Ar Waith Ar Daith: inside NativeHQ’s digital artistry for WMC #Awen2015

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During August 2015 the iconic Wales Millennium Centre celebrated its tenth anniversary with help from Walk the Plank, NativeHQ and other contributors.

As a prelude to the public show in Cardiff Bay on 12th September we sent the Awen Bus on an epic tour of Wales to encounter musicians, poets, visual artists, actors and other talented performers.

Members of the public walking through the foyer of WMC in August were enchanted by these diverse performances – emerging from the smoke and broth of the Cauldron of Inspiration.

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Occasionally they would have a surprise conversation with a ghostly apparition of somebody elsewhere in Wales!

Over one hundred videos were also posted on the web. The videos embedded in this post are just a sample.

To enjoy further encounters with performers, artists and others, go to the Ar Waith Ar Daith website and navigate the map or search for the #Awen2015 tag.

We’re particularly chuffed at the website map, where you can browse the tour and see the artistic encounters at any location. For example the National Eisteddfod tour location includes performances by Gwyneth Glyn, Benjamin Zephaniah, Plu, Band Pres Llareggub, Guto Dafydd and many others. The bilingual website was created by our friends and collaborators Proper Design.

I’ll elaborate on the work in detail, for those who are curious.

Almost a year ago NativeHQ was commissioned as digital artist on the Ar Waith Ar Daith project.

When a lighting designer, say, is booked for a theatre show the conventions and expectations tend to be known – but not so in digital work.

Once Walk the Plank, the outdoor events company working on behalf of WMC, had contracted NativeHQ we admitted we didn’t really know the meaning of the job title ‘digital artist’. Maybe they assumed we were joking.

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From our experience of theatrical collaborations, we find that it does help to be open-ended about our involvement, while the possibilities and scale of ambition are still being worked out. There is currently no convention for the role of digital media in the creative aspect of such a project, unlike the lighting and other more traditional elements. We simply don’t know if and how digital media will be used creatively. Our remit here is way beyond sales and promotion of the show. Hence the initial period of work was to understand the story and aims of the project – and then scope possible platforms, content ideas, personnel, hardware, software, budgets and schedules.

From the start we knew that the finale celebration would be based on the medieval Welsh legend of Ceridwen, her cauldron and the ineffable poetic inspiration that is awen – referenced in Gwyneth Lewis’ poem on the face of WMC.

It became clear that digital media platforms and the idea of a bus tour offered opportunities for WMC to have a pan-Wales project, to work with diverse artists wherever they live, and meet the centre’s aspiration to showcase the best of Wales to the world.

We intended for our work to have lasting effects, to connect artists – to each other and to fans. Artists would want to accrue fans beyond the tour, with a view to future gigs and performances, selling artworks, releasing music, offering crowdfunding and the like.

Once the plan was written, refined and approved, the Awen Bus was fitted with a stage, window blinds, rudimentary furniture and storage, electricity supply, modest kitchen, and some much needed access security.

The bus team did a sterling job of sharing the performances through video, Periscope live streams and other social media posts. It became apparent that video editing should be kept to a minimum if we were to reach a maximum number of artists in the time available.

One essential requirement was to render a permanent onscreen credit to each artist in each video – along with a link to become a fan where possible, e.g. the artist’s Twitter account or website. That and the ongoing persistence of the video on YouTube would lead to maximum benefit for the artist.

Each artist had the option of releasing the resulting video under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike licence to encourage re-use and adaptations. Alternatively they could take a more traditional licensing option to offer the video for use by the Ar Waith Ar Daith project and reserve other rights.

Connectivity was a major challenge, especially in some rural areas, and despite valiant efforts with a BRCK WiFi hotspot and two mobile data plans we struggled to upload videos from all the tour locations. Instead we had to opt for occasional café access and shuttle trips to reliable home broadband.

ar-waith-ar-daith-engagement-globeExample of Ar Waith Ar Daith conversation analytics from Pulsar Platform

We obtained useful data analytics and tour conversation insights from a paid service with Pulsar Platform – although for a smaller projects the level of detail offered might be overkill.

