23 December, 2009

Simon Roberts – We English

The upcoming photographic exhibition, Simon Roberts: We English explores national identity and people at leisure in England’s rich landscape. The project was developed from Simon’s childhood memories, and the range of associations and images they evoke, how landscapes formed an important part of who he is, and a fascination with ideas of belonging and memory, identity and place.

As part of the exhibition, the National Media Museum asked for suggestions from the public for an outdoor leisure activity or event happening in the Bradford District, which could be photographed by Simon Roberts and included in the show..

We wish to thank everybody for their suggestions, and for providing us with so many possibilities – it was impossible to visit every event but all the suggestions received were greatly appreciated. Please visit http www.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk/simonroberts for more information, and see the result of Simon’s dedicated and personal exploration of Englishness and the English at leisure when the exhibition opens at the National Media Museum on 12th March 2010.

So in August 2007, Simon – intrigued by the tradition of the road trip in photography - took to the road in a motorhome with his pregnant wife and daughter, in search of landscapes and depictions of the English at leisure. It is this subject that led to him touring the Bradford District on a cold weekend early in December, with a dedicated team from our Exhibitions Department, in his search for the exhibition’s final photographic work.

Here is a brief account of that weekend and some of the locations visited:

The team set off on Saturday morning at 9.15am, and after venturing to Lister Park in Bradford to observe the Saturday morning power walkers, the next port of call was the Cow and Calf rocks on Ilkley Moor. In Simon’s words:

“I was pleasantly surprised to discover a crisp winter’s morning when we headed out to Ilkley Moor. On arrival, I saw a group of fell runners on the horizon, unfortunately too far in the distance to work in a photograph. The [moor’s] rocks themselves were very photogenic and offer spectacular views of Ilkley, and I could see a lot of potential for photographs in the summer months when there would be hordes of people clambering over the rocks, picnicking and hiking. Alas, there were only a few walkers about today. As the rain set in, I ran for cover, and headed back to Bradford.”

“The next stop was Myra Shay Park, home to BD3 United FC, where that afternoon the under 13 boys team had their training session photographed under the watchful eye of coach Michael Purches, who married into the city’s Pakistani community and now goes by his Muslim name of Abu Bakr. Simon first came across this location several weeks ago and was struck by the “excellent panoramic views of the Bradford skyline including the chimney stacks of Lister Mills, once the largest silk factory in the world.”

Simon and the team headed towards Haworth in search of ‘Top Withens’, a ruined farmhouse and popular walking destination, said to have been the inspiration for Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. As the light faded across the Yorkshire Moors our team disbanded for the day, ready for round two the following morning.”

Of the second day, Simon reported:

“On a bright and sunny Sunday morning I photographed the first half of BD3 United’s match against Calverley United at Priesthorpe School. No exciting views this time, however I was able to shimmy on top of a Portakabin to get a good vantage point over the pitch. Calverley United’s supporters turned up with a sandwich toastie maker, and were doing a good trade in bacon butties. BD3 won 4-2.”

Aside from the obvious advantages of a clear vantage point at a football match, Simon explained that photographing from elevated positions enables him to get a greater sense of people’s interaction with the landscape and with one another.

“Sunday was certainly a game of two halves. Sandwiched by a brief journey to Five Rise Locks in Bingley it was back to the football pitch, this time to watch the second half of Second West versus New Tyke Rangers at the Carr Bottom Stadium off Little Horton Lane in BD5, just up the road from the Museum.”

Simon said: “There was an excellent vantage point from a bridge overlooking the game, which was part of the Bradford Sunday Alliance Football League. The pitch was nestled in the centre of a small housing estate.Well I say pitch, it was more of an undulating quagmire with twenty two men sliding about and shouting obscenities! Second West won 4-1.”

The Museum’s own winning team concluded the weekend with a well-earned meal at the Karachi Restaurant, finishing the day’s film interviews (to be included in the exhibition alongside footage of Simon on location around the Bradford District).

On her return from the weekend trip, I spoke to the Exhibitions Organiser Ruth Haycock, who told me that having stood for hours in the cold that weekend, she really admired Simon’s complete commitment and passion for the project, in fact, that of his whole family. Not only in dealing with the weather conditions (which, on this particular weekend, were somewhat fitting considering Simon’s road trip in 2008 was undertaken during one of the wettest years on record, and therefore this final piece was shot in similar conditions to those he endured a year ago), but his incredible level of patience in waiting for just the right moment to take the shot, capturing “We English” enjoying our most cherished and loved pastimes.

18 December, 2009

Avatar - how we get it on the IMAX screen

It is almost time to "Enter the world"...

It was late Saturday night when, fresh off of the plane from Los Angeles, a large delivery of numerous crates of IMAX film reels were delivered to the National Media Museum. Avatar had arrived! But the work had only just begun.

With an estimated construct time of 23 man-hours, our hard-working projection team started to splice and fuse all the reels into the one complete film. At 165 minutes, Avatar is the largest and longest IMAX film print ever made.

Here you can see some exclusive behind-the-scenes shots of our IMAX manager Dick Vaughan and projectionist Tony Cutts putting the final touches to the final reel of the right eye portion of the film. The aspect ratio for the IMAX version is 1.78:1 giving an image that is proportionally taller than previous DMR releases – these are films that have been digitally re-mastered to be shown on the giant IMAX screen. This format has been chosen by James Cameron personally after extensive consultation.

Guarantee your seats by booking online now for James Cameron's Avatar in IMAX 3D via the National Media Museum website

15 December, 2009

‘King Coal’ fires up Cubby

Last Sunday evening in Cubby Broccoli cinema I got to host a fascinating package of short films to a near-capacity audience. King Coal is a specially-curated collection of short films currently touring the UK, which chart and describe Britain’s coal industry from 1901 to 2004. Even better, Katy McGowan, Non-Fiction Curator at the British Film Institute (BFI) travelled to the Museum to introduce the films and set them in context.

There are fifteen short films in the package, whittled down from the collections in the BFI’s impressive National Archive. Katy’s job, as part of a curatorial team of six, was to select a range of films that together give a representative sense of the history of coal mining in Britain.

