[Keynote speaker Steve Bell ©Steve Bell/The Guardian, 13/2/2020]
Delighted to announce that we will be live streaming this event at:
Please note that the link will not be live until Monday morning.
Schedule for the day:
10.00-10.05 Opening Remarks Tom Lowe / Dr Birgitta Hosea
10.05-10.50 Keynote 1 Dr Sharon Lockyer (Brunel University London)
10.50-12.00 Panel 1: Performing satire
Dr Maggie Gray( Kingston School of Art), Pierre Floquet (Bordeaux INP, France), Kate Jessop (University of Brighton)
12.00-12.20 Coffee Break
12.20-13.30 Panel 2: Absurdity and the destabilisation of authority
Prof. Fran Lloyd (Kingston School of Art), Sarah Tehan (Belfast School of Art, Ulster University) David Wischer (University of Kentucky, USA)
13.30-14.30 Lunch Break
14.30-15.30 Keynote 2 Steve Bell
15.30-16.00 Coffee Break
16.00-17.10 Panel 3: Politics and propaganda from print to the pixel
Dr. Driss Faddouli (Chouaib Doukkali University, El Jadida, Morocco) Prof. Paul Ward (Arts University Bournemouth) Dr. José L. Valhondo-Creg (Universidad de Extremadura, Spain)
17.10-17.40 Closing discussion with all panellists
17.40-18.00 Curator introduction to exhibition Jim Walker (UCA)
18.00-20.00 Bob Godfrey: A Collaborative Act Exhibition opens with drinks in James Hockey Gallery
Presenter Details and Abstracts
Keynote 1: Dr Sharon Lockyer
Sharon Lockyer is a Reader in Sociology and Communications and the founding director of the Centre for Comedy Studies Research (CCSR) at Brunel University London, UK. Her research interests include critical comedy studies, identity politics and comic media representations and the sociology of popular culture, and she is widely published in these areas in books, journal articles and blogs. Recent work in these areas has been published in Feminist Media Studies, International Journal of Communication, Disability & Society and The Journal of Popular Television. She is the founding co-editor of the Palgrave Studies in Comedy book series and was executive board member-at-large for the International Society for Humor Studies (ISHS) from 2016-2019.
Dr Maggie Gray, ‘Cartooning and Performance: ‘Cartoon Style’ Alternative Theatre’
Experimental alternative theatre groups of the 1970s and 80s developed a form of performance that came to be known as ‘cartoon theatre’. This meant not only drawing on cartoon characters, conventions and imagery, but developing a distinctive ‘cartoon style’ mode of presentation – a stripped-down, fast-paced, surreal and stylised approach to narrative, abbreviated characterisation, and emphasis on breaks and movement between action. As an approach this was seen to match wider political aims to create rebellious, dynamic, anti-naturalist forms of theatre that could radically deconstruct and transform the world. In connection with the way alternative theatre drew on traditions of popular performance like music hall, cartooning was also seen as a carnivalesque visual mode appropriate to the non-traditional performance spaces like the street, pub, club, trade union hall, arts lab, picket line and community centre in which these groups performed, and attuned to the working class, countercultural and marginalised audiences they wanted to engage.
This paper will explore how and why these theatre collectives appropriated cartooning for the purposes of artistic and political subversion and what this suggests about the politics and aesthetics of cartooning. Drawing on archival research, it focuses on the work of C.A.S.T. (Cartoon Archetypical Slogan Theatre), a working-class socialist theatre ‘gang’ who pioneered this kind of performance. C.A.S.T. produced a series of short, improvised plays centred on iterations of an ‘Arch-typical’ Muggins character, and developed an anarchic, condensed, quick-fire and highly physical style of production. Described as ‘presentationalism’, this was designed to grab the attention of audiences in the way pop cultural forms like rock’n’roll, and comic books did, and to hold a subversive satirical mirror to social reality that attested to the possibilities of its radical alteration.
Bio: Maggie Gray lectures in Critical and Historical Studies at Kingston University, UK. Her research has focused on the history of British comics, in particular, the work of Alan Moore. Her book, Alan Moore, Out from the Underground: Cartooning, Performance and Dissent, which looked at Moore’s early work as a cartoonist in relation to his wider practice as a musician, poet, playwright and illustrator, was published by Palgrave in 2017. She is particularly interested in the performative aspects of comics, and the politics of performance thereby invoked. She is currently researching the intersections of the alternative theatre and alternative comics movements in the UK (1968-1990).
Pierre Floquet ‘Tex Avery as the Noah Webster of Cartoons’
A selection of iconic and more remote characters, of various cultural and moral issues are looked upon as as many telling examples of what Avery brought forward and played with over his twenty years or so of creation, as he developed his own style both in storytelling and aesthetics.
This analysis is both centripetal and centrifugal. What inspired him? The chronology of his cartoons both claims a very strong bound with US culture at large, and reflects the evolution of the latter. Meanwhile, as in a give-and-take momentum, Avery would interact with contemporary animators (Disney, the Fleischers, UPA artists), and with fellow artists from Hollywood studios. As a result Avery would participate in an informal creative pool, beyond and within his own team of animators, he would inspire with his own vision of the craft (C Jones, B Clampett, UPA, among others).
Consequently, Avery triggered out some original artistic standards in animation, which still prevail today. This was made possible as his films can hardly ever be considered as “one-offs”; beyond themes and characters, they follow a fairly strict set of recurrent codes of narration and representation. Avery simultaneously suggests cultural and moral subversion, and yet celebrates and abides by mainstream Hollywood / US social expectations (the issue of satire is to be discussed). As it is, one may speak of a cinematic comic language. Actually, in the long run, spectators are able to watch and spot / read and decrypt a given situation with its corresponding sound-effects, its iconographic denotation, its narrative offset. From there on Avery establishes a privileged pragmatic relation with them, and then plays with their expectations, either satisfying or – comically – frustrating them before he may carry them away into one further gag.
Bio: Pierre Floquet teaches English, and is associate professor at Bordeaux INP. He wrote on linguistics applied to animation film, organized Avery retrospectives and conferences, and was a juror at animation festivals in France and abroad. He has extended his focus to live action, participating in French and international books and journals. He edited CinémAnimationS (2007), and published Le Langage comique de Tex Avery (2009). His recent works and articles deal with film aesthetics, movement in animation film, the interactions between content and form in animation film.
Kate Jessop ‘The politics of comedy – how has adult animation used satire as a vehicle for feminist cultural commentary?’
The recent #TimesUp and #MeToo movements have brought notions of inequality and sexual harassment to the forefront of cultural discussion. Because animation is such an engaging and accessible medium it can render itself to be a valuable tool for addressing both challenging and abstract topics, often through the genre of documentary but also through satirical comedy. Contemporary adult animation series’ such as Tuca and Bertie and Bojack Horseman have been at the forefront of examining both the female perspective and societies treatment of women through use of satirical humour.
I will examine how adult animation has documented and presented these often complex female experiences. How successful or authentic can animation be in highlighting what has traditionally been feminist issues. And how is that a political act within itself?
