If you think of Echo-Maker as a song, then The Crane Community is the chorus. It is, in so many ways, the most important component of the entire project. All at once, a nucleus, overture, coda and continuum; a clock, a flock a community choir whose making process encapsulated everything that is special and good about the relationship between cranes and community in the Somerset Levels.
The flying birds were entirely animated in schools and community workshops using paper cut-out artwork I devised especially for the purpose. The movement cycle of a wing beat is a complex motion, so much more nuanced than the straight ‘up and down’ which we might imagine it to be. It is technically challenging, time consuming and demands considerable focus – but I wanted to make it possible for anyone prepared to invest the requisite time and energy to make their own crane fly – in an hour.
Via a week or so of quite technical drawing, I reduced one wing beat to twenty different shapes resting atop the foundation of an articulated body. The latter is really important in that it drives the wings. If the body doesn’t flex you end up with what looks like a plank of wood being propelled through the air…
From the drawings I made collagraph printing plates and printed them (another two weeks work) in the studio at Llangynog. Then a day or so cutting the shapes out – and then the first stop frame animation tests…
After about a week of trials, I’d ended up with two variants; a ten frame loop (which we used in the workshops) and a smoother but much more time consuming twenty frame cycle which I’ve used at the end of the film trilogy.
Here are some more great images taken by Julie Meikle of the animation process in Stoke St. Gregory Primary School…
The words in the soundtrack are from Aldo Leopold’s Marshland Elegy. I wanted to give those with perhaps less time, good voice skills – or perhaps a certain technophobia – a way in to the process, so thought it would be great if we could gather as many readings of these deeply evocative passages as possible. Most of these recordings were made in the course of a session at Somerset Art Work’s offices in Langport (in the course of which we also animated a number of cranes). But some were ‘harvested’ in the barn at Stathe Bungalow Farm, one of the spiritual homes of the project.
So, as you listen, you hear the voices of a diverse community; many of whom, as volunteers, contributed directly to the Great Crane Project – but also those of farmers, school children (and their parents), artists and arts administrators, RSPB staff and so on…
All of these were stitched together into a spine tingling sound collage by regular collaborator Jim Brook, sound engineer, composer and musician.
Here are Leopold’s words in full:
‘When we hear his call we hear no mere bird. We hear the trumpet in
the orchestra of evolution. He is the symbol of our untamable past, of
that incredible sweep of millennia which underlies and conditions the
daily affairs of birds and men.’
‘Our appreciation of the cranes grows with the slow unraveling of
earthly history. His tribe, we know, stems out of the remote Eocene.
The other members of the fauna in which he originated are long since
entombed within the hills… And so they live and have their being –
these cranes – not in the constricted present but in the wider reaches
of evolutionary time. Their annual return is the clicking of the
evolutionary clock. The sadness discernible in some crane marshes
arises, perhaps, from their once having harboured cranes. Now they
stand humbled, adrift in history.’
You can view The Crane Community here: