[-empyre-] visualization as the new language of theory

Thomas LaMarre, Prof. thomas.lamarre at mcgill.ca
Fri Feb 5 02:38:13 EST 2010


The differences between cinema and animation are really interesting, and historically they develop out of different sets of techniques that today are coming together in novel ways.  I am thinking primarily of cel animation here but the techniques do apply to animation more broadly.

With the introduction of celluloid sheets into animation in the mid-1910s, animators were able to play with layered images with greater flexibility.  There is a material limit, of course, to how many sheets one can stack and still film them, and with celluloid sheets animators gradually moved toward using animation stands (which became standard in the 1930s), which are basically apparatuses to keep the sheets separate, allowing for better lightening between sheets but also allowing animators to move sheets to produce movement within the image.  Sliding sheets relative to one another produced a sense of movement.

Already animation was gravitating toward compositing or 'editing within the image' rather than montage as in cinema.  And needless to say, animated films are usually not edited like live action films are; the layered image sequences are expensive to produce, so you don't start cutting and hacking the footage.  In this sense even montage is subordinated to the 'multiplanar image,' that is, an image composed of image layers.  And the force of the moving image is not channeled into camera movement but into character movement.

The gaps between sheets in the image become very palpable under conditions of movement, that is, when images are projected.  This is one kind of shock of the image so to speak.  So a lot of technique in animation was channeled into managing the sense of movement between layers.  This is what I like to call an animetic machine.  For it is machine in Guattari's sense of the word - folding into it all manner of other modes of expression, techniques, etc.

Disney is famous for doing his all to suppress this movement between layers, in two ways: exaggerating the fluidity of character animation (full animation) and developing the multiplanar camera system.  This latter allowed animators to produce a sense of movement into depth by continually readjusting the intervals and relations between celluloid sheets in the animation stand.  It felt like the mobile cinematic camera-almost.  It was also really labor intensive, making for huge Fordist production studios. In effect, Disney made animation more like cinema in the sense that he struggled to suppress the effects of the multiplanar image by using the multiplanar camera system to eliminate the sense of gaps between layers and to make the image feel solid enough to move into.  But I would say that this actually runs counter to the tendencies of animation.

It was the renegades from Disney who turned to limited animation, where character animation is deliberately reduced, and graphic design comes to the fore, at the same time that movement between layers becomes more palpable and a site of experimentation.  Japanese limited animation (anime) studios from the 1960s on took these experiments in all sorts of odd fantastical directions.

This sort of dynamics - emphasizing or suppressing the multiplanarity of the image - persists today.  Software packages for the Disney-style multiplanar camera system are built into computer animation, and many digital animations today work to suppressed the play between layers.  Interesting enough, those that do not - a great deal of anime, Japanese video games, and video art - have discovered a very different potential of the moving image, one that is today the basis for transnational media mixes.  It is not just evil corporations that are working with this potential of the moving image; very localized fan cultures and media groups have made this sort of animetic machine the basis for a range of novel modes of expression.

This is where the question of affect for me seems crucial, and Deleuze's work on cinema very useful.

In effect, full animation (especially of the Disney brand) is much like the classical cinema that Deleuze characterized in terms of movement-image (actually a subordination of variety of image types to the action-image).  The trend of limited animation is toward the time-image, and animation starts to think and feel, for the movement-image can no longer contain the variety of images within the action-image.  This happens in a specific way in limited animation, where movement is spread across the surface of the image, and the elements of the image are thoroughly dehierarchized.  There are no central versus peripheral elements.  We might say that this invites spectators to put together the elements of the images and across the images in any manner they like.  But since this is an event, they are already doing it without invitation.  In the context of Japanese limited animation, this marks the rise of affect-centered do-it-yourself narratives.  And these anticipate video games, and also explain why limited animation and video games can work so well together.

The studios would naturally like to capture such tendencies within character franchises, but actually these have become sites of resistance, even informing labour activism.

I could go on and on about this, but to try to link back to previous threads about scientific procedures and new empirical methods in a roundabout way, I would like to say that these 'characters' that flash across media might be seen in terms of what Latour and Stengers call non-humans, by which they mean entities that become answerable beyond their initial conditions of elucidation in the laboratory - such as quarks or microbes.  If I may be reductive, I think that animation today is less a mode of production and more a mode of experimentation, and it is elucidating non-humans that are swarming into the social and remaining answerable.  Characters are an obvious example of such nonhumans, but animation experimentation is generating other sorts too.


On 04/02/10 8:42 AM, "timothy murray" <tcm1 at cornell.edu> wrote:

>Hi, Tom,

Your suggest that animation has migrated from image development to
movement is fascinating.    I'm wondering how you would distinguish
animation from cinema or even video in this regard.  Is there a
fundamental difference if we think of movement as the 'thing'?

And could you say more about your suggestion that affect is crucial
to judging how layers move across media, even transnationally.  Is
your concept of affect tied to motion/movement itself, or need it be
related also to narrative and to the national/transnational
distinctions that narrative (and image) often foreground.

I know that there is strong interest across the -empyre- community in
the linkage between affect/narrative/movement, so it would also be
interesting to hear from other subscribers who migth have specific
projects of animation in mind, such as the performative display of
transnationalism, say, in the interactive animations of Tamiko Thiel
or in the sexual disjunctions of Sadie Benning.

Any thoughts?


>Hi Renate,
>If I could intervene...
>I think this is precisely where the question of movement and the
>analytics of movement is crucial.
>It is often said by scholars in Japan that character design has
>replaced character animation; in fact, they say, there is so much
>emphasis on design and typography that animation itself is
>vanishing.  This has almost become established wisdom. Yet within
>the animation and video game industries in Japan theses days (and
>remember these remain really large industries) they say that, if
>there is not the same kind of movement attributed to characters with
>the frame (by thinking across frames), it is in order to allow them
>to flash across media.   In other words, I don't think that this is
>something that can be measured.  Although I am really interested in
>the sort of cultural analytics that Lev presented, I think that they
>avoid the question of movement, and thus a host of other issues that
>we now associate with poststructuralism and deconstruction.  That
>sort of analytics is ultimately data about images.
>In animation, movement introduces questions about sites of
>indeterminacy which are where interactions happen.  This is where
>one can speak of a affect and of a field for the emergence of power
>I previously mentioned that multiplanar image, because it is with
>the layering of sheets of celluloid to produce animation that
>limited animators in Japan discovered that the actual design of
>image layers mattered less than the movement between them.  This
>doesn't mean that they give up on design.  In fact, design and
>typography became even more pronounced.  But by moving away from
>animating characters and other entities, they found that the design
>became mobile across media, as if suppressing movement at one level
>allowed them to impart movement at another level (across media).
>This explains a great deal about why Japanese animations enjoy such
>success in distribution through internet fansubs and scanlations
>(adding new layers of design).  It is about the movement of layers
>across media, even transnationally.  And affect becomes really
>crucial to gauging this.  Because you can't suppress movement at one
>level and enhance it at another without fundamentally changing
>There is a wonderful animated film - toL's Tamala 2010 - that plays
>with these dynamics, partly as an avant-garde critique of circuits
>of production and distribution of animation, partly as a perfect
>expression of it.

Timothy Murray
Director, Society for the Humanities
Curator, The Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art, Cornell Library
Professor of Comparative Literature and English
A. D. White House
Cornell University
Ithaca, New York 14853
empyre forum
empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au

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