HOME PAGE: Experimental Animation (SXA) SEE TRAN SCAN!*

Play QuickTime CLIP #1 mountains (800 KB) - CLIP #2 prairie (1 MB) - CLIP #3 climax off-road (1.4 MB). 

*Vision Point is an artistic "prototype" for the more "commercial" full-length film across Canada entitled Tran Scan (DVD anamorphic widescreen), released in 2003.

Quotes from Reviewers of Vision Point:

"A road that leads us back to nature" -- Planet in Focus: Toronto Environmental Film and Video Festival, Sept, 2000

"Like traveling through Western Canada on a liberated roller coaster." -- Chris Robinson, Ottawa 00 International Animation Festival.

"Stephen X. Arthur's road trip was shot with a 35mm Pentax still camera; the images were then animated to create an astonishing separation of foreground and background. The landscape itself seems to dance with an almost dizzying rhythm against an infinitely receding horizon and our relentless forward movement." -- RESFEST 2000

"Stephen Arthur's meticulously rendered still-photo animation Vision Point photographs mountain ranges from the highway so that their relative position and size in the frame is maintained to reveal nothing short of a new way of seeing". -- Alex McKenzie, Vancouver Underground Film Festival, 2000

"B.C. experimental animator Stephen Arthur's intoxicating roller-coaster road trip through Western Canada captures the surreal beauty of the Northwest." -- Todd Haynes, Northwest Film/Video Festival, 2000 (Portland)

"Vision Point reminded me very strongly of my car racing days. The use of "reference points" in the compiling of the images is very close to the way a car racer focuses far ahead of the car. This results in, strangely enough, a tremendous "slowing down" of the perceived motion of the car and context, and requires an enormous degree of concentration (this is what actually drove me [!] to Zen practice). In fact, I bet you that most crashes in racing that are not caused by mechanical problems come from a temporary loss of that concentration." -- Jean Detheux, digital abstract expressionist, Oct 2000

"For us the most visually imaginative work is Vision Point, which animates still photographic images into a stuttering, hypnotic meditation on landscape and perspective." -- Seattle Weekly (review of Independent Exposure, Sept 28, 2000)

"Stephen X. Arthur sums up the over-arching interpretation of 'landscape' for this program, explaining that both artists and viewers 'become an integral part of the landscape in the act of creating a perception of it.' By combining still photographs and digital imaging techniques, Arthur takes the viewer from Canada's centre to its periphery. He creates the illusion that the landscape is in motion, while in fact it is the artist/viewer projecting his or her movement onto the landscape. Rather than interpreting the landscape as subject matter, Vision Point suggests that it is a blank canvas on which artists project their experiences in attempts to tame it." -- Maija Martin, curator of "Super Natural British Columbia" at Artropolis 2001 contemporary art exhibition in Vancouver, April 2001

"It is strange what the distant vision focal point centering on the mountain does to our perception of the mountains, which become surreal. The film changes the point of reference for the sound as we go along--from human to earthbeats--also surreal. To make a simple sound structure using heartbeats, which used at first level might seem corny, works so well in this context. Simple. Elegant. Short and sweet. " -- Marcy Page, Animation Producer, National Film Board of Canada, 1999

RES: The Magazine of Digital Filmmaking - Fall Issue 2000, Vol 3 #4
by Holly Willis,
Contributing Editor

Reanimator: RESFEST Filmmaker Stephen X. Arthur on the Art of Revision

Media theorist Lev Manovich has described certain kinds of digital filmmaking as a return to "primitive" cinema -- where the earliest filmmakers enjoyed making movies by animating individually hand-painted or drawn frames, the insistence that cinematography could capture real life relegated animation and special effects to the margins. As a result, the beauty of the fantasy worlds of filmmakers like Georges Melies pretty much vanished.

However, digital filmmaking and the ability to easily create special effects, again, frame by frame, releases us from the tyranny of both narrative and naive notions of the real. And along with that release has been a tremendous increase in the number of films that help us re-see the world. Stephen X. Arthur's new film, "Vision Point," which will screen in this year's RESFEST, is a good example. The film continues Arthur's long-time investigation of various animation styles, and indeed, features an amazing new technique.

