Ecstatic Truth symposium: ‘Defining the Essence of Animated Documentary’, 14th May 2016 at the Royal College of Art

Here’s the first of our posts reporting on the Ecstatic Truth symposium, which was held on a warm Saturday in May at the Royal College of Art, London. A postgraduate (PGR) research event organised by Animation Research Co-ordinator Dr Tereza Stehlikova, the day launched the RCA’s new Documentary pathway, on its long-running MA Animation course, now under the new head of Animation, Dr Birgitta Hosea

We start with a run-down of the speakers and their papers, from the symposium programme, illustrated by our own Alex Widdowson:

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“According to Werner Herzog mere facts constitute an accountant’s reality, but it is the ecstatic truth (a poetic reality) that can capture more faithfully the nuances and depths of human experiences. Given that animation has the freedom to represent, stylize, or reimagine the world, it lends itself well to this aspirational form of a documentary. The symposium explored the idea of “Ecstatic Truth” and reflecting, speculating and imagining how the animated form might elicitate the different facets of this poetic truth, through its unique language.

 

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Keynote: Paul Ward

The ‘illocutionary force’ of animated documentary’

I examine how animated documentaries do what they do by linking to Austin’s ‘illocutionary force’ in his ‘performative’ model of language. The illocutionary force of a speech act is concerned with effect and intention: it points to what something means and what you mean by saying it (in the way that you do). Animated documentary’s power, poetry and potential weaknesses can therefore be understood by thinking about their illocutionary force.

Paul Ward is a Professor of Animation Studies at Arts University Bournemouth, where he is Course Leader for the MA Animation Production at AUB and supervises PhD students. He has published widely on animated documentary and other topics. He is a Board Member of the Society for Animation Studies and served as its President from 2010-2015.

 

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Showing the Invisible

Roz Mortimer, PhD candidate, University of Westminster, UK

‘Traumatic histories and phenomenology as method’

My research is centred on a phenomenology of the invisible, by which I mean ghosts, atmospheres and emotions. In this talk I used my recent film This is History (after all) by Roz Mortimer to explore the challenges of making visible the invisible. In this film the image is digitally manipulated to visualise affect related to traumatic memory. The question is how can phenomenology reframe our relationship to traumatic histories?

Roz Mortimer is an artist-filmmaker and doctoral researcher at University of Westminster. Her experimental films cross the genres of documentary, fiction and animation and have been shown widely around the world since 1995. Taking documentary methods as a starting point, she incorporates fantasy into her work to create socially engaged films that question ideas around truth. Roz has an MA in Visual Sociology from Goldsmiths, and teaches universities in the UK and USA. www.wonder-dog.co.uk

 

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Carla MacKinnon, PhD candidate, Arts University Bournemouth

An Approach to Authenticity: Using abstracted stop-motion to evoke physical and psychological experience in animated documentary

I am exploring the use of ‘tangible territory’ (Stehlikova, 2012) within the evocative mode of animated documentary (Honess Roe, 2013). In particular, how stop-motion may be used to evoke physical and psychological states that cannot be conventionally recorded, through the use of materials that encourage haptic visuality and filmmaking techniques that trigger a physical audience response connecting the viewer to the subject.

Carla MacKinnon is a PhD candidate at Arts University Bournemouth. She completed her Masters in Animation at the RCA in 2013 and has worked as a producer and festival programmer as well as director of award-winning live action and animated shorts. Her documentary installation Squeezed by Shadows is currently featured in the ‘States of Mind: Tracing the Edges of Consciousness’ exhibition at London’s Wellcome Collection. www.mackinnonworks.com

 

 

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Transcending Time

Ülo Pikkov, PhD candidate, Estonian Academy of Arts, Estonia

Presentation of short animation film Empty Space 

Empty Space invokes a past memory, an apartment that once existed, and a small girl dwelling and playing there. It presents a story forged in the dreams of the father hiding to avoid capture and imprisonment. Empty Space is a reconstruction of a vision on the backdrop of the anxieties of the 1950s in the Soviet Union.

