Sunset Beach

Last weekend saw a burst of glorious, golden, autumn sunlight and unseaonable warmth for a couple of days. I met my chum after work at Porty, then we had an amble along the Promenade, still busy with nice weather even as evening fell. We got a seat outside the Espy for food and drink right next to the beach and as we sat there for a few drinks, we watched the light change every few minutes as the sun declined and the night crept over the beach and the Firth of Forth. Beautiful.

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Some people sat on the beach just watching the slowly setting sun, others had fires going and enjoying a romantic moment by the sea, others, remarkably, were still going for a swim! Must have been freezing!!

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EIFF 2019 – McLaren Animation

The annual McLaren Animation award screenings at the world’s oldest continually-running film festival have always been a personal favourite part of the festival for me. Named for famed Scottish pioneer Norman McLaren, who would later found the National Film Board of Canada, this 2019 edition was particularly special – this marked the thirtieth anniversary of the McLarens at the EIFF, and the tenth, and as it happens, final year in the tenure of Iain Gardner, who has been in charge of the McLarens. I’ve really enjoyed Iain’s run taking care of the McLarens – it isn’t just the selecting and screening of interesting and diverse material, it’s the sense of encouraging and supporting and fostering new and emerging and existing talent. During the post-screening Q&As with all of the animators there is a real sense of support and encouragement, and that’s a good thing in any artistic medium if you want to have new blood and new ideas.

This year as part of the thirtieth anniversary we were treated to three rather than the usual two McLaren Animation segments, each with ten films, so thirty short works in all, covering all sorts of subjects (autobiography, documentary, politic, humour) and approaches (traditional hand-drawn, CG animation, stop-motion, puppetry and some films mixing methods). In a very welcome touch this year there was parity, a fifty-fifty split between female and male directors. At normal McLaren years there are too many films for me to go into each one individually, and that is more the case this year with the additional screening, so I’ll be sticking to my usual approach of picking out some of the films which I personally enjoyed the most.

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(some of the animators at the post McLaren screening Q&As – pics from my Flickr)
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Ainslie Henderson – by now a well-kent face in animation circles and at McLaren – had a very beautiful, very emotional piece with Archie. A lovely stop-motion work, we follow an anthropomorphised dog-man (with his own actual pet dog!), the eponymous Archie, in a largely wordless film. Archie receives bad news and a key in the post – the key to this mother’s wee crofting house on one of the Scottish isles; she’s passed away, the old home is now his. Using only the movement of the figures rather than dialogue Henderson deftly conjures up that sudden, shattering blow of learning a loved one is gone, of the bottom falling out of your world, the sad journey back home to a house that is now empty, except not really, because it is filled with memories. It’s warm and sadly beautiful, with some nice little touches – Archie’s wee dog snuggling up to his master, sensing his pain – and I found myself thinking on loved ones I’ve lost and having to blink away years (I’m sure I wasn’t the only one).


(a scene from Ainslie Henderson’s Archie)

Chris and Victoria Watson’s Ladder to You also dealt with grief, in a very different way, with an elderly man, at home, now all alone and missing his wife terribly. He ponders parts of his life and the world, but nothing really works any more, not without her; without her it is meaningless, empty. When his wife’s photograph is blown out the window he follows it with a ladder to try and retrieve this last memento of her, and it takes him somewhere special. Josephine Lohoar Self’s also had that beautifully sad quality to it, a stop-motion piece about a shy young tailor, about a world where everyone wants to conform and be the same while he yearns for difference and encounters love.

Music & Clowns – trailer from Alex Widdowson on Vimeo.

JoAnne Salmon and and Alex Widdowson both impressed me with their biographical films, which were very emotionally warm and honest. Widdowson brought us Music & Clowns, an exploration of caring for a a family member with Down’s Syndrome. The parents talk honestly about the shock and surprise when their boy was born “different”, with his father commenting how as he held his newborn the moment of shock passed and he knew that he loved his boy anyway; he even, as they discuss him, reproaches his other son gently, commenting on how he may not understand everything but he is very empathic to the feelings of others, perhaps more than his brother. They talk about what life has been like, and the concerns of his parents as they get older, wondering how he will cope once they are too old, or passed on, a concern anyone with special needs family members must entertain.

