Research 2.1: Exploring Material Precedents

Identify animations that explore materials and use interesting techniques that you find visually engaging.
Document your choices by creating a folder of animations you find interesting on your Vimeo page or list them in your learning log. Choose at least two animations and provide a critique of their method. Try to choose one animation that you think is successful/enjoyable and one that you think is less so.

Compare them in terms of technique and material approach. Some questions to consider when critiquing:
● How do the textures and particular qualities affect the feeling and idea of the animation? How could this be improved?
● How is lighting and movement used in the animation and what is the intended purpose? Does the animator achieve this purpose?
● Could the animations be simpler or is something lacking?
● How is sound used in the animation? Does it heighten elements of the material or is it a distraction? To what extent does the experience and meaning of the animation change when played without sound?

Materials in motion

Oskar Fischinger, Wax Experiments (1921-1926) See Research 2.3 Visual Music

Alice Dunseath, You Could Bathe in this Storm (2014)

I found this animation very beautiful and evocative – eerily disturbing rather than enjoyable because of its enigmatic approach to the apparent subject matter. The info on vimeo by the sound designer says ‘space, form, colours and sounds symbolise a recognisable world ‘Do we shape as much as we are shaped’ suggesting an underlying philosophical intention.

For me – before reading the vimeo caption – the Title suggests an animation about global warming and climate change, and there are obvious symbols of melting icebergs, pink civilisation blistering and drying out and crumbling to dust and heat and lifeless chemistry of minerals and crystals taking over. The colours are beautiful, as are the images at the end of lifeless minerals and crystals growing like trees and coral.

The music and sound effects generally support the dystopian effect. The voice soundtrack is like a meditation Ap, trying to soothe the viewer into an apathetic complacency. Without the sound, the animation has less impact – it is too slow and seems more just like pretty pictures.

But I thought sections were too didactic in the voice over and too long and drawn out. In particular the middle Stop Motion section with the ‘human’ cube and pyramid I and the end section. Possibly I would prefer something shorter, slower and without sound for showing on a large pc screen.

Sophie Clements, How We Fall (2017)

This is a beautiful black and white video animation suggesting contrast between beauty and horror of war and nuclear explosion – like the slow motion film of a nuclear mushroom cloud. But applied to more conventional bombing from modern day wars.

The vimeo description informs us ‘Making reference to the physical structure of the Barbican itself, the film uses cement (the main constituent of concrete) as a symbol of construction and destruction.’ It was created using a circular rig of 96 cameras that capture a moment in time in 360 degrees, using bespoke triggering systems with cameras firing milliseconds apart to give a dynamic and filmic result. The sound by Jo Wills is created solely from audio recorded during the shoot.

I prefer this animation without the sound played on a large pc screen. Then I really notice the beauty of the light and suspended animation particles and apparent huge boulders captured as they fall. I like the fact there is no voice over narration, but the muffled voices make the sound track too much like a mock lunar landing or war video and the sound explosions are unnecessary and distract my attention too much from what I am seeing. I also got a bit dizzy, and would have preferred some variation in the frame speed of rotation to focus in more on specific points in the action.

Restricting the tools:
animation without a camera

Animation without camera, also known as drawn-on-film or direct animation is a
technique where footage is produced by creating the images directly on a film
stock, as opposed to any other form of animation where the images or objects
are photographed, scanned or constructed digitally.

This technique originated with the entry of avant-garde painters into filmmaking,
in the early 1900s. The Italian futurist Arnaldo Ginna made four abstract films
based on chromatic experiments in 1910. Sadly, these short films are no longer
in existence. Seminal animators such as Len Lye and Norman McLaren took up
this technique and developed it.

Artist filmmakers in the 1960s expanded on the idea of animation without
camera and subjected the film stock to increasingly radical methods, up to the point where the film was destroyed in the process of projection. These artists, such as Stan Brakhage worked directly on film in such a way that the outcome was not planned: scratching, painting, cutting and collaging the film stock. For example, in Brakhage’s Garden Path (2001). The technique continues to be used by contemporary artists, such as Bristol based artist Vicky Smith, whose Noisy, Licking, Dribbling and Spitting was made with ‘the mouth alone’.

See Posts:

Len Lye

  • Trade Tattoo (1937):
  • Free Radicals (1958): “Regarded as Lye’s greatest film. He reduced the film medium to its most basic elements – light in darkness – by scratching designs on black film. On screen his scratches were as dramatic as lightning in the night sky. He used a variety of tools ranging from dental tools to an ancient Native American arrow-head, and synchronized the images to traditional African music (“a field tape of the Bagirmi tribe”)…Stan Brakhage described the final version as “an almost unbelievably immense masterpiece (a brief epic).” The Len Lye Foundation on Free Radicals (1958), (2018)

Norman McLaren
Vicky Smith, Stacklip2 (2015)

Move It on Vicky Smith, Noisy, Licking, Dribbling and Spitting (2014): “She used her stained tongue as a tool and stamping pad, the first impression is made 40 frames (1 foot) into the film and then reduced by one frame with each new stamp, accelerating until the marks overlap. Mechanistic control is then rejected in favor of spitting and dribbling as random action, painterly like splats and dense swirling tangles roll along the filmstrip and spill into the audio track, generating noisy rasps and skidding sounds.”