Ülo Pikkov studied animation at Turku Arts Academy in Finland and since 1996 has directed several award-winning short animation films (“Tik-Tak”, “Body memory”, “The End”, “Dialogos”). In 2005 he graduated from the Institute of Law in University of Tartu, focusing on the media and author’s rights. At themoment he is a PhD student at Estonian Academy of Arts. Ülo is the author of “Animasophy, Theoretical Writings on the Animated Film” (2011). www.silmviburlane.ee

ecstatic_truth_portraits_inma_carpeInma Carpe, Animated Learning Lab, Denmark

‘The Dressmaker, remnants of a life. The re-creation of the Self and memories through animation’

Animation is a visual thinking and feeling media that helps us to express an internal reflection about our reality so called life, to make sense finding our peace of mind and heart; to re-construct our Self  (the alignment of our thinking, feeling and acting). It is an alternative language to communicate and understand other points of views, other many selves seeking for the same: the ecstatic truth, our story in motion pictures.

Inma Carpe: Born in the Mediterranean, I live and work abroad between my home base in Denmark and Los Angeles. An experienced freelance visual development artist and animation-lecturer, I specialize in short formats and pre-production, but also split my time as a production assistnat in film festivals. Currently I’m working and researching how animation and visual literacy improve Self-development and communication (emotions-beliefs) based on art production experiences connecting cognitive/affective neuroscience with film making/storytelling. www.carpeanimation.com

 

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Leah Fusco, PhD candidate, Kingston University, UK

‘Northeye: past, present and anticipated narratives of a deserted medieval village’

This research explores the documentation of a DMV (deserted medieval village), previously an island but now a reclaimed landscape located on a saltmarsh in East Sussex, and addresses problems in recording fragile histories and stories in physically shifting landscapes. I’m interested in how drawn visual narrative through moving images can explore and capture alternative timeframes and readings of place.

Leah Fusco: After completing at BA (Hons) in Illustration at the University of the Creative Arts, I graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2010 with an MA in Communication Art and Design. I am currently working towards a practice based PhD at Kingston University, supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The research explores lost histories in landscape, using the deserted medieval village or Northeye in East Sussex as a case study. www.leahfusco.co.uk

 

Art and Science

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Keynote: Abigail Addison

Silent Signal – probing the universal truth of science  

With Silent Signal, Animate Projects has connected six artists working with animation and six biomedical scientists to produce experimental animations that elicit new ways of thinking about the human body.

The project’s producer, Abigail Addison, talked about how the artists engaged with their collaborating scientists’ data, tools and processes, and brought to life the science. She also explored how each artist challenged the universal truth of science in the work they have produced.

Abigail Addison co-directs Animate Projects, an arts agency that champions creative animation practice, and produces ambitious interdisciplinary projects, such as Silent Signal, with a range of UK-wide partners. As a freelance producer she works with individual artist and cultural organisation on developing, producing and exhibition experimental moving images projects. Abigail is a Trustee of film and photography charity Four Corners, and an Advisor to Underwire Festival. @AnimateProjects

 

Truth, Fiction and Poetry

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Marc Bosward, PhD candidate, Arts University Bournemouth

‘Layers of Meaning, Layers of Truth: Fragmented Histories & Composited Video Collage’

The paper presented a body of practice-based research that interrogates the interface of live-action and animation, specifically, how found footage as an indexical element of lived experience functions within the aesthetic of a constructed ‘other’ world. In this framework, the construction of non-real spaces that synthesise animation and found footage are explored for their potential in describing alternate histories with reference to ontology and ideology.

