Cartoonsboth from the classic Hollywood era and from more contemporary feature films and television seriesoffer a rich field for detailed investigation and analysis. Contributors draw on theories and methodology from film, television, and media studies, art history and criticism, and feminism and gender studies.
About the Author
Jane Pilling, freelance film programmer, journalist, and translator, also writes and teaches on film and animation, currently at the Royal College of Art in London. She recently made a six-part television series on European animation for UK television.
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A Reader in Animation Studies
By Jayne Pilling
John Libbey Publishing LtdCopyright © 2011 John Libbey Publishing Ltd
All rights reserved.
What is animation and who needs to know?
An essay on definitions
Philip Kelly Denslow
There are many definitions of animation. The most obvious source of one, the Webster dictionary, says animation is:
a: a motion picture made by photographing successive positions of inanimate objects (as puppets or mechanical parts), b: Animated Cartoon, a motion picture made from a series of drawings simulating motion by means of slight progressive changes.
This is a fairly common understanding of the term animation, but it reflects a limited exposure to what the artform has to offer. Whether one agrees with it or not, the Webster definition is useful because one can learn something about who is doing the defining. In this case, the folks at G. & C. Merriam should be encouraged to attend an animation festival.
In the international animation community, many definitions have become established by various organisations and entities. We scholars, teachers and filmmakers would probably not be able to agree on a precise definition, but we would be able to compile a nice list of them. Definitions of animation vary from one another for many reasons, including historical development, production and marketing requirements, and aesthetic preferences.
The reason we are examining this issue is that no matter what definition you chose, it faces challenges from new developments in the technology used to produce and distribute animation. Is virtual reality a form of animation? Does computer-generated lifeform simulation qualify? What about the computerised recording of a mime's movements that are later attached to a character which is rendered a frame at a time? Do digital post-production techniques allowing for undetectable compositing and manipulation of live action scenes reduce the shooting of actors onto film to merely an image acquisition phase of the overall production? Is that production then in reality an animated film? Even a narrow definition of animation that excludes all but classic Disney character animation, and the consequent deification of gallery art from those films, is threatened by the computerised ink-and-paint process with its 'created cels' for the collector. All definitions of animation have to be re-thought in the context of changing technology.
The Association of International Film Animation (ASIFA) uses a definition that might be summed up as 'not live action'. This definition allows as many members as possible of the diverse international community of professionals, independents, amateurs, and audiences toparticipate. The purposeoforganisationslikeASIFA is to gain membership so as to sponsor activity. The more the merrier, as long as the identity of the group, the 'not live action' makers and fans, is not threatened. This bodes well for ASIFA's ability to absorb people interested in new technology, but the ASIFA sponsored festivals, like Annecy, will need to open new categories of competition if full inclusion is desired. ASIFA's name – the Association of International Film Animation (to crudely translate the French) – includes the technological restriction of the word film, which is becoming increasingly anachronisticas electronic and digital media replace chemical-based forms of production and distribution. For the audience, ASIFA's definition of animation is also becoming less useful as compositing techniques continue to improve, leaving less and less a margin of separation between the live action and the not-live action parts of a production.
Hollywood, or 'the industry' (by which I mean production companies that produce theatrical and television material in a factory-like method) has to define an animator by function. Union contracts, command hierarchy, and end-title credits all determine whether or not a worker is performing a task that is defined as animation. But when is an animator not an animator? The studio that produced the first seasons of The Simpsons television series declined to use the job title Animator as part of the process, preferring the term Character Layout for a worker that drew the key poses of a scene. Perhaps this was done to discourage ideas of grandeur and improved wages. The marketing of a studio's services can also influence the naming of that service. Computer-animation studios use the term Technical Director for the person who actually creates the animation on the computer system. Separating such people from the traditional studio animator because of the tools they use serves to highlight the uniqueness of the process for the benefit of clients, and could be a carry-over from the days when the systems used were too crude to create what could be marketed as animation. Most of these Technical Directors still think of themselves as animators, however.
