An Approach to Independent 3D Animation Production
Bachelor of Arts in Design (with 1st Class Honours)
Part 1 - Theoretical Research
Chapter 2 - What is Animation?
2.1 Definition of Animation
2.1.1 A Technical Definition of Animation
Various definitions of animation exist that cover technical, physiological, through to philosophical aspects. In a technical sense, Myers (1999, [Online]) describes animation, the form that we have become familiar with, as a series of drawings that are linked together and photographed. 'The drawings have been slightly changed between individualized frames so when they are played back in rapid succession there appears to be seamless movement within the drawings' (Myers 1999, [Online]).
Jonsson (1978, p. 2) also describes animation in a technical sense:
A strip of movie film consists of still pictures - called frames - each one slightly different from the one preceding it. When the film is projected and run continuously these still pictures give an illusion of movement (Jonsson 1978, p. 2).
Morrison (1994, p. 5) simply defines, animation as 'the illusion of movement':
This illusion of movement can be achieved by quickly displaying a series of images that show slight incremental changes in one of the depicted objects. If you play back these images fast enough, the eye will perceive movement (Morrison 1994, p. 5).
It is safe for one to conclude that animation and motion picture in general, when viewed by a human is an illusion, the rapid succession of ordered singular frames tricking the viewers eye into perceiving there is an apparent seamless movement. This technical definition of animation is closely linked to the history and evolution of motion picture, also to human physiology and how the eye and the brain perceive movement.
2.1.2 The Beginnings of the Motion Picture
'Animation cannot be achieved without first understanding a fundamental principle of the human eye: the persistence of vision' (James 2002, [Online]). Animation literature shows that the appreciation of this principle is not only linked with the history of animation and motion picture but much earlier, beginning long ago in our past.
'Since the beginnings of time, human beings have tried to capture a sense of motion in their art' (James 2002, [Online]). Williams (2001) points out several examples; a 35,000 year old pre-historic cave painting of a boar in Northern Spain 'displaying four pairs of legs to show motion' (Williams 2001, p. 11). Egyptian temple paintings of figures that 'progressively changed position' (Williams 2001, p. 12). Ancient Greek 'decorated pots with figures in successive stages of action. Spinning the pot would create a sense of motion' (Williams 2001, p. 12). Other examples are cave and wall paintings, medieval tapestries, scrolls, and paintings which all 'tell continuous stories' and some of which attempt to illustrate 'repetitive motions' (James 2002, [Online]).
Theories that were born in the ancient world by classical scholars were to prove very important in the genesis of animation, as The Private Lessons Channel (2002, [Online]) points out. It identifies historical figures such as the Greek Aristotle (384-322 BC), who 'observed light and motion after effects', dating back to 340 BC (The Private Lessons Channel 2002, [Online]).
The Private Lessons Channel (2002, [Online]) then points out that later, in 130 AD, Greek astronomer and geographer Ptolemy (100-178 AD) discovered the aforementioned persistence of vision. In elaborating a point made by Thomas (1964, p. 8), one can see how these ancient scholars came to such discoveries; Imagine a torch lighted with fire, being whisked around in a circular motion in the darkness, the eye seeing a continuous unbroken circle of light. 'This type of phenomenon must have been known to the ancients' (Thomas 1964, p. 8).
2.1.3 A Physiological Definition of Animation - The Persistence of Vision
While there is evidence of a fascination with the visual documentation of movement and narrative in prehistoric and classical periods, it was not until these notions were later revisited by 19th century inventors, that modern animation principles emerged. One of these inventors was the Frenchman Peter Mark Roget, also the author of the famous Roget's Thesaurus, who in the 1820's rediscovered 'the vital principle, the persistence of vision' (Williams 2001, p. 13).
Williams (2001, p. 13) explains the persistence of vision on the following way:
This principle rests on the fact that that our eyes temporarily retain the image of anything they've just seen. If this wasn't so, we would never get the illusion of an unbroken connection in a series of images, and neither movies nor animation would be possible. Many people don't realise the movies don't actually move, and that they are still images that appear to move when they are projected in a series (Williams 2001, p. 13).
Jonsson (1978, p. 2) gives a more physiologically oriented explanation:
What makes this possible is a quality of our brain called persistence of vision - that is; although the frame we are viewing at any given moment is in fact still, the image burns itself onto our retina, so that it remains with us for a small fraction of time - while we view the next one and if the difference seems to be a reasonable follow-on, an illusion is created (Jonsson 1978, p. 2).
