Spotlight #5 Deanna Crisbacher


When I needed someone to help me transform a series of digital photographs of local rural landscapes into a range of vivid far-off exoplanets for our most recent Kick-About challenge, I contacted my friend and former student, Deanna Crisbacher.

Dee and I have worked together on a series of animation projects, including Red & The Kingdom Of Sound, Spectrogram and Marcus & The Mystery of the Pudding Pans. In all these instances, Dee moved heaven and earth in support of the projects, her work characterised by meticulous attention to detail, pristine visuals, expansive technical know-how, and a formidable work ethic.

In addition to inviting Dee to collaborate on the exoplanet project, I also took the opportunity to catch up with her for a longer conversation about her life and times and the continuing impact of the ‘new normal’.


The ten planets of Wanderer (2020), created by Deanna Crisbacher


Phil: It’s potted history time, Dee. So you graduated back in 2018… what happened next?

Dee: Things for me were extremely hectic post-graduation. I had begun applying for jobs a few weeks prior, so by early August I was attending interviews at a few studios around London. During this time I was preparing to fly to the US for my annual family visit, but that year I was also going to Vancouver to volunteer at the SIGGRAPH conference.

Phil: What’s SIGGRAPH?’

Dee: SIGGRAPH (ACM Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics) is a yearly computer graphics and technology conference that showcases the latest technology and computer graphics for film, TV, video games and more. This includes anything from visual effects software used to create films by Pixar, Marvel, etc. to artificial intelligence and 3D printing. A huge array of companies such as Google, Industrial Light & Magic, Disney, Nvidia, Microsoft, EA Games, Weta, Sony and many more participate to exhibit, share and educate others on upcoming technology. What is really cool about it is it’s not just about visual effects or films, but also video games, coding, hardware and more abstract art applications. There is SIGGRAPH North America and SIGGRAPH Asia that each takes place once a year in different cities around the world. As a student volunteer it was a great way to meet people in the industry, apply for jobs, get special insight into the developing technologies, and to get showreel feedback.

It was hard managing all of this at once, especially because I had several interviews at a company called The Flying Colour Company (TFCC) and the day before my flight to the US they offered me a job as a Trainee Visual Effects (VFX) Artist. I needed to head into London to collect paperwork that day on short notice. It was stressful, but very exciting. I then took a little time off with my family, went to Vancouver to volunteer and meet some amazing people at SIGGRAPH, before returning to London to begin my new job. Since then I’ve learned how to use Autodesk Flame, but also helped integrate more 3D work into TFCC’s workflow.

Phil: Autodesk Flame sounds like you were being taught how to use a military-grade flame-thrower or similar! Without getting too technical, what is Autodesk Flame and how does it fit into making tv shows and film?

Dee: Autodesk Flame is a compositing and VFX software. Flame gives VFX artists tools to blend live action footage with other pictures, video clips, artwork or 3D CGI assets to create the final image. For example, a VFX studio may be given footage that was filmed in front of a greenscreen. We will then use Flame’s tools to replace the greenscreen with whatever the director wants in the background…such as a cityscape. We can also use Flame to do things like remove safety wires, add gore, remove crew members from reflections, replicate crowds, adding rain, inserting television screens, adding 3D assets like helicopters, changing lighting and so on. The possibilities are almost endless really. The name is a little deceptive…although we can also add fire using it if we have the right assets for the job! It has been intimidating and overwhelming at times but very rewarding and fun. I’ve gotten to work on some amazing shows like Killing Eve, Peaky Blinders, Years and Years, Baghdad Central and more. I’ve learned so much during that time; I look forward to learning more in the future.

Phil: Ooh, Killing Eve – expectations around shows like that are immense. Do you have to sign non-disclosure agreements? And what is it like living with spoilers etc? Do people try and wheedle out plot points from you or try and trip you up? (Of course, I wouldn’t try and do that, other people I mean).

Dee: Yup! That was a pretty huge part of getting hired and all of the paperwork involved. I can get into major trouble if I leak anything, so I often don’t even talk about what I am actively working on. I tend to wait until it is airing on TV before I say ‘hey I worked on that!’. That can be tough with shows like Killing Eve, where we have worked on multiple series so when a new series is confirmed people assume we are working on it. I have had a few people try to get some spoilers out of me before. It can be tough especially if you’ve never watched a show that you are working on, such as Peaky Blinders for me, so sometimes what I see I don’t even know I’ve seen a big plot point. So it’s just safer to not talk about it till it’s been aired! But for shows I do watch, it does sometimes ruin the surprise… but it’s also fun trying to piece disjointed shots together. We don’t get things in chronological order so it doesn’t always make sense.



Phil: Your graduate film, When, is largely autobiographical – tell us something about what it means to make such a personal piece of work.

Dee: I think it means being willing to explore yourself even if you do not like what you find…and being honest and transparent about it. It takes a willingness to be open and vulnerable to others, strangers and friends/family, about topics that are very deep, personal, and sometimes painful. I think there also needs an understanding that even though it’s personal to you, others may not be interested. They may not like it, not be interested in it, or just straight out reject it. I think it takes a willingness to face that sort of rejection but remain true to your goal. To me, it was worth feeling a bit uncomfortable to encourage people discuss these complex topics.

Phil: Were there moments when you thought, nope, I’m not going to share that? Did you have second thoughts at all?

Dee: Yes, anything that involved other people I either didn’t share or had second thoughts about sharing. Involving my family members, especially if I couldn’t ask for permission, made me wonder if they would want to be part of it or not. I never want to cross a line when it involves others’ privacy, since they may not want to have their part of the story told and it’s not in my right to violate that – also some of the more ‘serious’ stuff I decided to just hint at more than explicitly say, which I think is enough.



Phil: When has a very specific look. Can you tell us a bit about some of the creative decisions around the film?

Dee: One of the main things I wanted to achieve was the uncann, rather than horror. So I didn’t want to go for a standard ‘evil dark hospital’ theme. I wanted it to be recognisable, but not quite right. Realistic but distorted and fractured, like how it felt when I was ill. That also feeds into the sound design, where there are recognisable sounds, like fluorescent lights flickering or crowds of people, but to also take pieces of that and morph it into something very unsettling. The same goes for the narration vs the distorted whispers. I wanted there to be a thread of realism disrupted by the concept of ‘illness’ that makes it become unfamiliar.

The theme of hospitals also played into the graphic design of the project. There is an interesting similarity between medication prescription labels and nutrition labels. Numbers and nutritional information played a huge part in my illness, so including that obsession with numbers and a deep need for complete control was important to portray in the look of the project, to show how stark and life-draining that experience was.

