Isobel graduated from RMIT Media Arts in 2001 and has been steadily developing her animation skills over the last 10 years. Her projects vary from short film, interactive installation, cross-platform performance to music video, children’s television and small commercial jobs.
Recently Isobel animated and co-directed You Were In My Dream, an interactive animation for Experimenta which travelled nationally and internationally, most notably winning the Premier of QLD’s National New Media Art Award. In 2004 she animated a short film directed by Van Sowerwine that received a Mention Speciale at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival as well as a Golden Hugo for best animation at the Chicago Film Festival. Her animated shorts have been screened at Miff, ACMI, Federation Square and at the Shanghai World Expo.
Isobel is currently in the development stages of several projects including a new interactive artwork with Van Sowerwine, a short film directed by Anna Jeffries and an artwork for a Jim Henson tribute exhibition.
1. When did you first become interested in pursuing a career in Animation?
In my commerce class in high school we had to write a fake job application as an assignment and I flipped open the job guide to the first page, put my finger randomly on a position description and it was ‘Animator’. It just felt right! I was really into drawing and art and had always much preferred cartoons to live action, (I had to force myself to watch neighbours instead of Count Duckula so that I could pass myself off as a normal teenager) so from that day on I was very focused on pursuing animation.
2. The medium animation covers a broad spectrum; tell us about your work?
The first real animation I did was an alphabet that acted as a platform to try 26 different ways of making animation. I have always tried to find new mediums to work in and new techniques but I have discovered that puppet animation is my strength. I prefer working under a camera with 2D or 3D puppets but often the things I want to do are far too time consuming to do this way so I use the computer. I enjoy watching things that look hand made. There is something about watching an object that you can tell is inanimate moving around. It’s a trick that doesn’t seem to grow old for me.
3. What are your technical tools of the trade?
I use a digital SLR to capture stills. I have a copy stand, a hefty tripod and a set of Dedo studio lights. I use a great animation capturing software called Dragon that takes a feed from the camera straight to the computer and has instant playback. I use the computer to add effects and extra animation, editing, grading, etc.
4. How do you find out about new tools and techniques?
The discoveries usually come when I’m going into a production, trying to figure out exactly what’s needed, doing some research to see if it exists, making it if it doesn’t or is out of my budget. Most of the time when I shoot something there is a part of the setup that has to be custom built to suit the exact needs of the animation. For instance, with You Were In My Dream, (a stop-motion installation I made with Van Sowerwine) we had our carpenter build an animation bench that specifically catered to our background needing to do a lot of panning, and for the current project I’m working on with Van, It’s a jungle in here we built a looping background on two big lazy susans. Usually these setups are only useful to that one particular animation but we keep them in pieces in sheds ‘just in case’.
I try to see the animations coming out at MIAF and MIFF and it’s always exciting to see one that uses a new technique. Madame Tutli Putli, http://madametutliputli.com/ for example looked so disturbing with the real eyes being incorporated into the stop-motion.
Sometimes the discoveries happen by chance too. A lot of the time something new gets born out of trying to imitate with a small budget some technique that’s very expensive to achieve. It’s always fairly experimental and the medium is constantly evolving.
5. What editing software do you use?
Usually I use Final Cut Pro but for this new interactive project Van and I are doing we’re having to use Premiere because it has that dynamic link with After Effects which is necessary for the technical aspects of the interactivity. There are some baffling shortcomings with Premiere though!
6. What process do you use to create a master?
Ooh I’m pretty bad when it comes to masters. I have them all just as quicktime files on hard-drives. I make sure there are duplicate copies on several drives but I generally don’t master to any other medium because it’s often not necessary for the places I’m screening at. The installation work all plays off hard drives. When I need something on digi-beta I take a dvd of the quicktime of to somewhere that will put it to tape.
7. When you have an idea what is your process you use to bring it to life?
A lot of the time it sits and stews for months or even years and when an opportunity to bring it out to the open comes I develop it and match it to the purpose. When I’m working collaboratively I like to sit with the other person and talk about things that have been interesting to each of us and try to find some common interest to base an idea upon. In both working collaboratively and alone it often it takes several tries to find the right avenue for the idea to manifest. I usually will make a quick test to see if it’s an idea that is interesting once it’s out of the head and in front of the eyes.
8. What are the pro’s and con’s of working in this medium?
I love that it’s something I can do all by myself especially when I’m making something small and spontaneous. I don’t need too much equipment or to organise a bunch of people, I can just go ahead and explore an idea. On the other hand it can take such an awfully long time to get to the finish line!
9. How many people work with over an entire project?
Most of the time it’s usually just me making everything and animating – sometimes I will get an animation assistant to operate the computer and speed things up a bit or someone to help me with lighting. I usually have a sound designer too but sometimes I even do that myself.
When I’m working on bigger productions it’s usually with Van. We’ve worked with a producer, a cinematographer, carpenters, programmers, editors, electricians, sculptors, sound designers, industrial designers, armature makers and silicone casters. It really depends on the project.
10. Tell us about how you approach making work for exhibitions (rather then screen based projects).
With installation work I try to figure out an interesting way of presenting a certain experience. Because you’re dealing with the space that viewer is watching your work in as well as the content there is scope to immerse the audience and in a way, extend the screen. There’s also the consideration that the temporality is quite different. The work needs to be able to be viewed for any amount of time. I try to make work that can have an effect on the viewer within the first few seconds but can be rewarding and interesting for a much longer time.