Marc Bosward: I am a lecturer in Animation and Illustration at the University of Derby. My research interests include the convergence of digital and analogue practices in moving image, the interface of live action and animation, experimental animation, animation and history and memory and experimental non-fiction film. I am a first year PhD candidate under the supervision of Professor Paul Ward at Arts University Bournemouth. www.marcbosward.com

 

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Alexandra D’Onofrio, PhD candidate, University of Manchester, UK

‘Reaching Horizons: exploring existential possibilities of migration and movement within the past – present – future through participatory animation’

Alexandra D’Onofrio, documentary film director and PhD candidate in AMP (Anthropology Media and Performance) at the University of Manchester. She graduated in anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, and then completed her MA in Visual Anthropology at the University of Manchester in 2008. At present she is in her final year of her doctoral research where she has investigated the stories and part of the imaginative worlds of three Egyptian men, though different creative methods, combining applied theatre, storytelling, photography, animation and documentary film making. Vimeo

 

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Pedro Serrazina, PhD candidate, University Lusófona de Lisboa, Portugal

‘Notes towards the use of a documentary approach in the teaching of animation’

Since its early days, animation film has always reflected its cultural context at the time of creation. Nevertheless, it is still widely perceived as kid’s entertainment. Reflecting on practical examples and teaching methodologies, this presentation argued for a practice of animation which, by adhering to documentary strategies, engages with real issues, leaving behind the traditional Disney/anime/fantasy/game-inspired references that frame most of the animation students’ intentions at the beginning of their path. Rather than a matter of technique, and regardless of the much debated issue of “realism”, this text suggests that a teaching framed by a documentary approach, bringing questions of identity and social perspective to the core of the practice, reinforces animation’s thoughtful and participative role in the contemporary moving image debate.

Pedro Serrazina is an animation director and senior lecturer at Univ. Lusófona de Lisboa currently undertaking a practice-based PhD on The Creation and Use of Animated space in Animation, with a grant from FCT, Portugal. Pedro combines work as a director (his last film was the award winning Eyes of the Lighthouse, 2010) with an academic career in Portugal and the UK. He has published academic articles, a book of short stories & illustrations, and is currently preparing his next film, with funding from the Institute of Portuguese Filmmaking. Vimeo

 

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Keynote: Brigitta Iványi-Bitter

Animated documentaries from Hungary and Central Europe:

From the 70s’ cinema verité to contemporary art practices

Animated documentary films from Hungary and the neighbouring countries are reflecting the actual historical context of the era they were made.  The genre itself became prevalent in Central Europe during the 70s due to cinema verité in Western Europe and documentaries with a socially critical edge and had a comeback in the 2010s with predominantly female directors, who gave it a poetic twist. In both eras artists of the region experienced dictatorship or later a socially engaged, critical position, therefore animated documentaries usually serve as complex traces of the past as well as pieces of art. Artists-directors to be introduced: Béla Vajda, Kati Macskássy, György Kovásznai, Éva Magyarósi, Eszter Szabó, Zbigniew Czapla, Ewa Borisewicz, Malgorzata Bosek.

Brigitta Iványi-Bitter is a freelance researcher of Central European animation history, animation film producer, curator of contemporary art (including animation) exhibitions and author. Berigitta completed her PhD at the Doctoral School of Film, Media and Cultural Studies, Eotvos Lorand University, Budapest, Hungary in 2012. Her Research thesis was on Cold War era experimental animation films in Central-Eastern Europe, with special focus on the legacy of the Pannonia Film Studio (Hungary)  and György Kovásznai’s (animation film maker) Oeuvre. Brigitta is a Lecturer in the History of Animation and in Contemporary  Media Art and animation at Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design, Budapest. Vimeo

 

 

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Ecstatic Truth and Human Condition in Animated Documentary

Final discussion introduced and chaired by Mark Collington.

Mark Collington is the author of Animation in Context (2016) and course leader up the MA & BA (Hons) Animation Courses at the CASS, London Metropolitan University. He completed his own animation studies at the Royal College of Art.  His MA films, and subsequent Arts Council England funded animation commission work, have been screened on television and at a number of international animation festivals. His personal work primarily explores relationships between architecture and animation.

 

Other Symposium content:

Workshop with Judit Ferenz, PhD candidate, Bartlett School of Architecture

‘Animating the layers of history’

The workshop explored the role of the narrator in creating history. It introduced attendants to a specific Hungarian conservation method (falkutatás) that uncovers the different historical layers within the walls of a building, as a means to narrate the history of that building. We translated falkutatás into animation using the multiplane animation desk in experimental ways and collectively produced a series of short animations which are be uploaded to a website created specifically for the workshop.

