Journey Factory

 

Author: John Burns
Format: Animation
Duration: 6 mins


Research Statement

The animation draws (pardon the pun) on inspirations that have recurred over many years. My father worked as a film projectionist during the war years and was also an accomplished amateur photographer. He occupied his breaktimes and enforced fire-watching overtime with photography: some of these black and white photographs were taken from what one may term ‘extreme vantage points’ which often included cinema rooftops and fire escapes. From such places he could record non-typical views of the types of buildings that were often clustered together in town centres in the 1940’s and, later, the 1950’s; the bus stations, cinemas, industries, theatres, railway stations, hotels and pubs etc that formed the busy hub of town centres in those days but which have since largely migrated outwards towards the peripheries of car-driving population centres.

Coupled with these close-to-home photographic records are the materials that local artists, writers, photographers, archivists and storytellers produced in response to living, working and travelling through and from, such towns. Some artists and writers are known for their work as it addressed these times and places; others were not, and as such belong to the groups of people whose work is sometimes found in second hand shops after house clearances. The common theme that runs through many of these works, whether feted or mysteriously anonymous, is a nurturing and celebration of the physical mark, whether that be pigment, graphite, gouge, scratch or clump of photographic grain. This is a reflection of the picture and text creation methods available to artists and writers during the time in which they practised and hints at a suggestion of narrative that is seemingly inherent in the relationship between the mark and its subject.

The places mentioned above exude an evocative air as they are bound up in the business of travel. Theatres, cinemas, pubs and hotels may form the temporary destination of a journey and yet they are often just as much passing places as are the modes and means of the transport that takes people to them. Given the ongoing phenomenon of wait and delay associated with travel it is possible that passengers spend more stationary time in transit than at the destination.

Having spent, as most people have, significant amounts of time in pauses in transit, I have had ample opportunity to observe the paraphernalia and environment of journey making. And it was the concept of ‘journey making’ that grew out of these enforced sojourns in the slightly ‘out-of-the-way’ and ‘dislocated’ areas of towns and cities. Travellers do tend to form a temporarily paused, not-quite-belonging, population in otherwise settled communities. The communities that travellers belong to stretch along railway tracks, flight paths, waterways and roads; pausing in, passing through and observing the brick and concrete townscapes that they encounter and never yet engaging with them as their residents do.

There is also a shift in timescape within travel; moving very quickly, moving very slowly, not moving at all but still being in transit. Roads surfaces change quickly and new works are often seen differing from journey to journey. Railways however may change much more slowly; new rolling stock moving past old sheds, sidings and gantries that have seen the histories of many, many journeys and lives.

Air travel with its lounges, covered walkways and passenger tunnels seems to produce a passenger environment that retains its continuum and grows outwards from airports to enfold the globe without giving taste of the passage through time and geography; only closed window blinds and the computer displays giving a small sense of changing location as the sloping-shouldered trapezium of night slowly chases a paper cut-out aeroplane across the passenger cabin screens. Of course journeys cannot really happen in a meaningful sense without the help navigation of some sort and it was whilst watching, from a distance, night flying aircraft climb along seemingly fixed lines of ascent from Copenhagen Airport that the vectors of journeying made an impression on me.
 
Bearing all this in mind, and having an interest in the buildings and artefacts of industry and travel, I hoped to pull these elements together in a drawn manner that would convey as much as possible of the atmosphere of these places that the previously mentioned artists and photographers had managed to capture, together with the changing viewpoint that animation could provide. There are certain techniques within the range of computer based programs that may emulate some hand drawn mark: it is a seemingly ongoing aim of development that software may bring the traditional and digital aesthetics closer together.

I have worked in multimedia and TV graphics for some years and have seen the many changes that have occurred in the tools and techniques of those industries. I particularly remember working late at night in otherwise empty television studios whilst preparing graphics for the follwing day’s edit and spending much time observing the flickering green drawings of the signal vectorscope. There were times when this rapidly drawn vivid green line appeared to be tracing out the frozen but living frame of a moth on a window. As the night wore on I got to thinking about the world that this spectral moth might live in. And it is from these facets that the present work took its form. Working in darkened TV studios late at night wherein voices are heard from monitors but no living person (apart from one’self) is actually present can reinforce the sense of disjointed relationship with the outside world that travellers may experience and this further increased my interest in expressing these impressions in a manner that aimed to include the evocative nature of drawing with the lighting, perspective and motion aspects of the digital.

Drawings, hatchings, stipplings etc were made and then scanned or photographed into the software. I was particularly interested in making drawn gaseous forms that could sit within texture mapped bjects and add depth and shifting solidity to them. One other aspect of working late at night in dark and windowless environments is the reliance on artificial light. Power cuts, flickers of light, surges and dips in electric current can be unnerving and I wished to include within the piece some indication of this: the welding, the wayward lights and unsteady beams that I collected with my digital camera were placed within the work in an attempt to portray the feeling of the necessity of those forces within manufacture and fabrication, either of products or journeys, together with their at times unsteady nature.

The piece is a conglomeration of a number of things and a converging of directions.
The underlying premise still relates to the making of journeys; although ‘making’ here relates more to the manufacture of, than embarking on, journeys. It also attemtpts to take account of the enthusiasts and artists who collected or made records, paintings and drawings of the associated places and things that relate to travel in its evocative sense.

