Visual Research: Process Review and Assignments

!! The aim here is to do analytical pdfs with proper analysis of each assignment as very accessible layout and content for assessors to skip through or read in detail as they decide. Pretty much the layout as here, with links to original assignment posts that are not in the head menu. But with finished pdfs and ‘Research Journey’ diagram showing how my process relates to Design Diamond and other design frameworks from the literature, showing the non-linear links and feedback reflection. I currently have a lot of diagrams in pencil in Sketchlog 1, and notes of reading of the course key texts about Visual Research. But need more time before committing to colour and/or Illustrator. A complication is also the lack of one to one correspondence after Assignment 2 between Assignment numbers and Blog pages because I was working in an interlinked parallel process on the inspiration research and my own animation experiments.

Zemni independent animation voice:
final review and analysis

This visual research project is driven by a professional transition to diversify my consultancy work for international development agencies from working directly at community level because hypersensitivity to air pollution now prevents me from travel abroad. My ‘unique selling point’ is my professional consultancy reputation and understanding of development concepts and global experience in many different contexts. Visual work from the UK can be usefully integrated into existing consultancy arrangements, not necessarily needing to stand on its own.

My initial research ideas in Assignment 1 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. There is a growing demand for on-line visual materials linked to my consultancy – significantly increased during the COVID-19 pandemic – to reach large numbers of people more rapidly and sustainably and reduce budgetary and environmental costs of travel. Although there are a growing number of professional animation studios in many countries, most development agency animations are done by technical people in urban areas in international languages with written text with limited connections at community levels. They do not have the depth of development experience needed to design animations for my work.

My research process was not linear, and became progressively less linear as I worked through interconnected and interlinked questions, research on other animators and my own skills development and ‘creative translation’ experiments (see diagram above).

I started with limited animation experience, intending to focus on ‘simple’ stick animation of line drawings in Adobe Animate. Focusing on drawings, photographs and video from participatory community workshops on strategies for empowerment, gender justice and livelihood development in Africa (Uganda, DRCongo) and Asia (India, Pakistan) these animations aim:

  • to be visually driven so that they can be globally understood without relying on text or spoken languages, and thereby needing translation into hundreds of local languages.
  • communicate not only the style but also the meaning of the original sources.
  • be interesting to a range of audiences – including people who cannot read and write as well as international audiences with high levels of formal education and access to global visual cultures.
  • workable for an independent animator like myself who does not have the support of a large design or animation team and/or budget. And importantly for me to be RSI-friendly.

Then 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.

As I increased my understanding of basic animation principles, my bricolage research on global contemporary animation pointed to possibilities of other moving image and documentary animation approaches:

  • rotoscoping,
  • Stop Motion: puppets, cut-outs and use of physical media like charcoal and coffee
  • integration of video and video effects.

Working with a range of approaches enabled me not only to reduce issues of RSI, but importantly to incorporate a wider range of community source material in developing my own contemporary creative style. More effectively combining ‘visual magic’ by the animator with ‘realities of life’ from community voices.

Cross-cutting all these approaches are principles of visual narrative, visual dynamics and – in the case of animation – Disney principles continue to be relevant. But experimenting across a range of approaches has helped me to understand these cross-cutting issues better than just focusing on 2D animation.

Development of my own ‘creative translation’ animation voice continues to be a very steep learning curve. Producing final combined professional animations is outside the timeframe of this research, and also my current skill level. I focus on developing a framework of ‘creative translation’ prompts and an experimental portfolio of alternative stylistic vignettes before arriving at draft animations for future community and client feedback post-COVID. Clarifying also what community inputs I might need to ask from colleagues on the ground in future, what further animation skills and research I myself might need and/or in what form I could hand over draft concept/narrative visuals for final development by other animators.

Synthesis of development and evolution of the research proposal in the light of changes since 2019.

Assignment 1 : Research Proposal

Original Assignment responses
as sent to my tutor

Assignment 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:

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.

Assignment 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.

Assignment 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:

Assignment 5