Reflections on My Time in England

Aatish Taseer in an interview speaks of meeting with the late writer VS Naipaul who he tells about  his eminent journey the United States to study, Naipaul responds with worry and tells him not to go. “Indians they go to these places, they get dazzled by the institution and they come away having learned nothing but the babble.” Taseer goes on to say “We went to America as the generation before us had gone to Britain, one went if one could, it was as simple as that.”… “I have often thought of what I might have been if I had gone somewhere other than America, somewhere like Britain say, where the seeds of historical antagonism between my society and the one I was coming into had already been sown. I feel certain in Britain, I would have had a ruder awakening to history. The twoness Du Bois speaks of, in my case, of colonizer and colonized, would have split my personality, but I didn’t go to Britain I came to America.” (Taseer, 2018)

This deeply exemplifies how I have felt at times in this country. Having been brought up in Delhi’s upper-middle class society there is a reality of a-historicity. Where there past has been purged as it is too painful to reconcile. Delivered in digestible factual portions as objective truths, be they correct of not. Having arrived in London as an outsider I see a society that has largely done the same. Unable to look at their past selves critically, this society has essentially locked away anything unpleasant in their past. “The British came, they colonized, they left.” (Taseer, 2018) as it were. In the denial of it’s past India and Britain are the same, the key difference being where Britain has enjoyed the last 400 years as a largely wealthy society, India has not.

So it is interesting to me to have come here when the question of Brexit is throwing the country into chaos. Where the fault-lines of decay are visible for the first time in a long time and so the society must confront its past. The division between London and the North, of Bank, of Shorditch and the blocks of council houses littered around the city and country.

There is also coming to terms with the immigrants and the decedents of immigrants who have arrived over the decades from post-colonial societies. This is where I have come in, I have mentioned before on this blog how I have been told to “go back to my country” by strangers on the streets. This resulted in me being tremendously angry, because for me this was a consequence of this nations purposeful a-historicity. And in that sense maybe I’m looking at a mirror for the first time.

Taseer, A. (2018) 'V.S. Naipaul, My Wonderful, Cruel Friend', The New York Times, 12 August. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/12/opinion/vs-naipaul-my-wonderful-cruel-friend.html (Accessed: 3 December 2018).

AmherstCollege (2018) We Shall Be a Country with No History. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_bM3kmo_MIU (Accessed: 3 December 2018).

ALGEBRA (2018) Aatish Taseer @Algebra. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fb7AerAWDrg&t=11s (Accessed: 3 December 2018).

Transitions

I have been working to resolve a transition in the production of the film for the the English National Opera. Towards the end of the film we have our Tigress protagonist cry, and we have her tears bleeding into a pool of water which becomes the next shot. Preview below:

So I’ve thought about transition in different films. I’ve been trying to look at the work of the filmmaker Edgar Wright, director of one of my favorite films ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. The World’. I believe the film is a masterful work of storytelling and among it’s many strengths is its use of transitions. “Edgar Wright is a master of rhythm … transitions are a sight of opportunity for Wright, they’re a chance to build important connective tissue that brings the viewer through the story.” visually in my story I’m working on moving the viewer from a moment of pain to one where we distance ourselves from it and see a glimmer of hope in the flowers by panning downwards.

“What’s important is that the film goer is involved and engrossed at the same time. This delicate balance is achieved through transitions that are often lyrical, like a kind of visual poetry in the most unlikely place. It might be worth noting that Scott Pilgrim is a film about a transitionary period in the hero’s life, a period in between knowing who you were and deciding who you’re going to be.” Similarly to Scott in my film our heroine is in a moment of transition. She is dealing with the loss of her home but at the end of that loss is an uncertain but hopeful future.

Nerdwriter (2016) Scott Pilgrim: Make Your Transitions Count. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pij5lihbC6k (Accessed: 30 November 2018).

Super Drags!

There has been an exponential rise in the visibility of the LGBTQI community in recent years and a large part of this has been the increasing representation of the community in the media.

Shows like ‘Will and Grace’ and ‘Rupaul’s Drag Race’ have not only broken new grounds but have been wildly successful, especially Bianca del Rio, my heroine.

As Richard Dunphy put it “Perhaps the most radical aspect of queer politics was its claim not only to transcend the homo/hetero boundary but to do so in such a way as to challenge the sexual regulation and repression of heterosexual desire, above all female desire. Queer politics, it was claimed, had a lot to teach those accustomed to the narrow confines of ‘male’ and ‘female’ heterosexual roles in relationships. The re-working of notions of monogamy and the send-up of marriage through queer weddings, the greater sexual adventurism, the rejection of the concept of gay men and lesbians as ‘victims’ in favour of assertiveness and redefinition, and the emphasis on the creation of more egalitarian relationships in the domestic, sexual and social spheres, were all cited as examples of how queer could contribute to a new sexual agenda of empowerment.”

