Saturday, 30 April 2011

Norman mcLaren;The creative mind..he rocks my kinetic heart

Norman McLaren's describes his animations as 'movements designed through time'  ( creative process)... and said of his own film work ' .speech would be alien.....most of my films have no speech.'
Andre Martin describes him as an 'inventor of unknown languages whose credit titles are written in half a dozen known ones! ( catalogue exposition 1965, Annecy)
there is no doubt that although, like many animators ,he was able to communicate without the use of speech in his film,  he was eloquent in the use of language when required to be. In fact he seems to have had a great ability to explain his methods. Of McLaren, Alexander Alexeieff said

                                      'He displays a tolerance (of other people) rarely associated with creative spirit. this makes him a n ideal teacher(Catalogue, Annecy, france, exposition of McLaren 1965).

He seems to have been a wonderfully sensitive human being, and like most creative minds, was constantly questing and questioning....When did this begin? How much was this due to his upbringing? His creativity was certainly not squashed. He describes his father as a pillar of the community...but also said that when he voiced an interest in Communism and Russia, his father paid for him to go..hoping he would chamge his mind!! (He did not...tho later says he became Christian not Communist).

In 'McLaren; The Creative Process ' there is a lovely decsription by McLaren himself of his metamorphosis into adulthood........How , being ''adolescently sensitive''he got  up in the morning and right away was  looking at the world through his window ...with a new awareness of light...looking over the Ochil hills which have an amazing light quality...aware of the colour in the garden in a new way...the flowers etc.He was living in a beautiful setting, beside Stirling Castle, looking across the hills.

When you are young I wonder if you imagine everyone sees the world in the same way. I do not think you really pause to consider it...
As a creative individual sometimes you do  realise that the way you see the world differs from those around you....I know that feeling well..... one day you look across to the hills and you see the most amazing sky....rolling hills structures...light moving across.and the silhouhette of trees in the distance. ( this view would have been similar but not the same as McLaren's ).
You share that experience with someone else and sometimes find their experience was not the same at all. You realise they only saw the wall in the near distance and the cars passing!!! How differently we view the world.

                 'The films of Norman McLaren pose a problem-They force us to speak of things about which our own knowledge  remains imprecise, but which they themselves define perfectly in a wordless language.'

                  (Catalogue of the first exposition of Norman McLaren in France...Annecy 1965)

Another entry in the same journal gives an insight into the importance Canada has played in McLaren's career. At the same time as celebrating McLaren as a Scottish native....He is regarded by many as a Canadian...                    
                                          ' Canada nursed him, pampered him,indulged and protected him;from pressures which, anywhere else in the world would have extinguished  his fireworks before they had been ignited. ' When something new comes out of Scotland it never emerges, it erupts!Whisky, Bagpipes, Norman McLaren!!'
                                         (  Derek Hill, Catalogue for Annecy, France exposition of McLaren films 1965)

presumably the writer had seen McLaren's film, blankity blank where he achieved a firework effect by adding blank  frames to the animation...McLaren said of this film that he was trying to understand the laws of the phenomenon of persistance of vision while making it. He was meticulous and worked fanatically in all his creative projects.There are examples in his letters of his own accounting......lists of outgoings and income worked out to the last penny. His brother, Jack, was an accountant so this was obviously a family trait.
And the film 'Mony A Mickle' refers to this 'thrift'. this is nsupposedly a Scottish trait...branded by Harry Lauder sa meanness!! BUt I think the Scots are just incredibly creative and can make something out of very little resources when needed!! McLaren refers to this thrift as a great spur for craetive thinking. I have to agree. Deadlines and low budget can make your creative brain work overtime...tho I would not suggest we can do without funds altogether!!

Pete Seeger, the musician , said of him' genius...defined as someone with an infinite capacity for taking pains. this fits Norman to a T'

This clip is of blankity blank which was really quite a revolutionary idea when it appeared....and typical of McLaren's trying to get top the root of a problem.............................playing with timing and perception.

