One of the focuses in the Intimacy issue of Varoom is mindfulness projects that go beyond sector standard, and to complement her article Looking Well, Olivia Ahmad here talks to illustrator Charlotte Ager and animator Katy Wang on their work with On Being’s Poetry Films series. On Being create podcasts, audio archives, film and events that explore fundamental questions on human nature with a broad aim of “social healing”.
Had you worked together before the On Being Project? Or did it bring you together for the first time?
Katy Wang (animator): This was our first time working together but I had wanted to work with Charlotte since graduating together and following her work – I thought her illustrations would look amazing brought to life with movement!
Charlotte Ager (illustrator): Though this was our first time working together I think because we observed each other’s work grow and progress during our degree we had a kind of understanding of each other’s approach, so working together for me felt strangely familiar.
Could you describe the sequence/visual narrative of The Peace of Wild Things film? How much freedom did you have to develop this?
Katy: The ideas for the narrative were driven by the feelings of the poem by Wendell Berry, which describes a solitary walk at night through the woods to find peace. On Being left a lot of creative freedom in our hands which was really great, we just had to check in with the client to show them the storyboard and animatic before animation started to get the green light.
Charlotte: There was a lot of freedom for me in approaching the artwork because I got to simply respond to the poem first with whatever visuals came to mind. I made lots of little illustrations before thinking about how to combine them into a sequence. I felt a sense of freedom doing this because I knew from Katy’s work how good she is at weaving a narrative together; I could trust her ability to string my drawings into something cohesive and could really relax into the visual ideas.
On Being develop content that is intended to be nurturing and restorative, I wonder if ideas of wellness and mindfulness influenced your aesthetic for the film – the colours, aesthetic, transitions?
Katy: The poem gives a sense of being on a journey, so I wanted to make the transitions feel seamless and organic, like you’re flowing through all these different environments. I think that ideas of wellness and mindfulness almost definitely played a part in how I approached this film, as I feel a lot of us living in urban areas have yearned to be closer to nature, to seek out its healing powers during this very challenging time. I found myself learning more about trees and the idea of forest bathing – how being calm in the presence of trees and observing and listening to nature can have a huge de-stressing effect on the mind. Maybe the film provided a form of escapism into a world of nature that I needed at the time!
Charlotte: When creating the visuals, I went straight from very rough sketches to painting frames. They weren’t thought out too much because I think the colour and brushstrokes really had to do most of the work, and I couldn’t plan for that. Usually when I’m making illustrations the process has to be more decisive, but with this it felt more experimental; the colour palette felt like it emerged simply from listening to the poem again and again. I think this relaxed process of making the frames allowed them to get the right feeling across.
What were the practical steps you went through when working on the film – who did what?!
Katy: I let Charlotte take the lead with the visuals of the film as I trusted she would come up with some beautiful imagery and didn’t want to direct her too much. So she came up with scenes roughly matching each part of the poem, which I then formed into a storyboard and animatic, trying to work out how each scene would transition to the next. She then made coloured versions of each key scene on paper, and then it was my job to figure out how to replicate her style for animation.
I went through a lot of experimentation to find out the best way to animate the film, including doing tests both on paper and digitally. In the end, I found a way of combining brushes and layers in Photoshop that would achieve a very accurate replication as if it were a painted animation on paper. I was lucky that the project had such a relaxed timeline which afforded me the time to experiment rather than rush anything!
To read Looking Well featuring The Peace of Wild Things by Charlotte Ager and Katy Wang from On Being get Varoom 42
(Below images from Looking Well by DEEP, Ana Perez lopez and Taian Lu)