Animated self-portrait explores the concept of reincarnation

Emma Allen proves face painting isn't just child's play in this inspiring stop-motion animation about life, death and rebirth.

Emma Allen's artistic talents include a range of mediums, including sewing, 3D art, animation and face and body painting. And, today, we're focussing on a shining example of the latter.

Ruby is a 75-second stop motion animation, created by Allen over a period of five days, using some face paints, a mirror and a camera. The beautiful, animated self-portrait explores the idea of rebirth and illustrating the transfer of energy from one incarnation to another.

We spoke to Allen about her career as a face and body artist so far, her inspirations and why this particular project means so much to her...

Q: How long have you been a face and body artist?

"I actually started face painting about 10 years ago, it was a summer job on the side at London Zoo. After that summer, I stopped painting professionally but kept my paints handy. I later moved to Sri Lanka to volunteer after the Asian tsunami. I did art sessions for kids living in the refugee camps and children's homes.

"I took my face paints with me and discovered it was a surprisingly transferable skill as without being able to speak the language then, I could paint them and they really enjoyed it. During this time, to practise, I would paint my friends for fun, then do it at clubs and festivals. I came back to UK in 2010, which is when I got back into it doing it professionally."

Allen's face painting career began as a summer job at London Zoo. Since then, she always keeps her paints handy...

Q: Where did the idea for Ruby come from?

"I'd been experimenting with animation for a while but they were all created with my snappy little camera blue-tacked to a table and no lighting, which meant they ended up a bit budget looking. I really wanted to make one with higher production values, so I managed to organise a few days work experience with Asylum films and they, very kindly, gave me lots of tips on animation, showed me how to use the camera and computer program and lent me some equipment.

Allen's early storyboards for Ruby

"Ruby's storyline was inspired by my great-aunt in Sri Lanka, with whom I was very close to. She had a full life, was much loved, had such an effect on everyone and inspired me endlessly. At 93 she was amazingly fit and well but after she had a fall a year ago, she deteriorated quickly.

Ruby's storyline was inspired by my great-aunt in Sri Lanka, with whom I was very close to

"It was so hard to watch her suffer, knowing she was not going to recover but also the thought of her dying and everything that was her, just disappearing, was hard to take. She died in June this year. She was a Buddhist and the idea of 'samsara' (death and rebirth) was part of her life. The film is a meditation on that philosophy, a way for me to deal with her passing and honouring my wonderful great-aunt."

Ruby was inspired by Allen's great-aunt, with whom she was very close

Q: What did you look at for inspiration?

"I looked at festivals about death - the Dios De Los Muertos festival, for example. The sugar skull is what inspired the flowers blooming from the skull and also looked into Einstein's theory of thermodynamics, 'Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another'.

"I spent time studying videos and images of embryos in development. I thought the journey of the egg looked like space and I discovered that we all (creatures) look pretty similar as embryos in the first few stages. And, finally, I chose a leopard (even though every one thinks it's a tiger) because its a Sri Lankan animal."

Native to Sri Lanka, Allen depicts the leopard beautifully in Ruby

Q. You represent the reincarnation stage as very colourful and abstract. How did you come up with images to represent this phase?

"The thought behind it was the flowers decomposing turning into gases and floating into space. This lead to thoughts of the Northern lights, space and the solar system, so I gathered images of them, blended it with the flowers and ended up with a smudgy glittery face!

Allen's colourful and abstract representation of reincarnation was inspired by space and the solar system

Q: Talk us through your workflow...

"I captured an image every time I made a change to the design on my face, pretty much. I think on the space section I managed to just tilt my head for some of the shots so that different sections shimmered. Some sections I had to re-paint entirely each frame and some I just added to the existing image.

The tough bit was getting to a point that was easy to recreate exactly the next day

"The tough bit was getting to a point that was easy to recreate exactly the next day. But, actually, the hardest bit to animate, by far, was the feotus. I practiced that quite a few times before. Having it growing out of a black background, also timing the heartbeat and just trying to paint a foetus on your face without it look awful was really tricky."

Allen's toughest challenge was creating a foetus with a heartbeat

Q: What's your favourite part of the animation?

"When the skull shakes and cracks open, I think, because it's the beginning of the transition into new life - I imagine that the the plants are inside animating it.

"Also, I like the skull painting the most. When doing a stop-motion animtion, I often don't paint as well as I would for a single shot as it would take too long. But I've painted a lot of skulls in my time so it's easier for me to create one quickly that I'm happy with."

"I've painted a lot of skulls in my time so it's easier for me to create one quickly that I'm happy with," Allen comments

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