Sunday, 8 January 2012

Lucy Dyson

from The Pictures #5

We first encountered the work of music video director, artist and animator Lucy Dyson when she moved into our flat a couple of years back, having travelled to London from her native Melbourne. In the past half decade she’s produced scores of music videos, working with acts like Gotye, The Drones, Still Corners and Lanu, and in a variety of mediums. But whether film, straight animation, collage or a mixture of all three, her work is marked by a talent to take these disparate elements, bring them together and animate them not just in the sense of making them move, but imbuing them with life, polemic and meaning rarely seen in the medium of music video.

Her video for Gotye’s Thankys For Your Time starts with mild satire, kitsch workplace elements that suggest lighthearted smalltalk complaint at the world of work. But as the video progresses, concentric circles of telephones and macabre dancing co-workers reveal something altogether darker and harder to dismiss. As the images on screen dance uncontrollably around our field of vision we enter a state of Kafkaish panic. Similarly, Pussy Got Your Tongue is a Hitchcock Blonde nightmare presented at first as harmless retro fetish. The bright colours and every day objects given mischevious rule on the screen often reveal a hidden darkness. In many of Lucy’s videos, the inanimate objects and cut-out characters take full control and gleefully steer us into discomfort.

Lucy has mixed film and animation throughout her work but has recently produced videos for fresh Sub Pop signings Still Corners and Australia’s Teeth & Tongue that are based almost entirely on film and video image. Wish by Still Corners was shot on 16mm Bolex, double exposure to allow singer Tessa Murray to wander as a ghost amongst her bandmates. The video for Teeth & Tongue’s Sad Sun kaleidoscoped colour-rich Canon 7D
video of singer Jess Cornelius across an animated group of yetis on a mountain quest.

Narrative features heavily in Lucy’s work, be it effectively simple as in Wish or with a sense of historical storytelling as in her Laika the space dog animation and the video for All India Radio’s Persist, which tells the sad tale of Topsy, a circus elephant condemned to death. Her narratives are imbued with a keen attention to detail
and particularly design that is found more often in cinema than music video.

The world of the videos is meticulous, cut out and built from Lucy’s far ranging and enthusiastic influences – encyclopedias, soviet ephemera, the space age, retro interior design, children’s partworks, Hammer Horror, advertising, How And Why books. Her videos explore feelings and issues using the visual grammar of these influences, revealing their ideas through the metaphors and implications of those influences when
placed in a modern context – the 50s housewives, the astronauts. There’s a naivety to these metaphors but Lucy’s work is all the more striking for it – for all the depth and complexity, her videos are no less entertaining, funny, bright or energetic and, in that sense, she is pushing the music video format forward into something more and more interesting.

THE PICTURES: How did you start out as an animator? Did you always intend to make music videos?

LUCY DYSON: When I finished highschool I really wanted to study painting, but my parents (an artist and highschool art teacher) persuaded me to do a BA in Media Arts instead, which was basically art school but with a focus on animation, video and sound art. I guess thinking it would possibly lead to a more lucrative career than a fine arts painting degree. So at uni I specialised in experimental animation. There was more of an emphasis on conceptual development than how well something was technically executed. I didn't initially set out to make music videos, I recall that during semester reviews at uni, if you presented a music video, and it had any "band shots" it would rarely be well received by the lecturers, but a confused video art piece would fare much better, and I'm not at all critical of my art school experience being that way, it pushed me to make considered and interesting work.

I started making music videos towards the end of my honours year at uni. I've always had a lot of musician friends, and that's pretty much how I got started. My early experiences shooting live action was that I didn't know what the hell I was doing, I didn't even know how to properly operate a video camera, these days I know the value of a good DoP.

Music videos do take up most of my time, but I don't feel like I've had a breakthrough with any of them. I don't see myself making a career exclusively from music video directing, but it works with my art practice at the moment. It would be great to be repped by the right company, work with a good producer and have more money to work with, but most of the time I'm too busy to be phased by these things. As long as I'm busy and there is interest in what I'm doing, I figure I'm on track.

TP: What would you say the influences on your visual style are? Would we be right to say that you reference movies a lot? And maybe aspects of interior design?

