Monday, 28 March 2011


Sharon has suggested I try some charcoal animation. I like this as an idea and feel it would be  a good way to capture dance. I had a is really amazing to do....and I love the results although I am still learning about timing and I realise this will take an enormous amount of work to produce something I am happy with. I can move on with this by getting back to Reinhard's life drawing class and working in charcoal there too. for some reason I seem to be unable to transfer the clips of these tests.......the joys of a digital imigrant!!
I do feel too that I could use this technique for a part of my film where I want to explore the links between dance and animation.I loved the quality of the charcoal where it has been rubbed out...a little memory for me of McLaren's pas de deux came when I played back the sketches I was working on. Being able to see where the body had been as it wsa moving on.....

and on a second attempt I managed to get the video to copy.......yes!!!!

sand work/ fruit tree

Some time back I was introduced to sand animation by Sharon. I have had a couple of shots at this now and it is  certainly an extremely good way to explore animation timing. I find as I am working I am completely absorbed in the task.......hours have passed and I did not notice!! But I find this work much more satisfying than working at the computer. I think a lot about the timing that is related to dance..but feel I am still at such an early stage that I am still looking for how to describe these connections.
I felt one of the areas I am passionate about at the moment is fruit and fruit trees... we are trying to replant / graft heritage pear trees in Newburgh and I have pear, apple ,plum and cherry trees in my own garden.So it seemed like a good topic for my first attempt at sand animation.!

Norman's Skates


In the archive in Stirling University there are some of McLaren's letters home. He wrote weekly to his mother back home in Stirling. One of the letters refers to the ice flow moving up and down the Hudson River with the tide. I was in Newburgh (Scotland) the week before I read this letter and the ice flow was in fact doing that exact thing........ There was also a description of Norman skating. It struck me that this was something that would be good to focus in on. I foung these skates of my dads and worked with them.trying to animate them to tell their own story....I need to work on it, but there is the seed of an idea here......                        

chair test

            Having spent some time getting used to issues to do with timing I thought it would be fun to have a go at a chairy tale in the studio. I have always loved McLaren's chairy tale, a story of a downtroddden chair trying to let it's user know he should respect it a little more!!! So I has a go...thanks for the help Omar Adam and Mark H.The results were ....interesting!!!!  Music would be really good with some of these small tests I am doing   another challenge for the future!                                                  ..                                                                 

Monday, 21 March 2011

Programme of Study

The working title of my MSc is........................
If I were a dancer; Norman as Choreographer

As A choreographer , my basic language is movement. Norman McLaren has said the same is true of himself. He created a number of films using dance or dancers; Pas de deux, Adagio and Narcissus among them. I am interested in his love of dance and the relationship between dance and animation. Nera the end of his life,he stated that if he had been a dancer he would no doubt have constructed movement in a completely different way. I feel drawn to trying to understand how he might ahve done this.
Who was the man? What motivated him? What kind of dance might he have choreographed?
It is clear he was a shy sensitive man who was deeply influenced by music. He used it to graet effect.
He also sought to move people emotionally with his films.
This is something I have also sought to do during some of my recent dance projects.

By researching  his history, his ideas and his work I hope to understand more about him.
By studying animation technique and in particular the techniques he pioneered I hope to have a clearer picture of his art form.

To investigate the creative mind of Norman McLaren through his personal history and work.
To investigate his love of dance music and movement.
To explore links between dance and animation.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Who was Norman?

This is a photograph of Norman McLaren's mother Jane Cross Wilson Smith ( known as Jeannie,centre front) and 6 of  her 7 siblings. My grandfather James Parker Smith is on the right in the back row.The photo was taken in 1901 at Little Earnock, a farm near  Hamilton shortly after the death of her parents Thomas, a tennant farmer, in 1896 and Jeannie Cross Parker, his wife, in 1897. The youngest son Abe was only 9. All eight of them moved to Perthshire in 1902 .(the farm in Hamilton has now gone, giving way to property development and a street called Earnock Way!)

A relative of the Cross family married Elizabeth Burns, a cousin of Robert Burns, our Scottish bard! They lived in Canada.

John McLaren of Hamilton (born 1805) ran a painting and decorating shop in the town which was taken over by his sons, James, David, John and William (Norman's father)
Jeannie must have known William before she moved to Perthshire and although he was in London in 1902 (when she went to Perthshire), somehow they got back together and married in 1905.

I did not know my grandfather, James, as he dies when my father was very young. As a result we did not have close contact with the McLaren family when I was growing up. I feel that women are more likely to keep in touch with their own family than their husbands...tho I am curious to know how the young Mary (my Grandmother) coped with three children alone with her own family so far away in Norfolk.

                                                      The McLaren family
                                             Jeannie Jack Sheena Norman and William

Her sister in law Jeannie McLaren also had three children by now   seen above.

For Mary (nee Cartwright) life must have been hard with three young children on her own.the eldest Ivy was born just three years after Norman,in 1917 but suffered from thyroid problems in her early life which affected her mental development. She was a georgeous child, but must have been difficult. I remember her innate musical ability...she could not read or write anything legible or understandable, but she could play by ear the most difficult tunes. My father was born in 1920 and his brother Aubrey a few years later.Ivy was the only one from memeory who was at all musical
Norman also played piano...and my own son Finn has learned piano mostly by ear...although he has now developed his music theory to a high level.

