PROJECT 1: RUNNING THE RAT RACE
Hybridising live-action with Stop-motion animation, Running the Rat Race (2021), is my biggest undertaking as a filmmaker so far, where I began writing the screenplay, constructing the set and shooting unsatisfactory test footage at the end of my Second year. Having researched into stop-motion production and discovering it took Nick Park six years to single-handedly complete Wallace and Gromit: A Grand Day Out (1989), I knew that my film could potentially take years to create as intended. With an aim to be an auteur like Nick Park, I took on every role, (albeit not all out of choice, but many due to Covid restrictions) including Director, Writer, Producer, Editor, Cinematographer, Actor, Composer, Production Designer, Costume Designer, Makeup Artist, Model Maker with Jewellery making and Animator.
Running the Rat Race takes a post-modernist cinematic approach to explore themes of capitalism and the underfunding of arts, shown through the portrait of an artist who is stripped of his individuality after he receives a tax demand, begins to bleed money and despairingly watches his whole studio, tools and belongings fly out of the window. His studio is rapidly emptied, repainted and transformed into a sterile white office. The bewildered artist is forcibly dressed in a suit and tie, bound in front of a computer desk.
The complexity of the design-heavy script and Stop-motion aspects of the film gave an opportunity to hone my skills and experiment with new roles, such as Costume making and Music composition. To visualise my philosophies, the film required careful use of established techniques along with my own fresh experimental approach, to be inventive with Stop-motion and keep my practice sharp, unique and personal.
RUNNING THE RAT RACE (2021)
PRELIMINARY RESEARCH - ADJUSTING THE SCREENPLAY & SHOT LISTING
I began the year by altering the screenplay as I felt it lacked critical in-depth analysis and required additional stop-motion shots, as unlike Live-action, animation allows more artistic license to explore controversial, contentious or politically-sensitive themes with greater audience tolerance, as you are removed from reality.
Through research, I was particularly inspired by The Hand (Trnka, 1966), a political charged Stop-motion film, created under the oppressive political climate of the Soviet Union. In The Hand, Trnka’s use of Stop-motion conveys his anti-authoritarian views, where he speaks out about the oppressive Communist governmental control, told through the story of a powerful gloved hand, who manipulates a potter / artist to do his bidding, creating statues, which eventually kills the potter of exhaustion.
Original Screenplay for Running the Rat Race (2021)
(Scroll Down to Read PDF Script)
Trnka’s thoughts towards artistic oppression are mirrored in my own film, where the artist in both The Hand and Running the Rat Race have their individuality crushed by a higher uncontrollable power and are forcefully placed into unsuitable working conditions.
Equally, I took great inspiration from Jan Lenica’s stop-motion film Rhinoceros (1964), which uses absurdism to depict the story of an office worker Berenger, who increasingly becomes aware of his co-workers transforming into rhinoceros’. He finds himself developing similar symptoms and struggles to maintain his individuality. In the article, Keep it in Motion – Classic Animation Revisited: ‘Rhinoceros’ (2017), Robinson writes ‘Given the current political climate, Lenica’s work suddenly seems striking fresh again…We are indeed living in such an age, one that – because of the omnipresence of social media – has not been experienced before. With everyone racing around liking, being liked, retweeting, sharing etc – we all just want to be liked not matter how hollow or empty these gestures are. And that’s scary and dangerous. That makes us readily acquiescent to manipulation.’
Similarly to Rhinoceros, in order to convey the themes of manipulation under the influence of globalisation, I also decided to use absurdism and exaggeration which comments on the loss of individuality in a politically oppressive, dehumanised society.
I further studied sociologist Theodor Adorno’s The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception from his book Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947).
Adorno discusses homogenisation in mainstream culture, writing:
‘While determining consumption it excludes the untried as a risk. The movie-makers distrust any manuscript which is not reassuringly backed by a bestseller. Yet for this very reason there is never-ending talk of ideas, novelty, and surprise, of what is taken for granted but has never existed…For only the universal triumph of the rhythm of mechanical production and reproduction promises that nothing changes, and nothing unsuitable will appear…One might think that an omnipresent authority had sifted the material and drawn up an official catalogue of cultural commodities to provide a smooth supply of available mass-produced lines.’
I felt that both The Hand and Rhinoceros were Stop-motion representations of Adorno’s sociology, which sheds light on the homogenisation of culture, through corporate, societal or governmental control. Art has become a playground for the rich, in which corporations reign supreme, following a market formula to provide entertainment to the masses. In Enlightenment as Mass Deception Adorno writes:
‘They call them selves industries, and the published figures for their directors’ incomes quell any doubts about the social necessity of their finished products.’
In filmmaking, Hollywood has become a battle of monopoly, where the large studios Netflix and Disney promote a homogenised filmmaking to suit an Americanised palate. Uniformed art creates mass conformity, in which corporate monopoly takeover has robbed my generation culture, where Independent, multi-cultured artists unable to have their voice heard above these powerful corporations. Unable to compete financially, many of these artists have been unable to financially support themselves and have often resorted to retraining and seeking work in other fields, similar to the Artist in Running the Rat Race, who finds himself working in an office.
