Posts:Ian Mackinnon at 18:01, February 25th, 2009
This is Will, logging in as Ian, after a long hiatus.
I have been working on my site, and would welcome your visit.
thanks very much for your kind attention.
Will Bishop Stephens
billy no mates
billy the kid
the third best animator in britian (2006)
Our graduation show will be open at the Royal College of Art between 23 June and 2 July, from 12pm to 9pm each day.
Animation promises to be the fastest moving, most flickery medium on display and can be found underground in the lower gallery. Just ask a steward where the good stuff is.
And fries, obviously.
I’ve just been to Gandhi’s house. He wasn’t in. As I was walking down the path that leads past the house to a prayer garden, a young Gujurati man waved at me and said, “Hello, handsome.” Had ol’ Gandhiji been around he would probably have had to hunger-strike for a fortnight in protest of such a carnal outburst on his own grounds. I adopted a stern disapproving face and kept walking, but I did feel partly responsible. I suppose when you’ve got it, you’ve got it.
Anyway, this bald beloinclothed man said some wise things, such as:
Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you have seen and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and yourself melting away.”
This evening I braved the streets and managed, with the help of two generous students, to accomplish one of my Indian shopping goals: tailored suit. We pulled up outside this plush looking glass building on a supremely dusty street. The sign read “Raymond’s Seconds”, which seems a bizarre for a bespoke tailor. Inside, I was lead upstairs to a vast room of wall-to-wall fabric shelves and mirrors. The guy behind the counter starts billowing cloth at me across a vast table, while another guy clips a fake shirt front around my neck, and from behind a little waiter guy appears with a selection of chilled drinks on a tray. Sweet.
After paying, I was gliding out the shop with fairly strong post-purchase euphoria, amid six or seven well-wishing assistants, when I swear, on solemn oath, that one of them said “come again”. It’s just about conceivable that it was a postmodern-Umberto-Eco-have-your-cake-and-eat-it “come again”, but I am choosing to believe not.
Tailoring was amazingly inexpensive, but I ended up spending a small fortune on cloth. I felt a little guilty until I started calculating what the cost would have been in London, and realised that I had made an obscene saving. I can’t work out whether I’m screwing this developing economy over, or doing it a favour, but whichever it is I shall look rather smart doing it.
I began teaching today. My students turned up at 2pm and require regular tea breaks, so this is probably the most comfortable job I ever had.
So I’m planning to spend a little recreation time while I’m here. “What shall I do? Ah! The internet. The internet will know!”, I thought (utilising the popular philosophical acronym, WWTID?). Imagine my surprise as I discovered that most tourist attractions, shops and services in an Indian old town do not have websites. Where do people get this sort of information from around here? The mouths of friends? Walking around and looking at things? Where!?.
I was about to abandon my bourgeoise western ways and try out one of these crazy suggestions, when I discovered reassuring proof that I should not leave the safety of computer screen (where I risk, at worst, exposure to pictures of naked people or accidentally joining a terrrrist cell). A final brief Google search (”Ahmedabad tailor”) to find a starting point for my street wandering reveals the following sage shopping advice:
…Last night, Abdul Razak, 60, a tailor in Ahmedabad, limped in to the musafirkhana. His legs suffered acid burns during a mob attack on the slum where he …
…A 35-year-old man, reportedly a tailor, was found with his throat slit near the …
I mean, I don’t really need step out into this beautiful and exotic city I travelled eight-thousand miles to visit. What I need is not to be limping into a hotel with acid burns. I need to stay away from tailors. Those guys are bad news.
Perhaps I can build a protective army of tea-saturated students. But I have go into town to buy my Authority-Beard! What a bind!
Despite the efforts of the local auto-rickshaw drivers I have arrived in NID unhurt. There was some incredible scenery during the journey, including crazy buildings, enormous rivers, giant wildlife, and three old men riding a rickety vehicle of their own construction the wrong way along the adjacent railway tracks.