Bio: Kate Jessop is a multi award-winning animation filmmaker whose work spans across narrative shorts, artists’ film and comedy. She represented the UK in the Best of Women in Film and TV, was a Virgin Media Shorts Finalist and a Berlinale Talents 2019 participant both as director & with her comedy series Tales From Pussy Willow in the Project Lab. She has exhibited extensively internationally, undertaking artist residencies in Berlin, Istanbul and Reykjavik. She is a Senior Lecturer in Animation & has taught in China. Her paper on Animation as Activism has been presented at Goldsmiths College & Queering Animation the first ever conference on Queer Animation.
Prof. Fran Lloyd ‘Humour and the Subversion of Authority: The Animated Internment Drawings of Peter Sachs’
In interview for BBC 4’s ‘Animation Nation’ broadcast in April 2005, Bob Godfrey refers to the ‘enthusiasms’ of the Weimar-trained Berlin animator Peter Sachs (1912-1990) who led the Larkins Studio in London where Godfrey trained in the early 1950s alongside Keith Learner before setting up Biographic Cartoons Ltd. in 1955.
The son of a Jewish architect father and Lutheran mother, Sachs had worked with Berlin’s most highly-regarded experimental film animators: the Hungarian-born George Pal (born György Pál Marczincsak, 1908–1980) and the German artist and filmmaker Oskar W. Fischinger (1900–1967) in the early 1930s, experimenting with hand drawn cartoon animation and innovative stop-motion techniques. With the rise of Hitler, Sachs first fled to Eindhoven in Holland in 1934 where he worked on the famous animated advertisements produced by Pal’s studio for Philips Radio and Horlicks. After the invasion of Holland in May 1939, at the height of the refugee crisis, Sachs eventually secured a permit to enter Britain in June 1939 to work as a domestic servant, aged 27.
This paper focuses on Sachs’ hitherto overlooked contributions to the ‘The Onchan Pioneer’ camp magazine during his internment as a German speaking ‘enemy alien’ on the Isle of Man from 1940 to 1941. Within the restrictive space of internment, with limited material resources, Sachs produced a series of wordless vignette drawings for the weekly magazine where he used his skills as an animator and graphic designer to induce laughter among fellow internees and to subvert the camp’s authority. The black and white drawing panels, based on the everyday activities of the internment camp – the laundry, growing crops and raising farm animals – employ an economy of line that capture the sonic aspects of the camp and simultaneously humorously undermine such commands as ‘Get Ready for the Inspection’. Unable to produce film animations in the camp, Sachs’ drawings directly reference animation devices while pointing to the absurdities of camp life and were to have a profound influence on fellow German internee Kurt Weiler who later trained with Sachs before returning to the GDR in 1956.
Bio: Fran Lloyd is Professor of Art History and Co-Director of Kingston University’s Visual and Material Culture Research Centre. She has published widely on émigré artists/collectors in Britain, including the Latvian-born sculptor Dora Gordine and the American collector Stanley Picker. Recent essays on German-speaking refugee artists and their networks include: “Making Animation Matter: Peter Sachs Comes to Britain’ (2019); “Becoming Artists: Ernst Eisenmayer, Kurt Weiler and Refugee Support Networks in wartime Oxford” (2015) and “Kurt Schwitters: Responses to Place” (2013). She has also curated exhibitions on Kurt Schwitters at The Sayle Gallery on the Isle of Man to mark the 65th anniversary of his death and to commemorate his internment on the island (2013) and Art beyond exile: the first retrospective in the UK of Viennese-born artist Ernst Eisenmayer (2012).
Sarah Tehan ‘Captain Phineas May – War Cartoons 1940-1946’ ‘Prints in Motion’
The Cartoon within the Second World War was a vital element in the fight for the hearts and minds of the people. It was also used by combatants to send stories home of life at the front. Phineas May, like many, spent his war years’ miles away from family in a new and distant land. The main means of communication to home was the airgraph letter. For Phineas this was an opportunity to amuse his wife Vivienne with Cartoons, depicting life in the Garrison. The Cartoons presented an often satirical examination of life within the army. Serving in the Pioneers Corps in Egypt with African Garrison Companies, several of Phineas’ cartoons depict British African Soldiers during a time of change within the Empire. The Cartoons depict cultural differences between the British Officers and their African Soldiers, as well as the Arab Locals.
This presentation, will discuss the works of Phineas May and the representation of the African Soldiers serving in the British Army. May’s work used racial stereotypes and language to promote humour. Elements of the work seen through the contemporary lens would be considered offensive. Could the work still be seen as a moment of discovery, of different cultures for combatants during that period; whose experience of other cultures would be little to non existent? May’s work taken as a whole, shows both affection for the African Soldiers and amusement in their lack of understanding of British ways. The work presents questions of British humour in the face of war, representation of the colonised and stereotyping within Cartoons.
Bio: Sarah Tehan is a visual artist and researcher based in Belfast. Tehan is a PhD Researcher at Belfast School of Art, Ulster University and an Associate Lecturer at the University for the Creative Arts, Farnham. Her research is focused on the representation of conflict and the archive. Sarah holds an MA from the University of Westminster.
David Wischer ‘Prints in Motion’
The absurdity of the world that we live in can be rejected or it can be embraced. Many aspects of popular culture and media have embraced the absurd and amplified it, creating nonsense while commenting on the current state of confusion where we all reside. My work as a printmaker and animation artist focuses on my idea of amplified absurdity. This paper will begin with the definition of absurdity and will discuss absurdism as a theme in existentialist philosophy, as well as the humorous exaggeration of absurdity. This paper will then examine how certain paradoxes or contradictions can create nonsense that is rooted in reality. The first paradox or contradiction involves the difference between being connected and disconnected. Much like images posted on social media networking sites and blogs, visual art can connect to specific groups of people, however, creating private humor may alienate or disconnect some others. The second paradox discussed is the visual merging of serious situations with humorous imagery. There is a substantial body of work in art and media that is created with parody, satire, irony, and caricature. And the third paradox is the fusion of digital reality with analog reality. The world has become more digital and less human, and the merging or fusion of these worlds is an important part of my visual work, both conceptually and through the processes I choose. I will examine notions of absurdity and nonsense in the works of related artists. Several series of my works in silkscreen printmaking and stop-motion animation will be discussed. This paper will conclude by explaining the tactical use of these paradoxes in my own visual art and the effect of amplified absurdity on the artist and the art viewer.
Bio: David Wischer was born in Henderson, Kentucky. He received his B.F.A. in Graphic Design from Northern Kentucky University and his M.F.A. in Fine Art from Purdue University. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Digital and Print Media at University of Kentucky. His work has recently been exhibited at the Center for Book Arts in New York, the Four Rivers Print Biennial at Southern Illinois University, International Print Center New York, and AIRD Gallery in Toronto, Canada.
