A Mississippi moan

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(1)Rochester Institute of Technology RIT Scholar Works Theses Thesis/Dissertation Collections 5-1-2003 A Mississippi moan Julie McCaughey Follow this and additional works at: http://scholarworks.rit.edu/theses Recommended Citation McCaughey, Julie, "A Mississippi moan" (2003). Thesis. Rochester Institute of Technology. Accessed from This Thesis is brought to you for free and open access by the Thesis/Dissertation Collections at RIT Scholar Works. It has been accepted for inclusion in Theses by an authorized administrator of RIT Scholar Works. For more information, please contact ritscholarworks@rit.edu.

(2) A MISSISSIPPI MOAN By Julie Larson McCaughey Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the degree MASTER OF FINE ARTS MFA Imaging Arts/Computer Animation SCHOOL OF FILM AND ANIMAnON ROCHESTER INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY ROCHESTER, NEW YORK May 2003 Stephanie Maxwell Howard Lester Susan Lakin

(3) Permission Denied A Mississippi Moan by Julie Larson McCaughey I, Julie Larson McCaughey, hereby deny permission to the RIT Library of the Rochester Institute of Technology to reproduce my thesis in whole or in part. Date: September 19, 2003 Julie Larson McCaughey

(4) Table of Contents Acknowledgements page 2 Introduction page 3 Pre-Production page 4 Production page 7 Postprod uction page 18 Reflections page 18 Bibliography page 22 1

(5) I would like to acknowledge the following individuals who made it possible for me to complete A MISSISSIPPI MOAN. To my husband, Ethan McCaughey, who provided me with unconditional support and patience. Ethan provided wonderful insight and constructive criticism throughout the production process. Without his involvement, I do not believe I would have completed the work. To my thesis chair, Stephanie Maxwell, who always took time to see new developments and encouraged me when I was doubtful. I value her creative ingenuity and valuable criticism. This work is dedicated to my mother, Carole Larson, who died in 1991. I know she would have been proud of my accomplishment and cheered me on throughout my education at the Rochester Institute of Technology. 2

(6) INTRODUCTION In this paper, I will address the making of my thesis work, A MISSISSIPPI MOAN. During the course of the one-year it took to complete the work, there have been many self-gratifying experiences as well as unanticipated setbacks. The work captures the last moments and memories of an unknown woman who is dying after an automobile accident. The setting is rural and swampy; she is alone. The water that surrounds her carries her into the past and beyond into death as she leaves her mortal life. The dying woman s consciousness is scattered but carried by the water (see Image 1). 3

(7) The work is fluid in form, yet fragmented in the subjective experience of the dying woman. The work is interpretative, but presents the memories of a soured relationship that is woven with the dying woman s current predicament of facing death and the fluidity of her approaching death in the watery landscape. The work ends with the woman s death and her merging into a watery grave. It is an experimental work which conveys an idea, creates atmosphere and mood, and has a distinct style which all results from experimentation with and manipulation of various techniques and processes. This paper explains my creative process and the actual production of A 4

(8) MISSISSIPPI MOAN. There are four parts: Pre-Production, Production, Postproduction and Reflection. PRE-PRODUCTION In May 2002, I proposed my thesis film to the faculty of the School of Film and Animation. My intention was to create an abstract film with a theme of water, symbolizing the flow of life. The work was proposed as a multi-layered and rhythmical mixed media production. I sought to utilize 3D graphics and animation, digital video, 2D graphics and 8mm film footage. I set out to make a visual poem about a women dying alone in a watery landscape. Initially, I had thought about the late Blues singer, Bessie Smith, and her mythical death resulting from an automobile accident in Mississippi in 1937. drew upon that tragic incident and a blues song entitled, Muddy Waters (A Mississippi Moan). The title of my thesis work, A MISSISSIPPI MOAN, was taken from Smith s 1927 recording of the song. At first, I wanted to provoke imagery of the south, particularly the Mississippi Delta region. However, throughout production, my aim diverged and I set upon a new, yet familiar path. I will address 5

