Artist-In-Residence: Emily Clarkson #2

Character design development for Gappy Gertie / Emily Clarkson


At some point in the middle of the lock-down, Emily Clarkson and I had a heart-to-heart on the phone. We talked about ‘what to do?’ in response to COVID. It was an existential question, and one being asked by creatives of all stripes in 2020. Emily and I are both freelancers and grimly aware things are not going to be getting any easier for creatives any time soon. There is the phrase that goes ‘content is king’, but producing content is salve too. Right now, making new work and supporting other creatives through collaboration looks like a sort of power in an otherwise disempowering moment. It was certainly the thinking behind the fortnightly Kick-About. Again and again during these unsettling months, I’ve returned to the Philip Larkin poem, To Put One Brick Upon Another, for guidance and resolve:


To put one brick upon another,
Add a third and then a forth,
Leaves no time to wonder whether
What you do has any worth.

But to sit with bricks around you
While the winds of heaven bawl
Weighing what you should or can do
Leaves no doubt of it at all.


By the end of our telephone conversation, Emily and I had come to a similar conclusion. In preference to biting our nails or throwing rocks at the moon, we too decided to put one brick upon the other. In common with Tom Beg and Graeme Daly, Emily and I would work together to develop a new animated short, and we weren’t going to think too much about the nuts and bolts of it either. Who is going to fund it? Don’t know. Who is going to watch it and where? Don’t know. How are we going to make it, using which techniques, which programmes? Again – don’t know, but to make something at a time when lots of other things feel as if they’re coming unglued seemed like a plan as sane as any other.

That was then, and now I’m happy to reveal we have a story, a finished script – we even have a song! – and the pre-production phase is underway, as Emily begins the character design process.

And the name of our new project?

Gertie.


Arranging the song Gappy Gertie on Sibelius / Phil Gomm


You haven’t heard of Gertrude, but Gertie is a girl you know
Because always there’s a Gertie. You’ve likely bullied one, although
Her name was probably Constance, Simeera, Chen or Sue.
You’ve forgotten her most likely, but she hasn’t forgotten you.


It’s early days, so we’re keeping the exact size and shape of our story under-wraps, but it’s a school-based narrative about a girl called Gertie, who is bullied horribly by her peers. Gertie is inspired by one of her teachers to ‘search for the hero inside herself’ and a series of events are in this way set in motion. The story is built around an original song, and you might say my eureka moment came when I realised I could happily make the name Malala (Yousafzai) rhyme with Brian De Palma! It’s blackly comic – very black in fact – and I must say I enjoyed writing it very much.

There’s been a lot of back and forth between Emily and myself via email, but we caught up again recently when Emily set-up shop at Red’s Kingdom and here’s what she had to say as our work together on Gappy Gertie continues:


Gertie character design development #1 / Emily Clarkson


Phil: Hey Em, so here we go again then! We have another animation project in the offing together, a project with no established funding, a project taking up time and energy when we should both probably be doing more sensible paid things… So, why are we doing it? Why start something new when everything looks so gloomy? Have we lost our minds?

Emily: With things so gloomy, I think if we don’t do such things, we will lose our minds! Or at least, I certainly will. Starting something new creates a space to pump some energy, practice some skills and express ideas.

Phil: Absolutely! This isn’t the first time a new script from me has landed with you – a wall of text, description and some fudgier, spongier bits. What do you do first (apart from sigh inwardly!)?

Emily: Usually, I read it through, picturing the concept, and if it strikes a particularly excitable chord, I’ll find myself muttering ‘oh we could do this…or this… oh I wonder if that thing would be good to riff off…?’ and so on. And after that I’m usually falling over the questions I will inevitably ask in the next email.

Phil: So, what do you think about Gertie? What were your first impressions of the story? 

Emily: I felt an immediate sadness at the cruelty towards Gertie. I was never bullied at school, so I can’t speak from personal experience. I went to an all-girls school. I remember there being very distinct friend groups in my class, but there wasn’t any animosity between them (that I remember). In terms of drama within my class, we were fairly low key! What made you want to write a jaunty tune for a horrendous bullying experience?

Phil: Haha! Blame Lars Von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark! I’ve always enjoyed the way music is so immediate and invasive. Music goes in really quick and I think there’s some fun to be had with the form of the musical short. We assume stories driven by songs and singing must always have great big grins slapped on their faces, but, come one, The Wicker Man is largely a folk musical and I love the way the music in that film works to draw you in, but shock you too – all those people singing along so happily at the end of the film as Edward Woodward goes up in smoke.

You’ve already made a start on character designs for Gertie and her tormentors. Apart from the pointers in the script and in some of our conversations, what are you riffing on?

Emily: I am absolutely riffing on my school experience in regard to the aesthetics. Female students between the ages of twelve and sixteen come in literally all shapes and sizes, so the uniform fit everyone completely differently. For example, it was standard to roll up our elasticated, box-pleat skirts. Some rolled well above the regulation ‘four fingers above the knee.’ (Yes that was a real rule.) It wasn’t all about showing off your thighs though. For some of us it was to make sure the skirt hem wasn’t dangling half way down your calves! Not a good look.

You made Gertie a young traveller/Gypsy girl. Was there a reason you chose to represent the travelling community over other communities?

Phil: There’s no overt identity politics agenda about that, no – likewise the decision to make the bullies themselves a mix of ethnicity. Every community makes targets out of people considered different to them, that’s all. No one is above it or better than anyone else. Gertie is more based on some vague recollections of kids at my primary and secondary schools who came and went, kids who were in someway out of the usual routines, who appeared suddenly, and then vanished again. They were regarded by some in the class as poor and dirty. It was all that stuff about not ‘having a proper home’ – whatever that means, as there’s plenty of dysfunctional families living in ‘proper homes’ too. Sadly, I think everyone is looking down on someone for some stupid reason or another. My experience at school was it was mostly about how someone looked, so their red hair, or a big mole, or too short trousers – or a strange smell – oh yeah, and being a virgin or not being a virgin. That was always a very big deal!


Developing the bullies #1 / Emily Clarkson

Developing the bullies #2 / Emily Clarkson

Developing the bullies #3 / Emily Clarkson


Emily: Have you experienced or witnessed bullying growing up yourself?