On the release of a governmental article in 2020 which recommended those working in the creative industries to re-skill in cyber security, I felt that Running the Rat Race could not be made at a more perfect time.
Art, as defined by philosopher Immanuel Kant is:
‘a kind of representation that is purposive in itself and, though without an end, nevertheless promotes the cultivation of the mental powers for sociable communication’ (Critique of Judgement, Kant, 1790)
The government’s action in posting this article, perfectly mimics both Rhinoceros and The Hand, displaying how the government appear incapable of understanding the enriching-impact the Arts have on society, our education and mental well-being.
I implemented my research of these two films, Adorno’s sociology and the article directly into the script, in which I incorporated more stop-motion imagery, which acts as a metaphor to reflect the ‘unstoppable oppressive force’ of the current government. In the final scene of the film when the artist is bound up and sat in front of an office desk, I had ‘The Artist’ dissonantly and blankly staring into a cyber security web page, as a direct nod to the government article.
This research allowed me to think about the audience of Running the Rat Race. Having seen the mass uproar over social-media caused by the Cyber Security government article, I felt empowered that fellow artists shared similar values and realised that these people would form much of the audience for Running the Rat Race. Understanding my audience, I felt that Running the Rat Race could lead to possible exhibition opportunities, having the film showcased at galleries, cinemas, art venues or as an installation piece.
Over the past year, I have been moderating and curating an online collective, The Surrealist Filmmaker’s Community, which has now grown to a total of 14,500 members. In building and curating this community, I have made new contacts for collaboration and an audience for my work. The collective gives a space for people to come together and exchange ideas, disseminate information and inspire one another. It has also provided an opportunity to reach out to fellow filmmaking Communities and Cinema venues, including the Close Up Cinema, where I hope to potentially screen Running the Rat Race.
However, I did not want my film to speak solely to the ‘converted’ and although both Rhinoceros and The Hand influenced me to be able to convey my own philosophies, I was aware that both of these films retrospectively appear as almost champagne-socialistic, reaching out only to a niche art-house audience. To avoid falling into the same trap, I began researching into post-modernist cinema, which forms the mid-ground between the avant-garde and mainstream.
On a re-watch of post-modernist classic Pulp Fiction (Tarantino, 1994), I was fascinated how Quentin Tarantino seamlessly mixed high-brow intertextual arthouse references and techniques of the French New Wave with low-brow pop-culture idioms, to create a hybrid, which serves as a piece of entertainment to a mass audience of both cinema intellectuals and mainstream audiences. His combination of pop-culture and arthouse in the film creates an idiosyncratic world of its own, which distinguishes Pulp Fiction as the work of an auteur. Similarly, three of my favourite filmmakers, John Waters, Pedro Almodovar and Todd Solondz combine lower-brow pop-culture references with arthouse idioms, to create a unique and engaging audience experience.
With a desire for Running the Rat Race not to turn into an ‘elitist’ arthouse film, I borrowed from these filmmakers, incorporating pop-culture branded props such as Oxo Cube, Brasso and Lyle’s Golden Syrup tins into the set, as I felt that these vintage pop-culture references would ground the film in the real world, making the film more relatable and ideally appealing to a wider audience.
In one sequence of the film, ‘The Artist’ begins to bleed money, which acts a metaphor for the defunding of the arts. I noted that the use of a generic, vintage, American Dollar bill would both fit stylistically within the Set Design and give the metaphoric sequence a universal understanding.
Similar to Pulp Fiction, I took inspiration from commercial influences, and looked in detail at three TV commercials: MTV: For All Sorts of People: “Il Douche” (Singh, Unknown), Levi’s Voodoo (Singh, 1996) and Dunlop Tyres: Tested for the Unexpected (Kaye, 1993).
In Tarsem Singh’s MTV: For All Sorts of People: “Il Douche”, I was interested by the interaction between the moustached, Groucho-Marx-esque character and the goggled dancer. Singh has evidently taken inspiration from the unconscious and absurd juxtaposition of Surrealist cinema, in which the goggled dancer misbehaves as the moustache character’s unconscious thoughts.
From this research, I added two extra characters, which played out as reflections of The Artist’s insecurities. They look identical to The Artist, but wear full face makeup and are ghostly in appearance, symbolising The Artist’s state of euphoria, his life flashing before his eyes as if he were dying. The sequence shows The Artists inner fear of losing individuality, where the makeup visualises him at what could have been his potential ‘creative peak’.
I analysed Levi’s Voodoo to inform the Shot-list, where Tarsem Singh rapidly intercuts the footsteps of a tap-dancer with the main action to create suspense, and give a great sense of rhythm. I created a similar suspenseful rhythmic pattern by incorporating tracking shots of the artist’s feet intercut simultaneously with a mouse’s feet running.
These shots fed the title, working as a metaphor of the rat race nature of life in the 21st century. Intercutting these shots represents the artist falling prey to conforming, unable to compete against the power of money and status, in a world filled with reality TV culture and Social-media influencers who promote a social-climbing philosophy.
