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  IlluTube: illustrators and their work in front of the camera
Pawel Pokutycki
posted on August 30, 2013 at 10:03

It might be a truism to say that in times of inexpensive HD camcorders, easy-to-use film editing software and open broadcasting platforms like YouTube or Vimeo everyone can now get his/her own 15 minutes of (televised) fame. Yet it is not common to encounter illustrators using the medium of film to present their work, nor agents or publishers to distribute it. Locked in the flatbed-scanner tradition of printed media or static websites illustrators rarely add a dimension of time to their work... And I don't mean creating time-consuming animation here, but simply filming the static image in motion or recording the creative process, capturing "the making of". What's in it for the illustrator? Let's look at a few examples to find out.

Probably the biggest beneficiary of filmed illustrations/drawings published on-line so far is a British organization RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) with their popular RSA Animate series "conceived as an innovative, accessible and unique way of illustrating and sharing the world-changing ideas" [1]. Such entertaining and educational "hand-drawn lectures" as Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us or Changing Education Paradigms have reached over 10 million of viewers on YouTube, creating an "old" new trend of visualizing talks by using only a whiteboard and a marker, breaking with the routine of showing static PowerPoint slides, so common among speakers these days. RSA Animate is a global revival of illustration done "live", as practiced by our conservative professors in school years, when no other ready visual materials were available to explain a specific topic in biology, physics or philosophy. It's an educational illustration: an illustration that evolves and "explains" things as time passes, from one argument to another, from hypothesis towards the conclusion.

I was recently delighted to see the short clips of Polish/Dutch illustrator Cyprian Koscielniak, a member of our editorial board. Though very different aesthetically and content-wise from RSA Animate, these videos filmed by director Piotr Andrejew contain a similar entertaining and educational value, turning (the making of) an illustration into a live event and a visual mini-lecture on how to read the image, its message, how it is constructed as a whole and in small details (color, form, gesture, technique, composition...) and - generally - what it means to be an editorial illustrator, reacting to current news and topics, facing tough deadlines, being both in touch with the busy outside world and the cosy atmosphere of own atelier. Though no word is spoken out, the film makes the illustration "speak", expressively introduce itself in motion, along with revealing its author's temperament.

Various camera and montage techniques incl. close-ups, rack focusing, fast cutting, stop-motion and other, especially if juxtaposed with well-chosen background music, have always been an effective way to 'coolify' a static image, following the Frank Lloyd Wright's opinion on TV being a "chewing gum for the eyes". The contemporary, young generation of impatient audience might have a difficulty spending more than 2 seconds in front of a painting or a photograph, yet when the camera smoothly pans through it, zooming in and out, there's a larger chance one will watch it for a bit longer, seduced by the movement itself. No wonder that using these kind of effects is a daily bread in TV and film industry, also now available in popular computer software offering animated transitions in automated slideshows like, for instance, the overused Ken Burns effect, among many others. And more... there are plenty of apps for mobile devices turning your video directly on the spot into an attractive retro 8mm film, rendering a variable speed playback, capturing a timelapse and so on. 

If all these technical tricks are not used blindly for the sake of only sexing up the image, but support a well-thought-out, meaningful, visual story, I think they may help the illustrator to get closer to the viewer, communicate the image and its message in a more emotional way, maybe even educate him/her how to look, how to interpret things he/she would otherwise overlook.

Another, more traditional example of showing and discussing illustration in film is a short documentary about Belgian illustrator Pieter Van Eenoge "Something I Love". Less saturated with visual effects, here the focus is on the personal story, narrated by the artist himself as we watch him preparing to work and making the illustration. The viewer gets an opportunity to get to know its author better, to sympathize with him, empathize with his motivation to create. I believe that revealing the personality behind the image can help us "trust" more in what we are seeing. If individual, subjective opinion matters in (editorial) illustration reflecting on the world today, such way of mediating one's voice and talent to visualize it, may in some cases be much more effective than, for instance, setting up a regular portfolio website with a CV or biography on it.  

Illustration Daily is actively spreading professional illustration commenting on currently relevant news and topics in social media, Facebook and Twitter. YouTube, the 3rd biggest website in the world (after Facebook and Google), might be the next destination. But would illustrators respond to this call? That would not be easy, yet we can encourage them with our words and deeds…