Making Animal Kingdom with Dean Kavanagh

Irish director Dean Kavanagh has been producing short and feature work for 10 years, completing more than 60 experimental shorts and 5 experimental feature films to date.

His latest film Animal Kingdom, funded by The Arts Council / An Chomhairle Ealaíon, is an ambitious project which fuses multiple formats including 70mm film, digital video and an immersive 5.1 soundscape to create a sensory overload of sound and image.

Animal Kingdom will premiere at the Irish Film Institute on April 25th 2018 (tickets here). Below you’ll find some words from Kavanagh about a few of the techniques used to bring the film to life:

DEAN KAVANAGH ON ANIMAL KINGDOM

Animal Kingdom features a broad palette of both contemporary and retrograde technicities.

Throughout pre-production, production and post-production I experimented in an array of format shifting techniques through projection and playback recapture/ screen recapture, telecine and datacine from an array of formats including betamax, betaSP, digibeta, VHS, VHS-C, Hi-8 video tape; 1/4 inch reel-to-reel audio tape; standard 8mm, super-8mm, 9.5mm, 16mm, 35mm and 70mm celluloid.

Each format has its own specific properties and these are written into the media, in addition each form of digital transfer further imprints the material in a manner specific to the transfer process employed. And so there are many ways to interact with this material- to disrupt and decompose it using even the most basic transfer processes and hardware.

Through the image capture process I try to create a specific drama which preys on these elements. I believe here is where the digital experience becomes tactile and there is a certain animality to this metamorphosis. In this way the image capture process plays a vital role in the dramaturgy of my cinema.

For this film I wanted to experiment with hand-painting celluloid, in the past I had mostly burned, bleached and scratched but now a large format frame, such as a 70mm test strip, would afford a larger surface for detailed work.

I painted each frame of 70mm with acrylic paint- moods rupturing between mucky, violent explosions to ornate and topographic patterns. I then prepared each image and scanned the frames one-by-one through a light-bed scanner. To ensure that each frame was symmetrically arranged a small gate/masking was cut from black card.

Once the frames were scanned I would process them through Photoshop using a batch editor (correcting brightness, adjusting sharpness, applying a fine layer of grain and adjusting the axis). I would then check each frame and determine whether it would require a local adjustment (usually scans performed late into a session would require further enhancement).

When organised into specific image sequence folders I would use FFmpeg to transcode a simple proxy video file from the 5K source, enabling fluid playback from a compound clip for additional testing and experimentation in the offline edit.

The finished film features this 70mm material throughout in a variety of ways- including rear projection during principal photography. Once the workflow was tested I found that the various steps and media management were perhaps the most relaxing and therapeutic aspects to the entire production.

This hand-painting to digital intermediate process took over 6 months and ran parallel to shooting and post-production.

See Animal Kingdom at the IFI on April 25th 2018 at 18.30, followed by a Q&A with filmmaker Dean Kavanagh. 


The IFI is supported
by The Arts Council

Arts Council of Ireland