There are a number of things I miss about my previous role working in higher education – and many things I do not.
One of the things I miss most about those days was my day-to-day proximity to other creatives, to their respective projects, and to their conversations about them. An average day would see dozens of discussions about storytelling, art direction, materials, research, conceptualisation, producton design, visual representation and promotion. Manifesting ‘something from nothing’ was always the business of the day, as we all worked together to get an idea ‘from script to screen’ or from 2D into 3D, from a dream of a thing to the thing itself. I know now how luxurious my old job was. Actually, I knew it then and never once took it for granted. It was life-affirming to be in the company of people who could first see things in their mind, and then develop those images into concrete, substantive outcomes – an act of magic and an act of faith.
Hardly surprising then I might have wanted some of that back, to work again with a diverse community of artists, to give a fair whack of my time and energy to making a space in which more of those conversations could take place. So it was I had the idea for The Kick-About, a blog-based creative challenge, in which creatives of all kinds were given the chance to make some new work in response to a fortnightly prompt – myself included. One year later, and we’ve just published Edition 26 of The Kick-About, a gathering together of participants’ favourite submissions, and one thing is clear: there is power in community, not least because the expectation of an audience for new work is an effective means of seeing off procrastination and preciousness by encouraging decisiveness and utility. There is creative freedom too in ‘short sharp snaps’ of creative activity, that ability to start something up and then close it down in a succinct period of time.
Speaking personally, I’ve found The Kick-About to be a hugely satisfying experience, and after a decade-or-more of very happily giving my best ideas away to other people, it’s been reassuring and exciting to discover there are still more ideas where all those others came from. I’ve loved the problem-solving aspect of the fortnightly prompts – resolving cogent, authentic responses to the various prompts in lots of different ways. You might also call it ‘flying by the seat of your pants’ – and yes, it’s been fun.
Gathered here are all my Kick-About responses, digital artworks, sculptures, photographs, shorts films and short stories, and collaborations with other artists. Agreed, it makes for an eclectic ensemble, but I’m reminded – happily – of being nineteen years old and studying my Art Foundation course, which was all about trying and doing everything and not worrying about what it was all for, or what you were going to do with it, or what you were going to do next.
So yes, I do feel younger for running around with my fellow kick-abouters, and if not quite nineteen, then not far off. I just want to say a very real and heartfelt thank you to everyone in the Kick-About community, whether you’ve played once, or always. Your company and creativity is, and has been, restorative, and I’m very much looking forward to doing it all again with Kick-About No.27. Onwards!
With its associations with protest and freedom of expression, this week’s prompt, courtesy of Kerfe Roig, returns us somewhat to the untaming of our last Kick-About together, but just like everyone else, I suspect, I’ve had the song from Hair going around and around my brain these past two weeks!
“I apologise in advance to any students of colour-theory who might be seeing these images. While it was made in the spirit of peace and love, it might in fact be the colour equivalent an atomic bomb. Really I just wanted to make the animated tye dye t-shirts while listening to the Broadway cast recording of Hair.”
“I did go briefly down a rabbit hole to look up the meaning of the expression in astrological terms. It’s complex but predictably vague and controversial. The Age of Aquarius may have begun in 2600 BCE, or may have begun in the 20th Century or may be yet to begin. Having grown out of what limited interest I had in astrology years ago, this was not a direction that inspired art. It did lead me to quite an interesting little reading session about hippies, beatniks and the New Age movement of the 1960s and 1970s, but the complexity of this material reminded me of why I was never very good at history in school and why I admire people who are good at history!
But visually, the culture of the ’60s and ’70s is interesting. In fact I already had a digital collage with a psychedelic flavour that I made in November last year after watching the progress of the US elections with horror and dread. I had a powerful craving for the dawn of a new era, and for women to play an important role in it.”
“In Australia, that thirst for a change of culture, and a redistribution of power is even stronger now. If you’re interested, journalist Leigh Sales talks about it here, or there’s a briefer version on her Instagram page here. But what the heck. I had to make something new just for this prompt. So I decided that peace, love and harmony were the go, but sticking with the a secondary theme of female solidarity and friendship. And here’s the dawning of the Age of Aquarius being celebrated in a small way between two friends. The moon is definitely in the Seventh House. Need you even ask?”
