Ray Fields workshop lecture

Ray Fields was principal lecturer in AV studies at Liverpool Polytechnic. He gave the following workshop lecture to a group of international students at the Stuttgart Animation Festival 1988.

Ray Fields.

I would like to concentrate on education – visual education, education and movement. I intend to examine a number of apparent opposites. My theme is the sketch book versus the storyboard. I use the sketch book and the storyboard as symbols. I ask the question, “Can the passion for experiment earn money?” This is not a new phenomenon.

At Liverpool Polytechnic most new students have had no previous experience of animation. They feel that media is very important and they want to make things move. The experimental animator Len Lye is a good example for such a person starting out.

(A clip was shown of an experimental animated film with a GPO logo artfully included.)

If experiment in visual education is understood as the exploration of fundamental visual qualities and principles, can such experiment be generated in parallel to specialised training, and can such experiment and specialised training be sustained m the realistic climate of the day?

One particular young person came to Liverpool with the same questions as many students: “Who am I? What am I to do?” He then started to experiment with film. That young person wanted to draw, he drew with pencil and then he decided to draw with light. He made a wand with a light on the end and filmed it in a darkened room. He used the light to describe form and space. That is not unusual for an artist. He ‘felt’ light, but he also thought deeply about what he was exploring so there was a compilation of feeling and thinking. Where did this experience take him…

(Two films were shown. In the first single frame filming was used while the light wand traced the outline of shapes in a darkened room. In the second film computer generated graphics animated a diagram of the Docklands light railway.)

He has now entered computer graphics, therefore using both his intelligence and his visual expertise. The production of commercial work can be an incomplete experience. There is always a need to extend oneself through experiment. Eventually video screens will be larger and perhaps then people will require more sensory information rather than commercial persuasion. Obviously individuals have different priorities of interest. Some rely more on feeling, some rely more on their powers of reason, their thinking.

A good learning situation in education will not differentiate – will relate both feeling and thinking as one. The film Drawing with Light is an example of a person starting out with film, with light, who felt and thought together. The relationship of feeling to thinking should be established in education. At school the priority is on thinking based on Grecian philosophy. Feeling is not on the curriculum. You cannot mark people in feeling. You cannot say to young children “Go out and smell a rose and when you come back we will mark you out of ten.” How can you do that? We present messages to each other by all sorts of methods, but we can not get over the competitive nature of our initial schooling, where everybody is graded and rarely encouraged to exercise their senses. Unfortunately this exclusion may account for much of the emotional frustration in our society today, certain expressions of which, the materialistic world we live in seem only too pleased to exploit.

Now to the storyboard syndrome. As I said, I use this as a symbol because by storyboard I simply mean team and collective communication. With a team of people we have a system of communication so each person can play their part. In education the young who go to an art school have been released, be it momentarily, from the tedium of passing grades and competitive certificates. They perceive the sketchbook as a vehicle of insight into personal and self communication. As a teacher I used to enjoy the students sketchbooks, because they often stock them out as personal diaries. “I hate, I love… “ but eventually they proceed into personal, philosophical observations of the world they exist in, so a sketchbook as a symbol is very important to all human beings.

When a film is made by a team you cannot work without a plan, a storyboard. Today, if you build a house, you have to have a plan and planning permission by committee. Man used to be able to build his house anywhere, intuitively, through his own feeling. But now we are governed by certain rules we cannot do this. Obviously individuals have different priorities and interests. That is what an individual is. Some rely on their intuition, their feeling. Some rely on reason. It depends what kind of acceptance you have had at school. A good learning situation will try to relate both these qualities. Quite naturally in visual education the primary accent is on the individual’s development. In college this can be a high priority but at the same time one has to be mindful of the different specialities of collective productions.

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Printed in Animator Issue 25 (Summer 1989)