Wischer’s work is heavily influenced by his personal observations of The Absurd. The internet, social media, and celebrity are a current source of that inspiration. David uses printmaking, animation, and drawing as a vehicle for the mixing and matching of incongruous images. Because these images are a fusion of personal and appropriated imagery, viewers may understand part of the work and be confused by others. This public and private information mirrors our own encounter with images in popular culture and mass media that we see every day.
[Keynote speaker Steve Bell ©Steve Bell/The Guardian, 06/2/2020]
Keynote 2: Steve Bell
Steve Bell is an award-winning cartoonist for the Guardian since 1981 and has also produced cartoons for Private Eye, New Statesman and many other popular publications. Graduated in Fine Art from Leeds University in 1974, he taught art before becoming a freelance cartoonist.
With Bob Godfrey he made a number of animated cartoons for TV, including a cartoon biography, Margaret Thatcher — Where Am I Now? broadcast on Channel 4. He has had thirty books published, including a cartoon autobiography of George Bush called Apes of Wrath, numerous anthologies of the If strip If Marches On and, more recently a Tony Blair self-help guide titled My Vision For a New You, published by Methuen. A collection of the past four years If strips and other cartoons, Corbyn – the Resurrection was published by Guardian Faber books in Autumn 2018.
His work has been published all over the world and he has won numerous awards, including the What the Papers Say Cartoonist of the Year in 1993, the XXI Premio Satira Politica (Grafica estera) Forte Dei Marmi, Italy 1993, the Political Cartoon Society Cartoon of the Year Award in 2001 and 2008 and Cartoonist of the Year in 2005 and 2007, the British Press Awards Cartoonist of the Year in 2002, the Cartoon Arts Trust Award eight times, the Channel 4 Political Humour Award in 2005 and the Political Studies Association Best Political Satire Award in 2005. He has also received honorary degrees from the Universities of Sussex, Teesside, Loughborough, Leeds and Brighton.
His cartoon website is Belltoons.co.uk
Dr Driss Faddouli ‘Moroccan Facebookers and the Visual Rhetoric of Political Negation’
My presentation will attempt to unravel the underlying dialectics of subversion that gives rise to a counter-hegemonic political consciousness in the Moroccan Facebookers’ visual narratives (notably comics) about Moroccan politics. It will argue that these comics construct and articulate a rhetorically counter-hegemonic discourse of political negation through generating ideographs that, in turn, animate a variety of antagonisms dismantling the state’s discourse (the public transcript). I will base my analysis on the assumption that the emergence of a political counter-hegemony basically translates an actual change in reality wherein stronger changes in political discourse are constantly sustained and fostered. First, I will initiate my presentation with a short introduction on the dynamics of contemporary Moroccan networked public sphere and the daily practices of Moroccan Facebookers in relation to several socio-cultural controversies. Second, I will contextualize my talk in light of the politics and poetics of transgression as conceptualized by major thinkers. Third, I will offer some sample visual narratives pertinent to my talk along with an elaboration of these. Finally, I will sum up my talk by delineating some concluding thoughts and opening up horizons for future research.
Bio: Dr Driss Faddouli is a professor of English at Chouaib Doukkali University, El Jadida, Morocco. He obtained his Doctorate degree in 2018 from Ibn Tofail University, Kenitra, Morocco. His fields of interest include Visual Culture, Media Studies, Cultural Studies, and Literature. He has researched and published on contemporary socio-cultural dynamics of Moroccan society. His publications include Online Maghreb Arab Social Movements and Facebook: A Case Study of Morocco, Egypt, and Tunisia, Is Mohamed Choukri’s For Bread Alone a Picaresque Narrative and Moroccan Facebook Visual Narratives and Cultural Production.
Prof. Paul Ward ‘Satire and subversion in the work of Han Hoogerbrugge’
Hoogerbrugge’s works often hinge on subversive takes on real-world events and figures using bizarre animated imagery. For example, What’s Up Doc? (2013) offers a looped animated reinterpretation of the assassination of Colonel Gaddafi, featuring Bugs Bunny. Hoogerbrugge routinely plays with loops, gifs and animated repetitions to communicate his messages.
Based around repetitions and fissures – aspects where we might not be sure exactly ‘what is going on’ – these works have an intense but enigmatic power. In order to understand this, I refer to Lamarque and Olsen’s (1994) notion of ‘topical’ and ‘perennial’ themes in literature, alongside Robbins’ (1996) concept of the ‘rheterolect’. ‘Topical’ themes are very specific to an historical and cultural context and address their audiences in a narrow and focused way; ‘perennial’ themes, on the other hand, can be understood as resonating across different historical and cultural contexts.
Satire and the subverting of cultural, political or social ‘norms’ relies on an implicit understanding of the specificity of ‘topical’ themes – in short, we need to know who or what is being satirised in order for the satire to work. This raises questions for those who view satirical works outside of the historical or cultural contexts in which they were made. This is where Robbins’ concept is useful: the idea of ‘rhetorolects’ is that there are certain recognisable ‘rhetorical dialects’ that have evolved and hybridised – they are “a distinctive configuration of themes, topics, reasonings and argumentations” (1996: 356) – and satirical and subversive visual language is a key part of this, in the ways it takes, transforms and animates ‘topical’ material.
Lamarque, P. and Olsen, S. H. (1994) Truth, Fiction and Literature: A Philosophical Perspective. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Robbins, V. (1996) ‘The Dialectical Nature of Early Christian Discourse’, Scriptura 59, pp. 353-362.
Bio: Paul’s main research interests are in the fields of animation and documentary film and television, animation pedagogy, production cultures, communities of practice and film and media historiography.
Published work includes articles for the journals animation: an interdisciplinary journal, Animation Journal, and the Historical Journal for Film, Radio and Television, as well as numerous anthology essays. He was also the President of the Society for Animation Studies from 2010 to 2015 and the inaugural Fellow of the Holland Animated Film Festival (HAFF) in 2012. He was a Visiting Professor in the Design School at the Politecnico di Milano in November 2013. His work has been translated into German, Czech, Korean, Farsi and Japanese.
Paul Ward is Series Co-Editor (with Caroline Ruddell) for the book series Palgrave Animation.
Dr. José L. Valhondo-Crego ‘Subverting the myths of Francoism in the Spanish satirical press’
The Spanish humorous weekly El Jueves (Thursday), which first appeared in May 1977, just a month before the first elections of the transition has endured to the present day. The aim of this text is to analyse the way in which El Jueves dealt with the exhuming of the remains of Franco, a recent event which took place on 24th October, 2019. Although those nostalgic for the Francoism are politically residual in Spain, a great deal of myths still pervades more than 40 years after the end of the dictatorship. It is what the political experts point out as the Sociological Francoism. These myths have gathered momentum in the public sphere with the rise of the new ultra-right populist party Vox. In popular culture, the catch phrase unfolded by the supporters of this party is that “Franco también hizo cosas buenas” (“Franco also did good things”). In this respect, this kind of arguments are operating as a way to whiten a corrupt and supremacist political regime in order to gain support for an extreme-right party. Trying to counteract these myths, El Jueves published a special section devoted to subvert the most common stereotypes about Francoism, such as that Franco established the Spanish Social Security or that corruption hardly ever existed under the regime.