Most of my students are away at a film festival in Mumbai until Tuesday, so I have three days to cobble together some sort of syllabus. My plan is to as much cobbling as possible today, and then hang out in the gardens, among the peacocks and monkeys, with a real book and an imaginary gin & tonic.
I met the first of my students last night. He grinned at me welcomingly and said, “I was expecting some big professor”. Tomorrow I am going to the market to buy a false beard with which I shall assert some authority. Local beards are quite impressive, so it will have to be a very big one.
One of the cinematographers I may be working with recommended I hire one of these gizmos. It allows you to use 35mm film lenses on a Sony HDV camera, so you get film-look focus, depth of field, and film-quality images. I’m too scared to find out how much it costs.
Rumours that Disney may buy Pixar prompted poor metaphors in the Independent today. Who would have thought a cartoon factory might be worth $7,000,000,000? Animation is so hot right now.
I have begun learning Hindi. It is a lot like being on the phone to someone a bit boring and squiggling about aimlessly with a biro on a notepad.
So far, my book has taught me to give a false identity and lie about the size of my house. What deception these clever squiggles can harbour!
In two weeks I will travel to India to teach young, gifted traditional animators how to weild 3D animation software, so they can usurp me when the international job market is a fairer place. I’m not exactly sure what I’ll be teaching, as I haven’t been told what resources the school has. However, at the very worst-case scenario I shall just teach them hard maths, which is what computer animation looks like without the computer.
I thought my adventure was to begin on the 2nd of February, but in fact it began early, yesterday afternoon at work:
|Colleague:||So have you had all your shots?|
|Me:||Er, no. I didn’t think any were compulsory for India.|
|Colleague:||Well, they’re not compulsory for entry, but they are sort of compulsory for continuing living. You’d better go to a private clinic tomorrow morning. Else you’re gonna die.|
Wednesday morning, in the plush British Airways Travel Clinic in Piccadilly:
|Doctor:||All your immunisation has expired. I’d better give you blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Else you’re gonna die.|
|Me:||OK. Will it hurt?|
|Doctor:||Most people go sort of, “GnNgaarrAarchgh!”.|
Sound of puncturing flesh
|Me:||That didn’t hurt at all.|
|Doctor:||That’ll be £116, please.|
Sound of puncturing wallet
Lesson learned: Airlines should not own hospitals. Or something. My arm hurts. They tell me to drink lots of water, which requires my arm, then they make my arm hurt. Very funny. Thanks a bunch.
Some of our films were screened at the National Film Theatre this morning as part of the Eat Our Shorts festival. It was good.
I would have posted this information while the screening was still part of the future, but since this is the first ever ‘news’ posting I thought it safest to ease in with an event in the recent past.
Hold on to your pants! The next one’s gonna be early!
The site now supports image uploading. I can’t take credit for this as I copied the code from someone else and haven’t even read it yet. It does work though. See this spiffy photo of my window at 07.00 this morning and wonder at the age of technological miracles.
Recently I’ve been thinking I should leave the house more often. This afternoon I got cabin fever and had a good script-writing-frustration stomp around my room. I ended up slumping in the armchair that I never usually sit in, which turned out to be very useful.
Right now I’m in the process of banging out the animatic. Animatics are super-simplified cuts with a few still images representing each scene, so they looks kinda like La Jetée, or any Hungarian movie. My animatic looks boring, and I couldn’t figure out why until I sat in that chair. Then it occurred to me that I’d planned to shoot about half the film from the seat that I sit in to write the script. I now realise that the house is not my problem: I need to leave the sofa more often.
In other news, Wikipedia, that most reliable source of half-truths, claims that structuralism is “violent” and can be identified with the “excesses of colonialism, racism, misogyny, homophobia”. Yeah! My film’s gonna have something for everyone!
Actors wanted: Obsessive-compulsive male and angry-beautiful female required for part-animated structuralist romantic
comedy tragedy. Can pay expenses only. Must supply own lighting rig.
