Remembering The Queen’s Monastery (Part 4)

Back to Part 3.

The main theme of The Queen’s Monastery is love and war. Focusing on how war can change people beyond recognition.

Soldiers on world War 1 battlefield

Soldiers running through battlefield. Original film still, The Queen’s Monastery

Soldier&barbwire

Soldier searches for his wife’s lover. original still, The Queen’s Monastery

Touching upon the idea of how killing and power are deep rooted sexual instincts. The original music by Leoš Janáček, The Sinfonetta (subtitled “Military Sinfonietta” or “Sokol Festival”) was written just after the end of World War One and the film is inspired by this and incorporates imagery from the battlefields.


The Queen’s Monastery. Conceived, animated and directed by EMMA CALDER. Music by Leoš Janáček. Produced by Pearly Oyster Productions 1998 © Pearly Oyster Productions/ BBC Bristol.

Short Synopsis: The film is about a woman whose lover, a former acrobat, has returned to her from war a changed man.  Using a highly individual watercolour technique the narrative explores themes of love, escapist fantasy, obsession and guilt.

Background Detail: The woman cannot come to terms with her soldier lover who has changed so much due to the horrors of war. So she fantasises about the man he used to be. The soldier imagines that the woman loves someone else and that she has been unfaithful to him. Scenes of 1st world war battle scenes end with a tormented battle aggravated by the experiences of war, between the soldier and the acrobat on the spiral staircase to the monastery. The battle is not just a fight between two parts of self but, of a nation. (This links to the patriotic feeling in the music and to Czechoslovak history past and future).

Solder close up on stairs, Emma Calder 1998

Solder chases the acrobat up the stairs. Original film still, The Queen’s Monastery

Although much of the film is depicted through the actions of the male character it is the woman’s vision of the man she loves that we see, and it her feelings, traumas, and fight for happiness that we feel.

Woman looks through curtains

Woman looks through curtains. Original film Still, The Queen’s Monastery

Festivals: The film had a very successful festival, cinema and TV outing for at least fours years after it was completed, I still get regular requests for screenings. For more info on festivals and prizes please look on the film page.

Future Plans: I am now planning to have an exhibition featuring artwork, scripts, notebooks from the film, alongside the film, to tie in with events planned around the centenary of World War One. Approx 15,000 pieces of artwork and animation drawings exist.

Woman and Acrobat at the bottom of the stairs

Woman and Acrobat at the bottom of the stairs. Original film still, The Queen’s Monastery

In addition it would be fantastic to have a live orchestra perform the piece. I had wanted Sir Charles Mackerras to conduct but, sadly he died. I wish I had tried to sort this out sooner but, I got so busy with other things.

To read about my latest commissioned film, please click here.

Remembering The Queen’s Monastery (Part 3)

Back to Part 2. S4C The Welsh Broadcaster, invited me to enter a competition for animators, to create film ideas for an animation, set to and inspired by a piece of out of copyright classical music.

First ideas for trumpeters

Early design idea for The Queen’s Monastery. First ideas for trumpeters

I had always been interested in the relationship between sound and visual ideas and all my previous work had strong original music which I had sound scripted. This was a new challenge as I was not a classical music expert and had no experience with working with a pre-composed piece of music.

I went to the library and borrowed dozens of LP’s yet, they all seemed too popular and overly romantic, I simply wasn’t inspired. Then in the pile, was a then relatively unknown Czech composer, called Leoš Janáček, the music was The Sinfonietta. I was blown away. Just like Haruki Murakami was to be later, when he used the piece as central to his plot for his 2009 trilogy 1Q84.

Immediately I listened to the music, very clear images entered my head. I started to see the relationship between the film I had already been thinking about, the style of the dribbly watercolours I had been developing and the narrative ideas within the musical composition. I knew nothing about Janáček, the story behind the music, the name of the section that I wanted to use, all my ideas were derived purely from listening to this highly emotional, patriotic and passionate score.

Fanfares of the Sinfonietta Janáček's autographed score.