Our aim was for the Cauldron of Inspiration to feel authentic and avoid any associations with computers. According to the writer Arthur C. Clarke, ‘any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’, which conveys the kind of result we desired.

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At this point I can reveal that the Cauldron of Inspiration was powered by two computers. Inside the chassis was a Raspberry Pi computer connected to proximity sensors, motion sensors, and activation effects: fog, furnace lights and sounds. The other computer was a Mac Mini creating the apparitions of artists, achieved with a remotely-curated Dropbox playlist of fresh performance videos, a darkened panel and foggers.

This Mac Mini was also connected to a webcam for live conversation with the bus team. We deliberately limited the input devices on the cauldron to just the sensors, with no graphical interface or notifications. The live conversations would appear ad hoc without warning, between recent videos.

As a brand new design of a one-off piece of hardware we often had to intervene directly in the cauldron to fix problems and ensure maximum levels of awen. We could also access the two computers remotely, from our phones if necessary. Software tools and platforms included VDMX, Dropbox, WebRTC, Python, Node.js and other libraries.

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Penblwydd hapus WMC! I think we broke new ground, not just for ourselves as a team but in an artistic sense. We are enormously grateful to the following people for their ideas and valuable work.

Diolch o galon i:

  • All artists and performers who took part, each of whom is credited in their video.
  • Liz Pugh, John Wassell, Sarah Cole and the Walk the Plank team
  • Wales Millennium Centre
  • The hardworking Awen Bus team members: Greg Byatt, Louise Carey, Mair Ifans, Gwennan Mair Jones, Glyn Morgan, Mike Regan, Lowri Wynn
  • Henry Widdicombe for booking and curation
  • Proper Design for graphic design, cauldron envisagement, software development and for the website
  • Sarah Edmonds for illustration
  • Wild Creations for cauldron design and construction work
  • Kazimier for kitting out the bus
  • John Rea for music

Ar Waith Ar Daith: celfyddyd ddigidol NativeHQ ar gyfer Canolfan Mileniwm Cymru #Awen2015

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Yn ystod Awst 2015 dathlodd Canolfan Mileniwm Cymru ei ddegfed pen-blwydd gyda chymorth Walk the Plank, NativeHQ a chyfranwyr eraill.

Fel preliwd i’r sioe gyhoeddus ym Mae Caerdydd ar 12 Medi, anfonwyd y Bws Awen ar daith epig o Gymru i gwrdd â cherddorion, beirdd, artistiaid gweledol, actorion a pherfformwyr talentog eraill.

Roedd aelodau cyhoedd a oedd yn cerdded trwy gyntedd Canolfan Mileniwm Cymru ym mis Awst yn cael eu swyno gan berfformiadau amrywiol – yn deillio o’r mwg a hylif y Pair Awen.

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O bryd i’w gilydd byddai hi’n syndod iddynt gynnal sgwrs gyda rhith o rywun yn rhywle arall yng Nghymru!

Cafodd dros gant o fideos eu postio ar y we hefyd. Detholiad bach yw’r fideos yn y cofnod hwn.

Ewch i’r map ar wefan Ar Waith Ar Daith i fwynhau rhagor o fideos gyda pherfformwyr, artistiaid ac eraill, neu chwiliwch am yr hashnod #Awen2015.

Rydym yn bles iawn fod y map ar y wefan, lle gallwch bori’r daith a gwylio’r fideos mewn unrhyw leoliad. Er enghraifft, mae lleoliad taith Eisteddfod Genedlaethol yn cynnwys perfformiadau gan Gwyneth Glyn, Benjamin Zephaniah, Plu, Band Pres Llareggub, Guto Dafydd a llawer eraill. Cafodd y wefan ddwyieithog ei chreu gan ein ffrindiau a chydweithwyr Proper Design.

Byddaf yn ymhelaethu ar y gwaith yn fanwl, i’r rhai sy’n chwilfrydig.

Bron i flwyddyn yn ôl cafodd NativeHQ ei gomisiynu fel artist digidol ar brosiect Ar Waith Ar Daith.

Pan mae dylunydd goleuo, dyweder, yn cael ei gomisiynu/chomisiynu ar gyfer sioe theatr mae’r arferion a disgwyliadau yn weddol amlwg fel arfer – ond nid felly mewn gwaith digidol.