Thanks to the availability of footage from several traditions in British documentary making, from very early amateur documentaries to official films commissioned by industry, the screening included early ‘actualities’ (Miners Leaving Pendlebury Colliery, from 1901), promotional films (King Coal, Big Job), an artful documentary on miners’ leisure time (Gala Day), recreations of tragic folk songs (the three Songs of the Coalfields shorts), management training films (the amusingly stilted What About That Job) and films designed counteract press reports of the Miners’ strikes of the 1980s (Not Just Tea and Sandwiches), as well at the legacy of one picket line in particular (The Battle of Orgreave).

After the screenings, we conducted a lively and searching discussion of the films and the issues surrounding them. Several issues captured people’s imagination, and people commented on their own memories of the political climate of various periods and the way they were depicted. The discussion also took in a range of other connected areas, from curatorial politics to media rights issues.

With debate spilling out to the foyer at around 10.30pm, I remembered again the power that films have to generate debate and to help us learn about the past and about ourselves. I’m certainly keen to repeat it with other archive screenings at some point in the New Year.

I asked Katy for her own feelings on the event:

“It was a privilege to be invited to present this curated programme of films from the BFI National Archive showing coalmining through the 20th century. I was extremely heartened that so many people came out on a cold winter night to watch these remarkable films and it was great that members of the audience took the opportunity to take part in a discussion at the end of the screening.”

With many thanks to Katy McGahan for her time and for supporting such a great screening and talk.

11 December, 2009

2009 at the Cinema - Best films of 2009

At the end of the first decade of the new century, how did this year’s cinema-going stack up? Did new classics emerge? Were there five new films that you just had to recommend to friends? Here’s a brief end-of-year survey of some Museum staff’s cinematic highlights, from our own programme and beyond.

Each contributor was asked to list their favourite films on general release in the UK in 2009. The Wrestler, with three top-five mentions, is our favourite by a nose, with Moon, District 9, Looking for Eric and Let the Right One In an honourable tie for second with two votes apiece. After that, the floodgates open with a great big broad list of films.

Seen many? Of course, the whole point of lists like this is for people to agree or (more often) to disagree! – So please add a comment, or your own list, at the bottom of the page.

Tom Vincent, Film Programmer:

1. Sleep Furiously - Out of the blue, an uplifting, unforced British film that told us about ourselves.

2. District 9 - There were no films more pleasing than this thunderous, satirical sci-fi jolt.

3. The Wrestler - The most transcendent last five minutes of any film I can remember.

4. The Beaches of Agnès - Agnès Varda is living proof of the joy that a life in films can bring.

5. Synecdoche, New York - Could so easily have felt redundant, yet it kept its heart, staying both funny and true to its wild ideas.

Neil Young, International Consultant, Bradford International Film Festival:

1. The Wrestler - Best of the year? No contest - this is one of the top half dozen of the decade!

2. District 9 - A fine year for intelligent sci-fi, and Mr Blomkamp might just be the new Paul Verhoeven...

3. Revolutionary Road - Who says great novels can't become great films? Who says the Oscar voters have any clue about cinema? Who says Michael Shannon isn't the best actor in current American cinema?

4. Two Lovers - Worshipped in France, absurdly underappreciated in the English-speaking world, James Gray confirmed that the terrific We Own the Night was anything but a fluke. Both are available on DVD - ideal Xmas presents for the cinephile in your life.

5. The Last House on the Left and A Perfect Getaway - Because gems sometimes lurk in the unlikeliest of places: your local multiplex, for example...

Ben Haller, Duty Manager and Film Programmer, Bradford International Film Festival:

1. Frozen River – Hauntingly atmospheric and chillingly thrilling, a gripping narrative about characters with very little to live for desperately holding on to the precious little they have.

2. Fish Tank – Brilliantly manoeuvres through a story strife with lost innocence and edgy promiscuity, unveiling what I think is a shattering reality of modern-day England.

3. Mesrine: Killer Instinct and Public Enemy No.1 - Engagingly explosive and refreshingly innovative. Both had me glued to the screen throughout.

4. When Life Was Good – Gaining its European Premiere at BIFF 2009, Terry Miles’ poignant vignette is an intriguing insight into the lives of twenty-somethings in Canada today.

5. The Visitor – Robbed of the Best Actor award at this year’s Oscars, Richard Jenkins is majestic as a man who re-discovers the importance of love and friendship at a time in his life when he believed them gone forever.

Sarah Crowther, Internet Gallery Researcher & Film Programmer, Fantastic Films Weekend:

1. Martyrs - Possibly not a film you’d watch twice but it’s brave, brutal filmmaking and further proof that the French are currently leading the world in the horror genre.

2. Drag Me to Hell - Welcome home Sam Raimi – now please stop playing with that Peter Parker boy, you’re in with the wrong crowd.

3. Moon - Finally a strong cerebral sci-fi to chew over – great first time direction by Duncan Jones and a poignant performance by Sam Rockwell.

4. Colin - A zombie movie with a heart – and an incredible achievement by director Marc Price who brought the film in for just £45 (mainly spent on biscuits).

5. Let the Right One In and Dead Snow - A haunting Scandinavian take on the vampire legend in Let the Right One In, then more supernatural problems for the Scandinavians as Nazi zombies battle snowboarding holidaymakers in Dead Snow - what’s not to like?

Ben Eagle, Film Festival Producer:

1. Mary and Max – A near-perfect animated film, with amazing comedy timing and the ability to tug every possible string of the heart.

2. The Wrestler – With a very honest and authentic performance from Mickey Rourke as a fading wrestling star, the film was definitely a firm fave.

3. Moon – A surprising and very different take on so many sci-fi classics. A very original and intelligent film with a stunning performance from Sam Rockwell.

4. Looking for Eric – An entertaining and fresh look at obsession, loneliness, friendship, football and the reasons why seagulls follow trawlers...

5. Frost/Nixon – Adapted from the electric stage play, this equally stunning film version is full to the brim with tension and excellent performances from Frank Langella and Michael Sheen as the on-screen battle of words commences.