“So this is what I learned during my research into the ‘age of Aquarius’ – that in addition to all the immediate water-based imagery that associates with it, some scholars of all things astrological identify electricity as one of the keenest indications of the Aquarian age. Originally I had film in mind as my response to the prompt, something rather doomy and cynical juxtaposing the optimism given to the age of Aquarius with the lived reality of recent events and the rise of populism in politics… but, while good and worthwhile possibly, it was also going nowhere visually! Instead, I wondered how I might bring the Aquarian motifs of electricity and water together in a suitably cosmic way – without blowing myself up in the process! So it was I returned to the site of the scrying mirror, that small body of water so fascinating to me in its blackness (but which also makes it quite smelly!), and cracked out a few techniques familiar to me from previous photographic adventures in other dark places.It is certainly the dawning of something going on here…”
“I love Hair – it was one of the last shows before covid that we saw that I really enjoyed – just a small production that ran for a few nights at the Sydney Opera House. Yep our poor youngsters will have the same old concerns but worse, I suppose. After a few painted kick-about responses I went back to the computer for some clean lines. I hope it feels like there is some energy in it – it started off feeling that way to me but it always amazes me how much time you spend on a computer to get an image off the ground.“
“This constellation was identified as “The Water Carrier” in the records of the Babylonians, some 6000 years BCE, and has been recognised as such by civilisations ever since. Different ideologies have ascribed different myths, but the common feature throughout has been the urn pouring water from the heavens. Regardless of the meanings ascribed to the constellation, the constellation itself is real and eternal, and humanity has gazed upon it since the first humanoid turned its face to the stars and wondered.
It is about 27,500 years since our solar system last moved through this sector of the sky, and will remain within this sector for approximately 2,150 years. When thinking about these vast periods of time, it is tempting to take comfort in the fact, that whatever the ups and downs of our own little lives, there is a never-changing constancy about the world and its place in the universe. But perhaps the true meaning of the constellation of Aquarius is not that water will always be available, but that all life needs water to survive. Maybe “The Age of Aquarius” is the time to recognize if we continue to use water, consume water, play with water, waste water and pollute water, as we have done over the last couple of centuries, we may have witnessed the “Dawning of the Age of Aquarius”, but there may be no one much around to witness the twilight.”
“When Phil asked me to choose this week’s Kick-About prompt, I thought immediately of The Age of Aquarius, because I’ve been turning over in my mind the hope that it might be real, that humanity can change. I always loved the music posters of the “Hair” era, and used them as inspiration for my neon colored paintings… Back when the musical “Hair” came out, some astrologers grumbled that it wasn’t really the Age of Aquarius yet. But what did we care? We were tired of the world as it was, ready for Peace, Love and Understanding. Well…maybe not. During 2020 there were rumblings once again online about the REAL Age of Aquarius finally showing up. I was skeptical to say the least.It seems we had the Age of Aquarius skewed, not only in time. Yes, it’s a total tearing down and rebuilding. But it’s going to require hard work. Taking a lot of drugs and wearing tie-dye and listening to songs about love won’t do it. Can we change our entire approach to living together, not only with each other, but with the earth, its creatures, its landscape, its elements? We need to if we want to survive.”
chaotic stillness watching from the whorled center for new beginnings
all those lost patterns – I collect them in my mind, in new rotations
all impermanence – no matter which way you turn the path continues
giving myself hope inside my dark wanderings– a world of wonder
“Firstly, I was gobsmacked by the age of Aquarius song from the musical Hair. It left the hairs standing on my arms with the booming lead singer’s voice being absolutely phenomenal. If this show ever returns to live audiences I would love to see it! The “hippie” people of this era wanted to show their respect and love for the earth and focus on the world around them, while doing it as a group effort to show a sense of community and togetherness. Aquarius is an air sign, and as a fellow air sign myself, they are known to be creative, free spirited, and always seek clarity.
