HSS8123; Second Drafts

There’s no such thing as a final first draft. In just a few days and a handful of experiments, my ideas and projected course have changed quite substantially. This was to accommodate what I feel are is a better, more fun and enjoyable script while also smoothing out technical hurdles that could pose a serious threat to my time schedule and/or sanity.

These hurdles came in two flavours. The first was deformation, the second in keeping the damn models upright. As I quickly learned after opening up my packs of clay and throwing together some very quick, crude experimental models, dear old Plasticine isn’t quite sticky enough on its own to hold up even a small model, and is extremely difficult to keep any sort of consistency while making movements and actually animating. Legs grow stubby as they’re pushed down onto whatever surface you’re using, arms grow twisted and deformed, etc.

Mr. Prototype mk.I becoming Mr. Prototype mk.II after having a skeleton transplanted into him.

My first plan was to build on the 3D printing aspect of the project and build the characters, even those meant to be fully human and “fleshy” a skeleton I could wrap the clay around. The idea being that this would help keep consistency while also perhaps creating a better centre of gravity. It helped slightly with the former, not so much with the latter.

Luckily, professional help was right around the corner and I managed to finally get my hands on a copy of Stop Motion by Susannah Shaw. An excellent book going over all the basics and giving hints and advice for beginners. Browsing through it was an informative experience, even if not all the sections or techniques were relevant.  Surprise, surprise, the very two hurdles I encountered in my first few experiments were specific issues that needed addressed by all stop-motion animators. What I had tried to do with the skeleton is referred to as an armature, and is what actually allows a model to be flexible and thus animated.

As to keeping things upright, the usual solution would be to either use magnets and a steel “foundation” as part of the set, or to include bolts in the model’s feet which could be secured in holes drilled in the floor of the set; these holes would then be filled in once the model’s foot has passed over it to the next.

The magnet solution is both very costly and would be somewhat unwieldy in the space I have, as well as total overkill. The “tiedown” method, meanwhile, is a lot more technically advanced and far more time consuming; I do not have ample access to either resource. The subsequent workaround, which I am quite proud of, is to instead 3D print one character a wheelchair, and to change the other from a cyborg into a cyborg dog, the lower, wider frame hopefully providing much greater balance and stability.

These changes also demand a rewrite of the initial script, which on reflection is a good thing. I am prone of falling into a dangerous trap of trying to make things overly melancholy. More often than not it just comes off as pretentious, boring, and not all that interesting. I intend to wipe away all the waxing and wailing of what makes us human in an overly cryptic and annoying manner. Instead of an old, lonely scientist creating a humanoid companion ala Frankenstein, the new draft will be of an old, lonely scientist creating a simple pet, in a far more simple and wholesome tone.

HSS8123; First Steps/Research

For many months the question of “what to do for the final project?” loomed like an amorphous, indecisive cloud. For the first few months of the course the vague answer was to be some kind of video game, but as time went on I became far less confident with the avenue. I did not feel my coding skills were refined or tempered enough to really make anything of it without the use of pre-made tools such as RPGMaker and the like. Further to that no real concrete idea emerged as to what shape, genre, style, etc this non-descript game would take.

With my continued studies in Screenwriting, however, came an increased interest in film, and I began to side more with it as the clock ticked onward. Two questions remained: how I would make such a thing, and what would the actual film be about? Although I did dabble very, very briefly in digital animation, it was clear that, much like coding, I would probably need at least another year and a proper dedicated course of it to be able to pull off something worthwhile. Or rather, and more importantly, something I’d be happy with.

Stop-motion animation, though something I am still inexperienced in, looked a better street to take, having a slightly less intense skill floor and an equally extreme skill ceiling. This allowed me to continue playing around my primary passion of writing, in producing a script, but also a new found interest in 3D-modelling and printing. With 3D printing, the visual possibilities of any stop-motion project are vastly expanded.

I still, however, required a story and central theme. This began as something vaguely sci-fi. Inspiration came from the likes of Fallout, Deus Ex, and even Overwatch to an extent to focus on a theme of prosthetic (and possibly robotics) technology and their implications. This, I felt, could be wonderfully represented using a mixture of traditional clay/putty models and figures combined with 3D printed parts to represent artificial prosthetics, augmentations, and replacements. I didn’t have a story, but I did have something to work with.