Tom Woolley, Curator of New Media:

1. Let the Right One In - A chilling and beautiful tale of friendship and first love.

2. In the Loop - Venomous, often hilarious dialogue and an excellent cast.

3. Looking For Eric - Another Loach classic and an inspired turn by Cantona.

4. Le Donk and Scor-Zay-Zee - A fun mockumentary – great banter between Considine and Meadows but the real star is rapper Scor-Zay-Zee.

5. Star Trek - Fantastical reboot of a classic movie franchise.

03 December, 2009

Sleepover Fun

At 6.30pm on a regular Saturday evening the National Media Museum’s galleries would be tucked in for bed. But not so on 21 November. 71 Brownies and Guides from various troupes came marching through the doors, sleeping bags and teddy bears in hand, to prepare for a sleepover.

I was fortunate enough to be one of the staff members that would be sleeping alongside them on the floor of our galleries. Yes, actually on the floor and not sneaking off to a cosy, quiet office once the little cherubs were fast asleep!

At their first workshop of the evening, the group were charged with recording a TV advert for the museum, using the Museum’s video cameras. Excitement was paramount as the campers had the entire place to themselves; there was more than one giddy Brownie running about! All participants successfully managed to capture this energy on film and we had some excellent footage to edit.

Then there was just time for a quick snack and a drink then it was time for workshop number two, an animation workshop where the children had the opportunity to recreate Morph. All worked together brilliantly to create fun animations and there was definitely an appreciation for the work which goes into stop-motion films like Wallace and Gromit.

After the second workshop it was time for bed. Museum staff that weren’t sleeping over had to bid their fond farewells; there was even a cry of “we’ll miss you Bob” as Bob Harriman, one of the ushers, said his goodbyes.

The campers snuggled down in their sleeping bags and were read a selection of bedtime tales. I chose the slightly disturbing Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes, which provide an alternative version to classic fairytales. I heard more than one snigger when reading “The small girl smiles. One eyelid flickers. She whips a pistol from her knickers” from Little Red Riding Hood.

Despite the earlier excitement the campers must have been pretty tired as they were soon off to the land of nod. As I settled down to sleep in our Experience TV gallery I barely heard a whisper.
Lights were back on at 6.45am and there was no time to roll over for a further snooze. We were up, dressed and heading downstairs for a breakfast of scrambled eggs, baked beans and toast.

Oone moment I found particularly moving that morning (bearing in mind my high state of emotion may have been due to a lack of sleep!) was seeing one girl take her Brownie promise. It was lovely to see all the girls stand in a circle and hear her recite the Brownie code; the new inductee was then presented with a badge and two other Brownies came and grabbed her hands to take her to join the rest of the circle.

Next we settled ourselves down for an IMAX film followed by a prize giving. I admit I struggled to keep my eyes open as Santa vs. The Snowman 3D played.

Finally the sleepover came to a close and there were many glum faces as it was time to get back on the coach. Fortunately a little ray of joy put an end to the sadness as Bob Harriman turned up for his morning shift, to shouts of “yay, Bob’s back!”
To book on the next sleepover check out the sleepover webpage.

25 November, 2009

Bradford BarCamp

The final day of the Bradford Animation Festival saw over 100 BarCampers descend upon the Museum and Bradford College’s WOW Academy. For the uninitiated, a BarCamp is a free, friendly, democratic conference where the speakers and sessions are created on the day.

Split across five rooms, sessions last thirty minutes and delegates fill up the timetable at the start of the day. There is simply one rule; if this is your first time at BarCamp, you have to speak!

BarCamps generally focus on technology, and topics ranged from iPhone app development, web design and animation to producing computer games and getting the most from Twitter. I did have a presentation planned out in my head but by the time I reached the timetable all the free slots were gone!

This gave me time to enjoy other people speak and I dipped into sessions exploring how to hold meetings in Second Life, and a clever PowerPoint presentation explaining the art of PowerPoint presentations.

This was the first BarCamp to be held in Bradford and feedback from across the Twittersphere is that the event was a resounding success. After the last presentation and wrap up by BarCamp organiser, Ian Green, the delegates made their way to Pictureville Bar and joined in with the BAF closing night celebrations.

23 November, 2009

Robbie Cooper Filming

During the last week photographer and video artist Robbie Cooper has been filming people in the Museum’s TV studio in preparation for his upcoming exhibition. Robbie Cooper’s ‘Immersion’ project films members of the public through the screen as they watch television, become absorbed in movies and interact with videogames.

Cooper films his models using a high definition video camera and then picks single frames that capture people at their most natural. The missing sound of the shutter helps Cooper’s subjects to relax, forget they’re being photographed and results in unaware and honest portraits.

The filming started with babies and toddlers brought in by their parents to watch their own DVDs. Hot favourites included ‘In the Night Garden’, ‘Baby Einstein’ and Disney’s ‘Monsters Inc’. The second half of the week was dedicated to young adults watching horror movies such as ‘Drag Me to Hell’ and ‘Saw V’.

This work will be displayed in Gallery Two in the new exhibition ‘Robbie Cooper: Immersion’ which opens Friday 12 March 2010.

18 November, 2009

Baf09 Day 5: BAF Awards

The penultimate highlight of BAF (Just before the party at the Midland Hotel) is the awards ceremony, were the best of the best get chosen both by the jury and, in the case of the audience award, well, the audience!

The show, hosted by Barry Purves, is always full of surprises and this year among the special guests and jury members that presented the awards was the one and only ‘Dangermouse’ who arrived to announce a winner! (Albeit in an accent slightly different to his usual one – perhaps he’s moved to Manchester since leaving our screens all those years ago?).

This year many excellent professional films fought for a gong; CGI charmer ‘French Roast’ won the award and those disappointed not to see highly-tipped ‘Alma’ win were happy to see it take away the Grand Prix instead.

Student films could easily give the professional films a run for their money and it was the quirky ‘Bruce’ that won the much deserved prize.

In the ‘Short Short’ film category it was snappy biopic ‘The Stupid Table’ which took away the prize, beating CGI numbers such as ‘The Pianographer’ and hand-drawn mini masterpieces like ‘Highly Overated’. The music video category was also filled with as much variation; in the end ‘Hey’ walked away the winner.