Salmon gave us Chin Up, an autobiographical piece, the title riffing on one of the symptoms of Treacher Collins syndrome, where the bone structure of the face doesn’t form in the regular way, giving her a very unusual appearance (including not having a prominent chin). Again emotional honesty was key here as Salmon used differing artistic style to explore moments of her life – her birth, not being the “normal” little girl they were expecting, of not feeling particularly different until she went to school and having to deal with the unthinking comments of children, of how this affected her sense of self, how art and drawing became an escape for her, which eventually lead her to find animation and encouraged her to apply to study and then eventually create her own works.

Chin Up – Trailer – Animated Documentary from LoveLove Films on Vimeo.

Lauren Orme’s Creepy Pasta Salad was a fun piece, about a werewolf lady with low self-esteem, a man who may (or at least thinks he may be) dead and a ghost (and wondering if he is a ghost does he have to worry about that final electricity bill?), a Goth and the End of the World, and left me with a big smile. Ainslie Henderson, with Will Anderson, had more work in the form of three very brief pieces, My Best Friend (then each segment had a subtitle, such as “explodes”), nice, clean, simple graphics, two friends talking, but they are aware of being in a film, and they ponder the meaning of each title as it appears above them (you can imagine their alarm when it says “explodes”). Matthew Lee’s One Liner used claymation and drawn animation and touches on what used to be a cornerstone of British entertainment culture – the comedy double act, and more specifically who was “the funny one” (that oft-asked question that totally misses the point that these duos really only worked playing off one another).

mad dog trailer from steve boot on Vimeo.

Unsurprisingly given the last couple of years, politics hove into view during some of the films: Steve Boot had Mad Dogs, set in a pub of the same name, the classic British pub, a perfect place for examining what it means to be British in the modern era, using a collection of regulars in the pub who are all dogs, English, Scottish and Welsh (although oddly no Northern Irish), and uses a sprinkling of dialogue from the speeches of famous people among the lines as they all talk about about their sense of identity. Marta Lemos gave us Dear England, which used photo collage and drawn art among other styles, to explore the way British society has been changing, especially since the Brexit referendum, the way some elements now feel they can voice bigotry and hatred openly, the fact that some who came to make a home here, no matter how they fit in, will never be “British enough” for certain types.

I’d love to pick out more of the entries – the styles, the methods and the subjects were all so diverse we really were treated to a smorgasbord of excellent animation talent, quite a few entries being graduate degree films from students, and many of those now out in the world beyond college all still very young. I must mention Fokion Xenos who won the audience vote to scoop this thirtieth anniversary year McLaren Animation Award with Heatwave, which was a wonderful riot of colours and life in plasticine and other materials and depicted, yes a heatwave, on a tiny Greek island, rather timely given the burst of hot weather across the UK and Europe recently! And I have to give a shout out to Samantha Moore’s Bloomers, which documented the people, mostly women, who had worked in a garment design and manufacturing, and the changing fortunes over the years – the film had a very rich texture to the backgrounds, and, astonishingly Moore produced a sheet of silk (one of the fabrics the factory used) on which some of the art had been drawn then animated to give it that remarkable look and feel.

HEATWAVE – Trailer © NFTS 2019 from Fokion Xenos on Vimeo.

As I said, a real diversity of styles, methods and subjects. I’m confident that – as usually happens – we will see some of the McLaren entries crop up in a few months in the BAFTA and Oscar short animation nominee lists.

Launch portal

The subway that runs under the road connecting the Potterrow student union to the back of the Old College and the National Museum of Scotland has often caught my eye because of its shape and the perspective it creates. Walking past it at night, though, it made me think of something from an old sci-fi movie – the concrete underpass where the Droogs beat up a man in Clockwork Orange, perhaps.

Portal from Light to Dark

Or, on a lighter note than that, it reminds my geek brain of the fighter launch tubes from the 1970s Buck Rogers, or Battlestar Galactica (albeit a much more monochromatic one!).

