Irish Film Institute -Making Animal Kingdom with Dean Kavanagh

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:


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