Ar ôl i gwmni digwyddiadau awyr agored Walk the Plank ein comisiynu ar ran Canolfan Mileniwm Cymru, roeddem yn cyfaddef nad oeddem yn wir yn gwybod ystyr y teitl ‘artist digidol’. Efallai roedden nhw yn meddwl taw jôc oedd hi.

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O’n profiad o gydweithrediadau theatrig, rydym yn meddwl fod hi’n helpu i fod yn benagored am ein cyfranogiad, tra ein bod yn ansicr am y posibiliadau ac union naws y prosiect. Ar hyn o bryd nid oes templed ar gyfer rôl y cyfryngau digidol yn yr agwedd greadigol mewn prosiect o’r fath, yn wahanol i’r golau ac elfennau traddodiadol eraill. Yn syml, dydyn ni ddim yn gwybod os a sut fydd y cyfryngau digidol yn cael eu defnyddio yn greadigol. Rydym yn meddwl tu hwnt i werthiannau a chyhoeddusrwydd y sioe. Felly roedd y cyfnod cychwynnol o waith am ddeall y stori ac amcanion y prosiect – ac yna sgopio platfformau posibil, syniadau cynnwys, personél, caledwedd, meddalwedd, cyllidebau ac amserlenni.

O’r dechrau roeddem yn gwybod y byddai’r dathliad terfynol yn seiliedig ar stori Ceridwen, ei phair ac awen – y cyfeirir atynt yn y gerdd Gwyneth Lewis ar wyneb Canolfan Mileniwm Cymru.

Daeth yn amlwg bod platfformau cyfryngau digidol a’r syniad o daith bws yn cynnig cyfleoedd i’r Ganolfan gael prosiect Cymru gyfan, i weithio gydag artistiaid amrywiol ble bynnag maent yn byw, ac yn mynegi dyhead y ganolfan i arddangos y gorau o Gymru i’r byd.

Roeddem yn bwriadu cael effaith parhaol trwy’r gwaith, i gysylltu artistiaid – i’w gilydd ac i’w ffans. Byddai artistiaid eisiau casglu cefnogwyr ar ôl y daith, ystyried gigs a pherfformiadau yn y dyfodol, gwerthu gweithiau celf, rhyddhau cerddoriaeth, cynnig ariannu torfol ac yn y blaen.

Unwaith yr ysgrifennwyd a datblygwyd y cynllun, cafodd y Bws Awen ei gyfaddasu gyda llwyfan, bleindiau ffenestri, dodrefn a storfa syml, cyflenwad trydan, cegin gymedrol, a diogelwch.

Gwnaeth y tîm bws gwaith gwych o rannu’r perfformiadau drwy fideo, ffrydiau Periscope a chofnodion eraill ar y cyfryngau cymdeithasol. Daeth yn amlwg y dylid lleihau ar waith golygu fideo pe baem yn cwrdd a gymaint o artistiaid sy’n bosibl yn yr amser.

Un o’r gofynion hanfodol oedd i roi priodoledd parhaol ar y sgrin i bob artist ym mhob fideo – ynghyd â dolen i ddod yn ffan lle bo hynny’n bosibl, e.e. cyfrif Twitter yr artist neu wefan. Byddai hynny a fideo parhaus ar YouTube yn arwain at y budd mwyaf i’r artist.

Roedd gan bob artist yr opsiwn o ryddhau’r fideo o dan drwydded Comin Creu Priodoledd-‘ShareAlike’ i annog ailddefnydd ac addasiadau. Fel arall, gallent wedi dewis opsiwn trwyddedu mwy traddodiadol i brosiect Ar Waith Ar Daith ddefnyddio’r fideo a chadw hawliau eraill.

