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.
I often remind myself that mankind’s seat of power on this planet is something of an illusion. At sea we are reminded that we are no longer at the top of the food chain by wonderful creatures like the Great White Shark, while on land, tectonic movements and geothermal explosions take that sense of humble perspective to a whole ‘nother level. I see events like the ongoing eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland as great calls for us to ponder how insignificant we really are, and remind us all that we are not as well insulated from disaster as we think.
Thanks to the fine people of the twittersphere, I’ve been privvy to two particularly stunning visualisations of the Eyjafjallajökull effect… both photographically in native Iceland, and in animation projected over the European continent. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did- and please take a minute to consider the Earth magnificent power, and just how impotent we are in the face of it.
This first video is a spectacular series of tracking time-lapse shots of the volcano’s ongoing venting, May 1-2 2010. The footage was shot on a Canon DSLR and looks terrific.
The animated visualization below shows flights operating around the first major ash cloud interruptions of April 18-20 2010. It really illustrates the way nature can bring our crazy civilizations to grinding halts with just one big subterranean sneeze!
Naturally, being a creative person, I made my own artistic response- a cheesy T-shirt making light of the situation. Always fond of a pun, ‘Volcanic Ash Got Me Down’ T-shirts and hats are available through our Zazzle store. What’s your take on the volcanic ash scenario, and how did it stir your creative thinking?
I’ve always felt that politics and theatre have fantastic potential to create dynamic and enlightening human experiences together. Striking the right balance when designing a production with a multimedia approach and multiple agendas is fraught with danger though, as Windmill‘s latest production, Nyuntu Ngali reminded me last night.
Written and directed by Scott Rankin of Big h’Art, the play presents itself as a post-apocalyptic love story. The central struggle of the two young leads to survive as fugitives in the Pitjantjatjara desert is frequently disturbed by the piece’s polemic, didactic political statements. While Roam and Eve’s choreographed movement is expressive in an abstract way, their characters’ underdeveloped lives and personalities make empathising with them difficult. This leaves the gate open for the soap-box politics to resound, despite the best efforts of the multi-disciplinary ensemble.
Driven from her community for breaking blood-related laws of union, Eve (Anne Golding) begins her journey as a teenager in the late stages of pregnancy. On the run with Roam (Derek Lynch), the two are confronted by a mortifying prospect: to abandon their child to save themselves, or to turn their backs on their community forever and face the future as three.
From her initial impulse to abandon her child, Eve’s character proves difficult to like. She struggles from adolescence into motherhood, while Roam struggles to develop as provider for his new family. Both neglected their elders’ teaching, and the cautionary note here is clear. Their scenario stands as a warning to all of us to reconsider the knowledge that is the most valuable to us. Rankin’s insight into the value of traditional practise, the way of the hunter-gatherer versus that of a society ‘techno mad’ is pertinent, and well-expressed. Employing a gentle combination of human movement and projected video, traditional Pitjantjatjara skills were depicted as fragile, distant memories. Unfortunatley Rankin’s messages were not always expressed with such a sensitive, soft-handed approach.
Using the familiar technique of taking the audience to the future to reflect on the present, Nyuntu Ngali’s setting is a post climate-change world, where the cities are barren and the well-springs of life are now found in the waterholes of the desert country. To the story’s detriment, Rankin’s agenda to criticise and agitate smothers the lovers’ tale progressively as the play unfolds. The powerfully portrayed narrator’s (Trevor Jamieson) voice becomes the dominant one, mocking the habits of youth enveloped in popular culture. The delusional fantasies expressed in the lyrics and sentiments of commercial music are satirised by the whole cast in a jarring musical-dance montage, while our petro-philia- from the love of the cars to derivative petro-chemical products is detailed explicitly by Jamieson on several occasions. A sequence where actors shadow dance to an R’n’B track labours its point, and was almost as painful and heavy-handed as the young leads’ decision to call their child ‘Petrol Head’.
From the naming of their child, (and the frequent repetition of it) the lovers are reduced to becoming props for Rankin’s political projection. While I personally agree with the director’s central argument, that the ‘just do it’ culture of oil-worship is steering us towards apocalypse, the means in which the message is delivered hampers its effect. The story’s tone is inescapably bleak, and such a course threatens to paralyse its already leftward-leaning middle-class, theatre-going audiences and inspire little action.
Accompanying the lovers verbal and physical narrative were several multimedia elements. While the performed music of Beth Sometimes frequently sapped energy from the performances with its slow tempo and laconic style, the projected live sand-painting of an uncredited indigenous performer was consistently beautiful. Attention was never actively drawn to this element though, while neighbouring video art, mostly unremarkable, was projected on a much grander scale. Cryptic unfolding hinged boxes provided the actors with versatile, collapsible and at times symbolic props, but also created another disparate element in an already dysfunctional world.
While the production design was warm and gentle in general, this rubbed firmly up against the prevailing themes, actions and tone of the central story. I wanted to empathise with Eve and Roam but struggled to connect with the undernourished characters, and was denied any skerrick of hope for humanity at the play’s end. Perhaps ramping up the experience’s intensity to provide the dynamic thrust of a purgative, cathartic experience would have resolved this story more effectively? Despite its good intentions and performances, Nyuntu Ngali left me out in the cold.