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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CFP: Experimental and Expanded Animation

Call for papers: Experimental & Expanded Animation: Current Perspectives & New Directions

Proposals are invited for an interdisciplinary one-day conference with an evening reception, screening and exhibition.

At the University for the Creative Arts, Farnham, Surrey, UK.

Conference date: February 13th, 2019.

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THEME

With their recent volume: Experimental and Expanded Animation: Current Perspectives & New Directions, Hamlyn and Smith aimed to reach further into understandings of what experimental animation is, and has been,  since Robert Russett and Cecile Starr defined it in 1976. This conference aims to further focus our project and to develop findings from the publication through more immediate methods of open dialogue and/or film practice. The prompts listed below have been condensed from themes emerging in the volume. However we welcome proposals that respond to these areas and also those that pursue other lines of enquiry. A range of disciplinary approaches is encouraged and the conference aims to include papers from practitioners, practitioner/scholars and scholars. As well as traditional 20 min papers we encourage alternative methods for sharing ideas and materials through, for example, performed presentations, artistic works, mini-workshops and lightning talks.

PROMPTS

Craft/ materiality

Transparency of process and use of materials has been central to experimental/ materialist film practice and theory. To what extent has the homogenization of media today prompted a rise in more recent craft theory? How do Marxist materialist theories relate to post-human and new materialist discourse and in which ways do these more recent methodologies impact upon our understandings of experimental expanded animation?

Feminism/women in experimental animation

It’s understood that the privacy of animation production conditions facilitates exploration into issues relating to feminism.  Female animators today are translating concerns, such as the domestic, sexuality and the body, into large scale, expanded and performed animation.  Does such work, installed in spaces beyond the gallery/cinema, and in which the female animator is visible on stage, impact upon expression of the female experience, or has this become less crucial to articulate, and how does feminist theory offer insights into this area?

Industry/ independent

Critically reworked commercial animation is occurring today within the purview of experimental film. Outwardly appearing as traditional cartoons, how does this material sit within a field that has tended to emphasise the auteur and has avoided the graphic, the narrative and the popular? 

Inter-disciplinary

Increasingly we see interdisciplinary approaches employed to analyse animation, including for example post-humanist scholarship; aesthetics; phenomenology; feminism and critical theory. To what extent do these methods cast light on animated texts, or do they detract from fundamental questions concerning form and the medium?

Medium/ context

Media including photography, dance, and performance for example have been central to animation since vaudeville, and then through the expanded cinema of the 60s.  How is experimental animation advanced through media ‘impurity’, and to what extent are theories such as inter-mediality, which suggests that individual qualities of distinct media are enhanced through their interlocking, of value?

Perception/reception

Animation that is articulated beyond the single screen could be said to emphasise a perceptual and phenomenological engagement. Flicker for example, is located in the physiology of the viewer, while animated installation demands a mobile spectator.  Both modes of spectatorship are contingent and situated in the present of their apprehension. How is animation in the expanded field continuing to elicit new modes of spectatorship? 

Representation/ technologies 

3D-CG and internet animation has the capacity to invent and manipulate the extant world in myriad ways.  How is CG being used in the context of experimental expanded animated film?

Utopia/ ecology

Gene Youngblood hailed expanded cinema as reflecting a utopian expansion of both consciousness and technology.  Today much experimental expanded animation, made through contracted means of found or old materials, can be regarded as a response to resources made scarce through either forced obsolescence, unsustainable practice and/or as a creative resistance to media acceleration. How does the trend toward a careful ecology of materials impact on experimental animation languages?

SUBMISSION

Please submit an abstract (up to 500 words), 3–5 bibliographical sources, 3-5 keywords as well as a short bio by 15th of November 2018 to:

vsmith9@ucreative.ac.uk

with the subject heading: ‘Experimental Animation Conference’. The selected abstracts for the conference will be announced by late November 2018.

 

Experimental and Expanded Animation

Announcing a new book – Experimental and Expanded Animation: New Practices and Perspectives edited by Nicky Hamlyn and Vicky Smith for Palgrave Macmillan, for which I have written Chapter 13. Siting Animation: The Affect of Place.

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My chapter is concerned with the experience of watching animation that has been created as a spatial experience for viewing in a particular location. Conventionally, animation is viewed from a fixed seat in a stationary position that the viewer stays in for the duration of the viewing experience without significant change in her angle of view of the images on the screen before her and, indeed, animation scholarship frequently refers to the single-screen animated film. This chapter considers non-narrative animation that has been created to be part of an expanded or site-specific experience in which the viewer must visit a particular location and walk around to experience the work. How does the viewing experience of animation differ if the work is installed in three-dimensional space as part of an art exhibition, museum display or visitor attraction rather than from a fixed seating position? Through reference to examples of works by artists Rose Bond, Birgitta Hosea, Pedro Serrazina and Xue Yuwen in which contemporary animations are displayed as an intervention in historic spaces, the affect of site and the impact of the communal viewing context on the embodied perception of an animation are investigated.

For more information about the book: https://www.palgrave.com/gb/book/9783319738727

Expanded Animation in Linz

Expanded Animation V:

Daydreams and Nightmares: Amalgams of Technology and Aesthetics in Animation

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A fascinating symposium on September 8th – 9th 2017 that looks at hybrid technologies and collapsing boundaries in digital animation will take place at the Central Linz in Austria as part of the Ars Electronica Festival.

Organised by Hagenberg Campus of the University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria, the Ars Electronica Festival and Central Linz.

For more details about the event and the speakers: http://www.expandedanimation.com.