Roedd cysylltedd yn her fawr, yn enwedig mewn rhai ardaloedd gwledig, ac er gwaethaf ymdrechion gyda dyfais di-wifr BRCK a dau gynllun data symudol roeddem yn straffaglu i lanlwytho fideos o’r holl leoliadau daith. Yn hytrach roedd rhaid i ni ddefnyddio caffis yn achlysurol a thethiau gwennol i fand eang dibynadwy gartref.

ar-waith-ar-daith-engagement-globeEnghraifft o ystadegau sgwrs Ar Waith Ar Daith oddi ar Pulsar Platform

Cawsom ystadegau defnyddiol a mewnwelediadau i sgyrsiau taith o wasanaeth Pulsar Platform am ffi – ond ar brosiectau llai gallai’r manylder a gynigir fod yn ormodol.

Ein nod oedd i greu Pair Awen go iawn ac osgoi unrhyw awgrym o gyfrifiaduron. Yn ôl yr awdur Arthur C. Clarke, ‘nid oes modd gwahaniaethu rhwng unrhyw dechnoleg sy’n digon datblygedig – a hud’, sy’n cyfleu y math o ganlyniad roeddem eisiau.

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Erbyn hyn gallaf ddatgelu bod dau gyfrifiadur o fewn y Pair Awen. Y tu mewn i’r ffrâm oedd gyfrifiadur Raspberry Pi yn gysylltiedig â synwyryddion agosrwydd, synwyryddion symudiad, ac effeithiau: niwl, goleuadau ffwrnais a seiniau. Mac Mini oedd y cyfrifiadur arall, yn creu’r delweddau o artistiaid, trwy rhestr chwarae Dropbox o fideos perfformiadol newydd, panel tywyll ac unedau niwl.

Roedd y Mac Mini hefyd yn gysylltiedig â gwe-gamera ar gyfer sgwrs fyw gyda’r tîm bws. Yn fwriadol roeddem yn cyfyngu’r dyfeisiau mewnbwn ar y pair i dim ond y synwyryddion, heb unrhyw rhyngwyneb graffigol na negeseuon ar y sgrin. Felly byddai’r sgyrsiau byw yn ymddangos yn sydyn heb rybudd, rhwng fideos diweddar.

Fel dyluniad newydd sbon o galedwedd yn aml roedd rhaid i ni ymyrryd yn uniongyrchol yn y pair i ddatrys problemau a sicrhau’r lefelau gorau o awen! Roedd modd i ni gael mynediad i’r ddau gyfrifiadur o bell, o’n ffonau os oedd angen. Roedd offer a phlatfformau meddalwedd yn cynnwys VDMX, Dropbox, WebRTC, Python, Node.js a llyfrgelloedd eraill.

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Penblwydd hapus i’r Ganolfan! Rwy’n credu ein bod wedi torri tir newydd, nid yn unig fel tîm ond yn yr ystyr artistig. Rydym yn ddiolchgar iawn i’r bobl ganlynol am eu syniadau a mewnbwn gwerthfawr.

Diolch o galon i:

  • Yr holl artistiaid a pherfformwyr a gymerodd ran – mae pob un ohonynt yn cael priodoledd yn ei fideo.
  • Liz Pugh, John Wassell, Sarah Cole a thîm Walk the Plank
  • Canolfan Mileniwm Cymru
  • Aelodau tîm gweithgar yr Awen Bws: Greg Byatt, Louise Carey, Mair Ifans, Gwennan Mair Jones, Glyn Morgan, Mike Regan, Lowri Wynn
  • Henry Widdicombe am fwcio a churadu
  • Proper Design am ddylunio graffeg, gwaith ar y pair, datblygu meddalwedd ac am y wefan
  • Sarah Edmonds am ddarlunio
  • Wild Creations am ddylunio ac adeiladu’r pair
  • Kazimier am gyfaddasu’r bws
  • John Rea am gerddoriaeth

More CultureHive blogging about digital arts and marketing

I’d just like to flag up a couple of posts within the CultureHive Digital Academy blog – one that I wrote about baking marketing into the production of art, and another one by one of the fellows that I have been mentoring, about developing social media content strategies.

Both are useful insights into the use of digital within the arts 🙂

Blogging for the CultureHive Digital Academy

DMA-logo1I’m currently working for a new project run by the Arts Marketing Association called the CultureHive Digital Academy, which is an initiative aiming to innovate in digital learning. It’s run by Carol Jones, recently of Chapter, who also teaches the RWCMD in Cardiff.

