To varying degrees of commitment and duration, I participated in facilitator-led workshops and social group activities that incorporated embodied storytelling and the process of “getting out of your head” and into feeling and another state.
I put myself in new milieus – dance classes, participating in one-shot Dungeons and Dragons role-playing, and taking a five week-long introduction to improv class. To experience what I wanted potential participants to feel first-hand.
Improv is a group game that involves creating a narrative story together on the spot. I participated in a 5-week long improv program through Blind Tiger comedy in Vancouver. We were eight people in our group and each class was three and a half hours long.
Performing in front of others was exhilarating, and made me want to do more! I love making people smile, laugh and join in on the fun I’m having. This really hit all the marks.
It was the most enjoyable experience of creativity I had the chance to explore. As an adult, we don’t often get the opportunity to create freely and openly with other for the sake of it. similar to playing a game, improv has a set structure to follow. For intro to improv, the formula was simplified to this: First, we define the location, names of our characters, their relationship to one another. The we set the problem, the climax of the problem, and how it’s to be resolved.
Humour and improvisation really go hand in hand.
(Photos above: our improv group took photos during our last class together. Two members were missing, but our spirit was fully there!)
Playing Dungeons & Dragons
I had been playing Dungeons & Dragons since I moved to Vancouver in September. Dungeons and Dragons is a tabletop role playing game where the Dungeon Master organizes a story for players that can last from one 3-hour session to several sessions over the span of months. I’ve met friends during these games and got to experience the fun of being a participant rather than an organizer. It’s more stressful to plan stories and deliver them to people than it is to have the story led by and organize by someone else.
These game spaces are fantastical in nature. The world of dungeons and dragons is filled with elves, warlocks, aberration, beast, celestial, construct, dragon, elemental, fey, fiend, giant, humanoid, monstrosity, ooze, plant, or undead, and other categories. Within those are skills you acquire as a player, as well as the interaction of your character with your teammates.
The amount of laughter and excitement for me comes from engaging in playful banter and experiencing the unforeseen surprise decision from my teammates, making decision as their silly, stoic, stubborn, unhinged, or even vain characteristics of their characters. Playing these games attracts a type of creative person who like impersonations.
I feel very elated seeing people lose themselves in another world or personality. The dungeon master has given people permission to be playful in a game.
People might play a game, but not necessarily be playful. Here, you have the option to add your flair of playful personality in what you do.
I took a contemporary dancing class in February to explore playful movement. In the past, I’ve taken several contemporary dance classes, but I hadn’t dance in over two years.
It was an opportunity to explore movement, embodiment and expression.
Improv was movement-based as well, but emphasize oral communication between your scene partner and the audience. The dance had no formal performative element to it. The class taught us one routine form start to finish.
I was overwhelmed with the technical learning of the moment. I had to keep up with other classmates, when I needed more time to feel good about my movements. I ended up leaving before the end, as they were filming the routine that I kept messing up. Turns, dips, which foot was forward. It got too much for me.
I’ve taken dance classes before, but this was the first in years and the expectation of performance and to get the moves at a average pace as everyone else meant I didn’t have time to feel comfortable enough to play.
The dance studio purported themselves as inclusive, but nothing about the experience represented anything but a push to have us learn at the same rhythm and pace. It was more so an opportunity to be kind with myself as I explore retriggered emotions of performance and sense of inadequacies, even in what should be an environment of exuberant expression.
There is a different learning curve and more time required to experience a sense of freedom in dance exploration. I should keep an open mind that there can be other ways to be comfortable relearning a new skill.
My first-hand account of playful experiences were wide-ranging. Leading and immersing myself in playful stories like improv was a treat, and the suspense of disbelief experienced in both improv and dungeons and dragons has been entertaining. There is a different learning curve and more time required to experience a sense of freedom in dance exploration.
Playfulness takes time, and takes different time for everyone. It might be important to know, as facilitator and participant, that quickly trying a new skill might mean that participants learn it at their own pace. Then, maybe, can self-expression bud it’s way out.
There has to be a connection with the person for people to develop a relationship. Through creating our own stories, checking in with how we are and feel at the start and end, connecting through bonding vulnerable experiences, ensemble work, and coordinating how we express ourselves, we were able to connect.
Connecting through exercises where we get to know people is more important that connecting through characters in a fantasy world. After a four hour D&D session, it seems like the ice wasn’t broken, I didn’t know who people were,
A lesson in autonomy, self-led exploration and the pressure of quickly going through a learning curve before entering play through the flow-state. The contemporary dance class was too serious and complicated for me. It made me feel inadequate and flustered, and triggered social group traumatic experiences for me.
Giving participants the capacity to decide for themselves what they should do, act, move was more enjoyable than following inflexible instructions.
Some rules, or parameters, help enable playful expression. Improvisational games were narratively structured. These rules are flexible and allowed for participants to deviate as they wished.
As a D&D player, and a visual story absorber, it feels liberating and enjoyable to be led through the colourful world of a storyteller/maker/dungeon master.
A community of people who were all engaged in the same behaviour of learned risk, failing forward and with acceptance, was more empowering than meeting people only through fantasy characters.
See whether insights around embodied practices can immerge on the process of visualized storytelling
See whether animation students feel residual effects, emotional, physical, after experiencing an embodiment workshop.
Learn the effects of playful exploration of storytelling on individuals
Students are not focusing on technique, rather, they are asked to pay attention to embodying their environment and characters.
For my workshop, we are veering away the tacit belief that there is a division between the mind and body.
To see if participants could infuse their worldview in their storyboards through physical movement and introspection, as well as whether participants had residual feelings from the workshop.
Why explore this workshop
I am interested in how we tell stories, and the effects that a playful physical exploration of story sharing has on a person.
Moving away from the idea of what Eve Bernfield describes as the hierarchy of mind (analysis, concept, idea, etc.) over body (movement, staging, sensory/kinesthetic experience, etc.) in her essay, Exit Descartes: Reimagining Theatre Training Through an Embodied Lens, there is much to be explored around the wholistic relationship between these worlds.
Moreover, the separation of the mind and body has a history of being used as a tool of oppression. The history of the western scientific method and stream of philosophy from a predominantly wealthy, white male patriarchal dominated worldview of control has shaped the narrative to remove ourselves from the capacity to have agency, capacity and trust over our bodies.
In other words, to bring awareness to our bodies is an act of rebellion as much as it is natural.
So, what is embodiment, exactly?
Licensed councillor Melissa Madeson, Ph.D, describes it as rather than accessing it through the head and with words, It’s trusting that those feelings you have inside your body are indicating an experience. It’s also tied to the idea that the mind is integrated in our sensory motor system and experiencing and our cognitive process is led by body-based sensory experiences.
Embodiment practices fall under somatic psychology. Which is described as:
Events impact our physical, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual being as a whole.
All events must be processed through our sensory systems.
Thoughts are physiological and occur throughout the body, not just the mind.
It’s a mix of external sensory perceptions, to internal forces of gravity, to them the interospection of noticing how the feelings inside our own bodies. It;s a body-first approach to brain experiences (embodiment philosophy).
So, why am I exploring this?
Cultivating an awareness of our body’s internal experiences helps to puts the body in the driver’s seat and offers us a sense of aliveness in what we do. It’s about finding ways to live more presently and with intention, rather than sleeping through our lives.
Embodiment practices help us move through our emotions rather than thinking our emotions out of the way.
Think about a time you were angry or frustrated. Your shoulders might have been slumped, you might have felt a tightness in your throat and a burning feeling in your chest. What if you cooled those sensations in your body, before you started to, say, blame yourself for being upset or pep-talk yourself away from thinking about what caused the flare up.
Embodiment practices start by awareness, then towards validating your sensations. You can then decide how you choose to manage those sensations.
The relationship between somatic therapy and storytelling
We know that stories can change the neurochemical processes in our brains. Stories can stimulate our sense of empathy. For example, feel-good stories can release the “moral molecule,” oxytocin. This helps foster more trust and compassion in people, according to professor of Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University PaulJ. Zak. His research looks into, amongst other things, the good feelings behind brain connections with stories.
Knowing this, we could take this a step further and explore a story, somatically, within our own bodies. In this way, the story becomes alive within us. It becomes embodied.
Our bodies already process without knowing. Our bodies are memory banks, and recent research has demonstrated that we remember longer in the body, long after our mind has moved on from the event.
When we really connect to other people’s stories, we become a protagonist. We feel what they feel, hear what they hear, smell what they smell. We are moved, we become more alive. The same can be true for our own stories.
Renowned relationship psychologist EstherPerel discusses this sensorial experience of aliveness in her essay on the Eroticism of life. Errotisism is much more than sexual, but it is about what makes us feel alive. It is when we feel the most in tune with ourselves as our senses kick into gear.
Here an exercise on errotisism that Perel’s offers:
I turn myself off when…
I look at my phone before going to bed, sit at my desk for too long, eat candy instead of a meal, think about assignments, etc…
“These are things that zap energy from us,” she writes.
I turn myself on when…
Watching a concert, looking at a sunset, standing under a warm (and cold) shower, after finishing a workout, dancing under multi color lights, singing etc…
“We turn ourselves on when we energize ourselves, when we are embodied, focused,” she writes.
To experience ourselves can be a beautiful thing, and it can be an opportunity to deeply remember our experiences.
Pursuing what excites us as we experience our feelings, and gaining awareness around how our thoughts affect the way we physically (as much as mentally) feel… all this can bring us closer to deeply connecting with ourselves, and with others.
It’s not about saying yes or no to everything; it’s about a willingness to be influenced, receptive, curious.
So, if we already process without knowing, when we’re shut down from ourselves, what wonders could we discover if we process knowingly? What if that processing happens through living our experiences in a story?
Beginning my research
I began my research looking at the technical aspects of storyboarding. In the past, I’ve taken courses that taught principles of cinematography and storyboarding. However, I’ve sat in on Darren Brererton’s Storyboarding animation class here in ECUAD, and was given ample resources to begin my research.
I also spent time looking at in-person tools used for sharing stories.
Disney is credited to have invented storyboarding animation in the 1930’s. Their animator Webb Smith would draw scenes on a piece of paper and pin them individually on a bulletin board.
Today, it’s evolved to the digital format as well, and the formal expands to a variety of methods.
Inspired by the original methods of recording and conveying stories, this video below summarizes the various methods used in storyboarding today.
