There are historical references to magic lantern performers scaring audiences by projecting images of phantoms onto smoke (Heard 2006: 51). Smoke creates a dynamic screen surface, and the idea of it inspired me when I was making Sound of the Aurora. I interpreted the ocean waves, the Atlantic wind and the sail of the lifeboat as interesting aspects that could be communicated through a flexible and dynamic background. I came up with the idea of a thin textile that could react to wind.
For the performance, the textile is hung as a sail and projected upon. When the story reaches the point where the ship Berganger starts sinking, I summon waves to the comic canvas by using a wind machine or just by pulling the canvas controls. I have not animated the ocean in the images of Sound of the Aurora, so this physical manipulation provides the motion at the same time as creating an association to the ocean’s movement.
My first canvas was made with industrial plastic. When it was projected on from the front, it created moving and reflective highlights that could be associated with water. My second canvas type was a textile that gave an association to a sail. The expression permitted me to create a softer effect as I projected images on it from behind. Also, I no longer had to worry about whether the screen leaked light. Because the screen was moving, light could pass through it and hit the background. With a back-lit solution, this leakage would hit areas where the audience normally would not look.
I have also performed the work without the dynamic canvas, but experienced that it lost a distinct expression and depth. Given that the animated parts of the work are subtle, they are designed to be juxtaposed with a screen interaction. An important value of the performance is that I can produce interactivity by adding elements such as physical and real-time spatial motions. To look at a screen that forms waves on its surface is a simple but expressive effect. It is an element of surprise that is popular with audiences because they have never seen it before. After every performance, the feedback from viewers has focused on the experience of this effect and how unusual it is. According to my findings, it is not just the waves in the canvas that fascinate people, but also the merging of animated motion in fictional space with real motion in our real space.
The motion of the textile functions as a filter, which makes filters a concept for motion and visual presentation in digital comics. This is why I have added filters to my sub-screen map, a figure that I define in chapter 4 (see the section ‘Screen Levels’) (Figure 3). Filters can be used in all levels, on the panel screens or on the main screen. This means that the ‘window’ we look through or at, regardless of whether it is a computer screen or a surface on which an image is projected, can affect the imagery. In filmmaking, there are a few basic camera filter types: diffusion, exposure, focus, colour balance, colour alteration and special effects filters (Brown 2012: 256).
My filter adds physical motion and functions as a ‘real-time screen’, which is one of the four types of screens that Lev Manovic describes in Language of New Media (2001). The screen and the wind create a visual image that can only be seen then and there. It is a simple and analogue real-time screen that does not require technical devices such as a webcam, sensors or sonars to create the live image. The dynamic canvas adds unique motion to the presentation of Sound of the Aurora, and it will differ from performance to performance.
A camera lens is one of the prime tools in filmmaking. It controls the viewer’s focus by blurring out all areas except the field that is in focus. Focus manipulation is not a technique I have used in my digital comics, and it does not directly relate to motion. Nevertheless, it does transform an image in a way that creates graphical motion and change, and it can be used to create sequences within one and the same image. An example of this is in Marvel’s Wolverine: Japan’s Most Wanted Infinite Comic – Issue #1 (2013). This is a modern digital comic that uses focal manipulation in its panel delivery, causing the focus to shift in the sequence (Panel delivery 1).
Focus manipulation is a technique that has not traditionally been used in comics. In my research, I have found that solid backgrounds and stylized images in comics have involved focus – that is, sharp imagery. However, after photo manipulation software such as Adobe Photoshop became standard in the making of comics, I have seen deliberately blurred images in printed comics. What a selective focus does with an illustration is just as in film: it takes some control from the viewer/reader and directly controls what the viewer/reader should focus on. In a sharp image, the reader can freely look around within the frame and decide what to focus on.
Focusing can be used to hide or reveal information, and like a semi-transparent mask, it can also create visual metaphors, for instance of drug-induced states or madness (Brown 2012: 61). Soft lenses or filters can create associations to the early years of cinematography, to beauty, romance or dream-like situations.
Automated motion is the opposite of interactive motion. Traditional films and animation films are automated motion pictures. A software or machine runs the film or animation at a given frame rate. Both the image stream and the spatial motion can be automated, and they can be executed as a linear animation/film or a looped animation/film.
A linear animation is a motion picture with a beginning and an end. In film, this unit can be called a cut. In a digital comic, as in games or even a PowerPoint, this linear animation can also be an intro or an outro animation. It can be a full-screen animation, or a module (a part) of the composition.
The premiere of Sound of the Aurora was a fully automated film. I had intended to control the presentation, but due to technical problems, I executed my plan B, which was to play it as a pure motion comic/film. The later editions I have edited live, entailing a catalogue of stills, cuts and loops that I play as I want. Sometimes the cuts can be small actions such as an exploding boat or a sinking ship. And, if a sequence becomes too hectic to live-edit because of a rapid pace, I can introduce small automated edits that make the performance easier, at least with the Modul8 live software.
A repetition can be a repeated linear clip or a looped clip. I use repetition in a sketched scene with the cannon firing, and I repeat the same clip to convey that it fired seven times (Video 51).
A loop, in this context, is an animation/film that is automated to run in a circle. I find the loop to be a type of ‘passive’ animation in digital comics because it does not create actions that push the story forward. On the contrary, the loop is potentially an eternal moment. It can describe a long journey or a moment when time stands still. In a reading experience, readers themselves can choose how long they will dwell within this moment. The passive aspect makes the loop a type of animation or film that blends into traditional static comic panel sequences, because it does not create progressive sequences such as are seen in linear animations/films (Video 52).
Loop animations can be ambient backdrops, subtle gestures or mechanical motion. They create rhythm, increase the impression of speed and intensity, or do the opposite by creating a sense of calm and harmony. In Sound of the Aurora I also use the loop in sound symbols (Video 53). These image-stream animations that symbolize radio noise and music indicate that there is diegetic music even if the musicians decide to play non-diegetic music. I also use looped image-stream animation in the sailors’ hair when they abandon the ship. In the lifeboats, they are more exposed to water and wind, so I wanted to strengthen the impression of the weather conditions. I also use a technique I have seen in anime, where the eyes shiver, to show a stage of fragility when Andreas almost breaks into tears (Video 54).
Loops can also be used to compress information in a panel sequence. A looped cinematic panel can show the same content as two panels would have communicated. One example of this is in one of my auxiliary projects, a short scroll comic called Ovis Ariesaurus Rex (2015) (Video 52). All the loops in Sound of the Aurora are relatively short. In retrospect, I admit that I have been too focused on achieving seamless mixes between comic sequences and motion, and perhaps it is a result of trying to disprove Groensteen’s afore-mentioned claim that motion does not fuse perfectly with texts and images in comics. This approach has hindered me from exploring the opposite direction that involves montages with contrast and disharmony. I think I should have done more exploration of full motion animation, both linear and looped, to see how they could work with the existing content. However, a performance comic is never fixed, so it is possible to explore this by adding new content to future performances.