Bio: José L. Valhondo-Crego works as a Lecturer at the Faculty of Documentation and Communication Sciences of the University of Extremadura. He received his Communication Ph.D. in the Rey Juan Carlos University (Madrid) in 2008. He also studied a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology in the University of Salamanca and further training a Master’s in Journalism in the University of the Basque Country. His line of research is related to Political Communication, Satire and Film Studies.
This conference was organised by the Animation Research Centre at UCA with support from UCA Internal Research Funding. We would like to thank Emma Reyes, Felicity Croyden, Leigh Garrett, Lesley Adams, Bradley McGinty, Amy Owen, Emma Cook, Lisa Chadwick, Tom Lowe, Claire Godfrey, Lorna McColl, Kris Bercsenyi and all the students who helped.
Animation Research Centre, UCA
Founded in 1998, the Animation Research Centre at the University for the Creative Arts, Farnham is a centre for innovation, doctoral study, debate and dialogue, interdisciplinary and practice-based research into animation in all its most expanded forms. Our current work ranges from archival research, conference organisation, exhibition curation and academic publication to investigations in immersive technology, block chain and movement capture.
For more information, contact <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Free tickets available up until the last minute. Book here: http://satireandsubversion.eventbrite.co.uk
[Still from Great by Bob Godfrey courtesy of the Bob Godfrey Collection, UCA Archives]
What makes us laugh at cartoons? What is it that makes something funny? Cartoon Animation: Satire and Subversion is a one-day conference on 17th Feb at UCA Farnham, Surrey, UK, inspired by the legacy of legendary British animator Bob Godfrey to explore the politics of comedy. The Keynote speakers are Steve Bell, Guardian cartoonist and Dr. Sharon Lockyer, Director of the Comedy Research Centre at Brunel University. The conference will be accompanied by the opening of Bob Godfrey, a Collaborative Act, an exhibition of rarely seen items from Bob Godfrey’s archive.
Click here for more information and to book a free place: https://www.uca.ac.uk/events/cartoon-animation-symposium.
Monday 17th Feb 2020
Animation Research Centre, University for the Creative Arts, Farnham, Surrey
You are invited to submit proposals for conference presentations of 20 minutes.
Deadline: 16th December 2019
Notification of selection: 6th Jan 2020
Send proposals to: email@example.com
Fifty years ago (in 1969) Oscar winning animator, Bob Godfrey, established the Animation course at UCA, which was the first Higher Education animation course in the UK and his archive is held at UCA. As well as his work in teaching, Godfrey served as mentor and employer to many budding animators and is revered as an iconic figure in British animation. Although popularly known for his children’s TV series, such as Roobarb and Custard and The Do-It-Yourself Animation Show, Godfrey also created a number of more experimental and adult works that drew upon traditions of British satire, DADA and Situationism.
To mark the Golden Jubilee of animation at UCA, celebrate the irreverent and anarchic humour of Bob Godfrey and re-launch the Animation Research Centre at UCA, we are running a symposium in our new Film building at Farnham, that will be accompanied by an exhibition of items from Godfrey’s archive.
While the main focus of our symposium is on animation, we warmly invite interdisciplinary perspectives by scholars from other disciplines such as film, performance, illustration, comics, philosophy, psychology, queer and gender studies, etc. Our Keynote speakers are Steve Bell, Guardian cartoonist and Dr Sharon Lockyer, Director of the Centre for Comedy Studies Research, Brunel University.
For its themes, the symposium draws upon Bob Godfrey’s archive to call for papers that engage with the following questions:
Politics and propaganda from print to the pixel.
How have traditions of print cartooning from Hogarth and Punch influenced animation?
Laughing in the face of adversity.
Is humour a form of survival strategy? What is funny for those who are historically the focus of caricature and the butt of jokes based on stereotypes? What is the comedy of the oppressed? What is satire for the subaltern? How are hegemonic discourses around colonialism, class, race, gender and regional identity resisted through laughter?
Funny or pathetic? How do we deal with historic cartoon versions of male sexual fantasy? What do they say about masculinity? Are they due for a feminist re-evaluation? Could they be read as a critique of patriarchy? Are humorous films about sexuality made by women different in any way?
It ain’t half hot, Mum
How do we discuss racial stereotyping and caricature in historical animation? What is the relationship between iconic cartoon characters and minstrelsy? Are there arguments for re-evaluating controversial works such as those made by the Fleischer brothers or Ralph Baksche?
What are we going to do now?
What were the influence of traumatic circumstances such as war and PTSD on animators during and after the two World Wars of the 20th Century?
Is there a relationship between comic animation and post-war art movements such as DADA, situationist and theatre of the absurd?
Vader his dolly buns: subculture, sexuality and comic codes
How does insider knowledge of shared cultural conventions, such as camp, gender parody and ‘secret languages’ like Polari, slip undetected into mainstream animation? How has theatricality and performativity effected animation?
What’s up, Doc?
What is it that is just so funny about the cartoon character whose impossible, plasmatic body defies all the limits of the physical world and all social taboos about abjection?
This conference is organised by Birgitta Hosea, Emma Reyes, Jim Walker (Animation Research Centre)
Exhibition curated by Jim Walker
Supported by Felicity Croydon, UCA Archivist, and Lesley Adams, Programme Director for Animation, UCA.
Peer Review Committee: Birgitta Hosea, Chris Pallant, Caroline Ruddell, Jim Walker, Paul Ward.
Selected conference papers will be included in a proposal for an anthology, Cartoon Animation: Satire and Subversion, to Palgrave MacMillan.
My own practice is in expanded animation, in other words, I am interested in ways in which moving images can be used in contexts other than the single screen film. As an artist this has involved me creating works inspired by technologies from the origins of animation such as shadow puppets, silhouettes, optical illusions, trotting horse lamps, spirit photography, stage magic, Pepper’s Ghost and peepshows. Because of this, it was thrilling for me to go to the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum Archive as a Visiting Researcher. Looking through boxes from their extensive collection of pre-cinematic optical toys at close range, I was struck by how tactile and intimate the experience of looking at them was and how these early printed materials anticipated the depiction of ways of moving through space that are commonly used today in animation. These short sequences felt like precursors to the animated gifs we see on web pages, interfaces, digital signage and, of course, Instagram.
Optical toys have also been an inspiration to a group of contemporary animators from China who call themselves the Feinaki Animation Gang and are inspired by their study of the phenakistoscope to create amazing short micro-animations that are designed to continuously loop. The group first formed in 2015 to create inventive animated gifs that celebrate public holidays such as Valentine’s day. The artists include my former student, CAI Caibei, and other noted practitioners such as WEI Shilei, AMAO, CHEN Chen, CHEN Lianhua, InkeeWang, LUO Sijia, SANGSUN, SUN Xin,Toyoya, WANG Dan, XIANG Yao, YU Kun, ZHU Yantong. They have just exhibited their works at the Shanghai MoCA Pavilion in a show called Stroll the Line in May 2019. More info here: Stroll the Line exhibition.
