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Animation by Mark Whitehead
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Animation covers everything from Tex Avery’s split-second slapstick and The Simpsons’ knowing digs at pop culture, to Hayao Miyasaki’s strong-willed heroines and Yuri Norstein’s delicately rendered folktales. Often dismissed by the uninitiated as ‘kid’s stuff’, any detailed look at animation reveals a technically complex, sophisticated and endlessly inventive medium. Intended both as a guide and an introduction to this fascinating field, the Pocket Essential Animation examines and celebrates this genre in its many forms. It explores the careers, techniques and key films of many of the major animators. It begins with pioneers such as Winsor McCay, the Fleischer brothers and Walt Disney when the ‘House of Mouse’ was only a twinkle in his eye. Then brings you right up to date with Nick Park’s claymation and the slick CGI comedies of John Lasseter’s Pixar studio. In between, it takes in the innovations of Norman McLaren, the sexual obsessions of Bob Godfrey and the agit-prop surrealism of Jan Švankmajer. Kid’s stuff, indeed.
Pocket Essentials; Read online
Title: Animation
Author: Mark Whitehead
It’s a slight exaggeration but the effort that goes into producing animated movies never ceases to impress me. Even the worst examples, such as The Care Bears Movie, meant that some poor soul was slaving away over a light box, producing 24 frames a second of drawings for our edification. That takes a particular sort of dedication, a particular mind-set and particular willingness to suffer permanent eyestrain in order to keep people amused. The director Frank Henenlotter was once interviewed about making Basket Case, a celebrated no-budget gore movie from the early 1980s that featured a deformed and evil twin who was kept in a basket by his more normal-looking sibling. Originally, said Henenlotter, they had planned to animate the creature with stopmotion effects (moving it a little bit, filming it, moving it a little bit more, filming it, and so on until it had cleared the length of a room). They started off with the best of intentions but, after a few hours of this with no great reward, they resorted to throwing the creature across the room and filming that instead.‘We thought about having a credit for “ordinary effects” instead of special ones’, he said. I can sympathise. In 1992, I attended a brief course on animation at my local arts centre.We were each given a Super 8 camera with single-frame advance and asked to animate some household objects that we had found at the centre. I came up with a box of rusty nails and a couple of electrical plugs. My idea was to have the nails swarm out of the box, engulf the plugs, dismantle them and free the screws that held them together. It took me about eight hours to get those fifteen seconds of action. Admittedly, I kept breaking for cigarettes and tea. And swearing. Once the footage was developed, I was quite impressed. It actually looked as I had wanted it to look.The nails swarmed, the plugs were engulfed. You could see development. Okay, so it was hardly Jan S¡vankmajer, but you could see what was going on. It was at that moment that I realised something very important. I had neither the inclination nor the patience to ever be a successful animator, or even an unsuccessful one, for that matter.

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