Only, the thematic brainstorming didn’t end there. While casually researching the medium, it occurred to me that the use of clay in modelling holds a rather dignified spot in several creation myths, being used to mold mankind or other legendary creatures such as the golem. When combined with the use of 3D modelling to represent the “artificial” and “unnatural” state of man, it seemed particularly appropriate. Specifically, my research is focused on myths of Mesopotamia and such figures as the god Enki (or Marduk, depending on the specific version) and their involvement in the slaying of other gods and subsequent creating of man.

Eventually a story and script began to form, one brief enough to be doable while still having (hopefully, at least) a strong thematic base that would give me plenty to talk when it comes time to write the dreaded dissertation and all its academic necessities and formalities. A sort of retelling of these sort of creation myths, with an added sci-fi flair and perhaps one or two pieces of Frankenstein thrown in for good measure.

A script obviously isn’t enough, however. For stop-motion, a set and models would be required, and I have been gathering supplies for it:

A terrain mat, clay, and foamboard to be used for the set

 

Extra set pieces, such as shrubs and barbed wire. Usually used in model train sets

WTFU (a transformative work)

Radio Assemblage 170520

The image above shows the starting stages of an improvised radio assemblage, which was made as part of an ICMuS event in Culture Lab on the evening of 20th May 2017. Four portable radios with transmission equipment and speakers were hung down the middle of a three-storey stair well. The Assemblage was created as a performative improvisation. Over a period of five hours the work was developed to include two additional larger radios; improvised LED lighting; two wooden plinths; malleable magnetic elements; and printed material in the form of vintage radio books. Content drawn from the CLRadio online loop was broadcast as a randomized sequence. The work was well received and viewers were encouraged to participate in the making of the work.

Other images may be viewed by following this link.

Creative Uncertainty and Door to Door Poetry

With the degree show looming, everyone’s under increasing pressure to identify their practice and put together an impressive project. This has been making me increasingly uneasy, because not only do I have to draw together a fairly scatterbrained range of interests, but I’m also struggling to figure out what I’m going to do for a job once I graduate, and how my practice is going to fit into that – will I just be doing something unrelated with arts on the side, or will it be a central part of my career? And if so, how do I make my degree show project contribute towards that?

For the time being, I don’t have much of an answer. The most likely options seem to be:
1) making small games and commercially publishing them (however little for) in order to try to get a narrative design job
2) pushing the workshops/public engagement side of poetry (more on that in a minute) to work towards a public sector arts facilitation job (with Seven Stories, New Writing North, somewhere like that)
3) doing copywriting/content writing to make some freelancing money on the side, potentially feeding into more stable work in the future

The upshot of all this is that I’m being pulled in a lot of directions at the same time.  I certainly can’t carry on just picking and choosing whatever seems the most fun and manageable at any given moment, but having failed to really get anywhere on the above fronts has drained me of a lot of my enthusiasm, making it hard to get invested in any new projects.

So! No use being hard on myself. To counter all that moping, I figured I’d focus on examples of things that have been going well or have captured my interest for the next few blog posts, and see where that gets me. Case in point: cool poetry things.

I’ve been going into a local school and doing supervised afterschool writing groups, which has been fun and well-received. That’s what I’m up to tonight, in fact, so expect a post going into more detail on that front soon. Its been great, and as a way of helping people engage with creativity I think its very rewarding (for me and the pupils), and this reminded me of the practice of another poet – Rowan McCabe, the Door-to-Door Poet.

He’s a very talented poet (see video), which I why I was so excited to have him on-board for the Seven Stories/Late Shows event, but it’s the way he reaches his audience and engages with them that is really interesting. It’s in the name – he goes from door to door, knocking on people’s doors and asking to write them a poem. He finds his topics by talking to people and asking them about their interests/what’s important to them, and he does it for free (although he recently received some Arts Council funding to support his endeavours).

So far he’s done this in four  suburbs in the North East from Stockton to Darras Hall (which is close my neighborhood, out on the edge of nowhere). I really admire this work for what it does to bring poetry alive for people and save it from the stigma of being an art form owned by posh/dead people. The results are generally light-hearted or funny pieces which strike a really nice balance between parodying and celebrating the lives of the people he runs into (although he’s done some more involved pieces as well). I think this is partly because this is an easy and fun kind of poetry to engage with – certainly its a style I try to reach in a lot of my writing as well.

This isn’t something I’m about to go out and try to copy, but it has given me a lot to mull over in terms of making writing as a practice accessible and relevant to its audience. Its definitely an audience-first kind of practice. Food for thought.

