What’s So Special? It’s an Artefact!
by Richard Haynes
Cosgrove Hall’s stop motion adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows has had an enormous impact in connecting my childhood to career. My earliest memory is a bright yellow caravan that featured in a sequence from the 1983 feature. Consequently, many years later, while working as an animator at Cosgrove Hall shortly before their untimely closure, I spotted the damaged caravan being drawn out of storage into the great unknown. A dedicated enthusiast, verging on obsessive, I made it my mission to track it down, which ultimately led me to its creator, Frank Hardie, who was in the process of restoring it for posterity. Emotionally invested in this impressive model, I offered to help Frank, a man in his 80s, to complete the work and now, as a result, it proudly stands in my own living room, restored to its former glory.
This is an abridged telling of fortunate events that have unfolded; from the child-me enjoying this object come to life on video, to being able to display it at home, some thirty years later. It has been a journey of ups and downs for this caravan, and in one way my essay film aspires to telling that story as if it were a character itself, along with its creator. With reference to the twelve stages of narrative as outlined by Christopher Vogler in his book, The Writer’s Journey, one aim is to test this theory by applying it to a story drawn from life, surrounding an object’s journey, rather than a character in the traditional sense. I am testing my audience; is the caravan as a ‘hero’ engaging and, ultimately, can I evoke empathy through an emotional telling of the caravan’s ‘sorry’ state during storage (‘Approach to the In-Most Cave’), before returning with a happy ending (‘Resurrection’)? Through the study of montage and leitmotif, and techniques employed in films such as Man With a Movie Camera by Dziga Vertov, I aim to produce a mixed media piece that communicates, through a variety of collected material, drawings, animation and newly filmed footage, this personal story of success. Since I am essentially a traditional puppet-based animator, this will be a creative challenge.
The other overarching theme I am exploring in both the essay and film is nostalgia. I have always been intrigued by my own nostalgic nature, and in order to uncover exactly what it means to be nostalgic I am studying Yearning for Yesterday by Fred Davis. It seeks to define being nostalgic as a common human ‘condition’ that can have both positive and negative effects on one’s life. Nostalgia has driven my career and become a way of life, and so I am extending my study into propaganda (Edward Bernays) and its controversial role in ‘bringing back a time that never really existed’, and simulacra (Jean Baudrillard), where I aim to dig deeply into what this object, an Edwardian gypsy caravan, actually represents. I suspect already that the affection I feel for it reaches beyond the idyllic world of The Wind in the Willows and towards something much more personal. I want to know, and in turn show my audience, just what is so special about what only is, after all, an artefact.
Myth & Meaning – leitmotivs (sounds – feelings)
The Writer’s Journey
Yearning for Yesterday (1979 book by Fred Davis)
Secrets of Oscar-Winning Animation (looking at Michaël Dudok de Wit)
Frame by Frame (for technique ideas for the essay film)
Mythologies (for ideas surrounding toys, wood etc.)