In this second installment of the Animation Research Gang (ARG) at the SWPACA 2020 conference, our 13 presenters offered a diversity of approaches to the study of animation. We had graduate students, practitioners and scholars from diverse disciplines such as English literature, Musicology, Dramatic arts, Art history, and Digital media. At the time, the pandemic that today affects the Western hemisphere was mostly concentrated in Asia and our colleagues from that pars of the globe had to present their papers via skype®. Moreover, another of our participants suffered from a bad case of laryngitis and had to resort to a digital narrator to present his work.
This year we also unveiled our official logo: the pirate squid, arrrg! We are proud of our brand-new image which we hope will become the emblem of this animation studies research family. To commemorate this, we had some pins made for all our presenters, as a token of membership in our gang.
As a group at the frontiers of the field of animation studies, the friendships and camaraderie, as well as our presentations and publications, aim to feed and buttress the field of animation studies.
ARG to you all!
Animation in Live Events
Scott Meador, University of Central Arkansas
Animation for live events mixes multiple forms of graphics and video with live performances, such as concerts, plays, sporting events, and industrial shows. Artists work with demanding deadlines, the creative needs of clients, and require an understanding of the relationship between the imagery, performers, and audience. Additionally, artists must work with varying forms of playback and display technologies that are configured differently for each project. Ultimately, animation artists must leverage their creativity and expertise in 2D, 3D, and video manipulation to produce work that may be seen by large audiences worldwide. This paper presentation will introduce animation for live events by discussing the creative design process; technical issues unique to events; and show examples from different types of events that vary in complexity and budget levels.
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Fantasy Anime and the Trope of Irish Aurality
Irish music has become an increasing aural feature of fantasy anime soundtracks over the last two decades. While this reflects an increasing interest in Celtic or Irish culture in general, including an effusion of Japanese-Irish pubs and the multiple official Japanese celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day (Tokyo, started 1992), the music permeates these cultural adoptions and elicits the most comments from Japanese audiences. In her study on the popularity of Irish music, ethnomusicologist Sean Williams argues that Japan has adopted Celtic music, despite its foreign origins, because it evokes a sense of懐かしい/natsukashii—nostalgia for a simpler, happier time. This foreign vernacular soundscape, which strongly conveys the acoustic-cultural ecology of Ireland, maintains a strong sense of difference inherent to its identity, but simultaneously becomes the aural soundscape of an idealized, non-existent past, ergo, a natural choice for the sound of fantasy. Though anime soundtracks frequently change styles from western classical to J-Pop or Enka, in recent fantasy anime, such as Seven Deadly Sins (2014-15), Fairy Tail (2009-19), or the Ancient Magus Bride (2017-18), these more typical musics switch, often abruptly, upon the entrance of the fantasy hero or protagonist to hard-driving Celtic dance music, usually jigs or reels, synonymous with action/adventure, or to slower, melodic ballads expressive of longing characteristic of magical or supernatural fantasy subgenres. This study, uses historical ethnomusicological field research, combined with comparative aural-visual analysis of several Celtic-influenced anime soundtracks to argue that the concept of nostalgia, or inexpressible longing central to the Japanese experience of Celtic music is central to its ubiquitous, world-building role in Fantasy anime.
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Present Absence: Rethinking Virtual Reality as Digital Myths in China *
Although Virtual Reality (VR) has been discussed and experimented in academic and scientific fields for the last 30 years, it was not until 2016 that VR became a well-known term to the public. Due to extensive investment and the entrepreneurial craze of that year, 2016 was called the “First Year of VR” in China. However, this paper regards VR as a post-image and a new phenomenon of “present absence”. This paper will demonstrate VR development from 2016 to 2019 as a counter dialogue of "present absence", absent presence as a concept of image and prosthetic memory described by Celia Lury (1998:2). Virtual Reality itself is becoming a new kind of "phantom" or "myth" in post-digital time. Throughout this paper I will compare VR as an emerging media myth to ancient mythology in an attempt to re-examine the phenomenon of VR’s cultural popularity and explosive growth. The absence that the success of the rapidly growing VR in China evidences that of the creative experiences prior to 2016, now occluded by the offerings of the VR industry. Finally, this paper will offer a potential method to face the VR myth through two examples of award-winning Chinese VR animation works Shennong: Taste of Illusion (2018) and The Dream Collector (2017) from Pinta Studios. VR artists in China as pioneers began to rethink how Chinese legends and traditional memories could be reconstructed through VR. This kind of new construction is of great significance for the use of digital mythology methodology and experiencing everyday life in new media.