The commercials category was taken away by ‘Audi Unboxed’ and it was Russia’s high-action CGI film ‘Masha and the Bear – How They Met’ which won the TV Series category. Films for Children was won by Studio AKAs ‘Lost and Found’ which, I’m sure will stay in the memory of anyone who watches it.

After the awards it was on to the closing night party where high profile guests shared the fun with students from all over the country.

For more detail about al the award winners have a look at the BAF09 website.

BAF09 Day 5 : Tony Fish

There are many huge names in the animation industry that should have a lot to thank this year’s winner of the BAF Lifetime Achievement award 2009 for. Tony Fish has worked with such names as Bob Godfrey, Geoff Dunbar, Erica Russell and Suzie Templeton, among other luminaries in the animation field.

We held a screening of his work on Friday and the audience were treated to a documentary put together to commemorate his work with excerpts and full versions of his finest animation.

Even those who are not versed in the world of animated shorts will recognise Fish’s work on such epics as ‘Pink Floyd: The Wall’, and Sir Paul McCartney/Geoff Dunbar’s ‘Rupert and The Frog Song’ and ‘Tuesday’. Fans of Bob Godfrey were also thrilled to see ‘Great’,’Roobarb’ and ‘Henry’s Cat’.

The special documentary featured some charming stories from the man himself about his involvement in these productions as well as the many others he has played a key role in.

He spoke of the task of editing Suzie Templeton’s more recent ‘Peter and the Wolf’ and the attachment one particular animator had towards the character he was animating; the poor animator nearly had a nervous breakdown when he had to film the character’s demise!

The documentary helped us all understand the amount of effort Fish had to put into ‘Peter and the Wolf’ and having to match the film with the slightest change in music seemed no easy task.

Tony Fish didn’t have a great deal to say in person when he collected his award; he dedicated it to his mother and thanked everyone he had worked with over the years but cut out any unnecessary chit chat and stuck to the important things. Just like any fantastic editor.

16 November, 2009

BAF 09 Day 4: Priit Pärn

One of the best things about the Bradford Animation Festival is the way that special guests from all over the world get the kind of exposure that television and conventional cinemas in this country cannot offer. This gives the audience a chance to sample the work of artists that they may not otherwise have the opportunity to enjoy.

This year was no exception: delegates have been able to view the films of esteemed Estonian animator Priit Pärn and listen to him in conversation with Prof. Paul Wells, making the work of this animator more accessible to an audience of students and young animation fans.

Parn started his career as a biologist whilst creating cartoons and pictures as a sideline. Gradually, as interest in his more creative work increased his workload he managed to move into animation full time and made his first film ‘Is The Earth Round?’ in 1977. The film was subject to scandal as the producers, the state film department, used it for propaganda purposes, however, little did the state know that Parn made his own films without their knowledge using the resources earmarked for more propaganda.

Parn's cartoons and etchings have a unique style that would later translate over into his film work; “Every picture is a small film” (a direct quote of his) gives you an idea as to how this man's approach to his caricature work made the leap to film all the more successful.

Those viewing Pärn's style may seem familiar with it, indeed his work has been embraced by the creators of such animations as ‘Rugrats’ and ‘AAAHH! Real Monsters’; Pärn's colour pallet and approach to character design has clearly had an effect on the production of animation. Parn admitted to drawing all his ideas from his head, rather than from life or reference, something that has helped him develop his style in a most creative fashion, without many restrictions from outside sources.

Back in his home country Pärn is able to use his appeal in order to now create whatever he wishes. When a client approaches him for an advertisement he is able to create unhindered, a clear demonstration of the success of his style.

Before screening his films at BAF Pärn insisted that his animation has no symbolism and that he's only interested in telling the story. Additionally, he likes films to be cleverer than the person watching, so that the audience is kept guessing. These are two perspectives that any young students should take on board in the creation of their own films.

13 November, 2009

BAF 09 Day 3: Claire Jennings and Brian Van’t Hul

Halfway through BAF 09 and the atmosphere at the Museum is inspiring, as industry professionals rub shoulders with budding animators - many of whom attended our Speed Date the Animators event, giving them a rare opportunity to present their work and gain invaluable advice from industry insiders.

But before all that, we had the pleasure of showing Coraline in 3D to a packed out Pictureville cinema attended by BAF pass holders, Museum visitors and staff, including Director Colin Philpott.

Shortly before the film, I headed upstairs to watch a photo-shoot with three of the Coraline puppets, and two of our very special guests - Claire Jennings (Coraline Producer and Laika Inc’s President of Entertainment) and Brian Van’t Hul (Laika Inc’s Visual Effects Supervisor), while this year’s jury waited patiently outside to discuss the official selections.

On Saturday, Brian will be presenting an overview of the visual effects challenges of shooting Coraline, which is the first major stop-motion animated feature to be shot in stereoscopic 3D.

Earlier, Claire sat in conversation with Professor Paul Wells from the Animation Academy at Loughborough University, to discuss her career history and the making of Coraline.

Claire “fell into animation having worked in the music industry... [She] fell in love with it”, and considers her proficiency as a producer lies in bringing together the diverse skills of organisation, creativity and communication.

When asked if she thinks finding money is the hardest part of getting a film into production, Claire stressed that “money is obviously incredibly important, but you can kick start projects if you have a lot of passion.”

Claire spoke briefly about her experiences working on the popular animated series, Pingu, where she was invited to try and adapt the character for American audiences. However, “the essence of Pingu is what makes it successful...to water it down doesn’t always work. I think I’m best at maintaining that essence.”

Claire told us that she used to believe she’d become a successful producer when everything ran smoothly from beginning to end, but now realises that “it’s just about managing chaos.”

Of the current climate within the world of animation, Claire said that although budgets have decreased, and studios are having to employ clever marketing techniques to sell a film, big awards in America are starting to take notice of different looking films and there is now a maturity to the way animated films are being made - our opening night film Mary and Max is a terrific example.

Claire’s advice for potential producers is that they should be determined and have real belief in what they are trying to make, no matter whether it’s a small budget indie feature, or a major Hollywood player, because it is that belief in projects which eventually gets them off the ground. “At the end of the day, you want to look back over the years and think you’ve spent your time well.”