Professor Darren Brereton of ECUAD’s Faculty of Design + Dynamic media describes the process of storyboarding as:
A strong guiding map for cinematography, shooting, movement in a scene, actor cues and elements in a scene.
Square storyboards are quick, which is necessary for the quick production line
Storyboarding is the Pre-visualization of the film. “Making the film without making the film,” said Brereton.
Animators create a boat board, concept art and initial signs. Once the directors approve the designs, they fill in these ques with animatics (moving boards). After approval, animators will draw the layout, characters and background, and will eventually lead to the polish. That’s where the storyboarding process ends, and production. Animators will break off into focusing on the design (environment, cinematography) and movement (like key animation).
Brereton admits that this process can create silos in studios. Animators working on these separate aspects come together when they’ve finished their work.
An embodied storytelling workshop conducted in a group, could bring the animation studio together to experience the story together, but bring back their experience to their unique roles.
The pros of drawn storyboarding is:
is quick to produce and at low cost
there are little limitation of what you can draw within the storyboard
However, this storyboarding process limits animators to use only their heads when depicting a story. A typical production line cuts down on intuitive embodied processes and favours churning out stories. Animators will spend hours hunched over their drawing tablet or table, taking inspiration from nature periodically or from digital content, or drawing from “what they know works,” rather than explore somatically with their bodies.
Brererton and ECUAD animation professor Martin Rose both emphasized how little opportunities there are for animators to physically explore their stories through a facilitated workshop. Animators might explore by filming themselves or observing their environment. That being said, it is not typical for them to take classes exploring senses and movement for the purpose of storyboarding. Many animators are unfamiliar with the concept.
From this initial research, it seems there are very real and potential benefits from slowing down the animation process and having animators experience stories differently.
Other methods + tools for storytelling
I’ve listed below two alternative story exploration methods that have been used for story exploration.
In the video above, puppeteer extrordinaire Barnaby Dixon demonstrates how to animate animals with his new puppet design.
ProsEmbodied practiceLosing sense of self
ConsOf these characters are not repeats, it’s not easy making a multitude of them (quick production line issues)
Three-dimensional computer engines
Pros: ideal for pre-fabricated stories
Cons: a bit more time consuming
In the video above, composites are moved around in a 3D environment to help block the scenes and make quick interactions of the story in a preexisting digital environment.
More benefits to storyboarding
We can expand storyboarding to the field of science and socialsciences. The storyboarding net are these peer-review articles. A few examples below:
In essence, storyboards are wide-ranging, and benefit an array of professionals, both in the arts as much as the physical sciences. This is all the more reason why embodied storytelling can have long lasting and beneficial effects animators and non-animators.
Setting intentions – Indigenous methods of storytelling
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m interested in looking at indigenous principles of storytelling as a way to guide my workshop design. These intentions will help guide the development and shape of my workshop.
I was able to learn more about storytelling principles thanks to my interview with Ronnie Sinclair, a knowledge keeper and pipe carrier from my community.
Attached here are my full interview notes from my call with Ronnie.
Some of my key takeaways from my interview with Ronnie is:
There are no “folk stories, myths or legends” of the past. Stories aren’t referenced so much in the past, but completely contextual to the moment. They live and breathe. Stories are ongoing conversations with all living things.
On incorporating myself and participants: Ron incorporates himself in his stories through context and humour. He also gives people a role in the pre- building process for story sharing, being part of the process gives participants permission to share.
Finding or creating an intentional location to share stories is key for participant engagement.
Resurgence practice, giving back to community: Part of my practice will have to be a reintroduction to the storybuilding on the land. In recent history, stories have been shared with secrecy and shame, kept in homes and trickled out with ambivalence. The omnipotent presence of the Indian act eroded their relationship with stories, which means eroding their relationship with each other on the land around them.
Long-term effects of storytelling: Ronnie’s relationship with his environment and living things is much stronger because of the ongoing stories he creates with them. He has a deeper appreciation for all things because he continues to cultivate a relationship through stories.
Within the context of indigenous storytelling principles, I decided that these would be a few of my intentions for my workshop.
It’s not about knowing the story by heart, it is about allowing the story to affect you and your soul at a cellular level. It is not about bringing more attention to the brain, but allowing the mind of the body to guide the storytelling design.
– To empower participants into taking the time and space to help them embody their practice
– To treat your expression of the storytelling process not as literal or most proximate to the “best”, but as a true interpretation of your embodied expression.
Background to the story
I’ve chosen to write a story about Wesakechak. This is the Cree name for the Trickster, a well-known character or being in indigenous stories in Canada.
His name is also known to be spelled as Weesagechack, Wisakedjak, Weesaa-geechaak, and named as Nannubush, Naabe, Iktomi, and so on for different nations in Canada. There are innumerable stories about the Trickster, and as Cree author and playwright Thomson Highway puts it, a version of Wesakechak lives across many cultures.
The trickster is known as Nannubush by the Anishinaabe, Naabe by the Blackfoot, and the list goes on. He can change in whatever shape he chooses, he likes to make mischief, adventure, he likes to play tricks on the trees, the animals and even the people. So, Highway recommends that if you ever cross paths with the trickster, it’s wise to offer tobacco.
My story is an amalgamation of a few tales. Descriptions of the Trickster from Thomson Highway’s Laughing with the Trickster, the story of the trickster and the moose from Joyce Clouston’s Journey from Fisher River: A Celebration of the Spirituality of a People through the Life of Stan McKey (whom I’ve had the pleasure to meet), and Cosmologist/science educatior Wilfred Buck, who teaches Lakota, Cree and Anishinaabe stories of the constellations. He shares the story of Wesakchack in the stars.
Thomson highway argues that the English language is too serious to describe how these stories helped us prevail through terror, hunger, starvation, prospect of death, illness, depression. the relationship between us, animals and nature was strong, the lines were blurred, especially at a time when Christianity’s less-humorous God came to our shores (p.96).
The trickster lives in our subconscious, shared psyche. There are many iterations across every single indigenous Nation, and the magick that kept him alive will be the same magick that I’ll use to run my group.
The trickster is here to remind us, as Highway puts it, that if we don’t laugh, we’ll die, that our existence on planet earth is not to suffer or wallow in pain or shame (84). Or, as Ether Perel puts it, to remind us of what makes us feel alive.
Every culture and every person in the northern hemisphere saw the same stars at night, and each person had their own connection to the cosmos. We see Wesakechak the Trickster,up in the sky when the stars align in winter. They can be seen pointing at the seven sisters, known as the Pleiades star cluster, with their hips adorned with the stars of Orion’s belt.
Wesakchak can change in whichever shape they please. One of the first to be blessed on this land by the great spirit, they are a natural adventurer, and like to cause mischief. The trickster likes to involve, to interject, to roar with laughter. And They like to play tricks on people all the time, only to get themself hopelessly entangled in their web of troubles.
Known also as Nannubush, Naabe, Iktomi, and many other names across the land. The trickster is ubiquitous, all existing, and within all of us. The Trickster can even be a Bugs Bunny, a Wile E. Coyote, or a Charlie Chaplin-type, if you think about it. Wesakchak finds their way across all cultures, and they certainly like to visit the animals, trees and people as they’re milling about their business.
Here is one story of Wesakchak told by my friend Stan McKay. One day on the land, the animals got together and had a meeting. They said to each other, we have to do something. The winters are very cold here and our coats are not warm enough. Maybe we should ask Wesakcheak to see if they can help us. Wesakcheak heard nearby. They proclaimed with confidence: “Okay, I’ll make warmer coats for you and I’ll let you know when they’re ready so that you can come and get them.”
One of the things they did was change some of the coats of the animals to winter, for example, the rabbit’s summer coat is brown. So he made a white coat for him to better hide in the snow. The same was true of the fox, who got a shiny undercoat. All these animals got different coats.
The moose however, was on his way to get his winter coat when he began crossing an interesting pond. What he saw under his hooves was a plant in the water that he particularly liked. He had to stop and eat. It was so plentiful. But as the day went by, he didn’t realize how quickly time had passed. He looked up and noticed how dark it was, and cold!
The moose jumped up from his daze and went to Wesakechak to get his coat. Once there, Wesakcheak looked up at him and said: “I’m sorry. There’s only one coat left that is a winter coat. I can’t do any more for you now. I don’t have any more time to work on anything else and that’s the one thing that was meant for you. You’ll have to take it.”
So the Moose got the coat. But it was big, so big, that it just hung loose. That’s why the moose has a coat that hangs loose on his shoulders and especially below the neck. He was late and he didn’t get the right fit.
The workshop – steps
I organized and facilitated an afternoon workshop titled Embodied Storytelling for ECUAD animation students. My aim was to discover whether participants could infuse their worldview in their storyboards through physical movement and introspection, as well as whether participants had residual feelings from the workshop.
My hope was to demonstrate whether embodied story telling practices help visual story makers gain insight in how they chose to share their stories, confidence in exploring new ways to experience their stories, and lose their sense of self to get deeper in their story environment. The workshop was detailed but rewarding, with students participating in a range of playful movement: improv, mindfulness, dance, mask work, and puppetry.
The overall response was positive and demonstrated the success of embodied storytelling as an additional tool for story making. This practice offers possibilities of further developing this workshop for the summer of 2023.
A detailed list of the workshop step-by-steps, including questionnaire feedback, can be read here. Key insights and refections can be read further down this blog post.
Objects: rabbit mask, moose fox mask, man mask, large monster mask, rabbit ears, comedia de arte masks, mirror.
Participants will choose a mask they like. Now that they’re limbered and energized, they will now explore what these animals are like in the story.
They will look at themselves with it on, move around in it. They will then practice some silly walks with the masks. How would a fox or coyote walk? How would the trickster walk? Or a rabbit, or moose?
I’ll then give them various scenarios for their walk: choose one part of our body that’s holding an orb or weight. Walk as though you have a secret. As if you just discovered a large feast. Walk as if you’ve never seen this forest before. As if you are afraid of those around you. As if you have just lost something precious. Choose another person in the room and try to learn his or her walk. As well, try another mask
I wouldn’t give the participants time to think what “mischievous” “humorous” or “prideful” looks like. We’re just moving as our personas! The only time for thinking is when you’re required to learn something new. Afterwards, I hope that they experience some ensemble group embodiment exercises.
I glued together paper designs from Etsy of a rabbit, fox, moose, and giant man. They took at least 20 hours to make in total for a duration of five to ten minutes of maskwork. However, It was valuable to see how participants would react when moving in the masks.
