How to make polite conversation

What do you say to people to pass the time of day? Do you talk about the weather? Do you ask them how they are?

Maybe you have an animated character that you have created for another project to recycle for this one?

Here are some examples of the kinds of random phrases that I have pulled out of language text books and am making my character say:

  • “I steal a few hours now and then for a good book. What do you like to do to enjoy yourself?”
  • “Seeing is believing. If your eyes are bad, you ought to have them seen to.”
  • “Don’t scratch that spot – it’ll only get worse.”
  • “The small electric motors used in vacuum cleaners, hair driers, food mixers, electric drills and so on need very little maintenance.”

Here are some websites for inspiration with your dialogue that tell you how to make polite conversation:

About Chatter

‘Chatter’ is a crowd-sourced installation by media artist Birgitta Hosea. Featuring a number of animated talking heads that repeat short lines of meaningless conversation on a loop, the overall impression is of the babble of crowds, reminiscent of conversations on Facebook or Twitter. Incorporating animations by herself and contributions from artists and animators from all over the world, the project continues to evolve and grow into different versions.

The project grew out of Birgitta’s artist-in residency in the Division of Animation and Digital Arts, University of Southern California, where she asked staff and students of both USC and Central Saint Martins to create animations for her project. The first version of the installation took  place in the USC Cinematic Arts Gallery, Los Angeles, USA from 28th October to 5th November 2010.

To date, the following artists have contributed work to the project: Isak Åkerlund | Daniel Arce | Javier Barboza | Maliha Basak | Adriani Bastouni | Laura Cechanowicz | Lisa Chung | Chris Colman  | Cecilia De Jesus | Silvia Villar Espina | Seti Erfan | Pru Feria | FF | Safiya Greensword | Birgitta Hosea | Chen Huang | Mark Jackson | Daisy Jacobs | Miguel Jiron | Ashley Jones | Gregory Jones | Patrick Jones | Linda Jules | Amy Lee Ketchum | Brandon Lake | Hannah Lau-Walker | Karl Lawson | Yang Liu | (Emily) Chunhui Meng | Prakash Mohanty | Stefano Morandin | Louis Morton | Ourania Mourta | Rodrigo Ortiz | Eric Tortora Pato | Ignasi Pi-Sunyer | Stephan Pretorius | Silvia Sardellaro | Emma Shorey | Tom Sito | Frankie Swan | Natasha Tonkin | Jovanna Rebecca Tosello | Sam Watterson  | Josh Wedlake | Christopher Wilder | Dan Wilson | (Michelle) Hsiu-chi Yang | Krisztina Zaja | Ying Zhang

Submission requirements (updated) and deadline

Animation students from USC and Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design are invited to contribute a short piece of animation featuring an animated talking head to the Chatter installation. This doesn’t have to be created especially for the project. It could be recycled from previous work that you have done.

Record yourself or a friend making polite conversation. What things do you say when you talk to other people that you don’t really mean?  What do you learn to say to other people when you first learn to speak a language? Choose a short section – a line of no more than 10 seconds. This does not have to be in English. (NB. This is for public presentation so nothing offensive will be considered).

  • Create a character of your own design to speak this line. The character should be shown as head and shoulders only.
  • You only need to create one character. When the characters are displayed together they will appear to be talking to each other.
  • The character design is your choice, but it should be a human type of character not an animal or an alien.
  • The background of the animation should be a plain colour. It could be white, black or a colour of your choice, but there should be nothing in the background, including no pattern or texture.
  • Please end the piece with a few seconds during which the character appears to be listening. So the character could be nodding slightly or just blinking.
  • The medium can be traditional hand drawn, rotoscoped or digital. If using Maya, please export with a flat cartoon render. No video will be accepted.
  • Finished files should be QuickTime movies created with Animation codec at NTSC 4:3 resolution [720×480 with a frame rate of 29.97].

Deadline for finished animations: Monday 18th October 2010

Submit files to Birgitta Hosea <>

Inspirations: Eugène Ionesco

The concept behind Chatter was originally inspired by the Bald Primadonna, a play first performed in France in 1950. This is also known as the Bald Soprano and the original French title is la Cantatrice Chauve.

This play was written by Ionesco while he was learning English and was inspired by the trite conversational phrases that he saw in language text books. It is considered to be part of the theatre of the absurd. The characters make meaningless conversation without communicating with each other in a world that does not make sense.