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Animating Space

Animating Space: From Mickey to WALL-E

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Animating Space
    Book Description:

    Animators work within a strictly defined, limited space that requires difficult artistic decisions. The blank frame presents a dilemma for all animators, and the decision of what to include and leave out raises important questions about artistry, authorship, and cultural influence. In Animating Space: From Mickey to WALL-E, renowned scholar J. P. Telotte explores how animation has confronted the blank template, and how responses to that confrontation have changed. Focusing on American animation, Telotte tracks the development of animation in line with changing cultural attitudes toward space and examines innovations that elevated the medium from a novelty to a fully realized art form. From Winsor McCay and the Fleischer brothers to the Walt Disney Company, Warner Bros., and Pixar Studios, Animating Space explores the contributions of those who invented animation, those who refined it, and those who, in the current digital age, are using it to redefine the very possibilities of cinema.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-3371-3
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Animating Space
    (pp. 1-24)

    The focus of this book is on animation and space—not the sort of wondrous space that we have historically looked up at and all too glibly talked about conquering, but rather another kind of space that in its own way has proven to be just as challenging and that similarly holds great attraction for us, what I termanimating space.Within that phrase I want to bind up two things that I believe are essential to describing the work of animation properly. On the one hand, I am referring to the space within which animators work, the space of...

  5. 1 EARLY ANIMATION: Of Figures and Spaces
    (pp. 25-44)

    One of the abiding images of early animation is of a hand reaching into the film frame to sketch a variety of characters or things on a sheet of paper, a large easel-mounted pad, or a chalkboard. Whatever is sketched then usually undergoes a series of amazing or simply amusing transformations at the hand of “the hand.” As most historians have noted, this signature scene, which we can find in the work of J. Stuart Blackton, Emile Cohl, Harry S. Palmer, Earl Hurd, the Fleischer brothers, Walt Disney, and others, emerged from the tradition of the “lightning sketch,” a common...

    (pp. 45-60)

    An oft-repeated anecdote of early film history recounts how audience members at the Lumière brothers’ first screening of theirArrival of a Train at La Ciotat(1895) recoiled in fear as the train moved from deep background toward the foreground and eventually off the frame, as if expecting the mechanism to emerge from the screen and enter into their world. It is a story that, though perhaps spurious,¹ has been so frequently recounted precisely because it suggests the sort of phenomenal power of those first projected images, while also hinting at the new cinematic mechanism’s ability to suture—somewhat disturbingly...

    (pp. 61-78)

    If most film histories have conveniently located animation’s origins in the work of McCay and the appearance of his dinosaur Gertie, they have also tended to link its emergence as a mature form and a fundamental component of the American film industry to the work of the Fleischer brothers and Walt Disney, especially with the introduction of the latter’s iconic character, Mickey Mouse. Chapter 4 will examine some of the Fleischers’ key contributions, but here I focus on Disney’s signal creation, the mouse that he would subsequently credit with being the foundation of his entire entertainment empire, and on the...

    (pp. 79-112)

    As we noted at the start of chapter 3, the Fleischer brothers, Max and Dave, are certainly among the most significant figures in the history of animation. Between the late 1910s and the early 1940s, they created a number of enduring cartoon characters, such as KoKo the Clown and Betty Boop, pioneered the use of sound with their Talkertoons, and helped introduce into animated films what Norman Klein describes as “the New Humor” of ethnic vaudeville skits (20). At the same time, they developed several key animation technologies that advanced both the efficiency of animation production and the reality illusion...

    (pp. 113-130)

    In his history of the American cartoon, Leonard Maltin assesses as mediocre the contributions of Ub Iwerks, a figure who has become almost legendary in the field. He describes Iwerks as “a second-echelon cartoon producer” and the products of his own studio, the various Flip the Frog, Willie Whopper, and ComiColor fairy-tale films, as “basically unmemorable cartoons” (Of Mice185, 192). Similarly, Michael Barrier describes Iwerks as an animator of “narrow technical skills” whose cartoons lacked “a distinct comic or narrative shape” (168, 166). Though both assessments certainly have much truth to them, they also suggest a kind of corrective...

  10. 6 LOOKING IN ON LIFE: Disney’s Real Spaces
    (pp. 131-156)

    Both the Fleischers and Ub Iwerks, throughout their studios’ productions, veered from a flatland aesthetic, with its attendant emphasis on amazing transformations, to an approach to animating space that seemed to aim at reproducing a conventional three-dimensional realm. Save in a few scattered instances, though, neither ever truly explored or developed the sort of modernist space that Anthony Vidler describes and that is so effectively imaged in cubist painting, expressionist film, and the modernist structures of a Frank Lloyd Wright—a space of surprise, distortion, and warping that we find repeatedly in the work of Winsor McCay and often glimpse...

  11. 7 WHAT’S UP—AND DOWN—DOC? Warner Bros., Chuck Jones, and Abstract Space
    (pp. 157-178)

    Though for many people in the 1930s and 1940s Disney was the standard by which animation was judged, Warner Bros., with its Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons, would increasingly challenge that preeminence in the post–World War II era. In fact, as Timothy White chronicles, the widespread praise of Disney animation, largely for its “level of sheer craftsmanship” (40), began to wane precisely as the Warner Bros. stable of characters—Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, and many others—developed and began to win a popular audience. But that popularity was due to more than just the nature of...

    (pp. 179-202)

    The postmodern world, as we have previously noted, seems to confront us with a bewildering array of appearances, of false fronts, of illusive dimensions. As Paul Virilio and others describe this situation, we often feel that we have reached a state where a “reality effect” has replaced “immediate reality,” and consequently we increasingly feel “cinematized” or “mediatized,” as if we all inhabited a world of movies (Lost24). We have seen how elements of that effect almost inevitably seem to surface in instances of hybrid animation, that is, in those narratives that combine traditional, usually flat animation with live-action figures....

  13. 9 THE PIXAR REALITY: Digital Space and Beyond
    (pp. 203-222)

    The groundbreaking Pixar animated filmToy Story(1995) opens on a curious note of what I have elsewhere termed “surface play” (Mouse168). As the narrative begins we see a pattern of very white clouds set against a bright blue background, the clouds all evenly spaced and stylized, the blue “sky” far too consistent and bright to be real, and the overall image, lacking in any depth cues, unnaturally flat. It is, we soon realize, a fake sky, actually the wallpaper in the child Andy’s room, as the tracking camera reveals by showing us the various toys with which Andy...

    (pp. 223-252)

    In reacting to the sudden flowering of another sort of heavily designed film, the German expressionist cinema of the post–World War I era, the art critic Herman G. Scheffauer praised its potential influence on cinematic representation. As we note in our discussion of Mickey Mouse, he felt that it heralded the dawn of a new “stereoscopic universe” in film. Despite expressionist cinema’s frequent reliance on painted backdrops, on stylized studio sets, on forced perspective, indeed, on a highly artificial mise-en-scène, he was struck by the extent to which it seemed to suggest that “a fourth dimension” had “begun to...

    (pp. 253-260)

    One of the underlying assumptions driving this study, this history-that-is-not-quite-a-history, is that we have generally neglected to recognize the extent to which animation is a spatial art. It occurs in a special sort of space that is not quite the human world but that seems to aspire to that status—thus animation’s historical efforts at adding depth and dimensionality, at crossing the borders of live-action cinema, even combining human and animated worlds. And it finds a key attraction in its capacity to enliven space, to give spirit to the things that have been created there—“things” that have often rivaled...

  16. NOTES
    (pp. 261-272)
    (pp. 273-280)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 281-296)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 297-297)