For information on the step-by-step activities around the maskwork exploration and reflections, please see my workshop information.
The goal of puppetry is to help the group continue embodiment practices through ensemble work, and to feel as the puppet and character might feel like. things that don’t require a complicated learning curve. It’s also important that the puppet designs are ambiguous so as not to steer the storytelling away from their design.
This document helped inform me on the different types of individual puppetry practices we might do, and how to puppet responsibility.
Quote from the reading: “The audience does not fear the puppets and the characters they represent, because they are not real, and thus cannot threaten their security or place in the ‘real’ world. This neutrality allows the puppet to address issues where the normal social and political – 7 – baggage of culture, colour, creed or gender may be a barrier to the message, breaking them down by exaggerating them and dis-empowering their stereotypes. It allows us to examine and perform taboo issues like sex, disease, death, family relationships, gender relations, religion and politics, without offence, or judgement.
Therein lies the tremendous power of the puppet as a tool for education. Because of the puppet’s independence from the human agent, it can convey emotion without causing embarrassment, it can deal with taboo issues without causing shame, it can overcome stigmas linked to discussing sensitive and controversial issues without incurring blame or recriminations.”
How to bring a puppet to life:
Looking at the three principles by Gyre and Gimble’s Masterclass. The breath, the focus and the weight of the puppet. Often we might feel compelled to make big gestures with the puppet, but the secret to bringing it to life is demonstrating those subtleties.
Full photos and videos of the Embodied storytelling workshop can be found here.
The storyboarding process is inspired by free-form writing. An activity organized during my dance dance, vegitation! workshop in February. I shared the story one last time, and students had seven minutes to draw a storyboard based on what they heard. the process to whitness because they were so intent on drawing their story, a story they got to experience thoroughly over the course of the four-hour workshop.
Please read the questionnaire answers at the end of this document. I understand that the process of thoughtfully answering questions can zap us out of our embodied practice, so I asked participants to answer the questionnaire the next day. It’s also an opportunity to see the residual aspects of the story and experience that come to surface for the participants.
Workshop: Sticking points
Sticking points are some note-worthy observation I took down during and after conducting my workshop.
Students were excited about the workshop and appreciated it.
The interesting, individual elements that people brought from their culture or pop culture was what made their stories unique.
There were a few speeds of processing: through the body with the activities, and a quieter processing of the story in their minds.
Students were less comfortable doing movement and mask work exercises but tried regardless.
The environment played a major role in setting the ambiance for play.
Music was a great way to get people out of their heads.
Both helped to bring people out of their shell when ether I or a participant really got into the exercise.
Adapting the workshop to people’s needs was important.
Participants tended to use both their experience of the story to old storyboarding habits.
Participants all knew each other. It might have been different if they were more like strangers.
I should cue participants to get ready to visualize a story before sharing it.
Nothing ran long: everyone had stamina to play the warm-up games, and I shortened two of the activities due to participant.
I felt more unsure about the movement and mask work activities, particularly because I haven’t done them before.
I was sensitive to people’s hesitation. I am not entirely comfortable leading workshops that have very theatrical roots, because I don’t come from a theatrical background per se.
I’ve been undervaluing the worth of this workshop by thinking of it as childish and unfounded, and judging it value based on my peers’ interest.
The process was less enjoyable to make because I did not surround myself with peers who expressed interest in my work.
The ratio of time that it took to use the masks versus making it was way off. I wish I had found an easier/simpler version of my idea.
A low-fidelity version of the workshop could have been explored.
I overlooked the effects of how interaction with other participants could influence their capacity to tell stories.
I listed these key insights in my report form, but will reshare them below.
Curating an environment for playful exploration is as important of a factor to consider as the activities themselves.
To make the storyboarding process more intuitive, I will better encourage participants to stick with their unique envisioning of the story through the activities and in their storyboards, and encourage loose, broad depictions of their stories.
It’s important to be aware of and have empathy when leading participants.
Another low-fidelity version of the workshop could be explored before trying it again.
There was a symbiotic relationship between the somatic processing of their experience and the introspection of bot the physical and mental processing of their activities. This demonstrates that embodiment storytelling activities require a full body processing, and that may require longer periods of rest or intero- and introspection.
There is much insight to be gained on silence. Allowing people to process, speak and work in silence were important in this high-energy workshop.
I need to be proactive to seek help early on, in order to better plan and recruit participants.
Given my hesitations, I will have to find more research around embodiment and theatre exercises. These aren’t necessarily taught together, strangely enough.
I would like to explore spatial design/narrative structure using the “playground metaphor.” This means creating an environment that invites the idea of playful behaviour, but in structure in a way that players can participate or abstain themselves, fully engage with other players, and step our and in without much impediment, all while remaining in a playful space.
This process is intended to explore embodied storytelling as a method to convey stories. Embodied storytelling is an exciting and underexplored area of research for visual storytellers and animation studios. A new version of this workshop has the potential to influence beyond animation. It could be useful for people who use theatrical practices to share stories, as well as people, like knowledge keepers, who share stories to deepen their connection with their community.
tuning to your own energy coming to self trust aliveness
My overall impression was that it went well, but that students needed more detail of my process work for each of my projects.
Below are feedback sessions from my classmates, as well as ConnieWatts from the Aboriginal Gathering Place, and Louise.
Indigenous perspective – Connie Watts
Connie noticed two distinct areas from the get-go – areas of self (Self + Indigeneity), and tools/methods (narrative, stories, playful), which are used to express one’s self. Already I was feeling relief from talking with her.
I know that I also envy people who are naturally talented at visualizing their process through storytelling. I guess it’s because they’re able to find a way to engage the audience and help them understand why it matters.
Connie mentioned that perhaps my method of story engaging is when I’m implicating my participants in my design, encouraging them to embody the experience. My gift might be to help people express in their own way.
From a personal perspective, having people understand me feels like a basic human need.
If I find a way to involve my audience in my design process through embodiment, I can share my way and my story with them.
Connie being the ever-seeing auntie that she is, cut straight to it. I talk about indigeneity but I don’t feel comfortable owning it. That’s true.
She saw that I was tepid about owning my indigeneity. If I spend time letting go of all this work, I can work on accepting my point of view, owning it. that can start, in part, by stepping foot on Fisher River.
To own it, she recommends spending a month in Fisher River, being in the space, giving depth to who I am and my viewpoints. To just be in those spaces, she said. there will be a lot coming out of that.
She noted that I had a powerful presence, and that I was in a really great place in my research. She applauded me for where I was at.
After laying our my mind-map, I answered questions about what the workshop was about (the dance dance vegetation, and what I loved. It make sense since we didn’t get to talk about it much afterwards.
I was asked whether I was feeling playful while I was designing playful experiences. I explained that I get sparks of excitement when people deviate, how something should work and break something apart. As well as how people feel within the structure.
While I’m making, I get excited about discerning new things and seeing how I can incorporate it. I’m seeking personal enjoying rather than a sustained sense of playfulness. For example I didn’t feel playful when making my large mind-map.
Jade asked whether joy need to feel present when people are playful, and what get in the way of long-form duration of playfulness. Could exploring what stops playfulness. I said that i preferred the end-result experience.
This is where the playground metaphor comes in. Kids are coming in and out of a playful experience, got to a fence, play with friends, acti wild on the monkey bars, play pretend at the top of the climbing ladder. It’s where people can come in and our of a playful environment.
Creating a playground of various experiences, and seeing what people are left with, is interesting to me. What people are left with afterwards is what shapes our experience. I believe that’s more physical than it can be reasoned.
Diego though it was interesting to look at how I tried expressing and visualizing more ephemeral works. I appreciate how I’m exploring experiences.
Half of my work are things that can’t be put into words (embodying) and the other half can be put into words (story-telling and making).
He noted that there are a multitude of feelings that comes from vulnerable experiences. Tangent feelings.
I wonder whether I should break down the different tangent feelings for people to understand.
He recommended how we can have a final product of people expressing themselves in their stories. A final expression by participants, like a story, or their expressive feedback.
Howsem mentioned the politics of storytelling, and whether I would like to explore this more. I mentioned my interest in seeing how indigenous participants would create stories.
Why playfulness? and what is the value of it?
It’s being able to express who you are, self-expression through playfulness, it’s capacity through autonomy, to get closer to who you are, or a compass that steers you to a true north star.
Playfulness a manifestation of the self.
What key words in my mindmap go together? I wasn’t sure. of the top of my head, there were relationships between embodying things, connections and creating space. Those seem important to explore more. Introspection and interopsection.
Eden thought that the map wasn’t specific enough. That when I was talking, I gave much more than what was written down. She recommended connecting things and finding the right words, like how self-expression is different than playful, maybe self-expression is more important or overarching. It would be nice to have specific words to understand my thesis and what I’m focusing on.
I agree that some words are more important, but the mindmap are where these words find themselves in. their house, so to speak.
Refining could lead me to anchor points, said Sahil. Do some things make more sense in some sections?
Eden also recommended mapping out the projects and overlaying the blue card keywords on the map. it will be helpful for finding big things.
I now appreciate that my projects are meant to be explorations and an exploration of what is important and interesting to me. Students in class are trying to unlearn the tidy process that was drilled into them. The mindmap was a “landscape of my thoughts,” as Louise said, a softer tone rather than definitive communication of my work. the softer tone intended to be points of interrogation rather than working within a definitive framework.
During my peer review, Louise epressed her appreciated the blurred line. she appreciated how much I articulated ideas. the groups radiate, and blur together with perhaps a core of indigeneity. and therefore can be rearranged. She made a note to class that we don’t need to come to a definition of things, she prefers the blurred lines. I made so many good projects that’s been affected by this exploration principle.
Refining could lead to stronger center points or key words, by engaging more with the mindmap.
She mentioned that indigenous politics of long-form story-making can be its own thesis. Embodying practices for animators can be a thesis project. All this extra content comes up and percolates, come up through the work.
We don’t need to figure everything out. So she thinks is very good in terms of a theoretical and conceptual framework. The choosing of right words will come up in the process in the next year and the half.
During our one on one, she recommended looking at other aspects of storytelling, and how story can be told.
She noted that an interesting thesis exploration could be: How we become a better storyteller by embodying out storytelling practice.
For my interim thesis, I should have three to four readings on my key topics (or plan to) have these key readings.
After reviewing my mindmap, and reading my notes and recording from my peer review, I wrote down a few notes of reflection.
