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The Origins of Animation?

If I was to ask you when animation began, where would you go? 1995, Toy Story (don’t laugh, there are kids out there that can’t imagine even that far back!). OK, more serious, the 1920s, Disney? How about Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in 1911? Earlier? OK, what about Emile Renynaud’s 1892, Pantomimes Lumineuses? But then there was the Zoetrope from William George Horner in 1834. But even that can trace its origin as far back as AD 180(ish) China. So is that it? Animation started in China sometime around 180 AD? Well, apparently not.

It’s been I while since I’ve put finger to key here and offered any peas of my mind. What with back surgery, welcoming a new baby, a stereotypical toddler and working up to 4 projects at a time, there’s not a lot of opportunity. However, last week as I was making an urgent nappy (diaper) run to the store, I caught a few minutes of PRI’s The World on the radio. And in these few moments an interesting story caught my ear.

Marc Azéma, a French archaeologist and film maker, has been studying French and Spanish cave art for 20 years and has come to the belief that many of the depictions were deliberately designed, not just to show the subject is moving, but to actually show that movement. He proposes that they should be viewed sequentially in much the same way we would a modern animated cartoon and has created a video to demonstrate this;

He also makes the bold suggestion that these cave paintings, estimated to be in the region of 30,000 years old, mark the beginnings of cinema – albeit several evolutionary stages away from what we have now. I’m not wholly convinced myself, it’s a wonderful idea and in the video he has created a great supporting visual for his idea. But it is a video he has made himself by superimposing the various paintings over one another, not exactly concrete scientific evidence.

So, were the Neanderthals of prehistoric France and Spain the originators of the moving image? Or is Mr. Azéma’s theory yet another of archaeology’s grand speculations – I mean, come on, can we really know what colour a stegosaurus’s belly was?!  Why not take 6 minutes out of your day to listen to the man yourself and watch the video, then make up your own mind.

GUEST BLOG:INTERVIEW with all round good egg – Emily Dodd

“We know some pretty amazing and interesting people and we’d love to share some of them with you. 

One such person is the very lovely Emily Dodd. We first met Emily about 7 years ago, whilst we were all living in Edinburgh. She was working at a local visitor centre, Our Dynamic Earth, teaching a combination of science and art  – a great mix methinks. There are lots of things that are great about this gal, but what is particularly inspiring to us is how she as taken her passions, made some big bold steps to make them happen and is now making a difference in her field”. 

So, (in my best Liverpool accent), what’s your name and where do you come from?

Emily Dodd, I’m originally from a little village in Derbyshire but I’ve been living in Edinburgh, Scotland for almost 7 years.

And what do you do right now?

Good question, I’m not too sure how to describe what I do anymore. I’ve been a full time freelancer for almost 9 months now doing a variety of projects. To give you a flavour, here’s what I’m up to in the next 4 weeks: I’m writing 2 episodes of ‘Nina and the Neurons’, a BBC Children’s science programme. I’m running two storytelling training courses for teachers and after school club helpers. I’m writing a school science workshop for the National Museums of Scotland. I’m making a couple of films about picking up dog poo for a local environmental charity, Greener Leith. I’ve also got some poetry gigs coming up and some potential projects in the pipeline.

How did you end up doing that?

The Screenwriting came after getting in to training course run by the BBC and the Scottish Book Trust. I’d been writing and presenting science theatre shows, stories and workshops to children for 7 years before that but the media labs taught me how to write specifically for children’s TV.

I started writing science theatre shows for museums while doing a Masters in Communicating Science 8 years ago and have been writing them ever since.

I started storytelling when I was writing the Early Years (3 -7 years) programme of science workshops at Dynamic Earth. I went on loads of storytelling courses and used the techniques along with my science communication background to write stories that teach children science. I wrote them for Dynamic Earth Edinburgh, the Scottish Seabird Centre and Changeworks and I started running my own training courses along the way.

I learnt to make films during a 1 week intensive course as part of my Communicating Science Masters. I’ve been making them ever since and in the last year people started paying me to do it.

I launched a poetry book last year and since then people have been asking me to perform at various events in Edinburgh. One gig often lead to another when someone in the audience tells a friend or invites me to do something else. Usually I say yes and work out how I’m going to manage my nerves and plan my set nearer the time! It’s always fine once I’m on the stage but awful before that. It’s lovely to have been paid for the last couple of gigs too.

