Approaching story through animating Shakespeare

Classical literature is a rich source of inspiration for plot lines, dilemmas and characters and no other classical writer has inspired Western literature quite like William Shakespeare. Not only were his plays hugely popular with audiences at the time of writing, but they introduced new techniques in theatre and even many new words into the English language. Consider the following popular saying - ‘Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them‘ – still used today this is actually a line from Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night. Indeed many phrases in common use in the English language derive from Shakespeare.

Shakespeare’s plays were designed to be alive – living documents to be interpreted by a theatre company – and were often re-written, updated and corrected during rehearsals with his theatre company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. Sometimes parts of his plays were even written with the collaboration of other playwrights. Each succeeding generation re-invents what Shakespeare means to them (consider for example the HipHop Shakespeare Company). In Shakespeare’s plays, there are very few stage instructions or descriptions about what the settings should look like. In the Elizabethan theatre of his time, as we can see in the contemporary recreation of the Globe Theatre on London’s Bankside, the stage was relatively bare with very little scenery. Indeed, our ideas about the environment that the plays are set in and the characters that we see comes from the lines that the actors speak. In other words, all of the visuals in the play are painted in the minds eye of the audience through the poetic language of the dialogue. This makes Shakespeare’s work ideal material for visual artists and animators, because you are free to visually interpret how the plays might be aproached in so many different ways.

So far on the MA Character Animation course, we have used biographical incidents from students own lives or pictures (National Gallery paintings or London Transport Museum posters) to inspire the subject matter for students’ animated stories. In our next project, we are using classical literature – Shakespeare – as a source of inspiration to get animation students to start thinking about narrative and constructing plots. Working with Professor Shelley Page (of Dreamworks) and the Royal Shakespeare Company, students will create a series of ‘Micro Short’ animations for the World Shakespeare Festival that is part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad. When completed, these short films will be displayed on plasma screens in the RSC theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon as part of the festival and will also be projected onto the wall of the foyer. Using Professor Page’s theme of ‘Devices and Disguises’, the films will take as a starting point scenes between two characters from either The Tempest or Twelfth Night in which something hidden is revealed – this could be lies, secret love, false promises, concealed gender, murderous intentions…

During the initial briefing for the project, Professor Page showed us Barry Purves’s film Next, in which Shakespeare mimes all of his plays in a silent audition.

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For more information about this film, see Barry Purves website. Another film showed was Aria by Pjotr Sapegin.

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She also showed a series of student films from France that explored themes of devices and disguises, including Tim Tom.

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Here is some more sources of information that could be useful for the project.

Online resources for students: Shakespeare

Online resources for students: writing short films

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