Animation: Art and Industry

Animation: Art and Industry

by Maureen Furniss (Editor)


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Animation—Art and Industry is an introductory reader covering a broad range of animation studies topics, focusing on both American and international contexts. It provides information about key individuals in the fields of both independent and experimental animation, and introduces a variety of topics relevant to the critical study of media—censorship, representations of gender and race, and the relationship between popular culture and fine art. Essays span the silent era to the present, include new media such as web animation and gaming, and address animation made using a variety of techniques.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780861966806
Publisher: John Libbey Publishing
Publication date: 10/05/2009
Pages: 248
Product dimensions: 7.90(w) x 4.70(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Maureen Furniss is founding editor of Animation Journal. She is a professor in the School of Film and Video at the California Institute of the Arts.

Read an Excerpt

Animation: Art & Industry

By Maureen Furniss

John Libbey Publishing Ltd

Copyright © 2012 John Libbey Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-86196-904-3


Fine Art Animation

Cecile Starr [1987]

Fine art animation is the new name of an art that began early in this century, when Furturists, Dadaists and other modern artists were eyeing the motion picture as the medium that could add movement to their paintings and graphic designs. Not long after Winsor McCay made his first animated cartoon, based on his comic strip Little Nemo in 1911, Leopold Survage created sequences of abstract paintings (in Paris) which he called Colored Rhythms, and patented what he considered to be a new art form. Failing to persuade the Gaumont Company to film his work in their primitive new color system, Survage abandoned his invention and spent the rest of his long life as a Cubist painter.

Later, in postwar Berlin, while Max Fleischer was making his first Koko the Clown cartoons in the U.S., three abstract artists named Walter Ruttmann, Hans Richter and Viking Eggeling created their history-making films, Opus I, Rhythm 21 and Diagonal Symphony respectively, thus crossing what Survage had called "the glistening bridge" from still to moving art. Eggeling died soon after his film was completed; Richter and Ruttmann worked in animation for only a few years, then abandoned it for live-action experimental and documentary films. "Pure cinema", as the first abstract animated films were sometimes called, won the respect of other artists but was still almost unknown to the general public.

Despite this unpromising start, major careers were established in the new art form in the 1920s and '30s by Oskar Fischinger, Len Lye, Norman McLaren, Alexander Alexeieff and Claire Parker in Europe, and by Mary Ellen Bute in the United States. They worked on 35mm film, usually sponsored by advertisers or government agencies, and generally they remained outsiders in the world of art, as well as in the world of film. Today there are hundreds of independent artist-animators in this country alone, working in various graphic techniques, in direct animation and collage, in computer and video technologies. What they all have in common, and what distinguishes them from their colleagues in entertainment and advertising, is that they work on their own, or with a small team, rarely seeking or finding popular success. But they are stubborn, patient and inventive, and they know that art is indeed long.

University film schools and art colleges helped create today's large and productive generation of young animation artists, by offering opportunities to learn the manual skills and providing access to new, complex and costly equipment. They also opened the door to women for the first time in the history of American animation, which has led to refreshing new styles and subjects, often reflecting a decidedly feminine point of view. Recent films by female animators include Maureen Selwood's The Rug, selectively colored line drawings, based on an Edna O'Brien short story about an Irish countrywoman's life of disappointments; Joanna Priestley's Voices, humorous self-portraits about fear and uneasiness; Amy Kravitz's River Lethe, near-abstract graphite drawings and rubbings on paper, evoking life beyond consciousness.

Other distinctive animation films I've seen recently are Stan Brakhage's Garden of Earthly Delights, a collage of flowers and grasses placed between pieces of splicing tape, creating a visual parable of the struggle of plants to exist; Dwinell Grant's Dream Fantasies, abstract hand-painted animation with live-action photography of two female nudes, with an electronic score by the artist; Ed Emshwiller's Sunstone, a fantasy landscape that turns into three-dimensional abstractions through various film and video manipulations. Brakhage, Grant and Emshwiller all began working in animation decades ago and can be considered "old masters".

Films by relative newcomers include Robert Ascher's Cycle, frame-by-frame abstract hand-painting on film, with a vocal rendering of an Australian Aborigine myth; Flip Johnson's The Roar From Within, a personal, psychological horror film, painted on paper in dark watercolors; Steven Subotnick's Music Room, geometric computer-generated abstractions, completed as a student's first film; Reynold Weidenaar's Night Flame Ritual, live-camera images digitized and processed in a computer, on the dynamics of ritual.

These films, which run from two to twenty-three minutes long, touch upon literature, psychology, nature, anthropology, and, of course, painting and graphic arts. Each film reflects the unique vision and skills of a single artist, in concept and form, in style and substance. Together they represent the new art which the French poet Guilluame Apollinaire said, back in 1914, had to come. Now it is here, but yet to find a place for itself in the world of film or the world of art.

