Visual Research Process and Assignments

My research process was not linear, and became progressively less linear as I worked through interconnected and interlinked questions, skills and ‘translations’.

!! what is visual research? issues and questions (forthcoming)

Creative Translation: Research Question Evolution

Why I selected this research question

I wanted to explicitly link my visual communications visual experimentation and research with my professional consultancy work on participatory visual methodologies for development agencies. Specifically to increase my ability to communicate the voices of participants from community workshops I have facilitated across contexts and to powerful people and the wider world beyond the immediate participants.

This is obviously a long term and multi-faceted process – particularly because my professional work covers a range of issues and I work in a wide range of visual media where I am keen to improve my skills.

Changes in research focus

My initial ideas covered a range of outcomes and media including infographics, logos, cartoons as well as animation, but with a focus on strategies for textless communication across language and social barriers.

I decided to focus on animation because incorporating a time element into the community drawings provides the most engaging way of clarification of the messages that people from different audiences might want to look at. It is also part of an interest in developing my animation practice more widely as health issues are forcing a professional transition from overseas work in communities to communication of more global social, economic and political issues from UK.

The specific questions and focus evolved over different assignments as the research developed through conceptual frameworks to analysis of the community drawings, background inspiration and my own visual experimentation.

The main anchor point guiding the focus of my ‘bricolage’ process from Assignment 2 were:

  • the community drawings and photographs and their strengths and limitations in communicating empowerment concepts and stories for a wider audience.
  • effective textless and wordless animation that could visually communicate across language and education barriers to different audiences.
  • establishment of a manageable animation workflow for an independent animator, including consideration of my own RSI and strengths and challenges of different devices and software.

These are still very broad questions that in Assignment 3 I focused down further to:

  • specific sets of community drawings from participatory processes in Uganda, India and Pakistan as sets of line drawings and photographs that were generally strong in their visual communication across a range of drawing styles and where I had enough background information to supplement the community visuals to produce convincing narratives.
  • focusing my selection and analysis of inspiration sources on ways of addressing the visual, animation and narrative challenges I was facing in my own creative translation experimentation of the line drawings and photos.

Between Assignments 3 and 4 a number of things happened:
– the COVID-19 pandemic that put all my consultancy work on hold from March to August 2020. This included work on leadership that I had initially considered including.
– I signed up for a number of on-line animation courses because I had become frustrated by the limitations, and also RSI impacts, of working solely on an iPad. I decided that if I really wanted to understand animation to give me the flexibility of creativity, I would need to develop a more diverse software workflow. So I could focus the research back on issues of translation without getting continually sidetracked by the practicalities of iPad animation.

So by Assignment 4, the final version of the research question continues the focus on 3 specific community datasets from Uganda, India and Pakistan but I work in the professional TVpaint software that enable me to not only produce frame-by-frame drawing animation, but also add camera and film effects to make the drawings more dramatic.

RESEARCH QUESTION: ASSIGNMENT 1 RESEARCH PLAN

Which design and story-telling principles used by animators and illustrators creating textless narratives are most important in converting farmer drawings and photos into powerful representations of farmer voices on empowerment and leadership in development?

RESEARCH QUESTION: ASSIGNMENT 2 TRANSLATION BRICOLAGE

What does empowerment look like? how can the principles of visual dynamics and narrative design improve ‘translations’ of community voices into persuasive wordfree visuals for advocacy?

SUBQUESTIONS

  • How can tensions between ‘abusive fidelity’ and ‘professionalised distortion’ be addressed in different digitisation processes ?
  • How do the different media available for participatory workshops affect the types of meanings communicated and how they can be digitised? drawing media: pens/pencils, markers and paper in different colours etc, photography, collage?
  • Which wordless narrative design principles and techniques used by illustrators and animators can enhance visual communication for advocacy in a way that maintains community meanings and styles?
  • When is clarity empowering? When is flexibility/ambiguity better in ‘freeing, transforming and multiplying’? Is text necessary? If so for what, when and how?
  • Are ‘global translations’ possible? Or is there a need for a series of contextualised tailored translations for different audiences and cultures?

RESEARCH QUESTION: ASSIGNMENT 3 LINES TALKING

Is it possible to ‘translate’ community voices on empowerment and gender inequalities into short, textless animations for training and advocacy using sketches/photos and an iPad or tablet?

SUBQUESTIONS

What visual communication strategies do women and men in different communities use in drawings and role plays on empowerment and gender inequality?

