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Themes/Craft: Cameraless animation

Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/, A horse trotting. Photogravure after Eadweard Muybridge 1887. Photograph: Wellcome Images via Wikimedia Commons under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.
| Photograph: Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons license
Written by
Dominica Harrison
Published date
25 September 2018

Think animation is all about digital tricks? Dominica takes you right back to year zero to introduce you to some traditional techniques still used today by creatives.

Animation is the art of making inanimate objects appear to move. Since the 19th century this art form has developed into a huge industry that – along with film and visual effects (VFX) – supplies the entertainment and design world with products and experiences that can be enjoyed by people worldwide.

What we now see on our screens was originally created around the 1830s by experimenters making new pieces for Victorian parlours and the touring magic-lantern shows. That’s when the principal of ‘persistence of vision’ (when images of the different stages of an action shown in fast succession are perceived as a continuous movement by the human eye) was discovered which led in time to the development of cinema.

But leading up to this era, a range of intriguing analogue devices were invented that illustrated the wonders of animation in its most authentic form. Meet some modern-day creatives that have adopted analogue animation techniques to create unique movies without any cameras involved in the making of their work.

Ke Xu: Flipbooks

Don't disappear - Ke Xu

Video: ‘Don’t disappear’, 2018. Ink and rubber stamp on paper.

Ke Xu is a London based visual artist who makes little books with big stories. This piece is a snapchat post in book format. The mini book begins with page number 24, and as you flip through the text ‘Don’t disappear’ fades away within 24 pages.

Explore more of Ke Xu’s work on her site

Juan Fontanive: Kinetic Sculptures

Ornithology E by Juan Fontanive

Video: 'Ornithology E’ , 2013. Collage on bristol paper, stainless steel, motor and electronics. 23 X 3.7 X 4 Inches.

This piece is a part of a series of kinetic sculptures by Brooklyn-based artist Juan Fontanive. The movement is created using metal linkages, rubber belts, pullers, etc. The fast change of individual images creates an illusion of movement, similar to the motion of a flip book. The mechanisms are choreographed as individual elements working together like components in a song – each machine having its own sound crucial to the whole group.

Explore more of Juan’s work on his site

Stephen Moir: Phonotropes

Manipulate 2016 Phonotrope Collage

Video: 'Manipulate 2016 Phonotrope Collage’, 2016.

This is a compilation of phonotropes made during a workshop held by Scottish filmmaker Stephen Moir during Manipulate Festival in Edinburgh in 2016. The Phonotrope is one of the pre-film devices that combine the frame rate of a live action camera and the revolutions of a constantly rotating disc to help create an animation. It usually involves the use of a record player. The disc is separated into 36 parts and singular frames of animation are drawn on each of them to create an illusion of movement.

Explore more of Stephen’s work on his website

Julia Chang: Phototropes

2015 Christmas Caketrope

Video: ‘Christmas Caketrope’, 2015.

This is a tasty play off on a traditional phonotrope, made in the form of an edible cake. This film is an animated Christmas card made by Korean-based artist Julia Chang — one in a series of ‘caketropes’ made whilst she was a student at Edinburgh College of Art. Julia currently works as a web comic artist for online platform Webtoon.

Steven Woloshen: Direct animation

3 red shapes drawn over a bright green background
Steven Wolshen, ‘Casino’, Canada, 2016.

Stephen Woloshen is a Montreal-born artist making short experimental films using a direct animation approach. This technique involves an artist working directly on the film strip with brushes, pens, markers or etching into the emulsion with sharp implements. This mode of filmmaking requires no camera to form an image, and allows artists trained in traditional art forms such as painting and drawing to transfer their skills directly to film.

Explore more of Steven’s work on Vimeo

Bona Dona: Thaumatropes

a circular piece of card with an illustration of a flower printed on
Photograph: Bona Dona

Bona is an LA-born filmmaker working predominantly in 2D and stop-motion. She is a film and media special instructor at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and also works as a freelance animator. These business cards she made in 2016 are a fun example of a thaumatrope — a scientific toy from 19th century, which consists of a disc with a different picture on each of its two sides. The images appear to combine into one image when the disc is rapidly rotated.

Explore more of Bona’s work on her site

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