Concluding that technical and physiological aspects work hand-in-hand in motion picture, Jonsson (1978, p. 2) explains that for the eye to record an apparent continuous seamless movement, a certain frequency of frames per second needs to be displayed. Morrison (1994, p. 5) states that 'human visual acuity is low enough that only 12-15 different pictures (or frames) need to be displayed per second to produce the illusion of movement'.
The Private Lessons Channel (2002, [Online]) states that 'the number of frames per second, or fps, directly correlates to how smooth the movement appears'. 'If the frame rate is too slow, the motion will look awkward and jerky. If the frame rate is too high the motion will blur' (The Private Lessons Channel 2002, [Online]). For the eye to record a normal, continuous movement that is not too fast, and not too slow there needs to be a frequency of around 24 to 30 fps displayed by a projector. Jonsson (1978, p. 2), states that this is the sole principle by which both live-action and animated films work. 24 fps is used in cinema, 25 fps is used for PAL television (Europe and Australia), and 30 fps is used for NTSC television (America and Japan).
In relation to the illusion of movement and persistence of vision, both Wells (1998 p. 10) and Furniss (1998 p. 5) portrays the view of well-known Scottish-born animation identity Norman McClaren:
Animation is not the art of drawings that move, but rather the art of movements that are drawn. What happens between each frame is more important than what happens on each frame; Animation is therefore the art of manipulating the invisible interstices that lie between the frames (McClaren qtd. in Furniss 1998 p. 5).
James (2002, [Online]) states that Roget demonstrated the persistence of vision principle in his invention, the thaumatrope. James (2002, [Online]) and Williams (2001, p. 13), describe it as a disc held between two pieces of string, which was attached to both of the disc edges. Each flat side of the disc had different images; one a bird, the other an empty birdcage. Twirling of the disc with the pulling of the string results in the bird appearing to be in the cage. 'This proved that the eye retains images when it is exposed to a series of pictures, one at a time' (James 2002, [Online]). The Private Lessons Channel (2002, [Online]) notes that two other inventors are credited with this invention, the Frenchman Dr. John Ayrton, and Englishman Dr. Fitton, depending on the source.
2.1.4 The Early Evolution of the Motion Picture
Crucial to the evolution of Animation and indeed Motion Picture were other related inventions. James (2002, [Online]) describes other optical devices of a similar nature to the thaumatrope, such as the phenakistoscope invented in 1826 by Joseph Plateau, and the zoetrope invented in 1860 by Pierre Desvignes. Williams (2001, p. 14) mentions another similar invention, the praxinoscope, invented by the Frenchman Emile Reynaud in 1877.
Clark (1979, p. 8) states that these contraptions 'relied for their effect on either an endless paper band or a cardboard disc bearing series of pictures drawn in progressive stages of an action'. 'Viewed intermittently through slots or reflected in mirrors the drawings came to life and appeared to move' (Clark 1979, p. 8). Another invention included the flipbook, or kineograph pad, first appearing in 1868.
Another important invention relevant to Motion Picture was photography. The first photographs were taken 'in the late 1820's by a Frenchman, Nicéphore Niépce' (Thomas 1964, p. 6). In the 1870's 'Sir Charles Wheatstone's moving picture stereoviewer' was created to view a series of actual photographs in ordered succession (Thomas 1964, p. 16).
Thomas (1964, p. 18) points out that the first to capture and record a sequence of images, was the English/American Eadweard J. Muybridge, where he famously captured a horse and carriage trotting. He then played the captured images back in a viewing device, known as the zoopraxiscope.
Another important revolution in the evolution of the Motion Picture was that of nitrate celluloid film invented by H.W. Goodwin in 1887. Nitrate celluloid film was 'a chemical combination of gun cotton and gum camphor' (McLaughlin 2001, [Online]). Thomas (1964, p. 29) acknowledges the birth of Cinema to the famous American inventor Thomas A. Edison, and the Scot William Kennedy Laurie Dickson. In 1892 Edison and Dickson succeeded 'in building a camera capable of taking moving pictures at a rate of forty-six per second on Eastman celluloid film' (Thomas 1964, p. 29). Edison's and Dickson's viewing device, influenced by Austrian Ottomar Anschütz, was named the kinetoscope. Thomas (1964, p. 29) describes it as 'a viewing cabinet by means of which only one person could view a film at a time'. As the images were not projected, the viewer had to use a small eyepiece to look into the cabinet in order to see the moving images.