Several media theorists have also made connections between early mechanical optical illusions and our contemporary digital media. Shane Denson and Julia Leyda describe the way that we view digital moving images on a variety of different devices as post-cinematic. No longer recorded through analogue celluloid and projected at cinemas, the moving images we consume today are ‘essentially digital, interactive, networked, ludic, miniaturized, mobile, social, processual, algorithmic, aggregative, environmental, or convergent’ (Denson & Leyda, 2016). Alongside a variety of new transmedia viewing platforms such as computers, phones, tablets, games consoles and even giant screens on the sides of skyscrapers, new forms of moving images have emerged to be displayed on them. Making a comparison between these and the early short films of silent cinema, Ruth Meyer considers that while early silent films were short because of technological restrictions, nowadays brevity is part of the digital media we consume – the short film, the tweet, the meme, the status update, the text message. Because of their shortness, she calls these ‘micro-narrative’ formats (Meyer, 2016).
Looking at the paper strips from Émile Reynauld’s Praxinoscope (1889) there are also short ‘micro-narratives’: series of images that animate scenes from the circus – tightrope walking, juggling knives or weights, acrobatics with horses or dogs; or scenes from children’s play – blowing bubbles, skipping, a girl fishing, a baby eating, a fancy cat plays double bass; and even scenes from everyday work, leisure and sports – swimming, horse riding, dancing, feeding chickens, pumping water, sawing and cooking meat on a spit. All of these sequences of images capture bodies and matter in motion through illustration, before the cinema had even been invented. They do not take the form of stories, but are more like circus acts or fairground attractions.
Not only are the movement sequences on these devices short, but they are designed to be repeated. Colourful patterns on spinning tops, for example, continue spinning to create an optical illusion of merged colours until the force of momentum runs out. Lev Manovich points out that pre-cinematic optical devices were based on manually constructed, hand-painted loops of repeated image sequences. He finds in these earliest animated pictures a precursor to contemporary digital media and also to computer programming that involves looped and iterative instructions. (Manovich, 2016). Building on Manovich’s ideas, Nicolas Dulac and André Gaudreault point out that optical toys are based on not only repetition and brevity, but also rotation. For them, the endless loops of these animated drawings have no sense of time, just endless presence. Like a cog in a machine, they have a mechanical rather than human sense of time (Dulac & Gaudreault, 2006).
Like these toys, the earliest silent films were also built on short acts, gags, tricks or views from everyday life. Connecting them with the ‘attractions’ on show at the fairground, the circus and the music hall, Tom Gunning has named the earliest silent films (pre-1908) ‘the cinema of attractions’: a cinema concerned with spectacle, exhibitionism and quick thrills rather than storytelling (Gunning, 2006). Whereas this period of film history is related by Gunning to popular performing arts, Dulac and Gaudreault argue that optical toys from 1830-1900 are another form of media that pre-date cinema and should also take their place as a key influence on the cinema of attractions (Dulac & Gaudreault, 2006). While this may seem an obvious connection to make, surprisingly enough, in his extensive research on the origins of animation in the UK, Malcom Cook has not found any direct evidence to connect the type of animated pictures seen in optical toys with early animation (Cook, 2018).
While this may be the case, what I personally found fascinating about having the chance to examine the collection of optical toys at the Bill Douglas Cinema History Archive at first hand, was how the types of motion represented anticipated the kinds of ways in which we animate today. I was also struck by the manner in which movement was depicted in a static printed form. Consequently, I devised a workshop called ‘Animated Loops: From Print to Instagram’ for BA Illustration and Animation students at the University for the Creative Arts, Canterbury, who work in both design for print and animation. It was part of a First Year unit, led by artist and animator Molly Okell to introduce students to animation. We began with a lecture showing photos and discussing my findings from the research at the Bill Douglas Cinema Archive, in which I identified the following types of animation:
- Panning (in which the eye travels across a scene, usually a landscape): panorama, myriorama;
- Light change: diorama;
- Exploring three-dimensional space: peepshow, stereoscopic photography, peep eggs;
- Transformation (using rotation or flipping to produce metamorphosis through substitution): printed adverts and toys;
- Spinning: optical spinning tops, thaumascope, phenakistoscope, zoetrope, praxinoscope;
- Illusion of movement (through sequential images): flick books, phenakistoscope, zoetrope, praxinoscope,filoscope, kinora, mutascope, kinetoscope.
After the lecture, we went into the computer lab for a practical workshop about how to make animation in Photoshop and produce a short animation that could be put on Instagram. We only had a limited amount of time, but the students all produced sequences of animation by the end of the day.
Cook, Malcolm. Early British Animation: From Page and Stage to Cinema Screens. Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.
Denson, Shane, and Julia Leyda. “Perspectives on Post-Cinema: An Introduction.” In Post-Cinema: Theorizing 21st-Century Film. Falmer: REFRAME Books, 2016.
Dulac, Nicolas, and André Gaudreault. “Circularity and Repetition at the Heart of the Attraction: Optical Toys and the Emergence of a New Cultural Series.” In The Cinema of Attractions Reloaded, edited by Wanda Strauven. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2006.
Gunning, Tom. “The Cinema of Attraction[s]: Early Film, Its Spectator and the Avant-Garde.” In The Cinema of Attractions Reloaded, edited by Wanda Strauven. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2006.
Manovich, Lev. “What Is Digital Cinema?” In Post-Cinema: Theorizing 21st-Century Film, edited by Shane Denson and Julia Leyda. Falmer: REFRAME Books, 2016.
Meyer, Ruth. “Early/Post-Cinema: The Short Form, 1900/2000.” In Post-Cinema: Theorizing 21st-Century Film, edited by Shane Denson and Julia Leyda. Falmer: REFRAME Books, 2016.
On Wednesday 30th October 2013, I was lucky enough to be present at the London Premiere of Nishiki Kag-E, a Japanese magic lantern performance based on a reconstruction of how the work would have been presented during the Edo period (1603-1867). These ghost stories were put on by the Japan Foundation to celebrate Hallowe’en.
In the European tradition, magic lantern projectors were large, unwieldy and held in a static position although a little movement could be introduced to the images through manipulating and swapping the slides (and in some instances a form of dolly was used to zoom the images in and out). In Japan, however, a different tradition evolved whereby a number of performers held and manipulated mobile wooden projectors behind a paper screen. The performers wear straps to attach the projectors to their bodies. I was fascinated to see this, since in a piece of work I made at the Centre for Drawing in Wimbledon in 2009 with the artists group formerly known as Drawn Together, I made myself a similar contraption so that I could walk around the room with a moving projection of animation that echoed the process of drawing being carried out by the other artists.
The Fantasmaglia Japonica Ikeda-Gumi group from Osaka, Japan use a much more comfortable and ergonomic system than I used myself. Professor Mitsue Ikeda from Osaka University of the Arts has researched and reconstructed projectors from the Edo period.
