My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece
— Claude Monet
The greatest fine art of the future will be the making of a comfortable living from a small piece of land.
— Abraham Lincoln
“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.”
― Henry David Thoreau
“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.”
― Audrey Hepburn
Growing a Pigment Garden: Explorations in Horticulture, Craft & Animation for Sustainability (Independent Study)
Supervised by Philippe Blanchard
1. A concise description of your Independent Study (minimum 250 words).
This independent study, stretched out over the course of 4 months in the spring
semester, will be an investigation into the ways in which one can use natural materials
to create animated documentary content that reflects on issues of sustainability. It is
my intention to spend the course of my research project growing, cultivating and
harvesting an organic garden of herbs, flowers, roots and vegetables traditionally used
in the creation of natural dyes and inks.
In addition to cultivating these plants and investigating the history of their traditional
usage, I will also be producing my own dyes for the creation of textiles for stop-motion
puppets, and my own natural inks to be used as hand drawn animation medium.
I will document the process of their growth through time-lapse photography and film, as
well as by keeping a daily journal outlining the progress of the garden as it develops
and my discoveries along the way – both through practical and academic research.
Providing I receive approval from the ethics board, I also plan on conducting interviews
with local farmers and those who have greater experience than I in botany with regards
to more traditional methods of growing – which may not be outlined in academic texts
on the anthropology of traditional agriculture.
Finally, I will begin animated experiments into how these natural materials can be used
as source media and mediums in my artistic practice of animation. These experiments
will be inclusive of techniques spanning from the under-camera animation of raw
materials, to the construction of puppets, and drawing in more traditional animation
What will emerge will be a materials study in the ways in which I can continue to
develop my thesis work in physical materials that reflect the thematic content of the
animated artwork I create.
2. Research objectives, methodologies, and expected outcomes.
It is my objective to use the summer months to grow and experiment with materials
which I will continue to use throughout my graduate thesis work. As we are based in
Canada, in zone 5 of agricultural hardiness it is important to take advantage of these
summer months, as growing plants on a large scale is expensive and impractical
throughout the winter.
I will continue to experiment with low impact organic no-pesticide no –till permaculture
growing techniques, which prevent soil erosion, and feed the ground rather than mining
The objective is also to create a garden that is beautiful, and photographable, that is as
much installation art as it is functional space.
I intend to use this research study to learn more about and practice the use of these
plants as inks and dyes for natural (and whenever possible locally sourced) fibres such
as wool, hemp and cotton, which will eventually be used in the creation of stop motion
puppets and as a palette for hand drawn animation.
The methodologies employed in this independent study will be diverse, stretching from
horticulture, botany and gardening as experimental research practice, to material
making and craft as practice, in addition to more traditional academic reading.
Additional methods will include animation as investigation into the temporality of plant
growth, and photography as tool for capturing that which is invisible to the human eye.
I am interested in the differences in scale that are visible when a growing system is
sped up or slowed down, and the ways in which animation can be used to explore that
At the end of this study I expect to have generated materials, with which to continue
into my directed studio practice in the fall, as well as learned experience about how to
work with these materials. The raw footage and time lapse I generate will also serve as
a media archive on which I will be able to draw through the next year of my study, and
the artistic experiments I conduct will unquestionably have an influence on the
trajectory of my film work moving forward. Animation is an inherently time consuming
media, especially when one is working frame by frame. By taking an extended time in
the summer months to experiment I will be able to move forward in the coming
semester with a clear idea of what already works, and how I can use those techniques
to better communicate thematic concerns in my work.
“Lara walked along the tracks following a path worn by pilgrims and then turned into the fields. Here she stopped and, closing her eyes, took a deep breath of the flower-scented air of the broad expanse around her. It was dearer to her than her kin, better than a lover, wiser than a book. For a moment she rediscovered the purpose of her life. She was here on earth to grasp the meaning of its wild enchantment and to call each thing by its right name, or, if this were not within her power, to give birth out of love for life to successors who would do it in her place.”
― Boris Pasternak
Project / Phase II: Second Iteration (What Was Completed)
Over the course of the second phase of production I moved from the preliminary storyboards
into the very start of production work. This phase included a lot of digital editing, and a lot of
drawing, even more planning in some ways than drawing.
The completion of Project 2 included the following pre-production & production work:
– Scanning of all Storyboards
– Cutting storyboards into individual frames
– Development of Preliminary Animatic
– After effects demo camera moves for animatic
– Recording of Scratch Track for voice
– Preliminary ambient sound design
– Drawing of all layout frames for film (approx 50 unique drawings)
Reflection on Work to Date
While I did not get as far as I would have liked to, realistically I presented more work than I would have been able to if my final P2 presentation had not been delayed due to illness, and then a field trip.