There are signs of increasing recognition for animation as a fine art in some recent and ongoing undertakings. The American Film Institute gives animation its own special category in the annual Maya Deren avant-garde film awards. The first two winners of the $5,000 bonuses were Sally Cruikshank and Robert Breer; and it is interesting to note that winners in other categories (Ed Emshwiller, Stan Brakhage) also use animation and related techniques in their films.

It is also encouraging that new technologies now offer direct access to the films of animation artists. Already films by Oskar Fischinger, Harry Smith, and John and Faith Hubley have been released on video-cassettes, along with the partly animated classic Ballet mécanique by Fernand Léger and Dudley Murphy. Videodiscs of work by Fischinger, McLaren, Alexeieff and Parker, John Whitney, Charles and Ray Eames and other artists are scheduled for release later this year. Accessibility of this kind can only broaden the film tastes of the public, especially those segments that already respond strongly to the other arts.

With the decline of government grants to artists and art institutions, fine art animators have been seeking and finding recognition for their talents in commercial animation – TV spot advertisements, feature film credits, music videos. Their work may help to change the image of popular animation, as well as help to open doors for their own personal animation as well. Animation may also win recognition through hybridization with other arts. Kathy Rose's animation-and-dance performances, Anita Thacher's sculpture-and-film installations, and Suzan Pitt's animation decor for opera help focus public attention on animation as art, rather than animation as entertainment or sales device.

Full recognition for fine art animation is coming, I am convinced, but it might come sooner if some of us helped it along. We might urge our museums and independent showcases to screen at least one appropriate short film with every feature. This policy would reward filmmakers of all kinds (including animators), expand film curators' outlooks, and introduce audiences to the riches of the many short film genres. Large corporations could be invited to finance short film projects and new creative means of presenting them in public places. Public television stations could be asked to honor the short films they show by calling them by some more respectful name than "fillers".

Festivals and other competitions could provide separate categories for fine art animation, and grants could be given for different kinds of programming of short films for television and film showcases. Film magazines could include regular picture-spread (frames and movie-strips) of animated films, the essence of which rarely can be described in words.

Sooner or later a major museum will present a retrospective exhibition of films and related drawings, paintings and sculpture by the great pioneers of fine art animation. (Such an exhibition was shown in Europe some years back, but not in the United States.) A comprehensive collection of fine art animation on 16mm film could be purchased for as little as $5,000 or $10,000. Museums could use such a collection to familiarize their patrons with a dazzling array of films that are fine art in themselves – rather than show didactic (and frequently dull) films about painters and paintings. (One needn't interfere with the other, as they are entirely different in their functions.)

I can remember my first visits to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City some decades ago, when a small handful of people, gawking and perplexed, could be found staring at the Museum's handful of bewildering Picassos. In contrast, on a recent visit to that enlarged, jam-packed museum, I heard a loud voice call out excitedly to his companions: "Hey look, a whole room of Picassos!" It seems inevitable to me that some day, in some elegant new hi-tech museum, someone will holler out in recognition and affection: "Hey look, a whole room of Fischingers!" – or Len Lyes – or any of the great artist-animators of our century. They are the undiscovered treasures of our time.


Some CriticalPerspectives on Lotte Reiniger

William Moritz [1996]

Lotte Reiniger was born in Berlin on 2 June 1899. As a child, she developed a facility with cutting paper silhouette figures, which had become a folk-art form among German women. As a teenager, she decided to pursue a career as an actress, and enrolled in Max Reinhardt's Drama School. She began to volunteer as an extra for stage performances and movie productions, and during the long waits between scenes and takes, she would cut silhouette portraits of the stars, which she could sell to help pay her tuition. The great actor-director Paul Wegener noticed not only the quality of the silhouettes she made, but also her incredible dexterity in cutting: holding the scissors nearly still in her right hand and moving the paper deftly in swift gestures that uncannily formulated a complex profile.

Wegener hired her to do silhouette titles for his 1916 feature, Rübezahls Hochzeit (Rumpelstilskin's Wedding), and for his 1918 Der Rattenfänger von Hammeln (Pied Piper of Hammeln) she made not only titles but also animated rat models (since the real animals refused to follow the piper). Through Wegener she met Hans Cürlis and Carl Koch of the Institute for Cultural Research, which produced educational films. They helped her make her first independent animation film, Das Ornament des verliebten Herzens (Ornament of the Loving Heart), in the fall of 1919. On the basis of the success of this film, she got commercial work with Julius Pinschewer's advertising film agency, including an exquisite "reverse" silhouette film, Das Geheimnis der Marquise (The Marquise's Secret), in which the elegant white figures of eighteenth-century nobility (urging you to use Nivea skin cream!) seem like cameo or Wedgwood images. These advertising films helped fund four more animated shorts: Amor und das standhafte Liebespaar (Cupid and The Steadfast Lovers, which combined silhouettes with a live actor) in 1920, Hans Christian Andersen's Der fliegende Koffer (The Flying Suitcase) and Der Stern von Bethlehem (The Star of Bethlehem) in 1921, and Aschenputtel (Cinderella) in 1922.