BAF 09 Day 2: Indie Gaming at BAF Game

The second day of BAF Game focused strongly on the current independent gaming scene and featured talks by a dazzling array of speakers.

First up on the Great Hall stage at the University of Bradford was Stuart Varrall from Fluid Pixel Studios. Based in Middlesbrough, Stuart’s company specialises in creating original games for the iPhone and mobile platforms.

Stuart talked about his Lemmings-esque puzzler, Kami Crazy, which was downloaded more than half a million times in the first three weeks of release, before showing exclusive footage of his latest cyber pet simulator, Animentals.

Visionary games director Charles Cecil then gave an enlightening talk about relaunching classic adventure games Broken Sword on the Nintendo Wii and DS and Beneath a Steel Sky on the iPhone.

Charles then introduced Ravi Govind and Aron Durkin, two animators and University of Bradford alumni who worked on the game and used it as a stepping stone into the games and animation industry. Ravi delivered an engaging step-by-step account of creating new characters for the game; from initial concept art to 3D modelling and skeleton rigging.

After lunch, games designer, writer and lecturer David Surman gave a passionate speech about the future of games, their position alongside other media and how the key to massive mainstream acceptance lies in the control system.

David then interviewed Erik Svedang whilst he played his multi-award winning game Blueberry Garden. Erik revealed that a major influence for his game was Shadow of the Colossus and that it took him three months to make working solidly on his own in his apartment from 8am to 5pm every day.

Sean Murray, Managing Director of new British start-up, Hello Games then stepped into the breach to deliver an inspiring presentation about the creation of Joe Danger. This soon to be released independent game was a colourful and fun mixture of Trials HD and an Evel Knievel toyset. Demonstrating an impressive level editor that lets players create their own courses, Joe Danger looks set to be a sure fire hit when it’s released next year.

Alex Wiltshire, online editor at Edge magazine then chaired an honest and frank panel discussion about the challenges of setting up your own games studio in the current economic climate.

Joined by Sean Murray, Stuart Varrall, Simon Barratt from Four Door Lemon and Pete McClory from Panoetic, the panel each iterated the need for passion, long hours and sacrifices of a social life needed to set up a successful business. Provoking a stream of questions from the audience, the discussions drifted into the University bar to conclude the day.

BAF 09 Day 2: Tuna Technologies

Day two of BAF 09 and I was fortunate enough to take part in a workshop delivered by Sarah Quick, an artist from the Sheffield-based animation studio Tuna Technologies. Sarah is currently working on the video game Cletus Clay in which the characters and scenery are made of clay.

We got an insight into the making of Cletus Clay and were able to ask for tips; Sarah explained that she makes the models, usually out of one colour, and then photographs them from several angles. The photographs are scanned in and then touched up in Photoshop.

Tuna Technologies decided to make models from clay and not from CGI as because they felt the technique and home-made quality of the end product produces admiration and respect from its audience.

Sarah expertly answered everyone’s animation queries; one of the attendees needed help with crafting shoes for their own project, at which point Sarah whipped off her trainer, put it on the table and the master class continued!

During the workshop Sarah showed how to create a sunflower and a crab models out of clay, two things she has included in the video game, as well techniques such as wood and tyre effects. She made her workshop accessible to all as she had a varied audience; from one person writing their dissertation on CGI and animation, to a boy with dreams of following in Sarah’s footsteps.

Sarah later told me that this is first time she has taught something like this and despite coming over cool and calm, she was nervous. However we noticed nothing, and we came away with a crab, a sunflower and an insight into the world of animation!

11 November, 2009

BAF 09 Day 1: The legend that is Ian Livingstone

Towards the end of an inspiring opening day at BAF 09, Ian Livingstone O.B.E takes to the stage – he’s a "legend within the British gaming industry".

Having begun his career as co-founder of Games Workshop in 1975, Livingstone is now Creative Director of Eidos, the company responsible for developing world famous gaming franchises Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Hitman. We’re in the presence of a pioneer in interactive entertainment.

Livingstone whets our appetite by regaling us with tales and images from his early career with Games Workshop, before launching in to the first lesson for this audience of budding games developers: Owning your own intellectual property allows you to control your destiny and increase the value of what you’re producing.

His secondly lesson is pithy: "the three most important things in gaming are game play, game play and game play". It does not matter how pretty or complex your game is; it must be compelling. This explains the popularity of games such as Pong (1972), Space Invaders (1978), Pac-Man (1980) and Lemmings (1991) et al.

The murmurs in the audience as each clip appears on the Pictureville cinema screen are palpable. This audience may be young, but these games are timeless classics.

Livingstone next takes us on the pictorial journey we have been waiting for – a look at Lara Croft through the years. Lara Croft is one of the most famous icons in gaming, and is certainly a lesson in how to market your character.

“Of course”, says Livingstone, “merchandising and licensing are ways of leveraging intellectual property, but Eidos wanted to maintain integrity…” before bombarding us with a barrage of Lara Croft merchandise, and even an audio clip of Lara Croft’s album (not released in this country, to the relief of some in the audience!).

There’s no avoiding that “gaming is such a huge industry which now dwarfs any other media”. We currently spend $50 billion per year on gaming, and this is expected to rise to $90 billion by 2015.

Livingstone attributes this to a constantly evolving market which now appeals to young, old, male and female, and finds itself moving into arenas such as social networking sites, mobile phones and websites. Livingstone even believes that gaming is currently the only media which vastly improves over time, while Film and Music are relatively static.

After a brief selection of trailers for new and upcoming games, it’s time for a quick Q&A.

The first audience member to raise their hand is interested in the changes that have taken place throughout the Tomb Raider games. Livingstone uses this as an example of one of the difficulties faced by developers; producing a compelling sequel. “You can’t please everybody all of the time, only most people most of the time. That’s what we’re trying to do at Eidos, to make the best games possible.”

Our next hopeful wants to know about the future of video games; Livingstone explains how we are moving from games being sold as a product to being sold as a service - World of Warcraft is one incredibly successful example - it is no longer the case that games are produced, marketed, sold and forgotten about.

Two audience members are concerned about some important issues faced by the media industry as a whole – piracy, personal intrusion and safety. Livingstone asserts that we should be tough on piracy, without which there would be no industry, and that with the saturation of gaming it is only a matter of time before a classification system (such as PEGI) comes into play for social networking and flash sites.

