By Charlie Donnelly
Prominent film theorists and filmmakers disagree about the role of animation in cinema, with the philosopher Stanley Cavell claiming that “cartoons are not movies” (Frank 24), a stark contrast with educator Hannah Frank’s conjecture that “all works of celluloid animation [are] photographic in origin” (Frank 23). While we’ve discussed the role of animation in cinema in class with varying opinions, there are certainly instances when animation possesses an expressive quality lacking in traditional photographic cinema, especially seen in the differences between the original 1994 animated version of The Lion King and the 2019 live action remake. Although some feel that live action possesses the most varied capabilities as a mode of cinema, I will argue that animation has unique powers of expression in creating vivid and recognizable characters, establishing connotation and theme, as well as creating heavily stylized worlds with their own distinct visual iconography.
by Aditya Tandon
Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse hit cinemas with a storm in late 2018 as movie-goers of all ages came together to watch a new kind of Spider-Man film; not just because of the biracial protagonist, the presence of multiple spider-(wo)men, or the flawless comic-book styled animation, but because of how seamlessly all these pieces came together. It was a movie of many firsts, and it surpassed all expectations, later going on to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Film. I must confess, however, the first time I heard about the film and all the fanfare around it, I assumed it was just another super-hero movie being propped up by a loyal fanbase. It was only upon finally watching it that I realized how grossly mistaken I was; I noticed the enormous detail that went into both the animation as well as the plot, and how much the film was able to achieve through the intersection of animation and sound. All of this comes together in what is perhaps one of the most iconic scenes of the film, Miles’ “Leap of Faith,” embedded in full below.
By Paul Chang
Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece Spirited Away (2001) tells the story of a ten-year old girl, Chihiro, and her trials through the world of spirits. Chihiro first appears to be a normal, if a bit sullen and introspective, child. However, she encounters a series of shocks: her parents are turned into pigs; she cannot leave because the river has flooded; she starts turning into a spirit herself before Haku helps her, and so forth. Despite these unexpected changes, Chihiro handles the challenges with aplomb. She persists and earns a job from Yubaaba, the bathhouse witch, then earns the respect and trust of many bathhouse guests by cleaning the river spirit and by taming the No-Face spirit. Chihiro thus grows through her triumphs and setbacks and emerges with a mature, intelligent demeanor when she finally leaves the mystical land with her (human) parents.
by Niky Charouzová
Though used rarely today, celluloid animation has brought us many cartoons and animated movie classics, such as the Looney Tunes series by Warner Bros, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs by Walt Disney Productions, or the first 13 seasons of The Simpsons by 20th Century Fox. The production method of celluloid animation consists of drawings that are made on plastic sheets called cels, which are photographed in sequence in order to provide the illusion of movement. On rare occasions, errors do occur in the photographing of cels; this occurs namely in accidentally taking a photograph of the cel with the camera operator’s fingers in it, reflecting the camera apparatus in the cel so that it is seen in the frame, or improperly placing the cels on top of each other, resulting in colour changes in the frame. Dust and dirt particles can also accumulate on the film, as can the fingerprints of the cameraman. Hannah Frank’s Traces of the World challenges a theory of cinema where it is believed that “the animation camera is only incidental to the cartoon’s production”, rather than being a key part in it (Frank 23). Be it with mistakes or without, celluloid animation is arguably a phenomenon that, per Andrew Wilson’s claim, “reveal[s] traces of the humans and technology that produced them” (Frank 23).
by Emil Sohlberg
As studios ramped up the production of live-action features, hand-drawn animation underwent a similar revolution with the invention of cel animation. Cel animation was defined by the division of an animated shot onto different transparent celluloids, which could then be overlaid. With this technique, a background, which previously would have been redrawn for every frame, could be reused for a scene, while just the cels that contained the movements of characters would be updated. Even moving characters could be split into different cels; after all, if the only moving part of a character was their face, then their body could be reused if on a separate sheet of celluloid. While inherently cost- and labor-saving, cel animation also allowed for a natural specialization in the animation process, where different animators could work on the same scene simultaneously by splitting that scene’s cels, with some working on backgrounds, or on character poses, and so on.
The Moving Image vol. 18 no. 1 is designated the “Spring 2018” issue, but I didn’t receive my hard copy until this week. And, looking online, lo and behold, it’s up on JSTOR and Project Muse. So I guess it officially exists now, and it’s high time to announce it.
There was a flurry of activity I was involved with when Hannah Frank passed away in August 2017. Much of that culminated in the SCMS special event that I co-organized. But most of the contributors to that event also contributed to a special tribute in The Moving Image. Due to the general sluggishness of academic publishing, that’s just coming out now. The tribute contains short appreciations written by Mihaela Mihailova, Jen Bircher, Robert Bird, Mariana Johnson, Ryan Pierson, Alla Gadassik, Tim Palmer, and myself.
A quick heads-up: Awhile back, I announced the SCMS 2018 special event I co-coordinated devoted to the life and work of Hannah Frank. That event is now watchable for those who weren’t able to make it to the conference in March, thanks to the generous videographic assistance of Sean Batton. Please feel free to embed and distribute widely.
(I’d recommend playing this video on the actual YouTube page, rather than its embedded version here: if you look below the fold on the textual description over there, you’ll see that I’ve added bookmarks so that you can easily navigate to each speaker’s presentation, as well as links to a bunch of materials referred to in the presentations.)