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The Crafty Animator

Craft-Based Animation
and Cultural Value

Edited by
Caroline Ruddell · Paul Ward
Palgrave Animation

Series Editors
Caroline Ruddell
Brunel University London
Uxbridge, UK

Paul Ward
Arts University Bournemouth
Poole, UK
This book series explores animation and conceptual/theoretical issues in
an approachable way. The focus is twofold: on core concepts, theories
and debates in animation that have yet to be dealt with in book-length
format; and on new and innovative research and interdisciplinary work
relating to animation as a field. The purpose of the series is to consoli-
date animation research and provide the ‘go to’ monographs and anthol-
ogies for current and future scholars.

More information about this series at

Caroline Ruddell · Paul Ward

The Crafty Animator

Handmade, Craft-based Animation
and Cultural Value
Caroline Ruddell Paul Ward
Brunel University London School of Media and Performance
Uxbridge, UK Arts University Bournemouth
Poole, UK

ISSN 2523-8086 ISSN 2523-8094  (electronic)

Palgrave Animation
ISBN 978-3-030-13942-1 ISBN 978-3-030-13943-8  (eBook)

Library of Congress Control Number: 2019932116

© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer
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1 Introduction 1
Caroline Ruddell and Paul Ward

2 Made by Hand 17
Birgitta Hosea

3 Craft as Critique in Experimental Animation 45

Lilly Husbands

4 Lotte Reiniger: The Crafty Animator and Cultural Value 75

Katharina Boeckenhoff and Caroline Ruddell

5 Autobiography and Authenticity in Stop-Motion

Animation 99
Carla MacKinnon

6 Handmade Aesthetics in Animation for Adults

and Children 127
Ewan Kirkland

7 In Good Hands? Indexes and Interfaces in A Computer

Animated Hand (Ed Catmull & Frederic Parke, 1972) 157
Christopher Holliday

vi    Contents

8 Crafted Wonder: The Puppet’s Place Within Popular

Special Effects Reception 181
Alexander Sergeant

9 Q&A with Eric Dyer 203

Caroline Ruddell and Paul Ward

Index 227
List of Contributors

Katharina Boeckenhoff  University of Manchester, Manchester, UK

Eric Dyer  University of Maryland, Baltimore County, USA
Christopher Holliday  King’s College London, London, UK
Birgitta Hosea  University for the Creative Arts, Farnham, UK
Lilly Husbands  Middlesex University, London, UK
Ewan Kirkland  University of Brighton, Brighton, UK
Carla MacKinnon  Arts University Bournemouth, Poole, UK
Caroline Ruddell  Brunel University London, Uxbridge, Middlesex, UK
Alexander Sergeant  Bournemouth University, Poole, UK
Paul Ward  Arts University Bournemouth, Poole, UK

List of Figures

Fig. 2.1 Erasure (Birgitta Hosea, 2017) 27

Fig. 2.2 Erasure (Birgitta Hosea, 2017) 27
Fig. 2.3 Erasure (Birgitta Hosea, 2017) 28
Fig. 2.4 Noisy, Licking, Dribbling and Spitting (Vicky Smith, 2014) 29
Fig. 2.5 Screen shot from the making of Ugly (Nikita Diakur, 2017) 39
Fig. 3.1 Jill (Lilli Carré 2016) 67
Fig. 5.1 Daddy’s Little Bit of Dresden China (1988) 113
Fig. 5.2 Model Childhood (2018) 114
Fig. 6.1 Charlie and Lola (TV Series, 2005–2008) 133
Fig. 6.2 South Park (TV Series, 1997–) 138
Fig. 6.3 The Lego Movie (Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, 2014) 145
Fig. 7.1 A Computer Animated Hand (Ed Catmull and Fred Parke
1972) 158
Fig. 7.2 The wireframe model prior to full digital rendering 173
Fig. 7.3 Polygons are drawn onto the plaster mould as part of the
film’s production 175
Fig. 9.1 Copenhagen Cycles (2006) 205
Fig. 9.2 Copenhagen Cycles (2006) 206
Fig. 9.3 Copenhagen Cycles (2006) 207
Fig. 9.4 Copenhagen Cycles (2006) 208
Fig. 9.5 The Bellows March (2009) 209
Fig. 9.6 The Bellows March (2009) 210
Fig. 9.7 The Bellows March (2009) 210
Fig. 9.8 The Bellows March (2009) 211
Fig. 9.9 The Bellows March (2009) 212
Fig. 9.10 The Bellows March (2009) 212

x    List of Figures

Fig. 9.11 Shabamanetica (2017) 213

Fig. 9.12 Seeking Motion Hidden (2018) 213
Fig. 9.13 Seeking Motion Hidden (2018) 214
Fig. 9.14 Implant (2015) 215
Fig. 9.15 Implant (2015) 216
Fig. 9.16 Girona Octopi (2016) 217
Fig. 9.17 Shabamanetica (2017) 219
Fig. 9.18 Shabamanetica (2017) 220


Caroline Ruddell and Paul Ward

“Craft” appears to have a straightforward meaning, but it is a term that

is rich in historical and cultural connotations. It can be taken simply to
mean the doing or making of something, often directly linked to the
idea of manual activity, or doing something with one’s hands. There are
of course more complex ways in which “craft” can be understood—not
least the way in which it is mobilised in the title of this book: The Crafty
Animator. “Crafty” on one level suggests misdirection or deception and
this connects us to a rich history of magic, witchcraft, sleight of hand
and prestidigitation. If someone is being “crafty”, then, they are not
only “crafting” something, they are doing so with a view to deceiving or
Central to such connotations is a paradox that underpins much
­animation—especially the forms of animation that are discussed in this
collection of essays—namely, that it simultaneously reveals and conceals
its own construction. Peter Lamont’s contention, in his discussion of
magic, is that “if you look for the wires and see them, that is bad magic”

C. Ruddell (*) 
Brunel University London, Uxbridge, Middlesex, UK
e-mail: caroline.ruddell@brunel.ac.uk
P. Ward 
Arts University Bournemouth, Poole, UK
e-mail: pward@aub.ac.uk

© The Author(s) 2019 1

C. Ruddell and P. Ward (eds.), The Crafty Animator, Palgrave Animation,

(2009, 30), but there are many examples of animation that are based on
a knowing revelation of the processes, the craft, that went into making it.
Animation that “shows us the wires”, or revels in engaging the audience
through a self-conscious disclosure of (parts of) the technique as part of
its appeal. This does not mean that every animation mechanically talks
us through “how it was made”, but rather that the “hand of the artist”,
whether explicitly and literally shown or merely implied, is often funda-
mental to the form.
The idea that something is crafted or handmade initially appears to
be straightforward, therefore, but on further reflection we can see that
it raises a number of paradoxes. Perhaps the most prominent of these
is that such a handmade object is in some way authentic. Recently, craft
has become an increasingly valued phenomenon in contemporary cul-
ture, precisely because of its perceived authenticity and connections to
the “handmade”. At the same time, however, this notion of the “hand-
made”, the “authentic”, is used as part of the marketing of products
sold by major corporations. One has only to walk down a high street
to see signs for handcrafted burgers, handcrafted coffee, or craft beer,
or to look online at a website such as Etsy where you can buy “unique,
vintage & handmade items” (Etsy 2018). At the time of writing both
the Festival of Making and London Craft Week are imminent, and
University College London (UCL) have set up the Institute of Making,
a research hub for those interested in making. Crafted and handmade
products are currently in vogue, then, and ironically are often marketed
in ways that emphasises their uniqueness or authenticity. Herein lies the
first of many contradictions that craft embodies in late-capitalist culture:
namely, that its usefulness as a marketing term stems from how it brands
things as unique and handmade—authentic—but at the same time, the
relentless march of a culture of mass consumption mitigates against any-
thing being truly authentic. “Handcrafted”, “handmade”, and other
such terms, have simply become shorthand for a certain type of com-
modified “authentic” experience. The original meaning of the terms—
to make something, something unique, with one’s hands—has become
co-opted in order to re-brand certain products and experiences to make
them seem more attractive in the highly competitive market-place. For
example, a “handcrafted” coffee from the Costa coffee chain—at the
time of writing, a subsidiary of the hospitality multinational, Whitbread,
and about to be acquired by Coca-Cola for £3.9 billion1—is made by
both barista and machine. The coffee will be the same if you were to buy

one from any Costa coffee outlet because it is made by the same model
of machine with the same coffee beans, bought in massive amounts by
the company. Yet coffee sold in any of these outlets (and other chains,
whether Starbucks or McDonalds) will emphasise the role of the barista
in making the drink “by hand”. Of course, the barista may also “craft”
their own touches to the final coffee by creating their own handmade
sprinkled chocolate design, for example. In such an instance, which is of
course an example of mainstream large-scale business practice, the final
product is both the consequence of a factory line of coffee production
and a human handmade input. More than this, the machine of course
cannot be operated without human interaction. This may seem a whimsi-
cal analogy, but it can provide a useful introduction to thinking through
craft’s relationship with animation. In the coffee example we are dealing
with one person’s interaction with one piece of technology, the outcome
of which is one cup of “handcrafted” coffee. When it comes to anima-
tion, the array of technologies available to produce it is vast and varied. If
we were to replace the one coffee machine with the wide range of tech-
nologies and techniques that animators use—adding the fact that they
work in a wide variety of different industry contexts from the independ-
ent to the mainstream—we are immediately faced with a very complex
set of relationships between that which can be directly linked to a human
hand and that which is mediated in some way by technology, digital or
otherwise. All of these contextual factors make identifying and under-
standing notions of craft all the more difficult to manage.
The aim of this book is to interrogate craft, and its contradictions, in
the particular context of animation production. Surprisingly animation’s
specific relationship to notions of craft has been largely overlooked in the
scholarship. On the one hand, some animation might be unproblemati-
cally seen to be crafted or handmade, particularly in the sphere of inde-
pendent production where individuals appear to simply draw, paint, or
sculpt their productions into life. For example, one can look at the films
of animators like Joanna Quinn, Adam Elliot, Caroline Leaf, or the Quay
Brothers and sense the tactile, material nature of the images. The issue is
complicated when one starts to consider how individual handmade prac-
tices intersect with technologies. Perhaps the thorniest issue that anima-
tion and craft-based practices highlight is the use of digital technologies,
and the implications in terms of authorship and creativity. Digital hard-
ware and software are of course almost ubiquitous in the production of
all types of animation. “CGI” (“computer-generated imagery”) is merely

the most obvious use, and drawn/2D animation and stop-motion ani-
mation also use software such as ToonBoom, CelAction, TVPaint, Stop
Motion Pro or Dragonframe in their production pipelines, but often
in ways that will foreground the craft-based elements of the animation.
For example, Aardman’s productions are highly valued in contemporary
culture for their use of stop-motion puppets that often retain thumb or
finger prints, apparently providing “evidence” of their handmade pro-
duction, despite the fact that Aardman, like all contemporary studios,
of course use state-of-the-art technology to produce their animations. If
there is one underlying, central aim of this book, it is to problematise
these simplistic ideas about the value of certain methods and techniques,
and how technology relates to them. Animators in all kinds of industries
or production contexts use a wide variety of handmade/craft processes,
as well as technological practices; there can therefore be no simple dis-
tinction in animation production between that which has been crafted by
hand and that which has been crafted using technology.
One of the key arguments returned to repeatedly in the chapters
that follow is concerned with the ways in which different types of ani-
mation foreground or self-consciously showcase notions of the (hand)
crafted. Artworks self-reflexively gesturing to their constructedness, or
the processes that went into their making is an old idea; the debates in
this book, specifically about handcraft and animation, need to be seen
in this larger context. For example, the metatheatrical tropes we can see
in drama from Ancient Greece onwards—direct address of the audience,
for instance—are part of a mode of address that draws attention to the
work as a consciously constructed (or crafted) artefact. The playwright
(and the performers) want the audience to recognise and revel in the fact
that they are engaging with something that oscillates between “showing”
and “telling”. Film and literature have similar conventions, where the
“drawing attention to” is part of the pleasure derived. In a brilliant video
essay, “Editing as Punctuation in Film” (2015), Max Tohline draws upon
a brief essay by Kathryn Schulz (“The Five Best Punctuation Marks in
Literature” from 2014) in order to discuss the often startling ways in
which writers and filmmakers draw attention to the mechanics of their
chosen medium.2
Schulz offers up five punctuation marks that she argues arrest the
reader, stops them dead, makes them starkly aware of the hand of the
author leading them through the prose (or, in the case of one of her
examples, from T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”,

poetry). The fifth such mark is a simple full stop (or “period”) from
Primo Levi’s book, The Periodic Table. Levi ends the book with the chap-
ter entitled “Carbon”, and he ends that chapter with these lines:

It is that which at this instant, issuing out of a labyrinthine tangle of yeses

and nos, makes my hand run along a certain path on the paper, mark it
with these volutes that are signs: a double snap, up and down, between
two levels of energy, guides this hand of mine to impress on the paper this
dot, here, this one.

