Common Works | Pictures of the Floating World

A discipline-hopping design studio with an interest in the moving image, Common Works enrolled in Makerversity’s MV Works programme to support the development of a short animated film – with each frame made from a single woodblock print.

The Common Works team – Christopher Waggott, Jonny Garrill and Sam Tripp – conceived the project as both a creative material experiment and as a response to a perceived trend for digital animations applying retro or antiquing effects in post-production to give the illusions of hand-made authenticity.

Pictures of the Floating World combines traditional process with technological possibility, achieving comparable effects at the production stage itself.

In the past, woodblock animations would simply not have been a possibility, as hand-making enough frames to compose a 3–4-minute film would have demanded an unthinkable amount of time and an extremely patient artist, but the advent of CAD and CAM technologies enables the frames to be created quickly using the Makerversity workshop’s CNC equipment and MDF boards – still a slow process, given that the finished film will include around 1,400 frames, but infinitely preferable to carving by hand.

Even with the accessibility of technology, however, a creative exploratory project like this would not have been possible without the support of MV Works. Few commercial clients would be prepared to fund such a resource-heavy piece of creative – especially one that was untried and unproven. MV Works has given the team the opportunity to venture down a new creative path, and to explore the material possibilities of wood as a moving-image medium.

Pictures of the Floating World takes its name from the 17th-century Japanese art form ukiyo-e – which described woodblock prints and paintings depicting scenes from the lives of the growing urban merchant class. Common Works’ film represents a meeting point between tradition and technology: the fusion of an ancient craft with the production possibilities of the modern day. In keeping with the material theme of the piece, the animation’s soundtrack is created entirely using wooden instruments.

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