Animation: Animators’ hands & the renaissance of analog techniques

The animation production and consumption communities have been steadily conditioned to ultra-slick, glistening, epic-budget animation, produced by the likes of Pixar, Disney, Dreamworks, Aardman and the other major studios over the past 25 years. It is important for animators as artists and craftsman in their formative years not to get hung up on emulating these ‘big box’ aesthetics. Afterall, the key to effective animation is mastering the illusion of movement, and that can be achieved without ever turning on a PC. There are countless opportunities to explore analog techniques and hybrid methods awaiting the curious animator. In fostering resourcefulness in animation (rather than resource dependency) and daring to create new styles or revive lost methods there is an exciting frontier ahead of us.

Studio animation has always been eager to hide the hands of the magician (read ‘animator’) with only a few exceptions. Animation legend Chuck Jones’ classic Warner Brothers cartoon from 1953 ‘Duck Amuck’ is a popular example of breaking the format’s conventions. In this rightly lauded short, Daffy Duck gets tangled up in a fierce argument with the animator as to where, what and why he exists. The page, the animators tools, and the true ‘God’ of the animated cartoon is revealed, with comical and extremely memorable results.

The British claymation series Morph produced back the 1970’s also combined the animator with his clay puppets in Morph’s world, without compromising on the performances of the claymation characters. Morph would often turn to his animator for advice when things weren’t working out for him, and the line between worlds of imagination and reality were beautifully blurred. In embracing the animator and his or her hands, a distinctive look and feel can be created, leading once again to much more memorable experience for the viewer.

The internet has afforded us the opportunity to share and enjoy a resurgence of alternative animation techniques, if not yet embraced by mainstream broadcasters, production houses and ‘old world’ markets’. I stumbled upon this video today, which shows a playful combination of physical and drawn animation technique. Have a think about which animated films and cartoons have stuck with you and why- if you’re anything like me it’ll be the animators who took risks and broke new ground that left a lasting impact.

Dan Monceaux

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