Saturday, April 15, 2006

Layers of Meaning

Jeffery at Ubatuber Productions ( asked a great question: "How much has the story changed for you over the years, in your mind or on paper?"

The answer in this bizarre case of a story emerging over such a lengthy period is that it came out of me and my psyche deeply all at once but it gathered context and detail as time went on. It's become a multi-leveled exercise in an art form I dearly love, stop motion, and a genre I most respond to, the folktale, along with idiosyncratic purposes on the way.

Halfland was all "there" in one go when I was given the chance to create the project, in a way. What I mean by that is that when they said to the craftspersons; "ok, now you can use this space to work on your own project." Halfland burst out of my mind's eye because I had just been immersed in the single most creatively stimulating environment of my life. I had just somehow managed (through begging and coercion) to spend several months working building props and literally giant theatrical puppets for THE most rapturously gorgeous production I could ever imagine could exist. It was Julie Taymor and Micheal Curry's Oedipus Rex for the 1992 Saito Kinen Festival in Japan ( Pure Genius. (Ask me about why sometime.)

I'm certain that this, my initial exposure to Ms. Taymor's immense creative vision, and technical director Micheal Curry's creativity with mechanisms and castings, affected my own sense of what could be done with art. Inspired and influenced by her earthy, beautiful, meaningful theater production direction, I first imagined a plain mermaid coming to life through puppetry on a real beach. I saw her turn to the camera and exhale a kind of "tone" that transported the viewer to her realms. I saw an old heavyset goat woman preparing food in a wonderful rustic cottage in a forest, I saw a lithe young male hunter with moth wings laughing, I saw a dark wounded crow woman who represented all the negative feelings I'd known. Each character being partly human, partly animal. It was only about 9 years later that I considered that the characters could in fact be aspects of my own psyche. The project then became a kind of healing art that was somehow working on sub and unconscious symbols in me, that what was continuing to compel me to work on it was beyond it being a pleasing folktale film.

I never had a finalized narrative for Halfland all these years until I wrote one in this journal. I just had moments of life in Halfland, vignettes of little beings and actions. The story elements were built through many years of ideas and characters popping up in my life and mind that "fit" Halfland. I would get very enthused inside and write down dozens of new Halfland ideas on scraps of paper until I had these 13 supporting cast of background characters to the main four. Why these beings? Why these 13 little symbolic moments? Why such a simple unimaginative name for it like Halfland? I never understood consciously but I knew what was a part of it when I saw it.

Maybe you have this happen to you as well. Maybe you're out in the world living and you see, or think you see, something that isn't what you thought, but it's intriguing. For example, I once caught glimpse of something dangling down from a woman's ear that looked to me to be a spider suspended on a thread of web. I looked again more closely to see that it was only a normal earring but that was enough for me to have the Decorative Spider idea and figure out where it might fit in the 1/2 Land scheme and to apply it to one of the characters--Boom, Rana will walk through a web on door frame and her movement through it causes her spider and other insect jewelry to be layered onto her. This same process happened for each item; the Time Frog, the Snoring Cat, Birds in Hats, etc. Each idea has it's own meaning and story behind it. Often too, the Halfland items can be puns that tickle my mind, like the Knitting Beetles (instead of Knitting needles, they're beetles that actually knit, that sort of thing.) No real purpose per se but these are part of this film and there's no wavering about that.

I'm in the "making it real" stages which seems to be bringing yet another 1,000 layers of, this time technical, detail to getting this done. I don't think I would want to go through the work involved in bringing a story to life without it holding some highly significant substance for me personally.


  1. This post is one of the most inspiring things I've ever read! I'm so glad to know you Shelley, and to be here, able to see Halfland emerging dripping and shaky-legged from your unconscious. I'll paste in a quote from Jean Setheaux, who you remember contacted me in the early days of my own blog - this is from his Notes From the Underground:

    So much work done today boils down to technical "tricks," or technological prowess. So few of the works we see in animation today stem from one's inner core, and seldom find/manifest (as in "make visible") one's 'little music'."

  2. Sorry, that should say Jean Detheaux

  3. Wow, that's it precisely, Darkstrider. Thank you for that, both the true analogy of Halfland as newborn colt and the quote by Detheaux. If I ever heard that quote from your early blog, I'd forgotten it completely, at least consciously.


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