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You are currently browsing the MotionArt blog archives for March, 2012.



The Fabric of Animation: Everything is Animated

By Pell Osborn

I learned recently that Terah Maher — designer, animator, teacher and a distant colleague — would speak on “the structural systems inherent in animation…” Disappointed to miss the lecture. But her topic is critical: it spotlights how many metaphors and similes exist to help us appreciate the complexities of creating animation. “Animating is like weaving a tapestry.” “Animating is like wallpapering a house with postage stamps.” “It’s like building a building over and over and over again.” “It’s like eating a mountain with a teaspoon.” “It’s like an elephant being pregnant for nine months and giving birth to a pea.”

The difficulty of making an animation project and the importance of its subject matter are odd partners. Along with all the things that animation does — it brings into existence things that don’t exist, it distorts time and space, it selects a viewer’s path with the highest degree of accuracy possible, it caricatures and skews reality — let us remember its power to make us to look harder and deeper at things. Peter Schejldahl, the New Yorker art critic, observes (in a piece about the Ghent Altarpiece, Nov. 29, 2010, pp. 46-47), “We know now, from brain science, that seeing is not a direct register of what meets our eyes but a fast mental construction that squares sensations with memory and desire: what we believe and wish reality to be.” Animators take advantage of “what we believe and wish reality to be,” as we parse, tighten, abbreviate, and wrangle elements into a scope that’s possible to produce and (one hopes) possible to share. Pooling radiance of motion, compelling and appealing imagery, ideas drawn as irresistible shapes  — all are crowning achievements in the art of animation. And because our brains can absorb and process only so much input at any given time, perhaps it’s the brain itself that’s the ultimate animator — parsing, choosing, modifying, bending and skewing reality for its own needs, for its own psychic survival. In this sense, the brain animates everything and gives context to everything, as it tries to make sense of what it perceives. Terah Maher’s “structural systems inherent in animation” may concern the timelines, pipelines and deadlines involved in producing animation, the arc-of-story form a narrative takes, the Opening/The Body/The Closing of the project’s anatomy. But it’s our brains that are the final conduits and receptors of what animation presents to us. And in this sense, everything’s animated!

Gendji rug, 19th century

detail from Ghent Altarpiece, 15th century

16th century tapestry, Gardner Museum, Boston



Transported by “Hugo” and “The Artist”: History Keeps Happening

By Pell Osborn


from "A Trip to the Moon" by Georges Méliès, as seen in "Hugo"

The expression “History keeps happening” reminds us how frequently we reflect on historical events, whether we mean to use history for our own ends (as in, “what would the Founding Fathers have done about health warnings on cigarette packages?!”) or whether we just wonder, innocently, how things were, back in a certain day. “Hugo” and “The Artist,”  two movies released in 2011 that deal, engagingly, with the early history of motion pictures, remind us of how recent the birth of cinema actually is. The energy that produced cinema’s earliest, highly memorable efforts — “A Trip to the Moon,” the Keystone Cops, the Little Rascals,  “Intolerance,” “Birth of a Nation,” to name a few — still exists, close at hand, at full vitality, if only we can find a strong and effective way to unleash it.  In “Hugo” and “The Artist,” the energy is there, at full vigor: near the end of “Hugo,” when we’re treated to a 3D visual cavalcade of pioneer French filmmaker Georges Méliès’ most eye-popping effects; and throughout “The Artist,” when endlessly inventive actions and reactions among the leading characters (bipedal and quadripedal), with gags building on gags, continually reward our attention.

One wonders about the whole notion of “new media” or “new technologies.” Perhaps the technologies change slightly, but the ancient ability to engage our fellow travelers with a riveting story, insight or reflection is what really compels us, no matter what form it takes.

How wonderful that  “Hugo” and “The Artist” each took home so many Oscar® statuettes on February 26!  These two movies transport us in different ways, but they remind us, again and again, that a story well-woven and engagingly told is the greatest wonder of all.

Why offer such commentary on an animation website? Because animation deals with wonder and surprise, elements which “Hugo” and “The Artist” provide in abundance.