The choice to use archived footage was an important one, because there needed to be a break out of that stark place to show the audience that it is a true story, with real people, feelings, and experiences behind it, that while it is not a horror film, neither is it a story that ends with a ‘happily ever after’. It was really difficult to figure out a way to incorporate them into the film, but I think it helps get across that fractured nature of it and the real lives behind it.

Phil: When went on to win many awards at film festivals; I know you were interviewed about it and did a few talks around mental health as a result. Were you surprised by the reception of the film?

Dee: I knew it had potential, since my second year film, Dysmorphia, seemed to strike people in a sort of similar way. I also knew it could totally flop, given how open I tried to be about everything and how untraditional the art direction was regarding animation. Depending on the situation, people cower away from these difficult topics when faced with them directly. I think if I had made the film a few years ago, perhaps it wouldn’t have gotten the same recognition since now mental illness is a more openly discussed. But the stories I started hearing from people about their experiences with eating disorders specifically surprised me. I find that while people are more open about mental illness in a general sense, eating disorders are still not talked about much. Given how abstract it was as well, there was a risk of people not ‘getting it’ so I’m glad that it made sense to people.




Phil: What is it about CGI/VFX that speaks to you as an art form?

Dee: I think it’s the world-building aspect of it. Granted, technically every art form is ‘world building’, but I find CG can bend reality in a way that feels more tangible. It’s a difficult medium to work with, but that is part of what makes it so satisfying when you achieve what you want, even if it’s somewhat of a compromise. Everything you do is a sort of puzzle; there are endless ways to create things using CG and VFX, and learning new tools is really fun and exciting. It’s a strange mixture having extreme control at times, but zero control at others. Sometimes the lack of control provides even better results, which is why I really enjoy simulations despite how frustrating it can be too.


A break-down of some of the key shots Dee created for Red & The Kingdom Of Sound (2018)


Phil: Okay – so you’re going to have to talk a little about what you mean by ‘simulations’ and where they fit in terms of VFX etc…

Dee: When I talk about simulations, I’m referring to anything involving particles or volumes (smoke, fire) but it can also involve liquid, shatter/destruction and cloth creation. These sort of effects need to be simulated by the software, meaning they take in a math formulas based on real-life physics such as gravity in order to create a realistic outcome. For example, when simulating an explosion Maya takes into consideration the temperature, velocity, and density settings to calculate the colour, luminosity, speed, transparency and movement of the explosion. You can also add wind, turbulence and other factors to further art direct the look of a simulation. The beauty of it is that it is totally random, it needs frame 1 to calculate frame 2 and so on… but that also means it can be unpredictable and time consuming. You can tweak things, like making gravity more or less intense than in real life, but it is largely a guessing game. But that is how you get more realistic results since it uses real-life calculations and formulas!

Phil: What has been your experience of COVID-19 so far, and likewise, the ‘new normal’?

Dee: It’s been a struggle. In one respect it’s been nice not having to commute…it ate up 3 hours or more of my day during the week and was also pretty expensive. So having that extra time and saved up money has been nice. However I find it’s been difficult in other regards… I miss being able to discuss work with my peers. Sat at home, it’s not as easy to ask for help or feedback when you’re alone. It also takes a lot longer to share work back and forth and feedback can be confusing when no one is there to point at the screen and go ‘there is the problem’. I really miss seeing how other artists work and what they are working on. I do admittedly feel I get more done though, since those sorts of conversations don’t happen now. It’s also more of a struggle to remember to stop working…it’s very easy to say ‘just one more shot’ and before you know it, it’s 10pm or later…but it has little consequence because you are already home. But in the long run with overworking like that, I’ve found burnout sets in very quickly if I’m not careful.

Phil: Lockdown meant the end of lots of film and tv productions – what has the impact been on your sector: you can only produce VFX sequences for stuff that has been filmed and made available to you, right?

Dee: That is correct. Luckily at the time lockdown first happened, the productions we were working on either had finished filming or had enough material to fill in the gaps. So once we finished doing the VFX for those productions…that was it really. We are still waiting on shows to get back to filming so we have stuff to work on but until then it’s just a waiting game. I know some other VFX and games studios are up and running again but it depends on what is being made. Some commercials for example are pure VFX/CGI… and same for games I suppose. It’ll be interesting to see how filming adapts to this new post-COVID world to ensure everyone stays safe.

Phil: Who and what inspires you and recharges your creative batteries?

Dee: Several people I met at SIGGRAPH I follow on sites like LinkedIn and Artstation inspire me, I like seeing where people go and how their careers and talents progress. Seeing art in general encourages me to create my own art. Ryan Barry is a good friend of mine now, we share art with each other regularly and have also began experimenting with ‘style mashups’ between his drawings and mine. He also does 3D work, more so for video games rather than film and TV so it’s interesting to see the process he goes through vs me.  



Here are a few other talented artists I met at SIGGRAPH and try to keep in contact with/follow:

Regarding other artists that I follow online, here are a few:

I’ve had more time to do some reading during lockdown and I enjoy taking different characters, worlds, or ideas and imagining what they’d look like or personify as. Normally I’d get a lot of inspiration from my co-workers and the different productions we are working on…but during this pause I’ve tried to keep up to date with what developing software and technologies are out there, which makes me excited for future learning. I also really love seeing any behind-the-scenes footage/articles about film and games. I really miss going to movie theatres though. Regarding specific films that comfort me…I’d definitely say Lord of the Rings. Lord of the Rings is what got me interested in art and filmmaking in the first place. So times where I feel I am struggling to feel motivated I watch those movies or the behind the scenes features. I find it exciting and fascination how much goes into making a film, and how much love and dedication is poured into some productions. The same goes for the original Star Wars trilogy. The innovation and creativity that was needed to problem solve makes me feel inspired and hopeful. Especially since “we didn’t know how to achieve this, but we tried our best to figure it out” is a common theme from junior artists to the directors. I know I often feel that way, so knowing that pretty much everyone in the industry feels this at some point is comforting.

