HLP Day Ten :: Bowden Creative Space

It was great to have the studio to the 3 of us today.

We debriefed for the first part of the day, talking about how each of us is feeling on the project, and airing some of the grievances and frustrations about either the process, the space, the relationship with the subject matter or the lack of direction. It was a good talk but left me with many of the questions I have always asked myself about why I want to make work: what drives me, how can I find clarity in my vision, and ultimately who cares anyway? I guess these are common questions for artists and they do need to be asked. I have always connected with the outcomes of artworks that are rich, deep, complex but that have a solid idea or feeling behind them. I think I am still making work that avoids dealing with anything real. My head-in-the-sand apprach to life makes it easy to live but maybe not meaningful enough. I am still so driven by a fear of confrontation with the things in life that can make it difficult, and I am sure that much of this comes from growing up in South Africa in the midst of Apartheid. Why is this relevant to this blog? I guess it excuses my soft approach to things. I talked to Carol and Lisa about the way I tend to work - I am an observer rather than a director (but in truth I often observe with my eyes closed). I try to find 'decisive moments' in the version of truth I see and really love that passive process. But I am also interested in what could unfold, and start to get ideas about what I'd like to see happening in the frame. At times I do want to manipulate what I am seeing to start to bring it closer to what it could be.

Working with the medium of dance is still very new to me, and that's why this development is so important to me. I am on a journey of finding how it is I want to work with the' figurative' in a way that feels comfortable and interesting. I'm not afraid of challenges like this and love to work hard, but I often find that the clarity of what I really want often comes on reflection and not necessarily in the process. In terms of this project, I am letting the process unfold relatively unmanaged. I don't want to restrict the development of ideas and Carol in particular has such a rich aesthetic it's really interesting to see what might happen. I think I will be in a better position in the editing process to start to manage where the meaning can be found and how the material can start to work. It is such a priviledge to be able to have a first stage of a project, knowing that it's development is more likely to be successful once there has been time to play, explore, and most importantly, to fail. 

Anyway, there is alot more I could say but as always there's not enough time..

Isadora Wrapped up

Onto the content of the day - we worked on the Isadora piece, looking to add some elements of surprise and complexity to this piece. I think it is starting to get more interesting - and her character is evolving directly from the human horse. I really enjoy the little links and connections we are starting to build between and from the characters. It gives something else for the audience to play with and respond to. The potential for metamorphosis is really interesting when working in this medium - it's basically animation. We stop the cameras and create a new truth, then continue shooting.


We looked at wrapping Isadora, and then moved on to other ways of playing with the material. Muybridge shot a lof of his women in various stages of drapery. Our Isadora character comes from sequences like the ones below, where the subject is moving / dancing with fabric - and also at various stages of dress / undress. Our Isadora is a blend of many of the figures we have studies in his work. Here are a few examples:



Woman with Kerchief

OK, not much time now so will just post a few images from the day - and will upload the video later..

Carol & Lisa working in the studio

Neo Isadora

The pace is too fast (I was going to work on this piece but we have already started exploring other things so I thought I'd leave Isadora V2 where it is) but here we are introducing a number of new elements at the start of the piece, and creating a link from the Human Horse to Isadora. Crazy but true. And Neo makes a brief appearance (thanks to Matthew for the idea - great!). The next stage is shooting against a black background and considering the ending..


HLP Day Nine :: Bowden Creative Space

(posting this on Sunday night because it has taken me all my available time this weekend to make sense of the footage from Friday..)

Today we had the crew set up the additional 2 cameras on the array (thanks Carradean & Taryn!), as well as 2 cameras designated to shoot video (thanks Sara & Cleland)..It took quite a while to get the array warmed up and working - although we had spent the day on thursday ironing out the creases, there was still a continual stream of issues for Mik (in particular) to deal with. I have to admit that I see the issues appearing peripherally but just don't get involved. At this stage I am trying to juggle the ideas about what we are about to shoot with making sure everyone on 'set' is happy and has enough coffee! Luckily Mira was on set to make detailed notes about the issues and their patches, so I got on with creating a test grid on the stage and tweaking the lighting, with the help this time of Des Berwick (who stuck around to manage the camera array and get cameras back online when they either ran out of juice or some other mysterious issue). Peter gave us a draft version of his new triggering system to work with, and although it was great we noticed a few shots with a slight lag in their timing. He reverted the system to it's original configuration for the second part of the shoot. I don't have any pics of the team for Day 9 because I set up my camera on a tripod to shoot timelapse and couldn't shift it between takes. I'm hoping Des will send me some of his infrared 'behind the scenes' shots.

OK, so to summarise the day we aimed to shoot Victorian Horse (renamed to be true to the period Muybridge was working in) and explore the array to capture each jump, as well as any other opportune moments in the movement. We also shot video on either end of the array to find out how it might blend with the 'bullet time' capture sequences. I thought about putting a video in the centre of the array but was talked out of it - in retrospect I should have done so because the edge perspective is not satisfying compositionally and doesn't blend well with the centred timelapse capture. As a result the quick edit I have done has had the video footage taken out. I tried including the 'signature' in video, which might have worked other than the perspective. Rather, I have used the timelapse version of the entire piece with the array sequences blended and reversed.

