Ecstatic Truth II: ‘Lessons of Darkness and Light’ 27th May 2017 Symposium at the Royal College of Art

The second Ecstatic Truth symposium was held at the Royal College of Art, London, on the 27th May 2017. This postgraduate research event was organised by Animation Research Co-ordinator Dr Tereza Stehlikova, working closely with the Animation MA programme leader, Dr Birgitta Hosea. It takes place a year after the launch of the RCA’s MA Documentary Animation pathway. The event was introduced by Professor Teal TriggsAssociate Dean of the School of Communication.

This article is composed of summaries of the speakers and their papers, taken from the symposium programme, illustrated by Alex Widdowson.

Keynote

Bella Honess Roe is is a film scholar who specialises in documentary and animation. Her 2013 monograph Animated Documentary is the first text to investigate the convergence of these two media forms and was the recipient of the Society for Animation Studies’ 2015 McLaren-Lambart award for best book. She also publishes on animation and documentary more broadly and is currently editing a book on Aardman Animations (I.B. Tauris), co-editing a volume on the voice in documentary (Bloomsbury) and co-editing the Animation Studies Handbook (Bloomsbury). She is Senior Lecturer and Programme Director for Film Studies at the University of Surrey.

 

Traversing the terrain of space, time and form

Rose Bond “Broadsided”

Must documentary be confined to a single screen?  How does the siting of a screening influence its perception?  This screening/talk focuses on documentary strategies in Rose Bond’s multi-screen animated installation Broadsided! which was sited in the windows of the Exeter Castle.  A screened excerpt from Broadsided! documentation provides the basis for brief examination of documentary methods used to convey a point of view: research, reenactment, data visualization and parataxis.

Rose Bond creates monumental, content driven animated installations. Rear projected in multiple windows, her themes are often drawn from the site – existing as monuments to the unremembered. Her installations have illuminated urban spaces in Zagreb, Toronto, Exeter UK, New York City, Utrecht, Netherlands and Portland, Oregon.

Carla MacKinnon “Immersion and alienation: animated virtual realities”

This presentation will explore how animated documentaries are pioneering creativity in virtual reality (VR). I will propose that animated documentary is a good fit for VR technically and creatively, and that the distancing quality and ‘absence and excess’ (Honess Roe, 2013) of animated documentary complements the dual sensation of immersion and alienation evoked in the dreamlike experience of VR.

Carla MacKinnon is a filmmaker and practice-based PhD candidate at Arts University Bournemouth, whose moving image work has been exhibited widely. Carla has a Masters in Animation from Royal College of Art and has worked as a festival producer and manager of technology projects. She is also director of interdisciplinary events organisation Rich Pickings.

 

Deeper strata

Vincenzo Maselli: “Deeper strata of meanings in stop-motion animation: the meta-diegetic performance of matter”

Can puppets’ skin materials express deeper levels of signification in stop-motion animation cinema? The paper suggests the concept of autonomous performance of matter in stop-motion animation and aim to demonstrate that matter can express a sense of tactility and metaphorically act autonomously from the diegetic narrative, staging a second level of narrative (meta-diegetic).

Vincenzo Maselli is a PhD student in design at Sapienza University of Rome. His research aims to demonstrate how materials and puppets’ building techniques can communicate narrative meanings in stop motion animation cinema. In October 2016 he moved in London, where he is continuing his research at Middlesex University.

Sally Pearce “Can I draw my own memory?” A visual essay

I try to use my pencil as a scalpel to extract a memory whole, but the memory will not be drawn out like a lump of tissue, instead it changes as soon as the pencil touches it. As my memory changes under the pencil, I am changed, I redraw myself.

Sally Pearce studied philosophy at Cambridge, then became a nurse. She started making films while studying Fine Art at Sheffield Hallam, followed by an MA in Animation Direction at the NFTS. Her films have screened and been awarded at Festivals around the world. She hopes to start her PhD in October 2017.

