Whirly the Alpaca Zoetrope

Digital Blueprints in Context | bekky O’Neil | Interdisciplinary Masters in Art Media & Design

The Work

Through this project I set out to create a zoetrope, which is often referred to as a optical toy, or as I prefer, a philosophical toy. From the Greek meaning, literally, “Wheel of Life” the technology is said to have bee pioneered in the 1830s – but human creation of animated rotating devices dated back 5000 years,

Much as I have long been enamoured by the photographic works of Edward Muybridge, and the ways in which science and art merged therein to give us perspective o the world which we inhabit, I am interested in creating animated works that allow us to think about supply chains, and where our resources come from.

In my work towards my MFA thesis I am specifically using animated documentary to explore sustainable agriculture, and have been working to tell stories using materials found or produced on my farm or in my community.

Back in 2015 I started volunteering on a neighbour’s Alpaca farm, and in 2016 had the privilege / chore of being able to help during their annual shearing. Alpaca’s large coats, when sheared are referred to as blankets, and are graded with the lower numbers being the highest quality, and softest. As a fibre artist, Alpaca fluff is lovely but nearly impossible to felt, as I learned the hard way. The fine stuff is very expensive but the more coarse is less in demand, and many bags were given to me to experiment with. In 2016 I first constructed a stop motion puppet with a wire armature with Alpaca hair – but sadly I was not able to animated it as my very large Alaskan Malamute was pleased to find the most delicious toy ever. Literally my dog ate my homework.

So – when the goal of designing an item that merged traditional and digital fabrication techniques was presented, it occurred to me that maybe this would be the change to finally bring an alpaca to life. The name on the bag of roving was “Whirly” so I have named my object for the animal the fibre came from. I like that the performer is in a way made up off the thing that is represents. I like that it is unwashed sand smells like an alpaca. There is something so tactile and fantastic about the smell of the laser cut wood and the felt together, something that can’t really be conveyed in a digital document.

By combining digital animation and real world fabrication my work is hybrid inn another way, and actually hybrid in a way that goes against most of my past work – usually I animated on paper or in photographs with models and turn the animation, as a finished object, into a digital work. Here all the process work is digital but the outcome is analogue – it even sits atop a analogue object – a record player.

I am interested in the hand made and the aspects of digital fabrication that reduce waste, and also create something magical -something that can not be created with traditional fabrication techniques. This is definitely work I hope to continue to explore and develop, but I was glad for the push to be able to put it together.

The Dissemination Plan

My plan to disseminate this work is to finish the zoetrope, make a few others, finesse the plants so that all glitches are worked out and to make a film of the final work (potentially a series of zoetrope – sheep, ducks, cows) which during the credits will direct audiences to my website where they will bee able to find the plans to make their own zoetropes. Conceptual presentation will be first the first goal of presenting this animated work, and will be later followed by opportunity to recreate the performing objects at home.

I like that this method of dissemination presents the work as it is intended – in motion, rather than as just a set of plans, and that it will connect me as creator, and my intentions to the object. To me, this object divorced of intention is just a toy and it has value as a toy, but as a artist I sometimes struggle with open source, and the letting go of my work to have its own life beyond the creator.

I want the maker to think about where our materials come from, and why it matters.

I believe in using 1/8 baltic birch plywood which is lightweight and cost effective that the work would be easy to replicate, or at least emanate. I know not everyone will have access to the material I used. Some may wish to paint their zoetropes, or use commercial wool or sheep’s wool if they are also felters. In that case the laser cut object becomes a canvas which the maker can expand on. Each the same and yet completely unique.

I once listened to a podcast about the houses you could buy in the 20s from a Sears catalogue. Each would be built by hand by the purchase – like an Ikea catalogue for houses… but each would be unique as well, painted or customized to taste. Theirs to personalize. I like the idea of digital objects playing that role.

Ideally users would use my model as a point of departure to modify with their own 12 frame cycles, and create new zoetropes – maybe even ones I could remake and complete the loop.

Critical Analysis

How will the end user interact with the project, using their own tools perhaps located on a different continent?

One of my goals in designing the zoetrope was to be able to create an optical toy that was easy enough to construct that it could be replicated without the necessity of building a complicated rig. The use of a turn table to animate the work was a convenient solution, inspired by image research and the fact that it’s the one turning thing in my studio. Without a strobe in motion it looks like a blur, but it serves as a great rig for photographing it frame by frame.

What considerations must be made to ensure the accurate recreation of your product? Is that even possible?

As I mentioned above, any recreation of the object will be obscured by the change in materials, and so there is no accuracy only reproduction and interpretation – but I hope that makers will think critically about where they source their fibre – and maybe will even consider visiting a farm.

What critical component does digital fabrication address that could not be achieved with traditional fabrication methods?

