Tag: romany

Research New Direction

I labelled this ‘new direction’, which is a little misleading because I am not taking my research in a new direction per say, just redefining what it is I am focusing on, and the best animation aesthetic to achieve this.

My heart has stayed with 3D since I first discovered it, way back two decades ago, and this is a thing that hasn’t changed. But the sharp focus of modern 3D characters didn’t feel authentic, or able to resonate with the message I want my animated documentary to achieve.

After spending what felt like weeks considering what voice I wanted to use, and what story I wanted to tell I finally recalled an audio recording I made of my Dad a few years back when he asked me to ghostwrite his autobiography. It was in this audio I found the thread to pull for my first animated sequence.

To start, I narrowed down the 30 minutes recording, highlighting one segment that I felt really illustrated how my father truly felt about his family being forced into a sedentary lifestyle.

Scientific Racism: Catalyst of a sedentary lifestyle

Dora Yates Scientific Racism
Acton, 2016

I have found academic writing that comments on the Hampshire councils stance on travellers in the 1960s, and how they used ‘scientific racism’ in academia to support their opinion that Gypsy’s should not be allowed to continue living a nomadic lifestyle and that this way of life was damaging somehow to the youth in the camps. Writings by a woman named Dora Yates conducted what she felt to be adequate research by going amongst the Travellers on the New Forrest and judging for herself that the pupils of the local school were not of Romany blood.

This study directly affected my family, and their way of life. While this essay touched on what happened to the Travellers, citing their forced move to the mud floor huts, it lacks the personal voice of the Romany and their experience of this internment.

As a child my Father recalls this time fondly, remembering how enjoyable it was to be with other children his age, he speaks of one time when toys were donated to the camp, and the children could have their pick of what was in the wardens back yard. But on reflection, when he starts to explain how they lived, and where the camp was situated it became obvious he hadn’t considered how terrible the living conditions were, and how wrong it was for the government to decide this way of life was better.

The negative effects of forcing Romany into a sedentary lifestyle far outweighed any perceived rightness of the act. The work families relied on to feed their children dried up, with so many with the same skill set stuck in once place, this caused many to think creatively to provide for their families. For my Father, being a young boy, the reality of the situation was hidden from him, my Grandparents worked hard to conceal how hard this new way of life was. They did their best to ensure that their children felt safe and secure, while the reality was a stark contrast.

Animated change

After cobbling together my 30-second sequence from my Dad’s story, I worked first on the sound design. I have learned over the years the this is an aspect of my work that I have neglected. With my Dad’s story being the central point I wanted to place the most importance on what the viewer will hear. It is from here that I launched my ideation of the look and feel. I knew that I wanted to use 3d animation, but not in a conventional way. I want my film to tactile, and grungy in a way that reflects the ex-prisoner of war camp my family were moved to. I want to capture the despair of having autonomy over your life taken from you, while also capturing the closeness of family ties.

Rubbish Dump Gypsy Character ideation
Rubbish Dump Gypsy character ideation

It was fairly obvious to me, that from this point on that I could not rely on any of the 3D character rigs I have available to me. (both paid and free rigs) I need my animation to maintain its authenticity, and to do this I will need to create all the characters within it. Above is the first iteration of my Romany family, based on photos of family members. to capture this textural landscape I want all the characters to have the feel of a hand made toy, something that Romany children might have made and played with.

Faceless doll inspiration

Faceless Doll Ideas
Faceless Doll Ideas 

I am investigating the idea of dolls without faces, my reasoning for my characters in this sequence having no mouth is symbolic of having their voice taken away from them. These travelling families had no choice but to move into the camps. The government worked systematically to close down stopping places until they were all funnelled into the same camps. There was no way for them to speak out against how unjust this was. Couple this with the general distant and mistrust of travellers they genuinely had no voice to counter the argument for the sedentary mandate. (I need to confer with my research and add some linking academic papers) The representation of Romany and Travellers still very present today, in social media, news media, entertainment, academia, and in our own homes. There is even misunderstanding within my own race, which is bound to happen when we have all be labelled under one umbrella term, despite our diverse histories which is why my characterisation here is so important.

I am looking at the history of dolls such as the Waldorf Doll, The Haudenosaunee ‘No  Face doll’, Hayao Miyazaki animated character Kanoshi (No face) from Spirited Away, and Motanka, Traditional Ukrainian Doll as a foundation for my own no face doll.