So I was very excited when I heard about Netflix’s new animated series “Super Drags”. The show is abound with sexual innuendo, and humor typical of a drag performance in the West Village. The story revolves around three gay co-workers at a department store that lead double lives as superhero drag queens, fighting crime and other forces like an evil queen and a conservative politician.

The show not only breaks new ground but challenges ideas in the community, of beauty and racial bias and outside of gay conversion camps and the increasing politicization of the community. I hope the show does well and is able to continue for more seasons.

Dunphy, R. (2000) Sexual Politics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Boss Bitch

I have been thinking about ideas for my final film. The key idea I have is centered around a homosexual relationship. So I’ve been looking at animation that works with LGBT and gender positive themes. I came across the work of Winona Regan and the film she made for Super Deluxe called “Boss Bitch”.

This piece functions as a music video for PTAF’s song ‘Boss Ass Bitch’. In my opinion is emblematic of Fourth-wave feminist work, with strong pop culture references, a rich colour palette, and a clear vocalization of the fight against discrimination and for representation in the workplace.

I believe the establishment of the internet has a lot to do with what this work says and how this video has disseminated “Many commentators argue that the internet itself has enabled a shift from ‘third-wave’ to ‘fourth-wave’ feminism. What is certain is that the internet has created a ‘call-out’ culture, in which sexism or misogyny can be ‘called out’ and challenged.”

What I enjoy seeing in this piece is the diversity in the women represented. “One of the key issues for contemporary feminism is intersectionality – the  idea that different axes of oppression intersect, producing complex and often contradictory results.” You see women of colour and varying age groups, as mothers and as professional women in this animation. “the experiences of working-class black and white women in the US are insurmountably different – yet each belongs to the category ‘woman’.”

'FEMINISM: A FOURTH WAVE?', Insight Plus, Available at: https://www.psa.ac.uk/insight-plus/feminism-fourth-wave (Accessed: 14 November 2018).

Rikki Tikki Tavi

I recently rewatched Rikki Tikki Tavi (1975) based on the original short story by Rudyard Kipling as part of the Jungle Book series (1894) and it made me think about how and what we choose the animate.

Although Chuck Jones is a masterful animator, this is something I cannot deny, and his work on the Mongoose must be commended and enjoyed, I find it curious his decision to adapt a story. Kipling is a contentious figure at best, and his abhorrent colonialist attitudes even for his time have long been argued and debated about. And given that there is no shortage of writers in the English language that have or are accomplished storytellers, or masterful writers from India that write in English no less. I find it strange that Jones chooses to dig up old wounds. The animation team attempts to bypass this by erasing all Indigenous people from the animation, similar to what Madagascar (2005) or The Lion King (1994) chooses to do. Choosing instead to divorce the story from its time and place in all but the title and initial shots and the credits, using Indian-esk music in the background to build suspense.

Invention of an Animation Technique

We are currently in the early stage of production in our English National Opera film process and I have been struggling over a decision I’ve made. The choice was between using Adobe Animate to create the animation of the film or to take the path less travelled and attempt to animate only in between Illustrator and After Effects.

Before this we had for a large part used illustrator to clean the shots for the animatic stage of the process and it is a software I and one of my teammates knows well. Conversely, Animate is a software made for animation so it includes important tools that will speed up the animation process. Unfortunately, non of my teammates have used Animate before.

Initial Rough made by in TVpaint.

Having decided to go ahead with using Illustrator, I am trying to figure out how I can streamline the process. For example, linking the project between Illustrator and After Effects has given us a sort of makeshift way of checking the

Frame cleaned in Adobe Illustrator.

animation, the use of plugins in After Effects has sped up the process of laying out each frame from Illustrator. We are also heavily reliant on the roughs of the shots made in TVpaint before we can clean them in Illustrator.

Still from shot composited in After Effects.

I’ve also been looking other technique inventors, I’ve reintroduced myself to one of my favorite animators Caroline Leaf. The academy award nominated animator created three landmark films and created a new animation technique with each of her films. Below is an interview she gave in 1975 where she demonstrates the technique of sand animation that she has invented:

I hope with this decision I haven’t doomed my project to remain incomplete.

Docued (2014) Screening Room with Caroline Leaf and Mary Beams - PREVIEW. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_GotOotbrQE (Accessed: 1 November 2018).

Hilda

I recently saw Hilda a new Animated series on Netflix and an adaptation of Luke Pearson’s graphic novel series with the same name.

Cover of Hilda the graphic novel

It has made me think about the stylistic changes that look place in adapting the Graphic Novel characters into animatable ones. Bolder lines, a simpler shape based structure and more dynamic drawings, have all lended help in making a successful adaptation.