* Presented via Skype
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BoJack Horseman, Depression, Mental Illness, and the Animation and Storytelling Tools Used for an Honest Depiction
The animated Netflix Original show, BoJack Horseman addresses many contemporary themes the shows viewers can relate to: including the decadence of Hollywood, feelings of isolation, childhood trauma, addiction, marriage, divorce, and codependency. One constant throughout the show’s six seasons has been an honest and thoughtful look at depression and mental illness through the eyes of many characters, although the main character, BoJack Horseman is most obviously the character going through the struggle of depression and mental illness the most. Perhaps due to the fact that the show is animated it could be easy to write off the seriousness of the issues that are tackled every season but BoJack Horseman, addresses issues of depression and mental illness through sincerity, reality, and sometimes humor, in such a way that the view cannot help but see the accuracy and tact by which depression and mental illness are portrayed. Through the examination of one such scene from each season, this paper seeks to further explore how depression and mental illness are portrayed both through animation and writing.
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A Thousand Gems: On the Crystaline Assemblages of Steven Universe
In Rebecca Sugar’s animated series, Steven Universe, we follow the titular character’s coming of age as he interacts with his familial past and lineage with an intergalactic alien empire. The series is often lauded for its underlying themes of family, love and identity, with many examples of literal transformations of the body and even “fusion” assemblages of multiple selves as the becomings of something new. Despite its acclaim, a common criticism for the series is made towards its animation and "off-model" style. The bodies of characters may not only change and shift diegetically, but even between shots to varying degrees depending on the scene's artist. In A Thousand Plateaus, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari describe “the machinic phylum” as “essentially metallic, or mettalurgical.” As Patricia Pisters describes in her essay, Deleuze’s Metallurgic Machines, the “concept of metallurgy [is] a basic conductor and transformer of both material and immaterial practices.” There is something essentially machinic and uniquely Deleuzian not only in the rhizomatic assemblages that encompass Steven Universe’s characters, but also in its broader political critique of the underlying machines of power that are spread by the literally metallic, crystalline alien species of the “Gems.” In this essay, I intend to use such Deleuzian concepts to show how the series furthers its narrative via its fluid modes of animation style. I argue Steven Universe ultimately attempts to use the medium of animation to crystalize the immanent fluidity of both its social relations and physical realities within its world.
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The Traced Performance: Rotoscope in The Case of Hana and Alice
Computer graphics imagery (CGI) has blurred the aesthetic boundaries between animation and cinema in the digital era. What does the body mean in the cinema when the characters are modeled and motion-captured with a 3D software? What exactly is mise-en-scene when the settings, lights, and effects are generated on a computer? Rotoscoping, the technique that was created a century ago and has been largely forgotten, even makes the definitions more complicated. The reality that rotoscoping creates is different from either live-action cinema or 3D animation. By adopting the real world as a reference, rotoscoping allows the director to build and modify the reality based on the artistic explanation. Stephen Prince defined three ways how actors exist in the digital world: a live-action component, a motion-capture reference, and animators being actors. I argue that rotoscoping creates the fourth way of how the actors exist in digital media. The technique underlines the cooperation of actors and animators. It allows the combination of the actors’ subjectivity and animators’ objectivity. Furthermore, I argue that rotoscoping blends the real of the live-action and the fantastic of the CGI. The tracing of the live stage pictures the real world. At the same time, the computer graphics emancipates the directors from the time and space limitation of the real world. Through the case study of The Case of Hana and Alice (2015), I analyze how rotoscoping in the digital era generates the body and the mise-en-scene on the screen. As the prequel of Shunji Iwai’s live-action film Hana and Alice in 2004, the director took advantage of the rotoscoping animation and recreated the youth of the two actresses, who in the real world are not high school girls anymore.