(9) the evolution of my thesis during the production section of this paper. My work became much more than what I had proposed in May 2002. Three films influenced my proposal. These films stuck with me for many months prior to my proposal to the faculty committee. The first film, MIRROR OF HOLLAND (1950), by Dutch filmmaker Bert Haanstra, set forth my fascination with water. Haanstra s inverted camera or upside down cinematography of Holland s River Vecht and the people and life surrounding the river inspired me. I particularly drew upon Haanstra s slowly paced progression from real life reflections into the more graphic watery abstraction of the River Vecht s motion. The River Vecht was the life giving substance of the people and countryside. The watery reflections, or the mirror of Dutch life, also contributed to my desire for an impressionistic aesthetic. I sought to evoke a subjective, harmonic, sensory driven narrative rather than a recreation of objective reality. The second film, PONY GLASS (1997), by American filmmaker Lewis Klahr, was a cut and paste collage-based work produced with contemporary visual icons from American life. Klahr draws heavily from comic books, a media which is my first love, in such a way to also inspire my animation technique. Klahr utilizes the absence of 6

(10) motion and expressions with staccato motion like opera Glass is the weave film that communicates a unique final film that I drew and upon without for my thesis film, STUDY IN CHOREOGRAPHY FOR THE CAMERA Ukrainian American filmmaker Maya Deren. Deren and space through the fluid union of motion with drew me to Deren s motion of film. I poetic avant-garde I cannot sequential approved ideas that were s film revealed my proposal, I I kept of my set out a notebook to me before many times was reality that which I will to include dance to me include storyboards, because I have came of dance, not choose time the beauty of film. images for any storyboard ing, dancer, Talley Beattey. It experimented with my film. However, Deren within (1945) by manipulated the disregard for continuity further detail later, but ultimately did me story use of seamless animation. The third this intense soap distinctive American flavor. The Pony narratives with a an expressive to when ideas works. to After the produce by my falling my asleep year faculty board work. bed. Often, I that I Instead There from nowhere, spent of would write or upon waking. would appear as into different directions. The never utilized taking producing the work

(11) was fueled entirely were a stream of consciousness. problems, many times idea, but ultimately, I decided to listen to of by my brain was am very satisfied with myself and telling inconsistency an with There my proposed work the ending to stop questioning of course result. what the I right side me. PRODUCTION In the summer of lead female version character made 4.5. I had I first software. reference. I 2002, my first step never created modeled entirely before the with in polygons, the production of human figure using 3D a picture of myself as which I am more comfortable using, and intended to convert to Maya s Subdivisions. the summer, I had finished was rigid with the model version 5.5 that would ease By the (see Image 2). The in form, but I had intended to apply After Effects my Alias Wavefront Maya created a face, using was effects end of model using Adobe the hard look and soften her form. 8

(12) Problems rigging the arose when model surface made for I moved from The detail level animation. it difficult to rig because model was not constructed simply; of I so animate hard look instead begin blocking The rigging did and stiff. properly could of of its 3D the construction The lead the to modeling to the model s model s complexity. attempted 3D the I The models. animating the Movement effects motion of me of more with action. not produce model. animation. the the less is Once I had finished rigging the model, I figure polygonal was unrealistic needed in order model added with consider other avenues to the

(13) In the fall quarter of the School undergraduate course at class drew heavily thesis and look for abstract watery upon 2002, I began teaching my first my time, but I a new During backgrounds symbolizing thesis. role However, I in my The time to 2D work on this time, I experimented with enjoyed I mainly water and air the (see Images 3 not have a to many producing many produced a wealth of compositions did of my blue hued 4). and use By the for my female character, the central narrative. following work on accustomed and still to in Adobe After Effects that have been colorful and expressive compositions. fall quarter, I had Animation. This still managed different techniques in After Effects. I truly end of and direction. I began producing many compositions incorporated in my film. Film of still quarter, I taught my second class. my thesis to teaching. imagery since the During I had class was smaller and this time I I more was more experimented with dance and animation. 10