Retrospectively, using pop-culture and commercial influences was not enough to make the film applicable to a wider mainstream audience, as the references were somewhat niche. I felt that the themes and stylistic aesthetical approach had already dominated the film, which effectively rooted it within the avant-garde.
Final Shot list for Running the Rat Race (2021)
PRODUCING: INITIAL SCHEDULING & TIME MANAGEMENT
In past projects, scheduling and organisation has always been one of my weaknesses. Fully aware that this film would take many months to shoot with Covid restrictions and a shot-list that required over 300 shots, I broke the shoot into the following three categories:
SCENE 1: ARTISTS STUDIO SEQUENCE:
- STOP-MOTION ANIMATION SEQUENCE – Estimated 5 full months shooting.
- SLOW MOTION SEQUENCE – Estimated 4 days
- LIVE ACTION NON-ACTOR SEQUENCE – Estimated 16 Days
- LIVE ACTION ACTOR SEQUENCE – Estimated 4 days
SCENE 2: OFFICE SEQUENCE
- STOP-MOTION ANIMATION SEQUENCE – Estimated 2 to 3 days
- SLOW MOTION SEQUENCE – Estimated 1 day
- LIVE ACTION SEQUENCE WITH ACTOR Estimated 1 to 2 days
The major unexpected problems I faced:
- Hospital Trip 1 – Two days before a scheduled shoot, I had bought a mouse for £3 that bit me. Although drawing blood, it initially did not bother me. Four hours later, my arm swelled to the size of a baby, leaving me incapable of even picking up a pencil. The following hospital visit revealed the mouse was carrying the potentially fatal ‘Hantavirus’, leaving me incapable to work, having to take anti-virals for a few weeks. Unfortunately, the mouse died a few days later, which also left me having to source another (non-diseased) mouse.
- Hospital Trip 2 – I badly sliced my foot open on glass, leaving me unable to walk for a week after 12 stitches.
- Being taken to Court by my Ex-landlord.
- My actor being deported from the country.
- Major Camera Complications – Three rentals of faulty, non-functioning equipment
- Major Family Issues
- Covid Lockdowns
Scheduling became a process of creative planning. As the whole film pivoted on the effectiveness of the Stop-motion, I began with the Stop-motion sequences, spending around 120-150, 12+ hour days shooting and heavily prepping shots.
In able to shoot at any time during the day, I blacked out all the windows to have lighting continuity. However, certain shots showed the props crawling out of the open windows, which were only possible to shoot at night. Working in total darkness between the limited hours of 22:30 – 05:30, it often took me 3 or 4 days to complete just one of these window shots:
Due to my inexperience, each sequence presented many unknown challenges. I had never shot Slow-motion, so I rented cameras online that were capable of shooting 240fps, only to find out on three separate occasions, that the camera did not function correctly which wasted numerous days and money. Retrospectively, having seen professional crews scheduling Camera test days on my Work Experience project, I would also schedule these in future.
The live-action sequences were another uphill battle, as I had no crew available to shoot due to Covid restrictions. I had to be resourceful with what I had and built specific rigs made of glass, in order to both operate a camera and control a living creature – a mouse.
I also had to work around the availability of my actor, who was unexpectedly deported, leaving me having to also act part of The Artist myself.
The one scheduling luxury I had, was that the Set was all constructed in my bedroom, meaning I could shoot at my own convenience, rather than working around the availability of a studio space.
Although my inexperienced hindered my practice, I would say I handled the scheduling and each problem well. Almost every element of the film presented a completely new challenge for me. Prior to this shoot, I had limited Stop-motion experience, never shot Slow-motion, never worked as a Cinematographer, Makeup or Costume Designer. Nothing was second nature. However, I felt that in stretching myself to the limit, I would comfortably deal with the same challenges on any future projects.
Although I had no previous experience even operating a sewing machine, I wanted the costumes to match the complexity of the Set Design to create the greatest audience reaction. I knew that the costume would be pivotal in displaying The Artist as a free spirit, embodying his creativity, to make his conversion into an office worker all the more devastating.
With the introduction of the two additional characters to the script, I had a total of four costumes to design. I began this process by collating references from designs of Eiko Ishioka, Bob Ringwood and Jean Paul Gaultier and pieced them together into a mood board.
I was interested by the dynamic Eiko Ishioka creates between the simplistic real-world police uniforms and the highly elaborate costumes seen inside the Serial killer’s subconscious mind in The Cell (Singh, 2000).
Using simplistic suits and ties displays the conformist values of the police, which is contrasted by the elaborate Serial-killer costumes, showing inner-complexity, creativity, acting as a metaphor of the battle between the conformity by the oppressive governing forces (i.e. The police) and extreme creativity.
I wished to convey a similar dynamic in Running the Rat Race and designed the office costume to look clinical, sterile and slightly confining, using sharp triangular lines, which made The Artist look deeply uncomfortable. I also decided to use black, as I felt it would denote a professionalism and formality of an office job.
