Friday 21 June 2013

Animating London

For the last six months I've been working on the graduation project for my animation course at Central Saint Martins. I wanted to make a short film that combined storytelling with my love of location sketching.

I started drawing London initially because I was looking for a way of re-engaging with my favourite places, after having lived here for a while and struggling somewhat to always appreciate it as much as I used to. That led to meeting other urban sketchers and getting involved with a whole community of artists, all drawing and painting their surroundings and everyday life, for all sorts of reasons, and creatively I've found that a fantastic atmosphere to be a part of. I wanted to try to convey the excitement of drawing and how it can bring places to life.

I was also very interested in how to tie together hand-drawn animation, which is tightly planned out and time consuming, with location sketching, which is by its nature spontaneous and relatively quick. There's been a lot of different takes on animated sketchbooks — probably the most famous is Bastien Dubois's Oscar-nominated "Madagascar, Carnet de voyage". I was also inspired by the work of a fellow Urban Sketcher from Berlin, Bo Soremsky, who animates many of his location drawings.

I ended up settling on a documentary style with a cartoon version of myself as the presenter, allowing me to impose a narrative, while using as much as possible from my sketchbooks. I visited the locations several times to work out a framing for the characters to move around within, and once I was happy this was all working, I went back and did a full sketch on site.

Sketching the background for my Crystal Palace scene

It was quite a different way of working, because I had to be much more conscious of compositional elements, particularly the aspect ratio of my film, and also omitting the people walking by, concentrating solely on the landscape. Normally, backgrounds in animation would be drawn using photo reference and/or the artist's imagination, but for this project I was keen to do as much drawing as possible from life and on location, which added a welcome unpredictability to how things would look in the finished film. I wasn't concerned with creating a 'perfect' drawing so much as creating a record of the actual visit, mistakes and all.

The original drawing from my sketchbook before starting the project

The drawing I used as a background, done on location with much more attention paid to composition

Returning to redraw scenes, it was interesting to note the changes that had occurred in the intervening time. In the Strand, the view that I drew six months ago has now completely changed with the demolition of an entire building. At Crystal Palace Park, the fence had been replaced, and foliage cut back. Comparing the two drawings now, I also see I drew the dinosaur in the first one with a smile, and the second time looking rather grumpier. Completely unintentional, but perhaps a reflection of my psyche at the time — who knows!

Another interesting dimension to presenting drawings in film is the use of sound. I was able to work with sound artist Sophie Mallett who recorded many of the ambient sounds for the scenes I sketched at those particular locations. Of the project, she said: "I imagine that site recording is the same as sketching on site. There's an activity tying you to the place that makes you physically stay longer than you normally would. There's a sensation of the space changing over that time, as you move past a superficial understanding of the place to a personal experience of it... The project meant that I stayed longer, listened more, and through the 'lens' of the microphone heard more than the typical London cacophony."

I've posted a clip from the film above, but you can see the full three-minute film along with animations from my classmates and artwork from all the courses at the college, by heading to Kings Cross this week. The CSM Degree Show is open to the public from now until Sunday 23 June...


Monday 17 June 2013

Down to Wapping

I received an email from a young designer who had found my drawings on Flickr and was enquiring about the possibility of using some of them in the redesign of  a menu for a London pub. Now as it happens, this pub is one of my favourite London pubs, so I was immediately hooked. The pub is The Town of Ramsgate, situated down in Wapping. When I was a boy this was a dodgy area that suburban folk like me would rarely visit. Back then it was warehouses, docks and ill-lit streets, with stone setts, and no easy transport links. Now it's very upmarket apartments in converted warehouses and there's a refurbished station for the newly refurbished London Overground.
The Town of Ramsgate dates back to at least the mid-sixteenth century. It is a riverside pub, right next to the Old Wapping Steps, an ancient access to the river itself, and the foreshore. It's an area of interesting history. These steps were the site of execution for those found guilty of piracy, whose bodies were hung on the gibbet until they had been covered by three tides. Captain Kidd is reputed to have been one of these unfortunates. The pub itself was the place where the London mob found and caught the notorious 'Hanging' Judge Jefferies who was trying to arrange a boat to flee his own trial.
If you're visiting London, I'd recommend a visit, just a little walk east of Tower Bridge.
I met the designer at the pub, and had time for a quick drawing from the steps across the river to Rotherhithe:
Rotherhithe from the top of Wapping Old Steps

The visit to Wapping, and my discussions with the designer, made me dig out the old  (2009ish) drawings that I hadn't looked at for a while. Here they are:

Wapping Old Steps, tide rising

Wapping High Street - Gun Wharves

Wapping church

Beside the Town of Ramsgate - alley leading to the Wapping Old Steps