The Wizard Leaves the Curtain Open Now

The first time I saw anything resembling live animation I had stumbled across the work of Gregory Barsamian while browsing the Platform Animation Festival’s 2007 awards. I wondered what an award-winning, animated installation looked like and I was floored by what I saw. In a room with a strobe light, animation happens right in front of you in real 3D space. The style and subject matter of Barsamian (an artist who actively dream journals as part of his process) really struck a chord with me as well.

In 2009, the music video for Moray McLaren’s “We Got Time” (below) by David Wilson Creative made a similar impression. At the time I was still mostly working with a flatbed scanner so frames-per-second and shutter speed were things I hadn’t worried about about since school. The “in-camera” effects syncing camera frame-rates with record player rpm’s barely registered with me, but I watched the “making-of” with interest and wanted to build my own praxinoscope (though I never did).

Fast forward to 2011, Tim Wheatley‘s “the Cyclotrope” (below) is posted on Cartoon Brew. Just as compelling as a “making-of” video Tim Wheatley posted a production report detailing what worked, what didn’t, and even the make and model of the camera that he ended up using in the final product. I had been transitioning to a DSLR (for stills and video) for some of my work so I had become intimately familiar with ISO, shutter speeds and framerates again. I also had a spare bike wheel after getting aluminum rims for my beach cruiser. A light bulb went off in my head, through the proxy of a camera connected directly to a screen or monitor you could create interactive, live animation in a public context. This is somewhat redundant given the existence of a simple zoetrope, but with the camera you can zoom in and out, pan, and get an altogether better view of things than when you’re simply peeking through narrow slits.

Up until this realization I’d been struggling to figure out how I could apply my artistic practice to the kinds of meaningful outreach I’d seen going on around Jacksonville such as the Cathedral Arts Project or Amelia Arts Academy‘s collaboration with Communities in Schools. This might just be the kind of tangible, interactive presentation that could make my process compelling and accessible to those who don’t spend countless hours in front of the computer using video-editing and compositing software. I was also excited about showing people my process with wheels made of flowers, leaves, or shells instead of telling them about it.

If you visit either Tim Wheatley‘s or David Wilson Creative‘s websites you’ll quickly find that they openly share most if not all of the techniques used in many of their experimental animated films, not just the ones I’ve mentioned above. There was a time when I was fairly protective of my methods out of a fear that my technique was so simplistic that someone might take it and run with it farther and faster than I could. I was wrong on several counts. First, many artists have taken approaches to “replacement animation” similar to my own: Stan Brakhage, Al Jarnow, Paul Bush, Max Hattler, Michael Langan, Nina Paley, Helena Marikova… just to name a few whose works are quite compelling. Secondly, no one has taken my particular breed of flat-bed scanner stop motion and run with it, it’s absolutely too tedious for most people. Finally, I have nothing to gain from hoarding knowledge and everything to lose. I would argue that what makes works like those of David Wilson and Tim Wheatley much more than sensation-of-the-moment, viral videos is that they’ve shared their process so openly that people return again and again to learn from them. At least I did. The value system of these artists is completely in sync with the participatory vision of “Art in Strange Places” and projects like “Imagination Squared” that have become cornerstones of Jacksonville’s art scene.

If you’d like to see, spin, or create your own disc for the wheel I’ve fashioned stop by Main Street Park in Downtown Jacksonville during the Aug. 3 Art Walk from 5PM until whenever people stop showing up. I’ll be set-up with the wheel, a monitor, and two screens that will be unfurled around 8:45 when it gets dark enough. I’ve enlisted the help of Brian Oakley, his students, and members of the animation club at the Jacksonville Arts Institute to help create content for the wheel as well. This installation will be part of the “Art in Strange Places” debut of the Pop-up galleries going into Main Street park for the next few months. Below you’ll find a video shot in 24 frames per second (much faster than what will be showing Aug. 3rd). Any circular disc evenly divided into anywhere from 12 to 24 (I’ve used 18 just like Tim Wheatley) sections with a diameter of 21″ or less and a hole 4″ in diameter in the center will drop down right onto the wheel, so feel free to create your own before hand and bring it with you. Contact me (david@silverfishcloset.com) if you have any questions.

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