The Smith family
Tom Mary Robert John
Abe Jessie James Jeannie

It seems from gathered descriptions that William, Norman's father was an intelligent man... I do not know much about Jeannie except that there are many comments about her dress and she certainly she was very pretty when she was young. Her sister Jessie a spinster , came to live with them and by all accounts was a bit of a tyrant,selfish and not very helpful. In this photo she is in the front row second from.left...she certainly looks quite formidable! the sixth  sibling Tom is also in this photo.


photo Ochlochy pond, Dunblane
                                                                   (where I learned to skate on ice!!)
Feb 14th 2011 at last I manage a first meeting with Wayne Thomas about storyboard. We have a discussion about my project and my ideas so far. after the session with Wayne I have a clearer idea of how to set out my plans .......this is my task for our next meeting!

Feb 22nd I present my ideas in a sketched out format for Wayne. It is great talking through the ideas afresh as it helps me to be clearer about where I am going with all this. We also discover some strange coincidences...I talk of music I will use (my son Finn's )and discover Wayne's daughter is at the same college. I talk of my plan to use the childhood skating experience I seem to share with Norman and discover Wayne knows the area well where I learned to skate!!!

March 3rd I have tried to storyboard my ideas for my film and present them to Wayne. I feel that I am not very clear at first but am reassured that the ideas i speak of are very clear to him. I certainly have a picture in my mind, but, like choreography it is hard to present that idea to anyone else. But I know that i will have to make my storyboards clear if I am to enlist help.
Wayne shows me some of his own storyboard work and talks me through the process and the rationale behind it. This is all brilliant for me.
I also talk Wayne through some of my family research...i have now photos of the family from Norman's mum and her 7 grandfather being one, and their parents....and one grandmother from the previous generation. I realise how much I have as I look through it again......

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

"Thought of You"

Possibly the best animated dance piece I have seen so far. Having also looked at the blog on how this was made, I love it even more.The quality of movement Ryan achieves is really all senses of the word!!! I think the fact that he worked very closely with the choreographer of this piece is key to how he manages to transmit the emotion of the work.
The music is also really lovely...there has been an instant reaction from everyone I have shown it to....and I gather the same experience has been had by many others!! The choreography follows the music in a great way...catching the meanings behind the words beautifully. The potential of animation to add another level to the work is clear here. Somehow the extensions of leg, arm etc just seem to last a tiny bit longer....holding on to the best qualities of the dance and increasing them......
The overall length of the piece is also just right..tho I can see this developed into a suite of dance pieces following a story...maybe two solos..a group piece.
It certainly grabbed me and I was left thinking......  I WISH I COULD DO THAT !!

Monday, 14 March 2011

All Made Up

31st January 2011 we started working on a 48 hour film project..
After a rundown on film roles...i.e director, producer etc..we were given a task...a one minute film idea containing 3 characters, 10 shots max, 7 min, dialogue, music and sound.
I found this a bit daunting but an image did come to mind for which I then sketched a script.
We spent time with Peter on how to pitch an idea and were sent home to prepare. astonishingly my script was chosen along with one other and production began right away. I had to prepare a script, storyboard it and form a team to take the idea on.
This was all new ground for me but once I got started it seemed to get easier.
 In my team I then had to be the producer.
Our director, James Bell was a joy to work with. Clear in his instructions, and focused on task. We worked really well as team with Adam thomson in charge of camera shot and Kaye editing.
It was hard as the writer to stand back and let james take over but made easier by my confidence in him.
 I enclose here the list of shots we planned .with some changes to the original ideas.
The team was brilliant. We worked on day one, to plan, so that day two went as smoothly as possible.
I as producer had to make a time schedule and to list props, locations, find actors, find props make up etc.

I had to storyboard for the original 'pitch' but with James the team refined these and discussed them until we were all happy with the final plan. we also kept strictly to the brief in limiting the shots to 10 and in working closely as a team. By the time we started shooting at 11 am on day two everything was in place and we were all clear in our various roles.             
I had to procure our actor, sandy, and apply make up at 10.30 am and to brief him on exactly what we wanted him to do. all the shots and sound bites we did with him were great.   Then the production team  headed off to our next location. We planned all the remaining shots in and around this location but had to mask windows etc so this was a long process. All went according to plan, and looking back the shots were very different (some) from how I as writer imagined. Adam did a great job behind the camera and we all pitched in to set up the scenes etc.                                                                                            
                             Edit was also a huge task.
                                                                             Kaye doing the initial edit and then a team approach to the final cut.   

And here's the resulting        one minute film....All Made Up

erica russell Triangle

I was about to look at Erica Russell's 'Feet of Song ' again this morning and discovered 'Triangle' which is another piece of work by Russell.
Erica's capturing of dance, line, quality and rhythm is particularily moving.
it is obvious that she has also had some dance training and reassures me that for a dancer to work with animation is a very logical progression in the creative process I am engaging with.