Phil: I was bullied pretty unpleasantly for year or so at my secondary school. I kept it a secret. I used to get the train to-and-from school, and the bullying would take place on the platform in the afternoons when everyone was waiting to go home. I also need to admit I bullied someone once – when I was much younger. For a short time, I was pretty loathsome to a rather over-weight boy in my class. I got in so much trouble for that. I still remember standing in a room at my primary school and being utterly eviscerated by the head teacher. It was an early lesson in understanding your victim is a person. I think about that boy to this day (I’m thinking about him as I write this) and I was thinking about him when I was writing the script. I was thinking about my bullies too, wondering if they still think about me.


Sissy Spacek as Carrie (1976), directed by Brian De Palma


Emily: Your script pays homage to Brian De Palma’s horror film, Carrie. Was Carrie White a beacon for ‘poetic justice’ for you as a young cinema goer? Or was she more a terrifying monster?

Phil: My sympathies were always with Carrie! I don’t know anyone who hasn’t at one point or other dreamed of burning everything down that way. Carrie does what we dream of doing, but fortunately, we’ve got Carrie to do it for us, so we have the catharsis of that high-school conflagration, the spectacle of someone failing to ‘rise above it’ in such spectacular style. There is some other less-well thought out concern of mine floating about in here, something more serious about the way young people keep being encouraged to rise to the ‘opportunities’ presented them by the failures of others; to be obedient and mild-mannered, to not give their energy to their fury, but to go to school, go to work, to be good. In light of climate change, Brexit, Trump etc., I do sort of feel as if going ‘full-on Carrie White’ might be what’s needed sometimes!

On a side note, I think I might be one of the few people on the planet who actually saw the original UK version of Carrie – The Musical. I saw it on a school trip when it was staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1988. Carrie is infamous for being one of the biggest flops in theatrical history, but I was blown away – I was thirteen! Perhaps this also explains why I don’t think it’s weird to put horror and musical theatre together…


Original poster for the musical Carrie (1988)


Phil: So I’ve got the song to finish arranging, which is taking me longer than I hoped. I’m nearly there though. What’s next on your to-do list?

Emily: More character designs. I need to nail down how the bullies look. And in addition to that, design their various outfits. After that I need to design our teacher, Mrs Mason, and move onto the environments. And then, to the storyboards! Lots to crack on with!


Gertie’s school disco outfit development sketches / Emily Clarkson


Emily and I will be updating our progress on Gertie here at Red’s Kingdom as-and-when we make some. Like I said, the content is coming first, because that’s the bit we can take control of now. Regarding the future of the project – funding etc – we are interested in hearing from anyone with a fabulously rich very elderly relative… More seriously, we’re also looking for a musical director/singer interested in working with us to get Gertie’s song up off the page. If you’re reading this and you know someone who knows someone, then do please get in touch, if only to put one brick upon the other while the winds of heaven bawl…


MFT #6 Dr Frank Poole’s Shorts


Dr Frank Poole is a character in Stanley Kubrick’s celebrated, technically-breathtaking think-piece, 2001 – A Space Odyssey (1968). This is a film I admire very much, but one of my favourite things about 2001 are Dr Frank Poole’s shorts. Here’s why.

A year or so after finishing my A-levels, I learned something surprising about one of my former English teachers. In addition to her passion for the works of Shakespeare and so forth, she was also writing pornographic fan-fiction under an online pseudonym. This was all such a long time ago, the internet was in its infancy, but nonetheless, the teacher in question was charting the ongoing adventures of Walter Skinner and Alex Krycheck and disseminating her stories on niche web-based forums.

You only need to know two things about Walter Skinner and Alex Krycheck, the first being they are both supporting characters in the science-fiction/paranormal show, The X-Files, the second being they are both heterosexual male characters in the show and at no point in any episode do they fuck.

But not so in the stories written by my former-English teacher. In her fiction, Walter Skinner and Alex Kyrcheck cannot keep their hands off each other. In her stories, Walter Skinner and Alex Kyrcheck are positively priapic, with no detail spared, however anatomical, however anglo-saxon, however gymnastic.

This was my first encounter with slash fiction, a literary subgenre deriving its name from the / between whatever same-sex fictional characters are engaging in graphic sexual relations with each other, as in Skinner/Krycheck. Slash-fiction is said to originate with Kirk and Spock, that while a large proportion of Star Trek‘s famously loyal audience were nestled on their settees enjoying the utopian charms of Gene Rodenberry’s rosy view of a federation of planets, another demographic within that same loyal audience were intuiting something no less progressive – an oblique sexual frisson between William Shatner’s impulsive captain and Leonard Nimoy’s cool, logical science officer, consummated ‘off-screen’ in the imaginations of amateur writers and their readers.

When Roland Barthes proclaimed so famously, ‘The author is dead’, he meant it wasn’t to the originator of a particular text we should look for its definitive explanation (be it a book, a play, a film, tv show, photograph or whatever), but rather to the consumers of the text, its audience, us. What follows from this is there are as many meanings to something as there are recipients for it; that anything we produce produces a multiverse, and if meaning is a palimpsest, then to try and fix, limit or arrest interpretation is to tilt foolishly at windmills.

All of which brings me back to Dr Poole’s shorts.



I’ve watched 2001 – A Space Odyssey many times. I screened it for students every year – the whole thing – which always took some pedagogical resolve. With its long takes, overture and intermission, thin-dense story and narrative opacity, 2001 is no one’s idea of an effortless viewing experience. Kubrick’s crystalline visuals, soaring classical score and weighty cosmic ambitions would always have to compete with the pointed rustling of crisp packets and performative sighing, which was established undergraduate code for, ‘When will this fucking film end?

But Kubrick isn’t interested in entertaining us exactly. His interests lie in producing the conditions for expansiveness and contemplation. 2001 slows us down so we can think about the images on screen and the ideas they comprise. In the precision of its slowness, in its insistence we keeping looking at something even beyond what is truly comfortable, 2001 is an exercise in accessing some other state, in the same way staring at any one thing for a long period of time encourages the mind to project itself elsewhere.