'Sometimes he rocks my kinetic heart...'  Len Lye


Thinking about the links between animation and dance again......having looked recently at Martha Graham' Appalachian Spring....has me pondering on McLaren's various use of movement timing space and music.

Cannon, above is like an exercise in choreography!!! again I maintain he really had all the right skills.....and how I would love to have discussed dance with him...
 the last section...all the choreographed moves now with a different perfectly charming.. Surprise, humour but all with a great sense of space. McLaren also completely understands how to use the music.
To gain its best effect. He was a musician...he played piano at home most nights along with violin played by his long term partner Guy.  Antone who plays music will also have an inner sense of timing.

He was one of the few animators of his time to really examine the question of how to use music. Would you follow the structure of the music exactly? that the animation should repeat itself with the repeated phrases of music...This is a question I as a choreographer automatically consider when I begin with the music.
Like McLaren I do not always...sometimes I have a strong sense of a sequence I want to create and look for the music afterwards.

                              'The experiments of Norman Mclaren point to the problems (of using music) should the animation repeat in the way music does for the sake of form?'    ( Film Music; from violin to video     Limbacher   Scarecrow press Methuen, N.J. 1974)

pastel experiments

Looking at McLaren's work in pastel had prompted me to try to do some pastel sketches. It is quite close to charcoal, depending on the type you choose. I really liked the quality of charcoal work,,,I have to be much bolder in my sketching style....braver in just diving into it.....and rubbing out does not obliterate your efforts.....not always a good thing!!!
I found some really fine pastel pencils which give a cleaner line than charcoal but have the smoothness I like about charcoal. I tried to work white on black...following McLaren's demo on the clip on technique for C'est L'Aviron, and white on grey,,,above....which allowed me to also add black for shadow and white for highlight. I like this effect...better than white on black..below...tho the model prefered this!!

Dreamtime- exploring light and time

dreamtime from kyra clegg on Vimeo.

This was a collaborative project between Sculptor/ filmmaker Kyra Clegg and myself.
It was inspired originally in part by a workshop and talk we both attented by a pair of artists who work in New Zealand..Edwards and Johan....(.they work with place and costume. recording their work on film)...but took on a life of its own when we worked in an empty studio with light....and a variety of props and costume and light.......and explored the idea of time seen as if in a dream.

The dance moves in this piece have had a number of influences......Martha Graham yes...I did Graham technique as a student.....and I really love the strong line of Graham technique...and the costume choice of one pieceof Dreamtime is reminiscent of a small section of her work..set to Aaron Copland's music   Appalachian Spring   interesting that she like McLaren used Folk song and dance in her work.

Looking again at this work I still love her sense of space form and line....

 Back to our film, Dreamtime

It has been a joy to work with somone new on a collaboration, and Kyra and I seem to allow each other a freedom to explore when we work. This is just a beginning...I hope we will take the project on.
This new edit will be at PVAF exhibition...Encounters with Perth Theatre in the next month or so.

Something about the quality of the light in the window ...the solo with the hands opening the shutters.....reminded me  a little of pastel colours.and the effect they give..such as the light quality McLaren achieves on C'est L'Aviron. ( Part of a series of pastel animation he created to French canadian Folk Songs)

I like the dream like quality of this work
McLaren is regarded as the inventor of pastel animation technique

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Body Space Image

Over the first semester I have been exploring the connections between dance and animation.This is the main theme of my project. In order to do this I have had to look at a variety of animation techniques and to try them.... drawing , life drawing, sand animation, live action, pixilation, charcoal, 3D.....also to learn about film, camera techniques, photo shop, after effects, film styles...........directing, production,'s a long list!!
As well as this, I have constantly been reviewing my own dance practice and choreography. While reading The Animation Survival Kit (Richard Williams) I realise how much inner knowledge I have from my dance training. This is hard to describe sometimes, and it is only through discussion with other animators and through reading materials on animation that I fully understand the unique perspective I have as a dancer.
 What has been interesting to note in the pursuit of animation technique, especially the charcoal work, is that I 'perform' the moves in my mind as I am drawing them. Because I then draw the movement as an animation , in a curious way I become both performer and audience at the same time. This is a new experience for capture this movement I feel ,in a drawing that also moves....this is really new!