Finally, questioned about the development of 3D in the film industry, and whether he believes this will be matched in the gaming world, Livingstone admits he’s not too fond of gaming “with things on his nose”. However as his enlightening and entertaining talk has illustrated, we have in our midst a passionate gamer, whose career is punctuated with gaming success stories.

In his own words, “you never stop playing, you’re never too young to start and never too old to stop.”

23 October, 2009

Prime Minister Gordon Brown at the National Media Museum

His visit was a secret to all but a select few staff until he actually arrived. So there were more than a few double-takes and dropped jaws around here when Prime Minister Gordon Brown walked through the doors of our Museum yesterday.

The Prime Minister seemed happy and relaxed as he took a tour of our Experience TV gallery (accompanied by our Director Colin Philpott), had his photograph taken with local schoolchildren, and was interviewed twice: first by a journalist from the Bradford Telegraph & Argus, then by a specially-invited audience of Telegraph & Argus readers.

About ten minutes before the PM arrived, our designer Rob Derbyshire heard the rumour a Very Special Guest was due in the Museum.

"But no-one knew who it was. From there we started noticing police around the building and on the roads nearby. I turned on Radio Leeds and struggled to find a signal -- and caught the end of a story about the PM being in Bradford. I positioned myself on the 4th Floor balcony, and saw the motorcade snake its way to the front doors of the Museum. Out stepped Gordon Brown."

Museum Interpreter Beth Hughes was in the Experience TV gallery when:

"I saw the Prime Minster coming up the stairs. I was trying to keep out of the way -- so I stood to the side. He was led straight over to the exhibit I was standing in front of, so I turned to move out of the way: I didn't realise he was coming over to shake our hands until my colleague whispered to me to turn around. He took a look at the original John Logie Baird equipment and said 'Well, this is very impressive' -- I like to tell people he was talking about me!"

NMEM Director, Colin Philpott, said, "We were only aware of the visit the day before but at least we had the best part of 24 hours' notice. When Tony Blair came here in 2005, we had three hours' notice!"

"It’s the little incidents which will no doubt stick in the memory. When I took him to the lift it wouldn’t start because there were too many people in it with all his security officers and press aides. Some of them had to get out and walk up eight floors to my office which meant that I got about three minutes in my office with him pretty much alone -- giving me the opportunity to sing the praises of the Museum and Bradford."

"The PM seemed to like what he saw and seemed genuinely interested in the museum."

21 October, 2009

How Brian May found a lost 19th century village

If you've visited the Photography section of our main website recently, you'll have seen that we have an intriguing event coming up on 19 November. Colin Harding, our Curator of Photographic Technology, will be introducing an event with the two authors of A Village Lost And Found, a new book dedicated to the stereoscopic imagery of 19th century photographer T R Williams.

And those two authors, pictured above, are photo historian Elena Vidal -- and Brian May. Yes, that Brian May.

Brian has been fascinated with 3D images since childhood, and he's spent decades collecting and researching a particular series of Williams' photos, all of which were taken in the same village in the mid-1800s. The book is an exhaustive study of the both the pictures and the mystery village itself -- which Brian finally tracked down after years of fruitless searching.

Ahead of the event at the Museum, here's an interview with Brian about his work and research.

What kick-started your interest in stereoscopic photography?

"You used to get little 3D cards squeezed between the inner bag and the box of Weetabix packets. The first ones I ever remember were animals: groups of lions and tigers and hippos and things. it was the first time I'd ever seen a proper stereo image, and I was astounded. I thought it was really magic: two flat and fairly boring-looking pictures spring into something so real, you feel you could walk through the window and be there."

Why did T R Williams begin to interest you in particular?

Corn Into The Granary and Old Dancy, two of the T R Williams reproduced in the book.

"I was always aware of the mystery in the T R Williams images. They were very rare. I think I would find one T R Williams card in probably 500 cards or 1000 cards, if I was lucky."

"But what really interested me was the beauty of the images themselves. It's a very different matter to compose pictures in three dimensions rather than two. Some of Williams' pictures look actually quite odd it you just view them normally -- but once they're in the viewer, you're aware of the amazing compositional power Williams had, to invite you into the picture and make you feel you were almost a part of it."

"I was aware early on that there was a very big untold story here, because I couldn’t find any reference to T R Williams in the books at the time that told me anything that I wanted to know. So I resolved there and then that I would try to get the bottom of the mystery, and that if I could unravel it all I would have something great to share with the world."

So you set out to find the village pictured in his 59-card series, 'Scenes In Our Village'.

"There was talk of Scenes In Our Village series being a mirror, a kind of bringing to life of an ancient book called Our Village by Mary Russell Mitford. That was the word on the street when I started looking into this, that perhaps he’d taken his pictures in her village."

"The other thing that was normally said was that it was actually a number of different views from different villages throughout England. I realised this was wrong early on: the more you look, the more it becomes obvious that Williams isn't just showing you what village life is like, he’s talking about people’s interactions with each other -- their dreams, hopes, problems, hardships. He's talking about the village’s relationship with nature, with their God, and of course with the thing that keeps them alive: the land."

"I looked for the village for ages, I drove around looking for the church, which seemed to be the most obvious landmark and the one which might not have been destroyed. Whenever I was journeying I would be looking out for Norman towers and clocktowers. Never found it."

And then you had an idea...

"I published a picture of the church on my website. I just had this sudden flash of inspiration that somebody must live near this church and it might well be somebody who read my website. So I published the picture -- and within 36 hours, six different people in different parts of the world had come up with the right answer."

"They told me it was Hinton Waldrist in Oxfordshire. One of the reasons I’d missed is that Oxfordshire had moved in the meantime. Someone had moved the boundaries -- I think in the 1930s -- so the village now sits in Oxfordshire wheras it was in Berkshire in the 1850s."

"That really was a turning point. That's the point that Elena and I realised we really could write the book, because we could research the village in the present day and relate it to how it had been in T R Williams' day. Really do a proper job."

Why did the village stay 'lost' for so long?