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"Weren’t You Someone’s Son?": Americana and Death in Cartoon Network’s Over the Garden Wall
Jodi Meyer, Texas Woman's University
Over the Garden Wall (OtGW) is an Emmy-winning, ten-episode animated miniseries that aired on Cartoon Network in October 2014. The show follows two young brothers, Wirt and Greg, who are lost in a mysterious autumnal forest called The Unknown. As they wander, the brothers encounter many patchwork vignettes, including a town inhabited by living skeletons who wear pumpkins; a riverboat patronized by fashionable anthropomorphic frogs; and a one-room schoolhouse for animals. The time period of the show is unstable, with different sections evoking the 1600s, 1800s, 1930s, and 1980s. Though OtGW is a short show, only totaling 114 minutes’ runtime, it is rich with avenues of research. Among these avenues is the show’s close attention to permutations of death, in spite of its genesis as kids’ animation. The wider purpose of this project is to explore how death finds its way into a piece of kids’ animation, despite being relatively taboo. In my presentation, I will focus on how OtGW takes full advantage of its multimodal genre to depict death in visual, musical, and textual situations by couching an uncomfortable topic in the comforting familiarity of Americana and folk tales. Existing scholarship on OtGW has focused either on connections to Dante’s Divine Comedy or Germanic fairy tales. However, this scholarship largely neglects the uniquely American setting and imagery. My presentation will analyze death in OtGW in context of the complicated American relationship to death, as discussed by Charles O. Jackson in his 1977 article “American Attitudes to Death.” Jackson argues that, in early America, “the death of even a single individual was experienced as a community loss” (300). The show draws upon this idea of death as an intrinsically social phenomenon for its central themes. The possibility of physical death constantly looms over OtGW’s protagonists, but the show rejects our instinct to fear physical death. Instead, the audience is asked to fear a figurative death: isolation. Jackson provides context for this thesis by drawing attention to the strong religious faith of early Americans, which framed death not as annihilation but transition (301). In real life, this conception of death still results in a “loss” for those still living. In the ambiguous world of The Unknown, though, we can peek behind that curtain to explore how physical death appears to those who have died. Provided people in The Unknown maintain a strong sense of community, physical death is no loss. The deceased inhabitants of Pottsfield, a town the brothers visit in Episode 2, hold “harvests” to raise their dead in a ritualistic reaffirmation of social bond. In contrast to this transient physical death, isolation is a figurative death, in which we reject the significance of our social bonds and so stagnate. This figurative death, personified in the show as the Beast, claims the older brother, Wirt, when he renounces his social bonds of responsibility for Greg. For OtGW, and early American culture, physical death is not a fearsome prospect; figurative death, isolation, is a far worse fate.
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Observations of the therapeutic practice of animation creation in improving communication, cognition, motivation, and social interactions in teenagers with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
Modeled after the HEART (Healing Education Animation Research Therapy) program in the United Kingdom, called The Good HEART Model, Professors Dr. Francisco Ortega and Dr. Jorgelina Orfila at the School of Art in the J.T. & Margaret Talkington College of Visual and Performing Arts at Texas Tech University began a research project to measure and understand the effectiveness of animation-making in improving communication, cognition, motivation and social behavior in teenagers with Autism Spectrum Disorder. As a graduate assistant I had the privilege to be part of their team and participate in the 90 minute workshops held every Saturday for twelve weeks. When I joined the team, I was paired with a fifteen year old male teenager with ASD. Using the technique of Stop-Motion animation and other technical tools, as well as the methods of storyboard, character design, voice and sound recording, visual manipulation, editing, and presentation, I observed and compared the behavior of this participant from the first workshop to the last and found positive changes in cognition, motivation, communication and social skill development. Specifically, through this therapeutic practice, I saw improvement in the participant's confidence, his ability to follow directions and stay focused on the task, to better socially interact with others, and his ability to communicate his creative ideas. The use of animation as a beneficial therapeutic tool has been documented in other studies (Carter et all, 2014) (Atherton and Cross, 2018). This proposed paper explains the research study details and findings.