The symbol for Aquarius being the ‘water bearer’, who eternally gives life and spiritual food to the world, while also washing away the past and making room for a fresh start is usually depicted as a mighty figure pouring water from a vessel onto the earth. When seeing the image of the water bearer, I wanted to focus on a previous experience surrounding water that ignited the Pools film from the Eugen von Ransonnet-Villez prompt, which gave me more respect for the earth and the little wonders that happen sporadically, if you are open enough to find them.
These photos show a snapshot of a spectacle that was for my eyes only, where a trickling of snow was melting and forming a mirage of colours in a shallow lagoon of water. It was a joyous occasion to just sit and watch this natural occurrence, and with its dancing display, it allowed me to stop worrying about everything and what the future holds and just be here in this moment. I think experiences like that are important for grounding you and bringing you back to your present reality, where worry has no place, as the hippies in Hair embodied this physicality here and now by dancing and moving their bodies like water…”
“I was very lucky to be ‘sweet sixteen at the tail end of the 60s. Having worked hard to get my exams, it was time to enjoy myself and ‘let the sunshine in’, so I started a job in London. It was alive and buzzing! I worked in a large open plan office and every day was such fun – more often than not I just managed to catch the last train home! It was all parties, pubs and shopping, and frankly one of the best times of my life! Everyone was so happy! Perhaps it was due to the great music of the time or the wonderful crazy clothes. I still have my beautiful purple velvet kaftan. Unfortunately, I never got to see Hair the Musical as it was always booked solid but how I enjoyed the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.”
“When I read the prompt for this week’s Kick-About, my first port of call was that clip from the film Hair where the hippie kids are dancing in the park singing ‘let the sunshine in’. My research did go a bit deeper than watching 1960s musicals, into the realms of astrology and vernal equinoxes and suchlike, but I kept coming back to that catchy song. I was struck by how the song linked all the positive attributes of the new age of Aquarius to sunshine, relating feelings to the weather, as so many songs do. When the age of Aquarius does arrive, we’ll all be dancing under sunny skies, apparently. The film version looks very dated now, of course, and has a very American feel. If it’d been made in Britain it’d be less ‘let the sunshine in’ and more ‘take your washing in’. I’m not complaining, though, I really do like the gentle climate of the British Isles. It’s what helps make our landscapes and gardens so beautiful. It’s also become rather de rigueur to challenge such simple binaries as; sunny weather, good – rainy weather, bad. Nature writers seem to be falling over themselves in their enthusiasm to tell us about their new books where they did things like walk in the rain for a whole year, and how they found such experiences deeply revelatory and healing. Back in the 19th century, John Ruskin told us ‘there’s really no such things as bad weather, just different kinds of weather’. I do get it, I can enjoy rain, and storms, and snow, but given the choice, I’d rather be outside under a clear blue sky. I’ve made a little film about it for the Kick-About this week, splicing together two videos, taken exactly six months apart; one in high summer, one in midwinter. By making the film so binary, I hope it allows for the nuances to emerge and for this to generate more complex feelings about sun/rain, summer/winter, light/dark and life/death, ultimately, I suppose. Or maybe it just makes the sunny part of the film look all the more enticing and the winter part even more ‘ugh!’.
The soundtrack to the film is from a beautiful piece of music called Waterland (part IV) by The Rain Dogs. Check out their amazing work at the-rain-dogs.bandcamp.com
Ok, I’m looking out of the window as I write this and the sky is a delicate pale grey with a soft drizzle coming down; where are those hippie kids when you need them!?”
“This is my 1960s “Dolly Dress” – another treasure from a charity shop. It hangs on my wall as a reminder of all the good times and never fails to trigger a smile. Years ago. when working in Australia, friends at the studio invited me to a 60/70s party. Myself and another dressed accordingly. She was a dancer and had hoarded all original clothes from that ‘crossroad time’. We arrived clutching the soundtrack to “Hair” and more than ready to party, but sadly no one else had dressed up (chic black only), so we put on the music, revived the old moves, and soon were all swirling back to a time when change was the buzzword, freedom and fashion a shock, and art school the perfect place to explore this “New World”. May we all ‘ let the sun shine in’ when we gather once more to dance, drink and laugh with our friends….how fab will that be?!”