Phil: When you’re not producing CGI work, what other creative outlets do you have? I know from your Twitter feed that you paint, for example…

Dee: So I do create some CG work on my own, more experimental stuff or things that I want to make in order to practice. However, behind CGI I also do like to draw both traditionally and digitally. I often find I prefer the basic structure of my traditional sketches and doodles so I’ll bring them into Photoshop and paint over them. I’ve mentioned as well that I have begun doing some style mash-ups with my friend, Ryan Barry, so that’s been a fun side project. I also try practicing some traditional clay sculpting, basic needle felting and baking if I don’t feel like drawing. I used to write short stories and poems as well, but I sadly haven’t done that in a long time now. But my creative interests are always changing so maybe I’ll get back to that!


deannacrisbacher.com


Wanderer (2020)


When Marcy Erb over at Illustrated Poetry offered up an actual planet for the Kick-About 11, I had an idea I knew I couldn’t achieve alone. In recent months, I’ve littered Red’s Kingdom with photographic evidence of my multiple escapes into impressionist landscapes, often characterised by the contradiction between their sensorial splendour and their utter ubiquity. Local fields, meadows and scrublands have yielded other-worldly imagery.

Much has been written by many about the ways in which the shrinking-powers of the pandemic have heightened the sights and sounds of the natural world; I’m tempted to call it the ‘Dorothy effect’ after that wonderful moment in The Wizard Of Oz when Dorothy Gale first leaves her tornado-tossed farmhouse and enters Oz for the first time, sepia giving way to the sugar rush of Technicolour.

As I write this, the UK is having its expectations managed further regarding the continuing effects of the COVID on our spheres of activity and interaction. Our respective worlds look set to shrink a little more. The idea I had – but couldn’t accomplish – was to literalise the idea that my various escapes out into the landscape had indeed been welcome journeys to other worlds. Anyway, the word ‘planet’ derives from the Greek word for ‘wanderer’; how apt, considering my own wanderings through these gauzy landscapes of vivid vegetation and gaseous colour.

But how to turn a high-resolution digital photograph of an East Kent meadow into a planet and its accompanying nebula?! Fortunately, I knew just the person to help me realise this cunning plan, VFX whiz-zkid, Deanna Crisbacher, who I had the pleasure of teaching and working alongside back when Dee was an undergraduate, and again afterwards when I roped her into a bunch of other ‘impossible things’.

My email conversation with Dee went like this:

Me: I’ve got this idea of wrapping some of my photos around some ‘planets’, so producing my own constellation of ‘strange new words’ presented similarly to the one in the prompt image… tell me if this is a thing we could do without it being too much work?

Dee: Hey Phil, sure I’m happy to play around with some alien planet-like objects! I love that sort of experimental stuff, as you know

You have to know what I’m about to write next in no way gives credit to the hours and hours and hours of time, energy and perseverance it has taken Dee to be able to do the stuff she can do using the technology she does. When I write ‘So, Dee took my photographs and plugged them into her CGI-dream machine to produce a bunch of digital planets’, I’m explaining nothing at all about the actual process or acknowledging the breadth and depth of Dee’s skillset. Simple to say, she’s a bit of a magician (only it’s not magic, it’s knowledge and experience). Dee and I tried it a few different ways at first, with one test resulting in these rather wonderful-looking artefacts!



A few more attempts later, and Dee was able to use one of my later Boughton Scrub photographs to produce this planet (below), with the details in the image driving all the implied topology. Dee and I were very happy with this result. You’re also looking at lots of decisions around lighting and rendering – but those decisions are Dee’s; my role was just to say ‘yes!’ very delightedly when it started to look cool!



I asked Dee to grab a few screen captures from her computer when she was developing the planets. I don’t think it’s important that non-3D literate visitors understand what they’re looking at here. What’s important is understanding nothing here is happening automatically or at the hands of ‘the computer’, but rather at the hands of an artist with a very powerful tool at her disposal!



With huge thanks to Dee then, I can now present a collection of ten planets and corresponding nebulae, all of which originate directly from photographs taken while I wandered through the fields and meadows of the ‘new normal’.












Artist-In-Residence: Tom Beg #7


I always look forward to the moment when I get a Skype notification, which usually means artist-in-residence, Tom Beg, has something new to show me. Tom’s been super-busy of late doing sensible things like enriching the vocabulary of his Japanese students, but has somehow found the time to put some finishing touches to his Miro-verse menagerie! We caught up for a brief chat recently and it gives me very real pleasure to share once more the fruits of Tom’s labours!


Phil: Hey Tom. I hope all is well over there in Japan. So, you got all critters modelled, textured and rigged… and then you went back to some of them to make some refinements. What was missing from them originally, and what changes have you made and why?

Tom: I thought everything had something of flat CG look, which was making everything not as satisfying to look at as it could have been. It was probably a case of me being a little timid when it came to turning on some of the extra switches after a long time out and not really knowing what kind of extra steps turning on said switches would introduce. Most of the changes are pretty subtle, but I’ve tried to throw a few things into the mix. For example, making the surfaces reflect and absorb light a little more interestingly, making the highlights pop a bit more and so on. There will be definitely be some more changes when I start animating and see what happens when these things move and react to light more dynamically.



Phil: I know you’re not supposed to have a favourite child… but do you have a favourite creature, and if so, how so?

Tom: I like the red orb with the metallic blue shell! Funnily enough of all the original sketches it’s the one I find the least appealing, but in its 3D, form I think it’s very cute and graphical. It has this mischievous personality that comes across even without an obvious face.



Phil: You’ve been looking at, thinking about, and working on these characters for months now… how have you sustained your interest in the project?

Tom: I enjoy seeing the results each step brings, so I just chip away and take everything day by day! These are strange times, so I don’t beat myself up about missing whatever informal deadlines or goals I’ve set in my mind.



Phil: How’s ‘the story’ coming along – though I’m using that term very loosely!

Tom: I’m aiming for something short and sweet which probably does indeed mean a very loose story! I’m leaning towards something a bit faux-documentary, not too much editing and just letting the creatures’ movement and visual style define how the ‘story’ progresses.



Phil: What can we expect from your next update, Tom? What’s on your to-do list?

Tom: Animation and lots of it! All these critters need someone to get them wiggling and shaking and that’s my job!



Phil: And finally… how’s the cicada situation out there?

Tom: Unfortunately, the cicadas have just about cried their last call of the year, but now hornets are on the prowl and those do actually kill people so I think I should just stay inside and make this animation!


The Kick-About #9 ‘Short Ride In A Fast Machine’


In marked contrast to our last creative prompt, which encouraged us to reflect on the slow, attenuated life-cycles of the cicada, this week’s jumping-off point invites adventures in velocity. As per, the range of responses is a delight. My advice? Slow down and have a really good look!