I started volunteering for Greener Leith a couple of years ago, I love making podcasts and writing blogs for them. Now I freelance for them if we’ve got a grant for a media related project like the dog poo films. I still volunteer for them too.

Is there a pivotal moment when you knew what you wanted to do? (or did it happen gradually)

I think it happened gradually. I wanted to be a writer when I was a child (I first got published when I was 10) but I was really terrible at spelling so decided I couldn’t be a writer. I took science and art instead and went on to do a science degree (I almost did an art degree). I’ve always loved learning and creating.  Science was a brilliant way to learn about the amazing world around us and I wanted to express some of that wonder to others. Eventually I was writing and presenting science to children. I love working with children because it’s fun and challenging. My ability to communicate something complicated or dry and make it interesting was really useful with adults as well as children. I always wrote poetry but I wasn’t planning to publish a poetry book until that happened.  That started because I wanted to get some children’s stories published to help children with their mental health, they liked my poems and asked for lots more.

What do you hope people gain from what you do?

Ultimately I’d like to use my creativity to make the world a better place. In the meantime I hope people enjoy what I do. The workshops I do with children are about building confidence, showing them how brilliant and unique they are and helping them to enjoy being themselves. The storytelling training with adults is about that too. The films and podcasts I make are about communicating sustainability in an engaging and entertaining way. Much of my writing is about being yourself, enjoying life, celebrating nature and there’s some that’s about challenges too, my poems aren’t all happy (but many of them are).

How do you balance the many different things that you do?

Hmmm, I’m still working that out. I prefer to work on one thing at a time but that’s usually not possible. I try to go running every other day to keep me sane.

What is your favourite thing about what you do?

Seeing someone else gain confidence. I love coming up with ideas so anything that involves that. I really like working with other people to create something brilliant, teams are great.

What is the most challenging thing?

Not knowing how I’ll pay my mortgage in a couple of months. Having to be self-motivated. Keeping up with the everyday things like remembering people’s birthdays or washing up the dishes when I’ve got a deadline.

Is there anything that stops you from doing more of what you’re doing?

Fear used to stop me, I still sometimes find it hard, like I did a gig in a comedy club last week and was almost sick but it all went great once I was on stage. Sometimes I just feel rubbish and don’t want to do anything but running helps loads with that. I guess finances too; if I had more money or more guaranteed money I would perhaps be able to spend a bit more time doing things like writing picture books.

Who do you have supporting you and how do they do that?

Friends, family and others. I meet freelancer once a month for a blether, that’s lovely just to see people are doing life a little differently and they’re fun to be around. My family is really supportive too.  There are loads of amazing people on twitter and in the Edinburgh media / literary scene who are a massive encouragement. I’ve got a mentor, Elspeth Murray, she’s fab too. I’m trying to learn to take compliments and remember them when I’m feeling like I can’t do it. I also go to church and to a weekly community group, they’re brilliant, we support each other like a family. It’s so good to pray about situations and see them change as a result.

What do you think you’ll be doing in 5 years time?

I hope I’ll be writing for children and living in an eco home on an island or in a forest (but definitely somewhere near mountains).

What piece of advice would you give to anyone with a dream they’re thinking of acting upon?

Do it! Step out. Do the things that scare you. Try. Try when it hurts. Encourage others. Think about others. Love. Be Yourself. Pray.

If you’d like to know more about Emily, you can follow her blog: buy her book bananamebeautiful or on twitter: @AuntyEmily

Photo Credit Lilly Hunter Main picture by Emily Dodd

Top Award for Norman Stone

Congratulations to Norman Stone (my former boss), and all at 1A Productions (of which our guest blogger Kate Efomi plays a key part), for the winning of the $100,000 Epiphany Prize for Most Inspiring TV Program of 2011, at the Movie Guide Awards, recently held in LA. Well deserved for Norman and the team, for his drama-doc on the story of how the King James Bible came into being, starring John Rhys-Davies of Lord of the Rings and Indiana Jones fame.

GUEST BLOG:Coffee in the Blood

“A Yorkshire lass living in Scotland and married to the great grandson of an African chief who would eat people if they caught him having a bath. My husband prefers showers… and chicken. I’m a TV bod, script supervisor, production manager, writer, swimmer, believer, wife and full-time working step-mum to two fantastic girls (11 and 8) who are my stylists, my daily cheer and my reasons for cleaning.”