A few issues to highlight:

  • The actual moment of the array capture is often awkward because I was struggling with having to autofocus the array to 'wake up' the cameras so that they would fire at the same time (even though we are manually focusing the cameras) - this took me all afternoon to get comfortable with, with mostly off-suspension, awkward jumps
  • I think the dynamic between the morphing character's position could be a lot more interesting (again, my timing has to be more accurate)
  • We left a ladder in shot for an entire stage of the metamorphosis - I just couldn't bring myself to include it in this edit, even though its just a quick stitch without finesse. This stage would have offered me more diversity in the 'leaping' stage I guess
  • The signature is too fast in 'real' time (that is, 1 frame a second) - I think I need to slow it down in post to maybe 75%?
  • The light changed mid shoot, so the background density varies, which makes the array blends a bit hard. Looking at the forecast it's looking dodgy for our shoot days (variable lighting across the day because of intermittent cloud cover. I will need to consider a more reliable and functional set for the second development!
  • The array sequence filenaming was off, despite the many hours the team spent the day before trying to ensure that the filename for camera 1 was named accordingly. This made my editing a NIGHTMARE!! For every array shot (except for 3) I had to figure out the camera position and rename each one. 
  • Sometimes only 5 cameras in the array were delivering files - no idea why
  • One of the cameras in particular was a bit skew
  • The gap between cameras in the array is too large for a fluid movement

I like the signature, as well as the 'waiting' elements - I think they do add variety and depth to the sequence. I am excited about what these might add to how the vignettes can be viewed and experienced. The clarity of their meaning is still murky, but as with much of this development I am happy to just ride the waves of ideas that emerge without too many questions, so that I can evaluate the work as a whole and think about how it can be formed into a more coherent and significant work in the second stage.

I thought I'd show the reference image here..


We worked briefly on Tennis Marilyn at the end of the day - I wanted to see how the checkerboard would work in the frame to see if I could get away with the few boards I have - but I do think I need to populate the grid more if I can. I also wanted to see how the array would work with this vignette's movement. We also staggered the captures with a few miliseconds between frames, but I can't really notice it I have to say. Perhaps the movement itself is just too slow in this piece to try that technique. This is something I really need to figure out as I'd like to pitch the array at the right kind of movement, as well as use it to the best effect not just in terms of an interesting moment, but also in terms of what the array can 'reveal'. This is something we have talked a lot about, but haven't really had a chance to explore yet. It may not be until we have a bigger array that we can fully understand how it can be used. I suspect I may need to be a little less ambitious with what we can achieve with the array on Wednesday. Anyway, here is a quick edit of some array shots in the tennis player (partA).

I'd like to edit in some of the video footage to catch some of the nuances that are missed by the array and timelapse techniques. Still lots to do..

Here is a reference image sequence we are working from..(Muybridge)

Lawn Tennis




HLP Day Eight :: Bowden Creative Space

Wow - day eight. Today was the first day of setting up the array. We had our array team on set to start figuring out the best workflow for streamlining and setting up the cameras. With only 4 Canon 5D Mark IIs to play with you'd think it was a simple job - but we did have a perplexed array of faces for a few hours today when we just couldn't get the files recording in a filename sequence we could actually work with!

Mira, Mik & Cleland looking perplexedI'm pleased to say that the team figured it out (after digging into an obscure help menu detail that apparently should be a simple drop-down menu in the software). After a day of playing with the array I think we are ready to start shooting a couple of test sequences tomorrow.

In terms of the creative development (as opposed to the technical development) Lisa, Carol and I had a rare few minutes to talk about the creative pathway of the project. We discussed a few key things that made me feel more confident about having enough time to clarify the characters we have created and consider new strategies for making sense of them. We talked in particular about the Isadora piece and how it lacks any element of surprise or innovation. She has walked straight off the pages of our reference material for Muybridge's work and not into the 21st century. She is graceful but not interesting. Where the other 'vignettes' have a sense of play, drama or curiosity, she is rather simple. We are still working on how to develop her piece. The other focus was the signature piece that each character shares. Lisa talked about the emotional tone of each piece being something worth clarifying, and I agree. So if the individual quality of each piece is it's 'tone', then we figured the signature they all share is the fact of being scrutinised, measured, and required to perform on an anthropometric stage. So Carol and Lisa worked on a very different style of movement for the signature, and we drew up a grid on the upper platform for the movement to be measured to.

When the array was being set up the array team stuck numbers to masking tape to help identify the frames for each camera. I was interested in the suspension of the numbers in the foreground, and wonder if this might offer a first step to some consideration of foreground mapping to add depth to the images, and of course cross reference the multiple frame organisation that in turn references both Muybridge's camera array and his anthropometric scales.

rehearsal shot from in front of the arrayI think I like the grid numbers on the platform. The ruler on the stool is what the array is being aligned to. I Still need to consider the set as a context for what we are seeing the characters do.