I don’t know when it happened, which screening of my many screenings in particular, but at some point, as I floated freely in the space Kubrick created for me, I apprehended something new about the film. I began to read some of its visual messaging differently, discerning an alternate text, adding things up using the abacus of my own identity. I figured something out (and no, not the ending of 2001, never that), and since that moment, I can no longer ‘unknow’ what I think I know about 2001, or unsee how I’m seeing things, and now what I think I know about 2001 is this: the film’s middle section, entitled Jupiter Mission – Eighteen Months Later, is not only a prescient cautionary tale about Artificial Intelligence, but also a gay love triangle between two scientists and a super-computer, or put more succinctly: Dr David Bowman / Dr Frank Poole / HAL 9000.


Discovery crew member, Dr David Bowman

Discovery crew member, Dr Frank Poole

HAL 9000


My erstwhile English-teacher and amateur pornographer was convinced the writers of The X-Files were complicit in twanging gently at the libidos of the show’s fanbase, sprinkling episodes with homoerotic breadcrumbs so as to draw audiences more deeply into forming binding emotional attachments to their characters. In this way, she argued the ‘queering’ of Skinner and Krycheck was not in fact projection or distortion or superimposition, but rather an act of co-authorship. 2001 is hardly about human relationships at all, which is why it makes for such antiseptic viewing for some audiences. 2001 is about human existence, which isn’t the same thing. It’s when the film does focus on people I start to put this film together differently, because one character’s on-screen presentation is different to the rest.

We are actively encouraged to objectify the character of Dr Frank Poole in a way conspicuous and distinct from any other character in 2001. We are invited to enjoy the act of looking at him, who we first encounter running around the Discovery’s centrifuge. The camera drops low in front of Dr Poole, tracking backwards, keeping time, and we are directed in this way to stare up at his crotch – and I do. I suspect we all do. The view is an exceptionally good one. How can we not enjoy the spectacle of Frank’s muscled thighs? When the camera shifts, we follow along behind him, his round solid buttocks perching attractively just above the bottom edge of the frame. We need only substitute Frank in our imaginations with a female scientist to certify these framing choices are classically objectifying. If a woman were running around Discovery’s centrifuge in just her gym-shorts and a tight t-shirt, and the camera so instructed us to look at her genitals and then again at her bottom, we would appreciate very well this was the male gaze in action. We also see Frank jabbing the air as he jogs, shadow-boxing. In this way we are told Dr Frank Poole is no egg-head, hot-house-flower or etiolated academic. He is athletic, strong, masculine, and with his fine head of thick black hair, Dr Frank Poole is our man’s man, our matinee idol, an obvious sex object treated obviously.



A short time later, Frank reclines on a sun-bed of sorts in just those same short white shorts, his white socks and white running shoes. While this scene continues Kubrick’s fascination with presenting the likely realities of space travel, it is also an opportunity to present Dr Poole’s very nearly naked body. It’s another long scene, our eyes given little else to do but rove. At one point we cut to a tighter shot of Frank looking across at the tele-viewer, where his parents are wishing him happy birthday. This framing couldn’t be more sensual. We study his pretty lips and tan-coloured nipple. We apprehend his slumberous eyes. This is a lover’s view of Dr Frank Poole. Hell, we’re nearly watching this guy sleep, and we all know how loved-up you have to be to do that.

The next time we meet Frank, he’s eating from a tray of pureed space food dressed in a white towelling robe. He is freshly showered after his exertions and languid tanning session, relaxed, un-uniformed, free-balling. What is it about the humble white towelling robe that speaks so directly to the nakedness underneath it in a way other sorts of clothing do not? Indeed, there is even something a little Hefner-esque about how relaxed Frank looks in his dressed/undressed state.



When I consider these introductory shots of Frank, his on-screen presentation – the crotch shots, the spectacle of his thighs, arms and torso, the proximity of his lips to the screen and that soft warm disc of nipple – I wonder whose gaze is (de)constructing him so? Mine certainly – I admit it freely – but I’m inclined to think about Kirk and Spock too, the way in which the contrast of their differences drives the engine of their homoeroticism. Like Kirk, that playboy with the perennially torn shirt, we know Frank Poole has a swinging dick and his handy with his fists. Like Spock, Frank’s human companion on the Discovery, Dr David Bowman, is configured in opposition. Bowman is presented as more cerebral, more sensitive (he is an artist, drawing the other crew member asleep in their pods). There is something of the android about him – a hint of Zuckerberg – and in this way, Bowman is closer to HAL, an affinity reciprocated by the super-computer, who engages with Bowman more often than with Frank, and always more revealingly. I’m compelled to conclude Bowman is repressed, careful and cautious in a way that makes him different to Frank Poole. We can’t easily imagine Dr Dave lounging about the place in just a loosely tied dressing gown.

Sometimes I think the camera watches Frank in the way it does because this is what it’s like to be David Bowman, who is living in intimate proximity with someone he desires. It’s like a flat share when one roommate insists on walking about in just his pants or bath towel, which is normal for him and non-sexualised, and speaks to the comfort he feels in his own skin and his confidence in its display. Dave Bowman is the other room mate, the tidier one, the more controlled one, for whom these everyday flashes of thigh are utterly arresting, troubling even. A secret like that can transform even the most ordinary activity – jogging, sun-bathing, eating dinner in a dressing gown – into giddy high-points of erotic fascination.



But maybe I’m wrong about this? I even think I might be. My hypothesis assumes David is repressed and Frank is unaware. I’m assuming this is a relationship forged out of denial, of secret-looking, out of a love that dare not speak its name. Oh dear! How old fashioned of me, how formulaic! Maybe David and Frank are not homoerotic together, but just homosexual? During the scene where Frank is having his sun-shower, his parents say, ‘Give our love to Dave’ or words to that effect. This implies affection for, and familiarity with, the idea of Frank and Dave being associated as a pair. It speaks to an existing long-term relationship. It implies Dave has met Frank’s family – more than once. Homosexuality was decriminalised in the UK in 1967. 2001 was released the year after. In the film, the year is 2001, but it is a future imagined by someone in 1968, so maybe Frank and Dave have sat together on Frank’s parents sofa as husbands, wearing matching Christmas jumpers and drinking eggnog? Maybe this relationship isn’t the furtive raw material of fervid slash-fiction, but an actual same-sex partnership presented unremarkably as the future we could and should have had?



So to whom might the film’s objectification of the masculine belong, if not to Dr David Bowman? Who else might be zoning in on the exhibited flesh of the Discovery’s resident pin-up, Dr Poole? Who else other than me?