LD: I spend a lot of spare time collecting and poring over 1950s-70s Home Living magazines, then taking out all the elements I like the best and collaging a new room from these. I'm obsessed with mid 20th century interior design, but over the last few years, having moving from Melbourne to London and now Berlin, my own home interiors hardly reflect this. I've owned and have had to leave behind a lot of nice furniture. When I start collaging interior scenes together for my animations or art, I'm creating rooms I would love to live or work in. Which is often how I feel when watching Hitchcock films. I think I'm also influenced by Richard Hamilton's work and Dexter Dalwood's painted interiors, I love how they both play with perspective, I struggle with interior perspective, I usually tend to frame animation scenes as though they are being presented on a stage, I'm working on loosening up this approach, I'd like to make some future work exploring really warped interior spaces.

TP: Do you often work with collaborators? How important is collaboration?

LD: I love to collaborate when it comes to executing a concept. But I like to come up with initial ideas on my own, and then when I feel excited that I have a strong idea, I like to bring it to someone else, (usually more skilled than me in either animating or filming) and work out the logistics. I don't think I'm technically skilled enough to pull off everything myself, though when you have no money to work with you sometimes have to. I think it is important to learn from other people. I'm not a natural animator, I find animating really difficult, but I love it and I have been lucky to work with other people like Isobel Knowles and Joseph Jensen who are naturals. Like with any medium, if you're inspired enough to hone it, in the end your own hand is all over it and that gives it your touch, people can pick my work. I'm not too uptight about my own wonky animation style these days, I've worked hard and long on it, but it is so good to work with a really talented animator who with a deft hand, can bring naunce and emotions to characters and scenes.

TP: There's often a strong sense of narrative in the videos. Do you hear the song and find an appropriate story, or do you choose the story before finding a song to illustrate it?

LD: It depends on the song, with the Topsy animation, I had been researching that story before I was approached by the band (All India Radio) about making an animation for them, it was something I was thinking of making a short animated film
about. The band said they wanted something animal themed, and I thought the Tospy story was a good match for the sombre tone of the song (Persist), luckily they agreed, and it worked so well that US animals rights organisation Born Free, used it as the central focus for a campaign against circus animal cruelty. It also worked so well that when it was first screened at Melbourne International Film Festival a few years ago, unlike with every other music video screened in the program, when the video ended, not a single person clapped, I guess they were too sad too (I hope).

With Still Corners, the song itself (Wish) inspired the music video concept. The band had said from the start that they wanted the film clip to be shot on film, so with a bolex camera and a couple of rolls of 16mm as a starting point, I came up with the idea of shooting double exposures based on the specific lyrics from the song; "I had dreams I can remember and you've had them too". It was such a fun experiment, I don't think the narrative was very clear though, it wasn't obvious if they were all just sleeping and dreaming or actually dead, but we structured the edit that way on purpose.

I'm always filing away stories that I feel could be told in an interesting visual way,
but mostly they are sad stories, I'm drawn to pathos, when it comes to narrative.
Sometimes I adapt these stories for music video concepts, but it all really depends
on the song, and often what the artist wants. I've had a few treatments knocked back on the grounds that the concepts I've put forth are too sad for an indie-pop music video. I have a short list of stories I'm waiting to turn into short animated films.

TP: Do you have a favourite way to work?

LD: I like to mix it up as animating can be such a tedious and boring process, and I like experimenting, it's a given if you're making something with next to nothing. At the moment I'm really happy with the animation style Joe and I are developing, combining his animated illustrated characters in my collage scenes, my strengths lie in background art and directing and Joe's in character animating. This has been a great development, it looks slick and smooth, yet still retains the idiosyncratic qualities of my work.

TP: What's next?

LD: At the moment I'm working on a crazy animation for an ipad App, and Joe and I are also completing a music video we started last year, that was initially dropped due to time contraints, but has since been picked up again, we are really excited about it, it's all illustrated and a lot of work, it will be nice to see how people respond to it. There is also a mysterious experimental film clip featuring a wonderful LA actress, it's a love project, it's taking ages to pull together. Later this year hopefully Joe and I will get on with the short films I mentioned, we'll have a long
winter in our studio in Berlin, I'm looking forward to it. Also, I have a new video for Still Corners ready to drop anyday now, it's a bit sexy, and creepy, I can't wait to share it.

Lucy interviewed late 2011 /

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