Monday, 25 March 2013

German Expressionism: Der Geist Ist Willig...

A key influence on 'The Bone House', both in terms of visual aesthetic and, to a lesser degree, narrative structure is the German Expressionist art movement of the early twentieth century.

I have long harboured a fondness for the look and feel of Expressionist films, in particular those that were produced during the Weimar Republic between the two world wars.  Although much of my initial contact with German Expressionism was via more contemporary works that drew influence from this avant garde movement, tracking backwards to the root of these flavours has been a journey into a world of frighteningly innovative filmmaking.

'Nosferatu' (1922)

I suspect that the first German Expressionist film I saw was F.W. Murnau’s 'Nosferatu' (1922) and although I cannot recall when or where I first watched the film, its imagery remains indelibly etched onto my consciousness.  It may also be the case that some of those images had already silently crept into my head from old film school textbooks, long before I sat down for the full feature; such are the mysterious, almost hypnotic power of them. 

Weird doesn’t even begin to describe it.

There’s much that resonates with me as a creative practionner.  From a production standpoint, the use of design to compensate for technical limitations is wonderful.  As early film cameras did not lend themselves to being moved around, nor did they posses the capabilities that we now take for granted, the shots were mostly static (no pans, tilts, zooms, etc.) Lighting was also underdeveloped as a filmic device.  So directors such as Wiene used impossible angles and geometric shapes in set design, for example, to add greater depth and intrigue to their images.    

Further, the use of high tonal contrast[i] to create high drama in a world devoid of full colour is a useful device to understand and develop.  The influence of Expressionist films on both film noir and the horror genre is due in part to the tension and mystery that such high contrast imagery evokes.  Images begin to breakdown into abstracts, which feel far more suggestive than explicit – rather like watching the shadows cast across the ceiling at night or glancing out of a window at a shape in the darkness that uncomfortably shifts from the benign to the malevolent in the mind’s eye.     

Of course colour can also convey dramatic tension via use of complementary or similarly physiologically charged colour schemes – a splash of red against dark green may conjure immediate thoughts of messy surgery, for example.  However, for me this chromatic friction is far more overt, a direct assault on the viewer rather than the visual enigma of black and white shapes, which leave something else for the viewer to discover deep in their own subconscious long after the film has ended.

'The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari’ (1920)

'The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari’ (1920)

In a similar vein, the use of exaggerated, abstract forms has a particularly unnerving effect.  A world that is simultaneously familiar yet unfamiliar – uncanny and reminiscent of altered mental states through drugs or serious illness.  Wiene's 'The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari’ (1920) is particularly rich in this hallucinogenic design.  Government officials perch on impractically tall chairs, windows stretch away beyond the screen (perhaps forever) and the rooftops dissolve into a simple arrangement of rectangles, suggestive of their real-world counterparts, yet hauntingly divorced from them.  As a child I was hooked on Dr Seuss.   I learnt the poems off by heart and would take a copy of whichever new book my parents had given me everywhere I went.  It was not the crazy storylines, the kooky characters or sublime rhymes that captured me however, but his uniquely disturbing illustrations – that fine line between magic and menace that authors such as Lewis Carroll and filmmakers such as Wiene, Murnau and Lang seem to also instinctively understand.

‘Metropolis’ (1927)

‘The uncanny’ is a recurring aesthetic in my work and I have begun to explore this via animated movement in particular.  In ‘MiLK HaRE’ (2011), the main character’s pixilated motion juxtaposes natural movement with unnaturally static positions to create a disturbing friction between expected and actual motion on screen.  Fritz Lang also explores the uneasiness created between organic and synthetic movement in ‘Metropolis’ (1927).  In a futuristic dystopia, factory workers relinquish normal human movement for a machine-like motion that conveys their symbiosis with an authoritarian industrial environment.  This unanimous, mechanical movement immediately strips away humanity, leaving lifeless automatons to work the machines.

I recently had the real pleasure of watching ‘The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari’ on a cinema screen and with a live musical accompaniment.  Writ large, the film had greater impact and draw as would any other.  However a real surprise was the energy that live music bought to the viewing experience.  At one point, a well timed clash of the cymbals made most of the audience jump and the contemporary sound, while inauthentic in terms of both instrumentation and style, suited the avant garde nature of the film very well.  Although rehearsed in advance, there was an electric immediacy in an art form unfolding in the room alongside these old flickering  pictures that bought a curious necromancy to the proceedings – an unnerving collaboration between artists living and those long since deceased.