The Academy’s model is to encourage its fellows to learn through rapid innovation, experimentation and reflective learning. They are encouraged to develop initiative ideas, implement and evaluate them, then reflect on their experiences through the Academy blog. This participatory education programme consists of online action learning sets and regular sessions with a mentor, and I was asked to be one of those mentors in the summer of 2014.

From September 2014, I’ve been meeting with fellows via Google Hangouts and Skype, helping them to think through the programme and develop their learning from the programme.  So far, I’ve been working with; Amy Rushby, who works in digital marketing for the Royal Shakespeare Company; Ruth Catlow, a digital artist and leader at the digital arts collective Furtherfield in Finsbury Park, London and Jamie Eastman and Jamie Wooldridge, who work at Live at Lica, a University based multi arts venue in Lancaster.

The programme leaders have asked me to reflect on my experience as a mentor through the programme’s blog, and today I published my first post, which is about establishing the purposes for setting up a digital media initiative, and ideation, the process of generating and combining ideas for solutions. You can read my post, Thinking through digital innovation before you start creating initiatives on the CultureHive Digital Academy website.

I’m chuffed to have been asked to continue being a part of this exciting initiative when the next batch of fellows join later in 2015, and I’ll continue blogging about my insights into what the fellows have needed to tackle during their mentoring sessions with me over the next year and as long as I’m involved with the programme. You’ll be able to access an archive of my posts into the future. Enjoy!

WWF Cymru: working on Earth Hour 2013 / Gwaith ar Awr Ddaear 2013

Just poking my head out from the nerve centre to say that we’ve been working with WWF Cymru on the Earth Hour 2013 event and campaign. On 23rd March at 8:30PM many thousands of people, organisations and businesses will be switching off their lights for one hour. For those taking part it’s a statement of support for renewable energy and a chance to think about it with friends. I like to think of Earth Hour as an international festival, as people will be variously organising processions, poetry evenings, singsongs, candle-lit dinners, art projects and a whole lot more.

Saying that our role on the evening itself will be trying to document, blog, post and capture as much as we can of various things other people are doing. More generally, NativeHQ’s work on the event and campaign has included social media strategy, network building, online publicity, social media advertising and production of videos and other content.

Please sign up for Earth Hour so that your own participation and support is logged in the stats, whether as an individual or on behalf of a household, company or organisation. It will take around two minutes to sign up.

Follow:

Test your knowledge of renewable energy with this quiz (made by Carbon Studio).

Dw i newydd ffeindio gwagle prin yn y dyddiadur i ddweud ein bod ni’n helpu WWF Cymru gyda’r digwyddiad ac ymgyrch Awr Ddaear 2013. Ar 23ain o Fawrth 8:30YH bydd miloedd o bobl, sefydliadau a busnesau yn diffodd eu goleuadau am un awr. Mae’r gweithred yn datganiad o gefnogaeth am ynni adnewyddol a chyfle i’w ystyried gyda ffrindiau. Mewn ffordd mae Awr Ddaear yn wyl rhyngwladol – bydd pobl yn trefnu gorymdeithau, noson barddoniaeth, noson canu, cinio a chanwyll, prosiectau celf a mwy.

Ar y noson bydd angen i ni dogfennu, blogio, postio a recordio gymaint sy’n bosib o weithgareddau pobl eraill. Yn cyffredinol mae gwaith NativeHQ ar y digwyddiad ac ymgyrch yn cynnwys strategaeth cyfryngau cymdeithasol, adeiladu rhwydwaith, cyhoeddusrwydd ar-lein, hysbysebion cyfryngau cymdeithasol a chynhyrchiad fideos a chynnwys arall.

Cofrestrwch am Awr Ddaear er mwyn dangos eich cefnogaeth a chyfranogiad, fel unigolyn neu ar ran cartref, cwmni neu sefydliad. Mae’r broses cofrestru yn cymryd tua dau funud.

Dilynwch:

Profwch eich gwybodaeth o ynni adnewyddol gyda’r cwis yma (gwnaethpwyd gan Carbon Studio).