The wood that the ‘furo’ projectors are made of is light and heat resistant so the performers don’t burn their hands with the heat of the light source. Through back projection onto a paper screen, each performer manipulates a separate character or element in the story. They can also swap and flip slides from the ‘taneita’ (slide carrier). Through the actions of their bodies and switching between different character poses on slide, a great range of expression is possible including distortion effects when the slide is projected at an extreme angle.
The performance that I saw was a ghost story Sakura-shiranami hyoito-bukuro (Cherry Blossoms, Foaming Waves, Flicking Bag). The plot concerned a burglar who was extremely disturbed to discover that objects he tried to steal had become ghouls behind this back. A live narrator recounted the story and made sound effects behind the screen. As we were seeing the show in London, we benefitted from digitally projected subtitles in English at the top of the screen.
The roots of the stories that were performed in Nishiki Kag-E came from traditional bunraku and kabuki theatre. This work is considered to be hugely influential on the development of Japanese animation as the performer is creating the animation of a hand painted character in a live scenario. Professor Ikeda informed us that this form of entertainment became popular after the first magic lanterns were imported from Holland during the Edo period. They were hugely popular until cinema began to replace them at the turn of the Showa Era (1926-1989).
Animation: Magic and Matter
A symposium presented by the Centre for Humanities & the Department of Media & Culture Studies (Utrecht University) with the Holland Animation Film Festival on 27th March 2012
Welcome & Introduction: The Matter of Animation
The event started with a welcome from Gerben Schermer of the Holland Animation Film Festival, which starts tomorrow. The themes of this year’s festival are animation and games / games and animation as well as a focus on China. He described the festival as having a friendly atmosphere with talks and masterclasses where filmmakers and audience can meet together.
Ann-Sophie Lehmann, Associate Professor of Media and Cultural Studies at Utrecht University, who organised the symposium, then described how it had evolved from Paul Ward’s fellowship at the festival and was part of a series of screenings, events and workshops. This included a hands-on animation workshop in conjunction with NIAF, the Netherlands Institute of Animated Film, in which participants got their hands dirty and engaged with real materials, such as modelling clay, cardboard and sand. This haptic engagement led her to consider that there are two forces at work: matter – the materials used to make the animation – and magic – the result of the animation. She argued that because we believe in the image the technology enchants us. She is particularly interested in how the matter – the materials used to make the animation – has an impact of the narrative. Finally, since Lev Manovich declared animation to be a form that is everywhere rather than a genre in the margins, it is perhaps this sheer, overwhelming ubiquity that renders the subject invisible in the academic and political eye. Despite this, animation is very present and will be considered in more depth during the day’s symposium
‘It’s a Kind of Magic’ Early Cinema, Trick Effects &Animation
Frank Kessler, Utrecht University
Frank Kessler is a Professor of Media History and an expert in early cinema. In his presentation he focussed on a notion of magic as an act that is performed on stage and utilises tricks and sometimes elaborate technologies that are the product of sophisticated craft and technologies. These tricks may be adopted by charlatans who pretend to have magic powers. Kessler discussed the example of a stage magician whose trained eye allowed him to understand the artifice behind the illusion and debunk Uri Geller’s alleged ability to bend spoons with the power of his mind.
Here’s a You Tube clip of James Randi debunking Uri Geller.
In contemporary films, for example Harry Potter, acts of magic are the backbone of the story and also the effect of magic is depicted through the use of media technologies and CGI. This is nothing new. The link between magic effects and trick technology goes back to the beginning of cinema. Georges Meliés wrote some of the background to his techniques in a contemporary photography journal and claimed to have accidentally discovered his ‘substitution splice’ technique after his camera jammed and he spliced the resulting film together. Thanks to this simple trick he made his first films in which he was making something happen on screen that did not really happen in front of the camera. Historically as new media technologies appear they are thought to be ‘magic’ by spectators who do not understand them yet. This was the case with magic lanterns and late 19th century spirit photographs. So is technology only magic when we don’t understand the trick? Christian Metz has written an article on tricks vs trick effects in which he posits three types of tricks in films:
1. visible tricks – there is obvious manipulation of the image going on,
2. imperceptible tricks – tricks we don’t know or understand how they have been used, such as the use of stunt men or CGI doubles that we didn’t notice. These are tricks we are not supposed to see, because if we notice them we think of them as badly done,
3. invisible tricks, we sense a trick, but we don’t know how its done.
Kessler then presented two films from Catalan filmmaker, Segundo de Chomón, a contemporary and indeed competitor of Georges Meliés. Although not the first person to have used stop motion – this appears to have been Arthur Melbourne Cooper – Chomón developed stop motion techniques to a more sophisticated level than Meliés. Haunted House (1908):
These films are like a catalogue of tricks available at the time and would have been very surprising and innovative for contemporary spectators. Haunted House (1908) includes object animation, double exposure, superimposition and movable scenery. Invisible, supernatural forces appear to be making objects move of their own accord. In Electric Hotel (1908) it is the modern technology of electricity that is shown as the mysterious force that makes objects move of their own volition. The films use trick effects to create a kind of magic, but at same time the film is using tricks to present the magic. Magic is happening within the medium and by the medium which helps it to profile itself in a particular way. Electric Hotel (1908):
Animation as Atavistic Magic
Paul Ward, Arts University College Bournemouth
HAFF Fellow, Paul Ward, is president of the Society for Animation Studies. His research topics include practice / theory relationships and animated documentary.
Ward started by introducing a notion of animation as atavistic magic and proposed to examine the ontological ground between the real and the animated that is occupied by animated documentaries. His understanding of magic is predicated on Bill Nichol’s work on historical re-enactment and the fantasmical.
The term atavism literally derives from a remote ancestor or forefather and Ward showed photos of his own great, great, great, grandfathers to reinforce the point. In evolutionary science, the term is used for a physical trait that reruns in the modern day, a throwback feature that magically reappears after a period of of evolutionary obsolesce or a discontinued evolutionary feature that lies dormant – for example whales have remnants in their pelvic bones that prove they had legs, the coccyx bone in humans indicates where our tails used to be, wings are still seen in flightless birds such as ostriches. An atavism can be used as a cultural term for behaviours or beliefs that had died out, but have now returned – for example violence or degeneracy. Horror films can be seen as atavistic as they connect to past primeval fears – a sense of the ‘then’ returning to the ‘now’. Dana Seitler argues that modernity is atavistic – modernity sought to be new and break with the past, but that break necessitated the past’s return. The past has returned through the popularity of re-enactment culture – dressing in period costume and restaging wars, a surge of interest in family trees, old photo albums, looking in old graveyards.
Animated documentary could be considered as fantasmic reenactment. This form of documentary is re-enacted rather than captured in the moment it happened. A use of animation in documentary seems to run counter to the sober discourse of documentary indexicality. Bill Nichols refers to documentary as the discourse of sobriety. However, at the core of documentary practice lies a dilemma – the footage is a re-enactment of previous events, but if filmmakers pass off reenacted footage as actual footage where is the truth in the image? Reconstructed material raises all kind of philosophical problems. Documentary is a throwback, an atavism, a ‘then’ in the ‘now’. History does not repeat itself. The re-enactment is not real. It didn’t actually happen like that, but is fantasmic, a fictionalised repetition of something that has already occurred. The viewer experiences an uncanny repetition of something that had already happened. Consider the film Ryan.