As an expressive piece that grew out of an interest in the notion of travel and also was spurred on by the spending of time in commercial and industrial environments the work has had a cyclic nature to it in that the aesthetics and techniques used have fed back in to the ever-demanding requirement for illustrative and graphical styles within the visual communications industry.


Peer Reviews

All reviews refer to original research statements which have been edited in response to what follows

Review 1: Accept subject to rewrite of statement
Journey Factory evidences an animation research project by an active practitioner in the field of animation and illustration ‘exploring the nature of three dimensional placing and animation of the hand-drawn pencil mark, together with video recordings and “stipple” techniques’. Through bringing hand-drawn pencil drawing into the 3d computer-animated constructed environment, the work explores and develops 3d computer graphics and animation techniques. The extension of hand drawing techniques to stand in three-dimensional space develops new styles and looks to the computer-animated environment, above and beyond texture mapping techniques. As the artist notes in his statement, these new looks and techniques feed a commercial market ever more hungry and demanding for unique illustrative qualities, and extends graphic and design styles beyond the ‘ubiquitous “computer graphic look” that has proliferated in the past couple of decades’. Of further interest (and not alluded to by the artist in his statement) is the corresponding development of traditional drawing practices when these are placed in a digital environment. This facet of the work may be of interest to Fine Artists and Art Historians engaged in work around the impact of digital technologies on traditional Fine Art and Graphical technique and practice.

In this 8-minute, 30-second film, authored in 3dsMax computer animation software, a virtual camera flies through a skeletal framework construction of an apparent Victorian style train station, complete with steam locomotives and carriages, colonnaded platforms and high arching ironwork roofs. Hybrid mechanised constructions descend into this space amidst flashing lights in the otherwise pitch black skies, with turbo-propellered engines, all accompanied by an eerie soundtrack of iron clanging and treated slow shunting steam engines. Within this virtual train station, large video screens hang, playing back treated video clips apparently filmed around this same location. The 3d framework and architecture of both the station and the machinery is stylised and enhanced through the combination of hand-drawn pencil drawings in terms of both the textures and the three dimensional form of these objects. The film conjures a surreal nightime environment through which the viewer is guided by ever changing fly-through camera perspectives. The choice of vivid greens and yellows and orange to colour the constructions adds further to the surreal/dreamlike qualities of the environment constructed.

This work can be seen to be process based research developing innovative methods and techniques in both drawing and 3d animation and can also be seen as aesthetic research – certainly fulfilling industrial and commercial agendas for innovation, though the artist barely addresses in his statement any extensions of his thinking in this arena into other research contexts.. The work also holds much scope under the Platform/technology research heading in both 3d computer animation and visual arts fields as well as with regard to gaming and virtual environment agendas, although once again, the artist barely addresses any issues in his statement with regard to these potential research contexts.

Notes on Supporting Statement:
Whilst the supporting statement addresses issues of the drawn mark in the 3d computer animated environment, and the commercial and industrial agendas for this research, it would be most helpful to read the artists views and understandings in more detail with regard to the headings below:

Research Question
‘This particular piece forms part of a research project exploring the nature of three dimensional placing…’ Some further information on this wider research project would be useful, and what part and how this piece works in that wider project.

Context 
In his statement the artist gives some indications of wider research contexts in which the work falls and in which his thinking around the work has been engaged. Greater clarity and qualification of these would be welcome – e.g.

– ‘It was some time ago that the “mystique” of image making reverted back to the qualities of the hand made mark whilst viewing and animation facilities afforded by computer based tools…’ It would be good to hear more detail about these developments and contexts from which the artist’s work arises.

– ‘the subject-matter relates to the manufacture, indeed the construction, of journeys… grows from a type of Situationist involvement with the industrial landscape… vector scope aesthetic…’ again greater clarification and contextualisation of these ideas would be welcome, rather than the brief phrases dropped into a very short paragraph.

Methods
A greater description of the process of production would be helpful – how much of the final output is hand drawn and how much software modelled – what practices and processes was the artist employing which might constitute ‘original’ and ‘innovative’ process based research in achieving the final look and feel of the piece? – ‘DVD bearing 3d animation of pencil drawings’ is a little too sparse…

Outcomes
There is no indication of Research Outcomes whatsoever. It would be good to hear of where the work has been screened, papers delivered, ideas taken up in industrial/commercial contexts…

Quality
As above, with no indication of research outcomes/screenings etc, there is no evidencing of quality indicators for the work.

Criteria
Following on from greater clarification of the Research Question/ wider project that this work forms a part, will help qualify and clarify the specific criteria of research for this work.

Review 2: Accept subject to rewrite of statement
This is a piece that would interest Lev Manovich, in that it plays with the essentially ‘graphic’ convergence of the cultural languages of digitisation. In formal as well as conceptual terms it takes the relationship of the autographic and the computation graphic as a subject using the metaphor of journey. It is also a work of ‘remediation’ in attempting to ‘autographize’ computational vector graphics. The interesting thing about this work is that it sets these interestly in relation to the commercial world of computer animation and hence links the research question to the developing policy interests of the cultural industries. The accompanying text is primarily descriptive and under-theorised, but remains a practitioners account set within the implicit tropes of Arts school practices = i.e. the world of experimenting with techniques.

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