Just a reminder then, that the Kick-About No.26 ‘52.1429’ is our anniversary edition to mark one year of shared creative endeavours. I think we’ve all earned a little break from fizzing fortnightly with new things to try and do, so I’m asking kick-abouters to get in touch and choose one of their own previous submissions for including in a ‘greatest hits’ edition. All you need do is point me at the piece of work you’d like me to include, but also send me a few lines on why you’ve chosen it; it might be because it represented some crazy creative detour into the unknown, or it might just be because you really really like it – and anything else you’d like to talk about too. I look forward to hearing from you in due course.
After the deep intellectual waters of our last Kick-About together, we find ourselves submerged once more, joining Eugen von Ransonnet-Villez in his submersible. It’s a bit of squeeze in there, not least because I’m happy to welcome two new kick-abouters into the mix: Jackie Hagan and Brian Noble. All aboard!
“This image started with a really quick thumbnail sketch that still contains the looseness in its final form, which I like. Thinking about Von Ransonnet-Villez’s contraption, and marvelling at the man’s ingenuity and dedication to explore for sake of art and science, I began to think about the experience of the sea life that was seeing this bizarre contraption in their domain. I switched the view to something where I could set the scene from a fish’s perspective, allowing me to look up into the submersible, and in the process give a bit of drama to what must have been quite a long and claustrophobic experience. Bit of artistic license used on the design of the submersible. I’m sure Eugen wouldn’t have minded.”
“I was struck by the delicately populated reefs depicted in Ransonnet-Villez’s underwater paintings, which led me to wonder what he would have made of the shocking fact that, according to MEPA, 90% of the corals around Sri Lanka are now dead. What would he see if he had been able to submerge in his diving bell today? A sea full of plastic? Or maybe not, micro-plastics being the invisible killers that they are…
Falling into the rabbit-hole of research (yes, I should be working!) led me to discover scientists have set up an EU funded project called GoJelly, (https://gojelly.eu/about/) which is exploring scooping out blooms of jellyfish and using their slime to trap and remove micro-plastics from the oceans. But what would happen if the jellyfish fought back? Prehistoric creatures digesting the most modern of pollutants… And so I present, Scyphozoa plasticus.”
“I didn’t know about Eugen von Ransonnet-Villez artworks and I am glad of the introduction. Most of my work is about the sea in one way or another. I was born by it and miss not been near it, so I paint it instead. Here is a bit of fused glass I did of a jellyfish. Wonderful, translucent and clever things they are.” Fused Glass 30 x 28 cm.
“I didn’t know the artist Eugen von Ransonnet-Villez before I read the kick about prompt, but a couple of clicks later and I was fully immersed in his underwater world and liking it a lot. The images conjure the excitement of exploration, and stepping out of the comfort of the shallows into stranger worlds.
The underwater paintings brought back memories of summer swimming for me. When the weather warms up we spend many afternoons in the lakes in and around Berlin. At the very best spots you can swim through crystal clear turquoise water amongst the water lilies with dragon flies buzzing about your head. It’s really lovely. A while back, I made a couple of studies based on my impressions of those swims and they seemed to fit the bill this week.”
“Here are my thoughts on Eugen von Ransonnet-Villez and his underwater paintings. I love the murky otherworldliness. My only experience of looking under the water was a trip to Malta many years ago. Crystal clear water and no murkiness or pollution at that time. It was magical, and I don’t know why I’ve not taken up snorkling again. It seemed a natural progression from the last Kick-About, that I retrace the possible journey of my Sea-heart pod back to where it may have started in the Gulf of Mexico. There were such a lot of possibilities, from barren wastes left by oil spills, to underwater forests left from the ice-age, and then the most extraordinary plants that live on the coral reefs. This is one of the richest areas for unusual sea life anywhere in the world. So what a trip my pod had! Here are the first two images of the Gulf of Mexico, followed by imaginary images through the windows of a submarine, as a bit of an after thought / diversion / intrigue?” .
‘Getting going out of the swamps into choppy waters over the sunken forests.’
‘A slower rest in the shallows or the coral reef.’
‘A chance glimpse through the submarine port holes of my imagination.’