Barnaby Dicker “A Quivering Terminus: Walerian Borowczyk’s Games of Angels, animated documentary and the social fantastic.”

This paper explores how Borowczyk’s Games of Angels (1964) utilises a fantastic topography to play with tropes of documentary and fiction in an effort to engage with painful social history in a direct, but far from literal way; its design and structure conveying, through a disturbing momentum, the experience of a quivering terminus.

Dr Barnaby Dicker teaches at Cardiff School of Art and Design. His research revolves around conceptual and material innovations in and through graphic technologies and arts.

Panel discussion chaired by Birgitta Hosea

 

Keynote

Lei Lei

Lei Lei always pay particular attention to collecting and collating historical texts and images during his experiment animated works and try to search for elements of the poetic and dramatic between reality and fiction. In Hand colored No.2, through the use of manual painting, Lei Lei and Thomas Sauvin try to connect black and white images of different people, attempting to construct a fictional character, narrating his personal history.

LeiLei 雷磊 Artist / Filmmaker 1985 Born in Nanchang, Jiangxi Province, is an experimental animation artist with his hands on video arts, painting, installation, music and VJ performance also. In 2009 he got a master’s degree in animation from Tsinghua University. In 2010, his film < This is LOVE> was shown at Ottawa International Animation Festival and awarded The 2010 Best Narrative Short. In 2013 his film <Recycled> was selected by Annecy festival and was the Winner Grand Prix shorts – non-narrative at Holland International Animation Film Festival. In 2014 was on the Jury of Zagreb / Holland International Animation Film Festival and he was the winner of 2014 Asian cultural council grant.

 

Animation: Lessons of Darkness and Light

Guli Silberstein: ‘The Schizophrenic State Project’

The Schizophrenic State Project, which started in 2000, contains a series of videos that appropriate mass media footage of violence, war, and protest, in the context of Israel, Palestine and the region. The images are processed via digital means in diverse ways, creating poetic works that formulate news media critique.

Guli Silberstein is an Artist and video editor, based in London UK since 2010, born in Israel (1969). In 2000 he received his MA in Media Studies from The New School NYC, and since 2001, he creates work shown and winning awards in festivals and art venues in the UK and worldwide.

Becky James: “Expanding the Index in Animated Documentary”

Documentary animation examining mental state is a robust subgenre; often these works try to recreate an unusual psychological state to promote empathy and understanding. Using patient records and contemporaneous film strips, Betina Kuntzsch’s 2016 animation Spirit Away avoids speaking for, explaining, or diagnosing the female patients at the Heidelberg Psychiatric Clinic. Kuntzsch does not use the index to provide truth claim or to promote understanding, but instead the index acts as metaphor and distancing mechanism in this work about isolation.

Becky James explores the intersection of the individual and social through animation. She has exhibited in galleries throughout the US and at film festivals including SXSW, Jihlava Documentary Festival, Filmfest Oldenburg, and IFF Rotterdam. A native New Yorker, James graduated from Harvard and received her MFA from Bard. She currently teaches at Parsons School of Design.

Susan Young: Bearing Witness: Autoethnographic Animation and the Metabolism of Trauma”

This presentation and short film screening examines my use of autoethnographic animation methodologies (which include myself as an experimental case study), in order to excavate and bear witness to the memories and lived experience of psychological trauma, and to challenge their related, often stigmatising and ‘othering’, psychiatric diagnoses.

Susan Young is an animation director who has worked principally in advertising, commissioned films and music promos. Her current RCA research is based on personal experience of psychological trauma, and includes a series of short experimental films that explore how animation might ameliorate trauma sympt oms. www.susanyounganimation.com

Concluding panel discussion, chaired by Barnaby Dicker

This event is supported by the Society of Animation Studies, an international organisation dedicated to the study of animation history and theory since 1987. For more information: https://www.animationstudies.org

For more information about studying MA Animation: Documentary: http://www.rca.ac.uk/schools/school-of-communication/animation/documentary-animation-pathway. 

Video documentation of this event will be archived on our Vimeo channel at: https://vimeo.com/channels/documentaryanimation.

