Project Pygmalion: Q&A with Kate Anderson

Ensemble Molière would like to welcome animation artist Kate Anderson to the team! It is the first time the group have delved into the world of the visual arts and we are taking this opportunity to pose Kate a few questions about herself, her career and the creative processes involved...

  • Where does your love of art and animation stem from?

I always liked drawing and going to galleries since I was young, something my parents encouraged. Around age 9 I used to go to an art club at ‘Kettles Yard’, a rambling house in Cambridge full of art and found objects the owners had collected. The club was was run by some art students, who would talk about the artworks and objects with the same emphasis; it was inspiring to think of ‘art’ as being everything around us. Plus they knew how to make it fun, we used to jump around on the sofas and make toy boats that we floated in the bath tub. Tony Hart’s television programme ‘Take Hart’ was a firm favourite too. Though I’m still miffed that when I met him and asked for a picture of a caterpillar he drew me a butterfly instead. And, if I were to trace back my love of animation, I’d say the children’s series Sesame Street planted a seed, with it’s whimsical animated curiosities. Today I frequently discover some of my now-favourite film-makers animated segments in those old 80’s episodes. 

  • How and when did you decide that animation was going to become such an integral part of your career? 

I was always painting and drawing cartoons of my classmates, turning our humdrum lives into comic book soap-operas for break time amusement.  When I was about 17 and wondering what I might do after leaving school, I stumbled across a programme late at night on Channel 4 called 'Fourmations' where they showed films made by animators and went behind the production process. As well as short films, they showed idents and commercials made in animation too; I was very excited to discover that a career like this existed. When I got to do some animation on my art Foundation course, it confirmed my interest in the medium. I really like the way it pulls together story telling, drawing, film and sound.

  • You have worked with a huge variety of artists over the years, do you think working with an early music group will be any different?

I’ve made a few music videos for pop and folk musicians, where usually I’ll look for a visual narrative and style inspired by the lyrics. Here the challenge is to interpret the story of Pygmalion and make it appealing to as wide an audience as possible, beyond the ‘typical’ opera viewer. And to balance the animated projections with what’s happening on stage, so the performers can shine. Is Michael Nyman considered to be Baroque influenced? His film soundtracks are some of my default ‘get-to-work!’ music - so I’m secretly hoping I’ll be incredibly productive. I’m certainly looking forward to it, it’s a wonderful challenge.

  • Do you enjoy creating projects with a live music element? Does your approach differ to working with pre-recorded tracks? 

I've never worked on a live performance before, so this will be entirely new! I'm used to finishing a project by triple-checking all the movie files in the safety of my studio, not playing them out in front of a live audience. I'll be creating all the animation elements in advance, and then at the performances I’ll be using cueing software to trigger them live as the performers play, similar to cueing stage lighting. We’ve chosen this approach as it will give the performers the room to play naturally, as opposed to being tied into the rigid timing of a video. I’ll be doing a LOT of practising so I’m completely prepared and hopefully even enjoy the live events a bit too.

  • What kind of music do you enjoy listening to?

A catchy tune gets me in. I enjoy listening to a variety of styles; I have large amounts of both The McGarrigles and The Fall in my music collection. There are a couple of radio programmes that I love and where I discover a lot of new music – Gideon Coe on BBC6 and Late Junction on BBC3. What I like about both these is the unexpected surprise of what will come next, as both shows play music from all over the world, of many genres and eras.  Anna Meredith is my new obsession, she makes my ears pop.

  • How do you go about visualising the story of Pygmalion? 

We’re updating it to the modern era, but it will remain set in Paris, with all the emblems of the architecture present. I’m looking at creating ink line drawings with graphic blocks of colour. One thing the Ensemble were sure of from the beginning was to present the lyrics on screen in a more interesting and exciting way, so these will be individually designed and animated too – as opposed to the usual surtitles at the top of the screen.

  • Could you walk us through the basics of the animation process? 

I’m starting with some very rough sketches and written notes about what the different scenes will be, worked out with Karolina and members of the Ensemble. These will get redrawn so they become a more detailed guide. I like to show things to people at all stages to check it’s developing as they imagine and there hasn’t been a communication slip. I’ll develop the drawings on paper, and scan them in to colour them digitally. Animation will be done using a mixture of handmade elements and some created in the computer. Then it becomes a giant jigsaw, working on pieces of animation one by one, and slotting them in place until the finished picture starts to emerge. Things have a tendency to look terrible in early and middle stages, as nothing is completely finished.

  • What up and coming projects are you most looking forward to working on in the future? 

I’d like to develop more collaborations in future, somewhat inspired by this one. I’m interested in ancient farming, Fenlands and urban sprawl if any experts would like to invite me.

  • Where can we see your work? 

My website is at www.kateanderson.co.uk.

Thank you for your time Kate, we can’t wait to see the finished product in June!

Alice