“My original inspiration for tackling the latest Kick-About prompt was imagining what it must have been like forRansonnet-Villez inside his submersible, looking through the thick greenish glass of his porthole and out onto the ocean floor. I guess I was more interested in thinking about the distortions produced by looking through the glass, and how they’d add a certain otherworldliness to the painter’s underwater subjects. There is a mundane secret at work behind the resulting photographs – a simple set-up reframing a collection of household objects and pushing them towards a sort of bubbly and aquatic abstraction. Producing these photographs proved immensely addictive – play by any other name.”
“I started fly fishing 35 years ago, although it wasn’t until I started sketching and painting fish that I began to observe both the above water landscape and the underwater landscape while spending time on the water fishing. I soon discovered that examining the natural landscape of creeks and rivers caused me to pause and reflect upon the environment I had found myself so immersed in. Studying rocks, trees, water and fish became equally important as fishing itself. I found myself considering how objects appear both above and below the water, and how reflected light is such an important factor in how these objects are presented. I have recently started using an underwater camera to capture some of these images to use as a resource for my sketches. Personally, I find fish to be an intriguing life form – how they hold still, swim, secure food and seek shelter. The natural curves of a fish bring a sense of calm and beauty that I appreciate and strive to recreate in sketches and watercolor paintings.”
“I had a fun time with this and decided to do an underwater collage.To start with I tried a bit of marbelling on Yupo paper and using acrylic inks. It turned out so beautifully, I couldn’t bear to cut it up! It reminds me of the shapes and shadows on the ocean floor. Next I tried making marks with water colours, using things such as bubble wrap and sponges, and scratching with a palette knife. This was also too special to chop up, even though it would be great as fish skin or scales. Lastly, I sketched a few fish and spent a very pleasant afternoon cutting and sticking my scene together. Can you spot the pepperoni pizza fish?”
“Not having come across Eugen Ransonnet-Villez before I was captivated by his underwater drawings and paintings, particularly since the diving bell was a new and quite dangerous piece of tech in the 1860s. He manages to capture the submarine luminescent qualities of light in his colours and textures in very convincing studies. The only quality I share with him is the desire to capture images of the sea, in my case above it, rather than under it. My association and motivation to paint the sea became the jumping off point for the Kick-about 22.
I grew up 60 miles from the sea in Yorkshire, and must have been close to 10 before I saw and splashed in it. My first interests were in the craft that sailed on it rather than the sea itself. I soon realised a drawing or painting of a boat looked less than convincing without being placed in a realistic sea, and from there my interest grew. A fascination developed with the fact the sea could change completely in the blink of an eye, colour, light and shape being constantly in motion. I was overwhelmed by the technical challenge, but as the years went by a number of “How to paint the sea” books arrived on the bookshelf. However, the process looked complicated, so the books remained on the shelf.
One day, whilst killing time between jobs, I pulled down a book that fell open at the beginning of an exercise. Almost without thinking I repeated the exercise – it worked, not a great piece of art, but it looked like the sea! I was hooked and devoured all the other exercises. It would be wrong to give the impression that technique is all you need, but it gives confidence, and if done in conjunction with careful study of the real thing, turns mere technique into art. Once bitten you never stop learning.
My images for the “Kick-About”are from a recent exercise I set with an art club I am a member of, to demonstrate technique and capture the swell of the open sea. It is certainly not the only way to paint the ocean, but I do get fairly consistent results and I have pdfs of the original exercises should anyone be interested.”
“I had high hopes for a bubbled person image but felt time and concept were getting away from me, so I switched direction to bits and pieces washed up on a beach – the original photo I had in the back of my mind from 2010 had always appealed. Thanks again for a bit of kick-about fun.”
“This got me thinking about the state of the sea in 2021 and how poor old Eugen would be turning in his grave at the changes since he sat in his box, scooting along the sand surrounded by as yet, untouched beauty. If he were to repeat this now with the addition of temperature rise (bleached coral), pollution from plastic and chemical dumping, agricultural run off and change in salinity from ice melt, he would be sadly disappointed.
I’ve approached this simply, addressing plastic and coral die off. Tempting, however, to tie Eugen in with The Flintstones, as his submersible reminded me of Barney Rubble using his feet through the car floor to ‘motor’ himself along!”
