Meet Laura-Beth Cowley, a Bristol based creative working in the animation and research sector. Laura partnered with us on the BBC Arts Animated Thinking series – a collection of short films exploring the latest ideas from Arts and Humanities researchers around the UK.
We caught up with Laura to find out about her experience working on the project.
Tell us about your piece.
I worked on The Life and Times of a Witch Bottle, which was based on research by Professor Owen Davies , Dr Ceri Houlbrook (University of Hertfordshire) and Nigel Jeffries (MOLA). The film follows the journey of the bottle itself from its original creation and use as a vessel for transporting various fluids such as vinegar, cider and mercury to its final use as a witch bottle as a method of ‘counter magic’. I was aware of witches’ bottles and their use before the project, so was excited when I was told I’d be working on it.
Tell us about your creative animation process.
The style of the film was something I had wanted to try for a long time; collage often lends itself to more non-fiction content and so this felt like a perfect opportunity to try it out. The whole film is made in After Effects – having a background in stop-motion, I tend to use After Effects as it feels the most similar to moving objects under a camera in that you can build rigs and puppets and animate them frame by frame.
So, I would gather together materials from various sites, clean them up in Photoshop and manipulate them if needed and once the scene was signed off, I would bring it into After Effects and lay it out and make sure all the moving points were correct before timing the movements to the audio track. It was quite a straightforward process, although keeping the images as high quality as possible almost broke my little old computer when trying to render, but we got there in the end.
The sheer volume of images needed to create the 12 scenes was crazy. With modern collage it’s all about balance and so it was a mix of finding images that represented what was actually being discussed and additional images that were decorative and either framed or otherwise balanced the scene. As much as possible, I tried to make the decorative element have hidden symbolic meaning. Like the flowers in the fireplace scene, toadflax represents protection and breaking of hexes and birdsfoot trefoil (which is also one of my favourite flowers) is symbolic of revenge. Also, many of the items in the ground when the bottle gets buried at the end were objects that have also been found or placed around homes to ward off evil spirits.
What support did you get from Calling the Shots when making the films?
There are a lot of vintage etchings and drawings, as those are the gems in collage work that gives it the right look. So, finding ones that were available to use and would follow through multiple scenes and read as the same character, such as the Cunning Man, was tricky. Holly (Holly Churches, CTS Project Producer) and the folks at Calling the Shots were very good at making sure everything was clear for use and flagging up any potential issues. As well as supporting my nerdy desire to assign meaning to every element.
What did you enjoy most about the project?
I think the team did a really good job of assigning the various films to their makers. Having worked with Calling the Shots previously, they knew my fondness for all things witchcraft and folklore so it was a crazy exciting thing to be able to make a film for the BBC with the AHRC and get to work with Owen as he is a big deal in folklore circles, so it was like meeting celebrity for me. It’s always a pleasure working with Calling the Shots, they are very structured and will go the extra mile to help you get your vision across.
What did you take away from the experience?
A way of working that is time effective, new ways of documenting processes to help keep track of resources and belief in myself to pull a project together in a short turn around.
You can find out more about Laura at www.laura-bethcowley.co.uk
Follow her on Twitter: @lbcowley
Follow her on Instagram: @lbyellow
Watch this space for more animator interviews throughout January.