The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning – using the internet with theatre

During April 2012, National Theatre Wales produced an important new play about Bradley Manning, the alleged Wikileaker who spent some of his early teenage years living in Haverfordwest in West Wales. NativeHQ designed and ran the multiplatform element of the production, in which we produced a global live stream of the play during every one of the live performances.

NTW’s Artistic Director, John McGrath, got NativeHQ involved very early in the development of the production, as writer Tim Price was developing his early drafts. We had a chance to think through the various options for placing the play into online spaces and settled on the live streaming concept, using surveillance cameras built into the set.

Tim wanted whatever we did to point to Bradley Manning, so we conceived of a web page which would go beyond simple live streaming to include live chat among virtual audience members and links that connected what was happening on the live stream with source material such as new stories, weblogs, interviews and even an archive of the website that Bradley created during his time in Wales.

Being integrated into the creative team provided us with an important opportunity to work with the very talented team putting together the show. Kudos should go to Producer Lucy Davies, Production Manager David Evans and Assistant Producer Michael Salmon , designer Chloe Lamford, Lighting Designer Natasha Chivers, sound guys Mike Beer and Matt Gibson, techie Jacob Gough, Stage Managers Fiona Curtis and Gemma Thomas, Costume supervisor Jo Nichols and AV designer Dan Trenchard. And of course Hoffi, who co-ordinated the website build, and Kinura who managed the live streaming infrastructure. Wales is lucky to have an impressive theatre community and tradition emerging here under John’s guidance.

Learning about theatre and multiplatform

There was a huge amount of learning about the process of theatre co-creation and how multiplatform production can find a place within this process. The big lessons are around time, budget and working closely with all those who are affected by the multiplatform work – it’s often new to theatre practitioners and going through the implications for their work can often take time and careful explanation.

The live streaming wasn’t without its technical problems – the last performances in Connah’s Quay, which were run by Carl, faced the challenge of a complete shut down of internet accessibility by the council, which seemed to have closed for the weekend. Carl and Michael Salmon stepped up to this by livestreaming the show to the world via a 3G connection through  Mike’s smartphone – impressive stuff, that hopefully none of the audience noticed.

In total, about 9000 people from over 70 countries around the world accessed the livestream, and it got wide coverage – it was tweeted by Wikileaks as well as the Bradley Manning Campaign, and a couple of theatre reviewers took the time to review the online experience, as distinct from the corporeal show. Dylan Moore from the ArtsDesk called it the ‘cutting edge of theatre’, while Daniel B Yates for Exeunt magazine used the opportunity to discuss the use of the internet in theatre and the nature of ‘Liveness’. Both reviewed gave the online experience four stars.

Reflections on live streaming theatre and immersion in web storytelling

Unlike physically live theatre, the use of live stream displaces the viewed by physical location and interaction. We become voyeurs. We played on this, and the themes of the story, by using the aesthetics of surveillance cameras. We also wanted to deepen the viewers immersion in Bradley’s story by offering them places to go through the links that were put onto the site during the show.

This was also important as it gave the viewed some measure of control over their own experience while keeping them in Bradley’s story – the web is a user centric, active medium, with that google search bar sitting at the top of the web page, making it easy to leave if the viewer is bored or distracted. In a theatre space, they are physically constrained, making it easier to hold attention. Adapting the story effectively to the web meant thinking carefully about the nature of the web medium and working to take advantage of its character in the multiplatform design.

The web offers new interactive possibilities to theatre makers, and we chose to take full advantage of the liveness in time that streaming offers, while thinking carefully about the way context collapses – viewers encountered it in offices, cafes, living rooms, kitchens or bedrooms. It was important to enable people to not only follow along, but share, comment, speak back, write and create themselves.

NTW18 was the latest in our journey of experimentation with multiplatform technology and John McGrath’s National Theatre Wales. It’s a journey that has taught everyone involved invaluable lessons on what is possible, what is involved in creating virtual spaces that work together with physical spaces, and the potential of the internet as a vehicle for storytelling and live multiplatform experiences.

Photos from the development of The Passion by Michael Sheen

Here are some photos I took during the development stage of the Passion project, while we were exploring the Port Talbot dunes and beach with Michael Sheen, Bill Mitchell, the cast and some of the crew.