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John Libbey Publishing
Art in Motion: Animation Aesthetics / Edition 2

Art in Motion: Animation Aesthetics / Edition 2

by Maureen Furniss


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780861966639
Publisher: John Libbey Publishing
Publication date: 02/28/2008
Edition description: Revised Edition
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 8.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.82(d)

About the Author

Maureen Furniss teaches on the animation faculty at California Institute of the Arts. She is the founding editor of Animation Journal.

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Introduction to animation studies

Although Cinema Studies has developed greatly since its general introduction into university programs during the early 1960s, Animation Studies has largely remained on the sidelines – while colleges and universities have offered animation production courses, for many years the study of the form's aesthetics, history and theory was relegated to the status of an elective 'special course' offered only on an occasional basis or not taught at all. In some cases, when animation was acknowledged, it was subsumed under another subject matter, such as avant-garde film. Discussions of James Whitney, Jordan Belson, Stan Brakhage or Pat O'Neill, all of whom used frame-by-frame animation techniques at some point, probably are found primarily in that context.

The denigrated status of Animation Studies in the university is largely due to the belief held in many that animation is not a 'real' art form because it is too popular, too commercialised, or too closely associated with 'fandom' or youth audiences to be taken seriously by scholars. This impression is faulty because there is a wide range of animation that is not commercially – or child – oriented and, in any case, these areas also merit study.

Fortunately, the situation of Animation Studies has improved. A significant factor has been the influence of post-modernism on Media Studies, which has helped legitimise the study of popular forms of entertainment. Also, people are realising that there is an immediate need to document previously marginalised areas, including animation history, which is slipping away quickly. Many artists from the early days have died before their contributions have been adequately recorded; films and cels, many of the early ones on nitrate, are disintegrating; and documentation material, once believed to be of little value by studios, has been discarded or housed unavailable to historians (and often without any organisation) in studio warehouses. For many years, the documentation of animation history largely was carried on by a relatively small and cloistered group of individuals that included serious fans, collectors, and historically minded practitioners. However, some organisations that emerged during the latter 20th century concerned themselves with the preservation of animation history. Among the first was l'Association Internationale du Film d'Animation, generally known as ASIFA (the International Association of Animated Film), which was founded in 1960 and continues to operate on an international level with local chapters in many parts of the world. ASIFA groups have held animation retrospectives and have published a wide array of writing on the topic of animation history. In the late 1960s, the now gigantic organisation SIGGRAPH emerged as a small special interest group from its parent organisation, the Association for Computing Machinery. SIGGRAPH began holding conferences in the mid-1970s and has been responsible for a range of print and online publications; part of its aim has been the recording of computer animation history.

The late 1980s saw increasing concern with the preservation of animation as an art, among both industry professionals and scholars. Walter Lantz was among the first to speak up for the future of animation. With his financial assistance, the American Film Institute hosted two conferences, in 1987 and 1988, and published two anthologies of critical writing on animation.

At about the same time, Harvey Deneroff founded the Society for Animation Studies (SAS) (, which has held annual conferences since 1989. Although SAS members and others began to produce a stream of animation research in the 1980s, for some years it remained difficult to place essays on animation in the majority of media journals, which are geared toward live-action motion pictures. As a result, a lot of animation research languished undeveloped and without proper distribution. To address this problem, Animation Journal (http://www.animation, the first peer-reviewed publication devoted to animation studies, was founded in 1991; the journal publishes history, theory and criticism related to animation in all its forms.

Another sign of growth in the field was the establishment of Women in Animation (WIA) by former Animation Magazine publisher Rita Street in late 1993. This non-profit, professional organisation is dedicated to preserving and fostering both the contributions of women in the field and the art of animation. The organisation of a historical committee was among the first of WIA's activities and an oral history program has begun to document the work of women in the field, which for years has been undervalued. The above list includes only a few milestones in the growth of animation studies, which is more thoroughly documented elsewhere.


One of the concerns that has resurfaced periodically in animation scholarship relates to definition. Before one attempts to understand the aesthetics of 'animation', it is essential to define its parameters: just what is meant by the term?

