawn image. ...I have been working on swan sketches ...tried pencil...charcoal..pastel...and liked the pastel image best...I tried a variety of techniques and material but pastel seems to be the consistant material of choice for me. Going back to Kentridge and Dudock DeWit ...looking at their film work...and reading about their rationale and process..I am now sure this is the right choice. Even with figure sketches now I prefer the feel and look of pastel and have sourced some lovely pastel pencils which will also give me finer line and still allow for the charcoal technique ...rubbing out and drawing the next 'frame' points if I decide to do this.
I also feel happy with the light brown paper as a backdrop...not quite sepia but in the same tone range...this would help me to find some constant of colour theme I think.This is my version of the swan 'taking off 'which I am happy with at this stage. Crucially for me I think I have captured the movement within the drawing.

I have been looking at developing a transformation from dancer to swan towards the end of my film.I worked with Zoe on some ideas. ...  here are a few stills from the work we have done . I feel some look like a swan already                        
 I am looking for movements which have a bird like quality.....that moment of take off...and how fabric..might  suggest wings and feathers.

We found some lovely moments and certainly plenty for me to work away on...drawing a transformation      

Zoe has an amazing stature...we discussed the swan idea when I first met her and it is the idea which she felt she could most identify with. She is amazingly tall and elegant...but I have also an image of her in my mind as a real tomboy when she was young...must ask her about it!!!!!!      

Zoe also has a wonderful face...and I realised when we last met that she is my face in the sky....McLaren's La Haut Sur Ces Montagnes has an angelic face in the sky above the hills....Zoe is that face!!!!! It is hard to explain , but Zoe has  a really classical face ..and I see the face in McLaren's sky has having that same when I saw her dance i immediately thought of Mclaren's film. I have recently seen a little written note to this image about a skier returning from a day on the slopes to a place near Quebec where French traditional songs have been kept alive.. so the likeness to a traditional face does not surprise me.                  

Really feather -like texture in her skirt here...very similar to some of the images I have of swans wings!!


I have just come from the opening of 'Encounters with Place' the exhibition in Perth Theatre which contains my two Sherrifmuir photos. I have had a great response so far...which gives me a real boost...and a resolve to continue with photogaphy and place. It is something I have really part learning to use my new camera and also to continue to look afresh at places I encounter. There is another series apart from the light and place one which is about my journey home. At some point in the future I will do something with these, but for now it is great to have these exhibited.

It also prompted another discussion the exhibition...about the film I made with Kyra Clegg. It is finished..and I include that final version here. In fact it was exhibited at the ''Encounters iwth Time'' exhibition in Perth, which has just finished last week. It was good to collaborate on this film. I worked with Kyra on creating and selecting the material for the film. I worked on dance for this but also on the lighting, positioning..some of the camera work...and the final edit. We had a really great response to quote ...''a hauntingly beautiful piece''.

dreamtime from kyra clegg on Vimeo.

This process was very worthwhile for me. Collaborating with Kyra was exciting..we encourage each other to develop our thinking and to explore different areas of creative expression.And to take risks. In part I would say the work for 'Dreamtime' was initially inspired by work we had seen together last year. Partly because we both responded in this way to that particular material, it was clear we had sinilar thoughts about collaboration, and agreed then that we would begin a piece together. We wanted to use Kyra's studio space (which she no longer has!) as it could give us a feeling of 'other worldliness'and as there were shutteres we couls change the feeling of the space in a few different ways. Weused daylight, darkness, candlelight  and artificial light.We both have a sense of the dramatic in terms of the visual look of the film...costume, light etc...And bring complementary skills to the 'table'. My knowledge of space and form, light and colour and the moving body pair well with Kyra's sense of  sculptural composition, light, timing, effects, as well as her editing skills. It was time consuming...pulling together all the costume possibilities..props etc and then negotiating which we would use. But it was certainly a more straightforard way to work than on ''All Made Up'' (the film 4 of us made during the advanced production module at DOJCAD). Although for that I also was the one who pulled together the actors and costume, make up etc. And although we had clear roles..James Bell as director, me doung script and production , Adam Thompson doing camera and Kaye doing edit, we dd collaborate on each area. Different to be in the film too ..rather than only outside in a production/scripwriting role.

the talk at the exhibition today has given me ideas for the future.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Ice is just water frozen....water is so different in a frozen will I capture that?
I have spent many months gathering images of a variety of states of water. apart from one image of the Hudson at sunset from McLaren's home address all these photos are my own. McLaren wrote about water on his journey to New York in 1939 and I feel it likely that he would have noted all these varying states of water...and had a response to them.
I am looking for ideas about the location of my film....where will Norman be skating?

 this image of the river Allan in full flood...peaty and turbulent and very dangerous........was taken in Dunblane

The Tay at Dunkeld on a calm sunny day

and later with the sun reflecting on the pools

snow ...water falling frozen.....across the hills.............

the Tay must have looked a bit like this in Norman's description of the frozen river Hudson...

or the loch frozen....

There are a lot of possible settings for Norman...skating on the river..or the would be a pond in canada probably.........plenty to choose from

images of swans

Over the last months I have started collecting a series of images as part of my research... which I feel I would like to have in my film in some form. Early on I noticed swans on the loch at the University in Stirling. There were swans again on the loch I learned to skate on. I went back to visit after reading about Norman skating.
I took some images myself of a mating reunion...typical I have learned of the annual renewal of swan lifetime partnerships!
There is also something for me about swans which is symbolic of the artist's quest. The ungly duckling story is one which I am sure amny artists will identify with. Growing uo with that sense of not quite fitting in with a crowd. And of knowing you are in the right place among other artists.I wonder if McLaren felt that. My time at Stirling uni would certainly seem to have unearthed this suggestion.( although in his case he also did not quite fit the artist stereotype...if there is such a thing) He was not happy with the still image produced by painting and this led him to moving image. Watching swans you become aware of a creature not happy on land...awkward...heavy while walking...but in water smooth and gliding. under the water is another story of course!! great effort is going on unseen to move this whit body across the water.