From this, I have created my first character, Little John. This is the first iteration, I have run into several issues along the way, and with each version have created something closer to what I have visioned in my head. I have used a combination of Maya to create the base mesh, and Zbrush to create the textural detail. Using a combination of bump and displacement maps I can convey a layered, and complex character, that feels real, in the medium of 3D.

Little John character sheet
Little John character sheet
Beef Eater Character Sheet
Beef Eater Character Sheet
Beefy 3D character
Beefy 3D character
Beefy and LJ 3d Character
Beefy and LJ 3d Character
LJ 3D character
LJ 3D character
LJ 3D character
LJ 3D character
LJ, Beefy and Vardo 3D Character
LJ, Beefy and Vardo 3D Character
LJ, Beefy and Vardo 3D Character
LJ, Beefy and Vardo 3D Character
Beefy 3D character
Beefy 3D character
Beefy 3D character
Beefy 3D character
LJ wip
LJ wip
LJ wip
LJ wip
LJ wip
LJ wip


I still have a lot of characters to design and create, but seeing these first two have really filled me with joy and a renewed sense of purpose. I decided on reflection of my first iteration to include eyes with my Romany travellers. They are silent observers of what was happening to them. This was also an aesthetic choice, as having no ideas left me with an underlying sense of dread.

At this stage, I am working on rigging them with Rapid Rig, and ensuring I can animate them in a way that conveys the emotion that this piece needs.  I’ll be back later to upload some animation tests. Below is the first test from Beefy before I changed the rigging structure. The new rig means I have greater control over this body, and means I can also animate this hat.



Acton, Thomas A. ‘Scientific Racism, Popular Racism and the Discourse of the Gypsy Lore Society’. Ethnic & Racial Studies 39, no. 7 (June 2016): 1187–1204. https://doi.org/10.1080/01419870.2015.1105988.

Mastering Anxiety

I am in a stage where anxiety is starting to creep up on me. I still feel like the way forward is foggy, I am not sure what direction my story will take. Following this line of thought, I am considering reassessing my take on applying for ethics. I believe it would be valuable for me to conduct a survey of sorts of New Zealanders, asking for information surrounding their perception of Gypsy/Romany culture.

It has come to my attention that there is a faction in New Zealand who consider themselves activists and are seeking greater clarification surrounding Rom rights, especially in regards to those claiming this right when freedom camping.

I also would like to examine symbolism, and what kinds of thoughts come to mind when you ask your every day New Zealander what they associate with Gypsy/Romany culture. I believe that the information gathered from this data will assist me with the curation of images for my animation.

My own ‘gypsyiness’

I have a lot of different thoughts and ideas whirling around my head. I really want to create something poignant, and powerful, but I am at a point with my research where I’m not sure what direction to take, so I am just working to create content for every idea that fly through my brain.

I want to communicate how it feels for me to be Romany, and kiwi, and Gorjio. That I never felt quite Gypsy enough to fit in with my Romany family, and never quite Gora enough to fit in with the kids at the school I went too. And then slide this into how I feel now, trying to own my ethnicity, but still feeling like a fraud. How much discrimination can I claim at this point in my life? How much disadvantage has it put me at?

When I was a teenager at high school in New Zealand there were girls who made fun of me, called me a Gypsy Witch, even dramatically throwing themselves into lockers to ‘get-away’ from me and my supposed curses.

But now, at 40, I can’t say my Gypsyiness has disadvantaged me because I really don’t have much left. If I had much, to begin with. My Dad moved us away from his family, and the stigma that went hand in hand with being a traveller. But with that move and gain of the white privilege, my skin gives me, I’ve lost the chance to learn the Romany language, and be part of the travelling community, in a way that popping in once a week on a Sunday never afforded us.

I’m same/same/different on both sides of the fence. And the fence does exist, as surely as the gatekeepers stand at the border and keep a mental tally to who has the right to claim themselves Gypsy, Traveller, Romany.

Motion Capture: Development/Research

Somewhere between my last post and this one my experimental motion capture project took a bit of a left turn. In part because of time constraints, but also because another avenue took my interest.

I decided to combine my Animation Capstone Vardo with my Motion Capture in an effort to create a way I could use motion capture technology to create a pre-vis in preparation for creating the keyframed animation.

I wasn’t entirely sure I could achieve this, which worried me. I don’t take failure well, especially when I am sure that I can figure something out so I doggedly started my research into how I could proceed.

