Contemporary Animation: Inspiration Bricolage

What is animation? distinctive qualities

Animation is a form of visual storytelling involving sequential images played sequentially over time. Animation can take many forms in different media including eg line drawing, shapes, photography and video. Each of these can be manipulated in different ways to give varying degrees of ‘objective’ or ‘imagined’ representation of ideas.

Animation is inevitably a process of abstraction. It is not possible for the human eye and brain to follow infinite details in moving images. Even in video, motion blur between frames. a process and the malleability of time is its primary material. It is not the image, drawing or shape of each frame that matters in animation, rather it is the difference between the frames that generates the illusion of movement in animation.

It is the animator’s ability to control and play with these intervals between frames that matters. It is important to think in terms of intervals, rates of change and flux, rather than thinking in terms of still images or compositions.

The ways in which these principles of animated movement are applied varies depending on the types and style of animation in question.

As an independent animator without access to a big budget of studio of collaborators, I was also looking for approaches that communicate powerfully, but have a manageable workflow. Disney-style animation takes a lot of time and skill to do well – a 1 minute video at standard 24 frames per second needs 1,440 drawings, maintaining consistency as well as dynamic movement between frames. Animated feature films take years with a large workforce of animators and sound designers. Done badly even the most serious issues can make an audience crease up with laughter.

I was therefore interested to explore more manageable animation approaches that were suitable for my primary sources – ie drawings, photos, video from the community workshops and other contextually-relevant found sources. And approaches that were RSI-friendly in mixing digital and physical media.

What is animation? definitions

1590s, “action of imparting life” (a sense now obsolete), from Latin animationem (nominative animatio) “an animating,” noun of action from past-participle stem of animare “give breath to,” also “to endow with a particular spirit, to give courage to, enliven,” from anima “life, breath” (from PIE root *ane- “to breathe”). Meaning “vitality, appearance of activity or life” is from 1610s (the sense in suspended animation). Cinematographic sense, “production of moving cartoon pictures” is from 1912.

Animation is the capturing of sequential, static images—drawings or photos of inanimate objects—and playing them in rapid succession to mimic real world motionMatt Ellis blog

“What happens between each frame is much more important than what exists on each frame” Norman McLaren, Computer Animation

Contemporary Animation Inspiration Bricolage

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Inspiration selection

A key aim of my research was to find:

  • Visual animation strategies that do not rely on dialogue or text that can communicate globally across language and educational barriers.
  • Examples of independent animators with a workflow that might be manageable for me, even with RSI.

Beyond those requirements I initially took a very eclectic ‘bricolage’ approach, following up on multiple on-line search chains, motivated by the fact that the most inspiring and relevant examples were often found unexpectedly. I was also interested not only in frame by frame animation, but expressive drawing and framing, editing and narrative strategies used in film and Stop Motion animation to guide the viewer’s eye, create suspense and arouse different emotions, particularly around sexual violence relevant to my community drawings.

This broad approach then provided a very interesting pool of inspiration from which I could select specific animations or animators whose approaches and techniques I could examine in much more detail and apply in my own experiments.

I selected 15 key contemporary animators, particularly those producing documentary animation and/or strong narrative with no or minimum dialogie, across different approaches in physical and digital media.

15 Contemporary animators

Catherine Anyango Grunewald evocative physical media on social and political issues. UK.

Terry Gilliam political/satirical collage stop motion with some dialogue, but mostly comic sound effects. UK.

Yoni Goodman Israeli documentary animation combining digital 2D, rotoscoping and video. Israel.

Jonathon Hodgson US animator using digital FbF drawn animation and rotoscoping, some without words.

Andreas Hykade evocative minimalist vector animation. Germany.

William Kentridge charcoal stop motion animation on political issues. South Africa.

Ryan Larkin hand drawn animation, generally in watercolour, including social issues like homelessness. Canada.

David Lynch minimalist line animation on satirical political issues. Sometimes with dialogue, but also with sound effects. US.

Gottfried Mentor focus on narrative and tragi-comedy. 3D CGI without dialogue, using animal allegories to tell social stories. Germany.

Peter Millard hand drawn animation, sometimes minimalist, sometimes bright colour. UK.

Ng’endo Mukii political animation in multiple media: drawing, paionting, rotoscoping, video. Kenya.

Yuri Norstein evocative puppet stop motion. Russian.

Zbigniew Rybczynski video using different narrative approaches. Polish.

Genndy Tartakovsky Digital 2D animation with very bold action narratives and use of colour, shape and action animation. US/Russian.

Gianluigi Toccafondo Handdrawn rotoscoping using oil and smeary effects, also incorporating collage. Suggestied rather than clear narrative. Italy.