Unit 1 Assessment
A brief introduction…
My name is Ashton Blyth, I’m 23, I have always loved space, dinosaurs too, and I’m a big Harry Potter nerd… I’m also a transgender man.
Definitive Times is a project I have wanted to pursue for a while, it is my personal story of transitioning from female to male – the key moments over the last five and a half years that create the timeline of this life-changing journey for me and my family.
The film will depict moments of pure happiness, joy like I had never felt before, and some of the very darkest times in my life. I’ve had to force myself to be vulnerable and feel exposed just writing down how some of these moments affected me, but if in doing so I can help just one other person on their transition journey, or aid understanding in their support system, then it will have been worth it.
Turning the film into a rotoscoped animation, it has allowed me to take a step away from being the subject and protect myself from the traumatic times of my life. This animation method allows an audience to connect with the film on an emotional level due to the photorealism, but also project themselves onto the subjects because they are not looking directly at the real people, or at the real memory, they are seeing it through a lens that I control.
LO1: Formulate, describe and implement a challenging and self-directed programme of study, relating to your Study Statement. (AC Enquiry)
The study statement allowed me to lay out exactly what I wanted to achieve and how to do so: to discover my own defining moments and to share these through art. In developing a deeper understanding my own journey of discovery I hoped to transcribe it into a format an audience could connect with, and ultimately create a film which will be of help to those transitioning, as well as their support network, on their own journey.
Following my initial objectives, I began by going back through all footage of myself captured on the family cameras over the years, as well as mobile phones in more recent years. Each time I came across a video I would copy it into a folder for that year, and when this process was complete I looked through those videos to see what inspiration came from them and whether they were valid for inclusion in this project.
One of my seminal breakthroughs in the structuring of this project was sitting down and telling myself to write a list of anything and everything that I believe could have led to me coming out as transgender and asking my parents to contribute to that list. This meant I was able to review the list and create a rough outline of the whole film.
From there, I was able to edit and shape my storyboard into what it is now. Where before the storyboard felt like an afterthought to me chopping and editing footage together in Adobe PremierePro, essentially being a means of me noting what order I had done that in, it then became the preface of the film.
I started to plan out every scene of the film, using the storyboard to allow me to see what came before/after and whether the scenes consecutively worked. I could review a chapter as a whole and see whether it felt like too big a leap to the next chapter, if I therefore needed to consider adding something more in, or if it flowed for the overall story.
The study statement has undergone slight revisions since the start of the course, including a change of name, and a full work plan has been created. I have also added in that the project aims to help those understanding their own defining moments, as well as the friends and family supporting them.
LO2: Implement appropriate working methods for building an independent and effective self-organisation that enables the critical engagement with practice-based research. (AC Process)
Throughout the course so far, I have attended all the weekly group sessions (bar one, the introduction to the library at the end of November when I was severely ill). I’ve found these discussions very mentally stimulating and find that they keep me on task with both my blog and practical work – I try to upload my notes on that day’s session the same day, before uploading again during the week - either research, practical work documentation, or both.
Although somewhat resistant to the blog at first, having always documented both my theoretical/contextual research and the progress of my creative practice in a sketchbook, I've come around to it. I’ve found it keeps me organised and with creating a film – thus a lot of digital/video experiments to document – the blog is better tailored for showcasing my development throughout this project.
The constant group discussions give me a space to reflect on my work with others, being pushed to consider things from a different perspective – this is important to the film: how does someone who is not transgender relate?
My working method is currently animating until I do not want to animate anymore, and then browsing my steadily growing bibliography to see what to watch/read that I feel will be most helpful at the time.
While making the film, I am keeping up to date with queer artist communities in the UK, as to what exhibitions/shows I can be visiting that would be inspiring to me both as an artist, and as a part of the LGBTQ+ community.
I am also looking outside of the UK for my practical research: at film festivals that I have entered with my previous animation (Felt Right Then, Feels Right Now) for inspiration in the creative processes of making my film, and turning said film into an animation. In particular, the LGBTQ+ festivals that could contain films for my contextual research.
