Chiefly responsible for bringing The Siren to life have been director Jamie Nowell and cinematographer Ed Cotton. Their vision and creativity have projected the work from a score and a script into stage productions and films. On this page, we hear about the process, it's challenges and rewards from Ed Cotton, and about the process of creating animations for Episode 5 'Flood' from illustrator and animator Marie-Therese Widger.
A Note from Ed Cotton
Producing The Siren
Shooting episodes 2-6 of The Siren was a challenge with such a small team. As the only cinematographer on set it was difficult to capture everything necessary, thus requiring a large number of takes for each scene. This was especially difficult for the water-based scenes, as it’s imperative to keep your cast in the water for as little time as possible. The shooting days were long but made bearable by Sandy’s cheese and salad sandwiches. To any budding filmmakers, I would highly recommend Sandy’s cheese and salad sandwiches. The other challenging thing about the shoot was its partly improvised nature. A number of parts required footage to accompany long instrumental sections of music, and so it was a creative challenge to come up with inventive ways to fill that time and still maintain an interesting narrative. It’s safe to say the shooting of the film was unconventional despite the huge amount of planning Sandy had done beforehand.
The toughest scene to shoot by far was the cave scene. Not only were the weather conditions impractical, but we also faced the challenge of rapidly approaching darkness. Arriving on set during the early evening and lacking in much needed lighting equipment; we’d nearly lost all natural light by the time we began to shoot the scene within the cave. Subsequently the three sections of the film set in the cave are unfortunately too dark, and with reshoots highly impractical, I had to do the best I could as an editor to make sure the scenes still conveyed the narrative they were supposed to. The end result is far from perfect, but the most important thing is that the scenes do not detract from the film as a whole.
As the film’s editor I feel the need to state that editing The Siren has been the best editing job I’ve ever taken on, thanks to the incredible dedication from Sandy, who provided a wonderfully detailed document to help me time the edit perfectly to the score. And no I didn’t just say that because he paid me a lot of money. Although I misjudged the amount of work required to put the film together (what I believed to be weeks of work became months) the project was constantly rewarding, and something I became quickly invested in. It was a delight to work on such a refreshing project; anyone who searches my filmography will find a series of dark and gritty horror films, a far cry from the vibrant beauty of The Siren. Despite a few framing issues and complications during the edit of the final episode, the film came together nicely, and will be a delight to both fans of film, and opera.
Ed Cotton (Cinematographer)
A Note from Marie-Therese Widger
Sandy has drawn in collaborators, working in diverse media, to illustrate the story of The Siren and so, when he came to first discuss the possibility of making a few seconds of animation as an addition to his project, I was of course intrigued.
Having collaborated previously, we were familiar with each other’s work. Sandy’s suggestion of my using hand-drawn animation to show the ‘transformation’ of the characters of Ehren and Elsa into a frog and toad respectively made sense. It would differentiate between the ‘reality’ in the filmed and live-action parts of the story, depict the ‘magical’ transformative element, and also allude to the original fairy-tale in its illustrative style.
As this method of animation is labour intensive - each second requires around 25 drawings - the first task was to work out the essential ‘narrative’. I drew up a very rudimentary storyboard to outline the ‘event’, and used the final shots of the film Ed was making to attempt to set the action and tone and allow for the two media to blend.
Previously, I had been able to make sketches of the actors beneath the water whilst the scene that I would be adding to, was filmed. I used these drawings as a source for some key frames - key action drawings, which are then connected by a series of gradually, modified drawings (using a light box) to create the illusion of movement.
To create the ‘characters’, I simply looked at films and photographs of frogs and toads. I identified apparent distinctions between the creatures and began to develop drawings into small sections of action (one or two seconds long). I then used my iPhone to line test (photographing a drawing series to check movement) as I went along.
I prefer to draw with an ink brush-pen, which is commonly used for Manga animation. I think of it as a ‘fast’ pen as, for me, it glides fluently over the paper surface and therefore I can capture movement better. However this method has its disadvantages; ‘quick’ drawing is more risky, less accurate and controlled and may result in many rejected drawings but perhaps more lively images.
I added colour with graphic marker pens, which produce a flat even surface for photographing. As time was limited, colouring each frame to give an impression of deep water would be unrealistic so I had to devise a different method. I tested the idea of creating a ‘water overlay’ - a painted translucent layer giving an impression of water, which I could then photograph over the preliminary hand drawn frames.
Painting with marker pens on acetate proved very effective. However the glossy surface caused glare when photographing. I subsequently played with different weights of tracing paper to try to achieve the right balance of opacity and depth of colour. Frustratingly, I discovered that the marker pens also developed a shiny surface when used on the non-absorbent paper. Photographing the reverse side overcame this problem but meant I would have to re-paint some pieces to avoid light or shade in the wrong places.
Ideally , this top layer would be animated. Rather than attempting to paint a second corresponding layer, (up to 250 -300 drawings) I have coloured 3-4 larger sheets, which I plan to gradually slide over the first drawn layer. This will be ‘keyed down’ for photographing. I anticipate that this may also be problematic and require further experimentation.
I look forward now to the final stages of the process -stop motion photography and editing- eventually seeing the animated sequence joined to Ed’s film.
Marie-Therese Wigder (Illustrator/Animator)