I noticed in The Cell, that the killer is often seen topless, which is almost primal, denoting his power and control, showing his confidence about his body and self-image. For this same reason, I designed The Artist costume topless, indicating his unscathed self-confidence and outward pride of who he is. Working as a great contrast to the confining office costume, it conveys that after being defeated and broken by his transformation from Artist to office worker, The Artist almost hides his wounds behind his crisp, clean office shirt.
Representing The Artist’s fluidity and freedom, I designed the eccentric outfits in rich browns using curvy lines, which worked as a great contrast the clinical black, triangular, confining office attire.
For the artist’s costumes, I used the same cutting pattern, to show the newly added characters were simply visions of The Artist himself. I acquired a pattern for 1920s styled trousers, which I immediately modified by extending the curve of the hip and inverting the shape of the leg.
With no experience operating a sewing machine, I approached the costume workshop, where I learnt how to thread the sewing machine and sewed together a toile – a rough pair of trousers made of canvas.
As a first attempt, I was extremely pleased with the outcome. However, on a second attempt, I adjusted the hip curve, made a slimmer waistband and inserted a back zipper, which worked perfectly and matched the shape of my design.
I felt that using highly textured upholstery fabrics on the elaborate Artist’s costumes would convey the character traits – comfortably stylish – almost bohemian, contrasting the confining, clinical dress fabrics of the Office attire.
After scouring eBay, Goldhawk Road and Hackney I found no fabrics having great textures in the required colours so took on the process of dyeing – another thing I had never attempted. As my chosen fabrics were a mix of both natural and synthetic fibres I was informed by a friend in CSM Fashion, that they required RIT dye to get an even finish.
The process of running fabric dying tests became a precise science. To achieve a strong colour, I found out through trial and error and researching YouTube, that fabric only took colour well when dyed in a highly concentrated boiling hot water mix. Taking a methodical approach, I wrote all of my experiments down on paper, noting what variables worked and what didn’t.
After an extremely tediously long process of experimentation, I found the best combination for the brown colours, was a mix of 3 parts Dark brown RIT, 1 part Chocolate Brown RIT, 6 parts Instant Coffee Mix achieved the best results, with an additional 3 parts salt and 3 parts vinegar for fixative. As the addition of the instant coffee gave the fabric a yellow warmth, I decided it would work perfectly on its own to achieve the cream colour.
Dying quantities of over 6 meters of fabric at a time, I boiled up 8 pans and a full water urn to fill up a bath and soaked the fabric for 13 hours each for a potent and effective dye.
As a result of the many fabric swatch tests I ran, the fabrics all dyed beautifully.
After reading segments of The Costume Technician’s Handbook (Covey, 2003), receiving advice from friends and technicians of four different ways I could construct the garment, I put them all to test.
I decided to use Option 5, which was the most time consuming, however, it appeared to be the only method that worked, as the other methods either, were too heavy or shrank the fabric, distorting the overall shape. I began by drawing all of the lines onto the canvas trouser as a structural lining base. I began by drawing all of the lines onto the canvas trouser as a structural lining base.
I constructed the Option 5 canvas backed woollen doughnuts to save fabric and attach the Velcro. For a smooth finish, I used lengths of rolled-up sheet wadding rather than stuffing, which saved time, was lighter and less constraining.
I stuck Velcro and fed steel boning through casing pockets onto the trouser, to avoid hand stitching and define the curved silhouette of the designed trouser.
Finally, I attached these doughnuts onto the trouser and handstitched the gaps. Although the trouser did not perfectly match my drawing, I was overwhelmingly proud of myself for my achievement. Considering I came into this project, without knowing how to even thread a sewing machine, I felt I had travelled a great distance.
The construction of the other two costumes was a comparatively painless process. On Costume 2, I first dyed the fabric – four woollen throws. Using a quilting method, I enlarged the paper pattern, to compensate for the shrinkage when the stuffing was added. Evidently, I didn’t adequately anticipate the extent the trouser shrinkage, as it was impossible to get around my legs. I compensated by adding an extra piece of the woollen fabric to the inside leg on both sides. After four days of hand stitching, the trouser was short in the leg, however I was proud regardless.
Costume 3 was a simple construction, following the pattern. Using leatherette, I used Specialist leather needles to pierce the material and flattened the seams using UHU glue, as the material would melt when ironed. Although I thought the leatherette material looked rather cheap in close up, I loved the overall silhouette it created, which photographed beautifully from a distance.
Overall, this was an excruciatingly slow process, where I found myself remaking the same mistakes constantly, which resulted in a total of two months to complete. In the near future, I aim to focus on improving my knowledge in Costume Construction, as my skills are still limited, where all decisions were made through guessing and trial and error, rather than precise calculation from a position of experience.
JEWELLERY DESIGN AND MAKING
I felt that the addition of jewellery would help displaying The Artist’s creative complexity. As the process of making earrings was new to me, I watched a few videos online and purchased a set of metal hoops and clasps.