In 'Animation: Notes on a Definition', Charles Solomon discusses a variety of techniques that he says can be called 'animation'. He finds that 'two factors link these diverse media and their variations, and serve as the basis for a workable definition of animation: (1) the imagery is recorded frame-by-frame and (2) the illusion of motion is created, rather than recorded'. Ultimately, he finds that 'filmmaking has grown so complicated and sophisticated in recent years that simple definitions of techniques may no longer be possible. It may be unreasonable to expect a single word to summarise such diverse methods of creating images on film'.

One of the most famous definitions of animation has come from Norman McLaren, the influential founder of the animation department at the National Film Board of Canada. He once stated:

Animation is not the art of drawings that move but the art of movements that are drawn; What happens between each frame is much more important than what exists on each frame; Animation is therefore the art of manipulating the invisible interstices that lie between the frames.

In this case, McLaren is not defining the practice of animation, but rather its essence, which he suggests is the result of movement created by an artist's rendering of successive images in a somewhat intuitive manner. Although McLaren wrote of 'drawings' in his original definition, he later indicated that he used that word 'for a simple and rhetorical effect; static objects, puppets and human beings can all be animated without drawings ...'.

Both of these individuals has a different interpretation of the term 'animation'. McLaren discusses an inherent aesthetic element (movement – an issue that will be expanded on later in this book), while Solomon attempts to illustrate the borders of the practice, to display the qualifications that allow an object to be discussed as animation. Despite these and other attempts, arriving at a precise definition is extremely difficult, if not impossible. It is probably safe to say that most people think of animation in a more general way, by identifying a variety of techniques such as cel animation, clay animation, stop-motion and so forth.

One way to think about animation is in relation to live-action media. The use of in animate objects and certain frame-by-frame filming techniques suggest 'animation', whereas the appearance of live objects and continuous filming suggest 'live action'. However, there is an immense area in which the two tendencies of overlap, especially when an individual is writing on the subject of aesthetics. Rather than conceiving of the two modes of production as existing in separate spheres, it is more accurate for the analyst to think of them as being on a continuum representing all possible image types under the broad category of 'motion picture production' (Fig. 1.1).

In constructing this continuum, it is probably best to use more neutral terms than 'animation' and 'live action' to constitute the ends of the spectrum. Although the terms 'mimesis' and 'abstraction' are not ideal, they are useful in suggesting opposing tendencies under which live action and animated imagery can be juxtaposed. The term 'mimesis' represents the desire to reproduce natural reality(more like live-action work) while the term 'abstraction' describes the use of pure form – a suggestion of a concept rather than an attempt to explicate it in real life terms (more like animation).

There is no one film that represents the ideal example of 'mimesis' or 'abstraction' – everything is relative. A work that combines live action with animation, such as The Three Caballeros (directed by Norman Ferguson, 1943), would appear somewhere in the middle of this continuum, while a documentary like Sleep (directed by Andy Warhol, 1963), a real-time account of a person sleeping, would be far to the side of mimesis. A live-action film employing a substantial amount of special effects, such as Jurassic Park (directed by Stephen Spielberg, 1993), would appear somewhere between Sleep and The Three Caballeros. On the other hand, a film like Hen Hop (directed by Norman McLaren, 1942), which contains line drawings of hens whose bodies constantly metamorphose and break into parts, would appear on the other side of the spectrum, relatively close to the abstract pole because the film is completely animated and its images are very stylised. Even further toward abstraction would be Kriese (Circles; directed by Oskar Fischinger, 1933), which is composed of circular images that are animated to the film's score. However, the Disney animated feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (directed by David Hand, 1937) has a relatively naturalistic look and employs some characters based on human models, so it would appear on the abstraction side but closer to the mid-point of The Three Caballeros. While it may seem strange to describe Snow White as an example of an 'abstract' work, its characters and landscapes can be described as caricatures, or abstractions of reality, to some extent.

Actually, the placements suggested by this description are somewhat arbitrary. There is no exact spot where any one film should appear and it is completely reasonable that various people might argue for different placements than the ones described here. The point is that the relationship between live action and animation, represented by mimesis and abstraction, is a relative one. They are both tendencies within motion picture production, rather than completely separate practices.

