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Q&A with Suzie Hanna, director-animator Known Unto God - LSFF2017

Sunday 15 January 2017, by Anne-Sophie Marie

Commissioned by 1418NOW as a five-year programme connecting people with the First World War through the arts, Known Unto God is a mud and pigment animation interpreting Bill Manhire’s poem about the deaths of young people during the war. It is made up of 14 short epitaphs for unknown NZ soldiers killed at the Somme, and unnamed refugees drowning as they flee from wars now, 100 years later.

Below are a few questions with Suzie Hanna the film’s animator and director, to find out more about her background, her process with this commission, and about animation in general.

Mydylarama: How did you become in touch with 1418NOW and receive the commission?

Suzie Hanna: I was approached by Writers Centre Norwich as they knew I have previously made poetry films in collaboration. They also approached several other filmmakers.
I was asked to submit a proposal saying what I would want to include in a film about WW1 and my proposal centred on my grandfather’s experiences of war and how returning soldiers were badly treated in terms of financial and medical support. I was interviewed and assigned Bill Manhire as the poet I should work with. This was in February 2016 and the film deadline was the end of April, and so in the end I think I had three weeks to make the film by the time the poem arrived. As I made clips I put them up on Dropbox so Stella Duffy and Phil Archer could see them, and so Phil could work on sound for those clips.

M: From the poem, how did you develop the animation? Is there a style of animation towards which you tend to gravitate?

SH: I don’t know if I have a style, I just like to work in mixed-media really and use material that suits the film design. Looking at my website there is quite a lot of simple graphic flatness to my work, and I love silhouette, probably inspired by Lotte Reiniger, Saul Bass, and William Kentridge amongst others. I also work in stop-motion and have used human actors as puppets by pixelating their movement, and made dance videos. I see animation as a form where you can choreograph all sorts of scale and techniques together. And if I am working from a poem, then the materiality of the subject or the cultural historical context will lead me to find an aesthetic that has some relationship to the poet, the place, the content or all three.

M: You also teach animation… I know close to nothing about it, so I’m quite curious about the learning and creative process.

SG: That is a big subject area….. animation has a huge skills base, so just at a technical level there is potentially everything to learn from traditional drawing through to rigging CGI characters. Students tend to start with drawing, character design, looking at gesture and expression and movement, understanding how movement breaks down into frames, as well as the power of metamorphosis and transformation. They work in groups to create collaborative results, animating each others’ designs as well as their own for instance. They have the opportunity to make stop motion puppets and test their body language before moving on to CGI puppet design. Then there is typographic animation, lip synch, animating to a pre-composed soundtrack, mixing media through blue screen, compositing and edit….so students can make a choice about their area of strength, skill and interest and focus on that. The animation industry covers everything from feature character animation right through to small animated graphics for websites. It includes games animation, architectural projection, as well as the amazingly rich area of independent animation production, music video and TV shorts, so difficult to be specific!

M: You’re a musician as well. How do they relate in your work?

SH: I love working with sound designers, and sometimes record elements of the soundscape myself, bowing gongs, playing the fiddle or the saw. I certainly enjoy that side of collaboration and really value the work of sound designers and composers.

M: What’s next? Could you tell us a bit about The Blue From Heaven?

I am working with a Stevie Smith scholar, Noreen Masud, at Oxford University who chose the poem. Here is a link to a page in her blog from the day we recorded Glenda.

The poem uses the characters of King Arthur and Guinevere in a study of their separateness, he craving the ’Blue from Heaven’ riding off through a forest of cornflowers, and she, colourblind, relegated to the palace. Stevie Smith’s drawings often feature sad girls in paper crowns, kings and centurions, as well as fantastic dogs and cats, and these are some of the images that I will be animating. They are executed with a lively gesture and a strong outline and come to life very convincingly as 2D animation. But my plan at the moment is to also include collage made of the kind of scraps that could have been in Stevie’s wastepaper basket, magazines and newspapers, and discarded typed copy, so the film relates to her everyday life as well as to the poem itself. My deadline is May 2017 so getting on the case now!

If you missed it at LSFF, Known Unto God is now available on vimeo: https://vimeo.com/173053863

For more on Suzie and her work:
http://www.suziehanna.com

And 1418NOW:
https://www.1418now.org.uk

Any message or comments?

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