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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Column: Animating the imaginary

There are moments where I am sitting in my lecture hall staring down at the 20-something rows of seats in front of me, just listening to the cars whistling by outside. It is crazy to think that the convention between this four-walled and predictably constructed room can no longer hold my attention for more than 20 minutes. As my professor’s voice begins to fade into obscurity, I begin animating in my head.

Animation is one of those concepts that has slowly and weirdly crept back into my adult life. I never thought that the idea of creating imaginary characters could be so refined that it has oozed from the abstract thoughts in my head, through my fingertips and onto this sheet of paper on which I am supposed to be taking notes of the importance of neo-classical and Roman art influences on American paintings and sculptures of the 18th century (blah, blah, blah).

It’s funny to think that I grew up watching “Tom and Jerry,” The Little Mermaid and Japanese anime, thinking that it was just a childish engagement that I would eventually grow out of. But the reality is that I have, more than ever, become obsessed with this genre of art.

Last year, while watching Disney’s animated film Tangled, I felt connected to the film on an unusually strong emotional level. It wasn’t because of the storyline in particular, but through the pairing of Allen Menken’s originally composed music with the constructed visuals, I felt a surge of nostalgia that I hadn’t felt in quite some time.

I was curious as to how a 3D computer-generated film reminded me so much of my childhood in which I grew up watching 2D animations like Aladdin or The Lion King. I eventually realized that it was because animation as a genre itself is meant to, in essence, preserve the innate child in us that is yearning to get out — one that is constantly being repressed by our logic telling us that we need to grow up.

After that strange and embarrassing occurrence in which a Disney film made me sob like a two-year-old, I began researching techniques on how to create stop-motion, 2D and 3D animations (computer-generated imagery or Claymation).

Like stripping off a layer on that very clichéd analogy of an onion, I realized that animation goes beyond sophistication as a form of science meshed with art.

The process of animation is one that is extremely time-consuming. The number of hours you’ll spend making a frame-by-frame (stop-motion) animation is mind-blowing. Depending on how long the frame is played back, a few hundred photographs will make a mere few minutes of footage.

An animator named Bruce Bickford is an example of someone who has taken animation into a form of art that embodies an altered state of mind. He creates hundreds (possibly thousands) of figures using clay and scenic backgrounds. Through a series of slight alterations of the character’s arms, legs or facial expressions, he then takes a snapshot of the minuscule change to document movement. Boar’s Head/Whore’s Bed is one of Bickford’s animations, and it has over 4,500 frames.

Although realistically I know I might not be able to pursue animation as a career, I can’t help but marvel at the medium. It’s important to realize that to appreciate art for what it is, you need to first appreciate it for its process and not the final product or label.

When I walked into the theater that day to watch Tangled, a mass-produced and commercial film, I had no clue that it would provoke this artistic exploration that has opened me up to so many other independent artists like Bickford.

UYEN CAO would like to know what your favorite animated film is. Let her know by e-mailing her at arts@theaggie.org.


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