Working on this scale would be next to impossible with traditional fabrication. I could have done it with paper cuts and exact knives, but ultimately that created fragile work that breaks easily. If I break a piece of the wood it can be glued, or if necessary, that element could be re cut from a new piece of wood.

What complex challenges arise when the designer is no longer in control of the design in question?

The question of ownership and intention are the large ones, and certainly worth considering… but at the end of the day whether we sign something original or duplicate someone else work, I think the goal of art making should be to expand the world. We can never control how our ideas or work will be interpreted, I believe that by putting joyful and positive things out there the possibility to inspire, as other work has inspired me, is too exciting to pass on. Brilliant work hidden at the back of a safe has no utility.

Process & Documentation

Design Challenge / Goals

I set out to create a zoetrope of alpacas made of alpaca wool and laser cut material.

Initial Research & Inspiration

Animation – from reference to line test to silhouette

Reference Material from The Animator’s Survival Guide by Richard Williams

I worked digitally animating in TVPaint animation software with a Wacom Intuos tablet.

The movement was a challenge, as a gallop requires all four legs to leave the ground – which would make the alpaca float and not work at all as a zoetrope. I had to cheat with my drawings to stretch the legs to touch the ground. Once I got the movement right I coloured in my drawings to show only a silhouette.

The I exported the animation as an image sequence, and laid out the frames one by one in a scaled Photoshop document.

Designing the Record – or spatial math

Working at scale in Photoshop I calculated the size of a record, and the record hole, and the necessary spacing for the frames.

Bitmap to Vector

I imported the Photoshop document into Illustrator and used image trace to create a vector image. I then converted the solids to line work for the laser.

Some detail was lost in this process, and if I had had more time I would have made sure the width of the limbs was more consistent but overall I think it changed for the better.

The Laser Cut / Organizing parts & initial assembly

The pieces came together pretty well once I went through and figured out which position was which. A couple of the frames were cut out incorrectly initially and had to be re done, so the number of each frame varied from one to three… needless to say there were a lot of tiny pieces to sort through. I opted to remove my numbers from the pattern before cutting but ultimately that’s a mistake I won’t make again. There was one piece I couldn’nt find for the life of me, I kept looking through again and again and finally I realized it was still stuck to the piece of baltic birch. Oy.

Needle Felting

So much time, so little progress. I love that the work covered up imperfections in my animated cycle but this material doesn’t want to stick to itself. I broke one of the tiny legs while wrapping wool around it, but managed to white glue it back together.

Preliminary Animation (Zoetrope Tests)

Fortunately the base fit on the turntable with only a minor overlap issue. Taking a couple milliliters off the diameter for the next iteration will help a lot. The record spun well and I have high hopes that with a strobe it will work well. I’m going to try removing half of the frames, or blacking them out to create a digital strobe effect and see if it does anything useful.

Shooting the tests was last minute and done on a time crunch. As such, I didn’t have time to set up a proper tripod or a live feed into Dragonframe Stop Motion Software, so the test is imperfect, but at just twelve frames long it’s surprisingly fun to watch.

Challenges & Next Steps

The next step will be to finesse the felting before I glue the pieces together, making it more stable which will photograph better. I will do the final filming using Dragonframe stop motion, a Canon 6D DSLR Camera and tripod.

I think the next iteration should be oh so slightly smaller – as a piece is hitting part of the turntable back.

I am also interested in programming a 12fps strobe light to make the visual impact without a camera. Maybe I’ll go into the makerspace near me ad see if they want to teach me how to program an arduino 🙂

What I love about Alpacas

Directed Interdisciplinary Study I:

Studio Assignment 1: What I love about Alpacas
A stop motion puppet and poem about fibre farming

“Alpacas are the greatest”
is a thought I have had
while up late at night watching fun videos on YouTube
or when a great meme pops up on facebook.
They have sweet faces, and kind eyes
and are just a little bit weird.

I love alpacas,

I told my partner Keith one day
as we sat in Parc Laurier
sipping soy cappuccinos
and watching the world go by.

One day, lets have an Alpaca farm.
It made perfect sense, we agreed
for a fibre artist to have alpacas on a farm
and a farm seemed like a very nice
far away idea
from our apartment in the Plateau.

So when we moved too the country, perhaps
It is not very surprising
that we stopped by the side of the highway that one day
we drove past an alpaca farm

as moderately socially awkward city transplants
What was surprising is that we went right on up to the farmhouse door
to ask how we could help.

Alpacas are the greatest.
I love Alpacas – these were thoughts
based entirely on the way an Alpaca looks
or how soft its wool feels
thoughts based on the commodity, not the animal

One year later, here’s what I love about alpacas
Their ridiculous haircuts
That they don’t know how ridiculous they look
the heir on their back is called a blanket
they are tidy – will only poop in one part of the pen
You can use it for excellent fertilizer
They are gentle, kind
Alpacas are quiet, like deer
Their hairs are full of secrets
They don’t like strangers, and neither do I
They spit and kick, alpacas are not to be trifled with
they are sweet to each other
they are soft and furry

Here’s what I don’t like about alpacas:

they spit and kick – forget what i said before and get out of the way
They belong on mountains so you have to trim their toenails, and they’re supposed to gnaw on rocks so you have to sand their teeth with a dremmel.
Nobody tells you about the dremmel
They bums have poo dreads on them
You have to do all kind of crazy stuff like lance boils and give inoculations – things you would assume a vet MUST do, but no, that’s what farmers are up to in the barn
Coyotes want to eat them
But they’re still too big for one person to pick up
Loud noises scare them
They don’t like to be sheared

In conclusion – farming isn’t always quite what a city girl thinks it will be.
And standing in a barn in early may, freezing cold and wet and covered in hay and mostly digested grass spit

There is nothing I would like more

Than a soy cappuccino.

Sosuke the Duck (Script)

Sosuke was the smallest
of the 20 Indian Runner Ducklings

Their first night home Keith and I and the dog stare into the brooder, transfixed as they scurry

That’s when we notice he is limping

Did he get trampled by the others?
Had we handled him too rough?

I am afraid
but Keith cradles hits little body
heart fluttering against the palm of his hand
As soaks his leg in a warm epsom salt
bath in a soup bowl.

all life needs love

Keith says to me

and I vow to take the best care of him
because he is small and fluffy and yellow
but also because it scares me.

We separate him from the others,
but by morning he has hopped
on his good leg over the cardboard wall
to be with his friends

an avian vet is hard to come by
Sosuke is so small they take his XRays in
A machine meant for cats dental treatments

The next days are spent in the bathroom
For physio he swims in the tub

I treat him to peas, watermelon
and extra worms from the garden

at night i give him a clean beach towel
clap mosquitos out of the air
And sing him Beatles songs until he falls asleep.

The ducklings grow faster every day
Sosuke doesn’t grow as fast, but he does grow fonder.  learns his name.
And has one chirp he only uses for me

and while he can’t play in the garden
with the other ducklings
I give him a pool of water in the yard
and fashion a sort of swing so the can stand with the flock

Every day I work on engineering a wheelchair so he can one day roam the lawn
on his own

he loves to swim in the pond, splashing and diving for slugs

in the water his friends can’t tell he’s different
don’t pick on him

he’s just a duck eating bugs

When i pick him up
he flaps his wings
like he’s flying

one night there is a thunderstorm that knocks out our power

i spend the night in a sleeping bag on the barn floor wrapping the brooder in blankets and bringing him hot water bottles to stay warm

he doesn’t get better, though

we hear from the specialist that it’s perosis
a slipped tendon
his leg bends the wrong way
it’s congenital
he’ll never walk

but I don’t mind.

in the winter he’ll live in the house where it’s warm
in his little wheelchair we’ll visit the children’s hospital
a great therapy animal

life on the farm is exhausting
but joyful
the chores distract me from my
ruminating thoughts
and at the pond each day
among the bullrushes and lilies
Sosuke and I find peace

One day in august I come back from the city
and he’s sitting in his soft grass,
he isn’t moving his good leg anymore.

i sing him to sleep that night

in the morning we visit the pond one last time
before going to the vet

and that’s it

a lifetime in two months to the day

I drive home, with Keith in the passenger seat
holding his little body
in a cardboard box

we find a place in the pine forest
Where the light shines just so

our strength is not the body we are born in
but our zest for each moment we are given

There will be many animals on our farm
And many I’m sure will pass on

but none will I love as deeply, or remember as fondly
as Sosuke, my little runner duck who couldn’t.

There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore, there is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea, and music in its roar; I love not Man the less, but Nature more.


– Lord Byron

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.

Research Objectives
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
its resources.

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

Expected Outcomes
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.


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“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

Lessons (Project II Reflection)

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.


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Lessons (Project II Proposal)

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.


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Lessons (Project I Reflection)

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:

Concept Drawings
Colour Play & Character Design
Storyboard – Writing, Sketching
Ink Research & Making
Inking of Boards

Reflection on Work to Date


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.


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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
and dragonflies
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

without them
one could swim easier
and besides —
they were scummy
and tickled
our arms.

the dragonflies would jump
plant      to      plant
holding tight
to each other’s tails

making love,
i suppose.

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

never returned.

Lessons (Project Proposal & Concept Art)

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)

Technical Specifications

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:

“Master’s in a Week”

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, The One-Straw Revolution

Graduate Studies Research Proposal

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.

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