After watching a video about the use of Polymer clay in Guillermo Del Toro’s films, I tested the substance, sculpting out two wisdom teeth. I painted these white and coated them in clear nail polish to give a shine. Drilling the tooth using a Dremel, I threaded through the metal rings and clasps to form an earring. I was impressed with the results that could be achieved using such a simple process and made another, more sculptural pair of earrings out of more polymer clay sculpted teeth.
Starting from scratch, I decided to use super glue, that was thinner and left a residue that looked like dental plaque. Although accidental, I really liked the effect of the residue on the teeth and decided to keep it.
As the process was an extremely pleasurable and easy process, I ended up creating 14 completed pairs of earrings out of found objects – shrunken heads, taxidermy beetles, doll heads, dolls house furniture.
As I required three final looks, one for The Artist and two for the additional ghostly characters, I chose the following three favourites:
I was extremely pleased with the earring construction, as it equipped me with new skills, added detail to the costume and informed The Artist character’s sense of individuality.
The use of Makeup became another important cinematic storytelling tool to embody the artist’s inner fear of losing his individuality. To convey the artist’s euphoric hallucinations, I wished for the two additional ghostly characters to wear highly theatrical makeup, which symbolises the artist envisioning himself at what could have been his ‘creative peak’. Aware that the film could appear overly theatrical and lose any sense of audience relatability, I decided that the main artist should be wearing a comparatively more simplistic almost punk makeup look.
With this in mind, I gathered references from Pinterest and Instagram and pieced them together into a Moodboard. I researched bright makeup looks to compensate for the dark set and help attain a better cinematography exposure.
Avant-garde makeup was another new experience for me. From these references, I experimented using different materials including UV makeup, spirit gum, contact lenses, miscellaneous beads & metal spikes and SFX wax. I was able to create the following final three looks:
I had an opportunity to experiment with SFX prosthetic makeup, in which I had a shot in which a dollar bill emerges out of a Stigmata hole from the Artist’s hand, as if he were bleeding money, acting as a metaphor of the artists financial turmoil. I sculpted a deep prosthetic out of latex, tissue paper and pale foundation to match skin tones. Through Unit 8 and a selection of BTS videos including A Grand Night in: The Story of Aardman (2015), I learnt about George Pal’s ‘Replacement Animation’ technique, to achieve a fluid outcome. I printed out 26 identical copies of a dollar bill, cut each one in a series from small to large and replaced them one by one in the wound.
The wound was far from resilient, as the hot lights melted the wound off the hand after each take. Each take took approximately four hours each, with an additional 20 minutes to sculpt the wound. The process was extremely technically challenging as it required for the hand model (played by my mum), to stay extremely still for over four hours.
After three days prepping and shooting, I was finally happy on the 6th take. The symbolism created through this shot was pivotal to the film, as it represented the real life nightmares of a struggling independent artist, who struggle to compete against corporate monopoly. To inform the symbolism behind this shot, I was influenced by an article I found on my Unit 8, It’s Time to Break up Disney (2019).
The article shows how the monopoly of Corporations, such as Disney has created an uphill struggle for independent artists to produce, distribute, finance and have their works screened. Led by market research, these corporations have homogenised art, crushed out independent voices, which leaves many individuals unable to compete financially, often resorting to retraining in other fields. Therefore, I was thrilled at the outcome of this shot in Running the Rat Race where the artist bleeds money, as it was pivotal in representing the financial instability of an independent artist, inflicted by Corporate takeover.
CINEMATOGRAPHY - TECHNICAL CHALLENGES & LIVE-ACTION VISUAL TECHNIQUES
With an updated script and new Shot-list, I began making notes on Cinematography. I had previously shot test footage with another Cinematographer, but was extremely dissatisfied with the results. My inexperience led me to trust his judgement, where he convinced me to shoot the set as if it were a Scandi-noir film, lighting using green filters, without realising that the combination of green light and the red walled set would turn all the colours into mud.
Although upset by the visual results, it was this cinematographer’s toxic and disrespectful presence on the set that left me feeling incapable of working with him again. However, due to the Covid restrictions, the idea of reaching out to another Cinematographer seemed impossible, so I was left having to take on the unwanted responsibility.
I began by creating a mood board of cinematographic influences with rich reds and browns to match the set and reflect the artist’s unique individuality.
I was inspired by the use of light and colour in Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989). Greenaway uses spherical lenses and shot on Kodak 35mm Film stock, creating pools of hard light with little diffusion, giving the film its high-contrast distinctive style. The use of a rich colour palette and high contrast lighting in the banquet scenes creating deep shadows and piercing highlights, which reflects Albert Spica’s character as mercurial and polarising.
Portraying Mr Spica’s soft-spoken, polite wife, played by Helen Mirren, Greenaway shoots her scenes with highly diffused, softer light, reflecting her tranquil, moderate presence.