Not everyone is going to be supporting and understanding of my process, and that’s okay.
What I’ve been enjoying the most…
Personal discovery and development, The point of be being at school is to look at my interest and do self-exploration.
I also miss making, but I’m unsure how that will tie into my research.
Learning new techniques in narrative design
Most excited reading is about Esther Perrel’s eroticisms of life.
Seeing participants have fun
Working with animators, makers and within a film or set production line.
Encouraging people to embody feelings and expressing them, rather than rationalizing them.
Seeing how people deviate from the structure and find playful expressions of it
exploring embodied storytelling, and the ephemeral, unique nature of storytelling.
… and enjoying the least
defining my indigeneity… somehow comes up a lot in my reflections
creating workshops (enjoy conducting them)
not forcing “connection” and “community” as keywords
How academic research, though necessary in my work, breathes no life in making and doing.
Chat with Connie
With regards to my indigeneity, I have a hard time being vulnerable about it, and I see how that totally fits into the self/centre that Connie was arguing for. Why am I infusing indigeneity in my research? Because it’s overlooked in western research? Please. It’s to reconnect with myself, with ancestors who get lost. It’s to feel through the generations, for all my family that was removed and uprooted from home. From French migrants, Sottish settlers, to the Crees.
connecting through embodying is connecting to what is lost. To finding that lost love, affection with ourselves as much with others.
With regards to connecting with myself, I find that in-part, connecting with the community and the land might be cathartic. I also feel like I don’t want to push aside of overshadow the relationship (and the beauty in it) with my other ancestors. The French and Scottish ancestry.
Keywords of interest
Spatial design (the importance of intention setting before beginning the story-making practice) + Designing Narrative structure for people to explore self-led story-making
Indigenous principles of storytelling
playful exercises/games for embodiment
Self-expression; empowerment, deviance
Defining “Why does it matter”
It’s time for me to also look at what aliveness, coming to/true expression of yourself, connection with others, play and engagement really means. in particular, looking at it outside of my own mind, and dabbling into the literature, into my observations, and including what these mean for me.
As well, why does telling stories matter, why does creating a space for storytelling matter?
Integrating myself in my work
That last past, what it means for me, really has to come from the part of putting the “Self” bubble in the center of my work. I want to explore what it might mean if I uncovered my self in my work.
What have I discovered around narrative design and structure spaces for people to structure their own stories?
Reading “storyteller tactics”
How can I visualized my Self in the center of everything that I do? Why is that important, how would I describe that?
what is my role? am I more of a story-navigator, the winds in the sails as opposed to the direction of the ship.
Femininity and storytelling: I am curious to see whether femininity is another way to help us embody our work. Running with the wolves is a great examples of story and embodiment.
Reaffirm the knowledge I have, my voice, empowerment practices, and my connection too.
Embodiment practices and their effects. Looking into theatre, design bodystorming techniques, acting,
Completing the workshop
The workshop (details please**) is the final activity that I’ll be organizing. finding ways to bring about action in our workshops would be great.
I was feeling adversarial when I received feedback from students. Seeing it as advice, that not everyone will understand or resonate with my work. That it is a process, not always clear or communicative, and that’s more than okay.
It’s bit ironic, thinking up a plan that would get people bustling with energy while my hips sunk lower than my knees sitting in Louise’s comphy woven lounge chair. Her warm yellow table light and oblong floor lamp creative a space of calm that let my eye wander around to arranged student-made textiles, natural materials and curated items that have trickled inter her space. Letting my imagination wander helped us think up ideas for my next studio prompt.
“What if all danced in class,” she asked.
Her suggestion came from from a story my mother shared through her research in social participation for the elderly under the prism of cultural mediation.
(By the way, at 62, she’s completing her Ph.D in Gerontology at the University of Sherbrooke. No shame. I’ll brag about her.)
What if I organized a garden dance? Where I guided people got out of their heads and embodied a relationship with objects.
I elabored further this idea.
I also wanted to explore story vulnerability, storywriting and spacial design.
What if after the dance, participants would write a story, and then after feeling relaxed, loose and introspective, we can share stories that has us feel vulnerable with one another?
At this stage of my eploratory work, I’m interested in looking at the inherent benefits of playful behaviour. Specifically:
To discover the value in exploring whether participants can progressively approach a state of comfortable vulnerability and connection through playful behaviour and story-sharing.
Here we go!
I planned to explore this through a series of progressive exercises over the course of approximately 30 minutes.
1. Visualisation would ground participants and experience feelings and emotions in a space without being in it.
2. The interpretivedance encouraged playful connection with themselves and with their peers.
3. Free-form writing encouraged creativity and introspection.
4. A sharingcircle would emulate a safe space for participants to get honest with one another by sharing an experience of personal vulnerability.
Afterwards, participants are invited to fill out a short survey to list their preferences.
Participants were my studio classmates (11 overall), our teacher Louise, and myself. The activity occurred at 1 PM in classroom C3235 at Emily Carr
It’s not a strech to say that movement + guided improvisation = more joy and playfulness. There are other factors that have to come into play of course, like a sense of security from participants: familiarity with classmates, a trust in their guide and insight on my exploration.
I think there is little doubt that chosen play helps with human development. I am curious to see whether it helps strengthen a space for vulnerability and honesty.
After verbally explaining the activities and their valid choice to not participate, they consented by not leaving the room.
Some were not comfortable having photos taken. We agreed that I would film from below the neck.
I forgot to do that. I got swept up in the dance. Using the power of presence and mindfulness, Louise remembered and took photos instead.
In a circle, I led students through a short guided visualization. I started by grounding the group by asking them to do three breaths cycles, and gently close our eyes:
Picture a garden. What do you see in your garden? What are your feet touching? Do you see any vegetables, any fruit trees? Is your garden wide, or do you see edges? What does the air feel like on your skin? What does it smell like? And what do you see in the sky, are there clouds, is it sunny? Do you hear any sounds?
I then asked to take three deeps breaths, and slowly return to our present space.
Participants shared their visualisations. Some were back to their childhood homes, some up in the sky, others guided by things they knew to be in a garden.
I announced to the group that we would dance for the next five minutes.
How would a mango roll? Is it low to the ground? A flower! Start from the seed and slowly sprout upward! A waterfall travels through the room rapidly! How light is our cloud? Wispy, or big and proud? How would a fence behave? Arms wide, stiff, protective? Platers playing badminton! Look into your sky! Where does the birdie go?
It’s a bird! It’s a cloud! It’s a plum tree! It’s a juicy mango! people were spread around the room, taking up space thanks to my prompts and sometimes looking for direction thanks to my leading.
This music playlist ran throughout the activity! From dancing, to writing, to the sharing circle, and lastly, the survey.
Pretty cool, right?
Free-form writing: justifying the juicy plum butt
Slowing things down, I gathered participants around a table. We each proceeded to write free-form stories based on a object we danced as. We wrote for up to seven minutes.
Free-form writing is when you write whatever comes to mind, uninterrupted. Examples are:
– people wrote playful stories
– Expressions of animism in stories
– associating human characteristics to objects in nature: feelings of joy, loneliness
– appreication for living things in the garden
– Seeing relationship between chosen thing and other living things
– some objects finding themselves in the environment that we danced in.
– a few cloud stories, maybe because it was one of the past objects we danced as.
I’m moved by people’s creativity!
I’m aware thought, that my prompts on paper was not written the way I said it. Se below for examples.
The first story is a lovely poem about plums. I personally enjoyed that one the most.
We all sat in a circle. The intention was to create a space for people to feel vulnerable but safe. I started by sharing am embarrassing stories of my own. I stipulated that you can share an embarrassing stories or share a story that inspires you based on something that was shared.
It was difficult for people to bring up embarrassing stories, either because these stories were soften over time, because it’s hard to recall, or because there are few moments where we do get embarrassed.
People weren’t necessarily expressing their empathy when others shared their stories. some looked visibly awkward, the class began more quiet, more tepidly than in the previous two activities.
After ten minutes or so, I ended the conversation early, before it was getting good, to move towards my last activity.
The survey had one open-ended question and one question asking to rank activities from most to least enjoyable. To keep things cute and light, a drawing was included (as well on the free-form writing page).
I looked over participant’s surveys answers and had a quick feedback after the activity finished.
The activity lasted for 45 minutes, 15-minutes longer than intended.
Thanks to the initial dancing they felt lighter and a sense of ease when free-form writing. Enjoying being in the space of their garden
Of note, some students expressed appreciation for how each activity worked in succession of the previous one.
Participants ranked dance as their favourite activity (visualization would have been part of this), Second, story writing. Third, sharing circle.
Without a detailed survey response, I can only stipulate from their active participation that participants felt comfortable and enjoyed aspects of the activity.
One classmate said they hadn’t danced in three years. I’m glad I got them to shake!
I enjoyed acting as a guide. Any for the most part. Participants enjoyed the playful aspect of the workshop. The end of the workshop needed more… workshopping.
I needed to organize more time for the end. Giving more time is better than less.
I also wasn’t able to write down my initial reflections, but I was keenly aware of disappointment. I depend a little too much on feedback to determine its worth.
A next step would be to do more readings to support the ideas and logic behind my design. Some of these activities stemmed from intuition and conversation with my peers.
My surveys will have to include questions around what participants preferred the most, a little, and the least.
I was moving students forward in the process rather than have to progress organically. More people would have shared with time.
Vulnerability, a game of time and open conversation
Anecdotally, professor Bonne Zabolotney mentioned off-hand that designers enjoy getting together to discuss their design failure moments, as an expression of vulnerability. Could participants feel more comfortable sharing professional failures over personal ones?
Some of my participants like the activity, while others the power of feeling embarrassment as a group, rather than by ourselves. While others expressed discomfort on my chosen topic on vulnerability.
I carried an idea of a talking circle in my design inquiry. I hadn’t considered this previous distinction, and whether people who haven’t done a typical talking circle (all my non-indigenous classmates) would prefer the former over the latter.
I would have like to facilitate the sharing circle exercise for longer. Perhaps, I’d also add questions that helped people progressively get to know each other more.
Importantly, I recognize that the more serious we get, the less playful it becomes. I’d rather keep attention to the activity of play.
Going forward, the question would be whether it’s necessary to talk about difficult things in a playful way? I don’t think I want to necessarily help people work through difficulties through play. I want to help people feel more playful in their lives.
I liked the Free-form writing the most because I got to continue with my flow of creativity without feeling self-conscious or worrying too much about quickly facilitating a dance for the people around me. Dancing was the third because it allowed me to feel silly in front of my classmates. Third was the visualization at the beginning, because it gave me an opportunity to centre. Fourth is the sharing circle, because I didn’t feel like I got participants to click quickly enough.
Without asking participants why, my guess is that it’s because people weren’t naturally sharing and being playful with one another yet. We didn’t spend enough time getting the ball rolling with the sharing circle activity because I cut it short, for the sake of time. It last for a duration of 10 minutes.
Defining what I specifically plan to do with my photos might convince more classmates to get their photos taken.
This was also an example of whether verbal consent and communication is necessary. In other words, why is it okay to take photos of people?
I didn’t spend enough time on thinking of the best survey questions to ask because the intention of the workshop want crystal clear to me. Going forward, a defined yet flexible intention will better act as a compass for the rest of my planning.
Looking up research on survey questions tips and tricks would be great, too.
Overall, I enjoyed the experience and see myself doing another version of the workshop in the future.
I was tired. In mid-January, I was just returning from my month-long trip from the east coast of Canada. It wasn’t the flights or travel time that drained me, but the feeling of leaving people you love behind.
I already missed connection and mourned the potential of settling building a home and community our in the east.
As I’m turning 30 this year, I realized how much more I care about this than I did in my early ’20s.
This was extra luggage I didn’t leave at baggage claim when I got to Vancouver. I carried it into my second Master’s term at ECUAD.
Current state of practice
Up until recently, I struggled to decide on which exploratory direction to go towards. Louise Saint-Pierre, our Studioprofessor and Associate Professor in the Faculty of Design + Dynamic Media (DDM) at ECUAD, kindly heard me as I discussed my how my interests were crashing with my sense of personal grief.
For this term, our studio consists of five project. We explore and idea over the span of two weeks. Then, we discuss it in class.
This week, however, I was getting my bearings.
My current practice is to explore how people feel playful, and what kind of circumstances are created to enable playful experiences. Within this, an exploration of spatial design is building, alongside an exploration of non-linear narrative design, indigenous sharing circles, humour, deviance and vulnerability.
These are some of my key “high concept” ideas.
I brainstormed with both my supervisor, Manuhuia Barcham, and Louise. It was clear that no matter my hope, I had to respect my desire for connection -with self and with loved ones – and see how that plays into play.
I decided to focus on community.
It reminds me of the intention I set for myself before coming to Vancouver. That I would learn, yes, But that I would learn differently.
I could push through and write a thesis, sure. But I intend to learn alongside myself.
This might sound strange, but my education doesn’t come before my wellbeing.
Creating a space for empathy and sharing is a continual practice that I lived by while I was studying in the Aboriginal Visual Arts program at NBCCD (now called Wabanaki Visual Arts).
“A Community of Care, Julie,” Louise said.
She was right. It was time to set the table, and offwer.
Feeding the heart, feeding the mind
I made breakfast muffins for classmates with the intention of placing kind messages in them. Warm apples, pecans, carrots, as they’d tear open, a joke or sparkling anecdote written on parchment paper would pop out.
These muffins would be shared as the term was beginning, as a way to bring us students out of their heads and into the supportive, intentional space set forward. I help me set an intention going forward, too.
I bought a toxic-free pen and paper, but there was to guarantee that the writing would stay on the parchment paper, nor that a Sharpie would not bleed into the newly baked batch of cakes. This is all part of Louise’s emphasis on experimentation, no to aim for a perfected final piece.
I made gifts for people because I don’t believe in separating who we are from the task in front of us. Rather, I ask, how do we consciously incorporate our state of mind in our work? People who experience waves of chronic pain and illness, hormonal shifts and energy depletions might do this without knowing.
This knowing, awareness and intention-setting, is this Shordinger’s cat energy I brought to my origami lotus flowers. These too were shared with my class. Each had a hidden message inside. Classmates were only told that such messages held good intentions. If they risk opening it, and the flower exists no more, but the message can be read verbatim. Or, hold the flower in sight, in your heart, and feel the good intention within you.
This was my way of respecting my path towards the Dharma: sending my wish and my intention to classmates. I remind myself that before we begin, we must take time to connect.
Below is my detailed process behind exploring playfulness and storytelling for The Inquiry, my fourth and final prompt for Studio I at Emily Carr University.
This prompt was completed over the span of five week. Not every day, of course.
Initial research about playfulness
Ludic acronym for play
The ludic system is an attempt to create a measurable framework for play. It is a well-known framework for understanding playful behaviour. Bill Gaver et. al. (2004), suggest three guidelines for creating and observing ludic activities.
1. Promote curiosity, exploration and reflection
In order for play to happen there needs to be an element of uncertainty and discovery. People need to be allowed to explore, tamper with things and figure them out for themselves.
2. De-emphasize the pursuit of external goal
Create with playfulness first. Interestingly, if a system can easily be used to achieve practical tasks, this will actually distract from the possibilities it offers for more playful engagement. This means that if you design an app which is primarily a museum guide, it will be mainly used for this purpose. Any playful elements that might be included in the app will perhaps not even be noticed by its users.
3. Maintain openness and ambiguity
If there is too much structure or predefined meaning to an activity or a design, it will inevitably suppress play. If we want people to engage playfully, there needs to be a certain amount of ambiguity and open-endedness to the design in terms of how people may interpret it and give it meaning.
The protective boundaries of play
In his published research titled In Defence of a Magic Circle: the social, cultural and Mental Boundaries of Play (2014), Author Jaakko Stenros describes playfulness as a social contract agreed upon between players, which removes awkwardness or embarrassment. Because of this agreement. “Play has the potential to work as an alibi for players to try out new ways of being for a short period of time.”
So, one could say that playfulness includes:
A safety to act differently thanks to the boundaries of play
An alibi to try new ways of being
Miguel Sicart describes playfulness as:
“…a way of engaging with particular contexts and objects that is similar to play, but respects the purposes and goals of that object or context” (p.3). In other words, the capacity to use play outside the context of play; toys, the materialization of play. Sourced from Sicart’s book Beyond Choices: The Design of Ethical Gameplay (2013).
To put it more simply, play is a set of structured rules of a game that has a degree of competitiveness. Playfulness takes elements of play, but transcends the boundaries of a formal game, allowing us to use in places, objects that are highly contextualized. It allows a person to express themselves in their environment.
Defining non-linear narrative
It’s important to note that there are different interpretations of non-linear, depending on context. When looking at film and television scriptwriting, non-linear can mean jumping between a timeline. That’s not what I’m interested in!
I enjoyed reading Sylke Rene Meyer’s definition of spatial design. It fits within the the context of my work. In her published research Right, Left, High, Low Narrative strategies for Non-linear Storytelling, she defines special story design as:
Authors and designers deciding to make the formative creative decision by designing a narrative space, rather than writing a constructed story.
It means to look at things in a spatial, rather than linear way.
This would mean that for participants, it gives them the illusion that there are innumerable options to choose from, whereas in reality, the designer has built constrictions to the reality, enabling a certain number of possibilities.
This also means that the narrative is self-led. It is driven by the whim and desires of the participant.
Further space for exploration
So far in my research, I’ve realized that a majority of scholarly articles and discussions of adult play revolve around function. For example, to learn how to be playful in order to build stronger relationships or for one’s higher education. Playfulness is sometimes used as a tool for learning a language or computation. Although these are just a few examples, I’ve realized that my interest and curiosity lies in understanding our innate drive for playful expression. Being playful for the sake of it.
It’s me, hi! I’m the source, it’s me.
Here are some keywords of my own personal reflection on playfulness. I’ve taken these notes over the span of my first semester at Emily Carr University.
*Please note, the relative side of the words does not correspond to its frequency or importance.
My initial thesis mind map also includes elements of play and non-linear storytelling. For my prompt, I decided to focus on these two only.
My initial questions
Does playful behaviour strengthen our relationship with each other and with ourselves?
What other feelings does playfulness elicit?
Is playfulness an essential part of life? If so, in what way?
How should playfulness be differentiated from play?
What’s so special about non-linear storytelling structure?
The good, the bad and the ugly, what are all the facets of experiencing playfulness?
What factors make playfulness easy and difficult to manifest?
My thesis queries
An initial list of a few thesis queries I’ve developed:
How does playfulness in a non-linear design help adults connect with themselves and with others?
How can we harness playfulness in spatial design to help adults create a sense of connection?
Are the benefits of adult playfulness easily translatable in a non-linear narrative?
Ready Player One: Creating the game
Because my research centers on the introspective experience of playfulness, it’s important that listeners not only understand play using a narrative but also able to reflect on their experience. This is why I decided to create a game!
The intent of the game is to explore:
whether a sense of playfulness can be manifested through uniquely imagined story structures led by participants. The structures would be created through improvisation, a sense of trust and safety, deception, subversive behaviour, and light competition.
I decided that the best approach would be to help my classmates experience the game and my thesis quest. Hopefully this would inform them and help me along with my work!
A few question I had from the start
Can I strike a balance between too little and too much direction and rules?
Will people primarily feel playful?
How will I effectively acquire feedback?
Will people feel a sense of connection with one another differently, less or the same after playing the game?
Will it suck?
Initial brainstorming for play
I wanted to create a game similar to the Stanley Parable. It’s a unique, narrative-driven, video gameplay design that explores the notion of free-will. Aside from being well-written and witty, this video game gives the player a multitude of directions and endings. You can choose to follow the predetermined path, or “your own”. You are Stanley, and you are not. There is a narrator, and there is an angry voice that always breaks the fourth wall.
There are 42 endings (very funny, I think this is why) in the “Ultra-Deluxe” remake of the 2011 game. However, every single choice, or deviation, is not left to chance – the game is highly scripted.
I planned on creating an in-person Stanley parable at school, encouraging students (as a group) to navigate the campus using a set of directions from me, the narrator, and having moments where they might deviate from my instructions.
There were elements of my initial query in this idea: subversion, improvisation, a sense of safety in exploration. This was all fun, until I had to plan the story and all the deviations by myself. This is a key element in narrative design: the reason why the player pursues this story beyond the idea that it just might be fun. The idea was scrapped.
I remembered Meyer’s spatial narrative design theory, and decided to try another tactic.
Creating the Deceiviest
Review of literature + game
I discussed with my classmate Siddant about a game where people would design the story first. I was inspired by Telestration ans Rory’s Story Cubes. We quickly came to the conclusion of a competitive game that combines these two.
While continuing my literature, I was strongly impressed by the Never Let me go (p.76) case study, conducted in the National Gallery of Denmark.
It was the designers’ attempt at incorporating a hybrid experience of a museum visit: both the social aspect of museum experiences with what is already associated with museums.
Participants engaged in immersive and creative play as the Avatar and the Controller:
“…The Controller is given the tools to spontaneously orchestrate an experience for the Avatar, taking place in real time in the museum. The system is designed as two connected web apps where only the Controller app has an interface. The interface consists of a menu with different prompts, questions or instructions that can be sent to the Avatar, who will receive them as pre-recorded voice messages. The Controller shares audio with the Avatar in order to keep track of how the experience is playing out. The shared audio is also used to emphasize intimacy and to create a shared space where the two participants can feel safe together.” (P.80)
It’s much more exciting than this. “Can you imagine being this,” might be one prompt. Then: “Now, imagine it’s staring right back at you.”
I found this chapter inspiring because the designers created a space for structured improvisation that was led by a sense of play. Their example showed a sense of trust building with partners, a practice of introspection (imagine being the mouse!) and an opportunity to not think critically of the art, but to simply be playful, in the moment. It is also an opportunity to build a personal experience with the museum (connection with the self and space) as well as an opportunity to explore the personal relationship (teasing, pushing social boundaries and each other).
Participants use the app in an open-ended way, leaving room for interpretation. Relinquishing their actions into someone they trust, and agency to manipulate the game in whichever way seen fit (very Ludic-approved).
Their playful game design made me think of excitement, low-risk, uncertainty, safety, play, improvising, self-expression, interpretation, social, subversive ideas. These values are what I want to emulate in my game!
It was also a new way for players to experience each other. A new framework of the mind, a new perspective of what the present has in front of them. Playfulness can elicit a quick way to find new appreciation for the present.
In their same research, Sicart wrote: “Play is not necessarily about having fun, it’s about opened ourselves to the immense variations of pleasure in the world”
Wow! Okay, Sicart! You have a new fan girl!
I learned in the Never Let me Go interactive play experience, play doesn’t necessarily have to elicit joy or a silly experience.
I’ve learned that playfulness is much more than experiencing play, but about the joys of experiencing the plethora of pleasure in the world. It made me reflect on moments where people were being playful around me, and I wasn’t engaged. I would be worried instead about my relationship, upset at the break of the decorum, or moments of jealousy and envy.
These experiences were of me being in my own head, of feelings of inadequacies. More deeply, they’re embedded in a lack of presence. When concerns pulling me out of enjoying the presence, does it makes it harder to be playful?
Do distractions ultimately stop us from feeling an overall sense of playfulness?
What encourages people to step outside of their heads and experience the pleasure of play?
Can mindfulness and meditations teach me a thing or two about living more frequently in a state of playfulness?
What kind of environments do we need to cohere the desire, or volunteerism of play?
Is playfulness a way to step away from suffering? Or another form of it! A new flavour or suffering. (Duncan Trussel)
If you had to be in a state of being, which is preferable? Is there a more preferable state of being?
Can introspection through playfulness help us reflect on ourselves?
Why isn’t there more systems that incorporate palyfulness? Maybe because playfulness can only be created from within? Can you design spaces that can manifest a state of playfulness?
Play testing – The Deceiviest
I created the game using lots of paper and adhesive book cover plastic. The print design was created on Canva.
For each game, there are five players. Each receives a dry erase marker, six image cubes, and a Deceiviest leaflet. The rules of the game are as follows:
An examples of the game in action
The first sentence was “The shepherd led the sheep and he used his cane but they all broke the wooden bridge walking over it.”
The final sentence was: “A man jumped off a plane with his cat in a sheep suit and rode a magic broom and crashed on train tracks.”
I organized two separate groups of five players, one of whom played in both groups. The duration was a little over an hour. I also included music and some snacks to help put people in a sense of ease.
Thankfully, the game functions!
Focus group – the questions
After we played one round of The Deceiviest, I asked people to privately write down:
The sensations/feelings they felt while playing the game, and;
When they felt most playful.
As a group, I ask everyone:
What they enjoyed about the game, and;
What they would improve.
At the end of the game, I briefly explained that I was exploring how to create an environment where playfulness can express itself in a narrative design led by people’s own storytelling.
This is what I observered from people:
A varied rate of people understood the rules
Fun was had during the presentation of the story and in between drawing
Experienced fun by themselves and with others: verbal and non-verbal communication
Playful experience happening internally, when drawing, and shared together at the end
It’s structurally difficult for players to break down a sentence into three parts
The point system was redundant
The participants are known to me, and to each other, so it was easier for them to feel more trusting of their environment
My experience as a participant
I enjoyed the creative process, the environment, the people
Knowing people in new ways: I got to know people around me better thanks to this indirect form of communication
Here is a word cloud of the focus group participants’ keywords when describing feelings they experienced while playing the game:
When asked when they felt mose playful, the similarities were enough so that I was able to divide their information into two groups:
The group discussion
Participants experience a sense of comfort thanks to the familiarity of the game. They said it felt playful to them, particularly the deceiving aspect. Participants also felt playful in their interaction with each other, and appreciated the tools offered to facilitate the game. The rules of the game were complicated. Some took quickly at some took longer to understand.
The incentive of points wasn’t all that much of a drive. The time limits for drawing added (described as low-stakes risks) heightened their experience.
Game design – what to improve
Well, for one, I need to make the game’s rules and the goals more direct. Based on participant feedback, I should clarify and simplify descriptors of of the players roles. Removing the point system seems like a good idea, too. The story writing process of the Storyteller needs to be a bit more streamlined, and I was told to see Mad Libs to simplify the construction of a one-sentence story.
It’s difficult for people to recall specific moments when they feel playful. Could this be because it’s infrequent for some? Perhaps for others, playfulness is associated with games, and it might be difficult to differentiate from someone’s everyday interaction. I’ll have to investigate further.
I wanted to emulate a variety of values when creating a game: subversion, excitement, trust, self-expression, vulnerability. I don’t think that I created a narrative design that made it difficult for all of these experiences to exist. The real constriction for these experiences seems to be time and knowledge of the game.
It’s easier for participants to feel playful with people they know. For the focus group feedback, the “activity category” for which people feel playful is quite varied. I have a difficult time interpreting this.
During their second playthrough, a player was able to enjoy the game even more, and be more mischievous. Their creativity and “permission” to be devious gave them more space to feel playful.
Getting participants into a state of play requires multiple sets of feelings. It requires feelings leading up to a state of play and then be sustained during a state of playfulness.
Contrary to the second ludic rule of framework, I made storytelling the primary goal of my design for users. Perhaps this detracted them from feeling more playful.
A game with multiple rules might offer a sense of play, but not a strong sense of playfulness.
Contrary to the second ludic rule of framework, I made storytelling the primary goal of my design for users. Perhaps this detracted them from feeling more playful.
Play and playfulness can’t be forced on someone. It’s an unpredictable state. Perhaps a game’s success shouldn’t be measured by how many people feel playful at one time or overall, and with another deliverable, but should include other variables.
Playfulness doesn’t necessarily have to elicit joy or silly experiences. It can offer a moment of respite, euphoria, confusion, sadness, amongst other feelings.
Time to explore spatial design!
My classmate Sabid mentioned cellular distractions as a deterrent from experiencing the presence required for a playful experience. I argue that a playful feeling doesn’t have to be consistent, when creating a narrative space for people to experience playfulness. Think of a playful activity like a small playground: I’ve set it up so that people can have highly stimulating activity, but children will sometimes take a break near a game, take a moment to themselves near the fence, and later return, all while being in a playful environment. As long as I am able to maintain a playful narrative space, I think it’s okay for participants to take mental breaks here and there, even if it means checking their phones.
But Julie, doesn’t that take people away from the presence? Who are you, Buddha? I imagine that for many, staying in a prolonged state of presence, or flow, is a difficult thing to maintain. Perhaps even more so when a state of presence has to be maintained with multiple people! There is a good question in there, however. Perhaps spatial narrative design is complementary to playful design.
Improving the Deceiviest
Having predetermined, interchangeable sections in a sentence would remove an aspect of creativity at the beginning, but helps the game function.
One recommended using the preexisting game Madlibs as an example of how to structure sentences differently.
Can we experience a prolonged state of flow, or presence, with a group of people through a playful experience?
I’ve modified the flipbook with these notes in mind. If you’s like to download it and try it yourself. please click this link! I will send you to the Canva file.
As the year wraps up, I have a few questions to think about for the academic semester to come:
Going from 0 to 60 – how do we encourage people to enter a state of play?
How important is it to be aware of your sense of playfulness? There is a benefit for the researcher, but entering the state of playful presence might offer insight on mindfulness. This could be another possible direction for my thesis.
What is the relationship between playfulness, presence and flow?
Since I’ve described non-linear as spatial design, should I consider creating both multiple narrative directions and a space for a participant’s natural narrative direction to occur?
Do low-risk scenarios help increase a sense of playfulness?
Should I explore narrative design without words, that is, guided experiences?
Pre-playfulness: How big of a role does world building have when encouraging people to enter a state of play/structured playfulness?
Political playfulness: where can we justify doing playfulness for the sake of it?
People took breaks from the game. Checking their phones or speaking with friends. Should I create space, or flexibility, for a participant to waver their focus? Or, does it go against our concept of being in the present, or flow? Does this mean that playfulness and flow are different things?
In Never Let me Go, participants relied on physical ques and the voice app to communicate with one another, rather than through speech. Could physical communication more easily convey a sense of play between people?
What are the mental, physical and sociological benefits to playfulness?
Should I include my own feedback in group discussions, particularly if I participated in the activity?
Beauty and poetry in things that are not seen by others
Make concrete what is seen in the abstract
Step away from ethnographic approach
A percolation period is required for the ideation period
An unexpected journey: visiting Fisher River
A few days prior to the assignment, I had the opportunity to visit my reservation for the first time. It was an impromtu visit with my sister. For me, it was no other reason than to be present and get to know the space where my great-grandmother once lived.
It was, needless to say, a period where I was present and observant of my environment. I didn’t enter into the experience with anything other than the intention to observe the significance of time here, and take notes of personal reflection.