I am pleased with the amount of work I was able to present, and with the feedback I received (generally encouraging), though do have some concerns moving forward considering how much work I have already shown, and upcoming deadlines for the next iteration of the project.
This will be the first animation I have completed where I first mapped out each shot completely before even beginning to animate. That is not to say that work will not continue to change and evolve – and maybe I will never work this way again, but it did seem to be a more measured way of controlling the whole film at once. Historically I have worked by doing layout drawings for one shot, and then animating it before moving onto the next. By working chronologically through the process I found that more than any film I have drawn before I was thinking holistically about the project – rather than scene-by-scene as they sit next to each other, or simply one scene at a time.
We have arrived at P2 – the end of preproduction and the beginning of production! I’m really excited to start moving on animating some of this work, and the first step will be to see how I can time it out, and what the arc of the story will look like when it moves from graphic or illustrative to a time based form. My first steps will be to scan the completed storyboards, and to edit them into individual frames that will accompany a voice over recording in a movie timeline. In a certain sense, I believe an animated film is made in the animatic. Unlike more traditional moves of cinematic creation, animators do not often have the luxury of making their narrative in the editing room, as cutting painstakingly animated sequences, while sometimes necessary, is an expensive and potentially wasteful way of working. Film and narrative is all about timing, so I will begin my second project’s course of study by finalizing the timing of the film before anything is animated.
During this time, I will also be reading over the generous list provided by Michelle with regards to storytelling, participatory design, reality and narrative. I’m sure that these works will provide inspiration moving forward, especially as I hone the arc and timing of this (very) short film.
Project / Phase I: First Iteration (What Was Completed)
Over the course of the past couple for weeks (both before and after presenting the in-process storyboards to my professors and classmates) I have been at work developing the concept art, initial script and storyboard for an animated short film, to be completed throughout this semester of interdisciplinary directed study. The completion of Project 1 included the following pre-production work:
Colour Play & Character Design
Storyboard – Writing, Sketching
Ink Research & Making
Inking of Boards
Reflection on Work to Date
IDEAS & ISSUES
I am happy with the way the boards are looking – though I can’t shake the feeling that perhaps some of the images I am looking to animate are too literally illustrating the text. This is something I will have to be aware of as I move into scanning the images and creating an animatic, as I find that the process of establishing timing of shots can sometimes reveal things that seem to work in a more graphic (storyboard/comic) form.
I do wonder if perhaps the plan I have for animation is not enough of a departure from my previous work – but on the other hand, I have only made one hand drawn film in a similar style – and never using materials I created myself. I think I should keep in mind that I want this film to look fresh, and I should continue asking myself how am I challenging myself with technique (rather than just materials)?
Thematically there is that same old self-doubt – Is my story too personal, too cliché of a coming of age? I wonder if the intended environmental commentary is visible through the nostalgic narrative – and where the line between subtlety and hitting an audience over the head falls. Maybe this depends on the intended audience.
SURPRISES / DELIGHTS / CHALLENGES…
when I was a very little girl
my sister and I
used to play
among the lake rocks
in front of our cottage.
big waves and slimy algae
among the reeds
that’s years ago now
we no longer wear
or float on pieces of foam
we used to pick
the long weeds
from the water
one could swim easier
and besides —
they were scummy
the dragonflies would jump
plant to plant
to each other’s tails
we would pull them —
year after year
summer after summer
from the bay
in great piles
braid them together
and wear them as headdresses
or impermanent jewels
but that’s years ago now
the bay is clear.
too shallow for swimming.
and those dragonflies
those blue blue
P1: Project Proposal
Directed Interdisciplinary Study
Submitted to Michelle Gay & Andrea Fatona
Please excuse the mess on the artwork, my dog ripped my sketchbook to shreds.
Proposed Course of Study / Creation
Over the course of the semester I will create a short animated film, utilizing the three projects as iterations in its development. Lessons will be a poetic documentary animation in the form of an allegory about growing up and the impact our actions have on our environment and the planet. The visuals of this film will accompany a piece of spoken poetry, at times illustrating the text, and at others presenting poignant juxtapositions that infuses the narrative with additional meaning.
The poem, composed several years ago, is a meditation on summers spent at the family cottage in Northern Ontario, on pulling reeds from the bay to clear the water for swimming, and my observation of the subsequent environment loss for insects in the area. It is a nostalgic and personal story meant to evoke questions of our larger narrative of destroying ecosystems, and the things we lose in the process.
It is my goal to use this larger project to experiment with more sustainable animation supplies and techniques – opting to create my own inks out of ethically harvested plants and berries that are naturally occurring on our property. While I know that the very nature of digital filmmaking is problematic in that I do not have the ability to make my own computers or cameras, or guarantee what happened to them along the way, I can choose to use ethically sourced papers and inks, and to begin the conversation about where our supplies come from in a visual form.