After casting a google net I realized that there isn’t that much research into this practice yet, and although plenty of people are making arms longer to create an ape, or applying the data to a monster character there hasn’t been too much experimentation using it with vehicles.

The anthropomorphized Vardo of my Capstone is inspired in part by the Pixar animation Cars, but you can learn more about my project by watching my video essay on the subject of using an anthropomorphized non-human character.

Below is the video that inspired my own search for a solution to my problem, and although they are using methods that outweigh my current knowledge with time and practice I believe I will be able to come up with an appropriate solution.



Treatment & Mood boards Version One

Capstone: Treatment & Mood Boards Version One

I am going to prefix this post by stating that this the starting point of Vardo’s story. I am sure, not unlike the hardships he takes on his journey so will my capstone project. For a start, my treatment ended up over 1500 words long! Although after rereading in the cold hard light of day (and a few hours sleep) it was pointed out to me that I use the word ‘forward’ far too many times. I just went back and checked, I used it 7 times in one paragraph, which happens to be the only paragraph that word appears.

Below are my first iterations of the Mood Board and my epic treatment. Some of the other feedback received in class is how can I refine my story so he becomes more concise, and how could I tell Vardo’s story in a two-minute feature. I do not want to shorten my blue sky version of the story, I believe this animation would work in a longer format, but for the capstone, I aim to create a quality animation so will need to keep in mind the relatively short time frame I have to work with.

I am considering creating my final animation as a trailer for the longer format Vardo. If you have any feedback that you believe would benefit from hearing please do comment or send me an email.


Title: Vardo

Treatment: Version One

The scene opens on a caravan wheel, above it is a clear blue sky, below the lush green grass, and nearby the sound of a church bell swinging gaily and a group of people cheering in celebration can be heard. The camera pans out to reveal a young Romany couple celebrating their marriage.

The Romany couple hand over the money to the coachbuilder and in return they collect Vardo. The young couple is overjoyed and Vardo responds, coming to life, his paintwork sparkles and glows as he basks in the praise of how beautiful he is. The young Romany couple poses proudly in front of their home for a photo (Polaroid or old-fashioned?) and the photo of them both smiling is inserted into an old-fashioned pocket watch case.

Vardo’s family, now with the new edition of a child travels with his family pack, several other wooden caravans travelling together. The people who live in the caravans are smiling and happy.

The caravans stop to camp for the night, dinner is being cooked, and Vardo snoozes peacefully. The quiet night is interrupted by the sound of a police siren. Police on bikes round them up and urge them all to move on. Vardo rousing himself from sleep is scared, he struggles to organise himself and get away from the police. In their haste to get away items from their campfire get left behind.

As Vardo travels through the small village near where they were camping with the police in pursuit villages alerted to the hubbub by all the noise start to take to the streets, they are carrying pitchforks and cricket bats to defend themselves from the perceived intruders. The cobblestone pavement is bumpy and the road is hard for Vardo to navigate, as the wheels bounce up and down over the bricks items fall from the caravan.

Vardo is exhausted and finally finds a space to rest he sinks down, feeling all of his weight as the adrenaline leaves his wooden frame.

As night falls some of the village youngsters creep up to Vardo, joking quietly with each other they place wooden chocks under Vardo’s wheels.

Morning breaks and Vardo prepares to start the journey to the next campsite. He releases his breaks eager to put this unwelcoming town behind him, but his acceleration is thwarted. He tries to move forward again, pulling and straining until rocking back into place with a judder. He pauses to consider his situation for a beat and then starts rocking back and forth, his motions becoming more frantic as his panic mounts, but he doesn’t stop. Items fall from his walls, but he ignores them, focusing on this task until finally his wheels loosen enough so that one last spring-loaded motion ejects the wooden chocks and Vardo catapults himself so fast that speed wobbles shakes his planks. Slamming on his breaks he jerk forwards, the momentum shunting what is left of his equipment to the front of his carriage. Now in control Vardo drops to a more sedate pace.

Vardo reaches a new town he pulls up next to enormous motor homes, the camera pans up to reveal the sheer size of them dwarfing the tiny wooden wagon. Vardo refuses to be cowered by them, he is a Romany, and proud. Safe with the knowledge that his family adore him.

As Vardo travels through the town he notices more shiny new caravans for sale on a sales lot, there are some older wooden wagons dumped behind the building. The old wooden wagons are falling apart, faded, and discarded. Vardo looks at the old wagons with pity, safe with the knowledge that his family treasure him. Perched on the back of Vardo, unbeknownst to him, his family eye the shiny fancy caravans with interest.

