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Magic in Motion

In Sixth Form I studied Sociology, Media Studies and Graphic design and to get away with doing the bare minimum, I would try and merge the subjects so I could get the most of one piece of work. I established animation as both a design outlet and a film technique quite early on. I remember asking my media teacher if I could base my written piece on the history of animation. I was nervous to ask as I thought she would tell me to get on with something more topical, along with the rest of the class but to my suprise, she really took an interest and even gave me a book of hers about animation techniques.

After spending lesson on lesson in Media writing about Eadweard Muybridge, James Cameron and Peter Lord, I would then spend the rest of my day on Adobe Flash in my Graphics class, trying to get to grips with keyframes and the basics of recreating motion. In 2017, I made an animated music video to the song ‘Superfast Jellyfish’ by Gorillaz which was made up of hours spent in the Media Department, the Graphics department, the library and even my registration block. It’s safe to say I was completely devoted to this music video for months on end and I was so proud when it was finished, I still am. Not because it’s a particularly good animation or even a good video, but because I know how much time was spent in making it, and no one else will ever know. It felt like a big reveal, I was working in front of other people and they had seen what I was doing, but because it moves so slowly with animation, the real magic only uncovers itself at the very end, and its the most pleasing thing to encounter when it comes alive before your very eyes.

I then begun to understand why animators do what they do, why they devote years to creating seconds worth of footage. To some, it might seem like a complete waste of time and much easier to capture footage on a camera, where you can cut, edit and publish relatively quickly compared. But It’s something you’d have to do yourself, properly, to really understand.

I recently rewatched the film Coraline, a film I went to the cinema to watch with my mum when it first came out, I would’ve been 9 years old. At the time, I remember being completely entranced with the film, it was incredibly lovely to watch and so quirky. When I watched it for the second time I felt like the same child, yet more in awe this time of the detail put into this insane movie. What I realised after watching the behind the scenes footage at Laika studios was the extent of the detail they went into, and the sheer scale of the production. As lame as it seems, it almost brought me to tears. I think go on and on about why this 7 minute clip means so much to me but there’s one point that was made in the video that hits home the most. It’s the part when Travis Knight, one of the animators for the film, is talking about his role in animating the cat…

‘I honestly feel like i’m witnessing little miracles every day. I feel like i’m part of something magical every day. When I play this (plays a clip of the animated cat) I don’t feel like I did that. I see this creature moving and living and to me, it happened, I know that i did it but to me, it doesn’t feel like that, it’s a living creature now, it’s not a part of me anymore.’

I think this is the case for many animators, the sense that you are freeing your work so it can go and become its own life form. I can understand that feeling and i’ve only ever really used computer software and dabbled in paint on a very small scale. So for a stop motion animator, this feeling must be even more predominant as you are becoming physically involved with the motion you are making; you are solely reliant on your hands and eyes, no computer program can help with shortcuts.

Having said this, one thing I hadn’t paid too much attention to before watching this footage is the job of the rigger. I always see the word ‘rigger’ or ‘riggers’ in the credits of films but i’ve never really understood what this means. After listening to one of the riggers, Oliver Jones talk about how the job works, i’ve developed a completely different understanding of animation as a whole. With 2D animation, the rigging is sort of already there, you can time things to move on and move off when you want, and you can make paths so the objects you’ve drawn can move in the way you’d like them to quite simply. With stop motion however, the option to breakdown space and time just isn’t available. So the invisible rigger, as oliver puts it, must build frameworks for animators to use that cuts corners and makes it easy for the animators to focus on the detail.

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