PHIL SMOKES A CIGARETTE / animated film - 2010
During my MFA studies at Cranbrook, I created a set of short documentary vignettes by manipulating each frame of a short piece of film by hand, utilizing a combination of printing, photocopying, scanning, and drawing. The concept of animating documentary footage is nothing new -- rotoscoping is practically synonymous with the idea, and it’s a form that I’ve worked with extensively in the past. With these new films, however, I was not so much interested in the idea of redrawing each frame of a piece of footage by hand; instead, I wanted to take those actual frames and somehow pass them “through” paper, so that they picked up the meticulous craft-based qualities of paper work without being mere drawings.
The centerpiece of these films was entitled “Phil Smokes a Cigarette.” I spent six weeks painstakingly animating a seventy-second clip of my friend Phil Roth, appropriately enough, smoking a cigarette, standing in front of an abandoned truck trailer. I’ve known Phil since the early 2000s, when our bands often performed at the same local shows together, and I’ve always connected him to that “world” and pictured him smoking, for whatever reason. It seems to be a part of his essential Phil-ness, so, in a project based vaguely around documenting rituals, it seemed fitting to capture him doing that.
The production of the film turned into a ritual of my own, as I cut Phil’s image away from its background in every frame by hand with a knife, so that foreground and background could move independently of each other. This layered image was then altered with stenciled spray paint, and stylized smoke from the cigarette was added to each frame with a pencil and inverted digitally. Ultimately, each frame has five layers: background, foreground, color, clothing, and smoke. As the finished film progresses, the camera zooms out, so that Phil, who has been literally unmoored from his surroundings by an X-acto knife, is suddenly given context as the background resolves to reveal the semi truck. As Phil finally acknowledges the presence of a camera/audience, the screen cuts to black. This cut coincides with a gradual build-up of tension in the soundtrack, as multi-tracked drums are joined by a buzzing synth drone, dropping to silence with the final cut to black.