This is the writer writing about the process of writing—not in a “how

to” type way: in that sense “process” is the wrong word here. It is the
writer writing about the act of writing, the craft of writing, and the craft
of writing as something that is not done invisibly and intuitively, but as a
Similar questions of self-referentiality are commonplace in cultural
history—the idea of mise en abyme and the recursive nature of certain
artworks and artefacts, reflecting “back” on themselves, for example.
But what can appear to be a purely textual “trick” actually speaks vol-
umes about the processes that went into its construction: in other words,
it is really pointing to the crafting hand of the maker and the powerful
charge that recognition of this gives to the viewer. Take animator-­artist
Joe Sheehan’s work, for example: his most recent completed project,
Unit 119, takes stop-frame animation to one of its outer edges and con-
templates (virtual) stillness via animation and the handcrafting of minia-
ture versions of the eponymous studio unit in which he is working. In
the tradition of artists such as Thomas Demand, Jonas Dahlberg, and
Mayumi Terada, Sheehan’s miniaturised replicas are exquisitely detailed,
yet just stylised and simplified enough to make the viewer (un?)com-
fortably aware of the hand of the creator-animator. It is a peculiar form
of experimental “anti-animation” which, as Peter Parr notes “creates an
atmosphere that demands a deeply meditative participation from you, the
viewer. Animation is experienced only when we engage and recognize the
renewing qualities of stillness found in everyday subjects” (2016, 234).
The notion of careful or heightened attention to the artwork in
question involves a noticing of details and nuances that might other-
wise go unnoticed, as well as recognising the crafted nature of what we
are looking at. Such attention to “crafty” sleight of hand which reveals
and conceals simultaneously can again be linked to the idea of magic.

The dialectical relationship between the “magic” of the animated (or,

by extension, any moving) image and the “mechanics” of showing
how it is done or how it is crafted is something addressed by a range of
scholars from Tom Gunning’s influential “cinema of attractions” thesis
onwards. Colin Williamson talks about the “complementarity of trickery
and demystification” (2015, 9) that underpins the audience’s paradox-
ical relationship with the magic of the moving image. Gunning refers
to this by saying that the viewer’s reaction is “I know very well … but
all the same” (1989, 115), which Williamson summarises as “I think
I know, but I sense the inexplicable nonetheless”. Central to any of this
is a recognition of the guiding hand of the artist or magician, “pulling
the strings” behind the scenes. An experimental animation like George
Dunning’s mesmerising Damon the Mower (1972)—in which Dunning
deliberately foregrounds marks of his craft such as the rough edges of
the paper on which the animation undulates, the adhesive tape hold-
ing the paper in place, or the clearly visible numbering system for the
images—is not only telling us the story of Damon and his unrequited
love for Juliana,3 but it is openly and unapologetically about the craft of
animation (see Ward 2013). This self-conscious presenting of the crafted
nature of an animated image is underpinned by much the same tension
as we see in visual effects and other forms of cinematic trickery: it pro-
vokes what Stephen Heath has referred to as a “machine interest” (1981,
221) where, according to Charlie Keil and Kristen Whissel, there is “a
desire to know the operations of the moving picture technologies that
have made certain effects possible” (2016, 15). We can see a version of
this fascination play out across the examples discussed in this volume,
though we are specifically interested in how human agency and manual
skill—the craftiness of the animator—functions in this context, rather
than the moving picture technologies per se.
Before introducing the range of topics and case studies that the
chapters in this book deal with, it is necessary to examine how craft as
a concept has been theorised, as well as how significant the notion of
craft is to animation. One of the central debates that needs addressing
here relates to the historical arguments around how “craft” is perceived
as inferior to “art”. These debates often encompass some problem-
atic assumptions about gender, as well as highlighting how historically
women’s relationship to the arts, crafts, and the creative industries have
been subsumed within patriarchal frameworks. Importantly, here we will
also introduce the space that craft inhabits in contemporary culture; this

provides a broader context in which to understand the chapters’ explo-

rations of craft in relation to a wide variety of animation practices and
Glenn Adamson argues that “craft, as a cultural practice, exists in
opposition to the modern conception of art itself” (2007, 2). The dis-
tinction between art and craft is perhaps most poetically summed up by
William Morris who states: “The artist came out from the handicrafts-
men, and left them without hope of elevation, while he himself was left
without the help of intelligent, industrious sympathy. Both have suffered;
the artist no less than the workman” (1877). Morris is here referring to
the eighteenth-century shift that saw arts distinguished from crafts, when
previously all such artistic practices had been considered “art” (see also
Larry Shiner 2001). Acknowledging that writings about craft usually
focus on “specific processes carried out in specific materials” Adamson
goes on to note that central to understanding craft as a concept is a need
to understand how it sits with the arts as a whole (2007, 1). Adamson
provides a very useful way to approach the concept of craft gener-
ally; focusing on the marginalisation of craft, he explores the pastoral,
the amateur, and the use of skill. Adamson argues that one way that art
and craft have been differentiated is what they are used for: for exam-
ple, a painting may have been produced to be displayed in a museum or
gallery, not to be touched, and to be exhibited purely for visual pleas-
ure, while a weaving (his example is Albers’s weavings) has a functional
purpose—they are designed to decorate a room (2007, 5). Of course,
and as Adamson points out, one could also hang the “weaving on the
wall and call it art” (2007, 4). Here the distinction is that art is made
to elicit a purely aesthetic response while crafted products are in some
way deemed to be “useful”. Such a distinction draws from some of the
earliest writing on the importance of craft, not only in terms of artefacts
being “valued” in broad cultural terms, but also in terms of the pleas-
ure they elicit—what in contemporary discourse would be referred to as
“wellbeing”. For example, Morris makes clear that crafted objects made
for a particular use give the maker (and user) great pleasure:

To give people pleasure in the things they must perforce use, that is one
great office of decoration; to give people pleasure in the things they must
perforce make, that is the other use of it. Does not our subject look impor-
tant enough now? I say that without these arts, our rest would be vacant
and uninteresting, our labour mere endurance, mere wearing away of body

and mind. As for that last use of these arts, the giving us pleasure in our
work, I scarcely know how to speak strongly enough of it […] [W]e all
know what people have said about the curse of labour, and what heavy and
grievous nonsense are the more part of their words thereupon; whereas
indeed the real curses of craftsmen have been the curse of stupidity, and
the curse of injustice from within and from without: no, I cannot suppose
there is anybody here who would think it either a good life, or an amusing
one, to sit with one’s hands before one doing nothing - to live like a gen-
tleman, as fools call it. (Morris 1877)

Morris is drawing from his friend John Ruskin here who writes about
craft in a similar way in his Stones of Venice volumes published between
1851 and 1853. What is particularly pertinent here is that the value of
craft lies in both its usefulness and in the pleasure it brings to the maker
and the user.
Part of the issue of separating art out from craft is that the notion of
artistic creativity becomes separated from the act of “simply” making
something. David Gauntlett, however, drawing from both Peter Dormer
and Richard Sennett, argues: “The craftsperson does not do the thinking
and then move on to the mechanical act of making: on the contrary, mak-
ing is part of thinking, and, […] thinking and feeling are part of making”
(2011, 23). Ellen Dissanayake takes a similar, but ethological (the
study of animal/human behaviour), approach where she suggests that
art is part of human behaviour. She writes, “art contributes something
essential to the human being who makes or responds to it” (1988, 8).
Dissanayake here seems to be referring to art in a very wide sense that
would also include craft practices. Perhaps the distinction here is less of
an issue if one is focusing purely on what “we do with” art and craft
products. Gauntlett’s interrogation of making is related to the idea of
building connections in society, and his central argument is that makers
are able to participate in society and connect with others. For Gauntlett,
that kind of connection is not so easy in less “active” pursuits. He argues,
“making things for ourselves gives us a sense of wonder, agency, and pos-
sibilities in the world” (2011, 2). The final chapter in this book is a ques-
tion and answer piece with the animator Eric Dyer, who explores in great
detail the pleasures that making animation can bring.
Any discussion of animation’s “usefulness” and how it relates to
notions of “craft” also needs to take into account specific production
contexts and aesthetics. The “function” of animation varies enormously:

popular entertainment such as film, television, and games; branding

material designed to provide information such as company logos; exper-
imental works aimed at engaging viewers with artworks in alternative
ways; documentary animation that might provide anonymity for inter-
viewees or a novel way of visualising memories; dynamic imaging for
medical, scientific or engineering purposes, and so on. Similar animation
processes and techniques might be used to create a range of very dif-
ferent effects and elicit different audience responses. For example, CGI
might be used in an independent, experimental animation context, such
as the examples discussed by both Birgitta Hosea and Lilly Husbands
in this book; very similar software is also used to produce the main-
stream feature animation made by studios such as Pixar or Dreamworks.
Moreover, if “craft is organised around material experience” then anima-
tion provides a fascinating case study because the range of materials and
production methods used vary widely and the contexts that animators
work in also are multifaceted (Adamson 2007, 4, italics in original).
Previous debates about craft can therefore be summarised as being
primarily focused on its relationship with art; or in relation to the impact
of technology, particularly during the Industrial Revolution. Or, in keep-
ing with the writings of John Ruskin and William Morris, craft can be
considered as a critical reaction against mass culture, and a road to per-
sonal satisfaction through the act of making. Contemporary debates
about craft in the creative industries, however, are dominated by the
role of digital technologies. Despite the fact that many animators use a
combination of traditional handmade methods and digital technolo-
gies, there is perhaps a “mistrust” of the digital in contemporary culture
which manifests itself in various ways. For example, discussing craft and
technology generally, Dormer notes that there is often an “assumption
that ever-improving technology replaces craft” (1997, 3, italics added).
A recurring theme throughout this collection is the relationship craft has
with the digital; several chapters explore the problematic assumptions
around digital technologies—either they are seen as overtaking or replac-
ing more “traditional” craft practices and an extension of that “fear” is
that they are perceived in the context of “CGI fatigue”.
One final point to make before introducing each of the chapters that
makes up this collection, is to underscore the political “function” of
craft, or the ways in which craft, art, and the related debates can reveal
ideological values and norms. For Morris, craft served a clear political
function; he stated during an address delivered before the Trades’ Guild

of Learning: “I do not want art for a few, any more than education for
a few, or freedom for a few” (1877).4 Gauntlett’s views are clearly influ-
enced by Morris in that craft as a process of making something provides
community and connections in society. Theodor Adorno’s ideas about
art in Aesthetic Theory (1970) are also of importance in these debates.
As Adamson explains, for Adorno the “autonomy” of art gives it the
potential to critique the culture industries, which Adorno perceived to
be in a state of deep crisis due directly to the progression of capitalism.
However, this autonomy of art—that separates it from everything else
in the end—“inadvertently ratifies that external reality”, albeit by draw-
ing attention to certain structures in society (2007, 9). In Adorno’s
view craft also had potential for autonomy, which is related to the tech-
nical skill and mastery involved in an object’s creation (Adamson 2007,
10–11). His position differs greatly to those of the Arts and Crafts move-
ment, however, which he describes as a “masquerade”, considering writ-
ers like Morris to have misunderstood craft as a kind of fetish due to a
“misplaced love of its archaism or authenticity” (2007, 11).
The normative function of craft and discourses related to it also has
a distinctly gendered dimension. This is perhaps best summed up by
Christine Battersby who argues that, “It was genius that was supposed
to make the ‘Art’ (with a capital ‘A’) that European civilisation produced
different from the ‘crafts’ (with a small ‘c’) produced by primitives and
other lesser human types” (Battersby 1989, 3). In her book Gender and
Genius: Towards a Feminist Aesthetics Battersby makes a clear argument
that the separation of art and craft also entails a gender-based binarism,
with the genius of art associated with men and the more “primitive”
craft aligned with women. This is a point Adamson also notes when he
argues, “there are good reasons to despise the lopsided scheme in which
craft, often coded as feminine or even as ‘ethnic,’ is always seen as infe-
rior to the hegemonic category of art” (Adamson 2007, 5).
The essays that make up this volume build on these debates about
craft but it is important that we should provide some caveats. We fully
recognise that the contributions here are only really a starting point for a
much larger and ongoing project. This book is intended to begin a dia-
logue about craft and animation; as such, the case studies provided here
have been chosen because they draw upon, highlight and extend certain
theoretical ideas to do with the concept of craft. In this respect, the pur-
pose of the book is to lay out some “foundations” on which future work
might build, and we hope that subsequent publications will develop

these debates more fully in terms of their global, international reach and
case studies, as well as exploring craft practices in all their variety.
Furthermore, with its deliberate focus on the concept of craft, this
collection of essays downplays another important aspect of “maker cul-
ture”—namely, design. The concept of “design”, like “craft”, has a long-
standing relationship with “art”—think of all the institutions that have
faculties named “Art and Design”, for example—and speaks to vital
stages of the creative act. This should be rigorously interrogated in rela-
tion to Animation as a field. A concentration on the design discourses
in Animation would foreground some of the key pre-production pro-
cesses involved in producing—crafting—any animated artefact. Character
design, concept art, visual development, more specialised tasks such as
set design for stop-motion, or the kinds of technical design questions
that visual artists such as Eric Dyer (included in this volume) or Rose
Bond have to answer before they can actually make anything—these
are all potentially exciting topics for further research. For sure, some of
these ideas are talked about in the chapters that follow, but there tends
to be a specific concentration on how notions of “craft” and “crafted-
ness” manifest themselves in the finished works, rather than discussing
the design process per se. Clearly, there is a considerable overlap between
how some people use the terms “craft” and “design” (and especially
how they articulate their inter-relationships with “art”)—and part of the
ongoing project that this book is hopefully prompting would be to more
clearly distinguish between them, and delineate why this matters. There
has been some excellent work to date in Animation that attends to some
of these design discourses—the series of books by Paul Wells for the AVA
Press spring to mind, dealing as they do with the design choices made
in drawing, script, and story development and other areas—but what we
need now are more sustained scholarly analyses of specific instances of
animation design.
Some of these questions have been addressed by pioneering anima-
tion artists who have captured their processes, their design choices, as
they made their work. Most famously, Norman McLaren and Evelyn
Lambart were fastidious documenters of the techniques they used
in their work (see Dobson, N. [2018], along with the documen-
tary films Creative Process [McWilliams, 1990] and Eleven Moving
Moments with Evelyn Lambart [McWilliams, 2017]). Likewise, anima-
tors as diverse as Caroline Leaf, George Griffin, Robert Breer, and Jules
Engel have critically reflected upon their “craft”, either “in” the films