22” X 22” Charcoal on Fabriano paper. “Empty Shell with Ear Buds.”
20” X 15” “Dead Sea”. Photo collage with bleached coral.
“I’ve been futzing around with this all week, inspired by Eugen von Ransonnet-Villez, and the earthweal challenge natural forces. The painting above, my first attempt, probably has 20 painted layers. Watercolor looks very different wet, and each time it dried I was dissatisfied with the result. Eugen von Ransonnet-Villez was an Austrian artist who designed a diving bell so he could paint the landscape that existed under the sea. This was in the 1860s – both crazy and fantastic. His paintings have an eerie green magic, which was what I was trying to capture, because what is the sea but the most elemental of magic? Like Ransonnet-Villez, I wished to immerse myself inside of it. Being at the moment concrete-bound, I could only try to conjure it with words and paint.”
tides entombed in unchanging light, reflecting the absent sky, shimmering with intangibles– an ancient web woven with stories–
the stilled sea contemplates its origins– heavy with the cadences of gravity boundaried by the afterlife– tides entombed in unchanging light–
surrounded and asunder, astonishment becomes tinged with enigmatic clarity– holding particles of stars as if enshrined, reflecting the absent sky–
the fulcrum rests inside the echo of what endures, arising from an aqueous womb shimmering with intangibles–
the circle continues, horizonless, quivering in confluence– who can refuse the voices of the sea?– an ancient web woven with stories–
“When I returned to the forest this past winter, I happened to come upon a small trench-like lagoon deep within the caverns of the forest, where the snow above was melting and gently plopping into the lagoon. The lagoon was shallow, meaning I could see the dirt, grasses and flowers filtering about in the water with the slightest movement.The glare of the crispy winter sun, projecting shadows of the spruces and firs, lit certain areas of the undergrowth in vibrant red. The trees and shrubbery reflected upon the water caused a mandala of colours to be refracted and ripple, as snow drops fell from above. Watching this was one of most pleasurable tranquil experiences I have ever had. I sat and watched this private show for a long time, and felt as though time had frozen – along with my hands. I pressed record on my camera, although I didn’t have a tripod, which meant some shakiness. It was an absolute pleasure to edit this film, and with it I have attempted to capture that feeling of complete tranquility.The song by Kris Keogh, entitled “We Were Gone Further Than Forever”, transported me back to that tranquil meditative state again, with sections feeling like time moving, flowing and reversing.”
Of our brand new Kick-About prompt, it could be argued we’ve been producing work suitable for the shelves of the ‘Museum Wormianum’ week-after-week. Nonetheless, I cannot wait to see what curiosities we might produce with the Ole Worm’s collection of oddities as today’s jumping-off point.
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 behaviourtodifferent 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.
A few days ago, I was very happy to share this portrait-come-caricature, drawn by the artist, Phill Hosking, to mark the occasion of my forty-sixth birthday. While I am completely mystified by the strange genre of pouting selfies, I am not immune to the satisfaction that comes from finding an image of your own face that you actually like. We’re not supposed to be too interested in our own visage, though in reality most of us are somewhat preoccupied, not by notions of our own rare and transcendent beauty, but rather by the effects upon our faces of the ravages of time. That said, I was very taken with Phill’s birthday drawing. Yes, I thought, that is me right there.
But Phill isn’t the first artist to take liberties with my features. Back in the summer of 2017, a portrait was hung on a newly restored wall in a newly restored room in a newly restored Grade 1 listed Elizabethan townhouse in Rochester, Kent – a house notable for its association with author Charles Dickens, featuring in both The Pickwick Papers and The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The portrait in question, featuring an esteemed former resident of the townhouse, bears an uncanny likeness to yours truly, which, at first glance, seems very odd indeed, considering the man in the painting is resplendent in the ruff and cuffs of Tudor fashion. But no, this is not some spooky instance of reincarnation, but rather a bit of historical fabulation, expertly executed by the artist, Kevin Clarkson. I’m going to let Kevin take the story from here…
Kevin Clarkson: “The portrait of Sir Peter Buck was in fact part of a larger illustration project to help tell the story of Eastgate House, a Tudor town house in Rochester, Kent, which was at that time undergoing refurbishment. The house was built for Sir Peter Buck in 1591. It now belongs to Medway Unitary Authority.
