Tag Archives: filmmaking

Unit X – Reflection

London Scottish House, by Tom Warburton

Unit X is finally over and the exhibition was a success. It all happened here, at London Scottish House, a now empty office space. The exhibition spanned four floors showcasing work from all disciplines from the Manchester School of Art. The opening on Friday was nice to see, as many people came and spent time looking at the artwork. Even the Hairy Bikers showed up (credit to Clare Campion). You can read an article about it here (Manchester Evening News) or keep an eye out for a full review here (Project Unit X).


As a group we were incredibly happy with our work. Seeing it finally showcased was rewarding and a new step for me, as I had never shown any of my work in the context of an art gallery or exhibition. I received invaluable feedback from tutors, as well as peers and attendants, which highlights the importance of the artist/viewer mechanic. I am a huge believer that the audience interpretation is more important than the artist’s intention. We were also visited by the English National Ballet, as we chose to work on their brief for Akram Khan’s Giselle. They genuinely seemed to enjoy it and were able to understand our intention easily. It was reassuring to know that our concepts and ideas were clear enough to be decoded properly. They also commended the piece as it encompassed the spirit of collaboration whilst using different mediums and styles of practices.

It is very interesting to look back to the very beginning. The inception stages of our work. We had ambitious yet vague ideas that we managed to polish and simplify without compromising the core message. We ran into technical obstacles that we were able to resolve as a group. There were brief moments of panic, but we helped each other remain calm and focus at the tasks at hand. As individual artists with individual voices we were still able to find common ground and come together in harmony as opposed as just mashing random ideas together. Our core ideas and the purpose of the work gre stronger and stronger the longer we went on to develop it. Not only were we able to deliver a product meeting a deadline, but we were able to work together to create something we are very proud of. This is very significant from a personal point of view, because the rest of the team were people I had never met before. It was a group that was randomly generated, so we could not choose our usual work partners. We were forced outside of our comfort zone into the unknown. We did not know what to expect and it was up to us to figure it out.  It was a long process that required a lot of hard work, but the end result is a testament to the power of creativity and collaboration.


Unit X – Lines of enquiry

This is a follow-up post to a previous entry on Unit X. Click here to read the first entry!

After coming up with a concept for our Unit X project we started planning the execution. This is where we ran into potential problems, mostly to do with time. We wanted to animate a character that would cross over two different backgrounds, that would walk into the frame, dying and then doing a bit of graceful dancing. Turns out we had thoroughly overlooked the amount of time this would have taken to animate. Even if we rotoscoped a dancer’s original performance. We only have two animators in our team and regardless of how much the rest of us could help it would have been impossible to complete realistically. After meeting with our tutor for a tutorial we had to face the cruel reality: it was back to the drawing board. It was discouraging for me as these news came in the form of a sudden realisation, and I had been feeling pretty confident about the project all the way until then. But we pushed on.

New concept - Drafted by Anita Kwiecien
New concept – Drafted by Anita Kwiecien

We liked the idea of an unconventional presentation for our exhibition, so we kept the vertical aspect in mind when re-thinking our approach. We also decided to incorporate each individual practice into the piece, which in turn helped distribute the workload efficiently.
The idea became simpler in execution, but bigger in concept. One art piece composed by three standalone works. One with real footage (filmmaking), one with animation (self explanatory) and one with stop-motion animation (photography).
The concept remained the same. Giselle’s transition into the underworld. Leaving one frame to enter another in a quite literal sense.


From top to bottom, we would approach the different stages of Giselle’s journey into the underworld. Dying from heartbreak, falling into the underworld and finally her sorrow and despair at the realisation that she would be stuck there forever. Laying these down vertically would also create an obvious sense of geography as well as a literal downfall.

After establishing this as a plan, we started working. A group were to work on the middle

Clay models tray
Clay models tray

panel. They were to animate our character falling and create a layered background with parallax effect. Another group was to create the stop motion animation, which was accomplished at the Animation Suite. The models were all created by us, using modelling clay and watercolour paint. The picture featured to the right displays a few mushrooms, rocks, stalactites, tree roots and a tree. A puppet was also made using clay on a wireframe skeleton and cloth. The group also fabricated a dark environment inside a box where these models were arranged.

Another task was to film a shoot a dancer’s performance. We wanted something short to kick the piece off. We printed a flyer and distributed in the Benzie Building and at the 70 Oxford Street building.
An architecture student helped us achieve this rather smoothly. It took us about 40 minutes to set up a scene we were happy with. We were very impressed with Winnie, our dancer, and her professional performance. We had briefed her on what we wanted and she was very well prepared. It only took a few minutes for her to perfect the timing/performance.

Overall, we are very happy how things have gone considering the obstacles we ran into. We came up with a strong concept and unique execution. You can see a sample of how our piece is supposed to be experienced below. Watch in full screen:



Making Kidsmoke’s ‘Heartache’ music video.

kidsmoke heartache
Kidsmoke – Heartache artwork by Mike Payne.

A couple of years ago I went to see Satellite Stories at Soup Kitchen. The opening act blew me away and I just had to buy them a drink and offer to collaborate. Kidsmoke is an indie-pop band from Wrexham/Manchester, and we finally had the pleasure to work with them.

Originally, we were going to shoot the video for Cut Yourself Loose, but we had scheduling issues, so we planned to shoot Heartache instead. They are two very different songs, so we had to rethink the whole filmmaking approach. All the band wanted was to be featured playing the song and a similar aesthetic to Joy Division’s Love will tear us apart, so there was no need to include a narrative in the traditional sense.

Songs are constructed in a way that feels like a story, at level of composition, regardless of the lyrics, so it was easy to think of a visual narrative to complement each part of the song. The track itself kicks off in a sudden, with a strong bass line. The first thing I thought of when listening to this track was The Stroke’s Reptilia, which inspired the opening shots of the video. I love the slow reveal of the band and it fit Heartache perfectly. What resources could I use to achieve this? Featuring the instruments instead of the musicians and using extreme close-ups and very shallow field of depth.

I collaborated with Stefanos Aktipis and Angus Graham in the making of this video. Even though I knew exactly how we were going to shoot it, they helped polish those ideas for shots and improve them when needed. The process was very smooth and the video was shot in about 3 hours at Bonerooms rehearsal rooms in Brunswick Mill. We put a lot of effort into the planning stages, being the first time we worked with a band, with a deadline and in a rented location where time was of the essence. It was all extremely worth it.

Moving onto post-production, the editing went smoothly. I wanted to capture each member of the band individually when possible, as it would allow me to cut to them when a particular part of the song stood out, kind of like a visual equaliser. A good example would be the drum fill before the chorus, or the climactic bridge before the last chorus. The tempo of the editing also picks up the pace as it goes on and when hitting the chorus.

Graded footage comparative
Stills from flat profile footage on the left – Colour corrected and colour graded on the right.

Colour correction and grading were probably the most intense parts of post-production. We shot in a flat profile so we would have more room to move around, especially at the colour grading stage. This was the first time I worked with DaVinci Resolve for grading the video, and I am very happy with the results. It is such a powerful tool and very versatile. As you can see in the before and after images, we really had a lot of room for modification. After finishing the grading, we added a 35mm film filter and some vignetting.

You can watch the music video below:

This video was shot on a Canon 6D and GoPro for the mounted shots.

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