themselves, through some self-reflexive techniques, or through published

writing, or documentaries about them. Such process-focused auto-cri-
tique appears to be hard-wired into the more auteurist or experimental
animator’s day-to-day working, something which is demonstrated in a
number of the chapters that follow, and forms an intellectual backdrop
for the entire book. For many of these animators, capturing and then
communicating their thoughts on their craft—the processes involved,
how and why it is important—is a crucial element of what they do, and
ultimately a significant part of the pedagogy of animation. It is impor-
tant, however, to not simply equate “craft” with the “experimental”—
there is clearly a great deal of work still to be done that excavates how
craft and design choices are developed and brought to fruition in “main-
stream”/studio contexts. Every major animation production will be
accompanied (either on DVD/Bluray, or online, on the YouTube chan-
nel or equivalent) by various “making-of”/behind-the-scenes documen-
taries or other paratexts that “reveal” to the audience how the “craft”
or “magic” has been achieved. An important strand of the study of con-
temporary screen media is that embodied by the “production studies”
approach (e.g. the work of John Caldwell), which is very useful for inter-
rogating industry discourses about the choices that go into their craft,
and a useful corrective for taking these discourses at face value. As noted
above, more research is needed that engages with craft as an industrial,
as well as artisanal or experimental, practice; we feel that we are at the
beginning of a long and interesting journey.
To turn specifically to the contributions to this volume, Chapter 2
“Made by Hand”, written by Birgitta Hosea, investigates the use of
handmade processes in independent animation, notably experimen-
tal examples and those that can be considered the works of an auteur.
Hosea argues that handmade techniques are often privileged over digital
technologies, which in turn are often associated with more mainstream
mass-produced animation. By charting historical attitudes towards new
technology, Hosea problematises this perception of digital technology as
well as arguing that handmade techniques cannot necessarily be seen as
“authored” and authentic because they are always produced in the con-
text of particular traditions. Working with the same kinds of examples
(experimental animation) Lilly Husbands considers how the concept of
craft intersects with experimental examples and processes. In particu-
lar she is concerned with how experimental animation can be consid-
ered alongside the concerns of craft as a practice and aesthetic category.

Using various case studies including those that fall under the category of
“sloppy craft”, Husbands argues that craft manifests itself in experimental
work in numerous ways.
Taking up the gendered element of craft debates, in Chapter 4
Katharina Boeckenhoff and Caroline Ruddell analyse the reception of
Lotte Reiniger’s silhouette films. The authors analyse both the trade
press as well as scholarly work and argue that through the continued
use of particular kinds of language, or “discursive reserves”, Reiniger is
undervalued compared to, for example, her male avant-garde collabora-
tors. Also apparent in the ways that Reiniger and her work are described
are associations with magic, witchcraft and wizardry, placing Reiniger in
the category of crafty in two ways: firstly as someone who makes use of
craft-based animation methods, and secondly as a rather deceptive fig-
ure. In Chapter 5, Carla MacKinnon interrogates one of the qualities
most often associated with the handmade, authenticity. By examining
two stop-motion films that are both autobiographical and also deal with
personal trauma, MacKinnon identifies the techniques at play in such
films that ultimately increase a sense of authenticity. MacKinnon argues
that due to both the presence of the maker, in the sense of authorship,
and the stop-motion craft techniques, an “authenticity effect” is created.
The notion of authenticity is also considered in Ewan Kirkland’s chapter
where he analyses three varying examples of animation that each con-
tain an imaginary child figure. In discussing Charlie and Lola (TV Series
2005–2008), South Park (TV Series, 1997–) and The Lego Movie (Phil
Lord & Christopher Miller, 2014) Kirkland identifies the tensions and
contradictions that such examples embody; these three examples all make
use of an overtly handmade or “built” aesthetic which suggests a playful,
or even amateur naivety, while at the same time making up part of the
highly lucrative film and television media industries. By suggesting the
figure of the child, or the child-like, carries many connotations, Kirkland
argues that these animated examples liken the child-like to a range of
meanings from nostalgia to rebellion.
In Chapter 7, Christopher Holliday analyses A Computer Animated
Hand, a short film made by Ed Catmull and Fred Parke in 1972.
Holliday argues that despite the film’s obvious association with new dig-
ital technologies, A Computer Animated Hand actually has many asso-
ciations with the handmade. By evoking Donald Crafton’s notion of
the “Hand of the Artist” (1979), Holliday suggests that the presence
of the makers is prioritised throughout. Ultimately arguing that digital

processes can be handmade, Holliday places this short film within the
category of “hand-centric” performances (p. 177). Considering craft
and its relationship to wider effects techniques, in Chapter 8 Alexander
Sergeant investigates the role of puppetry in Hollywood during the
1970s and 1980s. By focusing on the Jim Henson Company Sergeant
suggests that puppets in this context performed the role of providing a
bridge between practical effects and the newer digital effects in the main-
stream industry. Sergeant argues that while puppets are not animation in
the traditional sense, they are part of the culture that surrounds anima-
tion and the effects industry in mainstream cinema. Sergeant focuses par-
ticularly on The Dark Crystal (1982) as the first all puppet feature film.
Finally, we are delighted to include at the end of this book a question
and answer session with animator Eric Dyer. Dyer utilises many tech-
niques in his work and uses both handmade and digital processes, often
making use of protocinematic devices such as the zoetrope. Dyer talks
us through some of the challenges and excitements of making, the use
of physical or material objects as well as digital technologies, the use of
space and place, and the importance of the audience. As such Dyer con-
cludes this collection by highlighting that craft is central to our under-
standing of animation, both in terms of how it is produced and the
effects it can achieve; Dyer is one of the many crafty animators that this
book seeks to further explore.

1. h ttps://www.theguar dian.com/business/live/2018/aug/31/
2. Tohline’s essay can be viewed here https://vimeo.com/138829554; the
Schulz essay is here http://www.vulture.com/2014/01/best-punctua-
3. The film is based on two of Andrew Marvell’s poems.
4. Such a sentiment directly echoed the final line of Shelley’s celebrated poem
about political resistance, The Masque of Anarchy (written in 1819 in the
wake of the Peterloo Massacre, but not published until 1832)—“Ye are
many, they are few”; at the time of writing, in current UK politics, the
Labour Party motto reads “for the many not the few”.

Adamson, Glenn. 2007. Thinking Through Craft. London and New York:
Battersby, Christine. 1989. Gender and Genius: Towards a Feminist Aesthetics.
Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.
Dissanayake, Ellen. 1988. What Is Art For? Seattle and London: University of
Washington Press.
Dobson, Nichola. 2018. Norman McLaren: Between the Frames. London and
Oxford: Bloomsbury.
Dormer, Peter. 1997. “Introduction.” In The Culture of Craft, edited by Peter
Dormer, 1–16. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Etsy. 2018. Accessed April 30, 2018. https://www.etsy.com/uk/.
Gauntlett, David. 2011. Making Is Connecting: The Social Meaning of Creativity,
from DIY and Knitting to YouTube and Web 2.0. Cambridge and Malden,
MA: Polity Press.
Gunning, T. 1989. “An Aesthetic of Astonishment: Early Film and the (In)
Credulous Spectator.” Spectator, Art and Text 34 (Spring): 31–45.
Heath, Stephen. 1981. “The Cinematic Apparatus.” In Questions of Cinema.
Communications and Culture. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Keil, Charlie, and Kristen Whissel. 2016. “Introduction.” In Editing and Special/
Visual Effects. New Brunswick, NJ and London: Rutgers University Press.
Lamont, Peter, et al. 2009. “Explaining the Unexplained: Warranting Disbelief
in the Paranormal.” Discourse Studies 11 (5): 543—559.
Morris, William. 1877. “The Decorative Arts: Their Relation to Modern Life
And Progress.” An Address Delivered Before the Trades’ Guild of Learning.
December 4. Originally published in London: Ellis and White, 29 New Bond
Street. Accessed May 4, 2018. Online at http://www.burrows.com/dec.
Parr, Peter. 2016. Sketching for Animation: Developing Ideas, Characters and
Layouts in Your Sketchbook. London and New York: Bloomsbury.
Shiner, Larry. 2001. The Invention of Art: A Cultural History. Chicago and
London: University of Chicago Press.
Ward, Paul. 2013. “Mechanics and Magic: Animation as Magical Process.” In
Bilder Animierter Bewegung/Images of Animate Movement, edited by Sigrid
Leyssen and Pirkko Rathgeber. Munich: Wilhelm Fink Verlag.
Williamson, Colin. 2015. Hidden in Plain Sight: An Archaeology of Magic and
the Cinema. New Brunswick, NJ and London: Rutgers University Press.

Made by Hand

Birgitta Hosea

Introduction: Privileging the Handmade

Although the mainstream animation industry has adopted digital
­production methods, the attraction of laborious handmade methods for
making animation persists in the independent sector. Why is this? What
ideas and assumptions can be seen to underpin the notion of craft and
crafting? What is specific about the handmade and what gives it such
enduring appeal? This chapter will critically reflect on craft, “craftivism”
and the implications of working by hand.
It is my belief that the independent animation sector, in particular
the community of practice especially associated with auteur or experi-
mental animation, privileges the aesthetics of the handmade over that of
the digital processes favoured in commercial production. By this I mean
that handmade processes are seen as more “artistic” and of more value
than digital processes. This statement is based on an experience of teach-
ing animation at several institutions and attending many international
festivals and exhibitions. I have observed a desire for tactile, physical
experience in an era of digital synthesis and artificial intelligence; for a
testament to a laborious process; for an authentic record of conscious-
ness rather than a mass-produced, machine-made product.

B. Hosea (*) 
University for the Creative Arts, Farnham, UK
e-mail: birgitta.hosea@uca.ac.uk

© The Author(s) 2019 17

C. Ruddell and P. Ward (eds.), The Crafty Animator, Palgrave Animation,
18  B. HOSEA

Many of my students are dissatisfied with what they see as generic,

mass-produced, digital perfection and they want to use analogue tech-
niques to create their own individual, signature style. Flying in the face
of commercial animation practices, they want to use time-consuming
handmade processes. They are fascinated with how to make “real” marks
and artefacts with their hands that are not possible with the computer,
and to make animation using traditional skills that do not rely on digi-
tal default production processes. The techniques that I refer to include
frame-by-frame animation with hand drawing or painting, stop motion,
paper cut-out collage, sand and fluids, direct animation on film, dark
room photographic processes, manipulation of video signals—all ana-
logue techniques that involve manual handling and fine motor coor-
dination. This kind of work validates notions of the independent and
artisanal as slow, laborious, thoughtful and well intentioned, thus oppo-
sitional to commercial industry content created for throwaway, mass
entertainment and maximum profit. Yet, the comment on commercial
animation suggested by this manner of working is implicit and critique
resides at the level of form, rather than explicit reference to activism or
political issues at the level of subject matter. So, are the aesthetics of
the handmade a form of political critique or are they a form of populist

Craftivism: Craft as Critique

In her catalogue essay for the Animate OPEN: Parts & Labour exhibi-
tion, Lilly Husbands asserts that in the context of experimental anima-
tion, the discourse of craft provides an “outsider” critique of mainstream
industrial productions. The spectacle of labour-intensiveness draws atten-
tion to the:

… close authorial connection between artist and artefact. They also per-
sist in operating according to non-normative aesthetic, technical and rep-
resentational paradigms. Indeed, experimental animations … critique
institutional and corporate culture either explicitly in their content or
implicitly by resisting the hegemonic aesthetics of commercial entertain-
ment. (Husbands 2016)