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Ecstatic Truth 2016 and 2017

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Ecstatic Truth 2016 panel discussion

With the next Ecstatic Truth symposium coming up on Saturday, this seems like a good time to revisit last year’s event and share the recordings of the jam-packed schedule of speakers, workshops and networking.

Video documentation of all the speakers who presented at the 2016 symposium, including keynotes from Paul Ward, Abigail Addison and Brigitta Iványi-Bitter, as well as  our own Carla MacKinnon, is available here on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/channels/documentaryanimation

Our own post from the event can be found here: https://animateddocs.wordpress.com/2016/05/28/ecstatic-truth-symposium/

The 2016 symposium was held to launch the new MA Animation: Documentary Animation pathway: http://www.rca.ac.uk/schools/school-of-communication/animation/documentary-animation-pathway

Ecstatic Truth: Lessons of Darkness and Light is the second animated documentary symposium at the Royal College of Art, London, on Saturday 26th May 2017.  

Book your FREE tickets here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/ecstatic-truth-lessons-of-darkness-and-light-animated-documentary-symposium-tickets-33257461964

The first AnimatedDocumentary.com Award at FAFF 2016!

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We were thrilled to be part of this years Factual Animation Film Fuss festival: hosting an event, giving our first ever award, and mingling with the great and the good of the UK animated documentary crowd.

The festival is in its second year, run by Daniel Murtha, and hosted at the Genesis Cinema in London, UK. In addition to several programmes of the best new work in animated documentary, a Q&A with film-maker Samantha Moore, chaired by Alys Scott-Hawkins, opened out discussions with a number of film-makers in the audience, including Mary Martins, Emma Calder and Alex Widdowson.

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Still from Truth Has Fallen by Sheila Sofian

The AnimatedDocumentary.com award was presented on the final night of the festival. We were very pleased to have our award sponsored by animated documentary director Sheila Sofian. The winner received signed original artwork from Sheila’s film ‘Truth has Fallen’, a feature length documentary we have featured on the blog. The film is about about people wrongfully convicted of murder and the weaknesses in the US justice system that allowed these injustices to occur. You can find out more about Sheila’s work on her website here.

The winning film was Spirit Away by Bettina Kuntzsch. We thought that the film was a fantastic example of using existing documentary evidence to engage the audience.

We also awarded two Special Mentions: Loop by Samantha Moore and Life Inside Islamic State by Scott Coello. We made a third award for Best New Voice and this went to The Divide by Mary Martins.

Loop by Samantha Moore

Life Inside Islamic State by Scott Coello

The Divide by Mary Martens

‘Animation Therapy’ workshop and ‘Animation on Prescription’ screening at Encounters Festival 2016

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Helen Mason, founder of Animation Therapy, has been running Animation on Prescription conferences biannually at Encounters Festival since 2010. This year she organised a free public screening and a workshop for medical, dental and veterinary professionals designed to help them confront their own compassion fatigue. Helen explained that compassion fatigue was brought sharply to her attention when an occupational therapist colleague committed suicide. Further research revealed that both the dental and veterinary industries had very high suicide rates. Mason suggested that the same must be true for medical professionals, though the National Health Service here in the UK (NHS) does not keep records of staff suicides. She pointed out the irony that NHS staff absences due to illness or fatigue, are documented rigorously.

Lord Stone of Blackheath, an active political advocate for issues relating to mental health, started the morning session by sharing his personal perspective on compassion fatigue. He also discussed the awareness campaign he’s helping Helen Mason to launch.

Unfortunately I missed Lord Stone’s group discussion, but waiting for the next natural interval afforded me time to sketch the beautiful workshop setting. Floating Harbour Films is a Dutch barge moored to the Welshback stretch of the river Avon in the centre of Bristol. This venue, along with the workshop facilitators, donated their time and resources without charging in order to raise money for the Bluebell Charity fund. Bluebell supports people struggling with pre and post-natal depression and anxiety.

