It was an amazing moment. One of those moments when you literally sit back and topple sideways off your chair.
I’d found some old photographs of Kathleen Goligher and had shared them with my friend Andrew Goff who works as an animator and director in Central London.
He didn’t tell me what he was planning to do but he said he’d had an idea.
It followed a conversation in the pub (most of our conversations happen in the pub) when I’d been saying how difficult it is to see a character as a real person and not just a distant and static face in a black and white photograph.
We’ve all struggled, haven’t we? To see the soldiers in WW2 documentaries as more than ghosts of the past? Or to truly appreciate what it must have been like to talk to Abraham Lincoln or Albert Einstein.
In a world where we have increasingly real moving images of complete strangers, our ancestors can feel more and more distant and elusive.
I might have imagined Andrew was going to add a few filters and bring a realistic skin tone or hair colour to the images. I did wonder, knowing his sense of humour, whether he was going to animate some cartoon ghosts into the background just for fun.
I never expected a living, moving Kathleen to appear on the computer screen. She blinked, then smiled and for a moment, like Mona Lisa, she seemed to stare at me then look away.
Suddenly, that flat photograph had turned into a breathing, thinking human being. This young woman who plays such a strange part in my novel was sitting in front of me. I connected with her.
Andrew is now busily working on making her move even more in other photographs and a similar effect is being used on Wiliam Jackson Crawford. I can’t wait to see my mysterious main character turn his head and look at me. I will probably topple off my chair all over again.
For those interested in creating a similar effect with old photographs or even paintings, you can use an app’ on an iPhone (It doesn’t seem to be available on Android at the moment annoyingly and alternatives aren’t as good) called Mug Life. There are others but they seem to want to add puppy ears and all sorts of things onto the pictures and that’s not really what we’re after.
Andrew is using much more advanced techniques in a professional system called After Effects, layering particles of dust over the image and moving the ‘camera’ round Kathleen. Below is just an early version but I’ve seen a tiny glimpse of what he’s doing with old pictures of Belfast and it’s blown me away.
Watch this space. And, as always, please make sure you keep your ears to the ground and tell me if you see or hear anything that might help me tell this amazing story.