'Leaving LA'
Tim Minchin x Tee Ken Ng
 
Zoetropes on turntables,
filmed on iPhone
© 2020

When Tim first approached me to collaborate with him and played me his track 'Leaving LA' about the two dimensionality of Hollywood (amongst other things), we discussed animating with cut outs and paper models. We both felt that paper construction was a fitting medium to depict a place of superficiality and facades.

 

At the time I was heavily into creating designs for vinyl records and DJ slip mats that, when viewed through a camera while being spun on a turntable, would animate. The zoetrope dates back to 1833 and is basically a cylindrical variation of this pre-film technique. To illustrate the narrative of the song I had the idea that if we combined paper constructed animation with spinning zoetropes we could create a captivating illusory world for Tim to be trapped in (like a rat on a wheel) and eventually escape from.

 

We created 12 zoetropes for the video. All the frames of animation were captured from footage we shot across 2 days in Sydney of Tim and his band. Every frame was then printed and cut out from paper and arranged and glued down in sequence around the circumference of the zoetrope discs. The lamppost zoetrope required over 100 individual lampposts and Tim singing in the car required 478 printed cutouts. By spinning the zoetropes on record players at a fixed speed (33 1/3 rpm or 45 rpm) and filming them at a fixed frame rate (12 fps or 24 fps) the animations appear to spring to life in front of you! We knew we needed to capture this magical transformation in the opening scene of the video which would transport the viewer into the “zoetrope world”. 

 

Each zoetrope is essentially made up of various looping animations; a walk cycle, for example, is one loop. Each loop is actually less than 2 seconds long but our ability to film the zoetropes as live action (as opposed to stop motion) meant we could move the camera freely around and inside them as they animated in real time. This allowed the camera and motion to do a lot of the story telling in the way we framed, isolated, revealed, and tracked elements of the animation. 

 

Faced with the technical challenge of filming something rotating at speed whilst dangling a camera in the middle of it, alongside all the usual considerations, we ultimately  decided the best camera to use was an iPhone 11. Combined with the right apps and processes, the phone is an impressive filmmaking tool and its small footprint allowed us to get shots a standard camera could never have gotten.  Working with something that people carry around in their pocket felt like a perfect fit for the entire DIY ethos of the project.

Watch 'The Making of Leaving LA' below.

The film has taken thousands of hours to make, and has become a project that not only enhances the song, but utterly transcends it. It is one of the most wonderful pieces of animation I have ever seen
– Tim Minchin 

© 2020 Tee Ken Ng

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