"I don’t think it’s an accident. There’s no reference to the name of the village anywhere within the cards or any of the literature – not that there is much literature. I think we know why. I think it’s because Williams was rather revealing of the villages themselves, and not always complimentary. I think he was keeping the village safe, and perhaps keeping himself out of trouble by keeping it shrouded in mystery."

You worked with David Burder to develop the OWL -- the sterescopic viewer that's included with the book.

"David’s been my friend for many years. We were both members of the English Stereoscopic Society more than 30 years ago. He’s Mr 3D. if you want to know about 3D, he’s the man you call, the most knowledgeable person in the world."

"David put me in touch with a few people who were making stereoscopic viewers -- but nothing quite worked. Nobody could really come up with something that I felt would do the job properly. So I made a design in cardboard, the way I thought it could be done, and started talking to people about how they could be manufactured. David came to the rescue again and put me in touch with a wonderful injection-moulding company. And we set about adapting my design into a mass-produced form. And I've had a fantastic time doing it."

"The other interesting part of the story is that David said to me, 'Yes, you can do this, you can design a viewer that’s probably better than anything that’s ever been done, but it can’t be folding up and going in a book and still focus. You’ll never do it.' And there came a point when I took the scissors to one of my initial cardboard efforts and basically made the two halves slide into each other, and -- hey presto -- that was the focusing viewer and that was the basis for the final OWL design."

"So David’s very happy to have been proved wrong!"

You've resurrected the 1800s' London Stereoscopic Company with a website: are you planning to sell images and viewers just as they were doing over 100 years ago?

"You can’t do everything at once, and our first priority was to get the website up there and define our aims, and provide an information service. Second thing was to get the book done. And yes, now, we are definitely looking towards trying to publish some stereo pictures -- which will go very nicely with the viewer. So our motto will be 'An OWL In Every Home'."

16 October, 2009

Our new exhibitions are open

Update: See the bottom of this post for a new Making Of video.

We made it! As of today, Neeta Madahar: Bradford Fellowship in Photography 2008 - 09 is open to visitors in Gallery One, and Drawings That Move: The Art Of Joanna Quinn is ready for you in Gallery Two.

Having known these two exhibitions since they were glints in our curators' eyes, it's strange and exciting to see them there now as actual real-life galleries with actual real-life people inside them. They're both seriously fantastic exhibitions and I'd urge you to come along and see them.

And whether you get to visit or not, there's a ton of bonus material for you to get stuck into. It's all listed below.

Our official exhibition websites

Archive magazine with features about both artists
Archive page

Joanna Quinn resource page with video, sketchbooks and more
Joanna Quinn resources

This blog's 'Making of an Exhibition' series
Part one: Designer Rob Derbyshire talks graphics
Part two: Unboxing the Joanna Quinn objects
Part three: Behind the scenes at one of Neeta's Flora shoots
Part four: The condition checking process
Part five: Building the Joanna Quinn gallery
Part six: Building the Neeta Madahar gallery

NEW: Making Of video from opening night
Our media team created a brilliant Making Of video for the opening night party on Thursday -- you can take a look at it below. It takes you right through the process of creating an exhibition: you even get to see Neeta's reaction to the finished gallery.

15 October, 2009

Live from MediaFest09

MediaFest is back: the annual National Media Musuem conference that explores the media, inviting speakers from across web, print, radio and TV to discuss an aspect of the industry.

This year, the topic is Women in the Media. We're proud to welcome Emily Bell to the Museum to give the keynote address -- Emily is the Guardian group's Director of Digital Content. We also welcome Rachel Millward, CEO of charity Birds Eye View, academic and broadcaster Rosalind Gill, and many more -- including our exhibiting artists Neeta Madahar and Joanna Quinn.

If you can't make it, don't worry: Peer Lawther and I are your blogging brothers for the day, bringing you a snapshot of each session right here in this post. And our trusty media team are also filming the day's events, so we should be able to bring you video of the talks and panels shortly.

More details about the conference at our MediaFest page.

10:37am: Just come from Emily Bell's very passionate keynote address. She believes that we're on the brink of "a new age of feminised content creation, involvement and empowerment" -- largely on account of the web and social media creating a situation where "the barriers to [media] entry are nil".

She believes there's a long way to go: stories such as the Strictly Come Dancing furore get her quite angry (because of the gender angle: "the idea that there are four judges, and only one is a woman so they have to be swapped out"). She also pointed out that the current BBC organisation mainly has women in supporting roles: and that even the Guardian Media Group only has three women on its board of 12.

But Emily is still "optimistic", because "on the web, women are beginning to take over". They are the most active users of the social web, and because media -- traditional and new -- now has to engage with users, that gives women a great deal more power. She left us with the promise that "we're on the border of a really, really exciting age."

3:27pm The picture below is from the talk, The Sexualisation Of Culture?, in which Rosa Gill, Jessica Ringrose and others discussed how women are sexualised in the media.

Women In/And The News, hosted by Karen Ross (pictured below), explored how women are treated by (and in) the media. Karen herself was mainly interested in female parliamentarians -- she's spent 15 years studying the relationship between women, politics and the media. She made the point that there are different expectations for women in politics: "Whatever female MPs do, they can't get it right." Like Emily Bell, Karen highlighted that the problems aren't just in how women are presented when they appear in the media -- but also that they are often absent entirely.

The second Women In/And The News speaker was Sunny Hundal, the Guardian's Blogger of the Year in 2006. He rounded on what he called "bodyfat journalism" -- the increasing tendency of newspapers and magazines to report on female celebrities' weights and physical appearance. "Celebrity news is big business," he said, "and not just in terms of print magazines". According to Sunny, Newspapers not normally associated with stories about Amy Winehouse and Kerry Katona are now increasing their celebrity coverage for easy web traffic.

5.27pm The final talk was My Career In The Media, with an all-star panel of female artists, producers and critics. It was a hugely enjoyable session -- it overran by some margin as we were entertained by these talented women's funny, fascinating and shocking stories.

Joanna Quinn told us about how she went into labour at a crucial point in the making of a TV ad. Radio critic Gillian Reynolds -- a "one-woman museum of media" in her own words -- told us a story about "The Giblet Queen" that means none of us will ever look at Anne Robinson the same way again.