Inspired, I created a hybrid between the lighting setup of Mr Spica and his wife, for The Artist in Running the Rat Race. I also used spherical lenses with vibrant reds to convey the artist is full of life. However, similar to Mr Spica’s wife, I used large amounts of diffusion to create a soft light, to show that the artist is calm and feels comfortable in his surroundings. Reading Painting with Light (Alton, 1949) cover to cover enabled me to pick up various lighting techniques to achieve this look, where I stapled white sheets to the ceiling, which both diffused and bounced my lighting.
With this new lighting scheme, I was able to correct mistakes made in my previous collaborative tests, removing all green gels and adding tungsten lights to give the images more warmth. I liked many of the previous camera angles from the old tests, so decided to replicate the shots, changing only the lighting.
TECHNIQUE 1: SNORRICAM
Once I had established a scene of tranquillity using symmetrical shots for the opening sequence, I contrasted this, using Dutch angles and unusual camera movements to convey the chaotic nature of The Artist as he transforms into an office worker. My main reference to achieve this, was Requiem for a Dream (Aronofsky, 2000), which uses both unorthodox camera movements, such as Snorricam (a device that uses a body harness to capture third person footage) and ingenious practical camera techniques to build audience anxiety.
Snorricam Techniques in Requiem for a Dream (Aronofsky, 2000)
Without owning a Snorricam myself, I was able to create the same effect by harnessing a lightweight tripod to my body with two leather belts.
I was pleased with the effect created by the Snorricam, which conveyed a sense of exhilaration and panic. I also rubbed Vaseline on the edges of a UV filter, to blur out the edges of the screen, which gave a more distorted effect.
TECHNIQUE 2: SLOW MOTION
As previously mentioned, the Slow-motion shoot became a scheduling nightmare. The Blackmagic camera I had shot the majority of the film had no Slow-motion function, so I separately rented a Sony FS7 and external recorder that when combined was able to shoot 240fps. After three days of painstaking testing, I found that the seller had omitted telling me that the camera did not function properly.
Despairingly, I returned all the equipment and rented out from a seller who advertised a Sony FS5 camera capable of shooting 240fps. However, even after being shown a demonstration of the camera fully functioning, the camera still managed to malfunction when I switched it back on at home, which created extremely weird colour burnout. This is the image I got:
I had to spend a further 6 hours running camera tests and was finally able to restore the colours back to something natural.
As I was shooting at 240fps, the camera required huge amounts of light to expose properly and avoid camera noise. I had to light every single shot with 8 x 800W Redheads without diffusion, in order to expose correctly. At one point, this setup blew the house electrics and I had to distinguish a growing fire.
PLEASE MAKE SURE TO CHANGE VIMEO QUALITY RESOLUTION SETTINGSS TO 1080p FOR BEST VIEWING EXPERIENCE!
I was very happy with the Slow-motion footage I was finally able to capture, where the slow motion allows the audience to appreciate a moment of chaos, be it the smashing of glass, a fish struggling to swim or the artist completely out of control.
TECHNIQUE 3: UNDERNEATH GLASS SHOTS
I was particularly pleased with the slow-motion shots of the fish struggling to swim, which I created by shooting water through a glass table. As I felt that the choice of the unusual angle from below was a simple yet effective way of building audience anxiety, I continued with other experiments shooting through the same glass table setup.
TECHNIQUE 4: Glass Refraction Technique
While researching for Unit 8, I discovered The Phenakistiscope, an early optical toy invented by Joseph Plateau in 1832.
As I loved the hallucinogenic quality of the Phenakistiscope, I took inspiration and experimented placing glass diamonds, magnifying screens and vintage glass in front of the lens to convey, which produced a nightmarish reflection of the real-life horrors of struggling independent artists, who are unable to compete against the monopoly of large powerful corporations.
TECHNIQUE 5: EXTREME MACRO FOOTAGE
Through Unit 8, I also came across Thomas Mann Bayne’s Running Rats Phenakistiscope, and saw huge potential in its fast pacing and sense of rhythm.
I had decided to use a mouse in my film as a metaphor of the rat-race nature of life. In the 21st Century, life appears to be a constant competition for money, power or status, where a social-climbing philosophy is promoted by reality-TV culture and Social-media influence. I knew the conjunction of the story of a struggling artist and a mouse, would show how even the every-day artist can fall prey to commercialisation, giving up his dreams in order to survive financially. The use of close-up shots of both The Artist and mouse’s feet running rapidly, built anxiety and reflects the mouse as The Artist’s ‘competitor’. Rather than simply having a secondary human character for The Artist to compete, the mouse is ‘faceless’, representing the rest of society, who equally pay no attention to the artist as they are caught up in their own Rat-Race.
It became a near impossibility to achieve smooth tracking movements of the mouse’s feet running, as I was of course working with an unpredictable live animal. After many hours of trial and error, I encased the mouse in a narrow tunnel, made of glass and timber and utilised a simple sliding device to make the camera to track in unison with the running mouse. However, the use of the extension tubes created an extremely tiny focal distance of less than 1mm. Effectively, if anything moved more than 1mm away from the fixed focus, it would become a blur, so it was just a case of luck and many hours of perseverance.