So I finished the script. There’s now a plot. It even made sense to three out of four people that read it. On Saturday I showed my script to an actual, living actor. She suggested I bypass lurking outside acting colleges and personally approach professional actors that I admire. This was a very encouraging complement, but it brought to my attention two rather unnerving thoughts: One, I’m nearing the point of having collaborators, who are most likely far more experienced than I am, and I’m going to have to tell them, “Yes, this is the film I’d like you to help me make”, and, “no, those are all the pages.”; two, I don’t watch enough TV to know of any small-screen actors I’d like to work with. However, I am very familiar with the big-screen. I made a shortlist last night and I’ve decided I’m going to offer every role in the story to Dustin Hoffman, including all extras, props and sets (interior and exterior). Nothing makes a convincing coffee table like pure Stanislavskian Method.
Oh! Scriptwriting is so hard. My fixed-width font turned out to be nothing but a
FRAGILE CRUTCH. Only two meagre pages of tap-tap-tapping revealed that I need to
GET MY STORY STRAIGHT. Now where is my
I am about to begin writing the SCREENPLAY for my main graduation film, ADJUSTMENT. Script writing is easy; all you have to do is select a FIXED-WIDTH SERIF FONT and start typing all important nouns in capital letters. It'll be a breeze. I'm going to begin straight away. Right after publishing THIS MESSAGE, it's the next thing I'll do. Well, after LUNCH, but directly after LUNCH. Preparations this morning included installing and configuring SCRIPT-WRITING MACROS for my WORD PROCESSOR and making the forty-minute round trip to UNIVERSITY in order to be first to sign up for script surgery tutorials on the EIGHTH OF NOVEMBER. See? I have ENTHUSIASM and a DEADLINE. I am practically professional.
I received a mysterious package in the post yesterday. Smelling the unmistakable musk of foreign promise, I tore into it and discovered a CD from The Diskettes, a three piece bossa nova/doo-wap band from across the pond. I saw them back in May when they played a couple of gigs in Shoreditch and, being a sucker for close harmonies and lo-fi production, I was instantly hooked, and had to go and pester them about making a video for one of their songs. Now it’s all systems go!
The song they’ve suggested I work on is called Do What You Need To Do and is a slow, melancholy bossa nova reverie. At first it doesn’t sound like an obvious choice for an animated video, but thirty seconds in it bursts into a mad percussion frenzy that positively begs for some chopped up frame-by-frame accompaniment.
I’m keen to use this project to try out some mechanical animation devices before I start using them in my two other graduation films, so I started looking around for a suitable contraption that I can hijack to play my frames. Yesterday afternoon I found one: A casino card shuffler. My thinking is that if I have no control over which order my frames occur, I don’t have to think about editing any more. Apparently it can shuffle six decks in just five seconds. I’ll soon dampen its enthusiasm though; I’m going to cripple the little blighter somehow until it’s PAL-compliant.
The structure of the song is repeated twice, and the lyrics are fairly open to interpretation, so my plan is to tell two versions of a story, one posititive and one negative, using the same frames. First I’ll tell the happy version by shooting the frames in the right order, then I’ll use the card shuffler to mangle them up into a heart-wrenching tragic version where everything happens out of sequence.
Proposal deadline day! Time to add a little flesh to the fragile frame of my initial ideas…
Film 1 – Adjustment:
It is Sokurov’s Russian Ark crossed with a Sesame Street trip to a frankfurter factory. It is one quarter of Mike Figgis’s Timecode meets that bit in Baraka where they burn the beaks off hundreds of battery chickens.
We follow our live-action protagonist on a short, everyday trip through many different locations in one unedited handycam shot. As their journey progresses they relate a story, perhaps to a friend who walks with them, perhaps over a telephone call, perhaps something else. The tale involves a very close friend of theirs, who has done something terrible, and our narrator is now mulling over whether they should try to forgive the perpetrator, or permanently severe all ties with them.
