WRITING ANIMATION: ISABEL ABOIM INGLEZ

 

 

 

Zepe : How did you wrote the scenario for the film Growing pains?

Did you begin for example through groups of images or texts that you wrote? Texts from other people? Recordings? I’m talking about the text that we can hear. It is like a road movie. What’s the process?

 

 

Isabel Aboim Ingles : That film in particular was a very experimental one and I didn’t have a script. I’m kind of ‘against’ layouts and,  in this case, against having a straight form of film, of  or scenario and so on. This film was a shot in the dark,  because I  had some points that I was willing to explore plastically. I had a lots of X-rays, and for some time,  I wanted to make a film with shadow puppets made with x-rays. I asked in pharmacies for x-rays to make my shadow puppet film and make some drawings on it. Then I also had some medical imagery that I like a lot and that I kind of fun of it. And also biologic and naturalistic imaginary too. 

 


Growing pains

 

I began to produce points of interest that I want to think about: the evolution, how we are made, the relation of people, how come we are in here on Earth, people that were here before us, the geological history of Earth. I made some kind of  ‘archaeology’ of image digging and layering. I firmly believe that some realities are simultaneous and  in images also. For me, for instance, all the image are equal at the end  : the drawings, the photographics and the film. I begun to explore the way that I could put these realities in my ‘archaeology’ process. I know a quote that I like a lot and that I’m applying in my photographic work. It is a quote of Robert Bresson that says : Creuse sur place. Ne glisse pas ailleurs. Double, triple fond des choses (Dig in place. Don’t slip anywhere else. Double, triple bottom of things). This is my practice in all my photographic work, my filmic work and my drawing work. Everything is made of layers. I tried to make blocks of things I wanted to explore.

I had support for this film. I don’t know how they made to give me the support for making the film because I didn’t have a script in the straight kind of scripts for cinema. It was kind of a declaration of intentions, and with the intentions of the themes that I wanted to explore, with the materials that I wanted to explore.The words that we hear in the film were only written one year after I began work on the seven parts of the film.

 

Growing pains

 

Some people said that there was too much experimentation and that everyone will be lost so I added two additional layers with the music and the speaking words. One year after I began to work on the blocks because I already have the seven parts. I put the ‘talking heads’ and I work the film as talking heads speaking without doing an illustration about what we are seeing in the image not being the characters in that part of the film but speaking about something that for me it was like to explore also in that part of the film.

At the end, we had some feeling about the theme of the film. Not a narration, not a straight kind of narration. It was like the film was fabricated with layers of understanding.

After that year of exploration and approach of archaeological or geological imagery, I also worked on the layer of the discourse of the talking heads and the sound. Because I worked the sound at the same time.

 


Growing pains

 

Since it is an experimental film, a lot of things came with the experimentation. I didn’t use story board as in the usual and traditional animated films, even in my other animation films. I had the materials and I played with the materials on each part of the film. 

One thing I also wanted to explore was a very physical approach to analogical materials. I had the bones that I collected and some leaves. I think I perhaps would have liked to be a naturalist if I were born in the 18th century or 19th century. I have lots of nice things like a little stones, shells, small branches and various sands. When I was little, I looked at sand under a microscope,  It looked like jewellery and beautiful rocks, 

Here I tried a kind of exploration of the materials that i have in an optical way, so i build a rostrum camera, because I wanted to work with the physical objects and to make the optical focus on the different layers with it. It was very uh playful to work with 2D and 3D objects at the same time. I had also ‘real image’ with different frame rates, with drawing in site and  after I layered one more drawing in the computer. It was a mad thing to do, but very pleasant.

 

Z : Do you know other directors of live action that employ the same process or the same approach? 

 

IAI : Yes. Jonas Mekas for instance and others like him in the experimental cinema had this kind of approach, being in places and having a recollection of image. Not in the logic of layering as I do it in animation. In Portugal, Edgar Pêra is perhaps close to this kind of approach with other objectives in mind.

 


Edgar Pêra

 

I didn’t have a script but intention notes. I had the previous explorations and real practice in my other films also, in my drawings, in my photographs and my films. When my notes of intention were accepted at ICA (Instituto do Cinema e do Audiovisual), with no linear narration or cause/effect narration, it was mind-blowing for me. They believe in that project.

 

 The words are important. At the beginning there were no words. It was kind of a symphonic way of doing a film with lots of strings and drums and lots of layers of instruments. But when I began working on it  with Rui Horta Pereira who is my partner, the words became absolutely important for the film. They have been written knowing the themes we want to focus, and  people to work on, in deeper reflection.It’s kind of opera without singing. The first one, To be or not to bee, is a musical. Growing pains is a saying. It was difficult for some people to understand all the words and all the saying, but for me, it is not difficult. We can keep the things that we picked in the text and forget the others. It’s not important to remain with all the words, but it’s important to have all the words. So I didn’t simplify.