When Vardo pulls up to a signed posted ‘Designated Gypsy campsite’ he notices several fancy new caravans there. Vardo’s family demonstrate how interested they are in the fancy new caravans walking over to admire them and talk to their families.

Vardo watches his family, creeping closer to try and hear what they are saying, Vardo finds comfort from his family’s child, the child notices Vardo and waves, then blows a childlike kiss before their mother takes their hand. The family are listening to fancy caravan owner as they animatedly share how amazing it is, Vardo looks on in horror as his family disappears inside.

Vardo and his family approach a fork in the road, the entrance to town is guarded, with a large sign post stating ‘NO GYPSIES ALLOWED’. Vardo slows in trepidation, unsure what to do.

The fancy new caravans travelling with them get through the cordon with ease. Vardo decides to follow suit, getting in line with the others. When it’s Vardo’s turn to pass through the men at the gate standing in front, crossing their arms and shaking their head. They tap the sign behind them and point the other fork in the road. The road in that direction is dark, with the signs of an obvious storm brewing.

Dejected, with no other choice, Vardo and his family travel the harsh road. The road is hard to navigate, everyone is nervous as Vardo creeps along a narrow road on a mountainside. His wheels are right on the edge. As he nearly slips down the side rocks are worked loose, Vardo shunts hard into the left to prevent losing traction, and an item that works loose plummets to down the cliff face making a loud crashing sound as it tumbles down and down.

With relief Vardo’s family make it to the relative safety of a hooded forest area. The clearing is damp, and low lying fog shrouds the family. They are all cold. The family heat bricks in the fire to warm their bed for the night. They sleep together dressed in their winter coats and hats for warmth. Vardo tries hard to provide enough heat to warm them in his tiny hearth, but his family still shiver.

Finally, Vardo and his family make it to the next designated campground. Vardo’s lustre had faded, the harsh journey has broken and splinted his woodwork, and his paint has peeled. His family are welcomed into another’s fancy new caravan and don’t come out. Vardo is left watching and waiting for his family to return.

Time passes indicated by the sun tracking across the sky and Vardo still waits. Shadows are cast long by the time his family return and the perplexed Vardo sets off with once more. Vardo knows that they are supposed to be at this campsite for a few weeks.

The family travel sales lot similar to the one they had seen previously. Vardo starts to get nervous, he slows, finding every bump and pothole in the road in an attempt to slow his journey towards the shiny new caravans and his inevitable fate. His protests only serve him negatively as the final items on the outside of his body fall to the ground, being left behind.

Shrunken with failure and the grief he is being left behind his watches helplessly as his family unload their belongings from his interior and take them to their new home. His one last hope is their child, who refuses to help them. Their child tries to put some boxes back into Vardo, but the child is scolded by his Mother and finally gives up. The enormous motorhome purrs with self-satisfaction. The couple takes a moment to pat Vardo one last time, and walk away from him the reluctant child in their arms. The child stares at Vardo with a tear-stained face, one last tear falling down his cheek.

Vardo’s wheels are cut off and lay inertly against him. He is used as a storage shed, with old discarded items flung haphazardly inside him. Many years pass, freezing winters, scorching summers, wind and rain lashing at his neglected body. Grass and weeds grow up around him, root him to his resting place, imprisoning him. Vardo’s wood has become silver with age and parts of his once proud roof is caved in.

A Romany man approaches Vardo. Vardo has been inert for so long he barely registers he has company. The man walks a loop around his exterior, tugging at the weeds that cover him like a carpet. The Romany man smiles pats Vardo’s shameful exterior. Vardo falls back dormant.

Vardo is shaken awake with the awful feeling of being ripped from the ground. He is being lifted up by a tractor and carried away. He is panicked by his sudden change of pace.

Vardo is taken to a workshop, where the man starts to cut large pieces from him. Vardo realises that this is his final end. He will be hacked apart piece by piece until nothing else remains. He decides stoically to give himself over to his end.

However, instead of being torn apart, he experiences the strange sensation of rehabilitation. Piece by piece he finally comes back to himself, until he feels the gentle caress of the paintbrush, as a new vibrancy is restored.

Elated Vardo and the Romany man exit the workshop, the Romany man, sitting up front pulls an old-fashioned pocket watch from his pocket and flips it open. Inside is contained a weathered photo of the Romany couple standing proudly in front of a newly minted Vardo.