Nichols idea of the fantasmic has recently been applied to the animated film, Ryan, in which Landreth, the animator, himself interviews influential animator Ryan Larkin. Although based on a real recording of an interview, this event is re-enacted and does not take a realistic form. The character has part of his head missing. Jo Sheehan’s the ten mark (2010), a stop motion puppet animation about British serial killer John Christie, takes the form of a series of dark, creepy vignettes in Christie house with the main character partially concealed in the shadows. This animated film grapples with documentary propositions as it is based on factual research – court records, newspaper articles, police photographs. The film obsessively wells on banal day-to-day moments from Christie’s domestic life rather than on the detail of his crimes. The title refers to Christies desire to murder ten people. In the slow, ominous atmosphere you don’t see anything directly. The distinction between fiction and nonfiction relies on a degree of suspension of disbelief. The figure of the puppet conjures up the ontology of the real world as opposed to the ontology of animation. There is a stark disjuncture between the authenticity of the painstakingly constructed sets that could be easily mistaken for actual rooms and the puppet character lingering in the shadows who appears as obviously a puppet. The film plays with the impossibility of re-capturing something that has already occurred. Christie was a real historic character, but the film is a clear reenactment using puppets.
Ward concluded with a use of Gendler’s neologism ‘alief’ as a term that can be used to differentiate modes of disbelief. Gendler uses the term for a feeling that is at odds with rational knowledge – for example I know this bridge is safe, but I feel that it might not be. Gendler explores this in detail and considers alief as a primitive response to how things seem. In psychology experiments, participants were offered drinks that were sugar water, but came from a bottle with a skull on it. People know something to be the case, but act as if it isn’t because of superstitious or primitive ideas. We can’t simply say people are mistaken – or that people can’t suspend their belief. Alief is a process at work when we see animated characters. We know they aren’t really real – we believe they are animation – we alief that they are real.
Ward has written more on this subject in the Animation Interdisciplinary Journal: Animating with Facts: The Performative Process of Documentary Animation in the ten mark (2010)
Sleight of the Hand Made
Birgitta Hosea, University of the Arts London
Birgitta Hosea is an artist and practitioner / theoretician based at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. Her research interests include animation as performance, drawing and expanded animation.
Sleight of hand is a term that magicians use to refer to skilful deception. In this paper, I looked at the skilful deception that lies behind the creation of artificial, moving characters that were made by hand and never truly lived. Rather than talk about animation in terms of its relationship to film, I used the figure of the ‘constructed actor’ to trace a link between the earliest performances and contemporary character animation. I argued that ‘constructed actors’ have a long history of portraying worlds of the imagination – morality, metaphysics, philosophy. I presented examples of constructed actors that were both pre-photographic and post-cinematic in order to argue for animation as a concept rather than asa subset of film practice.
The ‘constructed actor’ is a term taken from Eileen Rosenthal’s book on the history of puppetry. She uses it to describe both puppets and performers who extend their bodies with masks and body coverings. I showed examples from shamanic and ritual practices, including wayong shadow puppetry. Although sometimes performed for tourists, this form of puppetry originally took place in temples in honour of the gods.
I then connecting the idea of Dionysian ecstasy in ancient Greek theatre from Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Origins of Tragedy with Sergei Eisenstein’s notion of the plasmatic in Disney cartoons as a visual representation of the ecstatic. In order to examine the idea that ‘constructed actors’ could investigate philosophical ideas, I presented my own project Dog Betty in which I dressed up as a cartoon character in order to actually inhabit Judith Butler’s concept of performativity – the idea that we all perform our identity.
After introducing the figure of the ‘constructed actor’, I then moved on to to look at the figure of the stage magician. Rather than extend their own body to become magical, like the masked shaman or constructed actor, the stage magician makes it appear as if they have the power to make the magic happen. I presented illusions from Robertson’s magic lantern slides on smoke in the Phantasmagorie to stage magic from David Devant at London’s Egyptian Hall. I was influenced by David Devant’s ‘Mascot Moth’ trick to create an improvised Exorcism using manipulated video to conjure up the spirits of my collaborator Maureen Baas.
The tradition of stage illusions with appearing and disappearing ladies is a clear inspiration behind Georges Meliés film The Living Playing Cards (1905 ). In this film still objects are transformed into living images through double exposure and superimposed dissolves. In this film Meliés is shown in the role of the stage magician and appears to orchestrate the illusion. Illusions with glass and mirrors, such as Peppers Ghost allowed superimpositions to occur on stage. Decapitations were performed with the aid of hidden compartments and masked off body parts. These techniques can also be seen in Meliés film The Man with the Rubber Head (1901).
The Musion Eyeliner 3D Holographic Projection system creates the illusion of actual three dimensional presence on stage through a high tech version of Victorian stage technology. I have been lucky enough to be one of a several artists commissioned to create experimental work for the Musion holographic projection system. White Lines was conceived of as a three dimensional sculpture. Lines spin in space until they begin to form a giant head which fills the whole stage space, inspired by the Meliés film The Man with the Rubber Head. The piece was created from a video of my actions when drawing lines on myself and was hand touched and manipulated int e computer. When shown in the Musion system it looks completely three-dimensional, however due to the way in which the system works with the naked eye it is almost impossible to document photographically. The concept behind this piece was to investigate the performative nature of the act of animation: to animate myself into existence by drawing with light. So after creating the initial holographic projection as a moving sculpture, I performed live within it in 2010 as part of the Holographic Serendipity show at Kinetica Art Fair and Shunt, a large undergound performance venue in the Victorian brick tunnels beneath London Bridge station. During the performances, I painted myself black and drew white lines on myself within the holographic projection.
The earliest examples of cartoon or drawn animation are derived from live performance: the ‘lightning sketch’ stage act and its extension of the satirical cartoon into a live event. During this act performers would create drawings, often political caricatures, in front of a live audience. The lightning sketch act appears to have originated in England between 1870-80. PDC, the Performance Drawing Collective formerly known as Drawn Together, creates live performance drawings in a contemporary version of the lightning sketch. I consider our performances to be live animations in which a layered moving drawing emerges over time. Drawn in graphite, white light and sound, the work incorporates the media of traditional drawn animation and is recorded in sequential photographs and video documentation.
Like the magician, the lightning sketch artist was a performer who created highly skilful feats in front of a live audience. In the USA, Winsor McCay developed the lightning sketch act into a form of character animation that we would recognise today.In the surviving film of Gertie the Dinosaur (1914) the animated sequences were created first for his stage act. In the film version hat survives, the process of making animation is presented as being a seemingly impossible feat, produced by the animator in response to a bet. In both the stage act and the surviving film of Gertie the Dinosaur, McCay incorporates physical interaction between himself and the cartoon dinosaur. In the film’s finale, McCay walks offstage and returns on the screen as a cartoon version of himself. He brandishes a whip like a lion tamer and then cautiously steps into Gertie’s mouth. She lifts him onto her back and carries him off screen.
