Stop-frame animation at Wellcome Collection

17 May 2016

Saturday Studio is our series of drop-in activities inspired by Wellcome Collection. They are for people aged 14–19 and led by experts from a variety of creative fields; participants can try out new skills and meet new people. Our latest session explored Wellcome Collection using stop-motion animation techniques. Dan Brown from Mash Cinema tells us what inspired this session, how he came up with the format and how it went.

When I was asked by Wellcome Collection’s Youth Programmes team to use stop-frame animation techniques to explore the themes of their current exhibitions, as well as using the collection itself, one exhibition jumped out at me.

Inspiration

I couldn’t help but draw inspiration from their current States of Mind exhibition; after visiting it my mind was buzzing with ideas. Goshka Macuga’s “Somnambulist”, lying peacefully in the gallery, was especially intriguing as, having seen the film that influenced the piece (“The Cabinet of Dr Calagari”), I knew the maniacal mind behind its eyes.

The exhibition also explores synaesthesia, something I’ve been interested in for a long time. There are some great short films exploring this subject area, specifically “Synesthesia” by Terry Timely and “An Eyeful of Sound” by Samantha Moore, both below.

Wellcome Collection’s historical material really caught my attention too, as it contains a number of photographic works by Eadweard Muybridge. Since these series of photographs are studies of locomotion and movement, they’re perfect for exploring animation. Wellcome Collection also has a fascinating selection of handling objects which meant we could play around with some 3D objects too.

Format

The format of the three-hour workshop was designed to introduce the young people to three different animation techniques for an hour each, with a different theme for each session. This meant that if participants wanted to stay on for the whole three hours, they would learn a variety of skills and be challenged creatively. We used iPads and the app “iStopMotion” to take the stills to create the animations.

Technique 1: Rotoscoping

Inspired by the work of Jeff Scher (whose amazing retrospective I’ve screened at festivals), specifically the film L’eau Life (below), participants manipulated print-outs of individual cells from Muybridge’s “Woman Dancing”. The challenge was to bring his sequence of photographs to life by personalising the work and adding an extra dimension. This was a great introduction to the process of animating and using iStopMotion on the iPad as it had limitations and was clear to explain practically.

Technique 2: Pixilation

Pixilation uses the human body as the animated object. For this session I took influence from States Of Mind. We all watched Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer music video (below), directed by Stephen R Johnson, after which I asked everyone to think of a time they had experienced an altered state of consciousness. This could be shortly after an operation or trip to the dentist involving anaesthetic, or when overtired, hungry or feverish. The participants looked like somnambulists themselves lying on the floor, their thoughts and memories being animated on and around them by their partners. This process stimulated active conversations between the groups about dreams and fears which led to the creation of some lovely short animated sequences.

Technique 3: 3D objects

Wellcome Collection has a fantastic selection of weird and wonderful handling objects which we were able to animate and bring to life. The young people had to wear gloves and keep the objects in their boxes. I wanted them to think about how the objects could ‘wake up’ and move within the space and the groups managed to come up with creative ways of breathing life into the inanimate items. I used Max Hattler’s “Aanaatt” (below) as inspiration for ways of making objects move in dynamic and pleasing ways.

We were fortunate to have Guillaume, a Visitor Experience Assistant, helping out at the workshop who was able to contextualise the themes and talk about the objects. This was extremely insightful and interesting and really tied the workshop to the wider collection and deepened the young people’s understanding.

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One of the young people keeping very still as they’re photographed for one of the animations.

Final animations

The biggest challenge in delivering these three hour-long workshops was time. Animation is a lengthy process and needs a strong idea and direction before starting. We were animating at 12 frames per second so a lot of photographs were needed to make even short animated sequences. This meant I had to think on my feet. Luckily a lot of the young people stayed on for all three sessions, so I didn’t need to go over the introduction multiple times and when new people joined I asked the existing participants to share their knowledge with them. This functioned well as an icebreaker and cemented their own practical skills with the software.

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The groups hard at work creating stop-frame animations with iPads in Wellcome Collection’s Youth Studio.

I was really impressed with how quickly the young people learned to use the app and how they worked together to come up with succinct and interesting ideas related to the themes. It can be tricky to get strangers to communicate ideas with one another, but everyone worked well together, problem solving and collaborating and sharing their own creative vision in order to make their films. See a compilation of all their work in the video below.

I am very pleased with the final outcome, both the animations themselves and the way the young people engaged with the process. Considering the short time frame, they did amazingly well to produce fun and interesting animations whilst interacting and sharing skills with each other.

Dan is the founder of Mash Cinema and a visual artist, and trained youth worker and qualified teacher, who creates films, animations and installations. He performs live visuals at festivals and for bands and programmes film screenings and events in a variety of settings.

In our next Saturday Studio, singer-songwriter Jonny Berliner will talk you through the mechanics of the voice and introduce you to a range of vocal techniques. Find out more.