Judit Ferencz is an MPhil/PhD student at The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL. In her architectural research by design she is developing a new methodology to talk about history in architectural heritage. She studied illustration and animation at Kingston University, and art history at ELTE University, Budapest. She has a freelance illustration practice and is teaching illustration at The Cass, London Metropolitan University and City Lit. www.juditferencz.co.uk

Zoetrope by Hugo Glover, PhD candidate, Innovation Design Engineering, RCA

My research focuses on placing the animator as the central axis of animation making. By basing my approach in the arena of ‘design thinking’ I am attempting to construct an understanding of how animators think, and how they access and utilize their embodied knowledge of the world to inform their creative decisions. Using the framework of second order cybernetics my work explores control of change between animated objects viewed through a zoetrope.

Hugo Glover is an MPhil/PhD Candidate in Innovation Design Engineering (IDE) at the Royal College of Art. His research focuses on the creative exploration of stereoscopic 3D space through the use of digital stereoscopes, which house experimental CGI animation. By creating a physical space, as well as a digital stereoscopic space, Hugo’s work explores the hinterland of these two realities. Vimeo

The Ecstatic Truth symposium was coordinated by Dr Tereza Stehlikova

Tereza Stehlíková is a London-based artist working primarily in the medium of moving image.  She is currently a research coordinator on the Animation programme at the Royal College of Art.  Stehlíková is a founder of Sensory Sites, an international collective based in London that generates collaborative exhibitions, installations and research projects that explore multi-sensory perception and bodily experience. Current projects include developing a collaboration with professor Charles Spence of Cross Modal Research Laboratory, Oxford, as well as a collaboration with the Centre for the Study of the Senses (UCL), investigating how interactions between the senses can be utilised in the expressive vocabulary of cinema.

More reporting to come soon – watch this space!

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‘Tea and Consent’ written by Rock-Star-Dinosaur-Pirate-Princess, produced by Blue Seat Studios

Tea and Consent is a public information animation which is used with permission by Thames Valley Police to address and clarify issues of sexual consent as part of the Consent is everything campaign. This simply rendered Flash animation draws a parallel between sexual consent and the intuitive etiquette associated with offering someone a cup of tea.

In essence you can offer someone tea but it’s not acceptable to pressure or force him or her to drink it. The elegant metaphor behind the short film originates from a blog post written by the feminist blogger Emmeline May, a.k.a. Rock-Star-Dinosaur-Pirate-Princess.

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When exploring this work in the context of animated documentary it is important to recognise that this film does not comfortably fit with Annabelle Honess Roe’s 2013 definition of the genre, which follows a few rules:

Firstly, is it animated? Yes.

Secondly, does the animation reflect an imagined world of an auteur or ‘the world’? This is not as clear. The film primarily addresses a hypothetical scenario, which raises an ethical sexual dilemma. This dilemma is explored explicitly through a metaphor. It is also a distillation of the controversial social and political ideologies of the feminist writer, Emmeline May.

However, I don’t believe these points suggest the film is about an imagined world. The issues addressed clearly reflect a very real problem, while the ideology that is represented considers a majority perspective of our Western society and is supported by the legal system. It is also fair to suggest that theoretical or allegorical devices are a key part of the animated documentary language and help shed light on reality rather than an imagined world.

Finally, was it the intention of the filmmakers to create a documentary? I believe not. I would argue that it was the intention of Blue Seat Studios and Emmeline May in making it, and of Thames Valley Police in their use of the film, to change behaviour rather than observe and capture it.

Tea and Consent sits more comfortably amongst the state sponsored animated propaganda of the mid 20th century than contemporary animated documentary discourse: ‘Animation has historically been used as a tool for illustration and clarification in factual films… [It’s advantage over live action] led to an ever greater uptake of the medium by the US government in the Second World War.’ (Honess Roe, 2013)

Nonetheless, animated educational and propaganda films were an essential evolutional stage in the development of contemporary animated documentary and clearly still have a useful role to play.

