Animated Loops: From Print to Instagram

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. 

Fig 1. Zoetrope images

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.

Fig 2. Poster for Stroll the Line

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). 

Fig 3. Images from Reynauld’s Praxinoscope

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. 

Fig 4. Images from Reynauld’s Praxinoscope

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).

Fig 5. Reynauld’s Praxinoscope boxed up

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:

  1. Panning (in which the eye travels across a scene, usually a landscape): panorama, myriorama;
Fig 6. Kölner Carneval (1892)
Fig 7. Psalm 104 by  Susan Maria Farington, c.1860
Fig 8. Myriorama
  • Light change: diorama;
Fig 9. View through diorama peepshow when held up to the light
  • Exploring three-dimensional space: peepshow, stereoscopic photography, peep eggs;
Fig 10. Cardboard fold-out telescopic view of Great Exhibition, 1851
Fig 11. View through peephole of (10)
  • Transformation (using rotation or flipping to produce metamorphosis through substitution): printed adverts and toys;
Fig 12. Face-changing soldier
Fig 13. Satirical changing figures
  • Spinning: optical spinning tops, thaumascope, phenakistoscope, zoetrope, praxinoscope;
Fig 14. Spinning tops
Fig 15. Thaumascope one side
Fig 16. Thaumascope other side
  • Illusion of movement (through sequential images): flick books, phenakistoscope, zoetrope, praxinoscope,filoscope, kinora, mutascope, kinetoscope.
Fig 17. Filoscope – kinetic photographs
Fig 18. Kinora

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.

Bibliography:

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.

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Experimental Animation: From Analogue to Digital

EA_coverbanner.jpg Hot off the press…
The chapter I wrote (7) was inspired by my female students, their resurgence of interest in feminism and their general (of course there are exceptions) lack of interest in engaging with technology. I wanted to provide some role models of intersectional women artists experimenting with the digital as I do think it’s vital that our technologies are developed by a cross section of people and not a small, limited group whose biases come through. So I tried to uncover historical traces of feminist experimental computer animation. It was very hard to find examples and I was dispirited at times. I have probably missed a lot and I feel I just started on something that other researchers can take up and go into in more detail (thanks to Chunning Guo for taking up this challenge!). Its taken a few years. I first presented an early version of this at the Society for Animation Studies conference in 2017 in Padua. So thanks to everyone who supported me on the way when I nearly gave up on it, particularly the editors Miriam Harris, Lilly Husbands and Paul Taberham. Congratulations to the other authors and artists interviewed.
More information about the book is on the link to Routledge website
EA_contents
A glimpse at some of the contents.
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The start of my chapter.

Ghostly Apparitions: Nishiki Kag-E at the Japan Foundation

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.

Nishiki Kag-E performers
Nishiki Kag-E performers

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.

Handheld projector, Drawn Together, 2009
Handheld projector, Drawn Together, 2009

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.

Professor Mitsue Ikeda, Osaka University

utsushie_zu_lg

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.

01-01_furomagic lantern01-02_taneita

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.

cherryblossom

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).

img1112-7
I found the following clip of another troupe on You Tube, however, the performance lacks the subtlety and complexity of movement created by Professor Ikeda’s group.

Animation: Magic and Matter

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!

Terry Gilliam’s paper cut-out animation

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.

The evils of alcohol: early French cut-out animation by Marius O’Galop and Robert Lortac

Marius O’Galup (1867 – 1946) was an illustrator and animator who created around 20 short films using paper cut-outs. The public information films shown below from You Tube were made around 1918.

Robert Lortac (1884 – 1973) created around 20 films for Pathé, which were either educational or children’s stories. He went on to work in animated commercials until the late 30’s. The quality of these films he made in 1922 is not good, but still interesting to look at in terms of style.

For more information about the early French animators Marius O’Galup, Robert Lortac and Emile Cohl, see Valérie Vignaux’s interesting article in the Animation Interdisciplinary Journal: Entertainment and Instruction as Models in the Early Years of Animated Film.

Charles-Èmile Reynauld’s Théâtre Optique, 1892

An interdiscplinary background in engineering, photography, sculpture and watercolours proved to be a fertile ground for the innovations in moving image technology developed by Charles-Èmile Reynauld, arguably the first person to create frame-by-frame animation in the classic form that we understand today.

Deriving from a praxinoscope that he had invented in 1876, Reynauld’s patented a Praxinoscope Théâtre in 1879 and then an improved version, the Théâtre Optique, was patented in 1888. This invention was able to project hand-painted, animated, moving images and was adopted commercially by the Museé Grévin in Paris in 1892. The Museé Grévin was a famous museum of waxworks, which also featured a Cabaret Fantastique, a small theatre with shows from magicians. The Théâtre Optique opened there in 1892 – three years before the Lumière Brothers had perfected the first film camera and demonstrated moving, photographic images in 1895. The Théâtre Optique was open until 1900, when it was superseded by cinema and closed down. Before his death in January 1918, in a fit of depression, he smashed the surviving Théâtre Optique mechanism and threw all but two of his picture bands into the Seine.

Here is a reconstruction of Théâtre Optique by the Museum of Cinema in Girona.

Here is a reconstruction of one of the two surviving Pantomimes Lumineuses that were screened at the Théâtre Optique, Pauvre Pierrot from 1892.