Anne Troake, whom you probably know as the wonderful mind behind Pretty Big Dig, is presently working on a stereoscopic dance film. Yes, you read that correctly. And, yes, she is amazing. The project is called OutSideIn and it’s an up-close and intimate look at the human body dancing in natural environments, using high-powered macro-lenses and 3D imaging. I caught up with her to ask her all about it.
So, tell me about this project.
In a nutshell, it’s a 3D dance film, it’s a stereoscopic dance film. It’s the first time that I’m aware of that we’ve shot with this kind of technology here in the province. The film is…. I’m trying to come up with the perfect sound bite.
You’re making a 3D stereoscopic dance film. Don’t worry about the sound bite, you’re good.
[Laughs] I’ve been working with two utterly incredible dancers — Carole Prieur, with the Marie Chouinard Company in Montreal, which I think is the best dance company in the country, and Bill Coleman from ColemanLemieux Compagnie — who do incredible work for the stage, but they also do really interesting environmental installation pieces. They did a big project in Gros Morne in 2008 or 2009 where they brought a whole bunch of top-notch visual artists, composers and installation artists and brought them to intriguing locations where they made a performance. I got involved with Bill on those off-the-beaten-track projects. He and Carole have been exploring a movement technique that is based on moving from the fluid systems in the body: they’re getting right inside the bones, getting right into the interstitial fluid and figuring out how to move from there. Working with those guys in the studio, my impulse was to get out a microscope and look at the little changes that were happening, to get as close as you possibly could. So, that’s what I’ve been pushing all my technical people to achieve visually, to get onto and into the body as a landscape unto itself, and to look at those structures and movements that are a continuum with the surrounding environment. The entire film is shot outside in various locations around here in Logy Bay, and it’s really about the body and landscape as a kind of continuum. As opposed to having beautiful dancers doing really groovy dances in gorgeous places. It’s not that. It’s trying to break down the barriers of putting a frame around a human body. [Laughs] This is the point at which is make less and less sense.
So, are you using microscopes on the body while people are moving?
We’re using macro lenses. It’s been a long and difficult film to produce because there is stereoscopic technology that is in prototype for medical uses. There are 3D arthroscopes in prototype right now — those arthroscopic cameras used during knee surgery are now able to produce a 3D image, which is obviously very useful to a surgeon. But it’s in prototype now, and I was not able to access them.
So you used macro lenses.
There are better and better macro lenses being produced all the time. I worked with a wonderful D.O.P. and stereographer named Alain Baril who has a light micro rig for shooting stereoscopy. I think there are only four others in the world. So, he’s part of this exclusive group that is using this specialized stereoscopic technology, and he also happens to be a fabulous guy who loves doing this kind of work. So, we just had such a wonderful week pushing to see, ‘Can we get this image if we put this person over here, can we get the camera in here?’ He’s an experimenter and an explorer, and it was a real delight to work with him.
What kind of visuals are you getting, what are we going to see?
I’m waiting to see for myself! [Laughs] Actually, I’ll be looking at the footage for the first time next week. But, based on looking through the monitor on set, it’s a bit like a bug’s eye view of natural places. If you have a dancer in a rocky crevasse, and you happen to be a mouse travelling around the corner of the rock, and the rock becomes a forearm which becomes a wrinkle in an elbow, and then a breeze comes and goose bumps come up. It’s very sensual.
And I don’t mean sexual.
What inspired this project?
As a kind of intellectual theme, the relationship between place and landscapes, and how they make us into certain types of people who think and do and move in certain ways has been an itch that I’ve been scratching for a long, long time. Just going into the studio with Bill and Carole and moving from a traditional dance technique, where you think about shape and momentum and weight in space, and really dropping right down into things that we can sense, but are less concrete and tangible. Like walking into a room and feeling different but there’s no sort of empirical reason why. It’s those territories that are full of really delightful surprises if you can coax them out.
What have you learned from this?
That shooting stereoscopically is incredibly technically complicated. [Laughs] In terms of my own practice, it was very interesting to discover how much I look that the world with a frame, putting a frame around things, and that includes working in theatre. I mean… we talk about breaking the fourth wall, just discarding that kind of plane, and then navigating that space and making aesthetic choices without that being as fixed as it is.
You mean, without there being a separation between the person and the space that the person is in?
Yes, there is definitely that. I spoke to another filmmaker friend of mine who has been working with shooting stereoscopically, and I said, did you find that after a shoot, you’re looking at depth all the time, you’re looking at the z-axis? I walk into Atlantic Place to get a coffee and I find that I’m really looking at the depth of that corridor and really looking at the difference between the people in the foreground and the background, and looking at the shapes of them in that z-axis space. I’ve re-calibrated back to normal now, but there was about a week after the shoot where my vision was changed and my way of looking was changed.
This is maybe a dumb question, but do you see microscopic changes in the skin or in the way the hair stands up when people are dancing? Dancing is kind of a special thing, I always feel mentally different after I dance, but did you see any unexpected microscopic physical changes?
Well, I mean, you can certainly see physical changes in people’s skin, we’re responding to the environment all the time and I think we have this nice mental idea of skin being this nice, cosmetically finished, even surface when in fact, as soon as you start looking closer, there are all these stories there, there are birthmarks, scratches and scars and mosquito bites. Sometimes there are scratches on your dancers because you made them crawl on things that are scratchy. But yes, you can see that. I don’t think I’ve answered your question, though.
There is a beta software being developed at MIT than can be applied to video in post production, and one of its applications is that it detects the presence of fluid movement in the skin and it will enhance those movements. One of the demos that I saw was of a baby sleeping in a crib, and you could see the blood pumping through the blood vessels in the baby’s skin.
Will you use that?
Well, I want to play with it. The whole film is an experiment and I can confidently say that it’s very beautiful, the stuff that’s been shot is very very gorgeous, so I think as long as there’s some kind of quality, you can mess around and take some risks. So that is one of the things that we’re going to be playing with, just to see how far we can push the idea.
How will OutSideIn be presented? Will it be a film, or a film with dance performed alongside it… ?
It will be presented as a film, and it’s also going to be presented as a gallery installation. I’ve been working with Charlotte Jones, a curator at Grenfell, and she’s booked it in and she’s working with some other galleries to look at a tour for 2015, I think.
How will the installation work?
When you have something like this as an installation in a gallery, you don’t really need to worry about beginning, middle, and end. You can create an environment that people will enter into and stay as long as they want. So, it would be more of a looped, ongoing series of visual events, whereas the stuff that will go around to festivals will have that arc; that’ll have a definitive start and finish, and an internal logic.
What do you think that narrative arc is going to be?
I intend to approach it as a choreography. There are reasons why it feels right that the dance finishes when it does.
OutSideIn should be ready some time in early 2014. You can follow the project on twitter @OutSideIn_NL.There is a camera test video here, too.