 

SUNK

Well, the second screenplay idea didn’t work out. I should have known better than to try to scrape by with a colour-by-numbers idea I wasn’t really invested in, but I was fairly disillusioned with the course at the time.

I ended up going back to my original idea – the surreal animation about the drowned man journeying towards the afterlife. I called it SUNK, because I felt it captured the essence of the idea without tipping it too much further into complicated pretentiousness. I was fairly happy with it in the end.

It’s probably a right mess according the criteria we were given for what makes a good screenplay, so I’m not expecting a good mark. I do feel sorry for people who mark screenplays – not only do they have to deal with all the subjective merits that the creative writing tutors do, but they don’t even have the finished film but rather a prototype for a film that might end up being good or crap independently or the quality of the screenplay. But I’m creatively satisfied, at least.

Anyway, I realise that I’ve been banging on about this module with no actual examples of what I’ve been working on, so I’ll add some below. Take this image as an idea for the visual aesthetic and tone I was going for:

(damn, I wish I’d found this image before, I would have put it in my reflective report)BLACK SCREEN

FADE IN:

SCENE 1: EXT. SEAFLOOR – NIGHT

Far away, a body floats some thirty feet above the seafloor. Anchored by a long chain, it forms a crucifixion-like silhouette against the vibrant blue.

Moving closer, SHAW comes into detail: early thirties with a castaway beard, average build, wrapped in chains and unmistakably dead.

Intimately close, the only movement is the stirring of his hair in the water and a crab crawling across his waxy cheek.

SHAW raises his head, and opens his eyes.

He looks around. His eyes widen, and he begins to thrash wildly, accompanied by a note of rising panic.

TITLE CARD: SUNK

SCENE 2: EXT. SEAFLOOR – NIGHT

SHAW sits on a rock, staring at his mottled, dead hands. His eyes are wide and shaking, and he does not blink.

Behind him is the anchor embedded in the sand, joined to him by a chain wrapped many times around his body.

Far away but approaching break-neck fast, a scrap of purple fabric is buffeted closer on the current.

It strikes SHAW, wrapping around his face. He stands and grabs it, holding it draped across his hands.

It is a faded scarf, embroidered with pale blue flowers and the faint words ‘forget me not’.

MATCH CUT

SCENE 3: INT. BEDROOM – NIGHT, FLASHBACK

SHAW stands in sailor’s clothes. He is shaven, healthy and alive, holding the same scarf, only new.

He looks up and smiles, with easy affection.

Standing opposite is LORNA, dark-haired and modestly pretty, smiling expectantly.

The surrounding room gives a snapshot of their life: a small bed, a threadbare rug, a rocking chair, a table with a lantern and a DOG curled next to a fireplace, all packed into one small room.

They embrace.

***

SCENE 10: EXT. GATE – NIGHT

Cresting the brow of a slope, SHAW comes to a wide vista.

A procession of drowned men and women follows a winding path along the seafloor, towards a gate and fence hewn from coral.

Where the line reaches the gate, a SEA DEVIL wielding a long trident sits atop a ship’s crow’s nest buried in the sand.

Closer in, the SEA DEVIL’s bottom half is that of an octopus and its top half humanoid but with a crab-like carapace.

It obstructs the DROWNED MAN at the front of the line with its trident and inspects him, menacing but impassive, before allowing him through the gate.

SHAW watches this process repeat from behind a rock, and then steps out and approaches.

To the side, he spots something – the scarf snagged on a piece of coral.

He picks it up, puts it on, and joins the back of the line.

***

SCENE 13 EXT. ABYSS – NIGHT

SHAW lies motionless on barren seafloor, the anchor a short distance away and the lantern lying further off, its glow fainter now.

SHAW stirs.

Blurry, the lantern comes into focus and SHAW stumbles toward it.

SHAW’s boot comes down next to a half-buried shell, setting off eddies of sand that swirl around it.

The shell un-buries itself, revealing itself as a HERMIT CRAB, which scuttles after SHAW.

SHAW reaches the lantern and picks it up.

Straitening up, he is startled as the lantern reveals a gruesome angler fish, uncomfortably close with nightmare jaws stretched wide.

SHAW holds the anchor as if about to swing at the angler, when a pebble strikes it in the eye. It darts away.

SHAW turns to see the HERMIT CRAB next to a small pile of pebbles, bouncing another in its tiny claw.

SHAW smiles weakly, before the scything beam of the lighthouse sweeps overhead like a searchlight.

SHAW turns, gives a whole-body sigh, and pauses.

