By Chris Newbould
Meet the Dubai underground art collective that has just gone mainstream thanks to their latest film
Three Act Circus brought together two award winning photographers, an award winning visual artist and a singer/songwriter/animator/stage designer, all based in Dubai. Together the four have produced a striking avant garde piece, an illustrated music video, to launch the release of Noush like Sploosh’s track ‘Three Act Circus’. The film was selected for the Gulf Film Festival, receiving its premier at the festival in a prime Thursday evening slot.
We caught up with the quartet in the Palm garage that served as a studio for the week of the shoot to hear about the production’s journey from concept to festival-selected film.
The film, a stop motion animation featuring live actors and artwork produced in real time as the shot went on, creates a noir sense of burlesque with a hint of pulp fiction thrown in, and began in the mind of singer/songwriter/animator Anoushka Anand, aka Noush Like Sploosh. Anand had originally intended to shoot the film herself, but having formed a complete idea and created storyboards she realised it would be impossible to shoot the film while also appearing in it herself.
Remembering a chance meeting a year or so before, visual artist Fathima Mohiuddin was brought into the fold, and another chance encounter led to photographers Mansoor Bhatti and Sherif Mokbel joining the team too. Bhatti explains: “When I first had the idea pitched to me, I was a bit worried it might be some kind of Bollywood production, which isn’t really my thing, but then when I met Noush and she explained her ideas and showed me the artwork that was already done it was so beautiful I was sold on it straight away.
“I thought we’d need two cameras though, to get the best shots and the best angles. I knew Sherif from work. We were always talking about photography, so I knew that would work – we were the only two that actually already knew each other well before the shoot.”
Mokbel adds: “I came on set two days before the shoot started and that was the first time I’d met the other guys. It was a challenge – we had a very tight space and only four walls, one of which was actually a door, to work with. We had to do a lot of planning to make sure shots didn’t look like they were in the same place. We had a lot of elaborate artwork for backgrounds, so that helped, and we had to be creative with some of the props. We had to chop a stool down because Noush was touching the ceiling when she sat on it and we had a floor tile with artwork on the other side, so it served as two props to save space.”
Bhatti continues: “There were a few things to sort out before the shoot – we’d never used continuous lighting before, only flash, so none of us had experience as a cameraman with continuous lighting, and we had three 1K lights on set.
“Also it was stop motion, so we had to figure out what speed to shoot at - it would have taken too long to keep clicking and taking the shots ourselves, so we decided to try using the speed shutter on the 7Ds we were using. We went for eight frames per second and it looked really smooth.”
Anand adds: “I studied animation and have been animating films for almost ten years, always with analogue processes. I really like stop motion because it gives you a great resolution that can be shown on cinema projectors. There’s this big mystery behind stop motion animation, but in reality it’s a lot easier than working in 3D on a computer.”
This was also new ground for Sherif, who says: “My experience in stop motion was time lapse, which was the closest thing I’d done. With that I’d set the camera to click every 15 seconds, but this was many shots per second.
“The other big challenge was trying to figure out which frame per second mode would work best to establish a nice stylistic jerky film noir kind of look.”
Mohiuddin adds: “It was challenging too because I draw really fast, and I don’t like taking direction. I was having to crawl into set, draw one tiny line and crawl back out for them to take one shot. One section took five hours just to create about two seconds of the animation in the film. We had to be really disciplined to not get sloppy in the hope of speeding the process up. We were shooting for seven days, often till three or four in the morning.”
Post was fairly straightforward, with The Goldmine post house in DSC carrying out much of the work, although Bhatti notes that there were still some creative problems to be solved: “The only thing we weren’t sure about was the treatment. What Noush had in mind was a really old looking film, but we decided to keep the black and white tones but make it look a bit different. We ended up with a film that didn’t exactly look like an old film, but didn’t look like it had one colour in it either. It was a kind of de-set black and white.”
With Anand adding a few of her own touches on Final Cut Pro, the film was all set for its launch in March, but an unexpected letter from the Gulf Film Festival caused some last minute changes to the plan. Anand explains: “We already had a launch event planned at the jamjar, and we went ahead with that, but because of the festival selection, we’ve had to hold off putting it online so far.”
With the festival now wrapped, would-be viewers won’t be waiting too much longer - watch this space.
I saw the video...the work they all put into it was amazing and i am in awe at their ideas and the video itself!