I feel I have always been aware of  my body and it's relationship to the space around it.....I found a description of something akin to this sense....
              Yvonne Rainer  'The Mind Is A Muscle'  ( Catherine Wood..Afterall books)
              'as a child when I was alone I would 'perform'....with the thought in mind that I was
              being watched. Now this reaction is becoming more and more unconscious, having
              been transmitted to my actions, speech, writings and my thought....  (p 32)

Of great benefit to me as a dancer with training and anatomical knowledge, is my ability to understand the mechanics of the movement as I go. I no longer stop to analyse these mechanical principles when I dance for myself, but  when I teach I will often explain them to others. Now in exploring animation I find this knowledge is extremely valuable....if not essential.
I also have studied the science of anatomy and physiology, as a remedial massage graduate, and so this knowledge is quite instinctive now.
I noticed that as I work with animating in charcoal I have to translate movement as I go....I will feel it in my body and then draw....I will know that to have the figure move this way or that I need to alter the hips, the shoulder...a certain move requires a certain shift in gravity...alignment..... I realise the process is very different for an animator NOT trained in movement, and can not imagine attempting the drawing without that training!!

Since I also have worked with massage and treating back pain, injuries etc, I can often look at someone walking and think....he has a hip problem....or she is going to have back problems in future...I can see alignment abnormality....can notice a curved spine, a dropped hip training allows me to note these things and now to use them when creating animated figures.

As a choreographer, I translate my inner sense of line and form to other dancers...this is similar I feel to the act of animating. I have an inner semse of what I want from the dancer...worked out...I work with them to prepare we work on the moves and where they may lead..and I always encourage individual interpretation.
This seems to me to have so much in common with animation!
       ''There are only three things in animation
            1. anticipation
            2. action
            3. reaction
            and these imply the rest. Learn to do things well and you can animate well.''
                   ( Bill Tytla....from the aniamtion survival kit...Richard Williams..p 273)

In conclusion, my dance training and experience is a good basis from which to begin animation.
In addition the Laban work I have done over the, time, flow, an essential knowledge to have as an animator..........Now I have to work to bring all these skills together!!

Monday, 25 April 2011

3D or not

Just thinking through how I have explored various methods of practice this semester, I reflected again on my decision not to delve into 3D. I felt that there was no place really for me to do 3D work, although I did do an introduction and I do love it in film and the whole technology is really exciting.  I feel I would get so imersed in trying to learn I would not have time to do all the other things necessary for my own project.
However i did do some reading on the subject.The work of Kent Oberheu interested has the feel of a dance set......e.g. 'The Frozen Etude' or  'The Running Dress'. The artistic sense is akin to choreography here. (The link with surrealist art is also clear....a topic dear to McLaren).
I could imagine collaboration between a choreographer and the animator on work  like Meats Meier's 'Mother Nature' .....but I could not really see the point of trying to do 3D myself. Somehow when you already can produce dance it does not feel necessary.

Eric Heller,s images of scientific illustration turned into art woeks suggest to me a landscape within which I could well imagine setting a dance piece.The science of the body does produce some amazing images!!
I also loved the set in 'The Cathedral' by Tomek I would love THAT as a dance set!!

I have seen quite a bit of visualisation of scientific material...this is an area I am also interested in and want to work with sometime in the future. In 2003 I collaborated with research scientists ( Heart cell... function and nerve cell...the origin of movement) to visualise their work through dance and music.
This semester I have had a visit  Ninewells Hospital and Teaching centre to look at the fabulous scanning equipment they have there.I also had a look at some of the imaging ...looking at circulation through the heart ..and feel it is a wonderful area for 3D animators to get involved in.

But that is for another time.
Right now I am only too aware that I have to focus on my project.....
Norman choreographer.

It was however great to see a little of how the process works......and I have watched with awe at the work the rest of the cohort are producing for their going live project.