He begins pursuit, hefting the anchor onto his shoulder once more.

As SHAW walks, the DOG is momentarily walking beside him in place of the HERMIT CRAB.

HSS8121: Enterprise and research Methods

In-depth research for me used to be strenuous. The main reason was due to the difficulty I found in structuring them. In an age where information is so abundant it can be quite easy to get carried away and get lost online.

Over the last year, the influence of artists and musicians I have befriended in my creativity and my creative process, has led me to research my topic of interests more. This course and module has  taught me the true value of in-depth research and how much it can affect your passions, your work and even your attitude.

Using walking as a medium to conduct research truly resonates with me. My first impression of a city when first arriving, is of its historical monuments, popular spots and landscapes. The city, comes to life with the traffic of people and vehicles, loud in the more open streets and avenues but quiet in the backstreets and parks. The people movements gives the city a pulse, a lifestream and discovering new environments in it is a passion. Each has its own atmosphere of smells, sounds and colour. Each have a unique identity. 

Henri Lefebvre’s concept of the streets as a place of rhythms and interactions, perfectly illustrate the way I like to experience urban environments. During the act of walking and consciously listening to its environment, the listener might be surprised and even delighted during his exploration. The sound of the crowds footsteps reverberating on the buildings facades or the sound of pigeons wings echoing in an old church. These are some of the things that we take for granted but form parts of the urban musical composition.

For the research proposal I wanted to propose a research that would fit my interests and motivate me to experiment and explore new ideas and concepts discovered in this module. The research was influenced and inspired by idea surrounding history, exploration of space by walking and field recording and workshops.

After looking into the history of Newcastle, I was fascinated by its long and rich history. From the Romans, to the Saxons and the Danes, the city has had many people control it. Some of the vestiges of the past left throughout the northeast are proof of their being here. Every time I visit such a place with a powerful history I always wish there were sounds of the area from its past to truly immerse yourself in the environment of the time. Arguably video and sound could be more appropriate but I enjoy the meditative and soothing exercise of just listening.

Tim Shaw’s sound walk around the city offered insight into the practices and application of walking as a research method. The practice of appreciating details, truly, and how this shapes our experiences with the environment we live in were the main things I took away from that day. Field recording had been in the back of my mind for sometime but with no real idea or concept of what to do with it. Looking more into it, I discovered composer R. Murray Schafer and his influence on the soundwalk movement along with Hildegard Westerkamp with her soft calm narrative tone in Kits Bits Beach.

The Jupiter recording with Serena Korda was truly eye opening to a new recording practice. I truly appreciated the dedication she had put into developing her work especially in regards to recording Jupiter. I particularly enjoyed the collaborative work of setting up the antennas and recording equipment in the middle of University grounds. Recording Jupiter is an experience I am sure to remember and hopefully reproduce soon again. The soundscape created on that day was truly dark and electrifying.

My first attempt at

Inspired by

 

HSS8121 – Research Proposal – Inspired Artworks

At this early stage thoughts of the end product are vague but I am hoping to produce a mash up of different media including video performance, manipulated photography and sound and web. So far I have been inspired by these artworks –

Paolo Cirio – Street Ghosts

Work which re-contextualizes readymade information material and re-enacts a social conflict as photographs of figures caught on Google Street View cameras are blown up to life size and pasted on walls in the exact location the image was taken. Signifying the lack of control over public data, presence on the Internet and the trail of information that remains that can find itself seeping into the physical.

Gazelle Twin – Kingdom Come

Looks at the tribalism of consumer culture and the violence that it provokes by using a mixture of appropriated surveillance camera footage of Black Friday sales mixed with images of the London Riots lootings in an audio/visual live performance.

Limmy – Who’s That Girl

Satirical vlog as a reflection of the ‘ask the internet’ blog/diary culture of assuming the Internet as friend and confidant.

Omer Fast – CNN Concatentated 

Making use of video archive footage of CNN news broadcasts which have been dissected and reassembled to construct a seemingly personal and emotive narrative delivered one word at a time from several news reporters. The work can be seen as comment on the way in which news programmes manipulate news reports and footage to generate contrived emotional reactions from viewers.

HSS8121 – Research Proposal – The Blurry Middle

The concept of self has been heavily influenced by consumer technology over the past decade or so. I have been interested in this blurry middle between the person we perceive ourself to be online and the person we are in the real and the undefined space between our multiple selves for while due to my continued personal investigation into alter ego and the common stereotype and assumption that comes with a character.

