by Kara Miranda Lawrence 

Half of my heritage is Azorean Portuguese, a fact which I paid little attention to at a young age. Growing up in a predominantly white neighbourhood in Victoria, British Columbia, I took this for granted aside from enjoying the tasty cuisines my mother would cook up such as sweet bread, octopus stew, and chouriço, and hearing her communicate over the phone with my grandmother in a unfamiliar language. The genealogy records of my grandfather Jose Cordeiro Miranda's side can be traced to among the early settlers to the Azores, in the 1500s, and prior to the Algarve and Madeira Island. Over 50 years ago, my grandfather left from the island of São Miguel on the second boat filled with young men eager to find work and start a new life in Canada. He had to leave behind his wife and their child (my mother of 9 months) in order to first secure a job and house before bringing them along. He initially encountered difficulties with his first farming job in Quebec, but after a year he was able to relocate find employment at an aluminium manufacturing company in the northern British Columbia (Canada) town of Kitimat. My mother and grandmother joined him three years later. They experienced quite a shock with the cold snowy winter, but were quick to adjust and enjoy the modern conveniences. 


Fast track to 2009..., and I have just released my first short 3D animated film Oriana, a translated adaptation of the Portuguese fairytale book A Fada Oriana (1958) by the late Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen. My interest in the Portuguese culture particularly gained momentum when I was in grade 10, upon encountering the fellow Victoria born singer Nelly Furtado's work. She embraced and talked proudly about her São Miguel roots throughout her music and interviews and acknowledged that growing up she never saw anyone of Portuguese descent on TV to relate to. Her sophomore CD Folklore (2003) featured several songs dedicated to the immigrant experience and yearning for her homeland, which particularly influenced my line of Identity artworks in my second year of Visual Arts College. An acrylic painting in this series Mundos Distante/Worlds Apart (2004) features a standing self-portrait, half of me over the São Miguel Island with traditional dress, flag and flower while the other half over Vancouver Island with corresponding dressy evening attire and symbols, an artwork which expresses my "saudades" for the culture of my ancestors.

As for another side of my artistic expression, I am a professional flamenco dancer which has led me to the wonderful opportunity of performing in Terceira, Açores a couple summers past. I was nominated and selected along with seven other dance professionals of Açorean descent for a government funded trip in a workshop entitled Dança Dos Sentidos - Memorias Em Movimento (Dance of the Senses - Memories in Movement). The government's aim was to not only inspire the local Azoreans, but evoke in the performers memories of their past roots. The warmth of the Portuguese, their way of life and the beautiful landscape of the island moved me to want to create further work exploring the culture and to contribute back by retelling a story through art.

Thus, in my journey of researching Portuguese literature and folktales to adapt for my graduation project at Emily Carr University in Vancouver, BC, the story A Fada Oriana immediately stood out to me. I felt its central theme of a fairy neglecting her duties by getting caught up in the glamour of her reflection is both universally iconic and visually compelling to depict in the animated form. Drawing from my love of poetry and children books by authors such as Roald Dahl, I created the rhymed narration and dialogue of the film to closely follow the spirit of Andresen's writing. Poetry seemed the perfect medium to narrate the story, both due to the economy of words needed for a short animated film and for the engaging lyrical quality that rhymed and carefully selected words contain. As writer Michael Benton states, "Poems matter because they are a prime source of stories - and stories in verse hold listeners in the double spell of both the fiction and the form".

Initially I considered the classical animation device of including a storybook opening, but I decided the use of hand-embroidered imagery in the opening of the story was more unique and fitting. I have observed that sewing a part of the Portuguese culture and also a traditional storytelling method as sequential folktale illustrations are often embroidered onto children's clothes, as my mother fondly recounted her childhood pinafore was embroidered with the story of A Carochinha. Thus, I was inspired to teach myself the technique and carry on this tradition.

Pairing down this novel with a multitude of main and side characters as well as mini-storylines was the biggest challenge. I kept only the important characters and scenes necessary to convey the story and changed some details so that it would work at a shorter length. Besides the naive, gullible yet dedicated protagonist "Oriana", the trickster antagonist "Fish" was included as contrast and comic relief, while the actions of the "Old Lady" and "Fairy Queen" drove Oriana to action, with all three of them testing her morals. Due to the intensive workload native to animation the digital camera angles and timing were carefully drawn out in a storyboard and later scanned in and timed in After Effects with a scratch sound track, modified based on the reaction of my instructors and peers. Before the animation began, the 3D sets, props and characters needed to be modeled and rigged in XSI, which took about five months while the over 50 unique shots were completed in the last four months of the project. They were created with the assistance of my sister Corinna, paying careful research and attention to the local flora and vivid colours of the Azores. With about 30 frames of animated images per second and approximately a week needed to create each 10 seconds of animation, there was little room for revision or error so I sacrificed my dancing and job for the year and a half needed to focus every spare moment on the project.

 As for the sound, I was very gracious to work again with the sound engineer Marc Benoit who previously worked with me in recording the music track for my Dança Dos Sentidos performance. We were able to use the facility at the Art Institute of Vancouver, where he taught, with the majority of the recording/mixing aided by his student Brian Kemp. The voice actress Paula Hoffman added her talents to the Narrator and Oriana in a way that illuminated the poetry. I envisioned the Portuguese guitarra for the background score as a fan of fado music, and found Dan Weisenburger through a mutual friend, local fadista Sara Marreiros. In addition, we were pleased to discover that he added a humorous character to the voice of the Fish.

This experience has provided me with greater appreciation for the work of Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen as well as uncovered a love for filmmaking and retelling of Portuguese stories. In the near future, with my dual-Portuguese citizenship application underway, I plan to live and work in Portugal for awhile in order to absorb the culture and expand upon my basic knowledge of the language. I also intend to continue refining my animation skills, creating short films and collaborating with other like-minded artists. Perhaps one day there will be another Portuguese based film in the works with the aim to inspire others and to open the world up to stories native to Portugal.

Kara Miranda Lawrence
July 2009
British Columbia - Canada  


Kara Miranda Lawrence
is a recent graduate from Emily Carr University, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  She specializes in animation, modeling and design. She also holds diplomas from Capilano University's Digital Animation program and Camosun College's Visual Arts program. Growing up in an artistically stimulating environment, Kara developed her talent in music, dance, writing and visual art and finds animation to be the perfect medium to combine all these forms. With Kara's debut film Oriana under her belt, she plans to continue creating films and refining her animation skills through future professional collaborations.


NOTE: Images by Kara Miranda Lawrence

Irene Maria F. Blayer