Biographies will also play a big part in influencing my film, considering my film is auto biographical. As with Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, the story board of my film is constantly changing. When I watched and reviewed Boyhood, the basic plot points for the ending of my film were “top-surgery, and to hopefully transfer my care to the NHS at some point”. Now this has become: the process of transferring my care to the NHS, top-surgery – but do I still go private, or do I go with the NHS now? Do I get a hysterectomy through the NHS? Would I consider bottom re-construction procedures? The final chapters of my film are left uncertain as my future is a work in progress.
I am also keeping in mind that while this film is about the defining moments that have contributed to my transition, it’s also about the moments surrounding that journey which sparked happiness/anger/sadness that at the time may not have seemed related to my gender but would have been related to my mental wellbeing – and that was certainly impacted by me not understanding my identity. A Place in the Middle slots these moments in perfectly – Ho’O interacting with family, having down-time, at school, I hope to achieve this too.
For the animating process, the most influential film I’ve found is (coincidentally) Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly. I came across the two films at completely separate points of research – one for biographical films, one for rotoscoped films. The realistic feel to the film is what I am hoping to achieve with my own animation; clear separations between the characters and a stationary background but still with as much detail in the background as the foreground, even when it’s moving. It showed me what is required to make my characters distinguishable as the real people the audience empathises with, without making them complex.
LO3: Communicate a critical understanding of your developing practice. (AC Knowledge, AC Communication)
So far on this course, one of the biggest things I’ve learnt, or gained, is the assurance that I’m doing exactly what I should be doing and I’m in the right place to do it.
When I first started the course I was considering going back to my Sellotape casting method of creating sculptures as Jonathan seemed so enthusiastic about them in the interview. Thus I came up with several ideas of how to integrate that technique with my animation ideas to form installations. On reflection, I think both my animations and the sculptures would not have reached their full potential because I would have been trying to split myself between where my practice was before and where it is going now. In consequence, I think my animations would have been held back through a divided focus of my creative energy.
After being interviewed by Dean Hamer for Spark Animation, I got the assurance I needed that animation is a medium I should be continuing with, that I should not leave it at the one piece since it’s a powerful tool I can use to transcribe my story.
After being assured that animation is the way forward in my practice, it was then a case of having to trust myself that what I was animating was the right thing. That was until my tutorial with Jonathan. Which confirmed that not only was my story worth telling for this project, but that my past projects were worth creating because an experienced tutor understood my intentions from the get-go.
It was just before my second tutorial that a critical turning point came in my practice. That was the point when I believe I stopped thinking purely as an artist creating a solo artwork and aiming only for the end goal, but began to identify as a filmmaker, thinking as a writer, a story boarder, a visual development artist, a cinematographer, an animator, and so many more hats. I started to consider all the ‘minor’ steps I would need to take to reach the end goal, and how I needed to approach those areas.
There have of course been setbacks too – it’s a creative process after all, it can’t all be positive. I had to re-start the animating process after it was pointed out that the aspect ratio on my original footage was not accurate, thankfully I had only gotten about 10 seconds of animating the first layer complete, and so I have already exceeded where I was up to after starting again.
One of the more recent developments in the project has been the change in title, from Defining Moments of a Trans Experience to Definitive Times. It was at this point I realised the full potential for this film, and how the research will sit in the contemporary art world. Where the whole of this film will be my defining moments, a couple of those moments have been definitive times in LGBTQ+ history that will create others’ defining moments. The research for this film, discovering other people’s defining moments, will also be discovering which of those moments became definitive times, affecting the many.
The latest progress with the film has been to create the score. I'm surprised at how quickly I put it together, the majority taking me about five hours. From Disney anthems to pop-punk classics, songs from 1969 to present day, the soundtrack is a whirlwind fit to accompany my life-story. I had a lot of fun putting the soundtrack together, discovering new songs that I had not heard of before that summarised moments in my life perfectly, long-time favourites that hold new connotations of trans-ness after reading the lyrics, Disney songs that somehow fit perfectly - Let It Go of all things! This step has helped to further solidify my vision for what this film could be and the impact I could create through depicting my memories.