With this interpretation, handmade images could be seen as a reaction

to a Neo-Liberal agenda of mass production, quantity over quality,

alienated workers and financial profit as driver of both content creation

and production methods. The discourse of craft-led resistance is not
restricted to the field of experimental animation. In other areas of soci-
ety, a generation has reacted against mass production and returned to
hand-crafted methods of production in a move that has echoes of the
craft-led opposition to the Industrial Revolution that will be discussed
later in this chapter.
For at least ten years now there has been a resurgence of interest in
hand-crafting. Maker communities use social media and online platforms
to share expertise and to create a global distribution network for their
artefacts—for example, Etsy, a marketplace for the sale of handmade
products that enables small-scale artisanal producers to sell their prod-
ucts internationally (Etsy, Inc. 2018a). This is not restricted to tradi-
tional crafts, but also includes an appreciation of the skill in making with
new technologies. Etsy’s engineering team consider their work in cod-
ing to be a craft and run a blog called Code as Craft (Etsy, Inc. 2018b).
Indeed, the craft maker communities include many enthusiasts of DIY
electronics and physical computing who share their knowledge through
online tutorials and blogs. Make Magazine shares knowledge and tuto-
rials online about how to make things—from furniture and fermenta-
tion to electronics and robotics—as well as running international Maker
Faires, thus creating communities that are not just virtual but also actual
(Maker Media, Inc. 2018). The Shoreditch Sisters Women’s Institute
are another community formed around contemporary interpretations of
traditional crafts such as sculptural knitting, burlesque paper cutting and
digital crafts such as making spider robots. They combine craft activities
with activism, campaigning on important issues such as for gender equal-
ity and against female genital mutilation (FGM) and female detention,
through support for the women held at Yarl’s Wood Female Detention
Centre (Shoreditch Sisters Women’s Institute 2017).
Although some commentators regard the trend towards contempo-
rary crafting as a return to the material in opposition to the virtual world
of the digital and the internet, rather this turn to craft can be seen as
engendered by the digital. In her article on contemporary art and new
media, “The Digital Divide”, Claire Bishop considers the digital to be so
ubiquitous to contemporary culture that a reaction to it serves on a deep
level as “the shaping condition—even the structuring paradox—that
determines artistic decisions to work with certain formats and media”
(Bishop 2012, 436). Indeed, the platforms of social media can be seen
20  B. HOSEA

not only to facilitate craft maker communities, but also to shape their
agendas of sharing and participating in acts of creation. Moreover, the
objects they make are not simply given away, sold or forgotten about.
Their status as objects could almost be seen as secondary to their status
as photographs. As a consequence of online promotion on social media,
many craft products are designed to be camera-ready for posting on
Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat etc. (Johnson 2008, 30).
Members of these communities regard themselves as reconnect-
ing with material processes and reacting to corporate capitalism and
the planned obsolescence of consumer products through making and
repairing things themselves. The Maker Movement Manifesto references
crafters, hackers and tinkerers, who make, recycle, upcycle and thus cut
waste and air miles. It stresses going beyond purely personal expression
and learning new skills, by encouraging sharing, participation and sup-
port of others. A growing international movement of Repair Cafes offers
a place to get support to fix household items, thus cutting down con-
sumer waste and encouraging intergenerational skill sharing (Repair Cafe
2018). Celebrating their independence from mainstream, consumerist
capitalism in their book, Handmade Nation, Faith Levine and Cortney
Heimerl affirm the indie craft and maker community as accessible—
anyone can do it—authentic and personal (Levine and Heimerl 2008).
Betty Greer has coined the term craftivism to define this combination
of ideas about making things by hand and political activism. For Greer
the act of making is empowering and democratic. Although it invites
dialogue on a smaller scale than mass demonstrations, it can build
activist communities through practice and be transformational on a per-
sonal level. She argues that, “the small scale of craftivism is vital. It turns
us, as well as our work, into vessels of change” (Greer 2014, 12–13).
A number of historic precedents point to connections between craft
and political activism, such as Gandhi’s promotion of the local spinning
of khadi (homespun cloth) as a form of resistance against the British
Empire’s colonial monopoly on the textile trade in India, thus promot-
ing Indian independence and self-sufficiency (von Busch 2014, 126).

Looms, Luddites and Labour

There are many parallels between our new Digital Age and the Industrial
Revolution. During both eras changes in technologies of production and
distribution led to massive paradigm shifts in employment patterns, the

distribution of wealth and the grand narratives by which we interpret the

world. In this previous era of technological change, craft was at the fore-
front of critiques of new technology. During the Industrial Revolution in
the UK, skilled and specialist artisans, in particular weavers, found their
traditional production methods replaced by mechanical manufacturing
processes. This change was not simply due to technological determinism
or some abstract notion of “progress” or improvements in machinery. It
was driven by a desire for greater profit and a new way to organise the
labour force that could decrease wages (Thompson 1980, 309).
Traditionally cloth had been produced from flax and wool as a cot-
tage industry with weavers working together as a family unit to spin,
wind bobbins and weave cloth on individual looms. A highly skilled
artisan, who would have served a long apprenticeship to learn their
trade, headed these self-organised units. They could determine their
own hours and organise their own tasks in order to meet their produc-
tion targets (Thompson 1980, 339). However, this way of life became
obsolete with new materials and manufacturing processes. First, the
mass importation of cheap cotton from slave plantations in the West
Indies and the American South replaced indigenous materials like flax
and wool (Hobsbawm 1999, 210; Broadberry and Gupta 2009, 284).
Secondly, spinning by hand was replaced with new and more efficient
inventions like the Spinning Jenny. Finally, steam powered mechanical
mills and looms replaced the hand weaving of cloth, which resulted in
the production of three or four times more cloth by the same workforce
(Thompson 1980, 315). Machines such as the Jacquard Loom, a pre-
cursor of the modern computer, were programmed with punch cards
to reproduce complex linear designs and patterns that were woven into
cloth on an industrial scale. Although the Industrial Revolution is gen-
erally thought of as a period of rising living standards, the weavers, as
a group, did not share in the benefits of economic progress, but suf-
fered a drastic decline in their wages and working conditions (Thompson
1980, 343). With this new technology, the manufacture of textiles could
now be broken down into a series of less-skilled tasks, which meant that
women, children and unskilled, starving Irish immigrants could replace
skilled, English male workers at lower wages (Thompson 1980, 335). As
there was a vast pool of unemployed who, despite not having served an
apprenticeship, were now able to undercut skilled workers (Thompson
1980, 328), seasonal labour was employed to complete orders with
none of the loyalty to long-term employees that small businesses had
22  B. HOSEA

(Thompson 1980, 310). In the new factory production system there was
an emphasis on efficient working practices with standardised hours and
hazardous conditions—people might get terrible injuries because their
hair or fingers caught in the looms.
In opposition to these changes in the textile industry, the Luddites
formed a workers’ protest movement from 1811 to 1816 with popu-
lar support in tightly knit communities, who smashed and burned the
hated new technology. Between 1811 and 1812 in Nottinghamshire
around 1000 frames were broken (Thompson 1980, 585). The Frame
Breaking Act of 1812 made this a capital offence. At the peak of dis-
turbances in 1812, 12,000 troops were stationed between Leicester and
York to prevent machine wrecking and thirty Luddites were hanged by
the authorities (Websdale 2001, 226). The term Luddite is now used to
signify animosity towards new technology. However, the Luddites were
selective. They only broke the frames of those who were cutting wages
(Thompson 1980, 606) and only machinery that manufactured “cut-
price” goods, thus, carrying on their traditional practices of rejecting
substandard work (Thompson 1980, 583). E.P. Thompson concludes
that the Luddites were not against technical progress, per se, but the loss
of their skills, the lowered status of their craftsmanship and the decline
in their economic status and living standards. Rather than the Luddites
themselves being criminal, he argues that it was actually the “factory-­
owner or large hosier or cotton-manufacturer, who built his fortune
by these means” who was engaging in “immoral and illegal practices”
(Thompson 1980, 600). Thompson’s argument can be extended to a
wider critique of colonialism. This combination of cheap, raw materials
that were a product of slavery, a division of labour into the less skilled,
and therefore less well-paid, tasks and market protectionism resulted in
massive profits for the factory owners, but also increased trade for the
British Empire. By the start of the nineteenth century, British policy
had destroyed the local textile industry in India, which as a consequence
began to import its cloth from Britain. British colonies, such as India and
parts of Africa, were important, monopolised markets for British trade
and manufactured goods. The skewed competitive advantage of colo-
nialism stimulated manufacture at home as well as providing cheap raw
materials (Hobsbawm 1999, 127, 209; Broadberry and Gupta 2009,
279–284). Thus, the Industrial Revolution was founded on the exploita-
tion of domestic workers, prevention of international competition

(suppression of India’s superior product), and reliance upon the products

of slavery and trade routes facilitated by colonialism.
As a reaction to the alienation and de-skilling of workers in the
Industrial Revolution, Victorian art critic and social commentator, John
Ruskin, set out to celebrate the nobility of labour and to promote an
ethics of craft production. His three-volume book on Venice and its
architecture, The Stones of Venice (1851–1853), and in particular the
chapter on the Gothic—“The Nature of Gothic”—was hugely influen-
tial on a generation who rejected the values of mechanical mass produc-
tion: in particular William Morris. In “The Nature of Gothic”, Ruskin
argues that art and architecture could have moral and spiritual values
which, rather than profit motives, should underlie production. The term
“gothic”, originally used to describe the Northern European architec-
ture of the Middle Ages, was considered to be a derogatory reference to
the “barbarous” tribes of the North who overthrew the Romans, thus,
implying that this work was somehow crude and uncivilised in compar-
ison with the classical architecture of the Greeks and Romans that was
revived during the Renaissance (Ruskin 1892, 7–8). However, Ruskin
considered gothic architecture to be full of Christian values and the clas-
sical architecture of the Greeks and Romans to be pagan.
Contrasting the division of labour in newly industrialised capital-
ist societies with the methods of production and craft skills deployed in
the creation of gothic architecture, Ruskin argues that unskilled manual
labour is degrading, and that labour should have dignity. Working people
were becoming disaffected because of their lack of agency and creativ-
ity in the tasks they were asked to undertake: “…the kind of labour to
which they are condemned is verily a degrading one, and makes them
less than men” (Ruskin 1892, 20). The division of labour into a series
of monotonous, unskilled tasks provides little mental stimulation for the

It is not, truly speaking, the labour that is divided; but the men: Divided
into mere segments of men, broken into fragments and crumbs of life; so
that all the little piece of intelligence that is left in a man is not enough to
make a pin, or a nail, but exhausts itself in making the point of a pin or the
head of a nail. (Ruskin 1892, 22–23)

These ideas about the dehumanising effect of unskilled, repetitive tasks

echo some of the sentiments of The Communist Manifesto:
24  B. HOSEA

Owing to the extensive use of machinery, and to the division of labour, the
work of the proletarians has lost all individual character, and, consequently,
all charm for the workman. He becomes an appendage of the machine,
and it is only the most simple, most monotonous, and most easily acquired
knack, that is required of him. (Marx and Engels 1969, 18)

Although originally published a few years before The Stones of Venice

in 1848, and, despite similar concerns, Ruskin is unlikely to have been
influenced by The Communist Manifesto. It was originally written by
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in German and was not widely known in
the UK at the time of writing. Indeed, rather than Marx, it was Ruskin,
along with William Morris, who were among the key figures in the for-
mation of the British socialist movement (Mathis 2016).
Instead of the drudgery of factory work, Ruskin had a vision of
“healthy and ennobling labour” (Ruskin 1892, 23) in which “the
labourer’s mind had room for expression” (Ruskin 1892, 31). This
notion of creativity and agency in labour opposed a traditional class
division between the gentleman thinker, who originated ideas and the
manual labourer who executed those ideas and whose contribution was
accorded lesser significance (Ruskin 1892, 28). Ruskin also believed that
physical labour had educational value in developing skills of “observa-
tion, accuracy and physical control” (Frayling 2017, 83). He went on to
apply these ideas to his teaching practice. In the autumn of 1874, Ruskin
engaged his students at Oxford University—including Arnold Toynbee
and Oscar Wilde—in digging a road by hand (Frayling 2017, 85).
William Morris read “The Nature of Gothic” as a student and it
became a foundational text for the Arts and Crafts movement. His
own Kelmscott Press printed a version of this chapter as an illustrated
book. Although today perhaps primarily remembered for his wallpaper
and fabric designs, over and above his work as a textile designer, Morris
was also a poet, book designer, publisher, utopian and radical socialist
campaigner. In reaction to industrialisation and the age of the machine,
his Preface to the version of Ruskin’s text that he published emphasises
the text’s key message that the creation of art has the potential to pro-
vide satisfaction in life: “art is the expression of man’s pleasure in labour;
that it is possible to rejoice in his work” (Ruskin 1892, i). Calling for
individuality not standardisation, humanity and morality rather than the
profit motive, Morris believed in a rejection of “tacky”, mass-produced
goods in favour of well-made, hand-crafted goods that were both useful

and beautiful. This was not simply about decorative aesthetics. His main
concern was not with end products but the establishment of a society in
which all could enjoy the freedom to be creative. In a lecture from 1880
he said he was aiming for “[a]rt made by the people and for the people,
a joy to the maker and the user” (Naylor 1980, 108). This was not just
a rejection of materialism, rather a desire for design in a social context,
the democracy of art, and to demonstrate the pleasure in skilled artisanal
production methods.
Both the Arts and Crafts movement and the contemporary craft
revival can be seen as predicated on the ideal of craftspeople completely
fulfilled through their work as opposed to industrial workers who are,
in Marxist terms, alienated from their labour. The former is in control
of tools; the latter is used as a tool. However, there is a contradiction at
the centre of this utopian vision of an egalitarian society in which craft-
speople reject mechanisation and are fully employed in manual artisanal
production so that everyone could benefit from high quality goods.
Although the Arts and Crafts movement produced beautiful objects
designed to be both aesthetically pleasing and to provide high levels of
satisfaction in their making, Morris grew frustrated that work produced
to his high standards of craftsmanship became luxury items that were too
expensive for ordinary people to afford due to their high labour costs.
There is a parallel here with the cost of producing animation. Although
many animators personally find the labour of working by hand enjoyable,
high production costs mean that it is unlikely to be commercially viable
for the animation industry to produce feature films or TV series using
these methods. Handmade work costs both time and money to make
and this is not compatible with a market-driven economic model that
values profit over quality.
In the case of animation, the authority of the animator’s skilled labour
can be seen to have become undermined by the adoption of digital pro-
cesses. Mihaela Mihailova argues that in the digital era the traditional
myth of the animator as omnipotent creator is erased by production
teams of animators and programmers using complex systems; the tech-
nology leads to a loss of skilled jobs in favour of outsourcing to cheaper
labour resulting in a reduction to the skill status of the profession
(Mihailova 2013). In this argument, the individual animator is seen as
being increasingly sidelined, alienated from the products of their labour
and replaced by the operation of sophisticated tools in which the craft
skill resides. However, as in the days of the Industrial Revolution, this is
26  B. HOSEA

not simply determined by the technology itself, but in how the technol-
ogy is used for a cheaper division of labour.
Although there may be many anxieties around the de-skilling of
animators and the replacement of their artisanal, tacit knowledge by
sophisticated digital processes, the erasure of the animator’s individual
contribution has been a product of the studio production system since
the early days of animation. It is not simply a result of the introduction
of new technology, but a product of the way in which the workforce
is organised. Ever since the 1910s when John Randolph Bray adopted
transparent cels and divided his labour force into a Fordist assembly
model, specialised tasks—creating backgrounds, keyframes, in-betweens
or ink, trace and colouring—have been allocated to different workers,
none of whom has overall authority for the creative process as this is
reserved for the Director (Callahan 1988). Digital technologies extend
this model globally, enabling tasks to be outsourced internationally to a
cheaper pool of labour.