And then the swan takes off into the air. Again the transition is awkward..a great flapping of wings..incredible noise and looking on you cannot quite imagine how this huge bird will make it into the sky!! but it does and that noise of wings is what gave the swan its name...swan means noise...for it seems that most swans are mute and make very little noise. This transition from great effort to seemingly effortless grace is that of many art forms. dance, painting film making all look easy but we know they take huge effort and time.And so it is with swans... it is quite hard to catch a swan taking off...they do not do it with frequency anytime I have watched. I saw one the first time I met up with Emily the dancer..taking off on the loch at Stirling..but I did not have my camera to hand.

I looked instead for images of swans wings and feathers and even found one from Black Swan the film...

the one on the top left here is from a painting and it is clear the artist caught the moment perfectly when you see it beside the photo top right!!
So the swan has become a metaphor for me about accomplishing your goals...about the effort required to get there and also about the grace of producing that work and reflecting back..... so there will be swan in my McLaren film...he will fly too.....


While discussing and thinking about artists who did most of the work alone I looked again at William Kentridge. I looked at his charcoal work way back and liked the technique so much I did some experiments myself...only very rough!! I found this film of an interview with him on his work process quite inspiring.As a dancer I do sometimes find the process of film frustrating...I get very bogged down in the edit room for example!! I am much happier moving myself...and making work which I can see soon after it is made.With choreography this is what see the work as it develops...then light, costume and set it afterwards.But film is what I have set out to make and I am learning so much...and still have a LONG way to go!!
Kentridge also mentions in this interview the lengthy process of making film and how different this is if you create all the stills yourself in the studio...the dialogue is with yourself about which images to use or edit...and the creative flow is thus undisturbed.

photo exhibition

I am really pleased that two photographs of mine have been chosen as part of a new exhibition in Perth. Encounters with place opens on Monday 24th October at Perth Theatre. The photographs chosen are two which I took while exploring the light in the Stirling area. I was inSherrifmuir when a storm was approaching. Sherrifmuir is a very ancient place with a great history. The approaching storm made me think of the battle of Sherrifmuir. I likened the approaching  storm to a battle and the aftermath revealed through misty layers.

Approaching storm (above) is the photo also which I think most captures the sense of light McLaren used in 'La Haut sur ces Montagnes' his film on a French folk song. My Photo, printed larger that A3 shows that the hint of green on the hilltop is  also just visible and that there is a hint of pink in the clouds.
I am actually going to use this photo within my film. I have an idea to suggest McLaren's film within my own. And to use my own photo image as a backdrop.

This is the second chosen image 'Misty layers' which was taken after the storm om Sherrifmuir. I am especially delighted that the exhibition is being curated by Arthur Watson as I know and like some of his work on scottish landscape and atmosphere. On Sunday the artists will all be treated to a brunch where Arthur will lead us around ,and introduce us to, the exhibition.

danced then drawn

I have been working  with Emily on choreography for my film. I have music now -commissioned from Finn Anderson. I let Emily listen to this as we were warming up and went through the ideas again with her. This is the third time we have met up in preparation. The first to go through the images and ideas and give her as much information about my project as needed so that she understands where we are heading. The second meeting to go through the script and decide how we will go about it. We decide to go into the studio with the music. So this week that is what we did. I filmed the process looking at four slightly different approaches. I tried to get in floorwork as well as travel never losing sight of the 'line' I feel will take us through the film. Re visiting McLaren's own work, particularily his drawings, has also proveded some new ideas.This drawing..a letter to a friend...discovered when I was on placement at The archive in Stirling.. shows, I feel, that McLaren really understood dance. Emily and I discussed this drawing at length and tried to recapture the exact moment in real time. We decided it was perhaps not completely possible but we actually worked on it in the studio among other things.

The drawing on this letter is really in full flow in movement lability in Laban terms..i.e. off balance..Emily and I discovered it would not actually be possible to recover from this position!! But the drawing inspired me and has provided  great material for choreography. Based on the work with Emily we found this similar position..

I have taken the film of the work with Emily and made drawings from it..trying to use McLaren's loopy style, so suggestive of movement so that in the film I might move from the original drawing to my animated drawing..effectively animating McLaren's letter to Hermes. In a sense I feel here that I am taking on the roles of director, animator, camera and producer all at the same time and I have learned from the sessions with Peter Richardson that some of these would be best delegated. However at this stage I also feel , like McLaren did, that if you have a clear idea of how you want your film to look it is useful to keep a tight rein on it.It is also good not to have the creative flow interupted. I also know that at some point I will need a team.
It is great that Emily really likes Finn's music and it seems to dictate to her the loops and twirls that I am searching for.

I captured a few more stills from the choreographic session which I like.

This really confirms for me that this is the style I want to use in my film. I had originally wanted to move from live action to animation as i have always sought to explore the links between my art and McLaren's but I wonder now whether I will be able to do this by this process...choreographing and then drawing...I am really on such a learning curve..but I am happy that my drawing is developing alongside everything else. In this drawing I overlaid two moments from Emily's dance and like the feel of that.                                     

I feel the style really does convey a moment in a movement sequence. I am also reminded of Erica Russell's work. I have now looked at quite a few of her films..Feet of Song is still my favourite.But I do not want to use this style...and feel I could achieve what I am looking for with this loopy style of McLaren's.