Last week I made my 4th visit to Stirling to the McLaren archive. There had been a missed communication between Karl McGhee (the archivist)and myself so it was great to catch up again and plan our next steps. We made a few decisions....I am going to be there virtually every week now till the final presentation in the autumn.
I contacted the university dance society in Stirling and met a few dancers who would be keen to get involved with the dance section of my project at Stirling.I also found contact details for the MacRobert Centre Dance Artist.
With Karl I agreed that I will work on the catalogue of Norman's correspondance , and add my personal insights and connections with his work, family etc.Karl is also going to contact Liam , the director of the Mac Robert about a dance response (workshop and performance)to the archive, and some collaboration with the centre for that.
I spent some time in The Pathfoot building among the exhibition of paintings and photos which belong to the archive, but which are on public display. I include some of these.

This photo  (from the Film Board of Canada)  was included in a newspaper
article I have.I remeber it was the first memory I have of being told about my relative from canada who made films. My dad was very proud I think....

(photos - NBC)
I had not seen this one before I saw it in stirling, but I really like this young face of Norman's.
In both there is an unmistakable family resemblance. Great to see him celebrated at Stirling....
I looked from the pathfoot building over to the Wallace Monument which was so much part of my childhood.
It is amazing to think of Norman growing up here too, and I know he wandered this area long before the university was here! I also walked past  Airthrie Castle, now a business centre, but which was a maternity hospital....where in fact I was born! I am not sure exactly where Norman was home maybe?

From here I look across the hills too...where Norman walked. I have always felt (at least since I began to examine my Scottish 'spirit' and inheritance ) that the light around this area of hills is really inspiring and it is not surprising that McLaren also talked about this ( The Creative Process- film by Don McWilliams).
I  use light in my dance works in a subtle way...I wonder if I am always trying to find atmospheric solutions because I grew up in such an atmospheric place? Light is certainly a big part of my life. I have now chosen to live somewhere where light plays in my window daily....and where I can look at coasts with light dancing on the water.

A couple of weeks ago I took these shots in Broughty Ferry when the sun was low in the sky and the wind almost horizontal!!

Norman McLaren used light to great effect when he created his pastel works...C'est L'Aviron and Poulette Grise. I have tried some pastel work, but am not happy yet with the results....tho there is no doubt it is a lovely medium for capturing light effect!!

These  two pictures (above) were taken at Sherrifmuir, near Stirling, and I think convey the dramatic light I often see around the surrounding Ochil Hills. We are now nearing Beltane...and I climbed one of these hills regularily on Mayday when I was younger. I know Norman climbed it often too.   ..Dumyat...near Stirling I should do it again soon!!!

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Next steps

Really excited ...last night I went to look for the old films I knew were I have decided this will be my next try to set up the old projector we inherited and try to look at some old films .....the original way....this will bring back so many memories for me. My dad hired some old Abbott and Costello films one birthday for myself , my twin, and a bunch of friends to come watch ...I remember we went to the Scout Hut and had our own private film show!!!!!  But....up in the attic I also found A CAMERA....and some BLANK guess what I am going to be exploring next!!!!                                         

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

tag tool
this link to Guerrilla gallery.....shows the tag tool in demo.
I joined a demo night up at The Hannah McLure centre recently where I watched a dancer interacting with the projection controlled by the tag tool.

On The Lawn

 When I watched one of the clips of Norman McLaren being interviewed about his life he talked about the making of A chairy tale....The film , made in 1957...explored the notion that a chair has feelings.....and McLaren turns this chair from an inanimate objest to a moving one. (see below)

This clip was very important for me. McLaren showed how he moved the chair.....

.and did a little demo of how he worked on his garden......white clothes, green grass, chair. I have an image of him in my mind dressed like this.
( This has always reminded me of the look of  'The Green Table' ..a ballet which took place over a green baize covered table).