One advantage of this kind of system is that it facilitates discussion of someone like Frank Tashlin, whose work overlaps the realms of both live-action and animation. It has been said that his animated works for Warner Bros., Columbia and Disney during the 1930s and 1940s are strongly influenced by live-action conventions, while the live-action features he directed after his career in animation tend to be very 'cartoony' in nature. One can easily see the crossover in examining one of his characters, Rita Marlow(played by Jayne Mansfield), in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter (1957). With her big hair, large bosom, small waist and exaggerated mannerisms, she is clearly a descendant of the cartoon female 'bombshell' one finds in such films as TexAvery's Red Hot Riding Hood (1943), produced at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer(MGM), with animation by Preston Blair.

The difference between a continuum and a definition is that a continuum works with similarities to position items in relation to one another, while a definition seeks difference, to separate items in some way. Using a continuum, one can discuss a broad range of materials without qualifying the extent to which each example belongs to a precisely defined category called 'animation'. This book employs the continuum approach, drawing examples from across a broad spectrum, incorporating motion pictures that are easily described as animated (e.g. Disney or Warner Bros. cartoons) along with others that are not as commonly discussed under that heading (e.g. some of the work of Stan Brakhage or the animated special effects used to enhance live-action features). Rather than limit its examples according to some defining criteria, this book expands outward from a basic conception of what animation means, under the premise that it is discussing motion pictures on a broader level.


The goal of this book is not only to overview basic concepts of animation aesthetics, but also to encourage subsequent research by its readers. Because it is anticipated that this book will be used in introductory courses on animation aesthetics, a bit of information on basic research techniques will be presented here.

This book strongly advocates a contextual approach to the study of aesthetics. It contends that, to fully understand the aesthetics of a single art work or a group of works, it is necessary to know something about the production context – the historical, economic, social, technological, industrial and other influences upon any work at the time of its making. Consider how the content of animation might be affected due to different political backgrounds; for example, between Germany during World War II and the United States in the 1970s. Consider the way in which the depiction of racial groups might be affected by differences in social attitudes between animation produced in the United States during the 1910s and the 1980s. Consider the way in which the techniques used in an animated work might be affected by the economic situations of an independent, self-funded animator and a director at a large Hollywood studio. These examples employ contrasts that make the influence of production context quite obvious. However, a true analysis of production context takes into account many, many influences upon a given work, some clear and obvious, and others more subtle and elusive.

Understanding production context helps to situate a work as a product of its time, and provides more objectivity in discussing sensitive subjects such as racial representation or sexism that can be viewed as offensive – or dated approaches, such as computer effects that do not match the standards set today. By understanding the many forces that shaped the making of a production, we are able to think about a work within its context and avoid judgements based only on contemporary standards of what is socially correct, technically proficient, beautiful, and so on. This knowledge allows the researcher to consider the production and reception of a work within its time period and also provides perspective on the ways in which things have changed since that time.

In considering production context, it is advisable to extend an analysis to at least the ten years before a production was made, the period during which a context was becoming established. For example, in discussing work of World War II, one should keep in mind the devastating effects of the Depression during the 1930s, for although economic hardships became less evident, they had lasting repercussions on the attitudes and working practices of people during the 1940s.

The methodology described above is one that is primarily historical in nature. Researching history can be difficult because it requires access to information that can be hard to locate. Often, records from the distant past are incomplete, sometimes reflecting the priorities of the individual(s) who preserved them. Reading books on the subject is the most common way that individuals find out about historical information; however, information printed in books typically represents one individual's perspective of the subject at hand, at the time of the book's publication.

Accordingly, researchers should always look at the year in which a publication was released. Sometimes an old book is useful for assessing attitudes held at a certain point in history, but one should be careful about quoting outdated information as if it were true at the present time – people change their opinions, companies go out of business, new technologies are developed, and so on.


Excerpted from "Art in Motion"
by .
Copyright © 1998 John Libbey & Company Limited.
Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction, xi,
1. Introduction to animation studies, 3,
2. Foundations of studio practices, 13,
3. Alternatives in animation production, 29,
4. General concepts: Mise-en-scène, 61,
5. General concepts: Sound and structural design, 83,
6. Classical-era Disney Studio, 107,
7. Full and limited animation, 133,
8. Stop-motion animation, 151,
9. Animation and digital media, 173,
10. Institutional regulators, 199,
11. Animation audiences, 215,
12. Issues of representation, 229,
13. Considering form in abstract animation, 249,
Index, 267,
Plates, 277,

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