Artist-In-Residence: Tom Beg #9


It was all the way back in November I last caught up with Red’s Kingdom’s artist-in-residence – filmmaker, animator and digital artist, Tom Beg. Since that time, I can assure you Tom hasn’t been twiddling his thumbs. On the contrary, he has been hard at working bringing the illusion of life to the first group of his otherworldly critters, so it’s time for a bit more show and tell.


Phil: How are you, Tom? And life in Japan? What are the headlines?

Tom: Nothing too exciting for me personally but it is coming up to my fifth anniversary of living here, so that’s something. Also, Japan’s educational year actually ends in March, and starts again in April, so in February most students who are planning to go to high school or university are going through what is known as juken jigoku or “exam hell” if translated to English. This means soon it will be spring and graduation ceremonies (socially distanced ones, of course), with cherry blossom flavoured Kit Kats, and cherry blossom flavoured everything available in abundance.

Phil: I’ve been very excited to see your most recent updates, including a sneak peek at the project’s branding.  To kick things off, tell us something about your creative decision-making in regards to your animation’s title.

Tom: The animation’s title is Tabula 5465. Basically, it is inspired by the naming conventions of exoplanets. Tabula is the Roman word for a slate or tablet, on which things are written, while 5465 is a reference to the physical dimensions of Joan Miro’s painting Women and Birds at Sunrise, the painting from which the designs and ideas for the creatures in my animation derive. The logo represents the orbits of eight different planets, each representing the different creatures in my animation. The font was inspired by the one used for the titles in The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau.  

Phil: I’ve been watching your animation updates appear on your Vimeo channel, and enjoying how you’re bringing more life to your creatures with every iteration. What’s guiding your decision-making in terms of your animation strategy?

Tom: Just making sure everything feels alive and behaving as if it belongs in this world. For this sequence, firstly I thought about how the creatures would behave if they were simply idling about and not doing much at all. From there, it was thinking about how they might potentially go from this idling-around behaviour to different states of movement.



Phil: We’ve talked previously about the challenges of directing a film that is driven, not by story, but by the behaviours of your characters. What is your current thinking about how the film hangs together as a whole?

Tom: I think it’s going to be more in the style of a documentary or educational film. Rather than have the creatures perform for the camera, I’m animating as if they are being filmed in a natural state. I imagine when filming nature in real life, there is probably a certain joy in just watching things happen without any interference, even if it’s totally mundane behaviour. That’s what I’m aiming to capture. It’s not really a story with a three-act structure, but the story of these creatures and how they behave in their own world, and as a group.  

Phil: What are some of the frustrations in regard to the animation process?

Tom: The physic simulations require a lot of calculation that can’t be done in real-time, so if I want to move something, I can’t get accurate feedback instantly. I have to do something called a playblast, which is a way of watching the animation play back at the correct speed. The videos you’re seeing in this post are playblasts. They aren’t full renders, but they play the animation accurately at a lower visual quality for preview purposes. Then there is dealing with models passing through each other because they aren’t actually solid things. I’m constantly having to adjust timing and position. It’s like cutting off the head of a hydra – you fix one and then another one appears!

Phil: And what’s delighted and surprised you?

Tom: I snuck out a few low-resolution renders with the lighting and materials applied, and it is looking quite nice. Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait a while longer to see those….

Phil: Out of curiosity, are you able to add up all the different individual tasks and processes you’ve had to go through to get to the latest stage – and how many processes come after this point to produce a final sequence?

Tom: So far there’s been: design, modelling, rigging, texturing, lighting, going back and fixing the modelling, fixing the rigging, animating, fixing animation, fixing animation and fixing animation. After fixing more animation, I will need to cache the animation and set up the various render passes that will give me the information I need to get depth of field, motion blur etc. After that, rendering the actual animation and compositing the various layers into a final sequence with all the effects applied that give it the final polished look.



Phil: And finally, what’s up next?

Tom: The three-armed pink tentacle creatures probably. I will animate the creatures in the order I made them, although they won’t necessarily appear in the animation in this order.



