Interview with Sean Vicary on Re-Tolled

We interviewed Sean Vicary on the production of his film Re-Tolled.

Re-Tolled is one of the ten films produced by Animate Projects for Channel 4's Random Acts. These films were produced in 2013 and premiered on Channel 4 from August 2013.


What inspired your Random Acts film

I'm interested in the area where folk ritual and protest overlap and there's a strong history of this in Wales. Good examples are the cross-dressing and trying of tollgates in mock courts during the Rebecca riots of the 1840s, and also the wearing of animal skins by the militant Scotch Cattle of the South Wales valleys.

Re-Tolled uses imagery from the Mari Lwyd, an ancient custom where a horse skull is dressed and led from house to house by a procession. The group engage the inhabitants in a battle of wits, and if winning then cross the threshold to create uproar and chaos.

In the fields opposite my studio I watched the old oaks fall to make way for an unwanted supermarket development. This, I thought, is something that Mari would not have approved of...

How did you breathe life into the idea?

I like to collage things layer by layer and a mixture of stop motion and digital compositing is a good way to do this.

The use of site-specific materials is also extremely important, for Re-Tolled I used tree roots and other detritus scavenged from the construction site
and this production process lets me combine these objects, textures etc., both physically in assemblages and digitally when compositing.

During the making process did your film change much from the initial idea? Were there any surprises?

It's always a process of discovery, I like to have a good idea of what I'm going to do but within that build a flexible space to experiment. Sometimes you place different elements side by side and they interact with each other in a totally different way to how you expected, it's important to be able to pursue that.
So there were many surprises whilst making the piece and it's those moments that keep the work enjoyable.

How did you collaborate with other people on making the film?

Re-Tolled grew out of an earlier work and the text comes from a longer poem I commissioned from Elinor Wyn Reynolds based around the core ideas. She wrote the original in Welsh and together we discussed the English translation.

A key collaborator was composer and sound designer Richard Lewis, we worked closely together from initial thumbnail storyboards through to the final master. Richard has a fabulous eye (and ear!) for detail, so he's a natural to work with for animation. He even took Eddie Ladd's powerful voice over into a 19th Century workhouse that had been targeted by Rebecca and her daughters, playing it back in the space to get the right acoustics.

What motivated you to work with animation in your artistic practice in the first place?

I came to animation out of my painting practice, while looking for a way to bring to life the found object assemblages I had been using. But truthfully I think it was always something I'd wanted to do. My childhood hero was Ray Harryhausen and although we had no movie camera, I spent hours sculpting and model making for imaginary films.

I think of all the artforms it's animation that's truly adept at generating a sense of wonder and magic.