Special Effects, a blurrily defined area of activity within a live action production, can include many methods that resemble animation in every way but by title. A feature film producer might feel more comfortable purchasing something with the name of special effects, which still sounds like filmmaking and whose name is not associated with cute forest creatures, as in animation. Nonetheless, such films as Terminator 2 and Death Becomes Her are very much like Tom and Jerry cartoons, where animation is used to show a character being brutally clobbered and deformed, followed by the resumption of a normal appearance. In Hollywood, marketing or thinking about a film as animation automatically throws it into the sphere of influence of the Walt Disney Company. Disney, and now perhaps Turner's cartoon channel on cable, control how most audiences define animation. It is this perceived definition of audiences that studios gravitate toward or avoid when they choose whether or not to use the word animation to describe their product. In a happy merchandising frenzy, Disney markets collectible artwork from its current co-production with Pixar, a completely animated feature. Obviously Disney and now Turner have a vested interest in controlling the public's ideas about what animation is and who the public should look to as a source of it.
Academia uses definitions such as 'created performance', which are carefully worded to establish validity and secure resources for an animation program or class. These definitions function within an environment where animation is often an element that helps to flesh out a school's curriculum. If the animation faculty let their guard down and animation's definition as Film Art is diminished to the status of Cartoons in the minds of the other more numerous funds-hungry faculties, a program can gradually disappear through reallocation and reorganisation. Although academia has some need to maintain a stable definition of animation, this definition is usually adjusted to include anything on the technological horizon, other than that which might step on the toes of other curricular programs. The inclusion of advances in new technology within the purview of animation impresses departmental administrations. But, other areas of a school might also want to carry the new technology banner, leading to intense competition. Such hybrid courses as 'Digital Arts' or 'Multi Media' can sap resources that otherwise could have gone to support an animation program. Since donations are often the only way new equipment can be made available to students, it can be crucial for an animation program to publicise itself as the best repository for forward-thinking corporate support.
When considering the impact of new technology on our ideas about animation, it might be instructive to reflect on the changes already brought about by the use of electronic media in distribution. Over the last 40 years, animation has become a television mainstay, with studios gradually changing over to producing material primarily for home viewing – Disney being the most recent with their afternoon packages for syndication and the distribution of past works on videotape. Cartoons changed from adult theatrical throw-aways, requiring the constant generation of new product, to children's home toys requiring only a new generations of viewers. The placement of a somewhat permanent collection of animated videos in most households could tend to steer the development of innovative methods of production into ways of replicating those collections, spurred on by the economic advantages of having consumers buying everything all over again, with minimal cost to the producer. Witness the transition from analog to digital in the audio-recording market. Aesthetic innovation might be viewed by consumers and producers with suspicion, as it could be seen as posing a threat to the prior investment in products. This implies an ideology of tradition and a more rigid code of what passes for entertainment. Or, everyone will perhaps get sick of seeing over and over again the Disney (to pick on them again) catalogue, and there will be a great demand for something else.
Technology does hold out hope for independent artists to gain access to sophisticated tools as computers and digital reproduction become more and more economical. Visions of small-scale investment leading to large-scale access to markets using telecommunication networks, the aesthetic possibilities of replication and manipulation of existing or created material in the digital realm, and the popularisation of an animator's personal vision are all parts of an optimistic scenario. Although digital imagery is leading us to a preoccupation with the realistic representation of ideas, at the same time these images are less fixed and more malleable than ever before. The ability to edit, combine and reproduce animation or live action in undetectable ways not only blurs any distinctions between those elements, but also changes what value we can attach to it. The trade-off for cheap digital access to an audience via a Web page on the Internet, for example, is the difficulty in controlling ownership and collecting revenue. If there is no discernible difference between an original and a copy, even one many generations away from the first, can we still maintain our current ideas about copyright, royalties and artistic originality?
Is the determining factor for something to be considered animation the actual existence of separate frames? If a computer is dealing with separate images internally, but to the artist or viewer these frames are always seen as part of constant motion, can this still be animation? If it is easy to create quickly, will it be considered animation, or something else, such as electronic puppetry? Another determining factor is often the time needed to create it. How many animated films are touted as the product of many years of dedicated labour? Animators, and those who study animation, are usually fascinated with the processes involved. The definitions of animation usually incorporate someconsideration of those processes. Those who make and study animation, whether it be traditional or computer based, are drawn to its requirements for obsessive, repetitive and socially isolated behavior. To turn to the Webster again, compulsion is defined as 'an irresistible impulse to perform an irrational act'. This could also serve as a definition of animation, for what is animation if not the desire to make real that which exists in the imagination?