Fanfares of the Sinfonietta Janáček’s autographed score. (Taken from Wikipedia)

I started to write down images that the instrumentation conjured up. Military bands, with soldiers, a town square, a woman looking out of a window with blowing curtains in a Monastery, staircases, running and more. Then piccolo sounds, like monkey noises made me think of an acrobat and there in front of me was the outline story. Which I wrote in a morning.

Emma's notes response to music

Emma’s notes response to music

Original Acrobat Pyramid Design

Original Acrobat Pyramid Design rough for The Queen’s Monastery

I borrowed or bought every recording and chose what I considered to be the best. Sir Charles Mackerras/Vienna Philharmonic: London 410138-2. Sir Charles was the worlds leading Janáček expert although I had no idea at the time.

Then I started to research Janáček’s life and The Sinfonietta. My findings were remarkable. The title of the movement I had chosen to script. Was in fact The Queen’s Monastery, Janáček had grown up in a monastery in Brno. All my other ideas fitted too. Janáček had been commissioned at the end of the first world war, to write the music for a festival of gymnastics, to be held in Brno town square. The work was dedicated to the Czech armed forces and was a tribute to the town of Brno, now free from the yoke of German authority. Janáček’s best music was written in the last twenty years of his life after he fell obsessively in Love with a Kamila Stösslová 40 years his junior, whom it appears did not succumb to his passions. He also wrote the music while sitting with her in Brno Town Square and used monkey noises for inspiration for some elements of his very complex composition. Which was played by a 101 piece orchestra.

The combination of Janáček’s obsessive fantasies and my central characters own fantasies. The fact that my imaginings of all the locations were so accurate in relationship to the music, helped me develop my story even further. It was so exciting to have been able to see so clearly what Janáček had in his mind when writing the music and how it had led to my own story’s creation.

I used dribly watercolours of soldiers and acrobats to present the design ideas. Developed the themes about love and war. Researched Czechoslovakia’s involvement in the first world war, went to the Imperial War Museum to study footage of soldiers etc.

 rough designs for the arobat from The Queen's Monastery

Original rough designs for the acrobat from The Queen’s Monastery

Finally in 1996, I got the money from London Production fund, BBC Bristol and The National Lottery but, not from S4C as at one point because of the change in copy right laws the music had gone back into copyright, but then it came back out again so I was able to use it. But by that time it was to late for S4C.

Read part 4

Remembering The Queen’s Monastery (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1.

Around 1992, I was helping Ged Haney, my former business partner finish off his film The Kings of Siam. We were at the artwork stage and I was in charge of mixing all the inks and supervising a team of painters to colour in Ged’s drawings. His was a very neat style, I was getting bored doing it and dying for the film to be finished, we had been working on it seven years! Around the same time our producer Lee Stork had given us a big pile of old unused sketch books from the 1950′s, they were very dusty and yellow with old fashioned covers. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on them.

Very First page

Very First page from my Favorite Sketch Book

Emma Calder's Favorite Sketch Book

Emma Calder’s Favorite Sketch Book

Emma Calder's Favorite Sketch Book

Emma Calder’s Favorite Sketch Book

One evening when all our staff had gone home, I was alone sorting out inks and work for the next day, when I suddenly had an idea. Opening one of the little watercolour pads I started cleaning the dirty paint brushes out on the pages, I continued until I had filled the whole book. Then I took a pencil and turned the blobs into characters and there in front of me was a brand new style. Over the next few weeks I continued with the blobs added splashes and dribbles but, I had no idea where it was going, I was also working on ideas for a film about infidelity and loving two men and then an opportunity to use both turned up.

Favourite Sketch Books

Favourite Sketch Books, given by Lee Stork

Emma 1992

Watercolour of Emma by Emma in 1992

To be continued…

Remembering The Queen’s Monastery (Part 1)

Eighteen years ago. I was in Labour with my daughter Coco. It lasted around twenty four hours and ended with a hospital caesarean, under general anaesthetic. The birth had been planned at home and to take my mind off things, I continued doing design roughs for my film The Queen’s Monastery, which was contracted to begin that very day.

Here are two of my labour drawings. Very wobbly and completely off character as you can see.

Queen's labour watercolour

Watercolour drawn whilst in labour

Queens labour watercolour2

Watercolour drawn whilst in labour

The Queen’s Monastery was a dream project a once in a life time opportunity and everything about it fitted neatly into place.

