Honey, I’m Home: Drawing the Body

It’s easy to take animation for granted. It’s one of those things that, unless you work with it every day, seems to just magically happen. As theatre makers who work extensively with animation, even we find ourselves at arms-length throughout the process. We work with people who, through their immense and magical skill, bring our ideas to life. But, while magical, animation isn’t something instantenous. It is a craft that requires a painstaking level of detail. It also involves words like ‘rotoscoping’, which sounds incredibly complicated.

In episode two of Honey, I’m Home, the creative team took a video of original choreography by Zoë Dunwoodie and mapped each and every movement to create a stunning piece of video art that captures the power of the body in motion.

We chat to Chris Edser about how he (and the team) went about creating the latest episode.

What was the inspiration for episode two for Honey, I’m Home?

We found Zoë’s dance very expressive with strong poses that evoked expressive drawing, like life-drawing the human figure. Zoë is an incredibly powerful and precise dancer. She has a really commanding presence and the dance she created was filled with dynamic shapes… it’s amazing what she can do. Our animations were completely inspired by those shapes and her wonderful choreography, which, in turn, was inspired by Lazy//Susan’s wonderful composition.

We wanted to get back to straight mark making rather than planning and designing. So much of our work is technical, it shifts away from creative experimentation into realising a given design, costume or image. It goes from an initial design phase to making that design happen. This episode was about us experimenting, trusting our instincts and really following our imagination… trying new things, learning new skills and working it out as we went along. It was a great chance to collaborate with artists in a way we otherwise wouldn’t in our everyday working life.

First I broke the dance Zoë filmed at home for us down into short clips that covered a few beats of music (~3 seconds). Each of these was 35-36 drawings at 12 frames a second. It was important to do this planning, so we didn’t double up and knew how many images we had to do to keep it achievable. We divided up the shots between us and also outlined a section for children to colour in, as well.

Most of the drawing we did was rotoscoped digitally in ProCreate on an iPad Pro with an Apple pencil, or in Photoshop via a Wacom tablet and pen. Rotoscoping is the name given to using video footage (essentially tracing) to create animation. This process has been used in almost every medium throughout film history from stop motion to oil painting. Even the human characters in early Disney films like Snow White use rotoscoping from real footage. It’s super effective for expressive movement like dance, or sports. I like it best when the basic motion is traced, but then extra unexpected details are added, or exaggerated. Some great examples of this in Episode Two are Jox sending flicks of colour of the hands of the figure and Renate extending the arm length when they hang limply.

 

What new skills did you guys acquire throughout the process? What did you learn?

A big part of the entire Honey, I’m Home process has been the three of us learning new skills or trying out new things. Working as a creative can sometimes mean being beholden to deadlines and just doing what you know. It’s rare to be given the chance to really experiment on a professional project.
Throughout Episode Two I learned a lot about producing and the organisation side of animation. Managing a project like this takes a great deal of time from both an administrative and artistic perspective. I worked really closely with my co-creators to make sure the project was achievable in the time and all the frames were covered. Jox and Renate both had an opportunity to try some digital drawing and drawn animation, which are both new skills for each of them. After the first few frames, they really started to get the hang of it and both were adding advanced extra animation in addition to the tracing by the end of the project. 
Watch more of Honey, I’m Home here.

By Anthony Nocera

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