Materiality and Nostalgia
If mainstream, commercial animation is thought of as a place in which
the voice of the animator and their individual authorship has become
subsumed, then handmade, artisanal animation could be seen as a return
to Ruskin and Morris’s ideas of the pleasure in making in which there is a
recognition of the contribution that each worker makes: a delight in the
animator’s labour; a celebration of the time it took to make the film; an
indexing of manual skills. Artist Vicky Smith points out that practising in
this way can be hard work: “non-industrial handmade animation practice
also requires systematic repetitive actions that are frequently quite phys-
ically arduous” (Smith 2015, 7). For my own film, Erasure (2017), the
subject matter, materials and techniques used are all conceptually linked
to the theme and physical practice of manual labour. Thus, the manner
in which it is made forms a crucial part of the film’s intended meaning.
Part of a series of works based on memories of my previous employment
as a domestic and hospital cleaner, performative processes are used in
which the marks left behind by metal scouring pads, hand-manipulated
ink, bleach, dirt and cleaning products are combined with digital tools
to re-enact and record the invisible labour of domestic workers. This
highlights the lack of recognition for all the work they do and the era-
sure of working class voices in society. At one point, a disembodied

Fig. 2.1  Erasure (Birgitta Hosea, 2017)

Fig. 2.2  Erasure (Birgitta Hosea, 2017)

rubber-gloved hand wipes away the digital surface to reveal the cod-
ing of the images underneath before erasing the workers themselves
(Figs. 2.1, 2.2, 2.3).
28  B. HOSEA

Fig. 2.3  Erasure (Birgitta Hosea, 2017)

Making animation by hand involves a physical activity that leaves a

mark behind where the animator’s body has come into contact with a
surface. Indexical marks, that can only have been made by hand, affirm
not only that the hand was present, but also individual subjectivity. The
act of drawing, for example, traces a human activity in marks—how the
hand and the wrist moved while holding a pencil on a sheet of paper.
The drawing records the aftermath of an action. It shows the trace of the
presence of an artist’s body, the record of a performance (Hosea 2010,
364–366). The material itself bears a trace of the artist’s presence, like a
reliquary, which guarantees its authenticity as an original work of art by
that individual. This is beautifully illustrated in Vicky Smith’s film, Noisy,
Licking, Dribbling and Spitting (2014), in which she explores chance,
spontaneity and a direct relationship between the material of film and
the artist’s body. As we can see in Fig. 2.4, the mouth alone is used as a
tool, as she licks, spits and dribbles paint directly onto the filmstrip. This
technique gives her an intimate and unpredictable relationship with the
resulting marks. The splats of paint and spit drip onto the audio track
which generates “noisy rasps and skidding sounds” (Smith 2016). In this
film, there is a clear record of Smith’s presence through her actions and
own bodily fluids.

Fig. 2.4  Noisy, Licking, Dribbling and Spitting (Vicky Smith, 2014)

The notion of recording the labour taken to make animation through

material processes, is not just an exploration of physicality, but also
an exploration of the materials used. Part of the identity of the hand-
made is a direct relationship to real materials through a sense of touch.
There is a sensuality that is evoked by the use of actual materials that
makes us think of things we have previously touched ourselves. Writing
about crafting in general, Inga Hamilton captures a sense of this haptic

And I know of other craftspeople who are on their knees late at night,
smashing earth into just the right type of crumbliness, picking up tiny
stitches in a pattern till their eyes are sore, slicing and burning their fin-
gers on hot metal and glass with ever-patient exactness in their alchemy.
None of it makes sense in a time-and-motion study… But the obsession
for craftsmanship and respect for the material is like an eternal itch in the
back of our brains… (Hamilton 2014, 48)
30  B. HOSEA

In her article, “Meticulously, Recklessly Worked Upon: Direct

Animation, the Auratic and the Index”, Tess Takahashi reflects on
direct animation in which artists, such as Norman McLaren or Len
Lye, use various processes to work directly onto the surface of film
stock. Takahashi considers direct animation to be a response to a crisis
of authenticity in the image brought about by digital techniques, and
asserts that the direct trace of the artist’s body guarantees the authentic
artistic value of the work:

Hand-drawn and painted films… index the process of their production…

Films in this mode rely on the assertion that artist, worldly referent, and
medium were present at the site of the film’s production for their claims to
immediacy, presence, and singularity. Although the spectator cannot touch
the film, the material body and testimony of the filmmaker can serve as
the guarantee of authenticity. “I saw” is supplemented by “I found”, “I
touched”, “I made” and “I bring to you”. (Takahashi 2005, 172–173)

For Takahashi, the physical connection between the artist’s body and the
material of film opposes the “easily produced digital effects” (Takahashi
2005, 166) brought about through the advent of digital production
methods that she argues have brought about a crisis in avant-garde
filmmaking practice just as film itself became obsolete as a medium. In
particular, she is disturbed by the idea of the computer’s “automatic
functions”. In doing the work for us computers seem “to remove human
intentionality from the creative process” thus revealing a “continu-
ing anxiety about the relationship between human being and machine”
(Takahashi 2005, 168–169). Since touch screen devices, tablets or
motion capture equipment are also means by which to record a trace of
contact with the artist’s body, Takahashi’s argument about direct anima-
tion as an art form of the avant-garde relies upon a conceptualisation of
film stock as an authentic and auratic material that produces a singular
and original result. It is dependent upon a nostalgic conceptualisation of
materiality as purely analogue and a work of art as something that cannot
be reproduced.
The notion of analogue film as guarantor of authenticity can be seen
in the art world more generally. As Erika Balsom (2013) and Claire
Bishop (2012) have noted, it has only fairly recently become popular for
examples of the moving image to be exhibited in art galleries and, in par-
ticular, it is often analogue film that is projected for display rather than

digitally generated content. Bishop comments that, “[t]oday, no exhibi-

tion is complete without some form of bulky, obsolete technology—the
gently clunking carousel of a slide projector or the whirring of an 8-mm
or 16-mm film reel” (Bishop 2012, 426). In parallel with the revival of
interest in craft, this turn to materiality could be interpreted as a turn to
the substantial and authentic in an age of faked images and fake news.
This is, however, a recent interpretation of the status of analogue film
which was designed as a medium of reproduction.
To turn to Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mass
Production” (1935) in which the concept was introduced, the auratic is
defined as pertaining to an original piece of work that is unique, authen-
tic; that is situated in a significant context within a particular tradition;
and that going to see it is like a pilgrimage or a ritual. What is often
overlooked in contemporary readings of this text, however, is that he was
not bemoaning a withering of the aura. Indeed, in theorising about the
potential for mechanical reproduction to create art for a “classless soci-
ety”, he argues that “creativity and genius, eternal value and mystery”
are “outmoded” concepts, which could lead to a Fascist understand-
ing of art (Benjamin 1969, 218). Rather than it in itself having an aura,
Benjamin argued that the medium of photographic film removed the
original time, site, presence and authenticity of an object or live perfor-
mance that it was used to portray, and resulted in “the liquidation of the
traditional value of the cultural heritage” (Benjamin 1969, 221). Due to
its potential for reproducibility, “[m]echanical reproduction is inherent
in the very technique of film production” (Benjamin 1969, 244); film
was an art form that could be made available to a mass audience rather
than an elite few.
Although Benjamin was writing about live action rather than camer-
aless film, following on from his arguments, the direct use of film stock
as a material of origination doesn’t guarantee that we are seeing the orig-
inal artwork. An audience is unlikely to see the original version of the
film. We see a mechanical print of it or a digital copy: a reproduction.
As a film is a recording, each time it is played back it will appear the
same. Even if it was a one-off, unique piece of film that one has to travel
from afar to see, this does not necessarily make it avant-garde or counter-
cultural. Indeed, rare and original, handmade work that is auratic and
not reproduced appeals directly to capitalist commodity culture and its
scarcity has added value as it becomes an object that is easy to package,
buy and sell. Bishop points out that, in returning film to a cultic status,
32  B. HOSEA

the use of analogue film in galleries has become fashionable rather than
oppositional: “The continued prevalence of analogue film reels and pro-
jected slides in the mainstream art world seems to say less about revo-
lutionary aesthetics than it does about commercial viability” (Bishop
2012, 427). Furthermore, she points out the contradiction involved in
applying Benjamin’s concept of aura to film. Writing about the increas-
ing incorporation of analogue film into the gallery as it becomes obsolete
as a commercial format, Balsom notes that while Benjamin considered
cinema to be a “primary agent in the liquidation of cult value” this has
been reversed by its incorporation into the gallery as a rare and historic
commodity: “Cinematic ruins and cinematic refuse appear within the
museum and gallery as so many relics of another age” (Balsom 2013,
17–18). Balsom concludes that the motivation behind the use of moving
images in the art gallery is symptomatic of an “increasing spectaculariza-
tion of the museum space” as art itself seeks to incorporate popular cul-
ture and to become mass entertainment (Balsom 2013, 31).
If the use of obsolete formats can be seen as a form of nostalgia for
the past, so can craft techniques. For Christopher Frayling the myth of
the “happy artisan” behind the Arts and Crafts movement and the recent
“craft revival” are “nostalgia masquerading as history” based on a ret-
rospective idealisation and ennobling of a past in which craft activities
employed only a minority of the workforce and working conditions were
not always ideal (Frayling 2017, 64–66). Rather than glorifying the past
without question, it is important to maintain a critical perspective. In his
book, The Invention of Tradition (2000), Eric Hobsbawn points out that
the concept of tradition needs to be interrogated. He contends that tra-
dition is not something neutral and eternal, but a set of accepted prac-
tices and rituals that legitimise and normalise a particular world view or
value system and are designed to “inculcate certain values and norms
of behaviour by repetition, which automatically implies continuity with
the past” (Hobsbawm 2000, 1). This can be observed in the use of
‘traditional values’ in advertising. Frayling comments on how nostalgia
for craft is used to conjure up ideas of past values and quality (Frayling
2017, 9). Advertising phrases pertaining to the language of craft such
as “crafted” or “hand built by robots” confer the values of a bygone age
(Frayling 2017, 61). Frayling cites Raymond Williams’s The Country
and the City (1973) for its discussion of writers going back to 1769 in
“an unbroken chain of ‘retrospective regret’ for an age which had just
passed—and which was usually thought of being on its last legs during

the childhood of the writer” (Frayling 2017, 63). Indeed, each age has
nostalgia for a better time, for the time when the writer was young.
This nostalgia for childhood is especially manipulated in adverts
shown during Christmas to encourage greater consumption than nor-
mal. With its appeal to memories of childhood, animation is an especially
appropriate form for this. As pointed out by artist, Alan Warburton, in
“Spectacle, Speculation, Spam” (2017), a talk he gave at the Whitechapel
gallery for an Edge of Frame seminar on experimental animation, the
use of bygone craft skills is fetishized in John Lewis Christmas advertis-
ing for no purpose other than spectacle. There is no functional purpose
in using this method of making animation. The Bear and the Hare (dir.
Elliot Dear & Yves Geleyn, 2013) works hard to look handmade, but
is actually primarily digital with laser-cut elements animated by hand.
According to Warburton, the “Making of” video that shows the labour
behind the animation has had over 26 million views on YouTube. He
argues that, rather than the film itself having primary significance, unnec-
essary labour is the real spectacle with this fetishized, analogue craft
practice very effectively reaching an audience beyond that of the tele-
vised advertisement (Warburton 2016). The laboriousness and painstak-
ing nature of production becomes part of the marketing strategy. This
idea could be extended to the promotion of other stop motion films
such as The Boxtrolls (dir. Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi, 2014)
or Kubo and the Two Strings (dir. Travis Knight, 2016), where, as with
other animated films, the “Making Of” has become part of Laika’s mar-
keting strategy. Their hybrid process involves a sophisticated library of
replacement parts that are created by CGI modelling and then 3D
printed for hand manipulation on set. It is hard to understand why the
manual stop motion process was necessary at all beyond a fetishization
of virtuoso craft and labour-intensive processes. The films could just as
well have been CGI animation as the result is so perfect that it no longer
looks handmade. By the time the rigs and armatures have been digitally
removed, the textures become so smoothed out that, to all intents and
purposes, it looks synthetically produced rather than handmade. In these
examples, craft as a method of production is foregrounded in the mar-
keting material for the purpose of spectacularising the labour, while the
resulting aesthetic looks digital. All that effort was unnecessary and digi-
tal tools could have been used for an identical result.
Aside from production technique, the physicality of the mate-
rials used in animation can also be invoked for nostalgic purposes.
34  B. HOSEA