Expressionism may have died in Germany during the late 1930’s with the rise of National Socialism, but it continues to haunt our cinema screens and our minds to the current day.

[i] Although many of these films were tinted/colourised, personally this feels like a gimmick (rather as 3D does today.)  My preference is to watch these films in black and white where possible.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Monsters Ashore: The Singing Loins

And here is the final music video.  Producers, actors and co-collaborators, a HUGE THANK YOU for all your hard work and support. I've really enjoyed, appreciated and learnt a great deal from working with you all. I hope that we can all get together for another voyage into the unknown again sometime.

The good ship Arethusa battles terrifying creatures from deep in nightmarish seascape - but is the real monster at her helm ..?


Song Written By Broderick & Allen, from the album ' on earth' (DAMGOOD405CD), Damaged Goods Records. Published by Vacilando '68 (Bucks Music Group). A White Rabbit Animation Production. Director: Emma Windsor, Original concept: Shorebird Crick, Cast: The Singing Loins & Fola Akinsola, Production / Technical: Patrick Murphy & Sylvia Lim, Camera: Dan Wylie & Emma Windsor, Digital Artwork & Animation: Michaela L. Czech, Ellie Dickens & Emma Windsor, Monster Make-Up & Illustration: Katie Broderick, Special Thanks: Jay Allen, Mike Tappenden, Nadia Ward & Seth Woolf. Find out more about the Loins:

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

From Illustration To Animation: Making 'Monsters' Move

Many of the sequences in the music video 'Monsters Ashore' involved the work of more than one person.  A key set of sequences in the video involve the good ship Arethusa on her journey into the dark unknown.  We had decided to use an 'olde mappe' look for these and therefore got to work creating artwork in this style.

The process was thus:  Katie used references from old sea maps and other materials to create some lovely concept illustrations of terrible sea monsters, waves, charts, a compass and the Arethusa.  These were beautifully hand rendered and some can be seen here.  This concept artwork was then scanned and passed onto Ellie, who traced and coloured Katie's original illustrations to create 2D digital artwork from the pencil drawings.  Although we had to make some alterations for technical reasons, we tried to remain as faithful to Katie's original concepts as we could so her vision was maintained.  These resultant digital files were far easier to manipulate and could be quickly scaled up and down without loss of resolution, for example.

Having reproduced all of the illustrations, Ellie then animated each element in Adobe After Effects.  We wanted a 'Victorian paper theatre' feel to the movement, so the use of keyframe 'tweened' animation suited well.  Et voilĂ , the good ship Arethusa was launched onto the high seas.

Ellie also produced a marvellous and truly monstrous angler fish in a similar style for use in the underwater sequences, which both provided a stylistic link between these and the map sequences and added more visual interest to the scenes (no offense Loins!)  These fabulous specimens were again animated in After Effects, although this time via 3D layers and masks, which was the prevailing technique used to composite this watery underworld.

Here fishy, fishy, fishy..!

About Ellie Dickens
Ellie Dickens is a digital artist and 2D animator. She is currently studying for a master's degree in animation and has an animated film competing in this year's Cornwall Film Festival and UK Film Festival. She enjoys creating weird and wonderful creatures but also has a penchant for parody and mischief. Some of her mockery can be seen at


The Singing Loins
The Loins have a new album '...Here On Earth' coming out on Damaged Goods on 5th November. It's on CD and digital is available for pre-sale now. They're holding the album launch gig up in London at the legendary 100 Club on Oxford Street on the 6th. Tickets are £7.50 (in advance) and available here.

Friday, 12 October 2012

You Make My Loins Sing! The Eclectic Aesthetic Of Fola Akinsola

I've had the very real privilege of collaborating with a number of artists from different disciplines whilst working on the music video 'Monsters Ashore' for the Singing Loins' forthcoming album '...Here On Earth.'  Amongst those already mentioned is the very lovely Fola Akinsola - a graphic artist, model and all round good sport who lives and works in Kent, UK.

I hope you like her work as much as I do...

rustic - quirky - vintage - upcycled - recycled - unique - imperfect 

Old & rarely new materials say it
Born via the desire to channel my energy and creativity 
in a fun and light way
using words objects and things of beauty
I've always loved anything tactile, old, textured, 

shabby, rustic and broken.

When these things are put together something happens...