But it’s a long story, which I will continue in my next blog.

Official Boudica A Norfolk Story Trailer

For those of you eager to have a look at my Boudica film. I have cut a trailer to give a taste of the animation and style. Any festivals wishing to show the film please contact me for a link to the complete film. Read the Press Release. Or download a printable version, with extra images of the Boudica_PressRelease

Or if you are in Norfolk, pop into Norwich Castle Museum and watch it in the Boudica Gallery.

I will keep everyone posted about screenings and previews.

Also I just heard that the film has been short-listed for consideration by the final jury for the category of Best Commissioned Animation at The British Animation Awards.

Boudica animation is finished

Boudica A Norfolk Story is finished. It should be installed in the Boudica Gallery in Norwich Castle Museum in the next couple of weeks.

Roman Soldiers march towards Mancetter

Roman Soldiers march towards Mancetter and the probable site of the final battle

Here’s me on the last days shoot, animating the first scene of the film. I decided to do this outside shot last, just in case I accidentally knocked the camera over, or something!

boudica animation in Stockwell

Emma painting Boudica’s new face. Photo Oliver Cripps

boudica in the earth

Emma animating Boudica . Photo Oliver Cripps

In this first scene Boudica is dug up and put together then her face appears and she yawns.

As you can see from the scale Boudica is tiny, her little arms and legs made from gold twisted wire in the style of Iceni torcs. (Iceni is the name for Boudica’s tribe who lived in Norfolk 2000 years ago.)

The film is now on Vimeo but with a private link only, as I want to keep it back for film festivals, premières etc…

For those of you who can’t wait I will make a short trailer soonish. But meanwhile, time permitting I will do some short blogs about the making of the film.

Boudica Animation is nearly complete

I have nearly finished all the animation for my Boudica Film for Norwich Castle. It has been such good fun.

Hopefully in about one week I will be able to do the final edit and sound. Fingers crossed.

Boudica makes up

Boudica applies Woad

To go on with, is a still of Boudica putting on her woad before her final battle. Quite a fiddly job. Repainting her face which is only about 2 centimeters across, for each frame of animation. Although her face doesn’t move for all scenes luckily.

Boudica’s daughters bodies are made from broken iron age pottery from Norfolk.

Nero looks like Boris

I have just finished animating a scene with Nero for my Boudica Film and realised he actually looks like Boris Johnson.

Nero rips

Nero rips up Prasutagus will

I did the cut out animation in after effects for this scene but, I am doing the next scene proper cut out, although I can get both looking quite similar now. It just depends on my mood.

Watercolour Backgrounds for Boudica

The fruits of my Norfolk holiday are paying off, had a good day doing the final backgrounds for my Boudica film.

This one is my favourite so far.

Boudica by Emma Calder

Boudica in her watercolour background

Julian Cripps did the pencil work and I did the water colour and characters.

The ducks are from some lovely 2000 year old Iceni Cups, on display in the Boudica Gallery.

Norfolk Holiday Plus Work

It’s not much over I week since I returned from my hols and it has already been cold enough to light a fire.

Emma Calder in Norfolk

Emma with her best paintbrush, photo by Oliver Cripps

Emma Calder in Norfolk

One of Emma’s sky backgrounds, photo by Oliver Cripps

My Boudica film is going very well, although I have still quite a bit of animation to do.

I used the holiday in Boudica country to work on the backgrounds, even doing water colours whilst sailing on a boat on the Norfolk broads!

Emma Calder in Norfolk

Emma painting in a rocky boat, photo by Oliver Cripps

I also spent time recording sound effects, getting up some days at 5 am to avoid tractors and Collar doves. The sound track is going to be made entirely of ambient and natural sounds because of the setting in the museum and the way the film will be viewed. So it’s quite a challenge to make an interesting track that helps the story along but, I like challenges and working with sound.

Emma Calder in Norfolk

Is that a tractor? photo by Julian Cripps

Although I did do quite a bit of work whilst away it was great to get away for a week. I think I will need another holiday when this job is done, fat chance though.