Cleland Jones started to look at ways of possibly using the results of the anthropometric scanning day. He wasn't keen at all on the unresolved quality of the images and found the grid to be too intrusive. If he keyed out the blue background and grid the figure lost even more density. But we did look at bringing the 3D character onto the stage to perform with Lisa. Just a bit of play. Here are some shots of what we were seeing him play with on the screen:

The anthropometric shadowanthropometric charcoal drawing










Here is a quick look at a section - the 3D figure is a bit dodgy but we will be able to work with the University to output files that might offer better results - the plan is to figure out what scans we may want to use, and then arrange for output of the AVI files at exactly the right angle / perspective (we can rotate around the subject on any plane from any angle). Not sure - it's a bit tech looking but like everything on this project it's an experiment..



HLP Day Seven :: Bowden Creative Space

Oops - another midnight blog session - and this one's after a 4am start to the day! So, I'll make it quick. We starterd out with the amazing Pete Hall from Urban Cine dropping off a carload of lighting equipment. My fabulous assistant Nick Spiker was there to assist with lighting setup. So, after a filmset-strength coffee, we got to work.

Nick Spiker setting up some continuous lightingI should say that I have been shooting with flash for the past week. So even considering continuous is freaking me out! I love the flexibility of flash which gives me the ability to control the heavy window backlight exposure independently of the lighting on Lisa. I am now at the mercy of the lighting outdoors to see what the ratio of subject to background exposure will be. I can't make the tungsten & Kino's any brighter so I am pretty much stuck. So with trepidation we did our best to block out much of the window light using big black curtains. Now, these have been loaned by Justin at Vitalstatistix - and I promised I would promote their wonderful exhibition at Waterside in exchange. More info about that to follow. We also borrowed some flat blacks from Cirkidz down the road - thanks to Glen R Johns for that!!

Anyway, the lighting seemed to work out OK, even with a full sun environement in the background. So we tested the lighting for our next shoot (on our Washer Woman with the incorporated signature etc) and I think it's OK..(she says nervously). We didn't colour balance the lights, but I will probably be desaturating the work so it's OK for now.

So, we shot video on a 5D Mark II for the first time (thanks Nick for helping with that), to see how it integrates with the timelapse. We also shot a closer angle on Lisa for some of the Vermeer-esque details. I have done a quick edit of these 3 cameras to get a feeling for how it could work. The signature is shown here in video - you can see how slow Lisa's delivery is (this facilitates the timelapse capture).

We also shot a section on what will probably be the Tennis Lady piece (without Marilyn). We shot video and a low angle along with the usual centred frame (on the rig). I haven't had a chance to edit this so will need to post this piece later. One difference in this piece (besides the signature etc) is the extension of the checkerboard background to the second level.

I will be creating a few more tiles for the upper windowsTomorrow - starting to work on setting up the array to prepare for a test shoot (Bullet time - yay!) on Friday..


HLP Day Six :: Bowden Creative Space

So, quick update from the space before Carol and Lisa arrive..Peter and I have just set up the stage so that we can start rehearsing and planning with it in place. Very exciting! Peter has done an awesome job and it looks great in position. THANK YOU Peter Stanley for supporting this project so much (Peter is also creating our trigger system for the multiple cameras (I'll let him explain at some stage)..all round clever guy! Here is a quick timelapse of setting it up..

The finished product in place - much better than a couple of rigid but nonetheless..tables

Now - end of the day blog..

Today felt a little less productive but still great. The stage was brilliant - stable and effective, so that was a real bonus. In terms of choreography, Carol & Lisa worked at tightening up the Isadora piece, and that started looking more interesting. The most interesting development was that we started talking about integrating a 'signature' phrase into all of the characters' movement. I am really interested in seeing how a synchronous movement across all the screens in the exhibition will work in terms of both choreography and the experience of the viewer. Factoring in the need to be able to time all the pieces for them to move into the signature phrase at the same time allowed us to consider the introduction of some stillness. We have talked about a moment of repetitive breath, or a simple loop of reasonably still movement for each character, and this has been created in the new Isadora choreography. It is a really classical piece - maybe a bit obvious with some of the feminine moves and fabric interaction - but I think it will stand well amongst the other pieces as something well connected with Muybridge's female characters, and honourable in it's simplicity. Oh, and OF COURSE - we reflected on the anthropometric scans we achieved at the Uni yesterday and worked back from some of the images we liked best, integrating them into the new movement. Whether or not we use the 3D scans in the final work, this has been a very interesting process!

We shot the new Isadora using stills and flash, as well as video (traditional HDV). I have cut some of the video in with the stills sequences, just to get a feeling for the integration of a variety of movements. I know it's clunky but hey. these are rough cuts by a non-editor - just playing. Here it is..

At the end of the day Carol worked on fine tuning the Washer Woman piece, integrating the anthropometric stills as well as the signature phrase. We will keep working on that tomorrow. We have also started to roughly storyboard the work we have so far. Tomorrow I will hopefully be working with Pete Hall from Urban Cine to look at how we will use continuous lighting for the shoots, setting up more of the set, and continuing the choreographic development. Challenging, interesting and fun!