Francesca Maxwell

“A great prompt. Most of my work aims to capture movement – action, transformation, development, energy, colour, sound… This time it brought back into life an idea I have been circling around for a long time, which turns into a sketch I did on a plane back from Mexico; great places to sketch, planes and trains. Some of my best ideas happen there; the myth of Icarus. While imprisoned in a tower, his father Daedalus, famous for having built the Labyrinth, made wings for Icarus, taught him to fly and warned him not to go too high or the heat of the sun will melt the wax used to make the wings – with the well known result. A great tragic story. It inspired so many paintings and art works showing all the stages of the story. I particularly love Bruegel’s one with just a pair of legs in the sea while life goes on. I decided to show the aftermath of the fall itself without the object, the gravity force pulling down breaking from the clouds through the air into the water; of course using my usual “control impulse” technique starting from the light in the foreground and stepping backward inside the painting with subsequent layers of ink washes getting deeper and deeper into the background and then out again. I hope Icarus enjoyed the time he had in the air, if short.”


www.FBM.me.uk


Phil Cooper

“When I first started visiting Berlin, over ten years ago now, there were a great many abandoned buildings, ruins and left-overs from the second world war and the cold war dotted all around the city. Many of these have since been demolished, refurbished and turned into overpriced flats, or repackaged as museums etc, but quite a few still remain.

A few years ago I came across this strange place just south of the city at Adlershof. It was a site developed to test jet engines towards the end of the second world war. I think the doodlebugs were tested here. It is very eerie and peculiar. Even then, the city authorities had cottoned on to the fact that people were visiting the place and that it might have some mileage as a tourist trail curio. There were new signs and noticeboards about and they’d installed little pods around the buildings which, when you approached, started emitting B-movie sci-fi sounds like wailing theremins. It was all rather cheesy and funny, but it worked, strangely, and you wandered around feeling like you were in a 1970s Dr. Who episode or one of these series telling unsettling stories of the uncanny.

This buildings and structures were built to develop the fastest machines in the world, but they had a pretty short life. They soon became obsolete as other technologies came along.

It’s a bit like the concrete ‘sound mirrors’ near Dungeness, or the nuclear research site on Orford Ness; it has a nostalgic retro-futurist vibe that’s intriguing and a little bit melancholy. These places are relics, echoes of a past, and they have no use any more, they’re like ghosts.”


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


Phil Gomm

“Courtesy of my good friend and long-time collaborator, Ethan Shilling, I was able to transcribe John Adams’ Short Ride In A Fast Machine into a spectrogram, a visual representation of the music showing the frequencies comprising the sound. The black and white image below is what the sound of this fast machine looks like as it accelerates from start to finish. With more than a nod to Kubrick’s 2001, the exhilarating opening titles to the original 1978 Superman, and a quick steal from Luigi Rossolo’s The Revolt, I took the resulting spectrogram, colourised it for heat, fizz and vibrancy, and pushed it into perspective for maximum velocity!”




Vanessa Clegg

“Two things stood out whilst listening to this piece…the steady tap, tap, tap in the background (like a leaking pipe or aid to meditation) and the abstract cacophony surrounding it. So I drew my friend Andy as a calm oblivious centre whilst a maelstrom of instruments, clothes (mask and gloves of course!) and detritus flew about his head.” Pen and ink on Fabriano. 22” X  22”


vanessaclegg.co.uk


Gary Thorne

“Kicked-off with A1 drawing in elaborate-freeform. Day-2 was elaborate-freeform using a crude-mix of thinned oils. Day-3, after taking a dislike to it, chopped it into 12 squares with disregard for things I might have liked and scattered them beneath the work desk. Day-4, one week later, each square found its own right-way-up and the conclusion of the set was reached just beyond 4 hours 40 minutes. To avoid curating, they are presented in the order they were painted and no telling how they fit back into A1.” Oil on primed paper, set of 12, 16x16cm


linkedin.com/in/gary-thorne


Kerfe Roig

“I was thinking of the kind of collage I’d do for this piece of music–a layered mandala with everything I could find inside it, and realized I had one like that already.”


faster and faster
the wheel spins, gathering all
into one huge dance


kblog.blog / methodtwomadness.wordpress.com


Tom Beg

“I’ve always imagined this piece of music as beams of light and geometric shapes so here’s a quickly rustled up 3D sketch to try and capture that feeling.”


twitter.com/earthlystranger / vimeo.com/tombeg


Marion Raper

“Although I have never heard this piece of music before I found it very inspirational and to me it could not have meant anything other than Drag Racing. My other half is a fanatical follower of the sport and has even been down the track himself a few times, whilst I have watched on the start line. It’s quite an experience! The lights count down, then there’s a sharp roar of engines (Don’t forget to cover your ears) and then the 2 cars launch down the track. Believe me the ground can actually shake! No way are my artistic skills up to capturing this moment, but it’s fun to remember the sensation and thrill of such amazing speed as you gaze into the distance and the parachutes come open to slow the cars down. Then the time comes up – 0 to 220mph in 6 seconds – now that’s moving!”



Marcy Erb

“When Phil announced the theme for Kick-About #9 was a musical composition by John Adams entitled a “Short Ride in a Fast Machine,” oh, I had ideas. Because there is an incredibly fast machine operating inside of you – countless times a day, taking you on a too short ride from the moment of conception until the day you die: your DNA replication machinery. This complex machine, made up of dozens of components, makes an exact copy of your DNA in preparation for your cells to divide.”



marcyerb.com


Judy Watson

“Here are two updated images with the little drawings completed, such as they are. Rough. But intentionally so. I made them to turn into an animation of sorts… I thought it might be fun to make them into a fake Muybridge photographic sequence. I made my grid. Very good fun.”



www.judywatson.net / Instagram.com/judywatsonart / facebook.com/judywatsonart


Kevin Clarkson

“Kind of you to add a late entry! I loved the piece of music, not heard that before. It would be a great soundtrack to a video of an X-15 in flight. I painted a view of an X-15 some years ago as part of a short series on the early American space programme. It has been a source of fascination from my early years. I think it is because it was cutting edge – they were writing the rule book for those who would follow.”


kevinclarkson.co.uk /artfinder.com/kevin-clarkson / kevinclarksonart.blogspot.com


Wow – we’re on prompt number ten already! Courtesy of regular kick-abouter, Vanessa Clegg, we’ve got one of Joseph Cornell’s evocative boxes to inspire us. Have fun – and if you know someone who you think might enjoy a rush-around with the rest of us, do please extend the invitation.


