Lift the Lid: 23 Voices was a 10-week podcasting and journalism course co-hosted by LEEDS 2023 and Creative Lives, providing participants with the skills and confidence to create their own media about the culture that matters to them. In this article, Caitlin Mulholland explores stop-motion animation with Leeds Animation Workshop. 

Back in August I made the trip to Thackray Museum of Medicine to attend a course that was anything but medical. Since 1978, this area of Leeds has been home to Leeds Animation Workshop, a women’s collective created to create animated films covering social issues. As part of LEEDS2023 year of culture, the Workshop was holding an event titled Animated Harehills in the museum: a six hour stop-motion animation course.

Initially, I was shocked at the idea of even trying to make something in this short time: how could I possibly, in the span of six hours, create something so brilliant as an animation, or compete with this challenge that was now facing me, of my creativity against time?

When everyone arrived, we began by watching the range of shorts from a multitude of timeframes and countries, such as:

  • 'Dot' by the British animation studio Aardman (directed by Will Studd, Ed Patterson, Sumo Science in 2010)
  • 'Blinkity Blank', a 1955 short by British-Canadian animator and director Norman McLaren
  • A cigarette advert by Robert Breen that looked nothing like an actual advert (How times have changed!)
  • Finally, 'The Bead Game', a 1977 short directed by Ishu Patel, made entirely from beads

This was arguably the most impressive to me, as I couldn’t even comprehend the sheer effort that had gone into its creation, especially as it was multiple minutes long, harshly contrasting with my efforts to create a short under 15 seconds in a matter of hours.

We were then left to our own devices, choosing what we wanted from the variety of materials, such as plasticine, fake flowers, vintage magazines, confetti – just about everything.

I had the initial idea and angle to create my animation on the topics I had seen portrayed in Leeds Animation Workshop’s previous works, such as 'Alice in Wasteland' (1991), covering the impacts of waste on the environment, and 'Did I Say Hairdressing? I Meant Astrophysics' (1998), discussing gender inequality and stereotypes in jobs and skills. Ultimately, though, I ended up straying from this. I had been fairly confident I wanted to create a message, but after my imagination was sparked in another way, my thought processes diverted.

I found a specific page from a magazine of a film/theatre set, with ropes and curtains, and figured I could make a more lighthearted, comedic film, in which an odd-looking collaged girl walks along a rooftop with a string attached to her (in the ropes of the set) and finds herself slipping off, thudding onto the floor. I realised it was unlikely that I could portray a deep, profound message within six hours, but still in my research beforehand about the Workshop’s other films, I found their work vastly interesting and was able to gain insight and knowledge into the true power of animation.

I’m a very creative person, and found the whole process really enriching to think of and make an animated film on the spot with little guidance, especially as I had absolutely no experience. The team were great too, helping out particularly in the animation’s creation after collaging, using the app Stop Motion Studio we had downloaded before. One of the people working there even attached wire and pins to my collaged girl to make it seem like she was moving her limbs as she fell.

Here’s my (extremely) short animation; I had a great time putting it all together!

Hi, I’m Caitlin, and I love all things creative, like listening to music, photography, going to concerts, drawing, and I study creative A-levels at the moment, two being English and film. I’d like to go into film production - specifically cinematography - as a career, and have always edited and created films since I was young. I’ve really enjoyed being part of the Leeds year of culture since it combines so many creative aspects, something I really love! Caitlin Mulholland, Lift the Lid: 23 Voices participant