(March 9, 2013). For this year’s Society for Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS) conference, I organized a panel devoted to the technique of generating movement in animation. Of course, it seems obvious that animation is particularly preoccupied with creating movement, and that animators develop different techniques (or strategies) to “make things move.” But what kinds of movement are chosen or emphasized in the animation process? And how do different kinds of filmmaking techniques influence the range and qualities of movement that are animated on the screen? The panel included four talks that considered the role of mechanical and electronic models movement in the history of animation, focusing on case studies that spanned early film, classical drawn animation, and early computer animation traditions.
The panel also included pioneering film scholar Tom Gunning (who has generously advised me on my research at a few key moments of uncertainty), as well as fellow animation scholar Andrew Johnston (a diligent historian of computer animation) and experimental cinema historian Gregory Zinman (whom I first encountered through his great online resource Handmade Cinema). Our shared interests and complementary areas of expertise helped make the panel into a cohesive, interconnected set of talks.
Below is a short abstract (summary) of the paper that I presented on the panel.
[Update: one part of this paper was expanded into an article that has since been published in the journal Discourse.]
“The Animated Line: Performing and Generating Movement in Early Animation.”
This paper examines the emergence of the “animated line” as a rhetorical device for studying and generating movement in abstract animation and studio animation methods in the 1930s. I argue that during this decade the “animated line” became not only a technical strategy for making moving images, but also a way of defining animation as a form of kinetic art that is distinct from traditional filmmaking. I focus my argument on a comparison of Len Lye’s animation experiments in the 1930s (particularly the films Trade Tattoo and Rainbow Dance) and the development of Action Analysis classes at the Walt Disney Studio in the same period (the production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs). By relying on original material gathered from studio archives and the Len Lye Collection, I consider the “animated line” as a shared motif in writings and debates about animation practice – one that also revealed distinct and competing ideas about the function of movement in cinema practice.
The first part of the paper establishes the historical context for how the moving line came to be a central motif in animation discourse. In particular, I note the influence of industrial motion analysis, scientific visualizations of movement, and choreographic notation on the history of animation methods. The second part of this paper discusses important differences between how the animated line was mobilized in the Hollywood animation studio and in the direct animation techniques of Len Lye. Len Lye and studio animators were equally interested in the role of empathy in drawing and animating movement, but their approaches and techniques in studying motion reflected two radically distinct models of movement. By proposing and explaining these two distinct models, I argue that the animated line became a trace of different approaches to understanding what it means “to move” and how movement is expressed in the context of modern life.
The image featured above is from Preston Blair's famous animation guide Advanced Animation.