 

 

Georges Sifianos : I understand the system. You already answered to some questions about the relation with the audience. I have a question about translation: I understand without effort poetry in my native language, mainly, or in a language that I know very well. When I have to read subtitles, it is more complicated as it takes time and time is running. I am often not able to read the whole of the subtitles. This haste influences a poetic writing . It is not a problem to diminish the text. 

The second question is what is a good poetry and what is not. Are there some criteria for you?

 

IAI : The translation is a problem, It produces another layer. It is not naive for me to say that is like an opera. I don’t understand German, but I watch Wagner’s operas and I understand what’s happening and what’s the feeling of that opera. I prefer to hear it in German than translation in Portuguese of The Ring of the Nibelung Opera. So as with the films of Kurosawa. Hearing voices in Japanese for me is better than having a translation in Portuguese or in Spanish. The Spanish are dubbing everything, so if I see/hear a Kurosawa film in Spain, they will all speak in Spanish, and it’s not so right. Humphrey Bogart speaking Spanish is something that I cannot understand. The native language is important for me and the sound of words are important. I don’t choose simple words. I choose words that I think are the right words for what I’m saying. Even in portuguese, it is sometimes difficult for some people to understand. But it’s important, otherwise the beauty of the language goes away. Like Nanni Moretti says, Le parole sono importanti. I know that the way of thinking changes when we think in English or in French. The organisation and structure are different in my head in Portuguese. So I think in Portuguese, even in the image and in the sound. It can be said that someone who is not Portuguese cannot understand. I think that some of the themes are Universal, so I hope that you can somehow relate to the things that are in the film. You don’t need to understand or read everything. Sometimes I don’t read the subtitles when I’m watching a movie and try to enjoy the film. I will miss some words and it’s pity… Some people say your film has so many layers that I cannot reach, and I’m kind of frustrated. Those people are usually adults, children dont have that necessity. The adults need to understand everything. It’s not necessary to understand everything! We can receive, like in an opera. I experience the film as a whole experience and not trying to dismount all the facts of the film.

 

Growing pains

 

There are a lot of problems with the translations in both films. In Growing pains, like Sophia Coppola film Lost in translation, that we hear saying a lot of things and if I only put the theme. We assume that if people say more than what I read  something is not correct, we are missing something, but it is not the case. The problem with the subtitles is it’s visually invasive and it adds another layer of meaning. For me I will not make a film without words, they are very important for the film.I don’t think that a film without words are more ‘universal’ than the one with. Being human is also being able to speak, give words to things and feelings. I can perhaps after  make a libretto as in opera and people would read it after the film. But a libretto is not the film, it’s something else. 

The first film To be or not to bee is made from puns. All the singing turns the understanding easier for people, even if they don’t understand some of the words said. I choose puns and it makes sense in Portuguese but when translated it means nothing. So I asked for an native speaker in both languages, English and Portuguese to try to arrange the puns in English that goes in the spirit of the film. Then my Portuguese friends, that could read English, were very confused because the things that they read in the subtitles were not the things that they were hearing in portuguese. We must be open to receive the movie even if we don’t understand all the layers. it’s okay If we don’t. We must be receptive to the approach without trying to understand everything, that’s the beauty of being open to the film.

 


To be or not to bee

 

GS : We can say that the poetry of an author is good and another one not, or it is not of the same level. It’s a question of feeling. How can we manage feelings? How can we guide them? Is there any “technique” like fluidity, like structure, like rhythmic repetition, like association of image or idea? Do you have some ways to drive your imagination? Do you orient it, or do you leave the flow of images to come? Can you go back over the progress of your work? How do you do a choice between the ideas?

 

 

IAI : I don’t work improvised. I go in a place and I dig to find something that makes sense. I have a very structured mind and all of my films are very structured : the plastic work, the formal work and the rhythmic work, the sound, the image, are complex and constructed. I have a complete control on it. Even if it  have a simple form. I could have a form that happens all at once with the force and spontaneity of painting, because I want that kind of rhythm. For instance, in To be or not to bee, some people said there is so few animation but  I have the control of all the frames, not ‘one by one’ but also the flow of the film. If I want to do 12 seconds with an empty shot, it’s because I need to have this kind of suspension in the fluidity of the film. I sometimes have a structure appointed and sometimes I’m doing in the film (timeline) because I already have the sound, or because I work in the way how the film is pursued. 

I practically made these two films alone with one or two people. The others were made with a lot of collaboration. For these ones, I worked in the timeline with the elements, and I was speaking with the sound guy, a musician. I had my hand in the clay. I had a structure, but I can move it. I don’t begin with the film already finished.