This is a trend in contemporary Chinese animation. The beautiful ink

animations inspired by classical Chinese ink painting that were made by
the Shanghai Film Studios, culminating in Feelings of Mountains and
Water (dir. Tei Wei, 1988), are seen as a peak of achievement in Chinese
animation that cannot be repeated because of the high labour costs and
secrecy about the original production methods. A number of attempts
have been made to create a perfect formula to recreate this look digi-
tally, for example Ink (dir. Niko Tziopanos, 2009), an ident for Central
Chinese Television that aims to combine ancient and modern methods
to tell the history of China through the medium of ink. This nostalgia
for ink and water colour is usually interpreted as a desire for heritage and
national cultural identity in animation in the face of bland global con-
tent, however it could also be interpreted as a mourning for the loss
of state sponsorship for animation since the opening up of the Chinese
economy and the new market-driven animation industry has reduced
costs. This desire for industrial efficiency and profit has resulted in less
time allocated to the labour involved in animation production than
under the older state system and, therefore, traditional ink painting
as a form of animation is no longer feasible. Thus, despite a nostalgia
for traditional art styles in Chinese animation, more formulaic types of
industrially produced ­animation dominate the mainstream rather than
the hand-crafted ink productions that define the golden age of Chinese

Autographic Mark-Making
So far it has been argued that the handmade foregrounds the labour used
in the making process and, therefore, counters the idea of the machine
made or the reproduced to engage with nostalgic notions of individuality.
The handmade also evokes a conceptualisation of art as an expression of
individual consciousness rather than something produced by non-human
technology or the merging of identities within a team. Something made
by hand is considered personal and unique like a signature and, thus, the
term autographic mark-making refers to an individual mark that could
only have been made by one person and implies the indexical presence
of their body. This notion, however, engages with outmoded discourses
of the “artist” as privileged expresser of individuality and subjectivity.
Since the 1960s this has been challenged by a series of artists who dema-
terialised the art object through reproduction, inter-mediality, action,

performance, collaboration and participation to engage with issues such

as context, site, audience interaction and social critique rather than to
express individual consciousness. Writing about the use of analogue film
in the art world, Claire Bishop points out the irony and conservatism of
a return to singular, material objects (in the form of analogue film) and
the Romantic myth of the artist/author as originator of meaning in a
period of interest in art that is social, dialogic and participatory (Bishop
2012, 427–428). Rather than simply visualising the consciousness of one
individual, contemporary art values work that demonstrates contextual-
isation, social interaction, inter-subjectivity and inter-textuality as well as
the labour that went into its construction.
Aside from the question of the relevance of an autographic approach
to mark-making, is it the act of working by hand itself that automatically
confers a distinctive and individual style? Traditional animated films made
under the Disney factory production system were all hand painted on
cel. However, the aim was not for individuality to shine through, but for
a unified house style within a context of team working; as with the hand-
made itself, the whole concept of autographic, personal ­mark-making
only has significance if there is something in opposition to it. If the auto-
graphic refers to an individual and genuine mark inscribed by an identi-
fiable and unique artist, its complement is the allographic. This term is
taken from Nelson Goodman’s Languages of Art (1968) and is used to
describe a form of art practice in which a set of instructions for an art-
work is given to another to be completed. This could take the form of a
letter, a score, a script or computer code. The Other who completes the
work could be another artist, a technician, an assistant, a machine, a fac-
tory or a computer.
In a forthcoming chapter of Performance Drawing: New Practices
Since 1945, Maryclare Foá and I trace a history of allographic art prac-
tices since the 1960s, in which the artist defines a set of instructions to
be carried out by another and the concept behind the work takes prec-
edence over the technique (Foá and Hosea 2019). Yet, even before this
kind of conceptual practice, the hand of the artist worked in conjunc-
tion with a succession of mechanical aids for making images. During the
Renaissance and afterwards, artists used various optical and mechani-
cal devices to aid them in the drawing process such as gridded frames,
sighting glasses, camera obscura, camera lucida and silhouette devices
to help them literally trace over reality and draw with accurate linear
36  B. HOSEA

The myth of the handmade is that it resists mechanical perfection and

stands in opposition to the use of CGI technology that mediates and,
thus, has an influence over the automatic marks that are made with it.
This point is raised by Frieder Nake, a pioneer of digital art, who has
argued that the use of computer software, a system made by someone
else, implies that the user has a loss of control over the authorship of
the marks that are made with it (cited in Hosea 2010, 356–357). Lev
Manovich also advises criticality about the software that shapes our inter-
actions with the world. In his article on Photoshop he asks:

How does media authoring software shape the media being created, mak-
ing some design choices seem natural and easy to execute, while hiding
other design possibilities? How does media viewing / managing / remix-
ing software affect our experience of media and the actions we perform on
it? (Manovich 2011)

Although defaults and standard processes in software may control our

choices, that can also be said about all traditions, disciplines and gen-
res, which have their conventions and gatekeepers. The use of all media
involves “learned” techniques and stylistic devices, which allow the form
of the work to be identified within (or, indeed, in opposition to) a canon
of practice. The philosopher Stanley Cavell uses the term “automa-
tism” to refer to this process: “… in mastering a tradition one masters
a range of automatisms upon which the tradition maintains itself, and in
deploying them one’s work is assured of a place in that tradition” (cited
in Hosea 2010, 357). In this sense, the use of “off-the-shelf” commer-
cial software comes with a set of implicit “automatisms”, but so does the
use of any other form of media and, indeed, any discipline has a set of
automatisms. Although the two concepts may appear to be opposites,
there is actually a great deal of “automatism” within handmade prac-
tice. Frayling uses a traditional term, invisible colleges, to refer to these
shared assumptions in craft practice, which refers to “the social location
of distinctive sets of ‘technical and cognitive norms’” (Frayling 2017,
27). Following on from this, the issue for animation is not just about
the use of automatic functions in software, but the uncritical adoption
of animated conventions. For example, in character animation we may
absorb the lessons of Preston Blair, who worked on Disney classics such
as Fantasia (1940), Pinocchio (1940) and Bambi (1942), and char-
acterise all walk cycles in terms of cliché—like the sneak, the shuffle,

the double-bounce walk (Blair 1994). Similarly, Richard Williams,

Animation Director of Who Framed Roger Rabbit (dir. Robert Zemeckis,
1988) and author of the Animator’s Survival Kit (Williams 2001), has
been teaching generations of animation students gendered stereotypes
about how to walk like a man or a woman (cf. Loader 2014).
Although the discourse of the autographic, handmade mark implies
unique and original, stylistic authorship, animation, like all other disci-
plines, is created within the context of cultural, historic and creative tra-
ditions. Aside from the allographic impact of the technology used, the
individual animator is part of an inter-textual network of influences that
can be accepted or defied. Manual mark-making with analogue mate-
rials does not necessarily provide the trace of individual consciousness.
Cels painted by hand in industry factory production systems show that
working by hand is not enough as a guarantor of the autograph, just as
working digitally does not automatically lead to unexamined conform-
ism. There is no direct correlation between the technique used to make
animation and the originality of the work produced.

Part of the discourse of an autographic and original approach to
mark-making is that it does not reproduce the styles of others. For
Ruskin, the craftsperson who followed prescriptive rules and set patterns
of ornamentation, such as in the ancient Greek traditions, lacked indi-
vidual agency and had a “servile” relationship to their craft. In seeking
bland perfection and orthodox compliance, this kind of craftwork erased
humanity. In the Gothic, on the other hand, he saw Christian principles
in the imperfection and crudeness of the ornamentation—for the meek,
humble and sinning human being could not contemplate the arrogance
of rivalling the perfect creations of their Christian God:

…the individual value of every soul… it confesses its imperfection…

bestowing dignity upon the acknowledgement of unworthiness. That
admission of lost power and fallen nature… the Christian makes daily and
hourly, contemplating the fact of it without fear, as tending, in the end, to
God’s greater glory. (Ruskin 1892, 14)
38  B. HOSEA

According to Ruskin, the roughness and imperfection of gothic carvings

shows us that making mistakes is human, raw and authentic. Their vari-
ety and multiplicity demonstrate life—birth, death and change:

…no good work whatever can be perfect, and THE DEMAND FOR
…imperfection is in some sort essential to all that we know of life. It
is the sign of life in a mortal body, that is to say, of a state of progress and
change. Nothing that lives is, or can be, rigidly perfect; part of it is decay-
ing, part nascent.
…All things are literally better, lovelier, and more beloved for the
imperfections which have been divinely appointed. (Ruskin 1892, 31–33
[caps in original])

These Christian sentiments about the spirituality of imperfection echo

the Japanese concept of Wabi-sabi: the aesthetics of the imperfect and
impermanent. Derived from Buddhist principles, this values the beauty
of the broken and the flawed, of ageing, asymmetry and roughness. An
example of this is the art form, Kintsugi, in which broken ceramics are
lovingly repaired and the cracks decorated with gold, thus celebrating
the history of the object and its use. The beauty of the cracks demon-
strates that it is fragile and has become even more precious with this
It goes without saying that a great deal of craft skill is involved in CGI
animation. It is a frequently quoted statistic that it takes 10,000 hours of
practice to become a skilled practitioner in any field (Frayling 2017, 15).
Rather than it being an automatic process of randomly pushing a few
buttons, in The Language of New Media Manovich points out the exten-
sive manual labour and hand-touching involved in the digital production
of moving images and concludes that digital cinema could be thought
of as a form of painting in time (Manovich 2002, 304–308). However,
with an orthodox and conventional use of software this skilled labour is
hidden behind uniform, bland perfection. Can the means of production
be de-mystified and revealed in CGI animation as in the explorations of
artist filmmakers like Vicky Smith who are inspired by structuralist and
materialist approaches to film (cf. Smith 2015)?
There are a growing number of experimental CGI animators who
reveal the labour and artifice behind CGI in a knowing exploration of

digital materiality, glitches, mistakes and the limits of the software in a

manner that recalls Wabi-sabi and Ruskin’s notion of the beauty of
imperfection. Animate OPEN: Parts & Labour (2016), an online exhi-
bition that aimed to “celebrate, subvert and confound our expectations
of what animation is, bringing together different artistic approaches
that connect through their exploration of the concept of animation as
craft” (Animate Projects 2016), included examples of experimental CGI,
that could be called “ugly” animation. This term is taken from Nikita
Diakur’s short film Ugly (2017), which explores the fakeness of digital
simulation, exploits glitches and misuses physics engines (see also Lilly
Husbands chapter in this collection) (Fig. 2.5). Short films such as
Wednesday Kim’s Alteration-de-la-voix (2015), James Duesing’s Gray
Elegy (2015) and Rui Hu’s Metropolitan Triangle Garden (2014) show
broken CGI bodies, impossible architecture, and reveal the “lie” behind
photo-real simulation.

Fig. 2.5  Screen shot from the making of Ugly (Nikita Diakur, 2017)
40  B. HOSEA

Using handmade techniques in experimental animation can be seen as an
attempt to return to an expression of the individual artist in the face of
homogenised, bland, throw-away animation: a blow against consumer-
ism and corporate capitalism. This chapter has contextualised these ideas
within a historic lineage of craftivism and opposition to the loss of arti-
sanal skilled labour resulting from the introduction of industrial produc-
tion methods. The contemporary interest in craft could be interpreted as
a form of nostalgia for the traditional skills of a bygone age before com-
puter aided processes were introduced, underpinned by a demand for
greater respect for the skilled labour of animation, for better conditions
for animators, for an end to exploitative outsourcing. This kind of work
makes the manual labour of the production process visible and draws
attention to the laboriousness of the animation process.
However, rather than being considered oppositional and progres-
sive, hand-crafted animation can also be read as appealing to a populist
and conservative agenda of “the good old days”. In addition, there is a
sense within handmade experimental animation that this manner of
anti-commercial production confers the status of art upon a practice
that was previously dismissed as craft. However, this privileging of the
handmade as somehow more artistic within experimental animation is
predicated upon outmoded concepts. Relying upon a romantic concep-
tualisation of the lone artist working by hand, this is a relic of an earlier
era when a view of the art object as unique, material expression of an
individual consciousness was prevalent. The discourse of the singular art
object privileges the exploration of analogue materiality since it is con-
sidered as unique and authentic, however there is much to be explored
conceptually with digital processes and the virtual materials made by com-
puters. “Ugly” CGI animation demonstrates that commercial software can
be subverted to produce critically aware animation that interrogates dig-
ital materiality and does not fake its origins. Whereas the so-called hand-
made processes in animation all rely on digital imaging, non-linear digital
video editing and digital post-production at some stage of their produc-
tion and many animations that purport to be made by hand are not genu-
ine explorations of materiality, but nostalgic simulations of analogue media
created in TV Paint or Photoshop: the faked handmade; a pastiche of
manual labour. Thus, working by hand alone is not a guarantor of value or
activism. Crafting dissent can be done either manually or digitally.

1. For further reading on this topic, cf. Macdonald, Sean. 2017. Animation
in China: History, Aesthetics, Media. Routledge, 2017; Du, Daisy Yan.
2018. Animated Encounters: Transnational Movements of Chinese
Animation, 1940s–1970s. University of Hawaii Press; Wu, Hang. 2018.
“Report on Animators’ Roundtable Forum: Chinese Animation and (Post)
Socialism.” Association for Chinese Animation Studies. http://acas.ust.

