Unit x – Research

Research is hard. Especially hard when your goal is not clearly established. This was the biggest problem I ran into when trying to get inspired for this particular task. We are to make a piece of work for Akram Khan’s Giselle (English National Ballet), as part of Unit X for the Manchester School of Art. The team I’m working on consists of students from filmmaking, photography and animation, so finding a way to balance all practices without making the final work feel cluttered was one of our main concerns. Too many cooks can indeed spoil the broth!

For this assignment, we will be focusing on the theme of the underworld, and more importantly, Giselle’s transition into the underworld. The underworld is a concept that has been explored in an infinite amount of media, so we took inspiration from a particular aesthetic, such as a blue/purple and washed-out colour palette and the idea of inversion. We wanted to mirror the real world in this underworld.

First Draft for Unit X. Drawn by Anita Kwiecien.

So this is our first draft. We decided that we wanted to turn this piece vertically, as it conveys the idea of worlds divided, coexisting with eachother, and also allows for an interesting and less common presentation. The underworld would be a mirroring of the real world, using a different colour palette and alternative representation of elements. In terms of narrative, our character would die at the top half and transition into the underworld by literally crossing the division line.
Our approach for this, in terms of practice, will be to use photography to create the backgrounds, animation to showcase the character and  sound design to create an atmospheric soundscape.

See a concept image created by Lucy Adam below:

unit x background concept
Background Concept – Lucy Adam

For the approach of animating the character, we will be using Ryan Woodward’s Thought of You short film.

Ryan Woodward’s sketches


This way we can get a result that is beautiful, simplistic and fluid. I will help the animation specialists in our team in anything I can, as I have experience with frame-by-frame animation, and it will be perhaps the more taxing process of all.
I will particularly be in charge of creating the soundscape, which will be influenced by bleak and droning sounds as well as broken music boxes. The combination of those two puts me in the right frame of mind for this story of love, betrayal, revenge and absolution.

We had a vague idea of what we wanted to do from the very first meeting we had as a team, but these concepts did not materialise until we decided the format. The idea of it being presented in a vertical fashion instead of horizontal was crucial here, not only did it lead to making the work split-screen, but also it aids us to circumvent potential technical limitations. This way we can showcase the work through a projector, a single monitor or two monitors.

Personally, I am very happy I took a Experimental Portraiture workshop at the Manchester School of Art, as it taught me to think how to convey several complex ideas into one image. Without this workshop I would not have realised it was possible to construct tand balance a piece with all the ideas we had, nor have the confidence to know that we could execute it in the way that we have planned.

Experimental portraiture workshop – Tom Warburton, Sarah Palmer & Leo Astudillo

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