Samantha Moore is an animated documentary maker and researcher, who teaches at the University of Wolverhampton. She specialises in science collaborations, working with archaeologists to neuroscientists and microbiologists, making films on topics such as synaesthesia, septin cage assembly and sweetpea growing in Shropshire.
A graduate of Central Saint Martins School, she is the co-author of the book The Fundamentals of Animation (2nd Edition, Bloomsbury, 2016) with Professor Paul Wells.
She kindly took the time to answer a few questions.
What makes animation special?
Animation is an incredibly plastic and flexible medium, within which you can do so much. You can make animated films that appear to be entirely shot in live action (see every super hero and sci fi film made in the past 20 years), and you can make animated films in the lowest of tech, using just paper cut outs or a pin scratching into film emulsion. People tend to think that animation is a form aimed at children, and although this is wrong (rooted in historical custom and practice) it gives us a great opportunity to smuggle over work that challenges, inspires, questions and subverts: all under the guise of something that is ‘just a cartoon’.
Could you tell us a bit about your background in animation?
My first degree was at Exeter University in English Literature and Fine Art. I loved stories and pictures, and animation was a way to bring them together. I saw the work of Caroline Leaf and I was inspired to make my paintings move, by using a technique she used in her film ‘The Street’ (1976). I used oil paint on glass for my first few films at Exeter, at Central Saint Martins and after, then when was pregnant with my kids I changed to working digitally because sometimes I could only snatch small bits of time to work on films (and oil paint will dry eventually!).
What other animators or animations do you like or have inspired your work?
I love the work of Joanna Quinn, she is so exuberant and her line is so beautiful and dynamic. I think she is a genius because she makes you care so much about her characters. Britannia (1993) is probably my favourite. When I was a student I was really influenced by Candy Guard, because I love her writing so much; ‘Pond Life’ (1996) is brilliant. Jan Svankmajer was a big influence in my early years, his work is so diverse in technique and I love the way he uses sound.
We love your work on synaesthesia. Can you explain a little more about this?
Synaesthesia is a brain trait, where when one sense is stimulated, more than one sense reacts. People with audio-visual synaesthesia will hear sounds as you might expect but then they also experience colours and shapes that are simultaneously triggered by that sound. My film ‘An Eyeful of Sound’ (2010) was made collaboratively with people who had audio-visual synaesthesia (Tessa, Julie and Emma), and a scientist whose research is into synaesthesia (Dr Jamie Ward, University of Sussex).
All of the images of the synaesthetic reactions were carefully checked (and changed if necessary) so that they reflected that person’s synaesthetic reaction as accurately as possible. It was really fun to make and fascinating to understand through the film making process how differently the world can be perceived. I think that animation has a great facility for that; for explaining to others how the world might be perceived differently by those who aren’t neuro-typical. And the more I learn the more I doubt that there even is one ‘neuro-typical’ way of seeing the world!
Can you tell us more about your science collaborations?
I’ve worked with scientists a lot and it’s always been really interesting and enjoyable. Past projects have included films about synaesthesia, multiple birth, HIV/AIDS, micro-biology and competitive sweetpea growing. Sometimes I have initiated the subject, and sometimes it has come to me (like the multiple birth one because I had twins!). I’ve been lucky enough to work with people like Dr Serge Mostowy, whose cutting edge work into septin cage assembly was not the easiest thing in the world to animate. It was a huge challenge but working out firstly what the research was all about and then how best to convey it to a lay audience was very rewarding. The thing that constantly surprises me about working with scientists is how creative they are. Working with research scientists means that you are working with people with passion, creativity, drive and tenacity – a bit like animators really. I hope that the process of using animation is a helpful one for the scientists too. I ask them to describe their work in such different ways to those they are used to – by for example giving them a sketchbook and some pencils – that it encourages them to look at their work from an alternative perspective.
What’s it like to be an animator?
I teach part of the week (two days at the University of Wolverhampton) and the rest of the time I am in my animation studio. I am lucky to have a good space to work in, where I can work using both digital and analogue methods, and I love the process of planning and experimenting before getting my teeth into a project. I would say that at least a third of my time is spent trying to get funding for projects, filling out forms, writing pitches etc. I am successful probably one time put of every ten, so that can get wearing when you’ve had a few knock backs in a row. When I am working on a project it is my favourite time because I just get to revel in the process. I usually work in the documentary genre so a big part of my job is going out and talking to people, sketching them and getting them to explain their work / situation / job to me. I have a good core of people I work with; sound recordists, animators, composers and producers, and I enjoy collaboration despite doing what seems pretty solitary sometimes. At the moment I am working on a project about knickers (see below) that is all printed onto fabric so my studio is full of lovely textile samples.
What advice do you have for those starting out in animation?
You will never stop learning, so always be open to new things. Techniques, styles, software, genres – none of your learning will stop when you stop formal education and if you let it stop then you won’t move forward. Push yourself out of your comfort zone. When you find good people to work with who challenge you, hold onto them. Don’t be put off when you are rejected, it will happen. A lot. Be nice to everyone; today’s newbie may be tomorrow’s commissioning editor so don’t be a dick. In fact, just ‘don’t be a dick’ would probably be the best advice in general.
What do you think are the strengths and challenges of British animation?
British animation is irreverent, funny, quirky, non-conformist, weird, rude, sweet, self-effacing, under-valued, under-resourced. I think that after a lovely period in the 90s under Claire Kitson at Ch4 when independent animation was championed, it fell into the doldrums with a lack of funding, understanding and support. Hopefully thanks in part to organisations like Animation Alliance UK and Animation UK, independent animation is now looking at a brighter future.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on a film called ‘Bloomers‘, about a knicker factory in Manchester, with composer Malin Bång and producer Abigail Addison. It’s being made as part of a wider project organised by a Viennese orchestra, Klangforum Wien, and supported by ACE. The whole film is printed out onto fabric; cotton, silk and crepe de chine as well as sections on paper. The fabric will be re-purposed after it’s shot to be turned into knickers by Headen & Quarmby (the factory). It’s been a blast to work on and I’m so looking forward to seeing the final piece performed with a full orchestra! We’ll be screening it at Encounters Short Film Festival, Manchester Animation Festival, Flatpack Film Festival and London International Animation Festival among others.
You can watch Samantha Moore’s latest work, ‘Loop’, below. This short animated film is based on the work done in Dr Serge Mostowy’s lab on septin assembly in cells, using a zebrafish model. Lab members describe the intricate sub-cellular septin dynamics and structure. Their explanatory drawings, and discussion between scientists and filmmaker about how they see the research, are incorporated into the animation.