Thursday 21 November 2019

Happy Birthday Us! Celebrating 10 years of vase animations!

Oh my goodness! Get the ceramic balloons out, because we are celebrating 10 years of vase animations! 10 years ago we gave our first presentation showing our first animation and outlining some ideas for what we might like to do with vase animations in the future. It has been an amazing adventure since then. In this post we'll have a quick run through some of what's happened since then. And straight off the bat, a massive Thank-You to everyone who has supported us and enjoyed the animations :)

Our first presentation took place at University College Dublin (UCD), at The Museum Artefact and Cultural Space - a conference organised by curator-archaeologist Dr Christina Haywood and soon-to-be-Dr Sonya Nevin (ignoring the good advice not to give a presentation at a conference you're organising). In 'Digital Images of Vases in a Museum Context' (catchy), we showed Clash of the Dicers and discussed the potential that we saw for showing digital animations of vases alongside the original pots in museums. People's reaction to the animation was absolutely great and we knew we were on to a good thing...

Above, flash forward, Steve and Sonya at one of the Iris Project's epic classics festivals.

Christina Haywood and I tried to secure funding to make animations for the UCD Classical Museum, but it wasn't to be (...yet). But wide awake at The Museum Artefact conference had been Professor Amy Smith, curator of the Ure Museum in Reading. She immediately saw the potential of the animations and before long had put us in touch with the Open University, which was getting ready for the 2012 Olympics. This led to The Cheat, a cheeky little number made from a pot sherd in the Ure, which became part of the OU's free online course, The Ancient Olympics: Bridging Past and Present . This was followed by Ure View, a hugely successful and enjoyable outreach project in which we joined the Ure Museum team in teaching local teens about ancient pottery and culture over several months. The teens then developed their own responses to pots that they chose from the collection, and their ideas and storyboards were transformed into three striking animations. Amy and I published an account of this project in the 2014 book, Advancing Engagement: A Handbook for Academic Museums. Ure Discovery followed, building on the momentum of Ure View and involving more schools. Six new animations were created, all under the artistic direction of enthusiastic teens. The Ure created a tablet trail so that visitors can locate the pots and watch the animations alongside them.

Above, on the big screen! A Ure View animation was selected to be shown at the Palace of Westminster.

During this time we learned a lot from talking to teachers and their pupils. We found that people loved the animations but weren't always confident about using them in class or about how to integrate them. This inspired the teaching focus of our new website! At the Classical Association Annual Conference, Sonya gave a presentation about the animations (another organiser/presenter coincidence :/) and introduced people to our website and our new name: The Panoply Vase Animation Project. The website, then as now, housed all the animations so that people could watch them for free and we provided information about the subjects of the animations, the artefacts themselves, and the music, and we suggested activities that would go well with the animations. We hope you've enjoyed using those resources over the years and thanks to everyone who has sent feedback or examples of their work – we love them!

We love seeing people's creative responses to ancient pottery and the animations. Above, Dr Divine Che Neba, Associate Professor of African and Comparative Literature in the University of Yaounde I in Cameroon, shows off his Sisyphus vase.

Through Oxford University's Archive for Performances of Greek and Roman Drama, AHRC funding followed for the creation of Hoplites! Greeks at War. This was an enormously enjoyable project. Sonya has a long-standing research interest in ancient warfare and was working at that time on her book, Military Leaders and Sacred Space. Hoplites!, a journey from the gymnasium to the battlefield, was an opportunity to bring aspects of that world to life. Huge numbers of people contributed to the accompanying project and film, Every Soldier has a Story, and we had the pleasure of working with the Thiasos Theatre Company who created music and played live at the animation's launch at the University of Reading. Just so you know, I love that animation!
Above, a screenshot from our longest animation, Hoplites! Greeks at War.

We continued to hear positive feedback from people using the animations in their teaching and Sonya was often using them in her own undergraduate lectures and in outreach work. We then heard from Professor Véronique Dasen at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland. She was preparing for the launch of an exhibition on play and games in antiquity and wanted to feature Clash of the Dicers. We were happy to agree and that animation became part of Veni, Vidi, Ludique, an exhibition which has travelled across Switzerland and France and which will head to the UK next year.

The educational aspect of what we do is very important to us. Above, trainee classics teachers at the Faculty of Education in Cambridge during a session on vase animations in the classroom. A big thank-you to Dr Frances Foster for arranging these sessions.

Above, Sonya introduces the forthcoming Heracles animation during 2017's Mythology & Education workshop at the University of Cambridge. A follow-up event will take place in Feb 2020; see Eventbrite for details.