Scopophilia describes the pleasure derived from looking at objects of eroticism as a substitute for actual participation in sexual relations. The HAL 9000 is the Discovery’s fey-sounding, red-eyed cyclops who has been programmed with a semblance of emotions to ensure it interfaces as effectively with humans as possible. The question remains how human is HAL, or put another way, how flawed, how petty, how jealous, how irrational? If HAL knows everything about everything, he will know about sex. If HAL is hooked up to the sum total of human knowledge, we can safely assume HAL is a consumer of pornographic imagery, pornographic imagery being one of humanity’s most prodigious data-sets. Might we assume HAL is likely to experience simulations of arousal too, and thus simulations of sexual frustration at his lack of corporeal agency? HAL is imprisoned in his voyeurism. HAL can only look. HAL cannot consummate. HAL is impotent.



We already know HAL identifies closely with David, whose flatness of expression and measured behaviour mirror the computer’s own. We can also intuit Dr Frank Poole is less comfortable around HAL. Later, Frank will say as much too. Ultimately, this is what I figured out that day in the darkness of the lecture theatre, while behind me, thirty or so undergraduates rustled their crisp-packets in protest at another of Kubrick’s longueurs: HAL is in love with David Bowman. It is a cerebral connection, a Platonic, rather superior sort of love. HAL’s relationship to Dr Frank Poole is of a more provocative kind. You see, I think it’s HAL watching Frank’s crotch while he jogs around the centrifuge in his short white shorts. It’s HAL who looks on while Frank suns himself. It’s HAL pushing the camera to fixate on Dr Frank Poole’s face, on the configuration of his lips. This is the computer’s gaze, the red eye of a hopelessly disembodied scopophiliac.

As I write this down, spelling it out, I’m reminded of the last dissatisfying scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, where, after the film’s rapturous powers of ‘showing-not-telling’, a handy psychiatrist sits us all down and ‘explains’ the lurid plot. He tells us Norman Bates kills Marion Crane because he feels sexual attraction towards her, but that it is his ‘super-ego’ – ‘Mother’ – who intervenes so bloodily. Marion is killed because she produces a powerful effect in Norman’s erotic imagination, installing a glitch in his otherwise urbane and gentle programming. Norman kills because he cannot consummate, and he cannot consummate because, at his most basic level of programming – his motherboard, if you will – he disapproves of something as human as fucking. In this, HAL and Norman share more than just their love of peeping. As Marion did for Norman, Frank does for HAL, confronting him with the thing he wants but cannot have. HAL experiences arousal, frustration, resentment, shame. Ultimately, the spectacle of Frank reminds HAL he is ‘imperfect’, that he is human.

Oh, and of course, HAL is betrayed. David, the platonic object of HAL’s affection for a human being, and Frank, the erotic object of HAL’s disaffection for the human body, conspire together to unplug him. The two men squirrel themselves away in one of the ship’s pods to share their unease about the onset of HAL’s erratic behaviour. This meeting always feels so wonderfully illicit to me, charged with danger and with intimacy. Unfortunately, HAL is as adept at lip-reading as he is at playing chess and we are treated to a sequence of intimate shots of the two men’s mouths, which always manages to remind me of the split-screen antics in the Doris Day / Rock Hudson rom-com Pillow Talk. And how this betrayal must burn! Not only are the two most significant men in HAL’s life conspiring to deactivate him, they do so while sitting so very closely together, looking into each other’s eyes, that small pod filling with their exhalations, their lips but a short distance apart…



By way of reprisal, HAL conspires to separate the two men, and when Frank is alone in deep space, HAL puppets the robotic claws of one of the Discovery’s pods and snips his air supply, sending his body whirling away into space. A short time later, HAL refuses to let Dave back on board, after he goes out to collect Frank’s corpse. In one of cinema’s most celebrated displays of passive-aggression, HAL refuses to ‘open the pod bay doors’. Hell hath no fury like an AI scorned.



I do wonder what my former English teacher would make of all this? Would I get an A for effort, or an F for the effort of straining to make this fan theory cohere credibly? I certainly haven’t been rude enough to earn any gold stars in the category of slash fiction. I’ve more likely just revealed a dimension of my own character, or shown myself to be unfailingly trivial in the face of so portentous a science-fiction narrative. I may just be admitting that, having seen 2001 so many times, I’ve succumbed to doodling in its margins to pass the time, an activity really not so different from rustling a packet of crisps. Anyway, why apologise? According to Barthes, I am where the meaning of 2001 begins. But, in one last evidenced-based bid to demonstrate how this portion of Kubrick’s film might also be a story about a scopophiliac super-computer driven to kill the object of his own self-loathing, I offer this – HAL’s secret song, which only begins to play as Dr David Bowman goes about shutting him down…

“Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do,
I’m half crazy, All for the love of you…”


Artist-In-Residence: Tom Beg #6


Phil: Hey Tom, how goes it in Japan?

Tom: It goes hot and sweaty. Fallen cicadas dot the streets alongside the occasional spotting of a lizard, beetle, praying mantis or worse yet, a dreaded cockroach trying to make its way inside my humble abode. One thing I didn’t know about Japan before I came here is that it has a lot of bugs, and even though they are fascinating, they are still quite terrifying. I think because somehow, they always manage to find a way in.

Phil: I always forget to ask – what’s the view from your window? I always wonder what you’re looking out at when you’re procrastinating or taking a screen break from your Miro-verse project?

Tom: I look at the same thing that 90% of people who live in an urban area of Japan look at: blocky residential buildings and ugliest power lines you will ever see. Lots of them too. I used to be able to see Mt. Fuji from my old place but these days I’m fortunate to at least have the privilege of seeing the tops of some trees behind the rooftops and masses of wires. But if I walk a few minutes down the road, and climb some steps, I can at least see some…more residential buildings. It’s higher up, so it’s cooler I think?! Here’s a picture of said view:



Phil: Given the exuberant other-worldliness of your creations, people might be expecting your work-station to resemble a laboratory – lots of flashing lights and twitching dials… What’s the reality?

Tom: I live in a fairly small place so I try to reduce the stuff in my immediate vicinity to the bare essentials. My home office is just my laptop, a second screen, a portable speaker, a lamp and an analogue clock. I’m not really big on collecting trinkets and figures (a potentially dangerous game in Japan, the land of such things) so it’s all a bit sparse. I’m hoping to upgrade my set-up soon though, so there might indeed be some cool flashing lights to suitably disrupt my sleep pattern and REM cycles.



