new filmmaker Paul Nicholls: “Golden Age – Somewhere” + interview (full version)

Paul NichollsGolden Age: Somewhere
maja_bogaczewicz@tnf: Your artist’s statement:

Paul Nicholls: Paul Nicholls (UK) lives and works in London. He is trained in architecture, gaining a Distinction at masters level from UCL in 2011 where he specialised in film and animation.

He has previously worked for many of London’s top architecture studios including Glenn Howells Architects, Allies and Morrison and Moxon Architects.

He has recently combined architecture, animation and film in founding the creative studio Factory Fifteen.

maja_bogaczewicz@tnf: What is the story behind the film of yours we featured (Golden Age – Somewhere.)? What was the inspiration for your film?

Paul Nicholls: First of all the film is a 2 part series under the umbrella title Golden Age. The first was called “Simulation” and the second Somewhere. The first being a very abstract precursor to the latter.

The inspiration behind Somewhere came from my interest and speculation towards new media, new technology and changing trends in human anthropology. I wrote a small thesis on the subject called Post Neo Tribalism; where I compare a traditional tribe, to an online gaming tribe (A World of Warcraft Clan). The film can be seen as an extremist view on how we may relate to our surroundings and our ‘friends’ in the future, where everything is a simulation. Everywhere is everywhere.

maja_bogaczewicz@tnf: The idea of realism and problems triggered by it (representation, re-representation, projection, order, multiplicity etc.) are important themes your films revolve around. Why, you think, those issues should be discussed? What’s your personal reason for touching upon them in your film work?
Paul Nicholls: I think all the words you have mentioned in this question, like re-representation, projection, multiplicity, are relevant and more importantly evident in today’s society. We re-represent ourselves everyday through projected alter egos through on-line media and gaming. We have countless on-line avatars through various platforms which are a digital representation of parts of our self. We exist in many places at once, presenting a multiplicity of identity. This does not just happen in people, places are re-represented through on-line media. You can visit almost any art gallery in the world through Google Galleries, ‘walking’ around, looking at paintings. What happens when this limited type of interaction becomes more immerse, more ‘real’? What will be the difference to the ‘real’ thing?
maja_bogaczewicz@tnf: How do you understand terms: ‘real’ and ‘realism’, ‘representation’ and ‘re-representation’? Please, tell us briefly about the concept of re-representation in design.
Paul Nicholls: The kind of re-representation I discus above is not directly linked to the re-representation in design, although this is an interest of mine. ‘Real’ in the sense of my research into simulated environments is a notion of experience. It’s more a mental state then it is controlled by physical parameters. It’s a heavy subject to sum up in a paragraph but my thoughts are that ‘real’ is a matter of immersion. In architectural design terms, 90% of the time we experience design through re-representations, images, models, 3d visualisations, which only hint at the built ‘real’ design. Even when you visit a building, we only experience the design from a narrow point of view. Architectural design lives through its representations and re-representations. My argument is that visiting a building is just one of those types.
maja_bogaczewicz@tnf: Do you think it’s possible to leave the notion of space, and if so, then why call it ‘golden age’?
Paul Nicholls: You cannot leave the notion of space. I think, what you mean in ‘place’. Place in the sense which I have used it in my film, refers to a sense of belonging, emotional attachment and identity in itself. The antithesis of this being an airport or train station. Much of our modern city is becoming transitory, a means to an end, placeless. Again my film takes this to an extreme by creating a placeless home, used only to activate other environments and experiences. The series is called “Golden Age” because it refers to the Greek Mythology as the first of five ages of man. This new world I envision would be another new age, and I like the colour and used it in the first abstract film.
maja_bogaczewicz@tnf: While watching your film, the spectator tends to spontaneously assume the blond hair protagonist to be the ‘real’ (made of flesh and bone) one. The film-ending, where we see her sadness and abandonment, also stays in line with this kind of interpretation. On the other hand, her friend appears to be only a virtual re-representation of a person. This image and the empty space surrounding the main protagonist after the virtual space collapses, could make one think nothing is ‘real’. But how about the main heroine – is her helplessness only re-represented in the eyes of the spectator? Are there any objects or frames of reference in the story told in your film? What role does the blond girl play in it?
Paul Nicholls: It’s like you say, the blond girl is the only ‘real’ thing in that environment, everything else is a simulation, even her friend who she has a tele-skype call with, is just a fabrication of the new system, even her dog who is introduced first in the scene. The viewer is made to feel a sense of unease with this type of simulated interaction. This is achieved through the intense changing of environment as well as the ending glitch sequence where the space is re-set, revealing the character alone.
maja_bogaczewicz@tnf: When the virtual space in your film collapses, the computer generated dog is suffering. Is it intended for strengthening dramatic effect or is there any other thought behind it?
Paul Nicholls: The fact that you feel the dog is suffering only strengthens the argument towards digital immersion and ownership of digital artefacts. The dog is clearly part of the simulation, but that scene is the first where you are aware of this.
maja_bogaczewicz@tnf: Your test-animations made me think of Jasper Jones’s lithographs. Many of those are entitled Working proof. Are your test-films u-Fog-2, Golden Age: Simulation & u-Fog-1 intended to give us an insight into your filmmaking process, or is there any other purpose you publish test-films along with final ones for? Can they be considered alone standing works?
Paul Nicholls: I always try to compile stuff along the way in making my films. They can stand on their own to a certain extent, but they are mainly created to inform the viewer of the process and testing involved in creating something like the Somewhere. A lot of work went into developing technique which people don’t often see. I think it’s also important to show aspiring digital filmmakers that this stuff is achievable if you put in the time to learn new things. I wasn’t an expert in any of the software before starting the film, but that didn’t stop from me trying out many new things. A lot of people are put of by things as they don’t know how to technically do it, which is the wrong attitude.
maja_bogaczewicz@tnf: Your technique (its pros & cons, and why you chose it):
Paul Nicholls: Modelling, animation and rendering in 3D Studio Max (vray). Compositing in After Effects exported through Premier. Camera used was a Cannon 5D, tracking software used was pftrack.
maja_bogaczewicz@tnf: A step by step short guide to your film making process:
Paul Nicholls: Every project starts by storyboarding. Everyone storyboards in different ways. I tend to write down descriptions of what I want to do, what scene would be cool, in detail, and then do a very quick sketch so that my brain is matching my hand and then I go straight into 3D. I used to draw more but now find that I can sketch in 3D quicker. I create previs versions of all my scenes before I actually render, which helps me quickly plan and storyboard things before heavy rendering. For this project I created a lot more then I actually used as it developed over time. I try to model only what I need in the shots and almost lock of my cameras straight away, so I know what I’m confined to. My scenes get very big, so I need to optimise where I can. I test render along the way. And then I composite each shot separately.
maja_bogaczewicz@tnf: Your equipment and post production:
Paul Nicholls: Two workstations both with six core hyper-threaded cores and 16 GB of ram with standard graphics card.
maja_bogaczewicz@tnf: Film school or learning by doing:
Paul Nicholls: Learning by doing. A lot of internet research and contacting specialists in different software’s with annoying questions.
maja_bogaczewicz@tnf: Your film funding / film budget:
Paul Nicholls: No budget.
maja_bogaczewicz@tnf: Other important advice for those starting out with filmmaking:
Paul Nicholls: Don’t be scared, learn as you go not before, be very ambitious, try new things, do something a bit different. If someone has already done it there is little point beyond learning technique. Be creative, meet new people, contact specialist (people always like to share and help people doing similar things). Be competitive in a friendly way but most important of all, DON’T PANIC!

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