21 Chapters
Medium 9781864620009

Clay animation comes out of the inkwell

Edited by Jayne Pilling John Libbey Publishing ePub

 

Clay animated films were produced in the United States as early as 1908 when Edison Manufacturing released a trick film entitled The Sculptor’s Welsh Rarebit Dream. In 1916, clay animation became something of a fad, as an East Coast artist named Helena Smith Dayton and a West Coast animator named Willie Hopkins produced clay animated films on a wide range of subjects. Hopkins in particular was quite prolific, producing over 50 clay animated segments for the weekly Universal Screen Magazine. But by the 1920s, cartoon animation using either cels or the slash system was firmly established as the dominant mode of animation production. Increasingly, three-dimensional forms such as clay were driven into relative obscurity as the cel method became preferred for studio cartoon production.

Nevertheless, in 1921, clay animation appeared in a film called Modeling, an Out of the Inkwell film from the newly formed Fleischer Brothers studio. Modeling is one of the few known shorts using clay that was released during the 1920s. Modeling included animated clay in eight shots, a novel integration of the technique into an existing cartoon series and one of the rare uses of clay animation in a theatrical short from the 1920s. A closer examination of this Fleischer film is thus significant for two reasons. First, it illustrates how the clay technique ‘fits’ in the Fleischers’ Inkwell series. Second, it reveals a number of traits of the Inkwell format itself. In particular, Modeling shows how the studio maintained an element of novelty in the series by integrating different animation techniques to visualise Ko-Ko the Clown’s fight for corporeal existence, the unvarying central conflict of the series. This broader look at the Inkwell format will show that it embraced a duality of conformity and surprise, of static format and novel technique, of conventional cartoon action set in cartoon space and unconventional animation set in live action studio space. Indeed, even the central star of the series created humour by incorporating within his established ‘star’ persona the regular comic routines of a clown and an antagonistic tendency to leave his cartoon world, disrupting the conventions of film narrative and film space. These dualities became central to the audience’s enjoyment. On the one hand, viewers are comfortable with familiar characters in a familiar format, while on the other, they came to expect from the Fleischer studio the innovative use of animation techniques to visualise Ko-Ko’s on-going subversion of filmic conventions.1 Before turning to a specific examination of Fleischers’ films, an overview of the changes occurring in the emerging animation industry will show what broader impact the slash and cel techniques was having on three-dimensional forms of animation like clay.

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The thief of Buena Vista

Edited by Jayne Pilling John Libbey Publishing ePub

 

We begin with a true story, but one so dense with stories within its stories, so layered with conflicting versions of the truth, that it seems to have garnered the narrational generative capacities of myth. It would take a modern Sheherezade far more than a thousand-and-one nights to unravel the complex skein of fact and fiction that surrounds the ur-narrative of the Gulf War of 1990. But that is not the purpose of this essay: here we are concerned with tracing how that vast story-cycle of fact is entangled with another story, the fictional film Aladdin, which is itself enmeshed in a dense mesh of true stories and tall tales, a whole discourse of ideas about the Middle East and about ‘Otherness’.

Once upon a time, not too long ago, relations between Islamic states in the Middle East were fraught with political tensions. Meanwhile, in a land called Buena Vista, far to the West, some artists constructed a film set in a Middle East that looked very different from the one people saw on the news. The land they painted was filled with magic and fantasy, while the other was filled with strife and anger. This paper concerns what enabled two such contradictory visions of the Middle East to manifest themselves.

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Medium 9781864620009

Narrative strategies for resistance and protest in Eastern European animation

Edited by Jayne Pilling John Libbey Publishing ePub

 

Soviet Russia’s domination of Eastern European countries for over 40 years (from the fall of the ‘Iron Curtain’ around 1941 until the ‘Glasnost’ of about 1990) brought mixed blessings for animation. On the one hand, Soviet policy favoured cinema as an essential, powerful popular art form and maintained busy animation studios not only for each country but also for distinct ethnic groups; animators were often tenured civil servants with guaranteed full-time employment making not only theatrical cartoons but also public service and educational animation, children’s films of folk culture and titles and special effects for features. On the other hand, Soviet policy dictated sharp guidelines for subject matter and a strict censorship of both preliminary plans and finished films in order to guarantee that all films upheld general communist ideals and current party agendas. While many animators remained content to concentrate on innocent children’s films or benign ‘situation comedies’, some artists attempted to produce allegorical or satirical works critical of totalitarian regimes, and their careful planning to outwit censorship made them, in some cases, create masterpieces of film art. Four festival prize-winners, one from each decade, demonstrate the changing strategies that their filmmakers used to speak out against totalitarian oppression.

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Eisenstein and Stokes on Disney

Edited by Jayne Pilling John Libbey Publishing ePub

 

Sergei Eisenstein loved the cartoon figure Mickey Mouse. The Soviet film director not only admired Walt Disney’s films but also made them part of the subject matter of his theoretical studies. With his characteristic ambition, these theoretical explorations of Disney’s animation were intended to serve as the bases for understanding animation and developing questions alluding to the nature of art itself.1 Most of these writings are from the early 1940s, some years after his return from Hollywood where he had met Disney in 1937.2 He was also reconsidering or at least reformulating his theoretical ideas, especially that of montage. That Disney should play a part in Eisenstein’s fresh thoughts on cinema is characteristic of the latter’s eclectic approach to ideas, borrowing from all the arts, especially painting and literature.

By no means does this essay attempt to unravel fully Eisenstein’s insights into Disney and the issues of film animation; rather, it settles more modestly on a particular aspect relating to a question of aesthetics that is articulated by Eisenstein in primarily psychological terms. It was prompted largely by the intriguing fact that Adrian Stokes, the English aesthete in the same period, also refers briefly but fascinatingly to Disney’s Silly Symphonies and Mickey Mouse in his book Tonight the Ballet,3 published in 1935. Although Stokes’s references are less sustained than Eisenstein’s, they betray similarities in their associations with an idea of omnipotence, one that I wish to discuss here. As we shall see, Disney haunts the discourse on classical ballet in Britain during the 1930s and 1940s.

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Disney, Warner Bros. and Japanese animation

Edited by Jayne Pilling John Libbey Publishing ePub

 

This paper essays an analysis of the philosophy behind two of the most prolific cartoon producers, Disney cartoons and the Japanese cartoon industry, while also examining that of contemporaneous non-Disney American cartoon studios. All were involved in serial production; that is, studios organised for the continuous production of animated films whether they were shorts or feature films for the cinema, television or the video-cassette market or television episodes or specials.

I concentrate on the birth and refinement of Disney’s philosophy during those years when Walt was working his hardest to promote the growth of his studios; that is, the period from 1928 (the creation of Mickey Mouse) to 1941 (the strike). Hence the emphasis on production for cinema, which was at that time Disney’s main concern. The development of the philosphy behind Japanese cartoons, on the other hand, happened in the 1960s; that is, in the television era, although cinema still played an important role (as did videos in later years).

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