Friday, 18 January 2013

Dick Arnall and the death of animation

Dick Arnall

In 2005 the late Dick Arnall (1944-2007) wrote an essay entitled "Death to Animation", calling for a rethink of our definitions:
I believe it’s time to kill animation. Not the animation we watch, but the word we use to label it.
Everyone out there knows that animation means ‘invented’ characters brought to life on the screen by an animator. But those of us inside the world of the moving image, also use the term ‘animation’ to refer to just about anything that isn’t direct live-action, created by just about any alternative means for just about any aesthetic, narrative or conceptual reason. We lump together all these techniques, forms and ambitions, call them animation and, frankly, to say the least, it’s just not helpful.
Arnall's essay recounts how, in Britain, the term "animation" caught on as an alternative to "cartoon" in the second half of the sixties. In particular he cites the release Yellow Submarine in 1968 as the moment which demonstrated to the wider public that not all works in this medium were necessarily for children.

Like others in the animation community Dick Arnall had already been endeavouring to further this cause, having set up a festival the previous year. "I very deliberately called the event the Cambridge Animation Festival", he comments in his essay. "I wanted to signpost a defiance of Disney’s cultural hegemony and challenge the prevailing popular presumption of funny, gag-rich cartoons for kids."

The essay goes on to argue, however, that the term "animation" had outlived its usefulness:

And here we are in 2005, four decades later, in a world filled with funny ‘cartoon’ characters from Pixar, Aardman and Klasky-Csupo, and guess what, it’s all called animation now! Animation has become the new term for character-based, story-driven, frame-by-frame cartoon family entertainment. Which is fine and fun in itself, but where does it leave those of us who want to use similar tools and processes for less conventional ambitions?


I’m not just proposing a new label for experimental artist practice. There are also epic blockbuster visions like the intensely invented and constructed worlds of Lord of the Rings and Sin City, seminal concepts like (British-born) time-slice that became the climactic bullet-time moments in The Matrix series, the high-energy visual mash-ups for narrative spin in Amelie or Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. These all use conceptual boldness and a raft of animator’s tricks & tools to invent and manipulate the image, but the context and agenda is much more complex and thoughtful than making straightforward animation.

"Death to Animation" reaches a succinct conclusion:

So, as I said at the start, ‘animation’ really is not a helpful label any more. Let’s return to ‘cartoon’ to describe regular character-based storytelling, whether it’s The Simpsons, Wallace & Gromit or Toy Story. Death to ‘animation’. It’s time to find a new word for “the extended moving image”.

A number of commentators have voted for their favoured terms: Animator Malcolm Draper suggested "extramation", while teacher Brian Lammas brought up a digital art course taught at his school which uses the term "mediaonics".

Nearly eight years after the publication of this essay we still have no word for the extended moving image. Perhaps it is fitting, however, that the infinitely mutable form described by Dick Arnall will never be pinned down by a single term.

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