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Interview with Steven Fraser, director of Prosopagnosia

Wednesday 26 January 2022, by Brasserie du Court team, Clotilde Couturier

Filmmaker Steven Fraser lives with prosopagnosia, otherwise known as ‘face blindness’, which means he can’t remember or recognize faces. In this film he uses animation to convey what this means to him.

How did you get to know prosopagnosia?

Several years ago, I was going through the diagnosis process for autism. At this time, I was speaking to different doctors and specialists who asked my many questions on how I interact with people. During this time, they realised it was a possibility that I also may have prosopagnosia, which is also known as face blindness. I realised that I struggle to recognise people’s faces and I would use different techniques to understand who different people are. For example, I would look at someone’s hair, clothes or how they walk in order to determine who that person is and I would not look at their face. I would employ these techniques automatically without much thought. It also became apparent that I would find it more difficult to recognise people who I have just met. For example, I am familiar with friends and family, so I would recognise their voice, hair or clothes more easily. If I have met somebody just once or twice, I might not as easily recognise who that person is in the future.

Are the sketchbooks material drawn for the film or are they real tools against prosopagnosia? Which techniques have you used to animate the film?

The sketches are real and were done to help me understand how to recognise faces. I felt that drawing what people look like would help me remember the different elements of the face. I studied different faces and thought about what eyes can convey and how different facial features can express emotion. Over the years I had many drawings and sketches in lots of different sketchbooks and notepads. For the film I collected these sketches together in new sketchbooks. This allowed me to show the drawings in a way that I could animate in a precise way. In Prosopagnosia I use different animation techniques. The main method I use is stop motion. Here I take a photograph and then change the sketchbook slightly (rip a page or use paint to blank out the image for example), and then I take another photograph and compile them together to make the animation. I also use flipbook animation and a few other techniques. I think using different animation styles helped me express the themes and emotion of the short film.

How much of the voice over talk is actually documentary?

The voice over is re-recorded from audio diaries that I captured when I was going through the diagnosis process. When I initially recorded the diaries, I was not expecting to make a film about my experiences with face blindness. Therefore, the quality of the recordings is very poor and sometimes I would discuss things which were not relevant to the short film. When I was making the film, I decided to re-record some of the audio recordings to improve the quality and so the voice over was only talking about topics which had an impact on the story.

Do you often draw storyboards before a project? How much is collecting ideas of faces different from drawing a gallery of ideas?

I always spend a lot of time planning out projects and preparing before I start to animate. I make sure that I know exactly what I want to do and say in the film before I start the animation process. Animation is a time-consuming endeavour, so I do as much as I can to make the process easier. Storyboarding, sketching out ideas and writing what I want to say is a very important process for me. I like to experiment, so even though I have planned things out, I don’t always know how things will look. In Prosopagnosia there is a scene where the pages of a sketchbook rip and are peeled back. I knew that I wanted to have a scene like this in the film, but I was not entirely sure of how it would look until I started animating it. Storyboarding and planning gave me the time and freedom to animate this scene. I think collecting ideas is different from drawing a gallery of ideas, as you have to work with objects that already exist. I like looking back at old photographs and sketchbooks and getting ideas from these things. I think that this can give a new and exciting perspective. At the same time, I do like creating new ideas as well. I am always sketching, taking photographs and writing down my thoughts and feelings.

Is there any particular short film that made a special impression on you?

I think my favourite short film is Islands, directed by Yann Gonzalez. It made an impression, as I liked how expressive and strange it was. Watching it is like a dream and it combines horror and desire in a very bold and dramatic way.

Trailer available here.

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