Wednesday 3 December 2008


Some of you might be thinking… well isn’t that what any writer does? You animate your characters and make them speak! But this was an entirely different form of animation for me. It didn’t really involve words but sounds and it was the character/object that did all the work… not me… and it all happened in a few Digital Story-telling and Animation workshops at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Armed with cameras we went to find prospective ‘clients/actors’ amongst the exhibitions. Many of my co-workshoppers were researchers with special interests and chose serious subjects like statues, tiles, pottery and fabric designs. But I suppose a little bit of laziness in me chose the first gallery up from the Sackler Design Centre where we were working – the 20th Century Gallery, where I found objects that already seemed to be people – a few chairs, an Alessi cork-screw, and down below in the Fashion Gallery some shoes. And they immediately began talking to each other in my head.

The joy of working on a Mac in iMovie is that you can take these very inanimate objects and imbue them with life. Make them not only speak but move! I was the ultimate puppeteer. What power! So armed with scissors, crayons, card, paper and glue (the comments on Susan Price's Secret(ish) Love blog proved how beguiling all these objects can be!) I gave life to the Drum Armchair designed by Cecil Beaton in 1935.

With 18th century red-tasselled, silk boots kicking and arms taking up the drumstick motive on the back of the chair, he became the alter-ego of Punch forever imprisoned without legs, in his blue-striped, canvas stage on the beach. For a moment my newly animated chair with a fanfare of bugles and drums (no tiaras and ermine though – this wasn’t yesterday’s Queen’s Speech), and with animated arms creeping up his legs like caterpillars to the sound of marching feet, seemed more vital and vibrant and real than any character I’d written about in a book. (And if I wasn't too worried about crashing the bigblogadventure site, might have added the entire animation with much leg kicking, drumming and fanfare as well, to this blog.)

Hmmm? A new career? Should I take up animation instead of writing? A very amateurish film of 1 minute took I don’t know how many hours and hours of work and a total of 720 stop-frames to come alive. So now I’m trying to do the maths… how many hours and words does it take to make a character more or less alive in a book?

(Great to meet a fellow-blogger Lucy, at the Soc of Authors AGM with your new book, Hoot-cat Hill. And Nicky Browne, yes, agreed, I’m also losing the plot. Through this Animation Course I’ve now added another few layers to a desk that like yours, remains permanently something of an archaeological dig! I'm also spending an inordinate amount of time for someone who should be writing, playing animation not just with Punch's alter-ego but my own... pure escapism!)


Sally Nicholls said...

It sounds wonderful! What fun!

Lucy Coats said...

It was great to meet you too, Dianne--it's always nice to see 'virtual' friends in reality and find they are just as nice as you thought they would be. I love this idea of animating the inanimate, and would really like to see the whole video. Am sure it would work on YouTube...maybe you could put it up there. Having been in a film myself this summer (as an extra), I know how long it takes to put together even a short section. 5 minutes took us from 8.30am to 6pm. And we had to sit in a Birmingham cafe with cold, greasy chicken in front of us, smelling vile. Working on Cecil B in the V and A sounds much more inviting!

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

It is fun! But strange what lengths writers go to, to amuse themselves when they should be writing!

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Forgot to ask, Sally... did you capture your castle and get to sit in the kitchen sink?

Sally Nicholls said...

I didn't sit in the kitchen sink, no, but the castle was well and truely captured - and Cassandra is right, her castle must have been freezing in winter - hurrah for storage heaters and log fires!