(14) Image 3 above Image 4 below 11

(15) After speaking Stephanie Maxwell, with of my thesis chair, Associate Professor the School interested in pursuing dance central dance contacted the State and 6) with a DV drop University while and gave me the dancer, Alysha Bright, of a green screen Film Animation, I became as a possible answer figure. Professor Maxwell student at of I shot video camera. of the to my missing name of a graduate New York at and she agreed her performance Brockport. I to dance in front (see Images 5

(16) Image 6 Ms. Bright impressed Deren s to be an excellent and her adaptability to my direction. We the video shoot. Coincidently was an avid admirer of I was most screened and her dance company inspiration and skill and unknown famed dancer Katherine Dunham. Maya Deren Dunham dancer Maya STUDY IN CHOREOGRAPHY FOR THE CAMERA before beginning Bright with proved to me, Ms. and choreographer, worked as an assistant and to Katherine it is here that Deren drew for her dance films. Ms. Bright and I worked well together and I was able to capture an hour of video footage. 13

(17) Much of the dance footage left figure due to the optimal medium I compression of to could not afford DV school s screen added to shoot 16 and halo like to the mm I video camera. green residue Ms. Bright a rough edit of my thesis board, of the School Assistant Professor reflected upon moved the I which of the School the not unfortunately, due with the remove movement I affected with s figure, which and the green into filters to I believe in footage, I addition addition of a good Animation, the two and Photographic Arts with other Susan Lakin, and Sciences. because unanimously, direction. I the dance footage. Somehow my original proposal and fit Ms. Bright my the showed included Professor Howard and of new work needed much more work and enjoyed and valued ultimately Film the constructive criticism away from my much as not with of their believed my unhappy is s overall aesthetic. Lester, Chair each Ms. Bright video make After Effects to film to my chair, Stephanie Maxwell I DV techniques, but film. I had to used effect upon After producing members of video. incorporate the dance The compositions. produce a the DV utilize green screen background existing a green residue on became about was work dance. As s artistic expression, it was work. 14

(18) Additionally, I did imagery. I the first of moved thing Bessie Smith could I know away from this about being original idea because I didn t know a southern woman. moves me, what southern, Mississippi inspired not provoke a I am not an it is like to be As much as the music African American woman, nor I let that idea fall to the one. wayside. By February 2003, producing 2D drawings upon the work of green for dress. I enjoy produce of that s. direction. I began figure. This is s collages. I drawing still where searched online images, but I find However, I did this new figure (see Images 7 attempted create a central to when I added a images animate and and 8). I the hand drawn figure even more out of place make in sequential tedious. to my compositions, it looked for of a woman and shots of I drew After gaining insight into the decade, I drew images actually liked the drawings, but After a new very tiresome many footage. I to central my from the 1930 and styles of animation was on Lewis Klahr pictures of women fashion I then the dance it work; ultimately, I failed again to female figure. beginning full time new medium of expression. employment in March 2003, I began a I began utilizing my digital photography 15

(19) camera. I began McCaughey, would take by taking pictures of my husband, Ethan as an additional character pictures of me, technique for my second under to the film. In turn, Ethan my direction. I had used this film, Image 7 16

(20) Image 8 TRANNOSTALGIA (2002), Animation, with and I realized this technique, and produced at I had already would open and cut out the to raw me for Film files in Adobe months. animation I took digital Photoshop a silhouette of and been successful produce an animation of the background to leave adding the first digital image of practices and it had been eluding multiple shots of one action images. I the School version 7 the figure. After to the After Effect 17

(21) compositions, I knew I was on the right track when I saw the resulting blended image (see Image 9). Image 9 I modeled again backgrounds. I in Alias Wavefront Maya to produced a cabinet, fireplace and a and it Smith the was the song. viewer. agent 3D vitrola. apartment complete with a The vitrola added an old 3D bed, table, time feeling for the diegetic music, in this case, the Bessie The song begins playing This produce shot is meant to be a after the memory vitrola of a is introduced to time when the 18

