Dancing with myself

I have become utterly bored by my breakfast (in dismay at my shortening belt, I’ve taken to eating celery and radishes and the like while staring out the kitchen window dreaming of waffles) so I have embarked on a new subject – my reflection. I don’t think it’s pure vanity but rather the easy availability of the subject and his increasing lumpy wrinkledness which makes for more interesting lines and shadows than the usual bagel.

I have also been considering the several international trips I have scheduled for the rest of the year and wondering if there’s an easy way to make Sketchbook Films on my own while I am abroad. I plan to draw, obviously, while I’m there and it would be interesting to share the process with you. Unfortunately I won’t be able to sneak my crew into my bag, so I may have to make do with ingenuity and a jury-rigged camera setup.

To that end, I knocked out a quick test at home which was fairly educational. I didn’t plan it properly so I ended up drawing myself with a couple of Sharpies on an old shopping list and the light was quickly fading. The old Flip camera I was testing likes a lot of sunlight so I’ll probably get better image quality in Shanghai, Rio, Capetown and Perth. The resulting film is a bit ugly and fairly interesting, like the drawing itself, and if you have any creative suggestions about how to improve future versions (that don’t require helicopters, Teamsters, or an army of makeup artists), please leave a comment. I have been collecting some small tripods and a wide-angle lens so testing will continue.

If you think the idea of me doing a drawing and stopping to readjust a barrage of cameras around me like some schizophrenic paparazzo, you are quite right. These are the sacrifices I willingly make for art.

The Artist’s Pulse – now on video

At the end of March, I was part of a panel of artists (including Karen Cole, Jill Zaheer, Roxanne Evans Stout, Julie Prichard, and Michelle Ward) gathered to discuss our work and Seth Apter‘s new book, The Pulse of Mixed Media.

It was an interesting morning and for those who were not able to attend, Seth has posted a rather abbreviated video of the discussion.

If this doesn’t satisfy you, there is more on Seth’s blog. More importantly, there’s Seth’s book, brimming with many more inspiring thoughts and art thingees.

The Daily Grind

A short film about my everyday.

For the last few years, I have walked to work every day. It’s about two miles and the trip takes about 35 minutes. I only made an exception if it’s raining hard.  Recently I got a new bicycle, a Bobbin from England, and I now make the trip in about twelve minutes, most of it along the Hudson RIver. My bike is new but old-fashioned. It has five gears but they are all fairly slow. Men in Lycra crouched over titanium frames from Italy streak past me as I toodle along. I am like an old man with a baguette in his basket, whistling under my beret, enjoying the birds and the sunshine and the breezes off the river.

Spring: a new Sketchbook film about, well, me

I really enjoy making our little series of Sketchbook Films. With each one we become more ambitious and discover new techniques and gear to use. Last weekend, we decided to make a fairly simple one — no dollies, Winnebagos or helicopters.  I got in front of the camera again and left Jack to man the lens for the action sequences then Jenny covered off my drawing process (the fourth Beetle, Tommy Kane, was off doing something productive and couldn’t join us on this one though he approved the final cut as being Sketchbook Films worthy).

I wanted to show a simple pen and ink drawing, done outside on a gorgeous day. The weather didn’t cooperate and instead of gorgeous we got clouds and rain which meant things got more complicated and technical and we actually had to shoot bits and pieces over the course of four days and in three different parks.

It was still fun to make though horrifying as always to see myself on screen. It may surprise you to know that no aging makeup was used on this production — that’s actually how decrepit I now look.

A new Sketchbook film: Hayley Morris in “Under the Sea”

Hayley Morris is a whimsical, sometimes dark stop-motion animator whose sketchbooks are filled with creative musings and pencil sketches. My girlfriend Jenny met her recently and immediately called me to say she thought she’d be willing to be in a Sketchbook film. I love Hayley’s films and videos and was super-excited to visit her Brooklyn studio and once again collaborate with Tommy Kane on shooting her creative process.

Despite her scratchy line, Hayley puts down each stroke with confidence and vigor. Her drawing seems to pulse and vibrate. She layers her watercolor quickly, wet-on-wet, creating more vibration and vitality. I like the ease and spontaneity of the way she makes art — you’d think a stop-motion animator would be enormously controlled in her work but Hayley leaves room for reaction and response as she makes her art. In an era of CGI and digital processes, her work harkens back to stop-motion puppeteers like the Jan Švankmajer and the Brothers Quay. It’s beautiful and emotional.

Hayley uses her sketchbook to incubate ideas, jotting down notes in the margin to remind her of how she will execute the thoughts in film. We watched her develop creature designs for a new video, animating to the strains of a new collaboration by Hilary Hahn and Hauschka. It’s a dark and powerful piece for violin and piano and Hayley turns it into an undulating underwater dance in a densely populated tidal pool.

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We shot this film more quickly than our last one (we didnt need to stop to replenish huge amounts of alcohol or to wipe up blood) and even we managed to fit in a few crude little  stop-motion animations of our own. I filmed Hayley with a Canon 7D and four lenses (a 15/2.8 Fisheye, a 50/1.4, a16-35/2.8 L II, and a100/2.8 L IS MACRO) and Tommy used his own video camera for the aerial shots.

The music is the classic chanson “La Mer” by Charles Trenet.

PS The film was just mentioned on motionographer:

A new Sketchbook Film: Pencil & Ink


(Sorry for the delayed launch of this post; had some last minute tweaks to do)

Tommy Kane, Jack, and I have just completed production on another in our series of drawing films — this one about NY artist, Justin Klein. It was a long and grueling shoot day, a good 14 hours, and by the end of the shoot, our set was full of bloodied paper, broken furniture, and empty beer cans and whiskey bottles. We all left the set changed for ever.

As I say to myself with each subsequent film, this is the best one yet. It is a bit of a departure from what we have done in the past but I think you’ll agree that it is an interesting extension of our core idea.
I’ll try to post again with some behind-the-scenes details about the production and answer any questions you post here.

Happy New Year!

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Filmed with a Canon 7D, edited in Final Cut Pro X.
Music: “Lux Aeterna – Cum Sanctis Tuis” from the Requiem by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Color Correction by Lenny Mastrandrea at Nice Shoes.

Update on our film

Just got this mail from the Red Hook Film Festival:

Hi Danny – Just a quick update – we are planning to open the Red Hook Film Festival with your film! (Red Hook-A portrait of Tommy Kane). It will screen on Saturday October 15th at 1pm in our opening block.

The schedule is up at our myspace page right now, and will be on the website tomorrow.

Our MySpace page:

This year’s festival will take place on October 15th and 16th, 2011 at the Brooklyn Waterfront Artist Coalition (BWAC) screening room, which is located at 499 Van Brunt Street, Red Hook, Brooklyn, 11231. That’s at the very end of Van Brunt Street, across from the Fairway Supermarket.

Jack and I invite everyone who can make it to Brooklyn to the Festival. It should be a blast!