Patrick Tresset’s ‘Machine Studies’

I recently had a fascinating evening with Maryclare Foa getting our portraits drawn by Patrick Tresset‘s robots at Platform Southwark, part of the Merge Festival.

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A camera looks at you then down at the drawing.

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The programming is based on Patrick Tresset’s own left-handed drawing style. Interesting to see the variations. The angle of the pen makes a difference, so do light levels. The lines are gestural because of being drawn by robot arms. The signatures are taken from a random, unintended mark that one of his robots once made.

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Me and Maryclare Foa drawn by the same robot. We both look very suspicious!

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Maryclare Foa confronts the robot and draws it back!

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In the installation upstairs, Human Study #4, there is a classroom of performing robots. A camera at the front desk seems to communicate to the robot arms at the desks in morse code.

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The robot arms mark time along with the instructions on the video blackboard.

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Finally, all but two start scribbling over their previous marks. The sound of the servo motors and the bleeps of morse code sound incredible. The whole set up brought back uncanny memories of my primary school.

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On Shadowgraphy and Shadow Puppets

In the first week of MA Character Animation one of the activities that we do is a workshop on Shadow Puppets. Further to the work of historic and contemporary artists that I showed my students in class, I am posting some more clips for them here. The workshop is an opportunity to talk about the ancient puppetry techniques that have contributed to contemporary animation as well as to work in teams to create work that is spontaneous, immediate and relies on strong silhouettes. I enjoy the traces of artifice that result from having to work rapidly to produce something in one day – reflections of the room on the screen, the glimpses of hands and wires.

Although we look at examples of creating caricatures with bare hands from the Victorian music hall, usually my students don’t take up the suggestion to incorporate their own bodies in the shadow worlds they create. Hand shadowgraphy seems to be particularly well developed in India, for example this promotional video for tourism in Kolkata, Let Calcutta Surprise You:

In their live show, Shadowland, dance company, Gruppe Pilobuscombine the physical presence of the live body with objects to create dynamic shadow plays .

For more information check out the website of Gruppe Pilobus.

Here is the full version of Miwa Matrayek’s Dreaming of Lucid Living, in which Matrayek’s backprojected shadow is combined with black and white animation in a live performance.

Spring Heeled Jane, a recent film from Richard Mansfield’s Mucky Puppets in 2012, used a filmed version of shadow puppets.

Spring-Heeled Jane 2015 from Mansfield Dark on Vimeo.

I have previously posted clips of Ben Hibon’s work (see here). In his animation for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, you can see the influence of shadow puppet aesthetics to inform computer generated animation. Another short film in this vein is The Mysterious Explorations of Jasper Morello directed in Australia by Anthony Lucas in 2005 and nominated for an Oscar.

It reminds me of the work of Tim Noble and Sue Webster, who create sculptures which are all about the shadows. More about their work here on their website.


Tim Noble / Sue Webster, Wild Mood Swings, 2009-10


Tim Noble / Sue Webster, Kiss of Death, 2003

Jim Walker sent me a great example of a live sword dance performer combined with shadow images – Taichi Saotome in a Special New Year Performance of Dragon and Peony from the Galaxy Theatre, Tokyo in 2011.