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The arts as the educator: exploring the opportunities of an animation based learning programme for children and young people with FASD
This paper discusses an on going PhD study, in which animation film production is subtly, yet centrally placed. Exploring the production process of animation in depth, with focus on the many uses and applications of the process outside of the traditional realms of entertainment, animation in this instance becomes a learning tool for a specific population of "pedagogically bereft" (Carpenter, 2011) individuals. The proposed programme aims to address the educational needs of individuals with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), a condition that causes irreparable brain damage due to prenatal alcohol exposure. This paper considers the general pedagogical requirements of those with FASD and provides an overview of the proposed learning programme to address these learning needs. Drawing on published literature, implemented practices on an international scale and personal experiences working with this population, this study proposes an approach from the likely unexpected field of animation studies. The Learning Programme is essentially the animation production process, completed by the participant from initiation to finalisation. This paper details the framework of the learning programme and presents animation, as the creative, tactile and multisensory medium able to provide cognitive benefits at each stage of the framework, therefore addressing the neurological deficits of the target population and allowing for knowledge to be constructed. The facilitator of the programme and its transferability is presented in order for maximum application and the planned approach to testing will be shared with audience members. This new use for animation takes the arts, digital media and creative storytelling and creates new ties with medical and educational knowledge to best support this population, creating opportunities for interdisciplinary research and practice.
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Animating Ghosts: Guiding clay animation production with a child with autism
This presentation hinges on the interaction between the author and the child with autism, henceforth named Richard, an 11-year old boy with a penchant for ghost stories. Richard has been enrolled in the weekly Saturday animation workshops conducted by Animation Studies professors at the Texas Tech University’s Burkhart Center for Autism Education and Research. The initial approach was for children like Richard to be able to express themselves using simple stop-motion animation exercises. Though the lead professor has designed the workshops with modules vis a vis materials and storylines, Richard would often deviate to what he prefers: gore and ghouls. In the course of the weekend workshops, the author’s interaction with Richard has developed into a protracted discussion on pop culture and the body as the cite for explosion. This presentation is a self-reflexive iteration of these interactions that situate this particular child’s alignment for the macabre.
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A Merged-Media Collage of Admiration: A Case Study of Loving Vincent *
Yi Zhao, Sichuan University
Loving Vincent (2017, UK/Poland) is a very special film qua content and form, which, considered by this paper, are not self-contained and must be comprehended within the intertextuality of Van Gogh’s cultural legacy. By referring to existing research over society’s Van Gogh admiration, this paper argues that this film is yet another popular culture vehicle of basic Van Gogh motifs, following the same logic that made Van Gogh a modern messiah. What singles Loving Vincent out though, is the trans-media and trans-disciplinary approach the film’s text takes in appropriation of the primary Van Gogh texts, namely his paintings and letters, as well as the film’s fan-based manufacture mode. Complying hand-made-over-real-footage paintings, aided by digital technology, the film constructed both its narrative and visual centering on Van Gogh’s paintings and letters. In doing so, the film established itself as a playground of index, reference and self-projection, fulfilling its hermeneutic space with Van Gogh’s significance. Yet as result, by celebrating Van Gogh with collage of his own works, the film not only failed to capture the true spirit of Van Gogh as it claimed, it also fell into a fundamental paradox which undermines its entire credibility.
* Presented via Skype
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Scott Conard, New Mexico State University
The term ‘petroglyph’ refers to visual records etched in stone created by tribes across the American southwest; records that often represent cultures about which, otherwise little is known. The digital artists involved in this project , Scott Conard and Andrew Buchanan, both grew up in major metropolitan cities and both having recently moved to rural environments in the United States are newly exposed to these North American visual storytelling techniques and material practices. This paper begins by tracing the history of the ancient petroglyphs of the prehistoric Jornada Mogollon people in New Mexico and the rise of Chicano political graffiti art in the southwest of America. These visual records are contrasted with the more recent phenomenon of mural art across the American southwest and with contemporary digital protest projection art related to the political climate in the United States. These factors lead to the creation of Digital Petroglyphs, a series of site based projection artworks that foreground the geological, the ecological, the digital and the political. Through these works, we argue for a collective sentience across time and material.
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The 2020 Gang!