Sunday, December 13, 2009

"The Cameraman's Revenge", Ladislaw Starewicz, (1912)

Animation is a medium often chosen by artists with wide-ranging interests, as exemplified by the Russian-born Ladislaw Starewich. His fascination for entomology led him to experiment with the stop-motion technique, as recounted in this anecdote:

"In the mating season, beetles fight. Their jaws remind one of deer's horns. I wished to film them but since their fighting is nocturnal, the light I used would freeze them into total immobility. By using embalmed beetles, I reconstructed the different phases of that fight, frame by frame, with progressive changes, more than five hundred frames for thirty seconds of projection. The result surpassed my hopes: 1910 -Lucanus Cervus - the first three-dimensional animated film" (Starewich, L., in Bendazzi,G.,"Cartoons", 1995)

The result surpassed audiences' expectations also, and their response so encouraged Starewich he went on to spend a lifetime making stop-motion films. In his early work he continued to use insect bodies as puppets, lending a macabre aura to the films. A move to France brought more conventional puppet-making techniques into his repertoire, and the films appear more lyrical as a result.


Bendazzi,G.,"Cartoons, One Hundred Years of Cinema Animation", John Libbey and Co, 1995)

Animation World Network - Entomology and Animation: A Portrait of An Early Master Ladislaw Starewicz (retrieved 14.12.09)

Wikipedia - Ladislas Starevich (retrieved 14.12.09)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

"Balance", Christoph and Wolfgang Lauenstein (1989)

"allegory (n.) - the representation of abstract ideas or principles by characters, figures, or events in narrative, dramatic, or pictorial form."

While many animated films can be read at an allegorical level to some extent, "Balance" conveys it's "abstract ideas" with particular clarity. By removing traditional film-making artifices (character, setting, dialogue etc.), we are shown a portrait of the delicate balance between greed and fear that characterises human economic activity.

The film was made by the Lauenstein twins whilst enrolled at the School of Fine Arts in Hamburg, Germany. It won them the Academy Award for Short Animation in 1989


Answers -
(retrieved 23.10.09)

Wikipedia - Balance_(film) (retrieved 23.10.09)

Wikipedia - Wolfgang_Lauenstein (retrieved 23.10.09)

Monday, October 12, 2009

"Totoro" , Hayao Miyazaki (1988)

I've posted this scene from Totoro to demonstrate the Japanese design concept of "ma" as it applies to animation timing. "Ma" roughly translates into English as "gap", "space", "pause", or "the space between structural parts".

One of the most memorable qualities of this sequence is it's slow pace - long holds, lengthy pauses between actions, and shots in which nothing appears to happen. The pace can seem awkward or primitive to Western audiences accustomed to more continuous action and rapid editing. However, the timing is deliberate, building a mood of quiet eeriness which anticipates the entry of the mythical Totoro. The spaces between the actions artfully convey as much meaning as the actions themselves.

"Totoro" was written and directed by the prolific Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki, with art direction by Kazuo Oga, and produced at Studio Ghibli. It was made using traditional cel animation over lush watercolour backgrounds. The feature has understandably become an enduring favourite within Japan and without.


Wikipedia -
My Neighbour Totoro
(retrieved 14.10.09)

Wikipedia - Ma (negative space) (retrieved 14.10.09)

Things Asian - Aesthetics in Japanese Arts (retrieved 25.09.09)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

"Dots", Norman McLaren (1940)

"Animation is not the art of drawings that move but the art of movements that are drawn".

McLaren's aphorism is neatly illustrated by his short film "Dots". The individual frames of the work communicate very little, but seen in quick succession they form a series of lively, playful movements set to music. By releasing himself from the need to draw a character or object, he was able to create a charicature of motion itself.

laren was an experimental film-maker at his most prolific in the 30's, 40's and 50's. His work for the GPO Film Unit (UK), National Film Board of Canada (NFB), and UNESCO, has earned him the reputation as one of the most influential animators of the last century. He worked with a wide variety of techniques including painting, drawing, pixellation, stop-motion, optical printing, and multiple exposures. His pixellated anti-war parable Neighbours (1952) won him the Best Documentary, Short Subjects at the 1953 Academy Awards.

"Dots" was made by painting directly onto clear frames of film, as pictured in the frame enlargements below. Interestingly, the music was created in the same way, painting directly into the area on the film strip usually reserved for the soundtrack. The film was created at the request of the Museum of Non-Objective Painting, later the Guggenheim, in New York.

(Frame enlargements from "Dots")


Paul Wells -
Animation: Alternative Methods
(retrieved 25.09.09)

Bill Schaffer - The Riddle of the Chicken: The Work of Norman McLaren (retrieved 25.09.09)

Robert Koehler - Some Aspects of Norman McLaren (retrieved 25.09.09)

BBC Radio - Dots and Loops (retrieved 03.10.09)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

"Le Moine et le Poisson", Michel Dudok de Whit (1994)

I've included "The Monk and the Fish" this week mainly for it's finely crafted composition - in editing, animation timing and layout. Even if you're not interested in the film's allegorical dimensions, it's simply a joy to watch.

"The Monk and the Fish" was produced at Folimage Studios in France. The studio runs an annual artist in residence programme to allow the creation of such one-off, non-commercial projects. De Whit collaborated with composer Serge Besset to create the score, based on a piece by early baroque composer Corelli. The film was made using traditional hand-painted cels and watercolour backgrounds, was nominated for an Oscar at the 67th Academy Awards, and won the Best Short Animation at the 48th BAFTA Awards.


Monday, July 27, 2009

Ryan Larkin's "Walking" (1968)

One of my first exposures to animated film-making as an art form was viewing this film as a 16mm projection in the early 90's. I was impressed by the film's glowing palette, fluid motion, and stream-of-consciousness narrative mode. The idea that animation could be made as an expression of a feeling, or a world view, or even just as an eye-pleasing experience came as a revelation to me at the time.

"Walking" was made by Ryan Larkin at the National Film Board of Canada in 1968, a government agency charged with fostering Canadian screen culture. Part of the Board's charter is to "explore the creative potential of the audio-visual media", a brief which has encouraged the development of experimental animation films.

Having recently graduated from art school, the young Larkin found work at the Film Board. In addition to working on the studio's regular slate of training films and documentaries, Larkin was encouraged to experiment with animation techniques, bringing his artwork to life under the camera.

Larkin says of his process:"I was developing my Oriental brush work with water colours and human figures and the way that anatomy works, expressions of human behaviour, how funny people look sometimes when they're trying to impress each other with certain movements. I had mirrors in my little office and I would go through certain motions with my own body."

"Walking" was Larkin's third project for the Board, following "Cityscape" and "Syrinx". The film earned Larkin critical praise, success at various film festivals, and an Academy Award nomination. Larkin went on to make 'Street Musique" and "Ding Bat Rap" before leaving the studios in 1975. His life and work have been the subject of numerous documentaries and articles, including Chris Landreth's "Ryan".

"Ryan Larkin and the Addictive Nature of illusions", Chris Robinson, Take One magazine, September 01, 2004