 

GS : When you have ideas coming, how do you choose?

 

IAI : I think I know what it could be a good image for the film and not. For instance, I have enough to create three more films with the material for Growing pains because I made lots of experiments and lots of real footage for the first part, the Munda part. I was doing image by being there. I had the images needed to make this part, and I discarded others.

 

Growing pains

 

GS : Do you have an example? 

 

IAI : For instance in Munda part, I filmed a place where a chess board stood in the middle of nowhere in Alentejo, a dry place in Portugal that evokes the prehistorical ages with menhirs and dolmens, so we know that in prehistoric times people lived in that environment, and now we live with our technology. Napoleonic wars happen in those fields. The ground have many layers. I was there for three weeks. I was waiting for the time.  For the shadows to draw on the white walls of the house and having the time to watch it  because it was too hot. The animals were laying in the shadow and moving slowing. And I had the time to imagine the images and the drawings.

 


Growing pains

 

I brought back a lot of footage from there. I prefer to be with the ‘rope’ because for me the rope is drawing, is like a snake, and we see snakes, and lines,  in the other parts of the film as a echo. The rope can be a snake, but also a drawing itself. I also  began with that kind of turtles or snails. In this part there was a chessboard, but it was too much because if I show all the things in that environment, all the film would be in Munda part. Munda was just the beginning of the journey, not the end of it, nor all the journey. I discarded a lot of the water footage, it was also a biological swimming pool with frogs that I left it out.

Growing pains

 

Vincent Gilot : You collect different images and sounds and put them together. But at the same time, you say that everything is already constructed in your mind. How does the element of the unexpected in the images captured in live action that we will rotoscope and the images already preconceived in your mind fit together?

 

 

IAI : As I said, I have boxes for each part of the film, which I fill in with imagery that I like and that I think it will be good to explore. I don’t have the final images. As you see in the movie, some of the image have lots of layering. For example, I have the skull of the goat and I know that I want to go inside of the skull with my endoscopic camera and travel inside it. I know that for sure in the second part (Evolution). I also make some movements in spinal bones that look like a snake. Later I draw a snake with a Cintic tablet. I draw the pelvic bone in the spot with chalk. I have the elements, so I have it already in the mind. Of course, I don’t know the final image, so I improvise, and I work with the objects and the drawings that I made in the place. Then if something go along, I play with it. In the part with the bones puppet, I specified this in writing and I try to do it by filming a hand. Then I draw it and I filled the bones. It’s a process. I don’t have it all fixed in a storyboard, but I know the moments that I want to construct for that part. So I have more work than others, but I’m not locked down to the image when I’m experimenting with the objects, with the optics and with the lights. For instance,  the game part (Game) is about my headaches because I have lots of migraines. The brain waves and the working of the brain is questioning me. The lights in the brain are real lights, not made in post-production. It doesn’t speak about migraines, but it’s my layer of understanding. 

 

VG : Do you know in advance what you’re going to redraw on the live image or is it decided afterwards when the image is redrawn?

 

IAI : I do it as another layer of understanding. At some point it’s important to have the layer of the drawing in the image. It is not done to improve some other layers. Sometimes it works in synchronicity with the other layers, but sometimes it doesn’t. The drawing in the device and the digital painting are ‘other’ layers of understanding (and work). In all my films, I consider that all the natures of the image are equal : the photographic ones, the drawing ones… I don’t make distinctions. So I can manipulate them as I wish. If you can ask me why I put real images in my films, I answer that there are no ‘real’ image. Real image, as a photography, is also a drawing.

 

Growing pains

 

VG : Don’t you think that, for the viewer, a live-action image is more documentary and more real than a drawn image? I understand that for you they are equivalent.

 

IAI : That’s precisely the illusion I tried to create. My first film, Headless, in which a man loses his head, tells the story of a quest. It begins in black and white and then the grades of reality are coming to until the end of the film in colour. It’s kind of degrees of reality and recognition of reality. At the end of the film,the real image comes. The mountains move to let the boats pass through the river. It’s an experience of reality that I want to express with the image and the real image can also be manipulated in that illusion. My academic background is cinema. I draw all the time but I didn’t want to be a painter. I wanted to be a director, a cinematographer. My field of study was the light, the camera and the photography, that gave me kind of a wide wage range of understanding cinema. I believe in the way Jacques Aumont speaks about image.

 

Headless

 

GS : To precise the question, as you say that images are equal, you were talking about feeling : if you take a simple line drawn with a soft pencil, and you take a vectorial line, the feeling is quite different.

 

IAI : I also can draw a line with light. 

 

GS : Do you control these different qualities of images ? 