Romantic Museum, 1946, Joseph Cornell



The Kick-About #8 ‘Cicada’


Our last Kickabout prompt, based off Sickert’s painting ‘Ennui’, inspired a range of new work by our participating artists on themes of listless, languor and waiting. When you consider the prolonged incubation times of your average cicada, you could say we haven’t moved all that far this week! That said, we’re a long away from Sickert’s rather drab little parlour, as instead we seek to celebrate the life, times and associations of these extraordinary insects.


Tom Beg

Even after I’ve long since left this place I currently call home, cicadas more than anything will be the thing I associate the most about summer in Japan. Of course, the amazing sound they make is their most recognisable and iconic trait, but they have another peculiar behavior I find quite morbidly fascinating. After they do their yearly cicada thing, the final resting place of an unlucky few ends up being in the middle of the street, helplessly stranded on their backs, their legs still sometimes twitching, left to roast in the searing summer heat. Presumably, big black crows (which are the other sound of Japan) then come and scoop them up later on for a crunchy crow feast. Their short-lived life, once they emerge from their slumber, is truly bizarre!

Cicadas are also a traditional subject of origami art because of the charming simplicity of the easiest design which anyone can make, but also because of the huge degree of complexity and mastery required to make more realistic designs such as by the likes of Akira Yoshizawa. I’m not an origami master, in fact I’m quite sure I couldn’t even do a nice mountain fold, so rather than wasting a lot of paper, here’s my tribute to the fallen cicada inspired by origami but not actually origami.


twitter.com/earthlystranger / vimeo.com/tombeg


Vanessa Clegg

 “Took a bit of time finding a way into this but then did and thoroughly enjoyed the process!”

CICADA: PERSONAL CHANGE/ RENEWAL/ REBIRTH/ TRANSFORMATION.

Graphite on Fabriano. 22” X 22”.


vanessaclegg.co.uk


Judy Watson

“The prompt is Cicada, and those little creatures are old friends at this stage. I spent two weekends working on this prompt. The first one I spent learning some animation techniques, and my original intention was to make an animation by selecting material from Searching for Cicadas either working with some of the unused artwork, or developing a page from the book.

But on the second weekend I wandered in a different direction. It began with thinking about cicadas in a less realistic way and thinking about drawing some She Cicadas in the style of my Metropolis Bird Women. Then I thought about the unique, and seemingly magical qualities of a cicada (in particular, its life cycle and metamorphosis) and how easily cicadas might fit into a fairy or folk tale. I haven‘t written anything like that since The Woman, the Chicken and the Grapes. And it seemed the perfect break from intense illustration work.

However, I was forgetting my tendency towards perfectionism (strangely combined with a loathing for neatness, exactness or fussiness), and so, Kick-About time is up and the fairy tale is not complete. But never mind! Here are some images I began for it…”


www.judywatson.net / Instagram.com/judywatsonart / facebook.com/judywatsonart


Molly Bolder

“Only knowing cicadas from Animal Crossing, I thought I’d have a look into them. Did you know that they can live up to 17 years? AND make a sound louder than 100 decibels! Impressive for a chubby little sap-drinker! They come in a few different colours, but a pastel one really resounded with me so here he is! A digital painting of a vibrant cicada with his little dancing feet.”


instagram.com/mollys_makes / facebook.com/MollyBMakes


Benedict Blythe

“An epic and bi-sectioned electronic piece telling the story of the cicada life from a more dark point of view. Beware – the first four minutes are much quieter than the last two. Good speakers or headphones are recommended.”


soundcloud.com/BenedictBlythe


Kerfe Roig

“Cicadas are one of many species that make multiple visible transformations during their lifespans. The longest living insects, they are symbols of both rebirth and immortality. What beautiful wings they have. I first painted the cicada, then glued wax paper down for the wings and embroidered on top.”



drinking deep
of earthy tree sap –
high summer

songs weaving
spells of magical
protection

mysteries
of transparency
and winglight


kblog.blog / methodtwomadness.wordpress.com


Phil Gomm

“A month or so ago, some old photographs resurfaced of a school production of the musical, Calamity Jane, in which I played the comedic role of Francis Fryer – a vaudeville act booked to perform in a spit-and-sawdust saloon bar for cowboys. The joke, of course, is ‘Francis Fryer’ is assumed to be a female performer, an assumption resulting in an impromptu drag act and a musical number that goes ‘I’ve got a hive full of honey for the right kind of honey bee’.

The year is 1989, I’m fourteen years old and I enjoy this opportunity to dress up and make audiences laugh. Sometime after this, the bullying will start and I will enter a prolonged period of change. You might say, I start to incubate new ideas about myself, not all of them positive. You might say, I start to slough skin – more than one – as I seek to establish some final form.

When I look at these photographs, I do so with discomfort, and not simply because the adolescent in the photograph is so scrawny and such a late-starter. I feel hugely protective of him too, for he knows not what he looks like. He does not know what drag is or what it ‘means’ to the world around him. At the point these photographs were taken, this boy doesn’t know what is coming; he doesn’t know he’s just walked into the cross-hairs. He doesn’t know while he’s making lots of people laugh on stage, he’s making other people hate him or provoking embarrassment and disappointment. When I look at these photographs, I see something soft that is very soon going to learn the art of cocooning for protection. I see a very long period of incubation, and not an ending with a beautiful butterfly in it, but a life-form in lots of ways less graceful, but, also yes, with wings.

The subjects of the three faux zoological plates are digital collages created entirely from the two photographs below and are presented here as curios, a collection of still-incubating lifeforms once forgotten but newly available to scrutiny, dissection and my strange fascination.”




Marion Raper

“I must say that I feel like I have turned into a Cicada in the heatwave this week! I had so many false starts trying to capture the essence of these amazing creatures. Eventually I settled for “Happy little Cicadas” after they have just emerged after 17years underground. Well you would be!”



Gary Thorne

“Cicadas roared in combined force with intense heat and high humidity challenging young (21 year old) endurance levels. That was summer of ’73 in glorious Sydney’s Kirribilli. We were surrounded in the thick of a city wide swarm and whichever way was possible to rattle you it came about, as inside was an inferno, so just you try drowning out mating cicadas when you’re behaving like a heated ‘frog in a sock’.”


linkedin.com/in/gary-thorne


Eleanor Spence-Welch

“I’ve been wanting to play around with a fairy/insect taxidermy concept for a while, and this seemed like a good opportunity. I took wings, colours and patterns from pictures of cicadas to make this unfortunate fairy, preserved and pinned, ready to go on the wall.”


instagram.com/espence96 / twitter.com/E1eanor_Spence / facebook.com/ESpence-Art


Marcy Erb

“I didn’t grow up with cicadas or the sounds of cicadas. There are apparently 30 species of cicada found in California (and 3,000 worldwide), but almost none of them are commonly found or heard in the Los Angeles metro area. I remember hearing my first true ear-ringing buzz-saw worthy cicada at a private campground in Arizona as an adult in my early-twenties. True story: I turned to my friend and asked why the campground would play a recording of such demented cricket noises so loud on the PA system. My friend, who also grew up in suburban Los Angeles, shrugged and said she didn’t know. Rest assured, I have now heard the infamous cicada mating calls many times and have been made to understand how much a part of summer they are for many people around the world.