Instigated and influenced by the work Edison and Dickson, other inventors set about evolving the kinetoscope resulting in viewing devices with the ability to project images. The most well-known of these inventors were the Lumière brothers, who in 1895 'designed a camera and projector which they call the cinématographe' (Thomas 1964, p. 30). The Lumière brothers 'became the first to give a public exhibition of moving pictures' (Thomas 1964, p. 30), which they held on the 28th of December 1895, at the Grand Café in Paris. It is interesting to note that Estonian animator Priit Pärn in his surrealist-inspired short film 1895, pays tribute to the Lumière brothers, and invention of the cinématographe. Thomas (1964, p. 31), concludes that 'the interest shown by the public in these first cinema shows gave rise to a rapid growth in a new industry'. In time, with the advent and advancement of various technologies and techniques, the first true animated films were born.
2.1.5 A Philosophical Definition and Discussion of Animation
'Animation is the art of bringing something to life. How it's brought to life can be done any number of different ways', simply states Ludwin (1998, [Online]). Bringing something to life is indeed a very important theme in animation. To better understand the definition of animation, it is useful to find out the original term from which the word animation derives. Wells (1998, p. 10) notes that animation derives from the latin word 'animare', which means 'to give life to', and that the animated film 'largely means the artificial creation of the illusion of movement in inanimate lines and forms'. The famous Zagreb School of Croatia relates the definition of to animate back to this original meaning. 'They suggest, that to animate is "to give life and soul to a design, not through the copying but through the transformation of reality"' (Wells 1998, p. 10). 'When you're animating and moving an object, you're instilling life in something' (Lubin 2003).
This leads us onto animator's philosophies, ideologies and animation aesthetics. There are many differences in philosophy among animators and opinion of what the essence of animation actually is. One interesting example illustrating the philosophical differences of opinion is with respect to the extent of which animation should reflect real-life. For instance, the copying of real-life movements using motion capture techniques, are not favoured by all animators. Stefan Marjoram of the Aardman studio notes that motion capture is alright in sports games, but it doesn't necessarily make you a good animator. 'Animation's not about copying real life, after all - a lot of people use motion capture for that. For me animation is about exaggerating real life' (Ricketts 2002, p. 51). Lubin (2003) agrees:
That's absolutely right. I mean if you're doing a game and you want to get Tiger Woods' swing, fine. But Motion Capture which is only about animating humanoid animation, why bother? Just get real actors (Lubin 2003).
When asked the question on what the public perception of Animation is, Tom Lubin in an interview on 1 April 2003 stated that 'it depends on who you ask' and 'it depends on the show'. Some animation would be dismissed as stuff for 'something to baby-sit' little kids with, whilst other animation has a broader market encompassing all age groups. I think the public has a very broad view of it depending on their interests' (Lubin 2003). Lubin (2003) also pointed out that 'animation has been successful for a really long time', and he stated that it was telling that the Academy Awards now, in the last few years, actually gives an Oscar for the best feature in animation. This has 'to do with the public's perception of animation as a viable stand alone' (Lubin 2003).
Animation 'at its most creative, is a truly beautiful artform' (White 1988, p. 9). The term art and its related words feature heavily in many animation definitions and philosophies originating from the birth of modern animation. Winsor McCay the first American animator of the early 1900's, who many have dubbed the father of the animated cartoon, once stated:
Animation should be an art...what you fellows have done with it is making it into a trade...not an art, but a trade...bad luck (Crandol 1999, [Online]).
Crandol (1999, [Online]) points out that McCay's warning and prediction inevitably became true. Indeed a studio production system with 'a streamlined, assembly-line process' was formed out of the necessity to satisfy time, expense and demand factors (Crandol 1999, [Online]).
Wells (1998) also mentions several times that the domination and 'the proliferation of mass-produced cel animation' (p. 35), such as that produced in America and Japan, 'has led to animation being understood in a limited way' by society (p. 24). Wells (1998, p. 35) elaborates stating that:
The amount of cheaply produced, highly industrialised cel animation made in the USA and Japan had colonised television schedules, and perhaps, more importantly, the imaginations of viewers (Wells 1998, p. 35).
