Introduction ‘Life in a Scotch Sitting Room’ is a 90-second long live action moving image piece created by Max Ashby and Daisy Bryant. The piece is stylistically similar to a film title sequence, with writing present throughout. In the piece a poem by Ivor Cutler is used, and the visuals refer to the work of René Magritte. This is the official publication of the piece, and within we intend to explain our choices for the film, the development of our ideas and how we used different techniques and ideas to construct our final piece. This film is intended to be seen by a broad audience; we tried to make it universally understandable, suitable and enjoyable to all ages, which partly reflects the original poem used as well.
Artist and Poet
René Magritte Our artist was René Magritte. Magritte was a Belgian surrealist artist working in the early 1900’s. His work consisted of many different subjects, but it mainly fell under the category of surrealism. His paintings challenged observers’ preconditioned perceptions of reality. At first, it seemed difficult to incorporate this style of image, but the occurring theme of playfulness is apparent in both Magritte and Cutler’s work. There were a particular few images that we felt were relevant to our poem, and would be interesting to experiment with and recreate. A few pieces included ‘La Condition Humaine’ (1933) and ‘The Large Family’ (pictured right, 1963). We experimented with a lot of different ideas, some consisting of natural, unedited illusions and some we created in After Effects.
Ivor Cutler We were given Ivor Cutler as our poet. Cutler was a Glaswegian poet who was born in the time of the great depression, just before World War Two. His poems, songs, and monologues all reflect his life in Scotland, from childhood until he died in 2006. His work was very upbeat and playful, and he often used techniques such as repetition in his works to create humour. The traits of Cutler’s work were surreal, bizarre juxtapositions and close attention to small details of existence. But his main comedy came in his live performances where his deliverance and impeccable timing fed largely into the humour of the pieces, and his own character. Most of his work is aimed at adults, but children would be able to feel the comedy in many of his pieces. This is understandable, as in his early years Cutler was a primary school Teacher.
As a pair, we spent a long time listening to his work (as nearly all of it is spoken by him), deciding on many different poems to animate. One of our first choices was ‘Mud’, a song about getting mud on one’s shoe. After thinking about feasibility, however, we decided that it would not make for an interesting enough final piece. We carried on like this with a few different short songs of his until we decided to go with one of his monologues, ‘Life in a Scotch Sitting Room.’ This piece is very long, and is separated into several volumes and episodes. We concentrated on the most popular part, Vol. 2 Episode 11, where Cutler talks about going on walks as a child with his mother and father. We took only the parts that we thought were the most interesting and edited them into a script that would give us 90 seconds of final animation. From there we started thinking about how we would incorporate our artist’s style into the animation.
There were some ideas in the beginning for certain types of animation, such as using a painted, old-fashioned style of medium (such as watercolour or oil paint), but almost straight away we decided that creating our animation with live action footage would best fit our poemâ€™s content and how we wanted to portray it.
The monologue is in the form of a spoken piece, and so before anything, we had to transcribe a hard copy to then work from. From there we started with some ideas from our tutors, like phonetically spelling the poem in Scottish dialect. However, we were drawn to the simplicity and naivety of the original piece and so stayed true to it.
We planned a range of techniques that would fit the mood of the text, such as time lapses, stop motions, and close-ups. It was while we were brainstorming that we started looking at camera obscura films.
It seemed like the perfect idea, integrating the countryside and the living room into a single shot. Then we got onto thinking about how it would be possible. There were no places we could access to film such a shot. But then we thought about making a tiny room that we could take wherever we needed to shoot.
Our piece changed quite a large amount between planning and completion, due to some ideas not being feasible or not fitting in with the main theme of the film. However, we have included our experiments and ideas to show amount of ideas that fed into the final outcome, even though most of them never appear in the piece.
Final Poem Edit
Our Most Influential Pieces The main pieces from Magritte that influenced our work were ‘La Condition Humaine (1933)’ and ‘Le Pays des Miracles (1967)’. ‘La Condition Humaine’ is a picture of a painting in front of a window with the same scenery behind it. If it weren’t for the left curtain between the canvas, the window and parts of the easel, it would just look like a window. This optical illusion is typically stylistic of the surrealist movement that was around at the time Magritte was working. This painting particularly influenced us and fed into several different ideas in our piece, particularly the camera obscura idea. It uses the same concept as ‘La Condition Humaine’ in that we brought the outside of the room inside.
‘La Pays des Miracles (1967)’ is a painting of a landscape filling the positive space of a plant that appears to be inside a house or on a table. This image is very similar to ‘La Condition Humaine’ in so much as they both symbolise the outside world coming in, and nature still playing a vital role in civilised society. This painting was very influential in our work, and we replicated the technique with our footage by using it in one of our scenes. We filmed a static tree and to fill the branches we filmed some surrounding habitat. Once in post production we merged the two pieces of footage together and overlaid the film of the landscape onto the tree, creating a similar effect to Magritte’s original painting.
Our Choice of Font We both agreed that the font to be used should be hand written for several reasons; the text we chose was a recording of Ivor Cutlers memoirs in the style of a diary so it seemed thematic to give the text a hand written look, and the footage we gathered was mainly natural and suburban scenes so a hand written type would add to the natural theme running throughout the piece. We started looking at a range of hand written fonts, and decided to look at René Magritte’s work to try and find some inspiration. In one of his most famous pieces ‘The Treachery of Images’ we found some type we really liked. However, the type was only hand written and so no digital version of it existed. After doing some research we found a family of fonts inspired and based upon ‘The Treachery of Images’ called ‘Little Days’, so we decided to use this font due to it being the most similar to the original painting.
These are a selection of stills from some of our original footage. We filmed these scenes to help us get an idea of the direction we wanted to go in, however after editing some of the shots we decided that we should revise them.
These stills are from footage we took later on in the project. Our original film didnâ€™t work well with the feel of the poem, and so we collected a wider variety of shots, incorporating more influences from our artist as well.
These screen shots show us working in Premier Pro and After Effects. We spent along time playing around with the programs to see how we could use them for the footage. This piece was inspired by ‘La Pays des Miracles’. We decided to go for the same illusion of having a tree within a tree. We had a few different ideas on how to create the effect in After Effects, and started by making a mask over one piece of footage and inserting another underneath (top image). We liked the effect but didn’t like how the footage came out, partly because the tree we filmed wasn’t very well defined. We went out again and filmed a better tree with more defined edges, and some more surrounding scenery to overlay. When we came to edit it in After Effects, we changed the blending modes of the layers, which resulted in a clearer outcome (bottom image), and more appropriately conveyed our original idea.
Life in a Scotch Sitting Room by Max Ashby and Daisy Bryant