Director Juan Delcan Digs Up Pinnacle Commotion to Put Poetry in Motion

Director Juan Delcan is a live-action commercial director with a growing animation hobby. He’s down animated projects for U2, the Sundance Film Festival, and poet laureate Billy Collins, but considers himself a fairly poor animator. But somehow he keeps on producing impressive projects. His latest is a mysterious and tantalizing animated film set to the Gabor Barabas’ poem “The Spider,” which is itself inspired by the art of sculptor Louise Bourgeois.
A bit of serendipity put him in contact with Bourgeois and Barabas, two artists he’d long admired. At first he was hesitant about creating a project inspired by two artists he held in such high regard but the poet urged him on. When he first presented the short clip to the 95-year old Bourgeois, she wanted to see more and so began a long series of waking up at 3 a.m to work alone on this project before going off to work during the day as a commercial director at Nola Pictures.

First he had the Barabas record the poem, which was no easy task. Barabas originally recorded a reading of the pwem that Delcan loved but the quality was too bad to use. When Delcan had a professional sound mixer sent to record Barabas, the poet wasn’t able to achieve the same emotion in the reading as he had in the poor quality recording. So they left the sound recording equipment with the poet who was able to record a reading that Delcan termed ‘brilliant,” even though Gabor forgot to turn the television off during the recording.
With the voiceover track recorded Delcan took to studying the drawings of Bourgeois.

“The work of Louise is very primitive, almost child-like in a way,” relates Delcan. “It’s all about the line and how visceral it is. So I wanted to do the animation in the same way, animation that is a little childlike and primitive.”
Delcan started working on a storyboard and an animatic trying to nail down the structure of the animation but even doing so he still ended up experimenting a lot with the narrative, images and construction of the piece as he was animating it.

“For a living I do commercials and you have to be extremely careful about every shot, how you go from A to B, how long is this shot, what it is going to say, what is the objective of each shot, you have to be so specific,” explains Delcan. “So this project was something I do just to get my creative juices flowing and escape from that rigid way of working. I liked the adventure of putting it together. There was so much that I wrote and I had to throw it away, but I probably wouldn’t have arrived where I did if it wasn’t for all the paths that I’d taken that were not the right ones. So there was a lot of trial and error.”

Pinnacle Commotion?
Surprisingly, Delcan’s animation tool of choice was Pinnacle Commotion. Yes, Pinnacle, the company bought by Avid years ago, and yes Commotion, the product discontinued years ago. He bought it on eBay specifically for this project.

“Anyone that has a little knowledge of animation will say, ‘why the hell are you using Commotion?’ because it can’t really do much and is not such a great program. But what I love about it is how quick you can preview things. It doesn’t have the best brushes, there are a lot of bugs in the program but it is so fast that there was nothing that really compared with it, well, until now with the new Adobe CS3 software but that wasn’t out when I was working on this.”

While it was all done in Commotion the animation was done similar to traditional animation.

“I was all done in Commotion, frame by frame. There was no trickery of After Effects or anything like that, it was all moved frame by frame by hand. I am not such a good animator so I really need to see things right away. In Commotion, after five minutes of working you can hit play and see if the motion is right or wrong. The fact that I am not a very good traditional animator is what I like about it. The work of Louise is very primitive, almost childlike, it’s all about the line and how visceral it is. So I wanted to do the animation in the same way, animation that is a little childlike and primitive.”

Delcan did paint some watercolors that were then scanned and animated in After Effects. To add to the “primitive” look he was seeking he dug up an old overexposed reel of film.

“I had this 16mm footage that I shot years ago and the whole roll was messed up, light had entered in the camera body and it’s all blown out and has dust particles and stuff. For some reason I always loved that footage so I took it an applied it over the whole piece.”

Once the animation was complete Delcn searched for a long time for a piece of music that would suit it and was ready to have an original score composed when he happened on a track by a Swiss musician by the mono-monikered Colleen that fit perfectly. The track, “I’ll Read You a Story,” was written by Cecile Schott with an arrangement by Woodwork Music.

“Animation is my hobby and the work I've done is just all these coincidences. I did the animation for U2 for the Vertigo tour. Someone noticed it from Sundance contacted me to do an open for Sundance. So there have been these little animation pieces that pop up here and there by happenstance really. But I really enjoyed doing this piece. I am planning on doing a collection of animations of poems by artists that have that same primitive, child-like sensibility to their work and maybe condense the whole thing into feature.”