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Cycling to Success: Interview with Katy Beveridge

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In the last few years animation has become a staple part of our entertainment diet. With more and more classics being released on DVD and the number of animated features released growing every year, animation is more readily available than ever before. It can be easy to get lost in the shear volume of talent out there, but then every so often you come across something truly special. That’s just what The Bicycle Animation is, and people are taking notice. With a unique take on real-time animation and using an unusual tool kit for the piece’s creation, The Bicycle Animation is a beautiful blend of the old and the new. We caught up with the designer and producer Katy Beveridge to talk about her reaction to her work’s reception, what inspired the piece, and what her next steps in the world of animation will be.

I would like to start by saying a big congratulations. The Bicycle Animation is fast becoming another internet sensation, with over 800,000 hits on youtube and counting. Did you anticipate getting this huge a response to the video?

Not at all. I thought it might get some interest in bike geek circles but nothing like this! It’s very nice though.

Katy Beverage

The idea is such a unique take on such an old technique, where did it come from?

It came about whilst I was researching for my 3rd year dissertation project. During the holidays I had been doing some work on stop-motion sets and found it frustrating how little the audience was involved in the techniques of the animation and thus how much of the hard work was dismissed. This got me thinking about frame rates and how we record animation, all of the definitions I’d found made animation and live action out to be mutually exclusive, so I figured if you could record animation in real time then the viewer would have to see the recording process. A bit more digging led me to directors such as Jim Le Fevre (Nexus) who had been working with this phonotrope technique for years (www.phonotropia.com) which is basically a phenakistoscope (like a zoetrope) that uses the camera shutter to create the strobing effect necessary for a rotating image to appear as an animation. I wanted to use bikes as it’s a mechanism most people are familiar with and could relate to.

Were there any specific influences you had when it came to the design of the piece?

My aim was to keep it as aesthetically clean as possible to make sure the focus was solely on the technique and the viewer was not distracted by narrative or anything else. I’d worked previously for artists such as Rob Ryan and really liked the way paper cut silhouettes allow for a really clean aesthetic but with quite complex design. After the early tests I realized to really make it clear that these animations were happening in real time I would have to film it on moving bikes not just an upside down wheel (though the latter makes for cleaner animation). For the cutouts themselves I went down to the museum of childhood in Bethnal Green, East London which has some amazing optical toys, the phenakistoscope they had on display (those discs with the slits cut round the edge that you spin in front of a mirror) gave me a good idea of what kind of shapes and structures would animate best and how they could interact.

Moving away from the aesthetic, this animation seems to be quite a technically challenging, did it take you long to work out all of the variables to get the piece to work in the way you wanted it to? Can you take us through the process from beginning to completion?

Yeah there was things to work out with the frame rate of the camera and the rotation of the wheel, basically the more segments around the wheel the slower the bike would need to be traveling to animate. Once I had the disc drawn out and divided up into segments it was just a case of drawing out really basic looping animations. The biggest challenge I found myself faced with was how to attach a camera to the moving bike frame securely. The camera would have to be moving at the same speed at the bike and both would have to be as steady as possible. I went through all sorts of possibilities; filming from another bike, filming from a skateboard or car, but all these would have too many variables. In the end I managed to construct an arm secured to the bike using a clamp. I was using my Cannon 550D DSLR as its really light weight so was much easier to support though riding so fast with it clamped on still scared me to death!

Do you enjoy the technical side of animation as much as the creative or was this something new for you?

The technical side of animation is something that’s traditionally never really been celebrated enough I feel so I do try and make it central in my work. Often the “better” and cleaner the rendering the less contact we feel with the artist behind the work and I think sometimes the audience want that connection. In this sense the technical side of animation can be the creative side in itself.

And having designed this piece so successfully, can we expect to see similar projects in the future?

I’ve got about eight months left in university and I intend to focus this time on the broader theme of physical animation, how we can bring animation into the real world, so it will be work in the same spirit but not using the same technique.

And speaking of the future, do you have any plans on what the next big project might be? With all the attention The Bicycle Animation is getting, it must be quite tempting to ride the wave.

Well I think the next step would be to turn it into an an interactive exhibition which I would absolutely love to do, this would be quite a natural progression from my original aim which was to get the viewer more involved with the process so I’ve started a few chats about that. I’ve also got a couple other projects that I’m working on that are totally different from this and will be coming out early next year.

You’re in your third year of university, if you could choose where your next step would take you, where would you go and what kind of work would you like to be creating?

I’d love to work on the creative team of a big production company, I’ve done quite a bit of work already in production and I love the buzz you get from seeing big projects properly realized. Freelancing on my own would drive me a bit crazy; I need people to bounce ideas off and work through things with. I like creating work that works on a variety of different levels and gets people involved, that changes the way we look at animation and other types of deign in a really simple yet engaging way.

Where can we expect to find you in 10 years’ time?

That’s never an easy one! I grew up in about 7 different countries before coming to London so have no aversion to traveling. I’ll hopefully have a nice studio set up and some good work under my belt in both animation and illustration though exactly where in the world this would be I have no idea.

Well we wish you luck for your future, from all we’ve seen its going to be a bright one.

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