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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Video: Iceland’s explosive effects rendered in time-lapse and animation

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.

Iceland, Eyjafjallajökull – May 1st and 2nd, 2010 from Sean Stiegemeier on Vimeo.

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!

Airspace Rebooted from ItoWorld on Vimeo.

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?

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Art: Pushing pixels from ‘The Dudleys!’ to Dead Pixel Designs

Our passion for retro lo-fi pixel art has really fired up these last 2 years. It all began with the discovery of the freeware progam IcoFX which allowed us to reconnected us with our c64-generation creative urges. I produced our first pixel art poster for a Supermarket show in Big Star Records’ basement in September 2008 and things have snowballed from there!

Happening around the same time was the erection of a giant public lo-res screen at the end of Adelaide’s busy Rundle Mall- The Rundle Lantern. Astonishing in both scale and low-resolution, it wraps around two sides of a multi-storey carpark at a highly trafficked intersection. Emma Sterling and I leapt at the opportunity to produce original animation for it. Our ‘how to’ guide to producing animation for it is available here at Creativity Base. Merge Magazine also caught wind of what I was up to, and commissioned artwork for a front cover and feature article spread.

Meanwhile, in North America, a man I met through a chiptune email-list was cooking up a grand design. Emerging theatre writer and director Steven Gridley put a call out for chiptune musicians and pixel artists and animators, to help create a world that slips between the ‘real’ and that of a glitchy 1980’s Nintendo game. I was originally eager to animate many projected sequences throughout the play, but in the end the team expanded and the workload was shared nicely. Below is a showreel featuring some of the animated sequences from the play, and a chiptune score also written by Steven Gridley. Mine is the flat-looking Mario-esque sidescroller. You can read more about the show at the blog Brooklynshiner.

Since then, I’ve had enough compliments on my pixel art to decide to open an online store, and make designs for merchandise and apparrel. Dead Pixel Designs launched late last year, and the inventory in the Zazzle shopfront is growing nicely. Recent friend and gun programmer Jay Straw also helped me integrate the store into my website, closing the associative gap between danimations and Dead Pixel Designs.

In March, Emma Sterling and I are running a pixel art and animation workshop as part of the DIY cultural event Format Festival right here in Adelaide. Keep an eye on their website, and come along if you love pixels as much as we do- finished works will be screening on the Rundle Lantern!

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