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While the issue of consent is often received as a grey area topic, Tea and Consent proposes that it is a simple one. The analogy is powerfully robust. This very strong foundation facilitated the exploration of ambiguous and horrifying sexual conduct with incredible clarity and humour. It has not however been disseminated across the Internet with universal praise.

Comments on the film’s Youtube page have now been suspended, but I can testify that I was startled by the sexual aggression and anti-‘political correctness’ sentiments expressed in some of the comments posted previously. Sadly Youtube has a reputation for providing a platform for the vitriol of anonymous misogynists.

The simplistic Flash animation lends itself to easily rendered parodies. The two I’ve seen awkwardly contort the tea/consent analogy either for ‘comedic value’ or as a counter argument. The first version pushes the concept to an absurd extreme, suggesting that it is never safe to drink tea without lawyers present. The second explores an ill-conceived comedic inversion in which a “slut” wants tea in all scenarios. Neither of these spoofs deserves viewer hits so forgive me for not sharing their links.

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My bias is clearly highlighted by the fact that I feel naturally suspicious of the people who are offended by this film. I wonder if those who are most threatened are also individuals who would benefit most from its message. I suspect this argument is a little reductive and extreme.

The Internet is a breeding ground for such conflict after all and I resign myself to this. I neither have the energy or the skill to engage and attempt to change the minds of those I mistrust, unlike the makers of Tea and Consent.

Notes:

Honess Roe, A. (2013) Animated Documentary, London: Palgrave Macmillan. p.5&9

Animation courtesy of Emmeline May at rockstardinosaurpirateprincess.com and Blue Seat Studios. Copyright © 2015 RockStarDinosaurPiratePrincess and Blue Seat Studios. Images are Copyright ©2015 Blue Seat Studios.

‘What is Animation?’ by Martin Pickles

Martin Pickles is the director of an animated interview with Bob Godfrey titled What is Animation? This was one of two films by Pickles that were screened as part of London International Animation Festival’s animated documentary programme. Martin is well known through his role as the organiser of the London Animation Club, a monthly screening event in Fitzrovia.

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In What is Animation? Pickles animates a snippet of wisdom from Bob Godfrey (1921 – 2013), the British animation hero responsible for creating Roobarb and Henry’s Cat.

When thinking of this film in the context of animated documentary, I was struck by how relevant Godfrey’s words are to one of the larger tensions within the genre: how does a filmmaker faithfully document their subject matter without simply replicating it? Godfrey encourages animators to be whimsical and to forget the limitations of physics or representation.

The key phrase he uses, one which I have heard many times before, is “…if this thing can be done with a live action camera then for God’s sake do it with a live action camera.”

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While Godfrey wants animators to confront the “absolute freedom” of their medium, animated documentary makers maintain an adjacent balancing act. Our challenge, perhaps, is to find a subject that requires a Godfrey-esque whimsy in order for the story to be documented usefully.

Without wanting to sound pretentious, it’s all very ‘meta’. Not only is this an animation about how animators should animate, this short documentary is also structured around an almost visible feedback loop.

Firstly there is Martin Pickles the director, interviewing his hero Bob Godfrey, who effectively imparts wisdom and instruction to the audience. Then, much deeper in the mechanisms of this film, we can feel Martin tangibly being inspired by Bob’s words and legacy – Martin even credits meeting Godfrey as the stimulus that pushed him to study animation at the Royal College of Art. The next revolution of the feedback loop begins with me, the viewer, inspired enough by Bob’s words and Martin’s film that I chose to write about it. It’s fair to predict that this whole process might inform my own or someone else’s next animation; and so the wheel spins.

Ignoring my theoretical posturing, the true joy of this film can be found in its back-story. Martin Pickles and Bob Godfrey met in Croatia at the Animafest Zagreb festival in 2004. A fan since childhood, Martin sought every opportunity to foster a friendship with Bob. Officially, he found himself in the role of odd-job-man – when they met there was always a light bulb or whatever that needed replacing. Over time, his visits to Godfrey’s ACME studio in Deptford became much more social in nature.

