“I wanted to create a film that looked like a moving painting”, filmmaker and media artist Pixie Cram tells Ottawa Indie Fest when we had a chance to speak with her about her latest film Joan which screens at the ByTowne Cinema on March 31st along with The Luck of Ginger Coffey. Intrigued, we wanted to learn more about the making of her six and half minute film.
Can you briefly tell us what the film is about?
“Joan” is a surreal and minimalist version of the story of Joan of Arc made entirely using pixilation and stop-motion animation – there is no live action.
What was involved in the making of the film?
I created the film through an artist residency at Centre de production DAÏMON in Gatineau. I had access to their studio and camera equipment for one month. I worked in a digital format with an animation software called Dragonframe. There is an onion-skin feature that lets you see where the object was in the last frame, so you can track your movements. Prior to this project I had done all my animation using 16-mm film, and you can’t see the results until you get the processed film back from the lab.
I wanted to create a film that looked like a moving painting. I tried to stay away from cinematic references to Joan of Arc because these are so well-known, and I worked instead with paintings and artworks about her from art history. The armour was rented from a group in Osgoode. It had been hand-made with a lot of care. The spinning wheel was borrowed from Wabi-Sabi, a knitting shop on Wellington Street.
Composer Jeff Morton made the soundtrack. For music, he took a fifteenth-century Spanish composition that I had been using as a guide track for editing and performed it on a piano keyboard.
What were some of the challenges you faced in making the film?
Creating the lighting was the first challenge. I tried background projections very early in the process and they didn’t work, so I shot against blacks. This served the painterly aesthetic well. I also lit some of the scenes using candle flame.
The next challenge was arriving at a desired result with the animation. To give you an idea of the slow pace and precision that the pixilation involved, it would take us roughly 2 hours to arrive at 15 seconds of usable footage. The actors were responsible for performing the animation through their movements and facial expressions, so the effect is largely due to their technique and muscle control. For this reason, I was very deliberate about who I chose to work with. Katrina Bray (Joan) has a background in physical theatre, and Grant Harding (the cleric) is a professional puppeteer. I was also assisted by animator Tina Lemoine in executing some of the more complex scenes, such as the pyre, which required more than two hands to orchestrate all the elements.
What was it like working with the armour used in the film?
Working with the weight of the armour was also a challenge. Katrina had to move her body in very small increments and hold poses while we shot frame by frame, wearing about 70 pounds of metal. In one scene, she raises the sword above her head (a replica of a medieval sword that weighed about as much as the original would have). It required so much effort that she would be sweating after about 5 minutes. It took 30 minutes to get her fastened into the suit each time we filmed.
In terms of creative process, why did you use the pixilation and the frame-by-frame technique in telling the story?
I knew that working in an animation format with actors would allow me to create something surreal. My original idea was to film on location with an actor portraying Joan and a cardboard army of puppets, and to mix live-action shooting with stop-motion animation. I had been inspired by Jan Svanjkmajer’s film Alice (1988). But when I confirmed the dates of my residency at DAÏMON, for some reason I chose January. So I threw away the idea of working on location and developed the concept to work within a studio. I tried out some puppets in the beginning of the process – I had made horses and knights out of cardboard. But they didn’t fit with the world of the actors and the real-life objects so I cut those scenes.
Before the screening there’s a Meet-up at the Lunenburg Pub (14 Waller Street) at 7:00pm. It’s great an opportunity to chat, mingle and network before heading out to the screening.
Pixie Cram is a filmmaker and media artist based in Chelsea, Quebec. Her work includes fiction, animation, documentary, and installation. Her films have been shown at several festivals in North America including Media City (2010), the Chicago 8-Fest (2011), and WNDX (2012).
Pixie Cram co-founded the Windows Collective (2008), a group devoted to the creation and exhibition of experimental works using film as basis. On top of her own art practice, she works as a freelance director, editor and cinematographer.
To learn more about Pixie Cram visit her website.
©2015 Ottawa Independent Film Festival