Tollcross by night

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Walking home the other evening, taking some night shots as I did, this batch were around Tollcross, like the lovely old Cameo Cinema (seen above), with people waiting at the bus stop in front of it, standing under the marquee, or this cafe and neighbouring shop, still busy with people (had to take quick shot between the traffic flowing by this busy area):

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And here’s the distinctive red sandstone facade of the King’s Theatre at night, the green building on the lower right of the theatre is Bennett’s Bar, one of my favourite watering holes for many years (good real ales, has cool old tables decorated with OS maps, and it’s dog-friendly):

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Moonrise

Gorgeously bright winter moonrise this evening. I was coming home from an afternoon walk so didn’t have the tripod, but had to try with the low light mode for a freehand shot. The result isn’t as sharp as with a proper long exposure on the tripod, but I had to try and grab this glorious, deep blue dusk sky and the Moon rising, just as it was about to go behind the tower of Saint John’s Church on Princes Street:

Moonrise and Tower 01

And a quick, rough freehand close-up:

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Moonrise Kingdom

Watched the Moon rising over McEwan Hall the other evening, from the roof terrace of the National Museum of Scotland (one of the best spots for looking out over the roofs, spires and domes of Edinburgh – and like the museum it’s free):

Winter Moonrise 01

And while I had that elevated vantage point and dusk was falling, I thought I would try to zoom in a bit and see if I could get a Moon shot too:

Winter Moonrise 02

Then as night fell properly I went for a stroll with camera and tripod, over to Bristo Square and Edinburgh University to take a pic of the Teviot, which is the oldest purpose-built student union in the world (and resembles what Hogwart’s student union would look like if they served booze). Used to enjoy the regular CeilidhPartyDisco nights there when I was an undergrad (live band Ceilidh for first half of night, then late night disco, we had fun), still a hugely popular venue:

Bristo Square at night 02

And then the recently refurbished and enhanced McEwan Hall at night – this is just half an hour or so after the shot at the top of the dome with the Moon rising above it, already full darkness fallen. This is where my graduation ceremony took place, we all stood in this square afterwards taking photos with our families, feels like a lifetime ago now:

Bristo Square at night 04

Blue Hour

Each night it is slightly lighter when I leave work as sunset slowly moves later each day as winter moves at a snail’s pace towards spring. It is still dark as I walk home, but only just, with a glimmer of pale light in the western sky – the sun already below the horizon, but a last bit of light illuminating the skies. And as I walk home east to west that’s facing me and I get a chance for a few “blue hour” shots, when the eastern sky behind me is already black but for a short period the western sky retains a pale, blue glow, which silhouettes Edinburgh’s unique skyline beautifully. It’s something that happens particularly early spring and late autumn, and it’s a sight I always love seeing…

Edinburgh on Burns Night

Royal Mile at Blue Hour, winter's night 01

Festive lights

Charlotte Square, the elegant Georgian space in the West End of Edinburgh’s historic New Town. Over summer this is the home of the largest literary bash on the planet, the Edinburgh International Book Festival, which I love going along to and indeed have been fortunate enough to take part in for quite a few years. At this time of year though it is back to being private gardens for those who reside in this very wealthy square, save for this lovely Christmas tree. It’s actually a “memorial” tree – you can donate to have a light in the name of a loved one to help Saint Columba’s Hospice, so you can light a light for a departed loved one and help a good cause at the same time, a lovely idea:

Light up a Life

Register House in the East End of the New Town is being used as a giant Advent Calendar this year, the Advent windows being projected onto the building are alternated with all sorts of animations and images and music. It’s rather wonderful to just see as you are walking home from work on a winter’s night:

Register House at Christmas 01

This blue and white, dome-shaped light installation is at the western end of George Street, lighting up the area – it’s large, covering the whole of a junction space in the temporarily closed road, so you can walk under and around it:

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After dark at the festive market

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It’s dark by half past three now, but the festive market brings light and noise and scents and life to the winter nights, with people browsing, eating, drinking, the aromas of mulled wine and hot cider and cooking food, and the bustle of excited people. It’s also a happy hunting ground for me to take some people-watching shots after dark:

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(look at the size of those frying pans!!! Handles the size of baseball bats!)