Phil: So, we’ve got a double-whammy from you this time; you’ve been in the business of producing swarms. In some ways, these appear simpler than some of your other critters in terms of their physiognomy?

Tom: Yes, it was a lot easier to recreate my original sketches for these into 3D models and instil them with some personality. As always there were issues, but overall, I think they came out looking pretty nice. These days I have a good grasp of the 3D processes for creating these characters individually so the challenge going forward is how to give them life as a cohesive group of characters. I’ve been researching and experimenting a little bit with a tool in Maya called MASH. It’s something that I was unfamiliar with before but has become quite relevant to my needs recently. I hope to be doing a lot of MASHing in the coming weeks.

Phil: I think you’re going to have to explain that, Tom; people reading this are going to think you’ve gone a bit ‘Richard Dreyfuss’ in Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Tom: I want to populate my world with lots of these characters, but more characters obviously means more work! MASH is a nifty tool that can be used for animating large groups of characters and objects with relative ease. There’s still a lot I have to work out, but I think it’s going to be another good tool for bringing this world to life.



Phil: There is something particularly joyous about these creatures – something delightfully rambunctious. I know you’ve been staring at them on screen for hours on end, but what are your feelings towards them? Do you have a strong sense of where they fit in the Miro-verse and how they might conduct themselves? The red ones look very disobedient to me!

Tom: I’ve been working hard to make sure all of the creatures have joie de vivre when it comes to their look and movements, and at the same time I’ve tried to make them very robust. I mean, I’m quite satisfied that they basically function and look exactly as I want, and if any changes do need to be then it’s a case of just fixing rather than throwing everything out the window. I really want this to look like a classic animation with lots of exaggerated and unusual movement. I think these little guys can pull it off!

Phil: And only one more creature to go right? Have you been saving the best for last… or putting it off?

Tom: The last creature I’m going to make is the first one I sketched so in a way it’s come full circle. It wasn’t a case of putting it off, more that for each creature I have incrementally built up my skill set and pipeline methods while learning from the mistakes I’ve made along the way. This character was kind of the natural end point as it’s a mix of abstract shapes and more human-like forms. The challenge of this character is it’s going to be a lot more modular. What I mean is that rather than the model shape essentially being fixed, this one will made of multiple models that can be moved and placed individually. I’m still working out the finer details. Stay tuned.

We certainly shall!



Peahen (2020)

Charles R. Knight, A Tiger with Peacock, 1928


I haven’t written a new short story in years. I read lots of short stories, and at one time I wrote lots too. The majority of these efforts are now stuck in limbo on 3 inch floppy discs (that’s how long ago it was), and I am currently in the process of seeing if I can retrieve some of them from this netherworld of obsolete technology. This might be a mistake. They might be better left where they are, but my memory of writing them is a powerful one of conjuring entire worlds into existence by using very few words. I’ve written a number of novels since, children’s books, and books most definitely not suitable for children. I’m nibbling away at a new novel now – fifty-thousand words and counting – holding character arcs, plots and multiple places together in my head through an act of will.

I wasn’t really looking for any more fiction to write – it can even feel disloyal to start up with something new when you’re still so involved with an existing project – but the prompt for the Kick-About #7 demanded a short story of me, for how else to respond to Sickert’s suspended atmosphere, those arrested individuals, that gloomy little room?

The decision to make Sickert’s seated cigar-smoker a notable ornithologist originated from the painting’s bell jar of sparrows and somehow too from the patrician configuration of his face. I thought to myself, here is a man who is used to talking. Here is a man who is used to being listened to. I thought too that experts are not always sentimental towards the subjects of their specialism, that empiricism and scrutiny are not affectionate orbits, so I decided to make my bird specialist a keen amateur in the art of avian taxidermy.

The peacock idea came next and I was inspired by two things, the first thing being Charles Darwin did indeed write a letter to Asa Gray on April 3rd, 1860, in which he expressed his intellectual horror of the peacock’s tail, for its luxuriance seemed so contrary to the theory of evolution he was arriving at the time; and the second being the 1928 painting by Charles R. Knight of a peacock slain by a tiger. I liked the way Knight’s painting mirrored the Sickert composition, with one subject positioned behind the other. This made me think of the power-relations in Sickert’s painting, the way we are encouraged to think of the woman as ‘background’. I wondered about that. I wondered about that a lot.

I titled the resulting story Peahen, after the female peafowl, a creature considered drab in comparison to the much showier male. I did have another idea for the title, but considered it too leading. I nearly called it Tiger.



The Kick-About #7 ‘Ennui’


ennui: a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement.


Gary Thorne

“A most welcome challenge to enjoy the mood and establish a balance between location and figure. As always significant changes up to the eleventh hour, perhaps a blessing with oil as this chap had a companion all the way through, yet his removal as well the monochrome against a sliver of colour has pushed this to a more ambiguous resolve.” Oil on canvas board. 40 x 50 cm.


linkedin.com/in/gary-thorne


Vanessa Clegg

“I wanted the process of the drawing to be as tedious as possible (and it was!) creating a sense of time stopping/ dragging… the only indication of its passing being the alteration of pencil type and pressure… repetitive pattern making tying me to the work table. A sense of entrapment. Clouds are mercurial by nature, constantly metamorphosing, so, by freezing the image, time is once more stopped. All is silent bar the scratch of graphite on paper…diagonal lines crossing (prison walls, calendars, unwanted words), over and over and over.” Graphite on Fabriano. 22” X 22”


vanessaclegg.co.uk


Phil Cooper

“I found the painting by Walter Sickert pretty toe-curling to look at. ‘Ennui’ seems to refer to their marriage; she’s staring at the wall, which appears more interesting than her husband, while he’s sitting at the table puffing on a cigar with nothing to say by the looks of it. The mood is claustrophobic and suffocating; I want Dawn French to march into the picture with a huge pair of cymbals and stomp round that table going LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-CRASH, just to break to tension.