(22) central female figure was alone and her present situation with thinking significant other of her her past and (see Image 10). Image 10 After producing numerous digital image animations and them into compositions, I began piecing together roamed far working to more film at times from my initial unite easily and I had a narrative. film. However, after the images together, my film took form. Ideas came my interest in the film was shaped and was produced proposed incorporating I began the entirely within was reawakened. Soon, the process of postproduction. Adobe After Effects. I rendered The film the final composition, which took 2 days to complete at full resolution. POSTPRODUCTION 19

(23) I have ideas for Generally leave always sound would incorporate Smith s sounds a a downloaded free Premiere version the imagery I stage. and manipulated Bessie transcendence. the used as well central I wanted dream like intensity to leave the allure as, I the files in Adobe soundtrack produces a the music, moves utilize knew I style, but did not overwhelm the imagery. loops 6. The by always (A Mississippi Moan). In addition, I flowing and evokes a mood of as pre-production, but I blues song into the film. I did sound audience on edge during for the postproduction Muddy Waters that had sound them with the audio female figure from life to death. REFLECTIONS Overall, I focuses the am satisfied with attention of the southern cultural aspect of true to my life. The exploring. central work. female figure before her death. Although I did experience remained my thesis water The abstract the film (see Image 1 1). imagery s subjective not evoke an American in the film, I think the film is better for it. I proposal with theme The the theme was always what images I I I of water and was most created of water are most enjoyed the the cycle interested in the strongest in production process when 20

(24) I was creating I abstract compositions. never thought I would Image 11 be as invested in beginning as a experimental art as MFA program, I believed I This I have When I graduate student. would make grown Pixar or to be entered since the MFA like 3D Disney animations. never materialized. During this year of myself as an artist and experience for process can development how I myself and work and production, best. It was a hopefully for viewers be hectic due to its I learned about very rewarding as well. spontaneous and My creative fluctuating quality. 21

(25) I did not storyboard more detailed ideas rather believe I do generally than satisfied an established more excited about my with can lead to self-imposed Adobe Modeling for short aim to the 3D model software I rigging year and I be be can ideas direction in a work. are order I am three academic I am fresh. I to complete fortunate that I quarters. am most comfortable After Effects. Although 3D option, I prefer working an a new direction. However, I and that I toward long only with and arduous production. work in Alias Wavefront Maya hours, before needing breaks. I and animation since problems occurred with created for future The my since can of periods, usually two to three practice wander procrastination. deadline Photoshop 2D images. 3D takes time to work when and often need a new computer animation will always video and idea the I learned throughout this working tendency impulsivity when producing need some Boredom work. I have the guides. become bored the for this work, but I may in the future begin to draw for this project. I will continue to utilize 3D works. photographic preferred animation technique used for A MISSISSIPPI MOAN is technique. Since I enjoy using Adobe Photoshop, editing hundreds of images is not as bothersome as 22

(26) a modeling have a prefer full 3D appearance of look of of photographs, 3D to be aware the of and the 3D my I of weeks. past works. oversimplified. aspects and am able to also quality that is The I do not want detach it from the whole work. The five-minute format. I do intend to web site. I think work will feature many hours instead be ridiculously can I and which gives a nostalgic to A MISSISSIPPI MOAN viewers instantaneous near rendered animation within the look central It is character. be experimental work will screened on mini-DV upload a compressed version of everyone should well on the have free web since its access to the work art. creation was to my I think the the fusion of mediums. In conclusion, the making rewarding experience. I value of A MISSISSIPPI MOAN the time spent working with was a different mediums, which proved costly in time and energy, because I learned which techniques thesis proposal to my original proved worthy may have idea of MISSISSIPPI MOAN expressing my changed and water, and of life, and My evolved, but I remained true death. I I believe it is original vision. a am proud distinctive A and creative work. 23

(27) Bibliography Deren, Maya. STUDY IN CHOREOGRAPHY FOR THE CAMERA. 1945. Haanstra, Bert. MIRROR OF HOLLAND (SPIEGEL VAN HOLLAND). 1950. Klahr, Lewis. PONY GLASS. Forensic Films. New York. 1997. McCaughey, Julie Larson. TRANNOSTALGIA. 2002. New York. 24


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