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After dark

Had a nice photo walk around The Shore, the Water of Leith and near the Port of Leith recently, around dusk and then night. With the sun setting so early now it’s pretty easy to take some nocturnal shots without having to wander the streets late at night with the camera and tripod. I’m rarely down this part of town so this was a chance to take some night shots of an area I’ve not covered much of with the camera. Good, long walk, took a bunch of pics, got some exercise but man, damnably cold – okay when you are walking about, but very chilly when standing still to take a long exposure shot.

This is Commercial Quay at “blue hour” (when it’s dark but there is still a slight bit of pale light in the sky from the now vanished sun, one of my favourite times for taking night shots. This was a long series of old warehouse buildings – you can still see the attachment at the top floors for the pulley to lift up loads) for the nearby docks at Leith. They were very run down for a long time, but have, like the waterfront areas in many formerly industrial or commercial areas in many cities, been regenerated, which is preferable to tearing down those fine, old stone buildings, and it’s now a busy area of bars, cafes and restaurants:

Commercial Quay, winter night 01

Commercial Quay, winter night 03

Nearby is Teuchter’s Landing, which is the same company that has Teuchter’s in the West End of the New Town, which is slightly pricey but still a favourite pub of mine (also dog friendly, which is handy if I am meeting my chum and his hounds). This one is right on the waterfront, where the Water of Leith starts to meet the Port of Leith, and then the mighty Firth of Forth. In fact the back of the pub not only sits over the edge of a spur off the river by the docks, it even has its own floating outside beer garden moored on the water! Although understandably nobody was using it on a cold evening in November (although a couple of smokers were sitting outside the front of the pub, heavily wrapped up.

Teuchters Landing at night 01

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It wasn’t quite full dark as I walked back over to the Water of Leith, although it was darker than it appears here where the camera sat drinking in much more light on a long exposure. This is down at the very end of the Water of Leith, which winds its way through the city (it runs near my flat and offers a “countryside” walk to the National Gallery of Modern Art rather than walking through town) and eventually makes it down to Leith and the busy Shore area of bars and restaurants. This is by the Malmaison, and after this spot is just the old swing bridge and then it opens into the actual docks.

The Shore, winter night 02

Only a few moments walk later and by now, even though it was probably only about half past five, it was fully dark, allowing for some nice reflections of the lights and buildings in the now dark waters. For some reason this part of town often reminds me of parts of Belgium and the Netherlands:

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And this is Mimi’s Bakehouse, a family-run cafe, where I thawed out with some really nice hot chocolate and a delicious raspberry Nutella cake:

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After Dark

As we move deep into autumn and winter knocks at the door, that means it is getting darker earlier and earlier each evening. This isn’t all bad, of course, because that means I get to take night shots just by walking home from work of an evening. This was the world’s largest memorial to a writer, the great Gothic rocket of the Scott Monument, last night, at “Blue Hour”, that brief, magical twilight moment when the sun has set, the eastern sky is dark but the western sky still has a pale, blue light to it from the vanished sun below the horizon, one of my favourite times of day during autumn and winter, especially as that light quality in the sky silhouettes Edinburgh’s old buildings:

Scott Monument at dusk 02

This is looking west from Waverley Bridge, across the now-dark Princes Street Gardens towards the Mound, where the National Gallery of Scotland (on the left) and the Royal Scottish Academy (on the right) can be seen, with the western sky just fading into darkness, the last burst of colours before full nightfall:

The Mound - Blue Hour

Zooming in a bit more from the previous picture, the large, plate-glass, brightly-lit windows you can see below the Royal Academy are part of the Playfair extension which lies under the plaza on the Mound between the two galleries. It was completed a few years ago and connects both structures underground with more exhibition and work spaces, plus a cafe and restaurant by these windows, looking out into Princes Street Gardens:

darkening skies, bright windows

Last night on my way home from work, the iconic old Bank of Scotland building which stands at the top of the Mound by the road which curves up from the Georgian-era New Town to the medieval Old Town above on its volcanic ridge. There was a large crescent Moon rising in the early evening sky, and from this perspective it looked as it it were right above the dome on the bank building, so I had to get a shot of it. These are the sorts of things you just get to see walking home from work when you live in Edinburgh. Not a bad commute, is it?

Edinburgh Moonrise