Vivian Fain-Binda -- who fought for the right to work flexibly at the BBC after having a child -- said that "trying to balance work and life was horrendous [in the 1970s]. It's not much easier now, but at least it's not a byword for leprosy."

All the panelists stressed that it's important to have a broad range of skills to be successful in the media as a woman. Liz Molyneux, Business Development Lead for BBC North, said that "adaptability is essential as we develop... I had a real passion to tell the stories I wanted to tell, but was persuaded to make light entertainment. It did teach me skills that I later used."

Kathryn Blacker, our Head of Public Programme, rounded off MediaFest09 by saying that two words had cropped up time and again: "anger" -- about women's treatment by the media and the industry -- but also "optimism" -- about women's future role as new media and new opportunities present themselves.

It's been a hugely successful day with great speakers and fascinating talks and discussions. And it doesn't end here: I'll be bringing you audio and video from the day's events very shortly.

13 October, 2009

The making of an exhibition: part six

Four days to go, and we're back to our Neeta Madahar exhibition.

This post is a companion piece to last week's step-by-step look at the building of the Joanna Quinn exhibition. The process for Neeta Madahar has been much the same: paint the walls, bring up and lay out the artworks, hang everything up, apply graphics.

But. Because Gallery One is bigger than Gallery Two, there's much more scope for the Exhibition Organisers to actually design the exhibition layout, putting in new walls to create corners and cubbyholes and rooms and spaces. So unlike with the Joanna Quinn gallery, you can walk in on the builders actually rolling walls around...

... and taking all manner of sharp and heavy instruments to bits of wood and metal.

The holes above won't be visible in the final gallery. They're where the screens go that'll display Neeta's beautiful Solstice, two 24-minute time-lapses of 36,000 stills that track the Summer and Winter solstices. One wall will be Summer; the other will be Winter. And instead of builders inside that room, it'll be you, watching the video.

You're already familiar with the process of artworks being brought up, carefully laid out on the gallery floor, then studied for possible changes. Sharon Scarmazzo and Ruth Haycock brought the artworks out of their hiding place this time, then Sharon and Greg Hobson paced the floor making their final decisions about placement.

Like Animalism previously, this exhibition has made the most of the expanse of wall outside Gallery One. The gigantic letters pictured below might not be furry, but, believe me, they're just as impressive to stand in front of.

To finish off, here's a side-by-side comparison of how the rear of the Neeta exhibition looked two weeks ago, and how it looks now. Things happen fast around here.

That's it from this Making Of series for now -- I don't want to spoil the final touches here, when you can come and see them with your own eyes from Friday. While you wait for the grand opening, you can browse through all the Making Of articles here, or find out more about both the Joanna Quinn and Neeta Madahar exhibitions at our exhibitions page.

09 October, 2009

The making of an exhibition: part five -- the build

One week to go. Our two new exhibitions open Friday 16 October -- and over the last week or two, I've been in and out of Gallery One and Gallery Two, watching them transform from eerily echoing chambers of nothingness to beautifully laid-out exhibitions of art.

So here's my five-step guide to building a Joanna Quinn exhibition.

1. Paint

First job is to freshen up the walls and paint everything according to the exhibition plan (as seen in the first photo below). There's a splash of red in the Joanna Quinn gallery -- which you can see if you skip forward to the 'Laying Out' section. And if you're wondering what that note is on the second picture below, it's a message from Exhibition Organiser Martyn Lenton to someone called 'Triple D'. That's the name of the company doing the painting, not a nickname.

2. Bring up the artworks

Up until now, all Joanna's artworks have been safely stored in our Insight collection centre, following the condition checking process you read about the other day. Now, they emerge from their store -- the sketches, the drawings, the animation cels -- to be stacked on trollies by a team that includes two Exhibition Organisers, a Content Developer and even a Senior Exhibitions Organiser. This take places in our Kodak Gallery, hence the strange green railings and beach scene in the background. Bringing up the artworks is a delicate process, and much careful direction of trollies through lift doors ensues.

3. Lay the artworks out

With the artworks inside the gallery, Martyn Lenton and Michael Harvey place them on the floor according to their final positions on the walls. There are paper plans sellotaped up to show where everything goes -- you can see Designer Rob Derbyshire preparing one such plan below. This is Michael and Martyn's final opportunity to spot where things don't quite work and make changes to the layout. And sure enough, several of Joanna's sketches get swapped around at this stage.

4. Hang the artworks

By the time I came in on Monday, the hanging of the artworks had already been done, and the gallery was looking near-complete (albeit a bit gloomy -- the hanging of the lamps comes later). By now, our Joanna Quinn 'interactive' -- a hands-on presentation running on a PC inside a metallic stand -- had also been installed by Assistant Gallery Developer Sven Shaw: he's the man fiddling with wires below.

5. Apply the graphics

Two things here. First: apply the 'vinyl' graphics, which work very much like car window stickers -- peel off backing, stick onto wall. Of course, much more care needs to be taken with our stickers, to make sure they're straight and don't develop pesky air bubbles. The text-based titles (see the little "Archive" sticker in the photo below) are created by "a very expensive machine" which cuts the individual letters out of a plain red sheet.

The second job is the big graphics. We've got two in the Joanna Quinn gallery: the cuddly Charmin bear, and 'Flamenco Beryl' from Dreams And Desires: Family Ties. They're essentially giant posters that go up on the gallery walls like wallpaper. Apply glue with brush; lift and place (it's a two-man job); and then all that's left is the final satisfying task of smoothing everything down.

And that's as much as I've seen so far. Step six is hanging the artworks on loan from other institutions -- we have a Goya, two Lautrecs, two Gillrays and a Degat: all examples of art that has influenced Joanna's own style. More on that later.

Then comes step seven: adding the artwork captions, fixing the lights, cleaning up -- and then opening the doors to you.

There's a palpable buzz in the air now that we're only a week away from the grand opening. As the big day approaches, I'll have more updates for you (including the building of other exhibition, Neeta Madahar: Bradford Fellowship in Photography 2008-09). In the meantime, all the photos above, plus many more I couldn't squeeze in, are available as a set on our Flickr page.