Animate Projects. 2016. “Animate OPEN: Parts & Labour.” http://ani-
Balsom, Erika. 2013. Exhibiting Cinema in Contemporary Art. Amsterdam:
Amsterdam University Press.
Benjamin, Walter. 1969. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical
Reproduction.” In Illuminations, edited by Gerald Arendt, translated by
Harry Zohn. New York: Schocken Books.
Bishop, Claire. 2012. “The Digital Divide.” Artforum. September, 434–442.
Blair, Preston. 1994. Cartoon Animation. Laguna Hills, CA: Walter Foster
Broadberry, Stephen, and Bishnupriya Gupta. 2009. “Lancashire, India, and
Shifting Competitive Advantage in Cotton Textiles, 1700–1850: The
Neglected Role of Factor Prices.” Economic History Review 62 (2): 279–305.
Callahan, David. 1988. “Cel Animation: Mass Production and Marginalization in
the Animated Film Industry.” Film History 2 (3): 223–228.
Etsy, Inc. 2018a. “Shop for Anything from Creative People Everywhere.” Etsy.
———. 2018b. “Code as Craft.” Etsy. https://codeascraft.com/about/.
Foá, Maryclare, and Birgitta Hosea. 2019. “Chapter 3. Communicating.” In
Performance Drawing: New Practices Since 1945, edited by Maryclare Foá,
Jane Grisewood, Birgitta Hosea, and Carali McCall. London: Bloomsbury.
Frayling, Christopher. 2017. On Craftsmanship: Towards a New Bauhaus.
London: Oberon Books.
Greer, Betty. 2014. Craftivism: The Art of Craft and Activism. Vancouver:
Arsenal Pulp Press.
Hamilton, Inga. 2014. “Daily Narratives and Enduring Images: The Love
Encased by Craft.” In Craftivism: The Art of Craft and Activism, edited by
Betty Greer. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press.
42  B. HOSEA

Hobsbawm, Eric. 1999. Industry and Empire: From 1750 to the Present Day.
Revised edition. London: Penguin Books.
———. 2000. “Introduction: Inventing Traditions.” In The Invention of
Tradition, edited by Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger. Cambridge, New
York, Melbourne, and Madrid: Cambridge University Press.
Hosea, Birgitta. 2010. “Drawing Animation.” Animation: An Interdisciplinary
Journal 5 (3): 353–367.
Husbands, Lilly. 2016. “Craft’s Critique: Artisanal Animation in the Digital
Age.” Animate Projects. http://animateprojectsarchive.org/writing/essays/
Johnson, Garth. 2008. “Down the Tubes: In Search of Internet Craft.” In
Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY, Art, Craft, and Design, edited by Faith
Levine and Cortney Heimerl. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.
Levine, Faith, and Cortney Heimerl. 2008. Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY,
Art, Craft, and Design. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.
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Bad, I’m Just Drawn That Way.’” Animationstudies 2.0 (blog). https://blog.
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Manovich, Lev. 2002. The Language of New Media. Cambridge, MA and
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———. 2011. “Inside Photoshop.” Computational Culture: A Journal of
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Fantasies of Control.” Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal 8 (2):
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Smith, Vicky. 2015. “The Animator’s Body in Expanded Cinema.” Animation:

An Interdisciplinary Journal 10 (3): 222–237.
———. 2016. “Noisy, Licking, Dribbling and Spitting.” Animate Projects.
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Penguin Books.
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and Activism, edited by Betty Greer. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press.
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Internet Animators. London: Faber & Faber.

Craft as Critique in Experimental Animation

Lilly Husbands

The term “craft” carries a constellation of connotations within its many
definitions and cultural applications. From useful objects to well-practised
skills to medievalist utopia to folk art to amateurism and kitsch to Etsy.
com and do-it-yourself (DIY) craftivism, the valuation and meaning of
craft has evolved significantly since the British Arts and Crafts Movement
of the nineteenth century and the Renaissance before that. Craft contin-
ues to be an important aspect of contemporary production culture as well
as an aesthetic category and critical practice. A noun as well as a verb,
craft refers to both objects and processes. As an object, it is often dis-
missed as subsidiary to “high” art; however, as a process (in the forms
of technique and skill), craft is crucial to all forms of art making. In his
theorisation of craft, Glenn Adamson suggests that the term can function
as “a way of thinking through practices of all kinds” (2007, 2). He claims
that “craft is not a movement or a field, but rather a set of concerns that
is implicated across many types of cultural production” (2010, 3). The
concerns of craft are not only its “historical alignments with refined skill,
mastery of technique and a striving for perfection” (Wilson 2015, xxv),
but also its rootedness in material-based knowledge, individual labour
and an opposition to industrial forms of production.

L. Husbands (*) 
Middlesex University, London, UK

© The Author(s) 2019 45

C. Ruddell and P. Ward (eds.), The Crafty Animator, Palgrave Animation,

These concerns, the pervasiveness of craft as an art-making pro-

cess and its peripheral positioning within arts culture and discourse,
bring it into close proximity with experimental practices of animation.
Experimental animation is generally understood to encompass forms of
animation that are made by individual artists working outside of com-
mercial production contexts who engage with animation as a form of
artistic practice rather than a medium for (more or less) conventional
storytelling. Although born out of modernism, the art form has always
had a complex relationship to modern art’s claims to autonomy, medium
specificity and authenticity because its often hand-crafted processes are
embedded in mechanisation and reproducibility. As an analogue and dig-
ital moving image art form, experimental animation blurs the boundaries
between art and craft, intangibility and materiality, conceptualism and
sensuousness in wide-ranging, complex and thought-provoking ways. In
this chapter I set out to think through aspects of experimental animation
as a moving image art form by considering it alongside the concerns of
craft as a physical, artistic and critical practice. I focus in particular on
issues of (im)materiality, the act of making and the significance of skill—
the last of these especially as it relates to what craft theorists call “sloppy
craft” (Wilson 2015, xxiv), or the purposeful application of imperfect
technique as a subversive practice and form of social critique. Drawing
from art history and craft theory, I aim to bring into sharper relief the
points of contact between craft and experimental animation, ultimately
illuminating some of the complex ways that craft undergirds and shapes
our understanding of experimental animation as an art form.

Subversion from the Margins

As an individualised practice of moving image art making, experimen-
tal animation straddles the realms of animation, experimental cinema,
artists’ moving image and the fine, graphic and plastic arts. Its hybrid-
ity and multiplicity have always defied easy categorisation, and its resist-
ance to definition is one of its most subversive characteristics. Like
craft, experimental animation has until fairly recently been relegated to
the margins of scholarly discourse and arts culture. It has mostly been
treated as a subcategory of animation or experimental cinema, and as
such it has not received a tremendous amount of critical or theoretical
attention. This is partly due to the art form’s formal, material and sty-
listic heterogeneity as well as animation’s more general diffusion across

all aspects of contemporary moving image culture. The peripheral-

ity that it shares with craft is also arguably the result of historical prej-
udice. During the 1960s and 1970s, especially in the North American
context, experimental animation expanded significantly beyond the
canonical categories of visual music and collage animation, with ani-
mators making personal films using a variety of media, styles and tech-
niques (including hand drawing, flipbooks and expanded installation
and performance). However, the popularisation of many of experi-
mental animation’s formal innovations in title sequences, adverts and
on television from the 1950s onwards (Spigel 2008; Betancourt 2013;
Husbands 2019), as well as a general stigmatisation of animation as
children’s entertainment (Mittell 2003), for many years influenced the
art world in overlooking experimental animation as a significant and
­developing art form.
With the rise of industrialisation and mass production during the
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, craft underwent similar mar-
ginalisation, devaluation and diffusion (into elements of industrial
design). Yet as Lacey Jane Roberts (2011) notes, this social positioning
can operate as an “asset and an agent of power to challenge systems that
use definition to limit” (257–258). In its place outside the strictures
and vicissitudes of the art market and manufacturing industries, craft
has been freer to function in alternative ways to these forces. Craft has
recently experienced a renewal of critical interest and cultural esteem,
and these new, developing theories of craft have something to teach us
about experimental animation. For example, scholars’ efforts to reframe
craft’s marginalisation within art history evoke the many critical func-
tions of experimental animation as a counter aesthetic. Roberts’ appli-
cation of queer theory to the conceptualising of craft’s radical potential
could very easily double as a definition of the critical position of experi-
mental animation. She writes:

[…] by using the tactics and strategies of queer theory, craft could gain
purchase by deliberately asserting an identity that defies fixed or histori-
cally prescribed boundaries in relation to its use of materials, processes, or
formal vocabularies. This radical, critical position would relocate craft as
an aesthetic category that embraces an enormous range of multiple and
seemingly contradictory practices, as well as an agent to challenge existing
systems that define materiality and makers. (2011, 248)

Roberts’ discussion of the ways that craft’s relatively denigrated position

within art history can be instrumentalised to challenge the dominance
of the status quo and aligns it with the critical efforts of the avant-garde.
This subversive quality of craft has manifested in numerous ways over the
years, for example in anti-consumerist DIY culture, feminist reclamations
of “women’s work” and the equally feminist, anti-capitalist, environmen-
talist, community-based craftivism. Equally, experimental animation as a
contemporary art practice remains positioned largely in opposition to (or
at the very least as an alternative to) the hegemonic mainstream. Its char-
acteristic unconventionality critically reflects, intentionally or not, on the
various aesthetic and conceptual limitations of dominant commercial and
cultural practices. In this way it also adheres to the critical function of the
While there are many points of contact between experimental ani-
mation and the various understandings of craft, their relationship is
also marked by a set of divergences. When considered in terms of the
uneasy (and historically contingent) distinctions that are often drawn
between art and craft—namely that art is autonomous, contemplative,
and optically orientated and craft is supplementary, utilitarian and mate-
rially focused—experimental animation undoubtedly falls on the side of
the arts, in the sense that viewers experience it as an audio-visual spec-
tacle and not a functional object made out of traditional craft materials.
Experimental animation is rooted in the modernist art movements of
the twentieth century that, in their moves towards abstraction, concep-
tualisation and dematerialisation, dismissed skilled craftsmanship as an
old-fashioned form of bourgeois conventionality. However, this fixed dis-
tinction between art and craft is somewhat complicated with regards to
the medium of animation. Animation is often described as a “craft-ori-
ented” art form (Wells 2002, 4), in part because it is an inherently repet-
itive and labour-intensive process, but also because it requires a certain
amount of technical knowledge and skill at even the most basic level.
The ability to think about animation in terms of craft is therefore made
increasingly complex, as it exists on the edge of where art and craft meet.
Moreover, since the late 1960s and 1970s the artistic aspirations of
studio craft themselves have somewhat blurred the distinctions between
art and craft, establishing institutional and social spaces dedicated to the
exhibition and sale of often non-functional, unique craft objects. Within
these studio craft contexts, where traditional craft materials and meth-
ods were used to produce one-of-a-kind aesthetic objects rather than

necessarily functional ones, the emphasis importantly remained on the

artist’s actual making of the object rather than designing, directing and
overseeing its manufacture (Fariello 2011, 25). The boundaries between
craft, applied arts and contemporary art have become increasingly porous
in the wake of postmodernism’s plurality of styles and forms, with “post-
disciplinary” artists creating work in different media and “embracing a
fluidity in acknowledging multiple historical lineages, materials, and pro-
cesses” (Wilson 2015, xxv). Many of the negative connotations of craft
have gradually been dispelled, leaving recent generations of artists freer
to explore and experiment with the expressive and aesthetic potential of
craft materials and techniques. Adamson (2007) notes that young art-
ists coming out of art school are more inclined to learn techniques for
specific projects rather than devote themselves exclusively to the devel-
opment of a particular skill or set of skills. He observes this “at contem-
porary art fairs, promiscuous environments in which a single artist might
present sculptures, paintings, and video, each with a high degree of con-
ceptual sophistication and (unless the fabrication of the work has been
hired out) amateurish production values” (2007, 74). More and more,
artists are taking conceptual approaches to craft practice, including the
deliberate misapplication of traditional techniques in their works. This
conceptualisation of craft in the art world is reflected in certain types of
experimental animation that I will discuss later in this chapter. In terms
of craft’s overall relation to experimental animation, it is not just a set
of material practices (although experimental animators sometimes work
with craft materials in and alongside their animation practices).1 When
craft is considered as technique, process and cultural position or critical
“attitude” (Adamson 2007, 4), it is clear that experimental animation
shares a deep affinity with issues of craft.