So when the theme for the Kick-About #8 was announced as simply the word “Cicada,” I knew I wanted to lean towards the absurd a little. What is a cicada to someone who has never heard or seen one? Insects are as vulnerable to climate change and extinction as any other creature – what happens when we start asking after cicadas when they don’t emerge as reliably? Or at all?

I wish to emphasize that no bugs were harmed in the making of this art. I went in search of local insects that had met their demise naturally. I was lucky in finding the Swallowtail butterfly wings right away, but then the supply of large naturally-deceased insects dried up. As they say, the fastest way to make something disappear is to go looking for it on a schedule. I finally found a mostly intact green june beetle.”



marcyerb.com


Charly Skilling

“I was a bit worried when I first saw this prompt. To be honest, I’m not big on bugs. But the more I learnt about cicadas and their life cycle, the more I wondered about their relationship with the trees – trees that sheltered the cicada young, fed them, provided a launch pad for the climax of their lives, and then stood amongst their corpses, while cicada eggs hatched among their leaves and dropped the next generation of cicadas at their roots.

As the prompt originated in Japan, and as seventeen is such a significant number in the cicada’s life, it seemed absolutely right to base my verse structure on the Haiku, a Japanese poetic form consisting of three lines made up of seventeen syllables in a five-seven-five format.”



Francesca Maxwell

“I have two images relating to the new kick-about “Cicada”. I love the sound of summer filling the day, the hot air on the skin, the smell of herbs and grass, they are my childhood summers on the Ligurian coast. One of the paintings is the summer grass, an image I have been trying to paint for many years and will likely keep trying to paint. The other one is a monotype on plastic made with raffia dipped in ink, I was trying to capture the movement of bamboo leaves and insects.”



www.FBM.me.uk


Phill Hosking

“Just a simple texture study of the Cicada from photo reference taken several years back on holiday in the south of France.”


instagram.com/eclecto2d linkedin.com/in/phill-hosking


Graeme Daly

“The sounds of the Cicada’s mating call transports me to a world where my senses are in overload, a world that could be filled with spine tingling horror, but also a world that is somewhat calming. The high pitched calls make the surroundings fill with texture that bounce and dance in conjunction with the cicadas’ return from beneath their muddy graves to molt and leave their skin littered across the land.”



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


A musical prompt this week, folks – John Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine – a little something to blow the cobwebs away. See below for new submission date. Buckle up!




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!



Artist In Residence: Graeme Daly #4


Phil: Hey Graeme! Welcome back. Before we begin I should thank you on behalf of everyone for giving us that image of those dolls and their henchmen spiders in last week’s Kick-About. I’m sure everyone found that very soothing and not at all nightmarish… I noticed a few exciting updates going out on social media about new progress on your animated short, The Green Glider. How’s it coming along?

Graeme: Hey Phil, things are moving forward well with The Green Glider. I just sent the film off to see it will be picked up for some funding. Now things are really revving up, I want to get everything ready and in place if it does get funded. Currently I am translating all the concept art into 3D, and plopping things in place for each world, which is one of the most enjoyable aspects. I love trying to bring the concept art alive through Maya.

Phil: You’ve been learning Substance Painter. What is that, how are you finding it, and why did you feel it was time to acquire a new creative tool?

Graeme: I decided to hop into Substance Painter and use it to UV the bubble cars because the amount of UV pieces, or shells, for the car was absolutely mammoth, and would have taken me yonks to finish in my usual go-to, which is Photoshop. Basically, to UV an object in 3D space allows you to paint and colour your object as you see fit. To achieve this you first have to tell the 3D software the model you want to paint is flat. Imagine you’ve got a simple 3D box and you want to paint it; first you unpack the box so it’s completely flat, and only then do you start painting onto it. Then, later, your painted texture is wrapped back around the 3D box.

The great thing about Substance Painter is it’s a 3D painting program – it is like having Photoshop and Maya together in one program so you can paint onto the actual 3D model – without flattening it first – to your heart’s content, with all the same capabilities of Photoshop, such as layers and blend modes, as well as having a massive library of materials to choose from. It really speeds up the workflow of texturing models, and I can see myself using Substance from now on.



Phil: The value of this new tool for you is it means you can continue to work illustratively with your 3D models. Why is it so important to keep the original style of your concept art when you’re moving from 2D into 3D?

Graeme: I feel really averse to CGI being completely perfect… It ends up looking like plastic. Sometimes when I’m doing concept art, I’ll just do a random scribble to see the kind of texture I can get out of a brush and I decide to leave it in. Usually that scribble adds something visually interesting to the piece and those happy accidents make the piece more analogue. I have a style I like that revolves around imperfection, as it adds charm. I always try and recreate that in 3D. For example, with the 3D bubble cars, I really wanted to add a pop of blue colour on top of the main purple colour, to counteract the blazing orange; I just scribbled a bright blue stroke and ended up loving that random scratchiness to the car, so it’s something that stayed with the final model and was easily implemented with Substance. With the green glider model, it was really important to get across the original style too, especially with the leaf venation, so I modelled the venation in Maya to make it pop more, and also textured more venation in Substance to really show the leaf is budding with life.



Phil: You always sound so excited. I love it. What’s next?

Graeme: I’m doing some long-awaited organic modelling by tackling the characters Ash and Clover. Organic modelling is a totally different ball game to modelling cars and worlds, as for me at least, it’s more difficult to get across the characters’ nuances and quirks suggested by the original concept art. As I said, I like things that aren’t perfect, and Maya makes this difficult with characters, as a character that is asymmetrical is a nightmare to rig and skin, so I have to work within the confines of that and still get across the flaws and idiosyncrasies of the characters populating the world. I’ve said before when I’m doing concept art, there’s a “shite zone” where everything looks crap until one scribble or stroke brings things to life; when you’re modelling characters, the “shite zone” is a lot longer, where they look like horrifying spawns of Frankenstein for what feels like ages! I can’t wait to texture Ash and Clover in Substance, adding details like smile lines, grey hairs, and eye-bags. I want these characters to show they’ve earned their stripes!