It’s not a feeling I make much work about, but I found this old image that might fit the bill. A while ago I made a paper maquette of a tattooed lighthouse keeper. I made a few bits of environment and photographed him in various poses. In this image, night is falling but he can’t be bothered to get up and turn the light on in the lighthouse. Ships will founder on the rocks if he doesn’t get a move-on, but he seems lost in his own thoughts…”


instagram.com/philcoops / hedgecrows.wordpress.com / phil-cooper.com


Charly Skilling

“The first time I saw this painting, I was struck, in an almost visceral way, by recognition of the woman’s stance, of her state of mind. I knew exactly what she was feeling, and I marvelled at Sickert’s ability to capture it in paint.  The Kickabout has prompted me to try to capture that same moment in words.  I decided on the classic form of a sonnet, as this has always seemed to me to be an ideal format for encapsulating a single instant of human experience.”



Kerfe Roig

Ennui is most closely associated with boredom, but it is heavy with an attitude that it seems to me is mostly posturing. It’s a self-indulgence of the privileged who needn’t even be bothered with the daily tasks of life like cooking or washing clothes, or even gardening, as they have servants to deal with such mundane things.

Boredom infers monotony which does reflect the world many of us inhabit right now–the endless days and hours that we can’t keep track of anymore. But it’s not really boredom. I have no problem filling my days, though I can’t always point to what exactly it is I’ve filled them with. But I find it hard to focus, to find motivation, and I’m often anxious and uneasy and feel unsettled and displaced. The relentless heat is no help.

That’s what I tried to capture in my August grid and poem. The pandemic world of now seems to box you in, surround you with a sameness of grey.



The day was packing heat,
hanging it like a curtain
between me and the world–
dampening all sound,
clogging the airways,
slowing synapses down.

The open windows
provided no threshold
of relief–no wind
came knocking.

You can neither forecast
nor change
the way the currents
move you, or strand you
unmoved, trapped
in a density that refuses
to vacate.

Some days have wings–
but most rely on gravity
to anchor them–
to keep them
safe from the whims
of Gods.


kblog.blog / methodtwomadness.wordpress.com


Phil Gomm

“This story came quickly, drawing all the extra bits and pieces to it with a satisfying click. It’s nice when it happens that way – it doesn’t always. For me, it was the bell jar and the woman’s attentiveness for that patch of wallpaper, so not a bored woman thinking of nothing at all, but another kind of character altogether – oh, and that important-seeming glass of water…”



Marcy Erb

“Oftentimes, the prompt sends my mind shooting off in some wild meandering direction. But this time, I really couldn’t get away from the couple in the painting. After doing a little reading about it, this is clearly part of the genius of this artwork: its devastating “normality.” I kept saying to myself, “they really need their own space.” I fought that notion for about a week, tried a couple of collages of the whole painting I wasn’t happy with, and then finally gave in and made them their own collages.”


marcyerb.com


Graeme Daly

“Sickert’s stuffed birds under the bell jar really stuck out for me. One of my favourite films is Guava Island starring Donald Glover (Childish Gambino) and Rihanna, It’s a beautiful story of a creative man bursting with ambition who wants to use his talents to unite people. It’s visually stunning with a gorgeous animation at the start with a voice over by Rihanna. The film is filled with bird symbolism, as birds can be seen as free to fly anywhere, but also caged and stuck. There is one particular scene where the antagonist is enjoying some alfresco dining while surrounded by caged birds. I decided to draw a version digitally using the style of brush strokes seen in Sickert’s piece.”


@graemedalyart / vimeo.com/graemedaly / linkedin.com/in/graeme-daly / twitter.com/Graeme_Daly


Marion Raper

“I have always thought if I ever got stuck by myself on a desert island, with nothing to do, then I would scratch patterns in the sand or on a cave wall. Or like Tom Hanks in the film Castaway I would make a ‘friend’ out of driftwood so I could have something to talk to! Anyway, I decided to ‘doodle’ a Hamsa hand. This is a good luck symbol for many religions and cultures and is an ancient sign of harmony and protection. I found it very therapeutic and satisfying to do. The stick figures were more difficult and not at all therapeutic. Firstly, finding the right shaped pieces of wood was not as easy as it seems and secondly, -well have you ever tried to make a stick look presentably dressed? Anyway, it was great fun and never for one moment was I bored.”



Courtesy of our regular Japan-based contributor and Red’s Kingdom artist-in-residence, Tom Beg, we have a fresh new prompt, a single word, inspired I think by some of his own very noisy neighbours! See below for the prompt and the new submission date. Here’s to fending off more of that 2020 ennui!



Throwback Friday #15 Cyanotypes


More normally, I’d likely be in rural France now, but as everyone appreciates, 2020 is about ‘new normals’ and cutting our cloth accordingly. The old French house is pressed very deeply into the nature that surrounds it. It can even be difficult to relax at times because there’s always so much at which to look and to respond. One year (I don’t recall which) I stuffed a few packets of ‘sun paper’ into my luggage and spent a few happy hours producing quick-and-dirty cyanotypes from some of the more distinctive leaf and flower shapes culled from my immediate surroundings. I never tired of it, the pleasure of the immediacy of image-making in this way, and always, that perfect blue.



Spotlight #1 George Nwosisi


A few weeks back, I featured news from animator, Urvashi Lele, about the new show she’d worked on, Your Daily Horoscope. It was lovely to catch-up and likewise share Urvashi’s news, and I’ve been prompted to introduce a new strand on the Red’s Kingdom blog – Spotlight – wherein I can shine a light on other creatives, on their disciplines and their processes. I’ll be meeting up again with some of my former students, who are off doing exciting things, but also inviting other creatives to discuss the nuts and bolts of what they do, how and why. I’m flirting with the the idea of podcasts maybe, but haven’t quite broken the seal on that, but let’s see. To kick things off, I’m introducing you to animator, George Nwosisi, a nicer guy you’re unlikely to meet…


George Nwosisi


Phil: Hey George, thanks so much for helping me get this up-and-running. First things first, we need a quick potted history of your life since you graduated. What happened next and where are you now?

George: Hey Phil! It’s been a journey since I left uni in 2015, a good journey that is. From the very start, I knew animation was going to be a very competitive industry to get into. I knew I needed to get some type of industrial experience down on my CV just to get my foot in.


