My life has recently been revolving around animation, as I’ve been working on a little animated intro for my website and finishing an old project, which is an animated music clip to Fly on the Windscreen by Depeche Mode. The latter involved getting deep into expressions, which, as every After Effects adept knows, is not an easy territory. But after months of work, I am beginning to see the light at the end of a tunnel.

All this work coincided with a few animation-related things. A few weeks ago I went to Docs Against Gravity festival, where I saw two films which incorporated animation in interesting ways: Dreams Rewired and The Sprawl (Propaganda About Propaganda), the latter being more of an art installation than a documentary, with an emphasis on visuals and mood rather than a narrative. Secondly, there was a film/puppetry exhibition at the Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle called Objects Do Things which had quite striking marketing materials and spooky animated trailers created by Noviki Studio. Last week, the internet was mourning the passing away of Studio Ghibli pioneer Makiko Futaki, who was behind masterpieces such as Akira and Princess Mononoke, and a few days later, Google commemorated Lotte Reiniger’s would-be 117th birthday with a fantastic Google Doodle (bravo to Olivia Huynh!). Plus I stumbled on a few random things whilst researching stuff on the internet (as you do).

I am not going to talk about everything though, for I want to focus on the kind of animation I am most interested in: collage / mixed, hand-cut and stop motion animation. And everything retro.

All of which can be found in Dreams Rewired.

Directed by Manu Luksch, Martin Reinhart, and Thomas Tode, and narrated by Tilda Swinton, Dreams Rewired is an essay on technological utopias, which questions our post-modern all-time connectivity. Created using footage from 1880s to the 1930s, it reminds us of the excitement, hopes and dreams surrounding early technological inventions such as the telephone, television and cinema. Visually stunning, it does however seem to fall into the “style over substance” trap, and I agree with Christopher Gray from Slant Magazine, who says that the film’s “promises of insight into the modern and postmodern psyche go unfulfilled”. But what I took away from the mostly footage-based film were a few exquisitely animated bits by Hanna Nordholt and Fritz Steingrobe. I was instantly intrigued and wanted to see what else they did.

This intriguing animator-illustrator duo, whose roots are in Hamburg’s avant-garde scene, has been making short films since 1984, when they first made an animated film using a Super 8 camera from a series of pictures in a dance school manual, according to this article. They combine found audio and video with 2D and 3D animations, both traditional and computer-generated, to make films that revolve around technology, machines and sound. “We like scientific films, love experimental films and can’t really be pigeonholed. What we’re doing is film research,” says Nordholt. They work in “monk like” conditions, without external assistants, in order to preserve total control of their work.

Unfortunately, besides a Vimeo page, they don’t seem to have a website where they showcase all of their work, but those few animations on Vimeo are enough to see their unique style. In Three Graces (Drei Grazien), the three Faraday sisters — Optica, Acustica and Writing — are incited by the first ever recorded human voice to visit various 20th century workshops where humans are connected to machines so that the artist-engineers can open new circuits. The film is about “human-machine couplings and how these connections affected creative processes and artistic output in the 20th century.” Pa Tak, inspired by media theorist Friedrich Kittler, is a homage to three poets and their passion for sound recording devices: Rilke — phonograph, Burroughs — tape recorder and Pyncheon — thought recorder.

Obviously, if we’re talking retro, one cannot think of anything more old-school than the work of Lotte Reiniger, who gained an international acclaim, for as Philip Kemp said, “No one else has taken a specific animation technique and made it so utterly her own. To date she has no rivals, and for all practical purposes the history of silhouette animation begins and ends with Reiniger”. Kemp isn’t exactly right here, as there were other artists who worked in this technique (notably the French filmmaker, Michel Ocelot), but it is true that Reiniger introduced the Asian shadow play into Western animation. Famous for free-handed cutting of paper characters without prior sketches, she created nearly 60 animated films in her lifetime (40 of which have survived until this day). Her films, mostly adaptations of famous fairy tales, are incredibly unique, and the simplicity of the visual language is what makes them so strong.

An artist who is very much inspired by the old masters of animation, notably surrealists Jan Lenica, Walerian Borowczyk and Jan Svankmajer, is Jennifer Linton aka Lady Lazarus. Her Domestikia films present a series of surreal events that take place within an imaginary doll house. Domestikia: The Incident in the Nursery uses a dreamlike narrative, elements of horror and dark humour to explore the anxieties and challenges experienced by those who have small children. I think that Linton has her own unique style and I like how she incorporates autobiographical elements into her work, including turning herself into one of the characters. Her style of drawing and incorporating text into her animated tales makes me think of Edward Gorey’s books (he too had a thing for a Victorian / gothic aesthetic).

Finally, as I was searching for collage/mixed animation, I came across a beautiful film created by Hua Peng, a young Chinese artist, of whom, like in the case of Nordholt and Steingrobe, there is very little information on the internet (at least in English). The video, hosted on a YouTube-like website, was linked to by another obscure blogger, and after fruitless efforts to access the site, I decided to download the video and reupload it on my channel so others can enjoy – for it should be seen! The video, titled Inhibited the time to live, and created by mixing dream-realm animation and photographic realism, is a metaphor of a life in a surreal post-industrial world. Well done Hua Peng, wherever you are. It’s beautiful.

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