In my own recent work, I have been experimenting with the idea of removing myself as much as possible from the creation of the animation. My goal is to see what happens when I allow a computer that has been configured as a filmmaking machine to make decisions regarding image, time and motion. Motivated by a combination of laziness and curiosity, my initial tests have been encouraging, because I enjoy watching the resulting animation. I bring this up here because I am also curious as to whether this animation is really animation or is it something else? My dilemma over the definition has to do with the concept at the heart of animation, that of bringing something to life. If a non-living thing creates something, is it brought to life? Did creation take place? If I set up a situation that allows this to happen, did I also then really create the film? How much credit do the developers of the hardware and software used by me deserve? Although I did put myself into the role of machine operator, since I had no idea beforehand how the animation would look or move, I hesitate to take too much credit.
With the future digitalisation of all media, all forms of production will perhaps be as much animation as anything else. The makers and studiers of live action film will face similar definitional dilemmas. On page nine of the catalogue titled Motion Pictures from the Library of Congress Paper Print Collection 1894–1912 by Kemp R. Niver, UC Press, 1967, within the category of comedy, there is a short description of the film Animated Picture Studio, 1903, which notes: 'Before motion pictures got the name as such, they were called "animated" pictures.' We might realise this condition again.CHAPTER 2
'Reality' effects in computer animation
Giotto, the inventor of 3D
This is how Frederick Hartt, the author of a widely used textbook Art. A History of Painting, Sculpture, Architecture describes the importance of Giotto di Bondone, 'the first giant in the long history of Italian painting': In contemporary Italian eyes the step from Cimabue to Giotto was immense in that weight and mass, light and inward extension were suddenly introduced in a direct and convincing manner.
Giotto's miracle lay in being able to produce for the first time on a flat surface three-dimensional forms, which the French could achieve only in sculpture. For the first time since antiquity a painter has truly conquered solid form.
When the students in an introductory art history survey course that uses Hartt's textbook were asked to compare Giotto and Cimabue, they described Giotto's achievements in a somewhat different language: 'Giotto first achieves strong 3D effect'; 'Cimabue is still 2D, while Giotto has much more of 3D'. I believe that they were referring to three-dimensional computer graphics imagery. For them it had already become the yardstick by which the realism of any visual representation is to be measured.
Excerpted from A Reader in Animation Studies by Jayne Pilling. Copyright © 2011 John Libbey Publishing Ltd. Excerpted by permission of John Libbey Publishing Ltd.
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Table of Contents
The Society for Animation Studies: A brief history by Harvey Deneroff
Introduction by Jayne Pilling
1. What is animation and who needs to know? An essay on definitions by Philip Kelley Denslow
2. ‘Reality’ effects in computer animation by Lev Manovich
3. Second-order realism and post-modern aesthetics in computer animation by Andy Darley
4. The Quay brothers’ The Epic of Gilgamesh and the ‘metaphysics of obscenity’ by Steve Weiner
5. Narrative strategies for resistance and protest in Eastern European animation by William Moritz
6. Putting themselves in the pictures: Images of women in the work of Joanna Quinn, Candy Guard and Alison de Vere by Sandra Law
7. An analysis of Susan Pitt’s Asparagus and Joanna Priestley’s All My Relations by Sharon Couzin
8. Clay animation comes out of the inkwell: The Fleischer brothers and clay animation by Michael Frierson
9. Bartosch’s The Idea by William Moritz
10. Norman McLaren and Jules Engel: Post-Modernists by William Moritz
11. Disney, Warner Bros. and Japanese animation by Luca Raffaelli
12. The theif of Buena Vista: Disney’s Aladdin and Orientalism by Leslie Felperin
13. Animatophilia, cultural production and corporate interests: The case of Ren & Stimpy by Mark Langer
14. Francis Bacon and Walt Disney revisited by Simon Pummell
15. Body consciousness in the films of Jan Svankmajer by Paul Wells
16. Eisenstein and Stokes on Disney: Film animation and omnipotence by Michael O’Pray
17. Towards a post-modern animated discourse: Bakhtin, intertextuality and the cartoon carnival by Terrance R. Lindvall and J. Matthew Melton
18. Restoring the aesthetics of early abstract films by William Moritz
19. Risistance and subversion in animated films of the Nazi era: The case of Hans Fischerkoesen by William Moritz
20. European influences on early Disney feature films by Robin Allan
21. Norm Verguson and the Latin American films of Walt Disney by J. B. Kaufmann