George Nwosisi Showreel 2017


After my graduation, I started applying for internships and putting a showreel together, animating new shots specially for the reel to keep it interesting. Thankfully, I landed my first animation intern with Digital Shoguns in north London. This internship lasted three months, which was good enough on my CV to help me jump into the next role. Soon after, I applied for Antimatter Games in Cornwall, landing a contract as a 3D animator for six months working on a game called Rising Storm 2 – Vietnam. I enjoyed my time there, and they wanted me to stay after my contract was up, but c’mon.. its Cornwall, nice place, but it was far from my family and life in general, so I didn’t renew my contract.

So I’m back home, job hunting again with nine months of experience on my CV. At the end of 2016, I got a job at Cubic Motion – who specialise in facial motion-capture animation and clean-up. During my time at Cubic Motion, I worked on games like Call Of Duty, Ghost Recon, Man of Medan and many more, but I wasn’t truly happy there because it wasn’t key-framed animation or full body character animation.

After a year and few months, I went job hunting again and was shocked when I got into Ninja Theory, which was always the one company I wanted to work for when I was back in university. I’m still at Ninja Theory and I’m loving it, as it’s what I’ve always wanted to do: 3D full body character/creature key-framed animation, working on Bleeding Edge, Hellblade 2 and other projects.



Phil: You’ve got animation in your bones, George – it’s your calling! What is it about animation that makes sense to you and what do you think are the ‘tell-tale’ signs someone is an animator? Were there signs when you were much younger? How did that love of animation shine out of you before you knew exactly what it was you wanted to do?

George: There’s always a reason behind why someone wants to become an animator – watching films, a love of gaming, cartoons or even VFX – having the thought of “Oh cool! how did they do that?”. Then the journey begins of finding out how things are done, and then the process starts. I’ve always been big fan of gaming, but I never thought “animation”. I studied gaming at college, but only the coding aspect of it. One day, I saw a friend of mine animating a biped on the computer and I was mind-blown. I haven’t stopped animating since.


Some of George’s earliest animations


Phil: Who are your animation heroes? Who inspires you or what inspires you? What have you seen recently that made you fall in love with animation all over again?

George: There are many animations out there that keep my fire going. I could sit on Vimeo for hours, watching people’s showreels, thinking how amazing their animation style is. Even looking at a character rig can make me want to animate that rig and do something cool with it. The number one animation that inspired me recently was Spider-Man – Into The Spiderverse. What brilliant film – everything from the animation to its art style, and how the animation was animated on 2s. There are also amazing animators here at Ninja Theory, whose work always pushes me to do better and go beyond the level I’m at.



Phil: What do you enjoy most about the animation process and why?

George: For me, it’s the planning, the researching, the ideas, and seeing the plan come together. Without all those things, the outcome of your animation might not be as strong as it could or should be. In one of my recent animations, the character lands and rolls on the floor; without researching parkour and reference videos on YouTube, the roll might not have been as convincing. Tweaking and pushing the animation – seeing what works and what doesn’t work – is also a fun part of the process.



Phil: And the least enjoyable?

George: Oh gosh! Finding bugs, having gimble locks and fixing it. A gimble lock is when your character’s rig gets a weird rotation and doesn’t behave in the way you need it to. Fixing this can be done, but it can be an annoying process!

Phil: How has the pandemic changed your working life?

George: Since we all now work from home, the office banter is out the window, likewise walking over to your colleague’s desk to see the cool things they’re working on or vice versa, sharing ideas, getting visual feedback there and then – all that’s missing now. The advantage is you literally get off your bed and your work is right in front of you – that and spending good time with your family. Me personally, I prefer the atmosphere of the office.

Phil: Outside of your day job, how do you stay fresh, inspired and healthy?

George: PLAY GAMES! WATCH FILMS! And GYM! Playing games and time at the gym gives me time away and keeps my state of mind good and healthy. Watching films gives me the inspiration for the next animation shot that might go in my showreel,

Phil: What remains on your ‘animation bucket-list’?

George: Getting more games under my belt, being a better animator in both character and creature animation, and also being able to play with motion capture data and pushing it to its limits. Honestly, it’s a never-ending skillset, a journey. You can always better yourself and do more and more things – and that is my plan!


MFT #5 Christina’s World (1948)

Christina’s World, Andrew Wyeth, 1948, egg tempera on gessoed panel


Christina’s Word by Andrew Wyeth is one of my favourite things. Here’s why.

In chapter two of Alice Through The Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll describes a maddening moment wherein Alice is thwarted by a path and stalked by a house:

“I should see the garden far better,’ said Alice to herself, `if I could get to the top of that hill: and here’s a path that leads straight to it — at least, no, it doesn’t do that — ‘ (after going a few yards along the path, and turning several sharp corners), `but I suppose it will at last. But how curiously it twists! It’s more like a corkscrew than a path! Well, THIS turn goes to the hill, I suppose — no, it doesn’t! This goes straight back to the house! Well then, I’ll try it the other way.’

And so she did: wandering up and down, and trying turn after turn, but always coming back to the house, do what she would. Indeed, once, when she turned a corner rather more quickly than usual, she ran against it before she could stop herself.

`It’s no use talking about it,” Alice said, looking up at the house and pretending it was arguing with her. `I’m NOT going in again yet. I know I should have to get through the Looking-glass again — back into the old room — and there’d be an end of all my adventures!’

So, resolutely turning back upon the house, she set out once more down the path, determined to keep straight on till she got to the hill. For a few minutes all went on well, and she was just saying, `I really SHALL do it this time — ‘ when the path gave a sudden twist and shook itself (as she described it afterwards), and the next moment she found herself actually walking in at the door.”


When I look at Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World, I’m reminded of Alice’s efforts to outwit her house, this house that just won’t quit, this house that so badly wants this little girl back inside it, like a whale gobbling a minnow. When I look at Wyeth’s painting, I think this is the exact moment, a girl, exhausted, twisting back around to look across the field only to find the house is there again – an ordinary house admittedly, but not a homely one.

Alice’s determination to not re-enter the house is on account of fear that in so doing, her adventures in Wonderland will end prematurely. I wonder if Christina worries the same way? I look at the distance she has put between herself and the house. I wonder is it enough? Don’t we all worry about this a little bit, on those long Christmas trips home, as we stand before the houses we grew up in, preparing to surrender our grown-up selves and end, for a time at least, some of our more adult adventures? I never get the sense Christina is looking back at the house because she is looking forward to a slice of apple pie at its kitchen table. This isn’t an episode of Little House On The Prairie. Christina isn’t one of those running, tumbling girls. No, this strange painting is none of those things. If we could see Christina’s face – and I’m always happy we can not – I think we would find in it only horror, or rage, or impotence – or whatever expression these three things might combine to produce.