It was the weekend of September 30th. A day of remembrance in Canada known as orange shirt day. It’s a defined date to remember indigenous children of Turtle island who were either taken from their homes or left our world too soon. Some were sent to residential schools, others were forcefully sent to foster homes during the ‘60s scoop. Many continue to be sent away from their communities through foster care.
My sister and I fell on some unforeseen luck. A distant family friend, whose name has been changed to Ellie, offered to drive up with us to Fisher River, calling in sick from work on the same day. We weren’t aware at the time, but Ellie became a central figure in our story.
Over the weekend, we met with our distant family relative Josephine and Darryl Thaddeus, as well as members of the community who’ve taken up the role of knowledge keepers and community builders.
A constant period of reflection
I thought about what my relationship is with Fisher River, dating back to my grandfather.
It’s never been clear to me why my grandfather didn’t to residential school. His mother died when he was two, shortly after giving birth to her 12th child. His was also of Irish/Scottish descent.
With his brothers, they moved from Manitoba to Northern Ontario. The government might of lost track, or perhaps left it at that because my grandfather lost his enough of his tradition by working for his father on the farm.
He was a tall, strong man. Along with his siblings, they were known in town to fight their way into dancehalls and into the arms of women who knew full-well about the reputation of the McIntosh brothers: a band of boxers and principled men who wouldn’t be stopped by any ill-willed catholic, perspiration or other envious Anglo-Saxonite. those who tried to boost their ego ended up harming theirs pride.
My father experienced an adjacent force to live in pride and strength with a bit of a stiff upper lip. The first to attend college on his block, and the first to graduate from medical school in his neighbourhood, stoicism and being in charge inadvertently became two of his values.
My father came out as gay when he was 55, almost 20 years after my grandfather died. It was a shock to my family, particularly my mom, but I remembered something he once said to me: “If my dad knew I was gay when I was a kid, he would’ve killed me.”
I didn’t grow up on the reserve, and I didn’t know my grandfather. But the generational effect of disenfranchisement is real, and I hope that the buck stops here – the complete removal of any association with a cultural and true identity.
I am keenly aware that my identity is not solely a culmination of my ancestry or my parent’s trauma. My interests are varied, and I let those guide me, particularly during my intuitive observation period at Fisher River.
Intuitive ideation process
That weekend, one of the longstanding residents and knowledge keepers, Stan, drove my sister and I around Fisher River. I perked up; my curious journalistic mindset kicked into gear and started taking notes on my very non-traditional Google phone while my sister and I asked questions.
Among those notes, how the fishermen enjoy driving out to lake Winnipeg so much that they volunteer their free time to travel to fishing derbies. The river cuts through the res, but doesn’t needlessy devide it. A bit like Tolkinen’s Hobbitton village in Lord of the Rings, the Cochranes, Thaddieus and Murdocs live in pockets near one another, and periodically gather to chatter about family and odd-ball relatives.
The next day, Darryl, am elected Chief in Fisher River, gave us a tour of the traditional and old treaty grounds.
For this project, what I considered a research period was a series of photos and conversations with people in the community: rivers in autumn leaves, old boats, misplaced suburban-designed homes, wide landscapes of trees no taller than a two-story houses (due to the high water line), and green lawns. Many green lawns.
The conversations with Stan, our family relative Darryl, during ad-hock women’s talking circle and even the overheard conversations during crafting was considered research to me. It’s all part of Suri’s description of intuitive learning.
Ideation: post-visit reflections
I incorporated what Suri explains as a period of rest, or percolation period (p.29). A time to let the observations settle in.
It was important for me that the ideation process was as unstructured as the research period: Free-form writing, free-form sketches of boats and landscapes to find the hidden lines and shapes and the balance between it all. These were one aspect of the process.
Part of Suri’s process for poetic observation is to include a discussion with co-workers who experienced the environment with you. I spoke with my sister, Andrea, to understand her vision of her time at Fisher River.
Granted, it was difficult for her to separate the poetic observational exercise I was conducting from her pre-planned construction to build a memorial park on the old treaty grounds. But there were key things we observed:
There exists competing elements in Fisher River. The poverty mixed with strong compassion and leadership to evoke pride and ignite a communal identity. Home, in terms of space (houses were far and wide, pristine lawns, and how houses are not typically physically built by first having a discussion with the Nation. People are isolated to their homes, and don’t often congregate outside.
My sister noted how much they were symbol oriented; ribbons skirts stood out as much as the scattered children shoes, orange shirts and plastered numerical signs of the total number of uncovered children remains.
In this same discussion, my sister and I noticed a metaphorical bridge being built between the intergenerationaldivide.
What does fun, informed play look like? How do we include a younger generation in the conversation of identity and cultural pride – without inadvertently teaching them to associate their budding identities with those of the lost children.
We recalled seeing children hanging out by the river, leaning against trees, fishing where the old united church once beamed with methodist missionaries. Surrounded by nature once more, does space play a bigger role in informed play as much as the material used?
A few days later, I wrote down free-form words about Fisher River that stuck out to me. Words that represented my feeling and patterns during my visit. Ribbon skirts, bright sunsets, home, sharing ourselves, river, coming home, even res dogs, and how they hold so much of the spirit and interlinkage between homes. They protect children from bears, and are sometimes seen as the guardians of a more sacred area.
It was around this time that I decided to create my final piece using wood. It’s involves engagement and play, that involves conversation with you, pride, colours of joyful ribbon skirts, water, and of the wide-spanning land.
Woodworking also falls within craft-making wheelhouse.
I wanted to craft something that reprisented support, home and a connection of what I perceived to be elements of Fisher River. I decided a puzzle design would be a clever approach, given the three-week turnaround time. Plus, puzzles are fun!
I made numerous iterations of the puzzle design to make sure that each piece represented something on their own. I completed basic wood shop training at Emily Carr and used the bandsaw to cut larger pieces of my Aspen 1.5” thick wood, and the scroll-saw to cut the tighter corners.
(Above) draft if my design, and more shape drawing of the environment.
I chose to include the rising and setting sun, since it touches so much of Fisher River’s wide landscape. the three purple shades of the sky reprisent what Donna, Derryl’s wife, and who was present at the circle, described to me as healing colours (and the colour of my gifted ribbon skirt).
It also represent medicine in the form of three braids, like the sweetgrass that Pauline gifted to me.
The boat and water is such a central part of Fisher River’s identity. I took my long-standing muse, the York Boat (I carved out an 12ft York Boat oar in 2021) and fused my version of it with a modern fishing boat design. Fishing is an act that brings life to Fisher River. it’s the lifeline to Lake Winnipeg, it’s a source of food, and it’s an excuse to gather. Men take pride in fishing.
Fisher River, along with it’s sister nation Norway House, also hosts annual York Boat races during treaty days. It encourages people to learn about the epic strength and agility that the boat required during the hight of Canada’s fur trade.
Lastly, Two figures are central in the puzzle design. A small child painted in brunt orange or red hue looks up from its supported boat, hugging the large figure, painted in green.
The latter represents women, especially women who shared in the talking circle. They offered knowledge as nourishing as the medicine in front of us. This can also be interpreted as a male figure expressing affection and support towards a child, or inner child.
The latter is a child, the child in all of us, as much the children in the community as those who left home. It’s supported in the centre by everything that makes us strong and whole. The boat acts as a vessel, carrying it home, towards the nuturing figure.
An intentional act, the figure reachers for support, knowing that care is not something that just happens to you, but something you seek out. I intentionally didn’t want to paint it a traditional orange colour in an attempt to encourage the idea that children today should develop an identity with an awareness of, but separate from the children lost to colonialism.
I also created a second piece that displays the wood, unpainted but stained with Dutch oil, to give the Aspen a warmer look.
These colours were chosen to reprisent the environment, but I can hardly separate the people from it.
Ellie, she wore blue the entire weekend. The earrings she made were blue, too. To me, she is the child travelling back to home, traversing freely in her car to spend time with her cousin, snickering and running off together for a smoke and laughing along the way, sleeping in her crowded house, and staying cozy.
She was a child of the ‘60s scoop, and her sister was taken in Vancouver. She learned about her mother a few years ago, and has been liberally returning to Fisher River to learn more from passing stories of people who knew her.
Ellie is also a caretaker. She works for the cemetery, sometimes standing at the graves of souls who have no one to be by their side as they enter the earth. She worked in care homes, and freely offers her service to help, say, when I forget my passport at the Human Rights museum downtown, and need it brought to me at the airport.
She found a way to manifest compassion, real strength, hope and a desire to give in her life.
To me, she is the story. She represents every element I tried to embue in my design.
I believe all in all, each piece took me four hours to make. This doesn’t account for the acrylic and oil drying period.
I chose colours that reprisent pride, hope, the people of Fisher River.
It’s an opportunity for users to practice non-linear storytelling, and to use these colours and prompts to tell their own stories.
Member of Fisher River are encourage to use individual pieces as prompts for their stories, display the piece as a point of discussion, or a point of reflection.
Deeper reflections, the side effects of poetic obervations
I hope this puzzle piece can be used as a vehicle for storytelling. Though specific to the elements that makeup Fisher River, individually, they act as prompts for teachers, parents, and elders to share any story around knowledge of home, nature, medicine, youth, love, their reservation, or even a broader basic human needs.
More young people are returning to Fisher River, building homes an teaching at the local high school. Kaitlyn, the jeweller who taught my sister and I how to make earrings, is teaching a hybrid land-based class at school. Darryl’s daughter just happily moved into her newly-built house not far from home, after living in Winnipeg for a few years.
Truth be told, I liked the environment so much because I miss my own home. As of late, home is transient for me. I only lived in New Brunswick for two years and Montreal for four, prior to that.
Home, in this case, isn’t a physical environment. It’s the feeling you have with the people who make you feel whole.
Coming to Vancouver, I knew there would be a “pause” on what I consider to be home. I am grateful when I get to experience those feelings of love, intention, welcoming and sharing when I come across them. I now intentionally look to built community at school and in my neighbourhood while I live here on west coast.
During this prompt, I thought about my grandfather’s vehement denial of his identity. How he fought back physically and with strength. And for Ellie, how she fought back, what strength really represents.
I wonder what he would have thought of my puzzle.
I am grateful that I got to know everyone, their idiosyncratic ways and their unbridled kindness towards my sister and I. This is why I came back to school, to find opportunities and continue my education in learning, understanding and seeing the world. Both a person’s intent and what they’re conveying through sharing their time with us.