However, increasingly it has become the unquestioned norm to assume a version of yourself that exists solely online through means of social media/gamer profiles etc. Leading to a disconnection from reality in terms of the awareness of ourselves and the awareness and empathy of others. We seem to be living in times of  ‘online disinhibition’ meaning the lack of restraint one feels when communicating online in comparison to communicating face-to-face, the Internet acting as a mask that makes it harder to perceive other users as people with feelings due to a lack of facial interaction.

The spectrum of human emotion has been simplified down to a set of emojis as a way of expressing ourselves, hashtags, memes and other internet devices are what is raising awareness and keeping us informed about what is going on in the world.

The proposed project hopes to take a critical look at the concepts of digital identity and personas and the culture of urgent self-expression on social media and comment threads, cynicisms in the public conscious. polarized opinion and disillusionment with media.

 

HSS8121 – The Reflect

I am no stranger to research, the importance of it has always been drummed into me. Perhaps not too familiar with the ins and outs at proper academic research but I do pride myself on doing some leg work around a subject before using it as part of my work. It probably comes from just being plan nosey too and having the need to just know what I don’t already or confirm what I think I do. The research I have done in the past I have do so by…well in simple terms just looking, listening, reading, making some creative work from my findings then going back doing those things again. I’d say that generally the work I make is a response to cultural observations I have made and by finding nuances in social ritual.

As a keen observer sometimes I can get a bit stuck in a passive role of just watching, listening and reading about the things I am researching. The guest lecturers that came to speak to us throughout module, introduced us to ways of gaining insight by having a more hands on approach.

Tess Denman-Cleaver

Tess Denman-Cleaver an artist, researcher and director of theatre company Tender Buttons, spoke to us about to logistics and the real struggles and hurdles of setting up on your own, starting a business or your own company. Explaining the need for ‘strategic partnerships’ and drawing on the resources around you to get your venture off the ground. Whilst aspiring to set up her own theatre company she mentioned that the best advice she had was that “no one is going to ask you to do, so just do it.”

Tess’s lecture asked us to consider ourselves and they we work individually, noting that my own work pattern and flow, being aware that I have an all or nothing way of working with periods of contemplation followed intense periods of work and immersion where I can’t think of anything else. Thinking about what my work is already researching and what research I am already doing without being fully aware of it. Understanding that research doesn’t necessarily have to only exist within the constraints of academia.

At the end of our session with Tess we all took part in an exercise devised by Allan Kaprow, pioneer in establishing the concepts of performance art, where took two ice cubes placing one in our mouths and one in our hand. When the ice cube in our mouth had fully melted we were to say ‘now’, when the ice cube in or hand had fully melted we were to say ‘now’ and when our hand had fully dried naturally we were to say ‘now’. Tess explained that this exercise had been a real revelationary moment for her, open to the idea but sceptical that I would also have a revelation I shoved the ice cube in my gob…

For the first 10 minutes or so, i guess I was trying to figure what the task would reveal to me, stood still in the same spot I watch how the others handled to task. Some grounded themselves to the spot, some paced, some sat on chairs, some stayed close to their friends. Aware that I am comfortable with long periods of silence, observing that others busied themselves with their phones or intense fidgeting. It was only when the first person said ‘now’ did I start to understand what the task would mean to me. I felt a jolt of impatience when I heard the ‘now’ although my ice cube had only half melted I was starting to wonder when it would be my turn to move on to the next stage. I guess this is where the profound moment comes in. I started to understand that progression is sometimes at the mercy at things we can’t always control, having patience with the process and that only when the time is right is it time to move on.

Serena Korda

Serena Korda introduced us to her work concerning ‘thin spaces’ and her research into abandoned histories, realising this research through large scale performances. Inviting us to get involved in her current work where using a radio telescope she has been listening to storm activity on Jupiter, we set up the radio on the university grounds in the hope of tuning into the sounds of the solar system. With a bit of old fashioned team work we erected the radio telescope and using a VLF receiver, which Serena had purchased from Nasa we listened for the sounds of Jupiter. I guess it was unlikely that we would be able to pick up the sounds of any celestial bodies given that we were smack bang it the middle of a city centre, the electromagnetic interference of traffic lights, mobile phone signals, cash points and the like got in the way of that. It was however interesting to listen first hand to the music of the city and invisible forces that keep a city ticking over and how each device has its own individual register. This way of field recording really appealed to me, mostly because I just loved the obscurity of it and I get the impression that the experience would be different every time.