Sunset Strip: production notes
How the film was made

Getting started
In the spring of 1994 I was heavily involved in making a 16mm pilot for the BFI called As Yet Unseen. Filming was very tricky as we were shooting single frame within a set of a living room using tracking shots, 35mm back projections and hundreds of animated fireplace tiles. It was all pretty traumatic as both my Beaulieu cameras kept breaking down. Every ten feet or so the take-up spool would slip leaving a tangle of film in the camera. Each time we had to open the camera back and unjam the film. This meant extra filming through the night to cover the lost footage. It was torture.

After this I'd had enough of technology for a while. For my next project I wanted to make something simple which relied mostly on me and the images I created using film as a physical medium. Direct contact: me, film, light. Definitely no movie cameras. I got excited about an idea that had been bubbling through my brain for a film called Sunset Strip.

The film was to be a day-by-day diary of a year's sunsets, rendered directly onto a continuous strip of 35mm film. I wanted it to be as mesmeric as a sunset, with a big screen presence. It was my cinematic leap to the expanded canvas of 35mm. I found out that the Arts Council and Channel 4 Animate! deadline had been extended, got my application into a coherent form and posted it off just in time. I knew it was a tasty project and in with a good chance, but funding is unpredictable - particularly if you make films without a script or storyboard.

Then in June on my birthday I had a surprise phone call from David Curtis at the Arts Council to tell me that Animate! would fund Sunset Strip. In July and August I signed contracts, had meetings with the lab which would eventually make an internegative and print from my hand-made 35mm filmstrip, organized insurance for the production, went swimming a lot, and generally got into gear to start the project.

A year spent watching the sun setting
Sunset number 1

1st September 1994 Caprera Place, Plymouth
After a blistering day, a twenty minute walk uphill through the back streets to my first location. Living in a city it's been tricky finding places from which to observe the setting sun. It's been important to choose sites which are not more than a mile from either my home or my studio. This project requires a commitment at a certain time each day for a whole year, and this feels a bit like having a job - I want to make it as easy as possible for myself.

My first location is 156 Caprera Place at the top of the hill - from the doorstep I get a clear skyline over to the west, sandwiched between houses and street lamps. From today, the sun will appear to travel south along the horizon, then mid-December at the solstice it will move back to the north. I reckon I'll get a few weeks up here before the sunset is cut off by buildings.

I don't know who lives in this house and I feel a bit furtive as I sit drawing the different stages of the sunset in my notebook. The sun changes from a dazzling Belisha into a huge crimson ringed orb as it slips below the horizon at 7.52 and I snap my Polaroid.

Sunset number 75
14th November 1994 Plymouth Hoe
From a bench overlooking the sea front I'll get a clear view of the setting sun for the next few months over the hills of south east Cornwall. Bundled up against a near gale I draw the flat, slate grey sky. There's a mere pink wisp of a sunset just after 4, then the rain starts. An intense smell of ozone and the wind so strong it blows all my pencils off the bench. Back to the studio to dry off and mount up work for my exhibition which opens at Plymouth Arts Centre in four days. I'm showing a video installation based on As Yet Unseen, with photos, props, designs and drawings from other films. I'm also showing work in progress for Sunset Strip, including the 35mm test strips I've made using cut-up crazed Polaroids, blood and varnish.

Sunset number 108
17th December 1994 Plymouth Hoe
In a storm with a scarf tied round my head. The sky horizontal military grey pleats. There's a weird icy lemon light and the eerie whistling whine of wind through rigging in the marina. Sunset: a peachy hole opens up in the clouds for one minute.

Sunset number 140
23rd January 1995 Plymouth Hoe
For five minutes in between hail storms the thunderous cloud front lifts above Mount Edgcumbe to reveal a cavern of incandescent turquoise and fiery orange. A huge mass of gulls circle low over Drake's Island.

