Students are quite naturally interested in how they are going to earn their money, so they need certain training. In the British educational system, government is now demanding that the students should be trained in specialisation almost immediately. Obviously philistine governments don’t understand about aspects of intuition or sensibilities or feeling. They want the goods, they want immediate zombies. Paradoxically, this kind of pressure is forgetful, if not ignorant of the present quality of animation. It is a universal form of art developed over past decades. If students go through the materialistic process pundits are now proposing there is a danger of killing the goose which laid the golden egg. If you go to London now you will find the studios are not composed of relaxed artists, but full of people with their heads down concentrating on highly commercial work to pay the rent. In Britain the high cost of accommodation is a wonderful incentive for conformist grind. This generates a kind of escapist life style – perhaps you become a punk or something, to alleviate frustration. So materialistic conformity is very high.
Can I now talk about sketchbook and self-communication. One wants to observe the world, its qualities, its space, its colour and its movement. People want to feel, we are feelers. Education can inhibit feeling, our senses, seeing, hearing, touch, smell is neglected. There is no training of our senses. How can you train the senses? Are we losing the use of our senses?
In this bag I have a sensory experience. Who is going to have a go, who wants a sensory experience?
(A member of the audience volunteers to put his hand into the black plastic bag).
His senses are now transferring information to the back of his head. He is now turning it into a concept, an experience. Have you done that? What a brave man, because I have a human head in there. A lady next – how about you? You can keep your glove on.
Lady: “Not since you said you have a head in there.” (Another person tries the bag).
Everybody should do this before breakfast. One more.
(Ray tips the contents of the bag onto the floor. There are some small balloons, a hairbrush and a fluffy toy.)
Sorry about that. I have to amuse myself too. What I am trying to say is that some students, young people, want to start with feeling, the sketchbook becomes the vehicle. They observe, feel, see, and ask “What can I do about it?” Now I am going to present a film made by a young student. It is his first film. He worked hard trying to communicate his experiences in Liverpool. When he went from his apartment to the art school each day there were hundreds of dogs about and that is what influenced him.
The film about dogs is drawn in pencil on paper. The style is very simple, but it captures the essence of dogs seen on the streets, being walked by their masters.
A student’s first film, unlike Drawing with Light, the film we had previously, where the student created with light, this particular student wanted to draw. Then he had to find a way to translate sketchbook into movement and screen space, no message, just discovering and enjoying formal values. I think any artist who tries to make anything is rapidly into formal qualities and values. The lines, the shapes, the colours, the sensation of movement may be the priority of learning, but ultimately you will find that a message may also emerge. But if that student had tried initially to tell the world what his emotional frustrations were, he might have resorted to a cliché technique, or he might have imitated a well-worn style, but no, his sketchbook helped him to discover a unique way.
Unfortunately, educational experience gives way when confronted by entrepreneurs who require particular conventional skills for their profit. It is difficult to make the bridge between sketchbook, self actualisation, and what other people require for profit. Obviously young people, when they leave college, have to do this. You may be lucky, you may not.
The next film was Carnival. In this the characters were expressed with brush marks, giving great freedom and vitality to the images.
Fortunately commercial people came along and said, “Can you do something like that for a commercial, and we will pay you?” It allowed the artist to make some money to get established and buy some equipment. This particular young lady was then commissioned together with another ex- student, to make a film for the United Nations in New York. When they went to New York they were asked “Are you sure you can do this, you look very young?” So they took on quite a major film for the United Nations. Of course it had the usual anti-war requirements etc, but at least they were allowed to develop their own ideas, and feelings within it.
On the other hand, there are those individuals who start out in education with a fixed concept, a fixed idea of their abilities and their limitations. They go to college to do what they think their ability will allow. Obviously it is the job of a good educational environment to try and reveal abilities they didn’t know they had, otherwise there is no point in being there. So there is another student first film I’d like to show you where the student initially wanted to do graphics for credits and more formal typographic construction. Then he discovered he could draw. He hadn’t known he could draw, nobody had told him he could draw. People had shown him examples of Michelangelo but he felt terribly deficient, he couldn’t do that. Fortunately sketchbook animation allows a more spontaneous approach with the drawing. Once he started to draw and you couldn’t stop him.
His film was shown in the National Film Theatre in London where it won an award. A famous actress presented the filmmaker with his prize. She asked him how much his film had cost to make. He told a fib, and named a sum a little more than the real cost which was ten pounds. His embarrassment was later rewarded, for she bought him a drink and donated a cheque to Liverpool.
Both were gratefully received.
The film may have only cost ten pounds to make materially, but how can you put a value on such endeavour and expression, which demanded transporting a suitcase full of thousands of drawings from flat to college, with the constant fear you might be mugged.
The film was shown. It was a collection of Liverpool street and pub scenes recording the actions of some of the interesting characters found there at Christmas.
That particular student originally wanted to do formal titles. That is why there was a detailed title at the beginning of the clip, but then he discovered sketchbook, observation etc. The choice of sound is a very strange phenomenon because I think if you get involved in a sketchbook, in some sense you get involved in European tradition. Maybe then you are not interested in using American pop culture to express certain feeling, he felt, in a sense, for himself.
Whatever role one ultimately finds for one’s self, by experiment or self- communication, or the storyboard syndrome, of collective communication, maybe it relies on individual observation and sketchbooks but sometimes people don’t discover this. We can become stuck with fixed concepts, we all want to emotionally express what we feel about this globe but somewhere we have got to find a way to do this. One has to mark time, find out who we are before we can say what we feel about the world.
I have tried to demonstrate aspects of sensation. After all, before information hits the back of your head it has to go through the senses, there is no other way. Ultimately I feel the human race will realize and enjoy their senses more that one can imagine at the moment. The age of materialism absorbs us, we anaesthetise ourselves rather than search for ethics via aesthetics. I do. I get frustrated so I buy a beer.
What does the future hold? When video screens are bigger, wafer thin, digitalised, one could enjoy the patterns and sensations as you would with a large cinema screen or painting. With conventional TV screens you could be ironing, doing your hair, washing the baby, or just passive viewing. When we have large screen video in the home and you invite your friends in socially you don’t particularly want to watch “Dallas” do you? I visited the western isles of Scotland recently. I drove my car all day mainly on a single track road, through mountain passes and great visual splendour. I arrived tired at a little pub. I went in, ordered a whisky, and was ignored for a while because the occupants were all absorbed watching “Dallas”.
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Printed in Animator Issue 25 (Summer 1989)