Although this shot would only appear for 1 second in the film, for me it was one the most vital. Exhausting all possible variables to shoot the sequence efficiently, it took over 300 takes before I began to get something worthwhile. As an individual piece of footage, it looks rather standard and uncomplex… however I feel that the thirteen hours I spent shooting without a break was a testament to the complexity of the shot and my perseverance.
Although working with an unpredictable live animal and catching a potentially fatal virus from it was a nightmare, I do think these shots gave the film great production value.
One of my favourite shots I achieved was the establishing mouse shot, where he appears from a cartoon-esque small hole in the wall. I took a new timber board and textured it using mud and brown paints, tearing a with a pair of pliers, in order to achieve a realistic ‘chewed’ mousehole look.
TECHNIQUE 6: LIGHT PANNING TECHNIQUE
Another simple technique, was to pan a halogen spotlight across a dark surface. The technique created fast insert shots for editing, that further added to the chaos of the scene.
STOP-MOTION ANIMATION TECHNIQUES:
Although I had a little experience with Stop-motion prior to Running the Rat Race, nothing could have prepared me enough for the nightmare I put myself through. I had listed 100+ Stop-motion shots, which took a total of 5 months of shooting.
In the article Aardman Animates Another Hit! (Roberts, 2005), Roberts writes that Stop-motion has a slightly “jerky” motion instead as it is a process that captures stationary objects as a series of single photographs, making it almost impossible to achieve the effect of motion blur. The lack of motion blue gives Stop-motion a strangely faulty and antiquated result, which can be unnerving for many. With this in mind, I knew that Stop-motion would be the correct direction to achieve the film and convey the artist’s introspection and paranoia.
TECHNIQUE 7: INBETWEENING / SHOOTING IN TWOS
I knew that many Stop-motion filmmakers including Wes Anderson, use the technique of shooting in ‘twos’ or ‘Inbetweening’. Inbetweening is the process of shooting at 12 frames per second rather than standard 24/25 fps, which creates an un-smooth aesthetic. I used this technique in Running the Rat Race, as I felt the jerkiness is more authentic to the medium and adds to the artist’s sense of dysphoria. Although a simple technique, many of these shots took multiple days to complete due to the complexity of manipulating the props.
TECHNIQUE 8: WIRE ARMATURE TECHNIQUE
Through Unit 8, I discovered the works of Wladislaw Starewicz.
I was absolutely astounded by the insect infidelity film The Cameraman’s Revenge (1912), in which Starewicz achieved a real emotive response out of his bug actors, ‘by installing wheels and strings in each insect and occasionally replacing their legs with plastic or metal ones. He used black threads to help move them.’ (Vox, 2019).
I employed this technique on Running the Rat Race, by feeding 2mm aluminium armature wires through a piece of raw steak and Dollar bill, which allowed me to animate them without falling over mid-take. I was impressed by the pathos this technique adds, which helped represent the piece of meat and dollar bill as the conjunction between commercialisation and survival.
TECHNIQUE 9: REPLACEMENT ANIMATIONInspired by Spellbound (Hitchcock, 1945), I used this replacement technique again to create a Dali-esque Blinking eyeball sequence. Using George Pal’s replacement animation technique, I achieved this, by drawing out twelve eye-lashes in the incremental process of a blink using Charcoal and chalk. As the eyeball was huge, it took an average of three hours to smoothly draw out each eyelash.
Overall, I was extremely pleased with the visual results I had achieved. However, I felt that certain shots fell short in the lighting due to my inexperience. Although, I feel I need to learn an enormous amount more to improve my Cinematography and lighting skills for future projects, many of these cinematographic and Stop-motion techniques were processes I had never even heard of, let alone experimented with. I felt in sticking through this arduous process, I had laid the groundwork to accomplish many technical challenges presented on any future project.
As my actor had been deported, together with restrictions set by Covid, I was left no alternative but to take on the responsibility. Although the scenes were simplistic, the complexity of having to both act and direct myself, left me constantly reviewing footage back on the monitor.
In order for the acting to embody the emotions of panic, exhilaration and introspection, I employed the techniques of the Stanislavski method, in which I drew upon my own past experience to inform my performance.
Quoted from Stanislavski’s Creating a Role (1957)
‘In the language of an actor, to know is synonymous with to feel’.
Having experienced oppression of my own creativity from teachers and peers when in Secondary school, the emotions of The Artist were synonymous with my own. I felt that drawing on my own past trauma put me into the correct mindset, resulting in an authentic portrayal.
COMPOSING THE SOUNDTRACK
To feel the sense of rhythm and pacing the film required, I wrote the script while listening to Jai Hanuman! (Subramaniam, 1999), Heroin (Velvet Underground, 1967) and Venus in Furs (Velvet Underground, 1967). I felt that Jai Hanuman! was structurally a perfect model to base a composition, but lacked the visceral, crazed strings of an electric viola and the deviant cries of guitars of Heroin and Venus in Furs. I wanted the soundtrack to inform the story, with a steadily increasing tempo to build upon the character’s sense of fear as he begins to lose his belongings.