The film is a travelogue made by shooting still images with a 35mm Pentax and a telephoto lens, taking one frame every four seconds. "Initially the idea come from a friend who had been travelling on the transnational Canadian highway," explains Arthur, who used the longer focal length in order to avoid the common travelogue look where everything is shot with a wide angle lens.

Arthur ended up with around 500 images, which he scanned and then brought back into motion in After Effects. However, rather than merely making still pictures move, Arthur adopted a new technique. "Each shot is given an anchor point," he explains, "so there's a spot on the landscape that is always in the same place. The framing is moving around afterward to follow that part of the land, not of the screen. The background is fixed, and the foreground is going crazy, but it's watchable because you have a reference point." Arthur is right -- you see the image, but there's a kinetic motion that makes most of the frame still jostle about energetically as it does in any pixilated sequence.

"It has this strange effect," admits the soft-spoken Arthur, "and people aren't sure why." The film transforms the landscape and the experience of moving through space by imagining vision in a completely new way. Arthur claims that one of the results of the film was that he now understands himself to be fundamentally a surrealist. "What I do tends to make the real strange in some way," he says. "I think the essence of surrealism is doing just that."

Fresh from the Festivals: January 2001's Film Reviews
By Maureen Furniss

In Vision Point, director Stephen X. Arthur takes viewers on another journey, this time across the landscape of Canada, which he traversed with his wife, Joyce Arthur. While she was driving through the Western portion of the country on the Trans Canada Highway, Arthur captured time-lapse images with a Pentax 35mm still camera, zooming in with a 200 mm lens. These images were later manipulated with Adobe After Effects, which also was used to create a heartbeat-like sound track for the film. Flight of the Stone (directed by Susanne Fränzel), a similar work that I recently reviewed, uses the 'narrative device' of a stone flying through the air to tie its 15 minutes of international landscapes together. In contrast, Arthur's images are united only thematically, as his goal was to abstract fundamental differences among regions of Canada. This strategy works in part because Vision Point is only one and a half minutes long; the repeated images form a rhythm in combination with the soundtrack, while changes in perspective and landscape types provide visual interest.

With a background in zoology and physiology, as well as an MFA in film production from the University of Southern California, Arthur brings an interesting scientific, analytical perspective to his work in animation. Among his strongest influences, he cites Norman McLaren, Paul Driessen, Jan Svankmajer and Werner Herzog, and he most admires the Brothers Quay for their employment of surrealism as 'true freedom from the intellect' and for their total devotion to their art. I do not see Vision Point as particularly surreal in its aesthetic, though Arthur himself describes it that way. However, I think he has achieved an entertaining and even slightly humorous film that is enjoyable to watch and might be studied for the way in which movement helps to sustain visual interest.

Arthur also explains that his inspiration came in part from Bart Testa's 1989 book, Spirit in the Landscape, which focuses on Canadian avant-garde landscape films in terms of the Canadian landscape-painting tradition. Vision Point was funded by a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts. It has been screened at events worldwide.

The film was realized as Part One of a Five Part Canada Council Creative Development Grant in Media Arts. Distributors: CFMDC (Toronto), Moving Images (Vancouver), Microcinema, Inc (Seattle), & home-video compilation "100% Independent" (ASIFA-Canada).

Artist's Statement

I used a novel method of traveling time-lapse photography as a medium of expression to create a portrait of the Western Canadian landscape and our relationship to it. It unifies observer and observed: the artist's body becomes the land's motion; the jumping and flowing of the landscape in the off-road part is simply due to the height of my body, or a couple of my strides. It's an intimate relativity where you become an integral part of the landscape in the act of creating a perception of it.

(c) 2001 SXA Vancouver

  • Buy Vision Point on BEST OF RESFEST vol. 1 / DVD 90 mins., 16 films from RESFEST 1997-2000 (www.res.com).


    Note to search engines: Spelling is pixilated and pixilation, NOT pixillated and pixillation, or pixelated and pixelation, or pixellated and pixellation. (time lapse)

  • site by SXA '97-'01