Artist In Residence: Tom Beg #5


It’s time to catch-up with Artist-in-residence, Tom Beg, a moment to which I always look forward because I know I’m in for a visual treat or two – and this latest update is no exception.


Phil: Hey Tom, it’s nice to have you back again. So, let’s start with the most obvious question… Exactly what were the creative and technical challenges of realising this most surreal of your Miroverse critters, which appears at first glance to combine a rather exhausted-looking whale with an ambulatory witch’s hat?

Tom: Hi Phil. Yes, I’ve been away for a little while, but I’ve been chipping away at this animation whenever I’ve had the chance. For the first time so far in this project, I also have a little bit of animation to whet the appetite. If you compare my initial sketch to this 3D character, you can see I took a few decisions to make it fit it better with the overall aesthetic I’ve been working towards, by tweaking and adding where I felt things could be improved.



So far, I’ve been creating these creatures with a very old-school method of animation in mind, more like a traditional stop-motion animation, where each part would have to be moved individually and all animation would have to be generated by hand. However, in all the images I’ve produced, there are multiple characters with multiple poseable elements, all of which will need animating to create a convincing effect.

I’m not a traditional character animator, so I needed to start developing a strategy to make these characters come alive in a satisfying way. With that in mind, for this character I decided to adopt a ‘dynamic rigging’ workflow. To put it simply, while the bulk of the main animation is done by hand, beneath that is an underlying system of physical properties, based on the real world, calculated by the software and computer, which help to make this character move in an organic, dynamic way. I’m getting a lot of animation that would usually have to be done by hand at a great cost of time and energy. Now I’m essentially getting that extra movement for free.



This has meant another layer of complexity on top of what I was already dealing with, so there were a bunch of issues when it came to building the control system of this thing. At times I had to call on the help of the secretive ‘Maya Jedi Council’, who helped me get through a couple of the technical difficulties I was having. In the end I’m totally happy with this character in terms of the flexibility it offers for animation and the amount of movement I can get from it – so happy in fact, once I’ve made the next three creatures, I’ll go back and update the previous ones with this new system.



Phil: I get such a strong impression of this creature’s character; I’m getting an Eeyore-meets-Orko vibe...

Tom: I absolutely wanted to try and create a creature with two personalities; one half a kind of regal and majestic whale-like creature, while the other half is like a parasitic creepy-crawly. I think their relationship mimics things like Parasitoid wasps, which lay their eggs inside other bugs, or other so called “zombie” parasites that take over and control their unwitting, helpless victims. It’s all very morbid stuff!

Phil: In a previous chat we talked a bit about vocalisations for your bestiary – how they might sound. I suppose a better question is ‘who are they in terms of their personalities?’ because it’s from there everything else will flow. Got a sense yet of who these creatures might be, or what their respective temperaments might be like?

Tom: As soon as I started to produce the sketches in 3D, I imagined this animation to be somewhere between pure cutesy and whimsical like any typical kind of colourful character animation, and a somewhat creepy Boschian-like nightmare. Maybe like you, I grew up with a much-rewound VHS tape of Fantasia and in the spirit of that film, I want the creature’s behaviour and personality to come across as very ‘not of this world’, and coming from a place of abstraction and pure imagination in the tradition of classic avant-garde animation, like the works of Oskar Fischinger. I’m digging deep for influences so once this project starts to move into time-based media, I think all the pieces will come together.



Phil: And now for my traditional last question… By my reckoning, your 5 drawings down with three more to go – who’s next?

Tom: If I look at the remaining three initial sketches and try to imagine how they will move and come alive, in terms of unknown technical challenges, I think I can say with a little more confidence I have come to terms with the main Maya mysteries of the Miroverse. With this latest attempt I got things moving and animating in an organic way that is intuitive and easy to produce. There isn’t much more I could add without taking the animation style in a slightly different direction or without adding yet another level of complexity of top what I already have. However, for each creature I’ve tried to challenge myself to attempt something new, so I’d like to keep up that tradition.



For the next creature I’m thinking to go with these drone-like blue bug things which I imagine to behave like irritating wasps, buzzing around and being a general nuisance. The questions I’m going to ask are what can I do to further to improve the overall visual quality of my images and how can I continue to refine my control system.


“drone-like blue bug things which I imagine to behave like irritating wasps


Artist In Residence: Tom Beg #3


Phil: Hi Tom, how are you doing? How are you finding the ‘new normal’ in Yokohama?

Tom: Not bad. I’m back to my regular day job (with all sorts of social distancing restrictions) which means I have to balance doing my regular thing and this other thing. I’m just getting used to working out exactly how much energy I can put into both without suffering a full-blown burnout breakdown. It’s also just transitioned from spring into summer here, so I’m coated in a layer of sweat at all times. The humming air-conditioning unit becomes your best friend at this time of year.

Phil: First you gave us a goggling cluster of eyes, next a gaggle of jellied Sea Monkeys, and now we appear to have a bristling asteroid field of jaunty traffic-cones… What creative and technical challenges did you face bringing this latest cg asset to life?

Tom: One thing I needed to work out was how the blue cloud blob could have some variation if it needed to be duplicated, and also give it a sense of alive-ness. I experimented with quite a few methods of modelling, and in the end I went for a design somewhere in-between my initial drawing while allowing some flexibility and ease of variation within the 3D software. I think when it’s all animated, and all the parts are spinning and bending, it should look quite hypnotic and weird. There’s a load of moving parts, so I needed to make a control system robust enough to control each individual piece, but also not so finicky it would takes hours and hours just to get a few things moving about. It’s made me rethink some of my previous models and I’m already considering how they could be refined at some point.


Tom’s original Miro-inspired sketch


Phil: When I was little, there was this weird underground shopping centre I’d visit on Saturdays to spend my pocket-money; there was this toy shop down there selling all-manner of wonderfully rubbery toys – dinosaurs, giant insects, blobs, slime, bugs. It was heaven. When I look at your Miro-inspired creations, that’s where I expect to find them. How’s you’re thinking coming along in regards to what sort of story world your characters might inhabit?

Tom: It’s going to be like a big toy box of Pokemon outcasts and Digimon misfits wrapped up in this Miro-inspired universe. So far, I’ve just been making the characters, but there is a world they need to inhabit too. I feel like these characters and creatures are trapped in this bizarre universe and have to go on some kind of hero’s journey narrative to uncover what their purpose is.