 

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After some brief introductions the group began the first set of exercises. The majority of participants were occupational therapists (O.T.’s) looking to learn Helen’s techniques to use in their own practice. Each participant was given a few sheets of uniformly sized card and instructed to draw in landscape format. The first image could be whatever we liked, presumably to warm us up. For the second we were asked to express the concept of compassion (see example drawing above).

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Maria Hopkinson-Hassell, the animation facilitator, encouraged us to place our drawings carefully within the defined brackets on a well-lit board. One by one we photographed our images, importing them straight onto a laptop which was running stop-motion software. When looped, the end result was a chaotic flickering montage, held together visually by the consistent paper size and positioning.

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Our next task was to recall a moment of resilience from the past, a time when we had to keep going despite fatigue or distress. We were asked to express these feelings on a piece of paper, cut to the shape of our hand. An unexpected intimate moment was subtly orchestrated by Helen as she encouraged each participant to have their hand traced by someone else from the class.

This activity resulted in an explosion of colour. A herd of occupational therapists gathered around the art supplies table, gradually spreading them in disarray across the workshop. Time restraints prohibited us from attempting an animation with our kaleidoscopic hands; instead Helen insisted we write our names diligently on the back with the promise that they’d be animated in our absence and safely posted back to us.

After drawing Simon Critchley colouring in his paper-hand, we had a quick chat. In a few words he articulated why animation seems to lend itself so well to art therapy: for a lot of his clients, control is not something they have experienced much in their recent history: animation offers a chance to play with extraordinary levels of control, if only for the duration of these short improvised productions.

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Nigel Smith, a retired-doctor-turned-animation-workshop-leader, volunteered his face to co-star in the next pixillation exercise. A rostrum-mounted camera photographed his expressions from above as a second workshop participant moved figures, cut from magazines, across a glass table which intersected the photographic field. This method sparked a conversation about Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer music video, produced in 1986 by Bristol- based Aardman Animation.

Following a sunny lunch on the deck of the barge, Helen gathered us in a circle to facilitate a group discussion about compassion fatigue.

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Helen (above, identifiable by the black dress) concluded the group discussion by asking us to write a postcard to our future selves. In two weeks this will be sent back to us, along with our illustrated hands. We all wrote supportive advice that should remind us how to be kind to ourselves and help us prioritise our well-being.

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The final animation activity was facilitated by Tim Webb, Royal College of Art, and the director of ‘A is for Autism’ (1992), a seminal animated documentary which emerged from a collaboration with several young people with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD).

Each workshop participant was instructed to make a miniature version of themselves out of colourful lumps of Newplast Modelling Material.  The 11 tiny figures shared the limelight in a claymation ensemble within the short film which gradually emerged. In between frames we participants huddled around the set, incrementally adjusting our respective putty avatars.

At 3pm we dispersed across Bristol city centre, congregating a few hours later at the Watershed, Encounters Festival base camp. Helen presented two programmes of films; the first consisted of animations created in collaboration with service users. The aforementioned ‘A is for Autism’, kicked off the programme as an example of best practice.

The screening also included films produced by Animation Therapy such as ‘The Haldon’, a film made by staff and service uses at a ward for people struggling with eating disorders in Exeter.

The second programme included films by professional animators, many of whom are well known for their animated documentary work. Helen emphasised the value of collaborative work with animators when exploring therapeutic topics.  Andy Glynne’s production company, Mosaic Films, featured heavily; several shorts from their British Animation Award winning series ‘Animated Minds: Stories of Post Natal Depression’ were included. ‘Mike’s Story stood out to me, as particularly touching.

Follow this link if you wish to donate to the Bluebell Charity fund for people struggling with pre and post-natal depression and anxiety. We look forward to many more years of Helen Mason hosting Animation on Prescription events at Encounters Short Film and Animation Festival.

Moving Pictures & Top of the Class – Encounters Festival Animation Programme 2 & 3

Encounters, the Bristol based UK animation and short film festival, continues with an excellent array of animated shorts in their second and third animation programmes.