Inspired by the use of a theme tune in Requiem for a Dream, as a cinematic technique to convey the grim repetitious nature of the characters drug addiction, I also began to compose my own theme on a piano.
Rough Composition Option 1
Rough Composition Option 2
Rough Composition Option 3
Rough Composition Option 4
Rough Composition Option 5
Rough Composition Option 6
Rough Composition Option 7
Rough Composition Option 8
Rough Composition Option 9
Rough Composition Option 10
Rough Composition Option 11
FINAL ROUGH COMPOSITION IDEA
I was particularly pleased with this final one (Option 12), in which the Minor key created a melancholia. With the theme composed, I immediately took it into Logic Pro X and began attempting to structure the piece.
I soon found out, that Music composition and music producing were two entirely separate skills. Although I have been playing the piano since the age of five, I had never touched a music software.
I found the process somewhat unbearable, as all of the Guitar pre-sets sounded extremely artificial. After days of learning how to tweak these sounds, I was still unhappy with the results and decided that the only possible way to record a good sounding guitar was by doing it for real. Unfortunately, I do not own a guitar, nor know how to play one. I scheduled an old flatmate to come to my house for a few days and composed a guitar part for him to play on sheet music.
Rehearsing and experimenting left me feeling extremely optimistic about finally recording my compositions. However after less than twenty minutes of the first session, I received a phone call notifying me that bailiff’s would be shortly visiting my house, due to a court case I had lost (for which I hadn’t even been notified), from my old Landlord. My Guitar playing ex-flatmate and I spent the next three days, sorting out legal paperwork and contacting the courts. Unfortunately, my friend was travelling back to Valencia and would not return until late summer. I could not believe my luck – the composition left unfinished.
Working Progress – ‘Final’ Composition Variation 1
Working Progress – ‘Final’ Composition Variation 2
Working Progress – ‘Final’ Composition Variation 3
The preparation for the court case made it impossible to shoot the final office sequence within the academic year (which makes up about 10% of the film). This made the editing process very difficult, as I was unable to see a full rough-cut to see how the piece structurally fits together.
However, for the main bulk of the editing, I took inspiration from the ‘Hip Hop Montage’ editing style of Requiem for a Dream and the music video of Shut Em’ Down (Public Enemy, 1991)
Coined by Darren Aronofsky himself, ‘Hip hop Montage’ is an fast editing technique used to portray a complex action through a rapid series of simple fast motion cuts. The effect is purposefully disorientating, which I felt worked as a perfect contrast to the tranquil shots of The Artist from the beginning of the film.
I further used experimental post-production techniques, such as rapid shakes and swirls, to show the entrapment of the artist, who is unable to escape from his transition into an office worker.
Although the editing is still rough, incomplete and cut to temp music Jai Hanuman! I felt that the process of shot-listing extremely carefully almost pre-empted any technical challenge as it was practically storyboarded in my head. All the planning, pre-production and scheduling paid off, cutting any pain and stress caused in the edit.
Running the Rat Race has been my biggest undertaking as a filmmaker so far. It has given opportunity to challenge myself intellectually, improve my technical skill and experiment with new media, such as Costume construction and musical composing. The whole process has been a test of my perseverance, as no element of this film has come easily.
Preparing a highly detailed shot-list, adapting the screenplay and analysing my research, allowed me to engage contextually with the political themes behind the film, where I incorporated intertextual references from both arthouse and pop-culture idioms to build my own idiosyncratic world and engage with wider audiences.
Experimenting with both established and my own fresh cinematic techniques to visualise my philosophies, presented a series of complex challenges, that I overcame through a process of research, trial and error and ingenuity. However, even after taking time to carefully schedule, I could not have predicted the many interruptions that incurred, including a virus carrying mouse, deportation of my actor and a court case. Though, I feel that in dealing with such nightmares and still managing to progress, I have strengthened my ability to cope under stress, which will be invaluable when working on professional larger budget productions.
I was particularly proud of my involvement with Costume construction. Although my inexperience hindered this process, through research and trial and error, I managed to convey the artist’s complex emotions and motivation through the clothing. The costume was further bolstered by the makeup, which added to the artists sense of individuality and was complimentary to the world I aimed to construct.
Hopeful of a career as both an animator and live-action director, I have gained invaluable information about the complexity of cinematic processes, such as slow-motion, stop-motion and lighting. As Running the Rat Race, is a personal project, I realised that there would be no major implications to making mistakes, unlike a professionally funded project. Therefore, I designed these cinematic techniques to stretch myself, presenting extremely technically challenging processes that I may not have a later opportunity to experiment at the expense of a studio’s financial backing. With these new founded skills, I have gained confidence in my ability to pitch projects to studios as an auteur director. My completion of these technical challenges has left me feeling driven to challenge the single-visioned archaic values of the studio system, where I will continue celebrating themes of diversity and individuality in my own work. Although the edit is still rough, I am proud to say I have shot 90% of this film, with only the office sequence left to finish this summer… It has been a saga, an unforgettable, excruciatingly painful, but wonderful experience.