In its time, the house has been a Girls school and a museum, as well as a private dwelling. It also featured in several of Charles Dickens novels. I had been involved with a number of historical illustration projects for the Guildhall Museum in Rochester, and was approached to produce visuals for a new suite of visitor engagement graphics for Eastgate House. The oldest rooms of the house were going to be restored as far as possible to their Tudor appearance, supported with suitable information graphics. At my first meeting I learned no image of Sir Peter Buck was known to exist, so it was decided to create one to be incorporated into the graphics. I felt this was a missed opportunity; a man of Buck’s status would likely have a portrait in his home and I suggested we produce a facsimile to hang in the room, rather than be incorporated into the graphics. To my surprise the idea was immediately agreed and I realised I was now tasked with creating a convincing Tudor style portrait.
I began to research Tudor portraiture; one aspect which concerned me was costume. I knew in the later years of Elizabeth 1’s reign, she introduced “Sumptuary” laws that defined what fabrics and colours could be worn by different classes in society. I was keen not to deck Sir Peter out in the wrong kit! A frantic email to the Victoria & Albert Museum elicited a very helpful guide and a large reading list – the project was growing.
The Tudor period was almost the beginning of portrait painting as we know it, where a figure would actually resemble the individual closely, rather than being a generic face surrounded by symbols of wealth and authority. The obvious place to start was looking up Holbein and Hilliard for style and treatment, and then expand to see how portraits developed in the early 1600s, when Sir Peter would be in his prime and most powerful. From the start I was determined this was going to be a real portrait of a living breathing person; I was not going to clone an existing Tudor portrait.
I needed a sitter – but who?
This posed quite a problem, since a full beard was almost universal facial furniture in the alpha-male Tudor portrait, and although the beard is again popular, few take on the luxuriant full Tudor look and frankly the only owner of one I knew well was far too young to be Sir Peter.
The solution came from a passing conversation with my daughter, Emily. She reminded me her former Course Leader sported a beard of Tudor dimensions. I was saved – assuming Phil agreed, of course!
I had by now surveyed the work of a range of artists of the period; my favourite by a long way was the north Italian artist, Moroni. The poses adopted in his work are very informal and natural, very like modern portraiture. Sadly artists working in northern Europe, and the UK in particular, were much more rigid in pose and reluctantly I had to select a more formal look. It was clear Phil would be far too busy to sit for the painting, so photography would have to fill the gap. I supplied a number of Tudor poses to Phil, who was able to create a range of reference photographs from which I could work.
From the series of ‘serious and imperious’ self-portraits and reference images used in the production of the final painted portrait.
Tudor portraits would have been painted in oils using linseed oil as a medium, usually on fruitwood panel or canvas stretched over a softwood frame. I could have used oil but time was against me, so acrylic on panel was my selection. Acrylics dry in minutes, whereas even fast drying oil takes far longer. When varnished, acrylic is often indistinguishable from oil paint.
Kevin’s portrait of ‘Sir Peter Buck’ takes shape.
The actual painting process was straightforward: I gridded the photograph and transcribed it to the actual size of the painting, then began blocking in the colour. One thing I was nervous about was my selection of colour. The Tudor palette would have been composed of fewer colours, and I was determined to remain within the colour vocabulary of the period. I didn’t have time to research exactly which pigments were available at Sir Peter’s time. Instead I studied the colour values of the Tudor portraits I was using for reference and hoped that would keep me in the right area.
On completion I left the painting for a few days before coming back to look with a fresh eye. I don’t think I did more than a couple of tiny adjustments before bonding the paint surface with a sealer coat of gel medium, and, when dry, a gloss acrylic varnish. The new old master was complete!
In the interests of clarity, so that a future curator would not be fooled about the provenance of Sir Peter, I inscribed the back of the painting with details of the sitter, together with the date and my signature.
Thankfully Sir Peter was well received and is now a permanent resident of Eastgate House.”