 

IAI : Of course. I draw on the wall, I let the shadows go down on the drawing and I after put digital drawings on it. All together, are making a different drawing. At the end it’s all light. The logicals, the plasticity, the meanings are in the frame and not outside the frame. Without considering if it’s real : an image of an object is not the object.

 

Growing pains

 

Rita Cruchinho : You only put the text in your film one year after you had all the images and the structure of the film. Is it because some people said they couldn’t understand the film so you put another layer ? I always felt that the text is very important in your work. I honestly thought that you started with the text. Was it the same process in the other films ?

 

 

IAI : It differs from film to film. The arriving to the form of the film is in that film. I don’t want anyone to think that I put the words in the film because someone said to me that he couldn’t understand. I had the words. I had already made it in the note d’intention. I said that I was making a movie with talking heads. It’s a stylistic approach, a narrative approach. I had the idea os these five people in the waiting room of a medical facility and they express their problems. That was my line of understanding to create the texts for the film. For experimenting, I had the chance to work at my atelier, it was the Covid, I had the time to think. All the ideas come when you experiment. Rui Horta Pereira and me wrote the text but not for explaining the film. Some people might get even more confused. It’s not a simple text. I thought that the words were necessary for the film to be.

 


Growing pains

 

Growing pains is about the marks, to grow too fast, to grow too slow. Someone told me it’s about ache and, perhaps it is, but also about dealing with the pains of the growing. An anthropologist  says that Humanity appeared when a bone was healed, a starting point for Humanity. It was not when a bone was used as a tool like in Stanley Kubrick’s film. It means that someone took care of that people and devoted his time to healing this person.

He gave to him the resources for recovering and being accepting in the community. The fractures of the bones and the healings of the bones are our kind of saying that we are humans and all  the ways of the world are in the bones of our skeleton. It’s the theme of the film. The marks that are imprints in the earth and in our bones and our drawings and representations. The astragalus are the first cubic bone the Mesopotamians used to play and to play is a human thing. If we don’t have that little bone we cannot dance and we cannot move. It is these kind of little things that permits us to have big evolutions. The little bones of the ear gives us the sense of equilibrium. It was an exploration of the human being and the environment. So it’s an ecological film.

 

Growing pains

 

To be or not to bee is an existentialistic quest. To be or not to be that is the question is the question of our character. I picked two characters which their names are palindromes, Ana and Ovo.  Ovo means egg in Portuguese. It’s kind of a childish film that points some important questions that I worked all over my films which is the écran, the surface of the white sheet. It is the first place that we establish connections. How we manage a white sheet? How and where we put our objects on it?

 

To be or not to bee

 

I began the film because I was kind of tired or making films that I didn’t control. Other people didin’t  keep truthful with the things that  needed to be in the drawings. So I made this film  in my sketching books with my formal and plastic research.

 I don’t believe in the constancy of form, as so I detest layouts. If one day I I wake up and I’m beautiful,  everything it’s well designed in me and I’m with a long neck.  Another day I wake up and I’m feeling grumpy. Why would I look the same in in the representation? Why do I have the same form? If I’m grumpy, I must be made of three or or four strokes. If I have the feeling of having a long neck I must put myself with a long neck like Modigliani. 

 

GS : That means that you are the subject. Because if the description change following you and not a subject, you are the subject.

 

IAI : I was taking myself as an example. Everyone at some point feels like kind of blue. What is a most faithful representation, if it is a drawn representation or a photographic representation, with wide lenses or long lenses? There is no reality of the representation. There are no reality, only realities and representations of that realities.

 

To be or not to bee

 

When I was making this film when Anna says who am I?, I invited 20 animators, not to make one minute of Animation in my film for free, but a drawing. I asked Marie Paccou to make a drawing. Zepe also. I gave precise instructions: a feminine figure with the dark hair and a red dress, in the right a window, in the left a table with a teapot and a cage. I didn’t specify the age of the figure, a girl or an old woman, or a trans, or if it was day or night. It had to be drawn in a 16 to 9 frame, the form of an envelope. At that time, it was not the common aspect ratio of films. Because to be in Portuguese is said Ser and stamp, selo. It’s a word play in Portuguese. Since I was little, I collect stamps. I have a very big collection of stamps and I love stamps and I wanted to do something with stamps.

 


To be or not to bee

 

I finally had 20 different illustrations. With a simple line of text, we can imagine all kind of different images. It was this kind of imagination and thoughts that I wanted to bring for this investigation of the form and the ways of representation in the film. The persons that I asked have different professions, they were not all animators. They had different ages, like my 80-year-old aunt or a 13 or 14-year-old student. It was an investigation on how we can represent a saying or a character. Since it is made as a playful or childish thing, some people can only see it as a layer of playful thing, but deep down we have it all there also.

 

To be or not to bee