The Cupboard Interview with Ian Bawn
I am an illustrator and an animator. I like to tell visual stories and some of them move.
Speak to us of your most radiant joys. What are they? How many of them do you have? Why are they the best?
At one time I would have said skateboarding and partying. These days it's mostly sublime joys like food, music, joking with friends and making art. Speaking of food, everyone should try a Tim Tam slam. You use a Tim Tam cookie like a straw with hot tea or coffee then pop the warm melted thing in your mouth. If I was dangerously diabetic, I would still risk the slam. For as long as I can remember, I've found joy in going to bed wearing socks, knowing that I'd wake up in the middle of the night with hot feet and experience the relief of ripping the socks off. When the world gets too heavy, I suckle on adult cartoons and British comedies, both bring me great joy.
OF FLESH AND FUR
Walk us through your ideation process. How do you develop visual and tonal codas from a chapbook?
First I look at the covers, which are all beautifully designed by Todd Seabrook. They've been a main source of inspiration for all of the trailers. Next, I read the chapbook. This part seems to be essential. The Cupboard's chapbooks are fantastic--they invite the imagination to create imagery. For me that imagery can change with multiple readings. I try to take note of where my mind goes during the first reading because those initial images are often the strongest. I then go back through the chapbook and pull out key words, colors, themes, and specific visuals. I nail down a general style and approach pretty quickly and then start an ever-changing list of ideas and research. It becomes that process where all possibilities are explored and then narrowed down further and further by various means. Finally, I plan how the visuals will fit with the blurbs. At that point the direction of the trailer becomes pretty well set and I begin shooting. I like to have only a rough idea of what I want to shoot, which allows for detours and happy accidents. I locate and edit the audio elements last. Ultimately, the trailers are a collaborative effort between me and the author, those providing the blurbs, and the cover designer--even if we don't communicate directly.
Much of the work you've done includes material elements, such as sand, gravel, taxidermied animals, live models, swung lights, even if you later layer 3D animation or graphics over these. What about physical materials interests you?
There's so much to learn and play with when it comes to animating and film making. I like thinking about how I can blend different methods together. In college I studied 3d animation and became frustrated with how technical and screen-time intensive it could be so I stopped working in 3d right after graduation. I moved to Seattle and met people there who were animating with more of a fine arts approach, using things like paper cutouts, sand, marker on glass, and stop motion puppets. I realized I wanted to work with physical materials and blend those techniques with the 3d and digital techniques I had studied.
There's a bit of psychic satisfaction that comes from animating with physical materials. When I can touch and manipulate something with my hands, the animation process feels more engaging; I think about the object in front of me--how it appears to my eyes but also how it will appear and move for the camera. Along the way, a tactile relationship with the object develops: learning its weight, how it balances, how it responds to gravity and light, what its best angles are. In the end the final video feels more real, even if only to me, knowing that my hand and my body experienced a part of what appears on screen.
Technology! We're intimidated by it. Tell us about the technological processes and means you use. What should we be excited about?
Sometimes it intimidates me too, but that's good right? I mean that's what makes it powerful and exciting I think. I mostly use Photoshop, After Effects, Premiere, and I use Maya for 3d stuff. My friend, Marcin, runs a film/fx studio in Denver called Manmade Media, and he's helped me immensely on a couple of the trailers. We shot the Prehistoric trailer on his Red Epic Dragon camera, which produces amazing quality footage. For most of the Prehistoric shots I used an electric back massager to vibrate debris, which we filmed at a high frame rate and slowed way down. For the Of Flesh and Fur trailer, we had the assistance of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. They loaned us a taxidermied coyote and squirrel, which we scanned into 3d models using a Structure Sensor camera and an iPad app called Canvas. Marcin arranged and composited the 3d models in a program called Nuke. For the You On Mars trailer, I was inspired by the light painting animations of Darren Pearson and the light paintings of Jason Page. I used a Cannon DSLR camera to shoot my long exposures. To create the light paintings, I used an assortment of flashlight attachments made by a company called Light Painting Brushes. These attachments change the color and look of what you draw with your flashlight and they're brilliant creation tools to have. I also found potato chips to be a huge help with light painting animations. Besides a late night snack, they worked great as location markers on the ground. If you look closely you can see them beneath the green grass in the mushroom scene of the You On Mars trailer.
Technologically, I'm excited about virtual reality painting, motion and facial capture, 3d scanning, and projection mapping. I enjoy seeing people use technology in unconventional and artistic ways. One of my favorite artists right now is Sam Rolfes who uses VR to make some really fantastic and distorted images and animations. Tobias Stretch is one of my all time favorite animators. What he's doing with stop motion puppets and time lapse photography is amazing. Also there's a whole world of digital artists that purposely corrupt digital data and manipulate electronic devices to create glitch art and films, which is really great.
What about making book trailers excites you?
The Cupboard's chapbooks contain top notch prose so I always get excited to read them. I also like that it's a collaborative effort. To me, someone else has already done the difficult part of crafting the writing, and I get to come in and hopefully make something interesting or pleasing from it--all I really have to do is choose which of their ingredients I want to throw into the pot. Creating these book trailers has been like creating animated shorts that hint at a narrative but don't reveal everything. It's been interesting to combine text with video too, which I wouldn't normally do. Ultimately I've been excited to work on projects tied to the world of experimental fiction. I think animators benefit from tapping into the worlds and minds of writers, and vice versa. New and innovative work seems to naturally happen when people from separate disciplines come together, pushing each other to think a little bit differently.
YOU ON MARS
What's next for you?
I plan to keep experimenting with animation methods and make longer pieces, perhaps for the festival circuit. I'd also like to collaborate with more writers, artists, musicians, animators and filmmakers, especially to build up the creative community around me. A graphic novel might be on the horizon too.