The success of these shorts convinced the banker Louis Hagen to finance the production of a feature-length animated film, Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed (The Adventures of Prince Ahmed), based on stories from The Thousand and One Nights. Production on this feature took three years, 1923 to 1926, with a staff of six: Reiniger; Carl Koch (now her husband); the experimental animators Walter Ruttmann and Berthold Bartosch, who did "special effects;" Walter Türck, who manipulated a second level of glass for animation of backgrounds, etc.; and Alexander Kardan, who kept track of the exposure sheets, storyboard and such technical details. The young theater composer Wolfgang Zeller wrote an elaborate symphonic score for the film, which launched him on a long career as a film composer.

The great success of Prince Ahmed encouraged Reiniger to make a second feature, Doktor Dolittle (based on Hugh Lofting's book1), which premiered in December 1928 with Paul Dessau conducting a musical score that included music by himself, Kurt Weill, Paul Hindemith and Igor Stravinsky.

At Prince Ahmed's French premiere in July 1926, Carl and Lotte met Jean Renoir and became life-long friends, which involved their collaboration on Renoir's features, La Marseillaise, The Grand Illusion and Tosca. Renoir also appeared as a actor in a 1930 live-action feature Lotte co-directed, Die Jagd nach dem Glück (The Pursuit of Happiness), which also starred Berthold Bartosch in a love story set in the milieu of a carnival shadow-puppet theater. This feature, no less than Dr. Dolittle and Prince Ahmed, fell victim to the new fad for talking pictures: shot as a silent film, Pursuit of Happiness was converted into a sound film using the voices of professional actors, but the lip-synch was far from perfect, and though critics praised Reiniger's script, direction and animation, the film could not compete with the sharp, elaborate UFA musical Love Waltzes, with Lilian Harvey, or the impressive Conrad Veidt war film, The Last Company, which opened in the weeks preceding Reiniger's feature.

Reiniger returned to making her silhouette shorts, of which she completed some thirteen before the war, and after the war, living in England, she made some twenty-three more, half in color, most of which were shown on British and American television. In 1970, after the death of her husband, she wrote a definitive book, Shadow Theatres and Shadow Films. She also made additional advertising films, several documentary films, live shadow-theater performances, and gave various workshops before her death on 19 June 1981.


Excerpted from Animation: Art & Industry by Maureen Furniss. Copyright © 2012 John Libbey Publishing Ltd.. Excerpted by permission of John Libbey Publishing Ltd.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: Maureen Furniss
Part I. Global Perspectives
Cecile Starr Fine Art Animation
William Moritz Some Critical Perspectives on Lotte Reiniger
Esther Leslie It's Mickey Mouse
Terence Dobson Norman McLaren: His UNESCO Work in Asia
Patrick Drazen Conventions versus Clichés
Helen McCarthy My Neighbor Totoro
Marian Quigley Glocalisation vs. Globalization: The Work of Nick Park and Peter Lord
Terry Lindvall and Matthew Melton Toward a Postmodern Animated Discourse: Bakhtin, Intertexuality and the Cartoon Carnival
Edwin Carels 1895: Animation, History and the Metafilm
Jørgen Stensland Innocent Play or the Copycat Effect? Computer Game Research and Classification

Part II. Animation in America
John Canemaker Winsor McCay
J.B. Kaufman The Live Wire: Margaret J. Winkler and Animation History
Bill Mikulak Disney and the Art World: The Early Years
John Lewell The Art of Chuck Jones
Charles Solomon The Disney Studio at War
Jules Engel Untitled essay in "The United Productions of America: Reminiscing Thirty Years Later" Edited by William Moritz. ASIFA Canada
Karl Cohen Blacklisted Animators
Michael Frierson Clay Animation and the Early Days of Television: The 'Gumby' series
Bill Hanna and Tom Ito Commercial Breaks
George Griffin Cartoon, Anti-Cartoon
James Lindner; John Lasseter; Tina Price; and Carl Rosendahl Computers, New Technology and Animation
Sean Griffin The Illusion of 'Identity': Gender and Racial Representation in Aladdin
Linda Simensky Selling Bugs Bunny: Warner Bros. and Character Merchandising in the Nineties

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