Main Character of Hilda the Netflix series

At the same time keeping the colour palette largely the same and the idea behind the characters, story and artwork have helped ground the series in the work it is derived from.

Similarly, I am hoping the adapt the original Patachitra art style I have been inspired from for my English National Opera idea into a form that is animatable but still true to its source. I am also hoping to be able to safely tread the line between adaptation and appropriation.

Patachitra Workshop Results
ENO Pitch Illustration

Rotoscoped

I have been curious about Rotoscoping, a labour intensive but often underestimated process. This technique was created by Max Fleischer in 1912 using a machine that served as a projector that screened a film with real actors doing what the artist needed for the animation, they were traced frame by frame over celluloid resulting in a more fluid and realistic result. This would be later used in Disney’s Snow White, Superman and the music video “Take on Me” by A-HA (The single wasn’t a success until it was released along with the video).

For this post, I looked at Jason Archer’s work, as an example of what rotoscoping can achieve in a music video. Archer is a director and animator best known for his work in “A Scanner Darkly” an adaptation of Philip K Dick book, featuring a star-studded cast, namely Keanu Reeves,  Robert Downey, Jr., and Woody Harrelson. A ‘Grand Theft Auto’ aesthetic and a frustrated Director creates an interesting confluence. The animators use Rotoshop, a vector software that interpolates the in-betweens automatically.

Archer being Texan has a pronounced hispanic influence and has been criticized for the political opinions he expresses through his work and murals. This drew the attention of Molotov, a Mexican band, who hired him to create the music video for “Frijolero” a song that is, ironically, against the United States. This video earned him a Grammy and an MTV Video of the Year Award and was a great success in Latin America.
 

The animation is objectively really crude and simple. He implements a blocky colour scheme and is more about the content of the lyrics and expressing an idea than about having very detailed movement. Everything is bold, sexualised and strongly suggests sympathy towards immigrants crossing the border.
Although personally, I don’t really like the style I enjoy the symbolism behind the simplistic design. The colours are suggestive of political parties, the stencil look mirrors the Mexican police with its bottle green branding (In the past they would wear green and, then they would GO away or the cream palette that would resemble the uniform they use nowadays), often called Gringos.
 
I will attempt Rotoscoping in the future because it will help me understand camera angles and I find it interesting as a Graphic Designer.
 
La Franco, Robert (2006). "Trouble in Toontown". Wired magazine. Archived from https://web.archive.org/web/20081027181824/http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.03/scanner.html, on October 27, 2008. Retrieved July 31, 2007.

"A Scanner Darkly Production Notes". MovieGrande. 2006. Archived from the original on February 14, 2012. Retrieved 4 November 2013.  

Torres, Natalia (2013). "Molotov, la bomba loca" [Molotov, the crazy bomb].  

Adaptation of Art

While visiting home over the summer I had the fortune of taking part in a two day workshop by a traditional Patachitra artist. Patachitra is a traditional folk art form from West Bengal, India.

Patachitra Workshop Results

This has helped set of a series of events for me in looking at how an art form can be adapted to tell a story. Tara books is a publishing house in India that is know for employing folk artists and asking them to use their art form to tell modern stories. The most well known of these is ‘The London Jungle Book’ by Bhajju Shyam (2004), where the traditional Gond artist was brought to London and asked to interpret the city through his art.

Page from The London Jungle Book (2004)

Similarly Patachitra art has been adapted in ‘I see the promised land’ (2010) that uses the art form to tell the story of Dr King and the civil rights movement in the United States.

Cover of I see the Promised Land (2004)

Great Expectations, Great Responsibilities

I’ve just found out I’ve been selected that my pitch to the English National Opera has been selected! While I’m waiting to find out who my teammates are I’m thinking about what skills I need on my team. Given that the idea has a very specific style. I am hoping I’m assigned to teammates with these skills. I want to be able to incorporate ideas from my group and make the project an engaging process for them and one that they can learn from. I also want to avoid creating a hierarchical group structure because these are my peers who know as much as I do about animation, and so I hope I can learn something from them. I am very worried about the responsibility of being affecting more than my own grade.

The idea I’ve pitched is about two tigers escaping a flood. This came together as a confluence of various ideas. It mostly comes from experience in my childhood. I’ve spent a lot of time when I was young traveling around with my father to remote forests in India.

Image from my ENO pitch

Having spent many nights camping out on machans with my father, he would tell me stories about Tigers and Wolves and leopards. One on my favorite stories was about a Tigress who saves her cubs from a flood in Dudhwa National Park. A favorite book from my childhood is ‘Tara A Tigress’ by Billy Arjan Singh about a Tigress Arjan Singh hand reared.

I hope I am able to do the idea justice.