Like the Alice stories, which I never once found comforting or joyful or pleasant, Christina’s World compels me to remember my own déjà vu dreams comprised of loops and repetitions; me, hopelessly lost on the London Underground but always happening upon the same place over and over; or the running dream when I know I cannot rest, cannot stop, because if I do, even for a second, the thing that chases me will be standing at my shoulder. However firmly routed in Americana and thus separate from my own experience, I find Wyeth’s painting familiar in that way exclusive to the uncanny. What is repressed is returning here. Christina’s house, like all the houses of our childhoods, is haunted.


Ed Gein’s house, Plainfield, Winconsin, 1957


Andrew Wyeth painted Christina’s World in 1948. Nine years later, the Waushara County Sheriff’s Department searched Ed Gein’s Winconsin farm and found the decapitated body of a missing store owner hanging upside down in the outhouse. Among other unimaginably horrible discoveries, they also found masks made from the skin of female heads, bowls made from human skulls, a woman’s face in a paper bag, a lampshade fashioned from human skin, and nine vulvae in a shoebox.

Known as the Butcher of Plainfield and the Plainfield Ghoul, the sheer spectacle of Ed Gein’s depravity forever skewed the optics of remote rural farmhouses and their occupants. Where once all those wooden houses anchored like plucky steadfast ships in the vast fields and vaster skies of the American landscape might have denoted the virtues of self-sufficiency, hard-work and the heroism of the Frontier, now they seemed as likely to be harbouring the darkest of secrets, lived in by families twisted into deplorable dependencies unchecked by the proximity of neighbours.

After Gein, came Psycho (1960), with its iconic wooden house as stark against the skyline as Wyeth’s, and after Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), where another white house sits island-like in a sea of insect-ticking grass, and behind its door, an entire family of ghouls.


The old wooden house behind the motel, Psycho (1960)

The family home in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)


I always think of these other houses when I look at Wyeth’s painting. I think of these bad places, and all the girls who went inside and died there. I cannot expunge Ed Gein from Wyeth’s ominous-looking outhouses. The filmic shapes they make against that low ceiling of sky make happier thoughts impossible, that and the oppressive silence of the painting, the sense of something held-fast. I love this painting, as I love The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but I would no more have Christina’s World on my wall than I rush to view Tobe Hooper’s gruelling movie.

Berlin-based artist, Phil Cooper, helped me understand something about Wyeth’s technique. In a recent conversation, Phil told me a little more about tempera, how the fastidious construction of the artist’s marks locks up and locks out movement or noise, that, as a technique, it stifles a certain expressiveness. There is a paradox at the heart of Wyeth’s strange painting – immobilisation producing oscillation – an effect as arresting and exhausting as the near-imperceptible flicker of a failing strip of florescent light.



Another image sharing the frozen restiveness of Christina’s World is I. Russel Sorgi’s Suicide (1942). In Sorgi’s image, the inevitable and expected forces of gravity are stopped by the action of the camera shutter, just as the wind that should animate the surface of Wyeth’s sky and fields are paused. We have only the scant horizontal lines of Christina’s breeze-blown hair to attest to the physical reality of her world, but like the flaring of the falling woman’s dress in Sorgi’s photograph, they only serve to stopper-up the image even more completely.

What is equally powerful about Sorgi’s photograph is the way we know more about what is going to happen than the people in the coffee shop. While this image is shocking, it’s not shock we experience, but rather the attenuation of suspense.

Of course, Psycho’s Alfred Hitchcock knew a thing or two about suspense, about the origin of this contrary pleasure. For an audience to feel suspense, they must first have information. When I look at Christina’s World, I experience suspense because I know there is something here at least, an off-ness, a threat, a shadow, an ominosity awarded to the otherwise humdrum elements in the picture. It’s there too in what is not quite right about Christina’s body. This girl is not some relaxed participant in this tableau. It is there in the composition, those houses held-up like that against the flat sky and the way Christina seems so horribly alert to them. Always I’m reminded of titles of cheapskate seventies shockers like Don’t Look In The Basement (1972) and Don’t Go Into The House (1979). because this is what I’m thinking; don’t go into that house, Christina – and if you do, Christina, definitely don’t look in the basement.

Wyeth generates suspense in one other simple way, for while Christina has her back to us, Wyeth presents her posture in such an awkward way, we feel, at any moment, this girl must surely turn around if only to correct what is wrong about it. We know the Christina in the painting is based on a real Christina, and the image itself inspired by a real memory of the real Christina crawling across a real field. The real Christina is thought to have had Charcot–Marie–Tooth disease, in which scoliosis is common and likewise the malformation of bone sockets. Does this account for the visceral discomfort I experience when I look at the girl in the painting, my eyes glueing again and again to her feeble emaciated arm, braced against the ground in a way that looks impossible to endure? The detail of her elbow, the angle of her wrist, the somehow reptilian curvature of her spine – all these little things are powerful engines of suspense because I feel them in my own body and know, if I was this girl, marooned out there without a hiding place, I’d be pivoting already, freeing-up, standing-up, extending my limbs in readiness to make good on my escape. Get up, Christina. For God’s sake, get up. The house, Christina. The house is coming.


Betty, Gerhard Richter, 1988, oil on canvas


And always when I think about Christina, I think about Betty, another girl in aspic. I don’t worry as much about Betty, though I do wonder what so arrests her attention in all that darkness. I couldn’t have Richter’s hyper-real 1988 painting hanging on my wall any more than Wyeth’s celebrated slice of American art, for there wouldn’t be a morning when I came downstairs when I wouldn’t be fully expecting to find Betty looking out at me instead, that some chain in the image had finally given out, its subject swinging round to look me in the eye.

Maybe Betty’s face is a face you could learn live with – even love? I suppose it depends on what she saw in the dark and what mark it left upon her. But Christina’s face – no, I never want to see that – and when I do think of it, turning my imagination to the task as I might finger an aching tooth or pimple, I see her face in a paper-bag.