Good times ahead in Dublin. We had long wanted to work with the vase collection in the UCD Classical Museum. Curator, Dr Jo Day, shared her predecessor's enthusiasm for the idea, and in 2015 it happened. During the first project, funded by UCD itself, we worked with MA students to plan an animation that would help visitors to the museum to understand the scene better. The Procession was the result, and you can see more about that project in this brief write-up. We returned thanks to funding from the Classical Association of Ireland-Teachers, for the launch of a National Schools' Storyboarding Competition. The winning entry, Bad Karma was turned into an animation of the same name and there was an enjoyable launch and exhibition at the museum. Both animations can now be seen in the museum alongside the vase that they were made from.

Above, The Procession and Bad Karma now on display in the UCD Classical Museum alongside the pot they were made from.

2015 also saw some of the animations appear in Olympus, a blockbuster exhibition in Canada (, with our write-up ( here ). The following year, edited sections of the animations also appeared in an exhibition documentary in the Musei della Canonica del Duomo di Novara, in Italy. Meanwhile, exciting events were afoot in Oxford; it was symposium time! We worked with Dr Mai Musié and Dr Arlene Holmes-Henderson of Classics in Communities, the University of Oxford outreach initiative, and with funds from Oxford's Knowledge Exchange, to develop The Symposium. Symposium culture often features in UK primary school study of classical culture, so an animation of a sympotic cup, featuring a symposium scene, with aulos-playing and a game of kottabos, was a good fit as a teaching resource. We popped back in to see that cup just the other day. Watch this space for a short film about The Symposium coming soon.

Above, the Winnipeg Art Gallery block-buster, Olympus; children check out Panoply animations in-between pots.

Above, at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford to revisit our old friend from The Symposium.

In Poland, things were hotting up for the beginning of Our Mythical Childhood. Hoplites! Greeks at War was chosen for inclusion in an exhibition, Hoplites. On the Art of War in Ancient Greece. Thanks to its curator, Dr Alfred Twardecki, the hoplites now marched to the sound of the Spartan war poet Tyrtaios – with his poetry sung by a team of Warsaw ancient Greek enthusiasts. Further publications were coming out. An article in the Journal Classics Teaching outlined ways of integrating the animations into secondary school teaching (free to download here). A chapter in Teaching Classics with Technology recently followed that up with focus on the animations as used within primary school teaching. In a rather different chapter in War as Spectacle we analysed the ways in which we had represented ancient warfare in the vase animations. The latest, about the creation of our forthcoming animation of Sappho, will be out soon in Clotho, journal of the University of Ljubljana.

Above, we're delighted to have contributed to Teaching Classics with Technology.

Above, we launched a shop! Vase animation action on mugs, cards, t-shirts, and calendars.

Big changes were ahead for us with the beginning of Our Mythical Childhood, the ERC-funded project led by Professor Kararzyna Marciniak at the University of Warsaw. This project ( is analysing the representation of antiquity in modern young people's culture. For our part, we're creating five new animations and a short documentary about the animations and their vases. As frequent readers of this blog will know, we've been working on these for some time now, some of them are made, and we're looking forward to their full release. We'll see Sappho performing, the gods at home, Heracles on the hunt, Dionysus bringing the party, and Iris, Bringer of Storms, bringing the storm.

Above, Panoply's Steve Simons with true legends Véronique Dasen of Locus Ludi (l) and Katarzyna Marciniak of Our Mythical Childhood (r).

Also in development are animations for a further ERC-backed project, Locus Ludi – a study of play and games in antiquity led by our long-term supporter, Véronique Dasen. We're making some new vase animations to show scenes of Greeks at play. We're also branching out(!) to create animations from a variety of ancient artefacts, adding frescoes and relief sculpture to the mix. This is an artistic and technical challenge and it's been great fun to explore this new area. More on this soon!

Above, Sonya talking animated...frescoes(!) at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland.

We're delighted to have worked on all these projects and to have brought movement to the pots that we love so much. Many thanks to all of you who have watched the animations, got in touch with us over the years, and for inviting us for talks, workshops, festivals, and projects, it's been great to share what we've made and to see people's wonderfully creative responses. Some special thanks are in order for people who have supported us along the way: to Amy Smith and Christina Haywood for their vital support early on and since then, to Katarzyna Marciniak for her great vision and efforts in getting Our Mythical Childhood afloat and for bringing us aboard, to Véronique Dasen for her consistent support for the animations, to Jo Day and Ian and Louise Maguire for campaigning for the projects in Ireland, to Arlene Holmes-Henderson and Mai Musié for all their help on The Symposium project, to Armand D'Angour, Conrad Steinmann, Yana Zarifi-Sistovari and all the other musicians who have generously supported us on the musical front, to Steve Hunt, Anastasia Bakogianni, and David Movrin for inviting us to contribute to publications and patiently editing them, and to those who have given such interesting, thoughtful answers to the Panoply interviews. Thanks for watching. We look forward to another ten years of ancient animations!


  1. Ad multos annos, Dear Sonya and Steve! Congratulations! With your passionate work and faith in sharing the marvels of Classical Antiquity - you change the vision of research and dissemination! Katarzyna

  2. Congratulations. Delighted at how you've progressed.