McCay is an example of a showman animator who is clearly marked as the author and performer of animation. In his work, animator and animated occupy the same live stage space. In his films, the magic trick of animation is clearly revealed as a process, an incredible and almost impossible feat. As Donald Crafton points out in his book Before Mickey, along with the other early pioneers of animation – Georges Méliès, Tom Merry – Winsor McCay wore formal evening attire, the costume of the stage magician. His form of animation was an extension of the illusion of stage magic and his own presence was an important part of the act.
Crafton points out that as animation developed as a process, the magician / showman /author of animation became displaced by the animated character. The character itself becomes the focus of attention and is shown as if autonomously performing. The magic trick behind the illusion of animation has become invisible. In his book on stop motion, contemporary puppet animator, Barry J C Purves compares the magician’s act of diversion, which distracts the spectator from how the trick is done, to the act of animation:
For animators, that moment of distraction is there twenty-five frames a second… It’s a black frame that does not register with the audience, and allows the animator, acting as both magician and glamorous assistant, to step in and tinker with the puppets, rearranging everything before stepping out again, as if nothing had happened. The audience hasn’t seen us, but they see the trick. The puppet appears to have moved.
The trick that has been done is to bestow the illusion of a life force, a spark of élan vital that marks the differentiation between living being and lifeless matter.
I have argued that animation inherits both the traditions of mask and puppet theatre and the illusion of magically manipulated objects. Using the figure of the constructed actor, I have demonstrated a historical lineage connecting the ecstatic rituals at the origins of theatre, in which the boundaries of the human body are transgressed, the stage magician who appears to create magic that the human body is not capable of, the showman animator who performs animation and the contemporary animator who wants the trick to be invisible. As opposed to saying that the animator is a magician, I would like to use the idea of the constructed actor to propose three types of relations between the animator and the character that they have constructed. On one level, like the masked shaman, the constructed actor merges with its human creator to embody a magical character. At a second level, performer – the stage magician or the early stage animators like Windsor McCay – appears to have the power to make the magic character happen. At the third level, such as in conventional, contemporary character animation, the magic trick is hidden and the animated character – the constructed actor – appears to have an independent existence, although this illusion is actually created through the use of reproductive media such as magic lantern, paper, film or computer code.
Taking a Performance Studies approach to animation and examining the relationship between animator and character enables an unpacking of animation as concept rather than as a subset of film. Examining pre-cinematic instances of animation can lead to a conceptualisation of post-cinematic animation. As Alan Cholodenko has written, animation is much more than a technical process, it raises profound questions about what it is to be alive. Rather than an indexical practice grounded in corporeal flesh and material reality, animation has the potential to engage with the ‘extra-mundane’ – with worlds of the imagination, with metaphysics, ethics and philosophy.
Origins of Dutch Animation
Mette Peters, Netherlands Institute of Animation Film
Mette Peters is a film historian based at NIAF. Inspired by Donald Crafton’s book Before Mickey, she decided to look for more examples of early European animation with a specific focus on Holland from 1919 – 1940. Crafton argues that after World War I, Europe was exhausted and depleted of resources and, as a result, unable to compete with the surge of commercial animation flooding the market from the USA. Although European animation had been innovative before this point, animation now survived in pockets – mainly in commercials and public information films. Peters wanted to investigate this further and to see if it applied to Holland. As there are no published lists available, she has been doing extensive archival research including institutional and private collections. The files of the government’s censorship board were particularly useful. So far she has collected 167 film tiles, although 60 of the films are mentioned in catalogue form or articles or censorship forms without a surviving film print. These include 18 live-action films with animated sequences – titles or interludes or animated explanatory diagrams, 25 films made by foreign filmmakers but commissioned by Dutch companies and 64 shorts. George Debels (1890-1973) was the most productive filmmaker in the 1919-1937 period. George Pal (1908-1980) made 21 animated shorts in the five years he lived in Holland.
Here’s a George Pal film from slightly after his period in Holland. Although the quality of the You Tube video is not good, you can clearly see how his time in Holland influenced him.
Peters is not just interested in finding and collecting original films. She is also interested in documenting the changes in working practices, techniques and the introduction of synchronised sound and colour during this period. As part of her research she wants to look for the traces of making / doing in the work and searches for any information she can get on the making of the films – manuals about how the animation is made, contemporary articles or interviews with filmmakers, letters – to find evidence of the tools, working processes and art materials that were used. She examines materials from pre-production as well as production art work and is fascinated to uncover the choices made during the making process and whether the material processes influence the outcome as much as editing choices made in the post-production phase.
Kinetic Sculpture & Live Animation
Artist’s Programme with Gregory Barsamian
Gregory Barsamian is a sculptor who makes kinetic, sequential sculptures in the form of giant zoetropes. Barsamian initially studied philosophy, but had been tinkering with machines for years and this drew him towards art college metal shops. His early work investigated different forms of craft – metal work, glass blowing – but he began to become interested in adding the element of time into his work to give it additional complexity. For Barsamian sculpture is animation. He argues that you need to walk around a sculpture in order to perceive its three dimensional nature and position in space. As you do this you are building up an animation in your head. Spatial perception is linked to movement. He began to experiment with zoetrope-type constructions, although at the beginning he didn’t know what zoetropes were. For Barsamian, his moving, time based sculptures are a way to address his interest in perception. He is inspired by the workings of the brain and the enormous amount of sensual information that we perceive and do not consciously process or rationalise. Rather than creating one single sculpture, his works are in flux, continually metamorphosing.
In Lather, hands compulsively wash and drip lather onto heads at ground level.
You can see more of Barsamian’s work on his well illustrated website: http://www.gregorybarsamian.com.
You can read an interview with him in the Animation Interdisciplinary Journal: Extracinematic Animation: Gregory Barsamian in Conversation with Suzanne Buchan
Disclaimer – these notes were written quite quickly and are my own personal summary of what I heard. Apologies to any of the speakers if I misinterpreted anything they said!
Let’s not forget the hand-made. In the olden days, back then before computers…. people made animation by hand.
Terry Gilliam describes how he achieved the raw dynamism and anarchic humour of his paper cut-out animations for Monty Python. From Bob Godfrey’s brilliant ‘Do It Yourself Animation Show‘, 1974.
Here’s some of Gilliam’s work in action for Monty Python:
Questions to ponder: does our work actually benefit from technical perfection? Or is there something that gets lost – some form of energy or dynamism – when we spend too much time getting it just right?
Seeing Gilliam’s use of real hands in combination with paper cut-outs reminds me of this fantastic car commercial that uses many, many hands. The initial simplicity of ‘What Hands Can Do‘ reminds us of the hand-made and takes us back to what the very first images projected through shadows may have looked like and then it builds to an extraordinary complexity. This commercial is a perfect example of a post-digital aesthetic – seamlessly combining the hand-made with the digital, using the best of both worlds.