Crandol (1999, [Online]) also points out that the 'collective nature of the studio may prevent the artists from receiving the amount of praise an artist working solo garners'. Wells (1998, p. 7) makes the point that this type of animation has somewhat diminished animation in the eyes of society as a legitimate artform:
Animation has been trivialised and ignored despite its radical tendencies and self-evident artistic achievements at the technical and aesthetic level. Ironically, the dominance of the cartoon (i.e. traditional 'cel' animation in the style of Disney or Warner Brothers, which is predicated on painting forms and figures directly onto sheets of celluloid which are then photographed) has unfortunately misrepresented and the animated film because it art seems invisible or, more precisely, is taken for granted by its viewers. The cartoon seems part of an easily dismissed popular culture; 'animation', as a term, at least carries with it an aspiration for recognition as an art and, indeed the popular evaluation of other animated forms (Wells 1998, p. 7).
Although there appears to be a domination of the of American and Japanese style of animation and its entertainment premise as suggested, affecting the common perception of animation, large difference in styles and approaches have occurred and do exist. In an interview with an animation Domain Expert on 1 May 2003, he made the point that European animation, due to the many various nations and peoples, have contributed a large number of diverse artistic visual styles, contrasting to the American or Japanese styles. He also stated that many animated works are not always of the purely entertainment premise. One example he stated was in the communist period of Eastern Europe where animation was state controlled, focusing on allegorical social comment, the animators slipping in their own secret messages in the films past the censors.
Even with the domination of industrialised mass-produced animation, and the influences it has on the audience, Crandol (1999, [Online]) remarks that there have been many animators 'careful not to let business logistics overwhelm the artistic potential of the medium'. Crandol (1999, [Online]) concludes that as long as are creative people working, animation 'will continue to be the best of both worlds: a trade and an art'.
Tom Lubin, Head of Training at FTI (Film & Television Institute), in an interview on 1 April 2003, in response to the question of animation being an art responded 'I think it is. Well you need art skills to do it. But actually that not as important to me as storytelling. What animation is, is storytelling'. Storytelling and its importance to Animation will be specifically discussed and investigated in Chapter 3: The Principles of Storytelling.
'To give life to' was a major inspirational theme in the animation process I went through, so to was the art of animation, as I have personally and purposefully embraced it when conducting the creative animation process. This will be touched upon in part 2 of the dissertation; The Self-Reflective Case Study.
2.2 The Animation Process
The Angus & Robertson Dictionary and Thesaurus (1992, p. 788) defines the word process as 'a series of actions which produce a change or development', and 'a method of doing or producing something'. From these meanings the animation process can be described as what I am researching and undertaking in my Honours project; the pattern of methods an animator undertakes from start to finish in the creation of an animated work, or animation.
Animation and the animation process, like many other disciplines, have undergone a paradigm shift due to technological advancements. Indeed technology has been the catalyst for many paradigm shifts as Utz (1993, p. 16) points out. Due to the ever-increasing accessibility and affordability of various technologies, an animator's methods, actions and options have changed when implementing the animation process. See Appendix 2: Paradigm Shift in the Animation Process, for a more detailed discussion of this subject.
Referring to these changes in the animation process, animator George Griffin believes the role of the animator in an artistic sense has changed very little:
Despite the enormous upheavals in technology, the independent animator's artistic role remains essentially the same: to draw time, to construct a model of ideas and emotions, using any means available (Griffin qtd. in Laybourne 1998, p. xi).
2.3 Types of Animation
For a description of the various types of animation such as traditional 2D animation, stop-motion animation and computer generated 3D animation, please refer to Appendix 2: Paradigm Shift in the Animation Process.
Through investigating the various definitions of animation it can be seen that they cover and include many different aspects. The technical definition of animation is closely linked to the history and evolution of motion picture, and this is turn is linked to the understanding of human physiology and how the eye and the brain perceive movement. The different philosophical definitions and viewpoints animators hold also cover many different aspects, varying immensely.
This chapter directly relates to the practical component of the Honours project, as described in part 2 of the dissertation; The Self-Reflective Case Study. This is due to the fact that when creating the 3D animated pilot and series concept, I related to and strongly agreed with various animation philosophies that were discussed in this chapter e.g. 'to give life to', as mentioned beforehand. On some occasions these philosophies affected and influenced the way that I would conduct my own practical animation process. A brief investigation on society's perception of animation subject matter was also relevant for the target audience of the series concept.