“My Honours project was a 6 minute experimental animation, but all the resources were captured on an assortment of film stocks and formats and much of the process was very experimental,” explains photographer Andrew Willis to us. We’ve featured his work on this website before as he’s got some fantastic Bleached Polaroids and this time around he went a lot darker. “The final result is a dark, dystopian landscape populated by weirdos and shady characters. It was more of an exercise in character and world building than trying to build some clear narrative driven plot.” Andrew explains that while the final destination for the work was always to be a short animated film, he shot all of the elements with the hope that the individual images would be strong enough to stand by themselves.
Andrew’s project is far different than anything else out there. He’s taken to embracing those old 3D red and cyan glasses you’d get with Disney Adventure magazine back in the 90s.
“To try to make my ‘world’ appear a bit disorientating and alien I experimented with a few old, outdated and interdisciplinary techniques,” says Andrew. “3D anaglyph was used through much of the project (the final animation is best viewed – in my opinion at least – with the old school red/cyan 3D glasses), trichrome colour process, cross processing different film stocks, lensless refractographs, etc. I shot on film ranging from 35mm through to 10X8.” Pretty crazy, huh? We’ve seen a lot of odes to the old school, but not a whole lot that use those awesome 3D glasses.
“That’s a start on the analog side of the project. Things got pretty crazy on the digital/post side of things too!”
Phoblographer: What made you want to create this series?
Andrew: I have a love of science fiction films, especially those that delve into the philosophical and speculative territory. I feel that the darker side of humanity, our shortcomings and the holes we potentially dig for ourselves while in blind pursuit of wealth, power and control is often best explored within the visual and narrative world of speculative science fiction and cyberpunk. I think growing up in the early 80s during the tail end of the Cold War left an impression on me and the films were perhaps a way to understand the tensions in the world. All the talk on the news about nuclear bombs, space defence systems and the potential of global war was a lot for a kid with an overactive imagination to take in. I guess this early anxiety eventually fed into my personal photography projects and the narratives I imagined they belonged to. I wanted to create this particular work to express some of these concerns in a more thorough way than I have before, especially considering many of the themes and issues explored in the sci fi films I grew up with are still strongly relevant today.
Phoblographer: Where did the inspiration come from? It’s got that Stranger Things type of vibe to it?
Andrew: The visual aesthetics of gritty sci fi and some of their underlying themes were a large part of the inspiration for this work. While watching films like Bladerunner, Dark City and Ghost in the Shell I feel immersed in these complicated, dirty and dangerous worlds. The speculative and questioning nature of these films are enhanced by the richly layered worlds shrouded in dense atmosphere, shadows and mystery, prodding me to peer into the darkness to see what questions and answers are hiding there.
Funnily enough, I haven’t seen Stranger Things yet but it’s on my to-do list!
Phoblographer: Talk to us about this experimental processing that you did. Also, why did you want to commit to doing this project on film?
Andrew: I created this work as my Honours project at uni which meant I had plenty of time to research different techniques and expand on what I’d already learnt. It wasn’t initially intended to go towards an animated project but was focused more towards producing large scale prints depicting an assortment of scenarios. This in part lead to the choice of shooting analog. Medium and large format photography would enable me to create very high resolution images that could be printed very large without compromising on quality. Once I shifted towards an animated project this resolution would allow me to zoom in, out and around images with far greater freedom than if I shot with any digital equipment I had available to me. I also feel that the slow and thoughtful process of analog photography engages me in the creative process better than when I shoot digital.
Regarding experimental photography processes, I looked to the past to search for techniques that might leave the viewed a little disorientated by what they saw. One technique I stumbled across is called trichrome photography. This was a method pioneered in the 1800s to produce colour images in a time before colour film or paper was available. The process required three separate exposures shot on a specialised camera. The picture was filtered through a red, green and blue filter resulting in colour separated images on a glass plate. The results were projected using a device with red, green and blue filters called a “magic lantern”which resulted in a full colour composite image. I saw some photos by Russian photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii from the early 1900s documenting the Russian empire. They were stunning colour scenes but there was something slightly haunting and otherworldly about the way the colours rendered. I used this process for a lot of my imagery to produce pictures with skewed, unnatural colours but this introduced some interesting colour fringing due to subject movement or slight camera movements between exposures. This fringing reminded me of old fashioned anaglyph 3D images. I felt this could be useful to the project so I started researching how anaglyphs work and weather it would be beneficial to the animation. After some experimentation I felt it would be.
Other experimental processes included cross processing assorted film stocks to achieve a variety of results, lensless photography to produce animating refractographs and putting film in milk and compost to achieve interesting organic abstract images reminiscent of satellite views of geography.
Phoblographer: So most of the look is done via the processing not in how it’s shot, correct? Then what was your original lighting and plan like?
Andrew: I think the look was a combination of shooting technique and film processing (trichrome, X-Pro, anaglyph etc as discussed above) and studio setup and lighting. The lighting and studio setups got very complicated and varied from scene to scene. I did a lot of sketching and planning beforehand in the hope of getting it right in the studio and I’d be happy to give you copies of some of the sketches if it helps.
For some of the animated sequences I would run through multiple rolls of 120 film in order to produce stop animation type scenes that could be further manipulated in After Effects. Mixing film stocks within the same animation gave an interesting disjointed feel that adds to the unsettling atmosphere I was trying to create.
There is truckloads more I could go into with regards to the assorted processes that went into making the animation, from the techniques already mentioned and how I shot them, the digital work in Premier and Aftereffects, creating assorted glitches by hacking the code to creating the audio and music. After you’ve had a chance to watch the film I guess you could make a call on what may be of interest to you and your readers.
Phoblographer: I know that you mentioned using those old school 3D glasses. So was this specifically designed with using those in mind? When you’re creating content like that, what needs to be going through your head?
Andrew: As I mentioned earlier, the 3D concept came to me a little later in the process. After researching the anaglyph process and doing some experiments with it I decided it could be of benefit to the project. I was hoping it would create an immersive quality, particularly when projected on a large scale. Much of the work was shot specifically with 3D in mind and involved changing the viewpoint of the camera between exposures while other elements were shot as 2D (particularly stop motion type sequences). Once I understood the anaglyph concept enough I was able to manipulate the 2D images to enhance a few elements.
I wasn’t creating 3D like you see in the movies these days so the principles weren’t too complicated or precise. I was more interested in using it to distort perspective and disorient people. With the anaglyph glasses you get red through one eye and the cyan lens allow green and blue through the other. This allows full colour but at the same time creates a kind of sensory deprivation as one eye receives colours that the other doesn’t. It opens up some interesting possibilities regarding messing with people’s heads as well as messing with depth in images.
To be honest, some people have loved watching with the glasses while others haven’t seen the point of them and enjoyed it more without.