Isobel Knowles’ work I Fell Off My Bike is currently featured in ACMI’s Video Garden – our outdoor exhibition venue located around the building along Flinders Street. Isobel has been working in animation for many years, creating online work, short films and installations. She recently won the Premier of Queensland’s National New Media Art Award 2010 together with collaborator Van Sowerwine for their installation You Were In My Dream and has been a guest animator on cult kids’ TV show Yo Gabba Gabba. Isobel is also an accomplished musician who played with Melbourne band Architecture in Helsinki until 2006, and she is currently a member of The Icypoles.
Emma McRae asked Isobel a few questions about her work and her reasons for making I Fell Off My Bike.
How did you begin working in animation?
It was in high school. I was applying for a fake job in my commerce class and opened up some book of job descriptions at letter A and randomly put my finger on ‘Animator’. Everything clicked into place in my mind and I immediately got to work making animations for every school assignment I could. Twelve years later and I still really enjoy it!
I later studied Media Arts at RMIT, which is an art -based course that offers a couple of animation subjects. After I graduated I kept making animations mainly for gallery and performance. I started to make music videos for the band I was playing in and for other people I knew. At one point I was travelling and making videos for people in exchange for accommodation. When I got back from a few years of hemisphere hopping I got a studio and settled down to work. I seem to get by on small paid jobs, occasional bigger commercial jobs and bits and pieces of arts funding. I do have to work long hours to make it all happen though!
(You Were in My Dream – An Experimenta commission).
What was your inspiration for making I Fell Off My Bike?
I had a bad accident in 2007 where I went over the handle bars on Russell St in the city and hit the road with my face. The bottoms of my two front teeth were lost to the bitumen and it was very traumatic for me.
I had fallen off my bike several times by that point. If you forget the terrible pain at the end, the experience of going over the handlebars is really quite exhilarating and remarkable. Those tiny seconds between losing control and hitting the ground seem so unexplainably long. There is time to think about all kinds of stuff. To see the road coming, to wonder about what the outcome is going to be, to feel annoyed that it’s happening again! There’s even time to enjoy the feeling of flying through the air despite the pending doom! I really wanted to capture that sense of imminent disaster.
It took many weeks of dentist visits to get new teeth that looked normal, so I had a long period where people would see the weird mess in my mouth and feel compelled to tell me their own bicycle horror stories. I loved it!
When you listen to stories you kind of try to picture it in your mind but with these accident stories it was my body that was reacting. Riding a bike is such a physical activity and sailing over the handlebars has such an impact on your body memory that it was as if my muscles were imagining the experience. It was actually a very strange experience animating the accidents. It was as if I could feel the pain of every position I put the characters in. A very slowed-down reliving of the accident. Not just mine, but the other ones too. It was exhausting!
You work in a number of different styles of animation, do you have a favourite style? Or does it depend on the project? And how much do you combine traditional animation techniques with digital tools?
It really depends on the project. I love making animation under a camera because setting up something that exists as a still object in real time and then moves around on screen is just so magical. But animating digitally gives you such control over everything, and the tools ‘copy’ and ‘paste’ make for a lot of time saving. Not to mention ‘undo’! But even when I shoot something with a camera it is feeding straight into the computer most of the time and can be watched back instantly. And I use the computer for compositing, editing, grading, adding sound and watching it back in the end, so it’s really a very integral part of the process.
What other artists/animators inspire your work?
My favourite directors at the moment are Anita Killi whose film Sinna Mann was at MIFF last year, Suzi Templeton who won an Oscar for her stop-motion film of Peter and the Wolf, and Pritt Päärn, an Estonian director whose stories are wonderfully odd. I also really like the work of PEZ, Kirsten Lepore, and Miwa Matreyek who does really amazing animation performances. And then there are my friends and the animators in town that are making great work: Lucy Dyson, Rebecca Hayes, Antuong Nguyen and so many more.
I Fell Off My Bike is a free outdoor exhibition showing daily from 6am-11pm in ACMI’s Video Garden.
To find out more about Isobel’s work visit her website.