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Off-screen: reimagining animation
chapterposted on 01.01.2019, 00:00 authored by Rosemary Woodcock, Lienors TorreLienors Torre, Eiichi Tosaki
Animation is nothing if not visual, and the screen presupposes this defining mode. Yet, interdependent of it being visual, animation is nothing if not movement. The moving image first emerged in devices like Plateau’s 1832 phenakistoscope and Horner’s 1834 zoetrope, both succeeded by Reynaud’s praxinoscope in 1872. The magic lantern slide shows of the later 1800s employed limited animation techniques. Such devices helped ignite late Victorian fascination with movement and technology. For over a century, animation has found its form as projected imagery, leaping out from various technical apparatuses to animate screens large and small in fleeting frames of captured movement. By thinking outside the projection screen altogether we can draw from concepts and practices outside the Western canon of technologies of the moving image: a 5000-year-old Iranian vase that depicts frame-like images of a jumping goat, Palaeolithic cave drawings showing ‘movement’ through overlaid instances of animal motion, the Japanese concept of mono no ke (‘alive-things’). Robots, butoh dance and other objects that animate through their physicality challenge us to reimagine animation. This strategy opens animation up to new conceptual relationships to the screen and to movement, respectively: identifying movement itself as definitive of our relationship to animation, screened or otherwise. The ‘illusion of life’ metaphor remains a popular definition of ‘animation’. What attracts us to the animated image is its animacy, perhaps reflecting a latent hylozoism in us still. From Greek, zōē ‘life’ + -tropos ‘turning’, the zoetrope is an interesting case in point. A plethora of animated physical zoetropes (for example at the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo) nurtures a fascination with movement and technology. Part of the thrill of these physical zoetropes is how mechanical objects afford the illusion of a moving image that, as the mechanism slows, reveals the relationship between us and the object that is described by movement.