The online home of the London International Animation Festival.

Scratch Animation – by Steven Woloshen

Steven Woloshen's LIAF Masterclass, 2010.

Steven Woloshen's LIAF Masterclass, 2010.

To help us explore this technique, we invited one of the best living ‘direct’ animators, Canada’s Steven Woloshen, to be our guest at LIAF 2010. Steven hosted a sell-out two day Masterclass and Workshop where he demonstrated to participants the skills required to make their own animation.

When I was 12 years old, my little suburb hired dozens of skilled workers with large machines to move 100 tons of dirt and gravel. Six months later, the lot was home to our first community centre. As soon as the doors opened, my parents promptly signed me up for animation classes. Every Saturday afternoon, we watched the animated films of the National Film Board of Canada and pixilated each other with our Super 8 cameras. One day we drew stick men onto 16mm filmstrips with black markers. Simple.

I am an analogue guy to the core. Today’s digital technologies are everything but simple for me: common codices, broadcast standards and platforms are just some of the new words I don’t quite understand. As hard as I may try to avoid it, my arts practice often requires some contact with the digital world,offering me the luxury of sending my work, quick as lightning, to the four corners of the globe. Last month, I spread blue ink on film like peanut butter on bread. Simple. I drove my $30 film to the lab where a million dollar digitizer ingested it, only to be regurgitated in a more “user-friendly” format. I struggled for several nights afterwards to compress and rerender the film to a format that could effectively be flung into the Ethernet halfway around the world, to Australia. Those nights of anguish and tension, of waiting for my upload to download made me wonder why this digital magic can’t be just that: Simple.

Linear Dreams – Richard Reeves.

Linear Dreams – Richard Reeves.

Faced with a sea of digital technologies, today’s generation of direct-to-film animators are keeping Len Lye’s flame gleefully alive. Since old-school 35mm theatrical prints are pricey and require a great deal of communication between the artist and the lab, cool new films such as Jantsch’s ‘The International Photon’ and Bolos Quentes ‘Design’s Ultimo: “Spong Ice”‘ are bypassing analogue workflow issues, engulfing the world with their bold and beautiful colour storms. Making things with your bare hands is about endurance – and permanence.

Like my childhood community centre, we make things so that future generations can benefit from the fruits of our labours. We marvel at the guy who can carve a sailing ship on a grain of rice or engrave the bible onto the head of a pin. Painting and scratching on film reminds me of my physical connection with the world I inhabit. In Brakhage’s film ‘Mothlight’, we are reminded of material creatures, attracted to the projector’s light and caught on the surface of film – permanently preserved. Handmade films also remind us that the surface of the screen is a harmonious extension of the film itself. Reeves ‘Linear Dreams’ and Neubauer’s ‘Moonlight’ imply that the darkened walls of the cinema are their work surfaces. A cameraless film also suggests that physical effort is necessary to make art. Caroline Leaf’s ‘Two Sisters’ reveals the sweat of the sculptor, the calluses of the dancer and the steady nerves of the calligrapher, lovingly etched in every 70mm frame.

Changing Evan- Steven Woloshen.

Changing Evan- Steven Woloshen.

As for me, if I could see every painting in Madrid’s Prado Museum in just 3 minutes, how could I do it? With ‘Ditty Dot Comma’ (2001), I treated the film leader as a negative in order to create a new colour palette that would become electrically charged in the final print. The result: over 3000 frames of handcrafted paintings. It would take me a week at The Louvre to see that many works of art. That hyperactive, destructive kid that I was thrived on those Saturdays at the community centre, just as I thrive today on my filmmaking practice, frame by frame. With ‘The Curse of the Voodoo Child’ (2005), I eased my fear of first-time fatherhood by sandpapering vintage soft porn. “The experience of having a child… [was] remarkably, even courageously, unsentimental, both for concentrating on sexual activity as the basis for the child’s existence, and for suggesting that a baby brings not only joy but also chaos and noise into the couple’s life” (C. Gehman. Spotlight Series DVD: Steven Woloshen. C FMDC). I created ‘Changing Evan’ (2006) as a form of therapy.

I used simple hand painted icons and symbols to represent my daughter’s chicken pox ordeal. As the virus attacked her body, I attacked the film. Finally, with ‘Playtime’, a film commissioned in 2009 by the Toronto Animated Image Society as homage to the Canadian painter Jock MacDonald, I combined familiar techniques of hand painting on film with decayed Hollywood trailers. Regardless of what anybody says, handmade filmmaking is a visceral and ephemeral process. This style has endured for almost eight decades and I see no signpost ahead that says: “Enough!” I will continue to build with my hands and let the future generations play in my wreck room. Long live the handmade film and three cheers for those of you who join the community!

Steven Woloshen, 2010.