I had my first cup of coffee when I was 5 years old. Dad had a new percolator. Proper 80s swish. The 70s Teasmade had died its passé death, relegated from the bedside table to the local dump. Ground coffee was the new thing and my early love affair with the liquid black gold began right there as I watched the bubbles, listened to the gurgles and saw the clear water transfer from its see-though container to appear as if by magic in the waiting coffee pot next to it. Drip by dribbly drip. The smell was divine. The taste was not…

… Not for a 5 year-old anyway. But somehow a Saturday morning ritual had begun: coffee with my dad in the kitchen as he made my mum her morning porridge in bed. I piled in the sugar and sipped at the tiny cup with pursed lips. Half was always left. The taste was bitter, thick, an unexplained adult delicacy. But I liked the social aspect. Just chillin’ with my dad in my PJs.

Cut to 27 years later and I still remember that percolator as I screw on the top of my Bialetti espresso pot each morning, preparing my morning mug of the stuff, understanding now better than ever the adult allure as my bleary eyes beg for the thick voluminous ‘shot’.

I have a problem.

That is until last week, when I decided to do something about said problem, addiction, dependency, caffeine crutch… whatever you want to call it. It wasn’t really a voluntary thing. In fact it wasn’t really a voluntary thing the last time I did a coffee detox either. In fact both times have been necessary due to my job.

The first time was when I was observing true detox bravery. That of the heroin kind. We were filming a documentary about an astonishing detox tool called NET (

Perhaps I first realised I had a problem when we were watching Barry shoot up for the last time in a cold barn. In silence he tightened his tourniquet. I clasped my coffee mug tighter. As his syringe sucked up the concoction, I supped at my cup.

How terrible to have such an addiction, I thought. Then I looked down at my empty cup. Oh.

A while later as part of a follow-up documentary I found myself visiting a detox farmhouse where no stimulants were permitted. Including coffee. That was it, I thought, if these girls can go through heroin detox, the least I could do is support them by detoxing from coffee. The girls found it very amusing.

In the morning  I’d come in and would walk past the living room of hot-water-bottle-hugging girls all dressing gowns and smudged mascara and I felt like I needed to join them.

‘How are you feeling, Kate?’ they’d croak.

‘My pee is orange and my head hurts’. I’d answer, irritably.

They’d crack a smile. I struggled too.

Now, to confess, that was just withdrawal from coffee. I was still drinking tea (which I’ve never really liked as much as coffee) but the withdrawal was still pretty painful. More recently, however, it’s been both.

This time I’m off to Zambia to film an amazing Scot called Donald MacDonald who moved to Zambia to lead a comfortable expat life… only to end up fostering 30 street kids in his own home – a farm known locally as Old MacDonald’s Farm.

Last time I was there researching the story I was bogged down by the malaria tablets clouding my head. This, coupled with the restricted access to caffeine, made my head spin. So this time I’ve decided I’m going to go without such a dependency and get used to it before I leave. The irony being that there’s still a tin of Zambia’s finest ground coffee right next to my redundant percolator. Grrr.

And so I have stopped, dead. ‘Dead’ being the operative word.

Urgggchhh. That’s all I can say about how I’ve been feeling this past week. I’ve not had the pangs of desire that I thought I might have, no kettle switching twitch, nothing like that… but the back pain, oh the agony! You may think this weird but as I lay awake at 3am, not knowing where on earth this pain had come from, I googled the only reason I could think of: ‘Coffee withdrawal and back pain’. And lo and behold, apparently the two are connected.  I just couldn’t lie down, couldn’t sleep for the pain. It really was a test of the will. I now have some understanding of cold turkey and wouldn’t want to go there. Ever.

The pain has since eased and a refreshing energy has replaced my permanent state of being wired to the hilt. I can honestly say it’s been worth it. I’m not sure when or whether I’ll start drinking it again. The dependency doesn’t half creep into your blood again. Something tells me it won’t be a permanent departure from coffee but perhaps I need to develop a more healthy respect for its potency.

Now here’s an odd twist and I never thought I’d say this in my lifetime but I am married to a man whose family own a coffee plantation. Not as Kenco-glamorous or Nescafe bean-rattling rah as you may think, though. It’s now sitting idle and unreachable after the change of regime and devastation in the Democratic Republic of Congo… I thought perhaps one day we could go out there and turn it all around. But guerillas and danger aside, I was very disappointed to learn that they didn’t grow Arabica beans there but the other sorts used more in medicines etc. Robusta beans, I think. Not likely I’ll ever be the Mrs Del Monte of coffee. But perhaps… you never know, maybe this can be the start of my new relationship with coffee: the stuff you can’t drink!