Poet Kenny Knight writes:
"For me one of the ways to motivate writing or simply spring-clean cobwebs is to take long slow walks, whatever the weather, walking along the seafront, watching the waves crash on the rocks. Often I'd be aware of Kayla Parker on the man-made cliffs above, wearing a big overcoat and a scarf tied around her head, following a year of sunsets, as the big golden goose migrated for another day, slowly setting out of camera range. To me what Kayla was doing was akin to the way a novelist works. Day after day writing the same story."

Sunset number 218
6th April 1995 the Dewerstone, Dartmoor
Up on top of the moor drawing till after 8. The sun a scorched pumpkin blazing through a rip in the mass of boiling clouds over Cornwall.

Sunset number 272
30th May 1995 Prospect Place, Plymouth
Been coming up here for nearly two months now for the panoramic view. Sun sets just after nine and the street is empty apart from me, with my notebook and Polaroid camera, and a pair of prostitutes who share a mobile phone. A slow stream of dodgy-looking punters creep by. The sunset drops like a poached egg into a gush of steam from the Millbay laundry.

Sunset number 328
25th July 1995 Prospect Place, Plymouth
Incredible heat, like an oven door opening in your face. The wind's been getting stronger throughout the day, breaking branches off trees. The atmosphere very tense. One of the prostitutes was raped and beaten last month, then dumped outside the Barracks. The man still hasn't been caught. The sky is bruised indigo purple slashed with crimson. The sunset a yellow eye peeping through a slit. I don't hang around for long.

Sunset number 365
31st August 1995 156 Caprera Place, Plymouth
Back to my original location for some peace. Pros Place too much of a magnet for nutters. This is my last sunset. I take three Polaroids to celebrate.

Making the film
The 35mm filmstrip itself was made in my studio during December 1995 and January 1996. Every sunset takes up twelve frames - so we see each sunset for half a second on screen when the film is projected.

I created the images frame by frame on a strip of 35mm leader using materials such as ink, bleach, varnish, magnolia petals and net stocking. The filmstrip images - there are over four thousand hand-painted frames in Sunset Strip - are based on the time-lapse drawings, notes and Polaroid photographs made on location each day of the setting sun between 1st September 1994 and 31st August 1995.

There are no edits in the film at all. I started at the beginning of the filmstrip with the first sunset, and worked my way in sequence through the year to the last sunset, number 365. Even the film's titles and credits have been typed directly onto the filmstrip, which I fed through an electric typewriter frame by frame.

The sound design for Sunset Strip was composed by Stuart Moore. We collected sound recordings at different times during the year of observing the setting sun - some of the sounds were recorded on location, and some we made in the studio. We combined all these to create a powerful and evocative soundscape with dubbing mixer Paul Roberts.

The 35mm filmprint and beyond
The final stage of making the film was to have Soho Images laboratory in London combine the hand-drawn 35mm filmstrip and the audio tracks in a 35mm film print which could be projected in a cinema. Sunset Strip was shown to a public audience for the first time at the International Animation Festival in Cardiff in June 1996.

Since then the film has been seen by many thousands of people all over the world in lots of different settings. Sunset Strip was chosen by the British Council to represent British animation at the Retrospective of British Animation held at Annecy in France in 2001. As well as many television and cinema screenings, the film has been shown in nightclubs, at the launch of a fashion store in Hamburg, at a festival of film music in Singapore, and has featured in exhibitions at The Barbican, London and at The Norwich Gallery.

Copyright © Kayla Parker 1996
Kenny Knight's comments © Kenny Knight 1996
First published in the journal Boiling: experimental animation (1998) Vicky Smith (ed.) (Issue 1 October 1998). London: London Film Makers’ Co-op
Text also supplied to the British Film Institute for the ‘Camera-less animation’ section in Into animation: a video compilation and teaching guide (2003) Louise Spraggon, VHS and booklet, with CD-ROM. London: BFI Education ISBN 1-903786-10-X http://www.bfi.org.uk/education/teaching/intoanimation/