Production of the Animated Short (Overview)
The production of this animated film be spread out across the three iterations roughly into the following timeline:
P1: FIRST ITERATION (Script, Storyboards, Preliminary Design Frames),
P2: SECOND ITERATION (Animatic, Rough Sound & Animation, Proof of Concept Sample),
P3: FINAL PRESENTATION (Finished Animated Film)
Assuming the final animation will be approximately a minute and a half in length. I plan on working with ink on paper, and at 12fps (frames pre second) I expect that the final version will require up to 1080 unique drawings.
The film will be storyboarded, designed, animated and inked on paper, and photographed using a copy stand and DSLR camera into Dragonframe Stop Motion software. Sound and any music will be designed, recorded and editing using ProTools, and the film will be assembles in Adobe Premiere. Compositing, if any, will be done in After Effects or TVPaint Animation.
P1 in Detail
Over the course of the next two weeks I will be exploring the research, development and design phase of making this animated short. This will include editing and rewriting the poem as a script for narration, creating exploratory design sketches, and experimenting with potential looks for the animated style. The main aspect of the first project will be the creation of a storyboard for the film – detailing the movement in each shot and transition in the film.
I will be working in a large sketchbook, if that is acceptable, as I prefer to keep all relevant design drawings in one place, and with animation they tend to add up. (I consider it the “bible of the film,’ or at least a record of its genesis.)
I want to really explore the themes in the poem visually, looking at ways in which I can take this simple remembrance of childhood and extract the more universally relevant aspects of the text.
What is it that makes us feel nostalgic for the way things were? What happens when we look at happy memories with mixed emotions? What do we do when our actions change something forever? What are the moments in life that define us most? How and when do we learn these lessons? And how best to interpret these moments visually?
I am also wondering if by accessing a piece of writing on nostalgia that was written years ago if the additional distance will allow me to further distill something that seemed so important to remember.
The poem goes as follows:
An audiovisual exploration into the history of Agriculture in Animation & Popular Media for an assignment in my Issues in Critical Theory course.
“The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.”
― Masanobu Fukuoka,
Interdisciplinary Masters in Art, Media & Design at OCAD University
Graduate Studies Research Proposal:
MFA in Animation & Sustainable Agriculture
“Still there are seeds to be gathered, and room in the bag of stars.”
– Ursula K. Leguin
My background is in directing animated films, and my passion is for biodiversity, sustainable agriculture & permaculture. For the first time in human history we have before us an entire generation that understands that eating is an ethical act. Many of us long to return to our roots and learn about ancestral practices, about what the plants that surround us are named, and where our food comes from.
In May my partner and I are moving out to my family’s farm in Roseneath, Ontario. Roseneath is located in Northumberland County, a little over an hour from Toronto, just down the road from the Anishinaabe Mississauga Reserve at Alderville. We intend to set up an organic farm as well as an independent production studio, where we will grow, process and distribute sustainably created goods & media. Eventually the goal is to be entirely off the grid – creating a space that is not only self-sustaining but which can also serve as a model for how artists and creative entrepreneurs can take measurable steps to reduce their ecological footprint, and live in greater harmony with the planet.
I am proposing a course of study in which I will explore the nature of this ecological experiment through the animated image. I am interested not only in recording the act of establishing this space, but also in the various lenses with which one can regard such an experiment. I am excited about the ways in which permaculture can be employed as a tool of regenerative design on land which has previously been cultivated as monocrop. I look forward to exploring both developing technologies and anecdotal wisdom to create the most beautiful and ecologically efficient growing conditions.
Some examples of investigations I will pursue include:
– Creating materials with which to animate, and working with natural resources.
(For example constructing sets of found materials, and puppets from wool from the neighbours’ sheep. Or bringing plants to life under the camera in a dance.)
– Utilizing time-lapse photography to capture progress, the change of seasons, our crops growing.
– An animated journal and comic log recreating key moments.
– Attaching a Go-Pro to a drone and filming cinematic shots of the landscape from above.
– Interviewing various members of the community about their agricultural practices, the history of the space, their relationship to the land.
– Rotoscoping live action film to play with the advantages when using animation to abstract the real, rendering it more universal.
My aim is to gather these varied materials and to assemble them into an animated documentary film, a powerful means of creating dialogue around social and political issues. Animated documentaries are inherently performative and self-reflexive, and make the hand of the artist much more visible than in other modes of documentary filmmaking.
I am interested in art’s ability to sway minds and inspire change. I am pursuing my graduate studies part-time, as it will allow me to gather materials over the course of several years. This is a project worth exploring, and with your support I would be honored to do that research at OCAD.