Film: Lost In Fields Part 8 – Saxon Shore Scrub, February (2021)


An eighth film in the Getting Lost In Fields series, a marked departure from the impressionist fantasias of some of my other photographic expeditions into the ambience of particular patches of wild and ostensibly unremarkable local landscapes. The photographs comprising the roomy and doomy tableaux characterising this little moving image piece were taken during the short snap of very cold weather in early February. The snow had the effect of transforming a concave collection of unruly grasses, denuded shrubs and brambles into a near extra-terrestrial vista, with the surfeit of texture producing some excitingly illustrative images. While putting this film together, I kept seeing images of wearied polar explorers trudging across unforgiving tundra, or exhausted astronauts on inhospitable planets. It was bitterly cold while taking the original photographs, the wind coming straight off the sea, so I was very happy to walk only the few minutes home to sit beside the stove with a mug of tea.



Fox Quick (2021)


I wanted to engage with the most recent Kick-About prompt – the 5 Canons of Rhetoric – as it related to the idea of moving from an initial instinctive idea to something recognisably cogent and complete, and communicated successfully to others. I chose the pangram, ‘The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over The Lazy Dog’ because, in its use of every single letter in the alphabet, I thought I could argue it was a single sentence encompassing every other English language idea possible; every book, every song, every poem, every philosophical treatise, every argument, and so on. As the animation goes on, you see different ideas vying for representation and moments of indecision, flashes of inspiration – helpful and otherwise – and a final resolution of the phrase we recognise collectively as ‘right’.



(There is some pesky pixelation due to compression in this Vimeo version: with a bit of luck, you’ll find the original video to view hosted here).


Ink Part 1 (2021)


For our recent Ernst Haeckel-inspired Kick-About, I produced a short little animation, capturing the rather wonderful effect of rubbing alcohol on drawings made in black marker pen. As the process of producing an animation requires lots and lots of individual frames, I was able to isolate some of these landscape-like transformations as a series of satisfying photographs in their own right. More soon.



Film: Ink (2021)


It was while producing these images for the Kick-About No.18, that I picked up the wrong sort of marker pen, which reacted to the spritzing of alcohol in some fascinating ways. I noticed how the solid lines of ink blossomed unexpectedly into a squirm of tendrils or fine feathery hairs. I noticed too how some consequence of the varying drying times of the ink and the alcohol produced a creeping tide-mark that moved across the surface of the tile – before suddenly retreating again. It was a bit like observing some organism in a petri dish or under a microscope. Suitably-inspired, I set about capturing these evolving ‘Art Forms’ through time-lapse photography.


Photographing the interaction of the ink and alcohol taking place on a ceramic tile, frame-by-frame.


With Ernst Haeckel’s beautiful and often bizarre zoological illustrations as my prompt, it was difficult not to think about images of virology and bacteria (I suspect the global pandemic might have something to do with it too!) and my affection for the b-movies of the 1950s surfaced as quickly, producing something moodier and more ominous than I’d originally planned. 

What’s fascinating is a technique, which previously gave rise to a sort of image suited to tasteful greetings cards, should now produce something so tonally different. However, given what we know about some of Haeckel’s other ideas, perhaps the underlying menace is not so wide of the mark.

The many individual photographs comprising the film were originally in colour, but I ultimately took the decision to produce the finished film in black and white. It was one of those instances when the sum of the film won out over its parts, with the music and the vintage flicker of the images crying out for monochrome. I’ve included the colour alternate version here for your curiosity.




Film: Getting Lost In Fields – Anthology 2020


On the cusp of the new year, I wanted to avoid any further musings on 2020 as they might relate to the pandemic, not least because I suspect the ‘new year’ is going to feel a lot like the old one – at least for a while. Instead, I’ve gathered together all seven ‘Lost In Fields’ films as my swansong to a strange, slow year that was not without its simple pleasures and rich in moments of beauty.



Film: Lost In Fields Part 7 – Oare, Late November (2020)


A seventh short little exercise in seeking to evoke a particular place and time through the simplest means of image, movement and sound. Our trip out to the nature reserve at Oare, Faversham, Kent coincided with a wonderful sunset and pellucid moonrise, our slow shamble among the tall feathered reeds and every-which-way grasses accompanied by the haunting trill of curlews. As the light faded further, the landscape just fell away into tawny softness. It was other-worldly out there. I hope this short film expresses some of that.