This was also the moment I heard him talk about being a film maker versus a dancer. He recognised that if he had been a dancer he would have moved things/people in a completely different way. I am not sure I agree with him on that! For me he already had many of the prerequisites for choreography!!!
Looking back on the original film now ( A Chairy Tale) I see the potential McLaren would have had as a choreographer. His sense of timing, his spacial awareness in the placing of man and chair, his exploration of the relationship between them both...all are similar to the process of choreography. The design of set and costume and lighting..all very dramatic visually. The image that stayed with me of the elder McLaren sitting on the grass with his white cap on explaining his methods was one I always felt I would include in my work one day......It seemed appropriate to include it as an exploration here!
So I took my son Finn outside at home on a daisy covered lawn... dressed in clothes that remind me of that original image..and used a kitchen chair to try my own animation.
The chair as closely resembled Norman's as I could find ..tho I do not really think it mattered...
Finn had some great ideas for where this could go too. I will ask him to look at music he might make to accompany it....I feel the timing is better in this than my last attempt, but still need to work on this.
I have looked at it afew times ...wondering where it could go next. The chair in my mini exploration takes on a character but so does the cap......the story has only just begun really......It was good to take myself through the process.

Finn questioned the need to wear white, but in end really liked the look. The Green Table ballet had men with black tailcoats, white gloves and green table.....and quite randomly our black cat suddenly decided to join the action...(.and we liked the addition of black to the colour scheme!!!!) So we enticed her into the picture and worked with placing her to follow the action!!  This gives the film another level.......

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Masterclass Richard Layzell

Last week I joined a fabulous masterclass with Richard Layzell on Performance Art. It was a really mixed group of students from Philosophy, Art, Media Art, Time Based Art,Fine Art and me from Animation and Visualisation masters. We started out with a mix of warm ups which I enjoyed and which were good as starting points for those new to performance, and also for me to remind myself of where I come from! Richard was good at choosing warm up material for such amixed group. It was a pretty hectic week for me so I spent some time deciding whether it was relevant to me at all, but was assured by Pernilla and Mel that it would be a great experience for me. They were right!
As a dancer/ choreographer I have spent many hours putting together performance, but performance art is something I had not fully engaged with, except for a day as a  clown at the launch of a Dundee exhibtion many years ago!! I know I needed to think about a different approach for my Masters project so this was a great way to begin.
What struck me first was Richard's presence. He is very gentle gentleman! He has a wealth of experience which he only touched on in day 3. And he has an air of timelessness...he could be from the 20s 40s rather than present day. One of the films he showed on our final day reminded me of one of the actors Norman McLaren used for Neighbours. It also turned out Richard and I know many of the same people around dance and theatre.
Quite quickly on day one he had us all doing a short sketch about our surroundings. I was amazed at the speed with which Richard facilitated this with non performers- a tribute to his ability as a workshop leader and his individual qualities. I was also really impressed with the fantastic ideas generated by the group.....and so was Richard!! We commented on it later.
Day 2 saw us all out in public making a filmed performance piece. I had decide I would dance...tho the task was risk taking so I had to find a risky setting...I ended up inside and outside the overgate shopping centre and sang as well as danced. In some ways the risks I perceived did not actually exist in the end. A bit like the adrenaline rush before a show.I am used to putting myself into another 'head space' when I perform and I am able to shut out the outside world..but also to interact at the same time. In fact my dance piece became really interesting when an old man stopped to stare then started asking me if I was doing this for we somehow have permission to do MAD things in public if it is for a good cause?? interesting debate to be had here!!!So I had to both stay 'in the zone' and interact with this guy....
In terms of my own project, McLaren would have been intensely shy about performing, but at the same time I believe, able to be in that zone too. It felt like a very McLaren thing to do somehow....I can't explain why yet but think it will become clear.When the group saw back my film they could not believe what I had done.
It has always amazed me how different personal comfort zones can be and what people find to be 'scary'!
On day 3 we worked indoors to create a third piece based on all our work in the previous two days.
My idea was based around my dance piece...which involved a symbolic throwing off of clothing items....trying to free myself...The group I worked with helped develop this into something the whole 12  or so of us could do as a performance.
I also had wondered what would happen if we all turned to look at the audience and turned them into the show. So we combined these two ideas......and that ran well into the next group's piece.
All in all it was a brilliant experience and as I reflect on it I know it will find a way into my final work net year!