Which textless visual and narrative principles used by animators from different cultures are most effective in terms of clarifying messages and/or provoking questions?

How far can these techniques be adapted using sketches/photos and an iPad or tablet? What techniques can be used to reduce time and effort in drawing and animation?

What are the limitations of visual communication where text are needed? What are the limitations of animation on an iPad where more powerful software might be needed?

RESEARCH QUESTION: ASSIGNMENT 4 TRANSFORMING TALES

Which design, animation and story-telling principles used by illustrators, animators and film-makers creating textless narratives are most important in translating community drawings and photos on empowerment and gender inequalities into short, textless animations for a wider audience?

SUBQUESTIONS

Based on visual experimentation to creatively translate drawings and photographs from participatory workshops in Uganda, India and Pakistan:

What visual strategies do women and men in different communities and cultures use in communicating empowerment and gender inequality?

Which textless visual, animation and narrative principles used by animators and film-makers from different cultures are most effective in terms of clarifying messages and/or provoking questions?

How far can these techniques be manageably adapted by independent animators to creatively translate community line drawings and photos into narratives for training and advocacy? What techniques can be used to reduce time and effort in drawing and animation?

What are the limitations of visual communication where text is needed?

How do the answers to the above differ depending on the audience?

2: ‘Creative translation’ : Developing the Framework

Empowerment and development are highly contested concepts, requiring participation and negotiation of diverse interests and conflicting power positions. 

I propose a ‘bricolage’ approach to theory and methodology that enables multiple ‘creative translations’ of community voices to provoke questioning and change in different audiences. See:

Assignment 2: Theoretical and Methodological Frameworks.

Thinking About Translating Images: Notes

Creative Process (forthcoming linked to work for VCAP)

The frameworks and readings in Assignment 2 were revisited, leading to further thinking, reading and refinement at each of the subsequent stages and brought together in Assignment 5, drawing out the wider implications for participatory creative translation processes.

3: Lines Talking: Animation Principles

My visual research starts by developing a ‘bricolage repertoire’ of ideas and inspiration for ‘the possible’ in my own creative translation: See:

Community Voices

What are community voices saying? visual and semiotic analysis of drawings from Uganda, India and Pakistan. Excluded DRCCongo to Uganda context. Not Leadership.

Animation story ideas.

Animation approaches styles and techniques

used by animators working in simplified styles without text in different cultural contexts.

Lines Talking: animation experiments

visual experimentation with different styles and simple animation techniques on the iPad based on selected community drawings and photos.

Got frustrated ….Went back to the drawing board with sketches from Disney drawing courses as a result of animation courses. Before moving on to 4.

4:
Transforming Tales
Visual Storytelling

I review and consolidate the research on animation approaches and principles, applying these strategies and skills to produce a set of alternative short animated wordless ‘creative translations’ from community drawings and other contextual resources that could visually communicate across language and education barriers.

Visual narrative strategies

look visual narrative strategies developed by animators, and also film-makers, from different cultures who have produced powerful textless stories.focusing my selection and analysis of inspiration sources on ways of addressing the visual, animation and narrative challenges I was facing in my own creative translation experimentation of the line drawings and photos.

Grammar of the shot

Contemporary: digital and handdrawn

Japanese Frame by Frame

European: Czech, Estonia, Russia stop motion

Iranian feminist filmmakers

Animation software skills

establishment of a manageable animation workflow for an independent animator, including consideration of my own RSI and strengths and challenges of different devices and software.develop my own professional animation skills using pc software.

Animation Software: iPad, Animate, TVPaint, After Effects

Camera and visual effects.

taking time to look at what other animators could produce using different software, before doing my own experimentation and being pro-active in seeking on-line training to speed my learning process. But being very much guided by the types of stylistic effects I was aiming for from the line drawings and photos, and within the limits of my RSI.

Creative translations

I apply these strategies and skills to produce a set of alternative short animated wordless ‘creative translations’ from community drawings and other contextual resources. See:

5:
Participatory Visual Communication

(forthcoming September 2020)

The final part summarises my research and conclusions and suggests:

  • a checklist of questions and prompts for future ‘participatory creative translation’ work that can help other designers aiming to ethically represent voices from the community in advocacy processes.

This includes:

  • my conclusions on audience and potential limitations of visual communication where text might be needed for training and advocacy with powerful stakeholders
  • technical conclusions on animation software and workflow.

See: Assignment 5: Finalising your submission