2: Invention, Plasticity and Visual Music

This unit evaluates some of the principles and conventions of animation and explores methods and approaches for using them selectively in my animations to balance ‘happy accidents’ with control and readability in the creative process.

Project 1:
Elements of animation: materials and sound

Material Exploration

Animation allows for more freedom than other media in the physical manipulation and the direct and indirect moulding of a plastic medium. Animators can work directly not only with a stable or ‘permanent’ material or medium, but also transient materials.

Working with materials allows for the discovery of particular temporal qualities of a particular physical materials, such as the way a material absorbs or repels another or how a material can be spread, gathered, dispersed or evaporated and the way they respond to external forces over time such as pressure, heat or gravity.

Research 2.1: Researching Material Precedents

Sound and animation

“Synchronization of the visual-audible does not necessarily mean one to one correspondence. Different components can be correlated through all the infinite variety of their different powers and different modifications of the same powers.”

Joseph Schillinger, Excerpts from a Theory of Synchronization, in Experimental Cinema, no. 5

Research 2.2 Debate on the use and misuse of sound in animation

The combination of sound and image can greatly emphasize particular aspects of your animation, particularly the haptic (tactile, synthetic) nature of the materials used. The way you approach decisions regarding the synchronisation of sound is a particularly important consideration in animation. Starting with a rough animatic an ‘animation sketch’ combining images representing the main elements in a sequence together with scratch track audio helps plan the animation process in advance. They are easy to edit and move around and animators often update their animatic several times, gradually adding animated clips and sequences so that they can get an overview of the animation as a whole.

Lip Sync

This project challenges current trends towards complete automation of speech animation and looks at how lip sync principles can be applied to Stop Motion manipulation of physical materials. I built on the Stop Motion work with Peppers from Project 2.6 In the Kitchen and experimentation with materials from Project 2.1 Material Research.

Project 2:
Non-narrative structures

“The only true animation’ is abstract animation because it is within this realm that the genuine potential of animation can be realised.”

William Moritz in John Canemaker, Storytelling in Animation: The Art of the Animated Image. Volume2. Ed.. (1988) Los Angeles: American Film Institute

The highly constructed nature of the animation process enables a complete release from representational forms. It inevitably involves a de-contextualization of time, image and motion that tend towards abstraction, making it quite removed from actuality because:

  • it is impossible to fabricate every detail of image and domain in animated form (although contemporary 3D simulations are coming close).
  • in the process of their construction, all elements invariably become simplified, distorted and removed from context in form and/or movement.

Visual Music

Early 20th Century abstract animation developed the core elements of all animation, namely the dynamic manipulation of immaterial forms, the transformation of shapes over time and the play of light and colour. It was also a key development in the linkage of image and sound. A concern that affects the production of all non-silent animated work.

“All of a sudden it hit me – if there was such a thing as composing music, there could be such a thing as composing motion. After all, there are melodic figures, why can’t there be figures of motion?”

Len Lye, enthralled with the fast, scurrying motion of clouds after a rain storm. Roger Horrocks and Wystan Curnow eds. Figures of Motion (1984) Auckland University Press, Oxford University Press.

Research 2.3 Visual Music

Movement observed, ‘captured’ and distorted

The history of commercial animation has predominantly been one highly dependent upon reflecting the real world. The studio system that arose alongside abstract animation, was focused on the production of commercial cartoons for entertainment and, therefore, profit. The dominant trend for animation was built on the copying of film footage with a highly representational approach. The decomposition and re-composition of real movements recorded by the camera became an integral part of Disney’s animation-making process, along with other studios at the time.

Current motion- capture software and technology often rely on placing points on an actor or subject, then reading the motion by a series of sensors or cameras. Other types of motion capture (mocap systems) ‘directly measure joint angles of rods and potentiometers’ which provide a recording of movement abstracted from the original form.

However these techniques if followed too closely severely limit the possibilities of animation. It is not possible to transcribe the whole of the real world in an image. Choices must be made, things must be left out and short-cuts taken. The questions of what to leave out and what short-cuts to take are the key creative decisions in animation. The distortion, simplification and amplification of movement are where animation really gets exciting. Two basic principles of animation are: instability of line and exaggeration.

E2.6: Distorted and Exaggerated GIFs

Methods of animating: Direct and Pose to Pose

The ‘direct method’ of animation starts by drawing, sculpting or photographing the first frame of your animation and then proceeding to capture each subsequent frame, building up the movement sequentially. This open-ended approach can be, as Stan Brakhage would approve, ‘an adventure’, allowing for allows for surprises, mistakes and wrong turns.

‘Pose to pose’ animation was devised as a more controllable method of animating to ensure that the animated process can be planned for ahead of making; easily revised; and split up into a division of labour in commercial production. A further benefit from working with pose to pose, particularly in the case of hand or computer drawn animation, is the ability to make continual changes to the movement itself. You can return to a sequence and insert or replace frames (a very jerky leap up and down could become a slow glide into the air and a sudden crash downwards simply adding more frames into the upward movement and taking away a few frames towards the end of the movement).

Research 2.4 Bouncing Balls

E2.7-2.9 Pose to Pose animation
The Red Ball. One of a series of Bouncing Ball experiments.

Project 3:
Inventive Techniques and rhythms of making

“You have to have room for accidents. With Fantastic Mr Fox, I was kind of wondering, where’s the room for accidents going to come in? Every animator brings their own perspective, and the same accidents happen on the stop-motion set [as with film making sets]. They just happen very slowly [laughs].”

Wes Anderson, cited in Michael Spectre, The Making of Fantastic Mr Fox (2009). New York: Rizzoli International Publications.

‘Having room for accidents’, this is often difficult with animation, as there are particularly strict rules that enable a sequence of images to be readable as an animation at all. Partly in order to find the energy to push a project forward, artist animators have sought out process driven practices, particularly those that rely on particular rhythms of making.

Process driven practice: Serial art and setting rules

Serial art has its roots in conceptualism and minimalism and gained popularity in America and Europe in the 1960s as a way for artists to create art without resorting to personal expression. (In the 1960s artists began to challenge the assumption that their role was to create special kinds of unique art object, in an attempt to bypass the increasing commodification of the art world).”

Art Term- Serial Arts. tate.org.uk

In this project I experiment with animated distortion effects and layer blending modes in TVPaint, building on the abstract colour experiments of Joseph Albers.

Animation and choreography

There is a strong relationship of mutual influence between cinema and dance. Many artists have worked with experimental photography and video, focusing on dance movements, shadows and reflections.

In this project I start to look at ways of digitally representing movement and traces of movement using animated walk cycles in TVPaint, building on my earlier experimentation with distortion effects and layer blending.

This is linked to ongoing detailed study of walk cycles and stop motion line animation by William Kentridge and sand animation for VisCom4Dev Visual Research module.

Assignment Two:
Seasonal Synaesthesia: Summer 2020