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Roots Roots | Photo: Leigh Webber

1927: Animating Roots

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Paul Barritt, Co-Artistic Director of 1927, talks us through his animation process for creating productions like Roots.

Making animations for a 1927 show is not quite like making animations for anything else. In fact, it is the kind of process that most animators would clutch their heads in despair at. This is actually the case for most animators working within the live context. The reason being that you have to make an awful lot of changes to the content and usually within an unfeasibly short space of time. Over the years I have learned how to field these demands.

I always make the scenes in rough first. I then gradually work them up to the finished article. This avoids spending lots of time on something that ends up getting cut due to it not working on stage. I also build the projects (I use Photoshop, After Effects and Dragon Stop Frame) so that they are completely flexible. In other words, all elements are movable at all times right down to the tiniest little detail. The project is like an Airfix kit so made up of lots of little elements, the big difference is that it is stuck together with a weird digital glue that never quite dries so all the elements can be altered very easily. Sometimes the elements are still movable even in the playback (1927 uses Catalyst for this), so elements are on transparent layers and can be shifted about on the screen.

Roots Roots | Photo: Leigh Webber

I also work in cues, so rather than creating one fixed timeline like you would in a film, I make lots and lots of very short films that then get cued in on top of one another. This is great because if you suddenly need to make a change in the content you only have to render out short movies. As anyone working in this environment will know, render time is always a problem. Through these methods I have created a speedy and flexible workflow.

Roots Roots | Photo: Leigh Webber

I hasten to add that making work with this kind of detail and precision would be impossible without digital technology and now that the computers have got really fast it just makes things easier and easier. It is an ever-expanding area within theatre and other live events, and as the technology gets better, the more the possibilities expand. My advice to those who are mad enough to make this kind of thing is to always try to simplify, the simple ideas are usually the best. This also applies to your projects, make them simple, make sure you use lots of compositions, make sure it is flexible. For those about to embark on that challenge, good luck!


1927's European premiere production of Roots comes to the International Festival on 9-25 August 2019.

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Lauren Ellis Steele Tamsin Carroll James Mc Ardle In Peter Gynt © Manuel Harlan

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