As the film unravels, various common objects in the periphery of the frame occasionally spring into motion, unseen by the protagonist. Their movements are initially inconsequential, but soon they become a platform for short, crude animations by using the techniques of early mechanical animation devices; a hanging item of jewellery becomes a thaumatrope; a rolodex becomes a mutoscope (a revolving flipbook); out in the street a speeding car’s hubcap becomes a praxinoscope. As these cartoons get more sophisticated, it becomes apparent that they have been carefully placed by the subject of the protagonist’s tale as a way to tell their side of the story and save the friendship.
The underlying themes of the piece are the awkwardness of human communication, even between close friends, and the pressures of a modern, mechanised society. Towards the end of the film, the unseen friend’s contraptions become impossibly large, complex and prescient, adding a surreal element to the film and suggesting that the root cause of the friends’ altercation is the effect of metropolitan alienation taken to a fantastic extreme.
Film 2 – Destra e Sinistra
The frame shows two clenched fists, side by side, knuckles down on a wooden top. The hands open; the right hand draws a simple cartoon character on the left hand palm, and vice versa. The hands snap closed and open again and the palms are magically blanked for the characters to be drawn once more. This process continues, constantly speeding up until the characters are moving at 25 frames per second and the movements of the hands are a frenetic blur. With the open palms as a canvas a conventional cartoon story unfolds.
The story will be in the style of a dark and hoary folk tale, heavy with metaphor, stereotype and ethical zeal. It involves two siblings, one restricted to the right hand and the other to the left and respectively representing absolute moral right and wrong.
The narration will be earnest and intimate, being spoken by the owner of the hands. All sound effects and music will be made by the hands’ actions (the wooden tabletop will turn out to be the lid of a piano), and the story will also feature a selection of appropriate props that will be brought into shot by one or other of the hands. The movements of the hands will be continuous as if filmed in one sitting, though the film will be aggressively edited to create an uncomfortable feverish atmosphere.
This is the historic first post of my graduation film production diary. When historians of the future finally e-unearth it they will point their slender cyber-fingers and exclaim excitedly, “Here! Here is where it all started to go wrong.” And then they will say, “Oooh, look! There’s a bit about us.”
So. The state of play: New year. New folks. New desks. No film!
Today my colleagues and I were joyously reunited after the summer holidays. To my cruel delight, I find that several of them are as clueless as I am about what to spend their time doing this year. In two days’ time we’re to submit a proposal for our magnum opus graduation film, which must be brilliant, original, uplifting, funny, innovative, tragic and informative, and may not include either monkeys or large-chested warrior women with robotic guns for arms. Unfortunately, this last caveat doubly ruled out my best idea so far.
I’ve been mulling over two separate concepts this summer in the brief periods between work and sleep. Briefly they are:
1) A one-shot live action journey featuring mechanical animation contraptions. A live-action character tells a story on camera whilst in the background, unseen by the protagonist, various whirring gizmos try to communicate an alternative reading of the tale.
2) A cartoon film drawn in biro entirely on parts of my own body. Don’t make that face, I’ll only draw on the nice bits.
Tomorrow I’ll begin to sculpt (read: cobble) these ideas into more solid treatments, and post again with clear, precise and unfilmable proposals.
In other news, following the unimaginable joy of producing our two previous films for MTV, Meg has suggested that we attempt to make them into a trilogy. I explained to her that this involved producing another film, though this did little to quash her infections optimism. Will it happen? Will it be a hellish anim-nightmare of sleep deprivation and junk food? Only the silver-foil-clad historians of the future have the answer.
This post is a repository for bad pun-based TV show ideas. With luck, some cretin from Channel 5 will offer me an obnoxious sum of money to produce one of them, allowing me to indulge once more in my true vocation, which I call “Ten-Ming-Vase Bowling”.
Please add shows of your own invention as comments below. Bonus points will be awarded for theming your idea around some social taboo, provided it’s not so ridiculous that it ceases to be offensive.
Of course, none of this would have been possible without the trailblazing work of some of Britain’s finest: Lee & Herring, who unashamedly milked such gems as Bent Coppers and On the Rag; Charlie Brooker, who, in giving an example of what not to submit to TV Go Home, gave us the exquisite Changing Wombs; and most importantly, Geoff Atkinson, for the greatest TV pun ever conceived, let alone realised.