Animation 2 – Moving Pictures was a collection of shorts that explored complex emotive narratives. Of the fiction work in the programme, ‘My Home (Chez Moi)‘ directed by Phuong Mai Nguyen, shone through as a truly touching and sophisticated exploration of a young boy coming to grips with his mother’s new romantic partner.

Two films from programme 2 that hit the animated documentary remit, both of which take place during the Second World War.

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Zoltan Aprily, director of ‘Ungvár’, explores his grandfather’s memories of working on a Hungarian commercial ship which was leased to the German navy and appropriated for war.

The central moral dilemma of working alongside the historical villains of the 20th century is illuminated through crystal clear symbolism: the Nazi soldiers are quite literally depicted as faceless or monstrous henchmen, while the civilian crew are shown as a hapless bunch of normal-looking lads struggling through a precarious situation.

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Michael Brookes was commissioned by the Bletchley Park Trust to reconstruct a key moment in British military history. Notes rescued from a captured German U-boat led to the British code-breaking teams cracking the German Enigma encryption. This 3D animation is rendered in a soft colour palette, with intricate textures reminiscent of the early 20th century printing of posters used during the Allied war effort.

‘The Petard Pinch’ is essentially a tale of duty and sacrifice. The stiff-upper-lip stoicism of the film serves only to sharpen the emotional response in the audience.  This informative and moving short film clearly deserves the success it has already received from D&AD, Shorts of the Week and as a Vimeo Staff Pick.

Animation 3 – Top of the Class draws attention to animated films selected for their craftsmanship. Three of the films were identifiable as animated documentaries, but the of fiction and non-narrative work my attention was grabbed by the French-Hungarian co-production ‘Love‘, directed by Réka Bucsi.  This fantasy nature documentary tracks the impact solar movement have on a weird and complex ecosystem.

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Volker Schlecht & Alexander Lahl co-directed ‘Broken – The Women’s Prison at Hoheneck (Kaputt)’. This beautifully crafted film is narrated by Gabriele Stötzer and Brigit Willschütz, political prisoners from Hoheneck Castle in East Germany. These unfortunate women were forced to make garments which were sold for great profit across the border in West Germany.

The animation is classically drawn frame by frame. After scanning one step, the drawing was erased, changed or completely re-drawn on the same sheet of paper and re-scanned (a technique used by William Kentridge). The attention to detail in this film is truly astonishing. It seemed somehow telling that the directors chose to integrate the subtitles, perfectly matching the aesthetic of this powerful animated documentary.

‘Stems’, directed by Ainslie Henderson, is a straightforward documentary about creating stop-motion puppets. The director narrates as his characters are assembled is if through the magic of stop-motion. It’s all very meta.  Henderson laments, “they are like actors who are destined to play just one role”.

‘Mamie’ is a touching portrait of director’s grandmother. Janice Nadeau tries to decipher her personal memories of this aloof and unforgiving matriarch. Although not explicitly stated, it seems clear that this is based on first hand recollection. If ‘Mamie’ is entirely invented character I must apologise for suggesting this is an animated documentary and commend Janice Nadeau for the realism in her writing!

Encounters short film and animation festival runs from the 20th -25th September across a number of venues in Bristol, UK.

 

‘Seeking Refuge’ series for television by Andy Glynne

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A series of animated shorts illustrating young people’s perspectives of living as refugees and asylum seekers. Part of the BBC Two Learning Zone, this series won a Children’s BAFTA in 2012.

Produced by Mosaic Films in London, UK.
Director: Andy Glynne
Animation Directors: Salvador Maldonado, Karl Hammond, Tom Senior and Jonathan Topf

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00vdxrk

‘Oneironauts’ (the Dream Travellers) by Olivia Humphreys

Olivia Humphreys uses archive photography and hand drawn animation to create an evocative film about the memories of loss. A great example of how animated documentary can transcend the boundaries of reality.

More work on Olivia’s website here: http://www.oliviahumphreys.com/