This was a severe process of personal reflection, but a tremendous growth of my compassion and empathy. Compassion for Vera, for Josephine, for Dona, for my family and myself.
Initially, I was worried about creating a simplified caricature of indigenous culture. But I practiced what my sister called informed intuition. A designer is a vessel for expressing their environment. They are not – nor should the claim – to be speak on someone’s behalf.
Perhaps in a form of happy irony, or some might call it coincidence, during presentation day, the class was shaped as a circle as they tried their hands at completing my puzzle.
That’s truly what I would call… coming full circle.
Two weeks ago, our Studio professor Cameron Neat waited for us all to sit down and proceeded to present us with our class’ second prompt: Material. We were encouraged to explore a material that’s fairly new to us through a daily practice. Perhaps a material that sparks interest or excitement. Let attraction be your guide, he wrote.
It’s a beautiful day in the neighbourhood
I wrote down a myriad of ideas for our second studio prompt. Cameron gave students the opportunity to explore new materials, techniques and personal interests using “origins” as a prompt:
I had motion studio, woodworking, and animation in mind. I worked with the first department that let me walk through their door: Animation.
I had previously made a stop-motion film using paper. But I wanted to develop digital animation techniques and continue to explore visual storytelling.
I was directed to ECU associate professor Martin Rose. He can only be described as the Mr. Rogers of the animation department: He kindly offered his advice and interest in my project, on his time.
I managed expectations by explaining that I had a two-week turnaround to learn some basic animation techniques.
Martin recommended Paint-on-glass technique. Also known as paint-on-paint. It’s a friendly, usually tactile approach to animation. Artists paint each frame on one backlit, square piece of glass. The paint is usually mixed with glycerin so that it doesn’t dry. Once a photo (or frame) is taken, the artist removes a small section of their canvas to paint the next direction that their subject or the environment moves towards.
Below is an example of traditional paint-on-glass technique:
To make the material exploration simpler, we decided to try the paint-on-glass technique on Procreate. Each layer is a duplicate of the last, allowing me to erase and move the painting in each frame.
My knowledge of Procreate is limited to start. I have used it to paint, draw and sketch carving projects or characters. I was excited about the opportunity of trial an error!
The material is accessible. I had procreate (14.00$) and iPad (450$) and an apple pen (140$). It isn’t the most financially accessible material. But I am able to use it while travelling. It’s portable and requires no setup.
Each frame a painting
Test 1: creating a loop
I had initially begun a simple mind map of what our prompt “origins” means to me. This was scrapped as I decided to follow my creative intuition on the new material instead.
It was during my in-person meeting with Cameron reiotirated how its about the exploration of the material. Not about creating a complex final product. He recommended doing a simple 5-frame loop for my prompt. So, I did that.
It is the boat below.
That took me less then five minutes.
I was suspicious. This is probably not enough.
I decided to continue animating.
Test 2: testing out the medium
I began exploring my more complex animation, while keeping in mind that the prompt was about exploration of the material and creativity.
Below is an initial test of medium and movement. It’s the start of a droplet of water falling from above. After five frames, I fell into my first mental blockage: Structure!
Time to talk to Martin again!
Community of practice: Martin Rose
I had three meeting with Martin during the two-week period. Below are two main bullet points from my notes:
Sure, the subject can be the story, but so can pacing, movement
Telling the story: form vs. writing
(Above) Martin during his Joni Mitchell phase.
With animation, the written story, and even the subject, doesn’t have to be what drives the story forward. In an abstract way, the environment, the pace, can tell more about the story . This was steps away from my writing-focused background, and I liked the different perspective in storytelling!
Thanks Martin! A professor so nice, I was told so twice!
With time, I saw the word “origins” for what it was. A Red Herring! A distraction or a way to deter attention from the original point.
First and foremost, the prompt is really an opportunity for us to follow our creative pursuit through a new material.
I therefore, decided to make the process the subject of my prompt. Origins, in the case, is the start of my learning of the material to my most recent knowledge in the technological manipulation of the material, process and skills I learned in two weeks.
It’s a linerar show of progression. But fun, and whimsical!
To start simple, I began with the circle.
Scene 1: loop, there it is!
I will admit that I did not practice every day. It was a skill of discipline that I did not develop quickly enough, primarily when I experienced a lack of creative drive. I wasn’t used to the impediments that this technology was delivering.
Part of delivering on the prompt “origins” was to show the progression of acquiring knowledge. Initially, I was drawn (pun intended) to revise and improve previous Procreate layers by adding new layers to my mostly white canvas – it’s easier to do this when most of my canvas isn’t painted. But I noticed that this was a revisionary approach to work.
In consequence, this not help in demonstrating the progression and the vulnerable approach to creating something new.
The next steps
I stared creating a more complex animation. Moving more object, creating moving scenes, adding colours, and playing with motion vs. frame rate.
I finally found my flow state, in, say, the last five seconds of the film! Jumping between layers wasn’t intuitive, but I got used to it. To help, I borrowed a monitor and connecting cable for my iPad. This way I could periodically draw on a bigger screen.
I learned that movement looked more natural if I painted the background and moved towards the foreground. I got used to the technology and tricked myself into thinking I was painting with real brush strokes.
Admittedly, I primarily make using my hands, so getting into the nitty gritty of my work looking over one screen wasn’t always intuitive. The small screen surface coupled with learning a new technique gave me trepidation in doing free-flowing creative work
I often made a point of referencing back to Cameron’s message; it’s meant to be an exploration of a material, whether good or bad, and an opportunity to reflect on how your exploration went. There is no need for a perfect end product.
I found myself getting lost in my work when I got too caught up in painting the environment layer by layer, building the scene, rather than focusing on the direction of my animation. I fell into a Micro vs. Macro situation. I got sucked in!
This can be seen between the 20 and 25-seconds of my film. I stopped focusing on the direction of the story, and got lost in building the environment. It took stepping back for a couple of days to understand what Martin was saying. What is the movement saying?
What were my obstacles?
I described technological obstacles earlier, getting caught up in working on “origins” as a prompt, and my lack of discipline in working every day. I was surprised by how much the smallest planning methods didn’t matter. I don’t need a story, I don’t need linear direction planning when creating my animation.
What I learned was that direction was the challenge in learning the material.
Once I got that (in the last five seconds of the film). It was freeing, there is no end in sight! I hope to be more bold in my animation, create a huge eraser mark and work through that change, making movement look more smooth.
I was excited about our first prompt. Namely, because it was an opportunity to connect with a classmate in a city I’m still getting to know. Charlie is a kind and thoughtful person learning the best way to represent traditional language from South-west China from a communication design angle. Neat! I felt like we had a lot to connect over. Not only am I interested in showcasing Cree culture in my work, but we like living in an intentional living space: the Hygge, Scandinavian and minimalist Japanese interior design inspiration has been influential for us both, and we both enjoy a replenishing degree of solitude.
Admittedly, emotion a bit raw ever since moving. I felt a lot of gratitude when Charlie took time to share not only his day, but his personal life with me. He was vulnerable and honest about where and when he feels both social comfort and discomfort.
I understood that the prompt goal was to get to know our classmates, as well as to create a thoughtful, intentional connection with them. Other than that it had to be made by me within the span of a week, There weren’t defined rules. So after my conversation with Charlie, I decided to settle on a few elements:
Be made in some way
Help serve his environment
For my own parameters, I decided to follow these steps:
One of a kind (not perfect)
A copy of an original design, for simplicity’s sake
Something that I’ve never done before
Made me feel good
I wanted to enjoy the process as much as it is intended to be enjoyed. As I’ve got older, the general rule is to set out personal intentionsin my practices (millennial much?). That means as much in my every day as in my assignments. It’s mindfulness that brings our attention to here and now. I have my teachers in my aboriginal visual arts program to thank for that.
Luckily for Charlie, I love making gifts! Having a background in woodworking (mostly whittling and some fun dangerous power tools). I had the initial idea of making a spoon that measures to about a tablespoon, since Charlie expressed a love for natural wood and drinking coffee/tea.
Over the weekend, however, I was in a bind. I had to leave for a family wedding, so whittling a spoon without my tools was a no-go. I had a better chance of whacking a stick against a tree and calling it a sculpture.
I was happy to go with my second option. A soft white paper pendent lamp. I chose a design I saw on YouTube by EzyCrafts. It required paper, measuring and cutting material, glue, and coffee cups.
I measured twice and cut once, followed the video tutorial and took my time to carefully glue the strips of 42 cm, 250 gsm A3 paper onto the 12 oz cups. The only hiccup was finding a lightbulb that would fit inside the roughly 7 cm diameter of the cup. I didn’t feel complete without a light, so I bought one to fit in. All in all, it took me four hours to complete the project from beginning to end.
I was able to achieve a lot of what I set out to do. Though I followed instructions, the slight imperfections in this handmade gift made it unique (the paper could have been cut straighter, and the measuring lines weren’t easy to see once the strips of paper were overlapping). I never took a traditional design class, so doing this basing design sculpture further challenged my notions of shape (soft with hard edges of paper, sturdy yet fragile on the sides.
The soft shape and lighting brought about a calm feeling. I also didn’t want to complicate my work, given the one-week turnaround for this prompt, I didn’t unnecessarily overcomplicate my project. It gave me enough buffer time to account for the unexpected bumps in the road when making something for the first time.
One of the best parts about this project were its unexpected benefits and unforeseen consequences. New to Vancouver, I got to explore more of my neighbourhood and city. About a 26-minute commute from my house was the art store, I meet a young, friendly girl at the café who was excited about my light project. I was proud that I was more realistic about my project. Believe it or not, artists sometimes bite off more than they can chew. Being reasonable allowed me to then play within parameters. I make it an intention to avoid buying tools or materials unless I absolutely must. I’ve adapted a bit of my transient values to my crafting, lending my work to be repurposed or reused when necessary.
The consequences were, admittedly, that it didn’t spark much excitement for me. I felt good knowing that Charlie would enjoy it, and it was beautiful, but it wasn’t all to creative for me. I’m more so impressed by things like product design than I am passionate about it. Since I wasn’t going for perfection but rather function, I was worried about edging a bit close to a messy or unfinished look.
Doing it again, I would have hidden the glue better, which shows up on the folds of the top cup. I would have also painted over the ink code.
Regardless, I’m excited that we got to make a project with community and empathy as its central focus. This value is so deeply engrained in what I want to pursue in life.