A convivial welcome to the revived Animocity website.
Consider this an abstract, digital, parallel space to the scruffy animation studio on the fourth floor of the Royal College of Art Darwin Building. Please make yourself as comfortable as you can on one of the office chairs with lumbar-region defects of varying severity. Take some tea, a coffee. Help yourself to some of Tim’s milk; it was still fluid last time we checked.
Here you are in the company of comrades, collaborators, confidantes. So come on in. Embrace your new home. Just don’t use my mug.
Here are two films that Meg and I made for MTV this summer. They were begun in June in a cloud of infectious naïveté, and finished in August on a tube train between Embankment and Westminster.
Will kindly came on board for Canaries, delivering his début acting role. I do not exaggerate when I say that it is his most moving performance to date. We shot ninety percent of the film in one continuous, relentless 20-hour camera marathon, stole a few hours sleep, and then canned the remaining shots in another 4 hours.
The technique required holding one’s pose for hours on end while your stick-on facial features were roughly tampered with by a colleague. After some practice we developed such expertise at this task that it was possible to grab forty winks between frames without moving a muscle. Covent Garden beckons.
Winner of several international awards, including Least Continuity and Most Visible Passers By, Copy premiered at the RCA ArtBar in Summer 2005. Based on an original concept by Julie Aveline (Nominated: Worst Walk Cycle in a European Picture) and directed by Ian Mackinnon (Winner: Least Artistic Integrity 2002, 2004), it was commissioned to accompany the launch of a magazine by RCA History of Design students.
Direction/Animation: Ian Mackinnon
Concept/Animation: Julie Aveline
Assistance: Sarah & Miguel
A series of time-lapse animations based on interviews with children about their identities. The animator and animation process are exposed to the camera along with each pixilated protagonist, a mark of the film-maker’s interpretation of the interviewees’ personalities, and a stamp of his own identity upon the films.
All films were made in one take and took between two and four hours each.
This is my favourite animation of all the films I’ve worked on. As part of a technical project involving lip-synch, André Ruivo and I made this experimental piece of time-lapse character animation that went on to inspire most of my animation work for the next six months.
The two protagonists discuss how difficult it is being an artist while André and I buzz around them, furiously animating their faces. It took four hours of continuous drawing and erasing to make the film and we were awarded a fine collection of blisters each for our troubles.
Before starting the animation MA at the Royal College of Art, I had a few final spasms of computer animation to shake out of my system; klak was one of them. It was made in four weeks, little by little each night between gettting home from work and falling asleep at the keyboard. I’d like to believe that it would very different and much better if I’d done it in the daytime, but I can’t be entirely sure.
The protagonist’s body is a 3D CGI rig, but his head is a complex system of 2D lines that deform based on the position of the camera and several user controls to give the illusion of a solid object.
Running time: 01:56
This is my Batchelor’s Degree graduation film, produced at the National Center for Computer Animation at Bournemouth University.
It was intended as a platform to explore and combine some of the conventions of 2D and 3D animation. It attempts to challenge the audience to question the tangibility of the characters and their environment. Each element is designed to appear at once three dimensional and flat. It is also an experiment in using abstract spaces to facilitate elements of a narrative.
The look of the film was intended to emulate a style of 1920’s french illustration that used cut-out coloured paper and bold, thick brush stroke edges.
Animation, Software and Music: Ian Mackinnon
Handwriting: Kristin Ross
This film was an excercise in blending hand-drawn cel animation with stylised vector-rendered CGI. Alex Kanaris Sotiriou provided the hand-drawn elements and I wrote a bespoke computer program to render the scribbly CGI. Character animation, cinematography and editing were shared between us and the music was provided by Supra.
Running time: 02:34
Animation: Alex Kanaris-Sotiriou & Ian Mackinnon
Rendering software: Ian Mackinnon
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