London-based filmmaker Lizzie Oxby uses a distinctive technique to bring still photographs to life. In this inteview, she discusses her series, Daydreams, the role of technology in filmmaking today, and even drops some hints about how she produces her stunning videos.
The Atlantic: In your Daydreams series, we very literally see an imagination at work, transforming an ordinary view in surprising ways. Did you create the photographs with each “daydream” already in mind, or did you photograph the scene first, and then build the stories around the images?
Lizzie Oxby: The Daydreams series came about from stills I had already taken. These stills weren’t originally shot with the intention to make films with, but they triggered thoughts and scenarios when I viewed them at a later date. For Coney Island 11am I visited Coney Island in late November. It was a bitterly cold day and it had a distilled sense of abandonment. The fairground had closed down, which heightened the nostalgic quality and melancholy, and that feeling stayed with me when I looked back at the stills when I returned to the U.K. The latest Daydream Manhattan 4.33pm was an attempt to reclaim the beauty and joy of the New York skyline for myself. It was also good to portray Peckham in London in a sunnier light in Peckham Rye 8.15am.
You create films by animating still photographs — can you describe how this works, and how you developed at this unique style?
When I finished making Manhattan 4.33pm, some people asked if I’d originally shot the scene live-action, or in time-lapse before editing it. However, everything you see in the Daydream films is constructed from photographic stills (with the exception of the passing train in Peckham Rye 8.15am). The photos are then manipulated digitally to appear as if shot as live action, giving them 3 dimensional depth and subtle camera moves. I think it is interesting using location photography, as it gives you a feeling that something is real, (as opposed to animation which is an obvious construct), so the technique gave me the scope to create something special happening in an everyday setting.
I come from a multi-disciplinary background (illustration, photography, theatre and film), and I have always mixed techniques and media in my films. It’s been incredible to see how technology has developed over the past decade to enable the freedom to create films in a more flexible way, combining images from many different sources. When I first started making films, they were completely stop-motion films, and shot on 16mm film. I would be shooting 3-minutes of stop-frame with moving camera work without any playback system to review what I had just shot. I would then have to wait nervously to see if it came out okay from the labs several days later.
Technology has also allowed me to think about techniques that can integrate well with film ideas. When I made my short film for Channel 4 Television called Extn.21, the central character felt trapped. So I made him into a hybrid character; a man with an actor’s head on a stop-frame animated puppet body, which echoed the theme of the film and his state of mind. Combining this sort of live-action with animation wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for the tools that are available now.
Since making Extn.21, I’ve continued to look at new ways of making films. I’ve also enjoyed the opportunity to take my film work to the theatre. The last piece I made was a 4-screen film for the stage. It was a tightly structured piececalled Late Noon Sun, which premiered at the ICA in London.The story unfolded on the 4-screens arranged in a cube, with the audience watching from the center. The screens effectively created the set,with the actors’ performances live on stage interacting with the film to tell the story.
I first started making Daydreams as a way to learn new software, and began thinking about making some small films that could raise a smile. At the same time, I was also discovering the Internet as a way of disseminating work. So I made Daydreams with this in mind; short, micro films around 30 seconds in length. A man from France got in touch with me after seeing them on the Internet and described them as visual haikus, which I think is a lovely way of describing them.
It was really exciting to see how well received they were on the Internet. I only began putting my films on Vimeo around one and half years ago and the work spread quite fast. My work was getting seen in places it hadn’t been before, like the U.S.A. Previously, my work had only really been seen at film festivals in Europe, so it’s wonderful to see it being enjoyed by a much wider audience.
What kind of camera and software do you use to create these films?
I shoot the stills with any camera I have on me at the time. I always carry one on me just in case something curious passes my way. I actually shot my first Daydream film Peckham Rye 08.15am with stills taken on my first mobile camera phone, a Sony K800i. For the second Daydream, Coney Island 11am and the third, Manhattan 4.33pm, I was visiting my brother who lives in New York and I borrowed his Canon Rebel XTi/400D. I now shoot the stills with my Canon 500D, and I have also used a Canon 5D MK II on shoots. After that, the process of creating the Daydreams is similar to creating a photomontage. All the photos are cut up in After Effects and then separated into planes (like a Pollock Theatre). Then the cut-up elements are animated.
Is Daydreams an ongoing project? What’s next for you?
Part of the enjoyment of making Daydreams is that it is an on-going project. I have been fortunate to travel around most of Europe to film festivals, thanks mostly to the kind support of the British Council’s film department. So I have many photos from wonderful countries I have visited, which could make Daydreams – and hopefully there will be more from new adventures too. However, having made shorts for a number of years, I am now focusing on developing an idea for a feature I want to direct, which I am very excited about.
For more video by Lizzie Oxby, see http://lizzieoxby.com/.