The 3D model

Materials development – designing the look and feel of the surfaces of Tom’s ‘traffic cone asteroid’


Phil: You’re a bit of a film buff with some suitably eclectic tastes (I still remember a screening of Street Trash you organised which fairly traumatised an entire demographic of young impressionable adults!). I’m going to assume you’re already having lots of ideas about potential visual strategies for new animation; any existing filmic references that are feeling particularly pertinent to your project?

Tom: As you know, I love films that straddle the line of obscenity and the ridiculous but at the same time have a kind of artistic credibility (so maybe not Street Trash.) I’m not looking to go that far into the realms of the obscene but I am looking to create something unusual and a little bit ‘out there’. In all of my images so far there something totally zany and cartoonish about everything, but even so I want to capture them filmically with some elegance and reverence. The likes of René Laloux’s Fantastic Planet and the way that film plays with scale and space is looming large in the background. There is the sheer weirdness of Kenichiro Mizuno who is a renowned artist, animator and filmmaker here in Japan. He is the kind of the guy whose images you instantly recognise but have no idea what kind of imagination could produce such wonderfully bizarre creations. Finally, as a filmmaker I love the way Werner Herzog films nature and imbues our reality with a feeling of strangeness, the surreal and the otherworldly, such as in his documentaries: Encounters at the End of the World, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Fata Morgana and Lessons of Darkness etc. But the way he can film anything, no matter how seemingly comical or unsophisticated, such as the dancing chicken in Stroszek, with such sincerity is something I really admire


The completed model and friends


Phil: Which of your drawings is next in line for the 3D modelling treatment?

Tom: Next up is a kind of anchovy, seahorse, dolphin, jellyfish hybrid. I’m chipping away at it slowly in my free time.


a kind of anchovy, seahorse, dolphin, jellyfish hybrid


Phil: Finally – can you describe your ‘work station’? In his last update, artist-in-residence, Graeme Daly, described his own ‘creative station’ as a bit ‘sad’, so not the pristine laboratory of dreams people might assume he’s working in. What’s your set-up like and any advice for other creatives who are trying to get cool stuff done in less than ideal home-working situations?

Tom: I’m actually just building all this stuff on my laptop in my one-room Japanese apartment. Honestly, I’ve never had the latest LED illuminated gear, the powerful graphics cards or the liquid-cooled systems. Perhaps it would help in some way and of course this kind of stuff has its place in the production pipeline, but having big, badass tech has never really been the motivation for me to make stuff. Tech make your life easier but at the same time I personally feel like it very rarely helps you make anything significantly better than on a more modest setup. I like to think of all the wonderful, timeless things that have been made on the humblest of equipment, with the most primitive methods, on the tightest budgets, in the most restrictive environments. I’m quite sure every filmmaker you have ever heard of got their start that way. When it comes to art sometimes limitation is freedom because you stop thinking about what you could be making and just make it!


Artist In Residence: Tom Beg #2


Is it weird I want to eat this latest offering from Artist-In-Residence, Tom Beg? Is it in anyway strange this fruity, jellied character has me licking my lips in an involuntary Haribo-craving saliva response? Is it peculiar I just want to grab these cheery-looking creatures and squeeze them like those rubbery monster-shaped finger-puppets I adored as a nipper? Another powerful impulse is to take Tom’s latest creation and chuck them at a window, and watch them crawl down the glass like those wonderfully sticky stocking-fillers I likewise delighted in as a child. (These are all compliments by the way!).

Tom and I have been in touch regularly via Skype and in our most recent conversation, I asked him about this newest addition to his Miro-inspired cast of 3D characters…


Tom’s original sketch


Phil: I understand giving life to this second of your characters inspired by Miro’s painting proved quite challenging…

Tom: I have, for one reason or another, never really delved into the world of character production in 3D. On a technical level, character production locks you in quite severely into each process, and as someone who tries to make art and use software instinctively, this is somewhat intimidating because I don’t really like the idea of being tied into these processes so strictly. Any oversights or limitations with your work, however minor or innocent, can have some serious knock-on effects down the line which can cause anguish and many wasted hours.

For example, if your initial 2D design doesn’t make some sense in reality, then it will be very difficult to build it as a 3D model. If your 3D model and its underlying skeleton don’t adhere to the principles and rules of the 3D software, then the processes by which you build the tools to make your character move and come alive can become hampered and unwieldy. I’ll spare the grim details of my 3 a.m. battles, but in this case, I’ve been away from the software for a long time causing some, let’s say, ‘rustiness’ – and because my ‘character’ is a three-armed, nine-fingered, one-eyed, six-tentacled thing I dreamed up without any consideration for reality, I made maybe every possible mistake at every possible step. However, I needed to build and understand this one in order to get an understanding of all my other characters, creatures and objects. Making those mistakes and the battles to rectify those mistakes is just another part of the production process.


Building up the 3D model in Autodesk Maya

Tom unpacks the modelling pipeline


Phil: When I look at this latest character, I think of jelly sweets and all the rubbery toys of my late 1970s childhood.

Tom: That’s interesting! I‘ve been so wrapped up in just getting it made, I haven’t really paused to think about what this character ‘means’ to me. My initial goal was to just to translate the feeling of my initial Miro-inspired sketches into 3D, knowing that they were probably not going to look exactly the same once re-imagined. Seeing them now, I’m reminded of Sea-Monkeys and mini kids aquariums with plastic fish and decorations.


The completed model, rigged and ready to animate.


Phil: Any sense yet of the universe in which your characters might reside? Any inklings about the wider world of your short film?

Tom: At the moment the characters are occupying these infinite nebulas with very little sense of depth and space. Even when producing the last two images it’s been somewhat tricky to figure where things should be placed in relation to each other, or how big they should be, or how many there should be. The good thing is these sorts of ponderings are starting to define the world I eventually need to build. I do have some ideas floating around, so once all the initial assets have been made, I’ll be able to play around with the finished stuff – like toys – and get a better sense of what it is all going to be.


Tom’s ‘sea monkey’ in various poses


Phil: Finally then, who is up next and what are your predictions around the challenges you’ll face?

Tom: Even though I consider this character a big step forward for this project, and me personally, there will always be some challenges because no 3D model or design is ever the same. In terms of my initial sketches there are some which are more recognisable as typical characters, with eyes and arms, and there are others which look more objects. I want to start building a couple of these more object-like ones and work out how I can imbue them with that same sense of character and aliveness.


All of Tom’s initial drawings, two down, which one will be next?