To purchase her work, commission the artist or to simply find out more please contact her: folasart [at]

Monday, 1 October 2012

Lights, Camera, Stop..!

Pixilation is a key technique used to breathe life into a music video for the Singing Loins.  In pixilation, actors are used instead of or in combination with puppets and photographed frame-by-frame to build an animated sequence.  I'd decided I'd like to combine pixilation with timelapse and CGI to create a montage style in certain sequences.  So, in order to place the band and supporting actors into these animated collages, we shot the pixilated sequences against a green screen, so we could later remove the key provided by the backdrop and position the foreground subjects against another location/medium.

Adding a garbage matte in After Effects in green screen removal.

We arrived at the location around lunchtime the day before the shoot to set-up the screen and lights.  We also gave the screen a quick test in front of the camera and happy with the results, planned to set up the lights for shooting the foreground subjects when everyone arrived the following morning.  

Armed with a shooting schedule and having set-up the previous day, the shooting day ran fairly smoothly. Some intricate make-up for one actress meant that the band were first up in the morning, which also suited as it placed the less complex sequences at the end of the day.  We were the able to pack up and give plenty of time for lights to cool and for volunteers to eat throughout the shoot.  

Lighting is the key ingredient for successful green screening and we found the following advice invaluable:  Light the green screen separately from the subjects and place subjects at an adequate distance from the screen to reduce colour bleed onto skin, clothing or other reflective surfaces.  You can also enhance the colour uniformity in the glow from the screen in camera with a slightly slower shutter and opening the aperture a little, although this does increase the risk of motion blur/colour bleed and is therefore far better suited for pixilated sequences than video, for example.

Many thanks to:

Patric Murphy for the technical and all other support, Fola Akinsola for her time and patience, Seth Woolf and Jay Allen for the lights, Katie Broderick for her artistic talents and the Singing Loins for the loan of their bodies ;) x

Friday, 14 September 2012

A Trip To Beachy Head

We set off at dawn for a long drive from South London down to the East Sussex coast to catch the low tide at Beachy Head where a beautiful Victorian lighthouse still stands proud against the relentless swell of the English channel.  At just after 7am, we gathered our equipment and clambered down the chalky cliff face onto the exposed beach below.  The lighthouse is located off-shore about half a mile from the public footpath, although traversing the rocky landscape added extra time onto our outward journey (an important factor to consider as the tide turns quickly and past a certain point, access back to the cliff path is made impossible!)

We found a good position not too far from the foot of the building and set-up the camera and tripod.  Despite using a heavy tripod, the wind howled round the peninsular, creating a little unwanted movement throughout the timelapse shoot, which I hope to correct in post production.  Shots were taken at both 5 second and 10 second intervals for 125 frames to compile the timelapse sequences.  Final playback at 12fps gave a deliciously eerie feeling to the footage, making shadows creep across the rocks towards us, like the malevolent ghosts of the drowned.

As time and tide waits for no man, we had to return to Beachy Head to shoot the second timelapse sequences that will be used as backgrounds for a pixilation/CGI montage we're currently working on.  Sylvia assisted with the shoot by planning shots, weighting down tripods and sitting in situ so we has some recorded point of reference for the final montage.  We also had a lovely pub lunch in the 'Crown & Anchor', which certainly helped our 'creative flow'.  Many extra special thanks to Mike Tappenden, who risked life and limb to help capture these sequences.

About Sylvia Lim
Sylvia Lim is a visual effects artist, filmmaker and editor.  Her latest film, 'Simon Says' uses a combination of live-action, stop-motion and visual effects to tell it's strange and macabre tale.  She has recently graduated from the University of the West Of England with a masters degree in animation.  To find out more about her work and view her online portfolio, visit her Vimeo site at:

Friday, 31 August 2012

Tempest The Ocean...

'The Kraken' by Alfred Lord Tennyson
Illustrations by Katie Broderick 

Below the thunders of the upper deep; 
Far far beneath in the abysmal sea, 
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep 
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee 
About his shadowy sides; above him swell 
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height; 
And far away into the sickly light, 

From many a wondrous grot and secret cell 
Unnumber'd and enormous polypi 
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green. 
There hath he lain for ages, and will lie 
Battening upon huge seaworms in his sleep, 
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep; 
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.

About Katie Broderick
Talented young artist Katie is an aspiring illustrator and theatrical make-up & costume designer. Her creative talents have been used throughout the project to conjure terrifying creatures from the deep.