Martin spoke about Bob’s aptitude for story telling and teaching with great affection. One day, as Martin sat opposite his hero, sipping tea, he felt that it didn’t seem right that he was the only one experiencing this. He was struck by the realisation that no one had made the effort to record these pearly nuggets of wisdom. With a real sense of urgency he got his hands an old tape recorder, and with Bob very much enjoying the spotlight, they recorded over two hours of rambling fun from one of the British animation scene’s more charismatic icons.

The two animators started to hatch grand schemes for what to do with the material. Collaboration seemed on the cards until Bob’s health began to suffer. By this point Godfrey was in his late eighties, and with great sadness Martin witnessed his gradual decline. Out of respect the project was put on hold indefinitely. A while after Bob’s passing in 2013, his family and the Bradford Animation Festival released an open call for archival content relating to Bob’s life and work. Following that the rest of the pieces fell into place.

You can read a full transcript of the interview here.

‘The Power of Outrospection’ by Roman Krznaric and RSA Animated

Roman Krznaric believes that developing empathy into a more highly regarded value could be the most promising approach to solving many of the world’s problems, whether they are related to climate change, violent conflicts or inequality. Krznaric’s idea of empathy as a catalyst of social change is a powerful contemporary mantra. Both practical and easily envisaged, the concept of encouraging understanding by seeing through the eyes of your counterparts has the potential to stimulate a minor revolution.

Krznaric – Britain’s leading lifestyle philosopher, as described by the Observer – is the voice of the latest in the RSA Animate series of short films: ‘illustrated’ talks selected from the free public events programme the UK charity runs ‘which seeks to introduce new and challenging thinking’.

In this episode as in others in the series, our eyes are guided across a growing mass of illustrations which concisely depict a fast stream of ideas. At times the barrage of uniformed visual and verbal information can feel tautological. At other points, one suspects, if the visual aids were missing it could be difficult to keep up with the deceptively fast current of fascinating ideas.

The animation is unconventionally diagrammatic; it lacks motion, a linear narrative or central characters. The pen wielding hand rhythmically jitters across the screen as if filling a lecture room wipe board in double time. The arm is surprisingly un-distracting, keeping our attention in time with the allegro pace of ideas. The pen directs our eyes in rhythm with the narration like a conductor’s baton.

Roman Krznaric’s Empathy project can be followed on his blog Outrospection.

More info and other RSA Animate films can be found here: 
http://www.thersa.org/events/rsaanimate

And downloaded here: http://vimeo.com/thersa

‘Tiberians’ Dreams’ by DM stop

Another from the Vimeo doco-anim channel, specifically chosen as its subject centres on the life and work of being an animator. We do however disagree with the interviewees statement about Caroline Leaf!

‘Two young pencils document four Israeli animation icons. They confront them with questions, film and record every word, story or argument and by that try to comprehend the existence they once shared and the insights they still share (or are divided upon) about contemporary animation and creation in Israel.
This film was made in “Bezalel academy of art and design” in Jerusalem using stop-motion animation.’

https://vimeo.com/23697546

Dennis Tupicoff workshop, London May 2012

I was lucky enough to sneak my way on to Dennis’ two day workshop at the Royal College of Art in London, last week.

An Australian director with extensive experience in making both live action and animated documentary films, Dennis provided the MA Animation students with an insight into his work. He screened ‘The Darra Dogs’ and ‘His Mother’s Voice’, as well as recent film ‘Chainsaw’, which blends fact with fiction by using a range of documentary sources to create a narrative story.

Some drawings of the workshop from my notebook…

In the practical session, across two days, Dennis shared his approach to developing a film: pinning down all the details in the script and storyboard before going into production. He prompted us to develop and explore our own film ideas, and gave us some very useful feedback! The students did a great job of rising to the challenge, even attempting to pick up the gauntlet Dennis threw down of developing an animadoc film idea with no voices or voice-over.

You can watch clips of Dennis’ films at his website http://www.dennistupicoff.com