Issues of (Im)Materiality and Making

Since the mid- to late-nineteenth century, under the influence of think-
ers like John Ruskin and William Morris, craft has held a political sig-
nificance in its oppositional position in relation to capitalist forms of
industrial production. Michele Krugh (2014) notes that craft “has been
linked—socially and politically—with unalienated personal labour, in
contrast to impersonal industrial mass production” (293). Craft implies
an intimate connection between artist/maker, her labour and the arte-
fact. Traditionally associated with materials such as clay, wood, fibre,

metal, paper and glass, M. Anna Fariello (2011) observes that craft’s
meaning is often rooted in “the physical process of making, an intimacy
of tactile experience, the ‘truth’ of its materials, the discipline of daily
practice, and the skill of the hand” (40). Experimental animation has also
traditionally been rooted in the material experience of making, mirroring
craft’s close authorial connection between artist and artefact. Produced
by the relatively “unalienated personal labour” of individual artists, it
has historically been associated with artisanal practices due to animators’
use of alternative techniques and materials, the personalisation of their
equipment as well as its being in various ways made by hand (Russett and
Starr 1988, 9). In these ways experimental animations are equally aligned
with what art historian John Roberts describes as the autonomous labour
of art, which allows “the subjectivity of the artist to penetrate the mate-
rials of artistic labour all the way down” (Roberts 2007, 87). Thus the
significance of the individual artist’s hands-on labour and authorial con-
trol has historically marked experimental animation’s position as both
art form and craft (even works produced collaboratively or in very small
groups maintain this status).
Maureen Furniss (2007) has identified traditional experimental ani-
mators’ tendency to eschew the industrial technique of cel animation
in favour of alternatives such as “cameraless animation as well as anima-
tion made with drawings and paintings on paper, silhouettes, under lit
sand, collages, strata-cut clay and wax, or a pinboard” (32). Especially
in the pre-digital period, these materials and techniques (also including
pixilation, puppet, object and cut-out animation) appealed to independ-
ent artists in part because they tend to be relatively accessible and inex-
pensive means of production. Although the use of digital technologies
has become commonplace in contemporary experimental animation,
many animators do continue to explore and experiment with traditional
craft-based materials and techniques. For instance, Elizabeth Hobbs uses
hand-carved rubber stamps in her animation Imperial Provisor Frombald
(2013), Amy Lockhart’s The Collagist (2009) and Jessica (2014) make
use of paper puppets and cut outs, and Elliot Schultz creates animations
using embroidered zoetropes. In some cases, craft practices are the focus
of the animation itself, as in Jon Mills’ Mr. Watt (Grumpy Man of Metal)
(2011), where he reveals through stop motion the eponymous charac-
ter’s construction in his metal workshop, and in Caleb Wood’s Pinch
Pull (2013), where he creates intricate rhythms out of animated images
of himself throwing pottery. For some artists, working with unorthodox

materials grows out of other studio art practices like sculpture or paint-
ing. Artists also gravitate towards unconventional production techniques
and materials as a part of their exploration of what animation can do as
an expressive medium. The handling of different materials is often closely
linked to an artist’s personal vision and creative process of search and
discovery, and the resulting work often doubles as a document of their
Throughout the form’s long history, experimental animators have
often focused on aspects of materiality as an expression of authorship and
as an act of resistance to the slick illusionism of mainstream animation.
Scholars such as Furniss (2007), Paul Wells (1998) and Paul Taberham
(2019) have cited experimental animation’s tendency to foreground
its own materiality and technique as one of its defining characteristics.
Taberham identifies some common ways that animators expose the mate-
rials in their work, noting that “motion might be intentionally rough
instead of smooth (undermining the illusion of natural movement)”
or use of a flicker effect might “make the audience visually register the
frame rate of the film they are watching” (2019, 31). The animated spec-
tacle (as light, shadow and sound) is essentially immaterial, so the visible
traces of the artist’s handwork take on a special significance in experi-
mental animation, closely linking it to a modernist theory of authorship
where a work must “carry evidence of the author’s hand throughout all
of its production” (Roberts 2007, 146–147). Indeed, these revealing
processes are often linked in some way to the embodied gesture of the
animator (e.g. in the form of visible hands, fingerprints left in clay, hand-
drawn marks on paper). Craft theorist Louise Mazanti (2011) has noted
that the “‘human imprint’ functions as a way to make the object spe-
cial by differentiating it from the line of unconscious, anonymous, and
mass-produced products” (61). In the case of cameraless or direct ani-
mation, the “human imprint” is quite literally the physical marks left by
artists on strips of celluloid, as scratches, drawings, paintbrush strokes,
stamps, tyre tracks, finger or footprints. This particular form of experi-
mental animation has especially tended to embody the significance and
cultural value of the handmade and its attendant notions of immediacy
and authenticity.
This tendency toward reflexivity in experimental animation is in part
born out of modernism’s emphasis on medium specificity and its dep-
recation of craft. As James Peterson (1994) notes, “the avant-garde sees
craft in the sense of ‘crafty’, that is to say, as a kind of deception” (148).

This suspicion of craft leads to a “Modernist stance toward the materials

of art: the artist ought not to master material, but openly display it, or
even better, analyze it, lest he or she be accused of illusionist deception”
(ibid). George Griffin, one of the primary independent animators work-
ing in New York during experimental animation’s period of diversifica-
tion in the 1970s, played with this reflexive modernist principle in some
of his works, which he called “anti-cartoons” or “films that explore the
illusionistic process of animation” (2009, 191). In one of these anti-car-
toons, Trickfilm 3 (1973), Griffin uses stop motion to document the
process of his hands drawing short animated sequences in red marker on
the pages of a memo pad situated casually on a table top surrounded by
a coffee cup, saucer, spoons and salt and pepper shakers. These animated
point-of-view shots are intercut with the drawn animated sequences
themselves and followed by a final flip through of the resulting flipbook
so that the sequences appear three times within the film. At the end, the
camera pulls out to reveal that the table has been set up in a corner of
the artist’s studio. This final sequence thus reveals the artifice of what
initially seemed like a “spontaneous” working process. Griffin describes
the film as an “anti-illusionist documentary that suggests that the very
mechanism of fantasy is of greater interest than its symbolic content”
(2009, 196). However, despite the revelation of its construction, there is
a virtuosity of animation technique on display in Trickfilm 3 (and many
other reflexive experimental animations) in the tacit knowledge and
skill that informs the hand drawn sequences themselves. Griffin’s work
exhibits craftsmanship in the way that James Trilling defines it, namely,
as “the ability of the hand to reproduce whatever the eye sees or the
mind invents” (2001, 187). Craft, in the forms of skill and technique,
is not easily removed from the deliberate and painstaking process of
frame-by-frame animation, even when the intended result is not seamless
Indeed, there is a paradox at the heart of trying to reveal the mechan-
ics of animation, because it is inherently a mechanical process, and in
reflexive animations, even its revelation is mechanised. This points to a
larger issue in thinking about experimental animation through the con-
cerns of craft, in that they present us with the contradiction of being
simultaneously handmade and also entirely dependent on a machine
for their fulfilment. Unlike painting, sculpture, metalwork or ceramics,
where process results in product, the relation between process and prod-
uct in animation is not only technologically mediated, but it is also by

necessity ongoing, re-enacted and ephemeral. Its inherent hybridity (as

moving image, as visual art) never comfortably settles into objecthood
or pure spectacle. Griffin (2007), and Robert Breer before him, turned
to forms of “concrete” animation like mutoscopes (a single viewer, rolo-
dex-like flipbook device) and flipbooks in an effort to denaturalise the
viewing experience of animated moving images by emphasising their
connection to “actual materials, objects not just images, and the pro-
cesses which cause them to spring to life” (260). These concrete forms
foreground “the tactile, the tangible, the real, the stuff which is often
forgotten in the river of illusion” (ibid). Increasingly, experimental ani-
mations are not only presented as screenings, on monitors or multi-chan-
nel installations but also as material objects (Buchan 2007, 136). Not
only do these displayed objects potentially become artworks in them-
selves, but, by revealing the production process in material terms (rather
than, say, by the paratextual means of a “making-of” video), they also
give viewers a greater sense of the animator’s work as craft. They offer
viewers an opportunity to examine the skilled execution of a portion of
an animated work, and they also have the potential to reveal the incredi-
ble amount of labour that goes into the animation process.
In the context of expanded animation installation and performance,
some experimental animators take the political concerns of craft as their
subject matter, folding the cultural connotations of craft-based prac-
tices into both the content and conceptual approaches to their work.
Experimental animators since the 1970s have participated in feminist
efforts to validate traditionally disparaged types of craft associated with
women’s domestic arts of sewing, embroidery, quilting and weaving. An
example is Annabel Nicolson’s Reel Time (1973), where the artist per-
forms the sewing of a looped filmstrip as it passes through a projector. Of
this piece, Vicky Smith writes:

By bringing the sewing machine out of the home and onto the stage,
Nicolson raises the status of textiles, which in the 1970s was thought of as
women’s work and of lesser value than other art forms. At the same time
she also demonstrates that the type of work that has been regarded as a
female occupation requires levels of skill, application and dexterity equal to
that of the professional (male) role of projectionist. (2015, 229)

Nicolson’s subversive work participates in the feminist political reposi-

tioning of craft practices as art practices, blending the conceptual con-
cerns of performance art with the demonstration of craft skill. Nicolson’s

Reel Time was one of many works made by feminist artists in the 1970s
that sought to explore the subject of traditional female experience as a
political statement, which contributed to the breaking down of prejudi-
cial evaluations of craft in the art world. The legacy of these second-wave
feminist artists can be seen in the installation work of contemporary art-
ists like Mary Stark, who explores the materiality of celluloid as a form
of textile. For instance, for the installation A Gift of Sight/The Man Who
Knew Too Little/That’s Entertainment/The Wonderful Lie (2012) she
wove 35, 16, 8 and 9.5 mm filmstrips together into a wall-sized tapes-
try that was then illuminated by a projector in the exhibition space. In
From Fibre To Frock (2013), Stark uses cotton spools to project a one
minute 16 mm cameraless handmade film loop, investigating “the idea
of tailoring as film editing, and film as fabric and thread, alluding to early
experimental film and the role of pre-1930s women editors, or ‘cut-
ters’ working in the early cinema industry” (Stark 2013). In her Film
as Fabric Lace and Thread (2014), Stark places fabric or thread over the
surface of the filmstrip and exposes it to light, creating a handmade cam-
eraless film that “enlarges tiny details of fabric and thread, their hairs and
fibres” in ways that make a “humble, everyday material” become “the
star of the screen” (Stark 2014).
Experimental animator Jodie Mack’s work interrogates the cultural
and evaluative connections between fine art abstraction, decorative orna-
ment and its commodification in graphic and industrial design. Her ani-
mations obliquely reference traditions of abstract animation, particularly
Visual Music animators like Oskar Fischinger, who found decorative
pattern and ornament to be a “valid, spiritual folk-art form” and used
it consciously in his work (Moritz 2004, 11).2 Mack has made a series
of animated films that she refers to as “fabric” and “material”3 studies
that engage with her “interests in the ways found materials and deco-
rative detritus can illuminate truths about economic cycling and cul-
tural value” (2019, 154). Mack’s fabric studies blend the formal rigour
of the Structural film with the visual patterns of various kinds of hand-
made and manufactured textiles, producing invigorating investigations of
production, labour and materials through animated rhythm and order.
For instance, in Point de Gaze (2012) (named after a Belgian type of
needle-made lace), Mack creates a silent, five-minute flicker film out of
images of multifarious types of lace that astounds with both the intri-
cacies of its content and the tenacity of its form. Her animation Persian
Pickles (2012) features rapid-fire images of paisley patterned fabrics,

calling attention to the teardrop-shaped motif’s origins in Persian orna-

mental textile design.
In 2018, along with a screening of her fabric studies, part of Mack’s
ongoing installation project No Kill Shelter (2013–) was included in the
exhibition “Surface/Depth: The Decorative After Miriam Shapiro”,
a tribute to the feminist founder of the 1970s Pattern and Decoration
movement, at New York’s Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) (previ-
ously Museum of Contemporary Crafts). Shapiro’s sculptures, prints
and hybrid collage paintings aimed to dismantle some of the entrenched
prejudice between art and craft, especially around feminine decorative
ornament and women’s domestic arts (Shapiro and Meyer 1977–1978,
66). The exhibition celebrated Shapiro’s role in paving the way for a
generation of young artists who engage freely with craft, decoration and
abstract patterning in their work. No Kill Shelter consists of abstract ani-
mated loops (or “screensavers”), made from cut-outs of decorative fab-
rics and paper, displayed on rows of discarded television and computer
monitors that are hand découpaged with varying types of floral patterned
wrapping paper. Wall panels made of strips of patterned paper (resem-
bling filmstrips) frame the monitors, creating a vibrantly coloured cele-
bration of decorative ephemera. Mack’s work shares with Shapiro’s an
interest in challenging cultural hierarchies associated with craft, design
and art through explorations of material and pattern.
Although the focus thus far has been predominantly on analogue
forms of experimental animation, this reflexive and critical tendency can
also be seen in experimental computer animation. Taberham (2019) cites
David O’Reilly’s 3D computer animation Black Lake (2010) as an exam-
ple of an experimental work that reveals its construction. In his essay
“Basic Animation Aesthetics”, O’Reilly (2009) notes that in his work he
often makes “no effort to cover up the fact that it is a computer anima-
tion, it holds an array of artifacts which distance it from reality, which
tie it closer to the software it came from” (2). The materiality of
­digitally-produced animation occupies a different ontological order, and
yet artists such as O’Reilly remain invested in finding ways to personally
stamp or “fingerprint” the immateriality of CG. Black Lake’s revelation
of the digital through wireframe models rather than pristine illusionis-
tic aesthetics, in turn, raises questions about the possible virtual material
characteristics of a medium seemingly removed from the material tradi-
tions of experimental animation more broadly.

An increasing number of experimental practitioners are working with

3D computer animation. Critically, there seems to be a general attitudi-
nal shift towards embracing the possibilities of 3D computer animation
as an art form, no longer the preserve of mainstream Hollywood pro-
duction but instead available as part of the individual animator’s crea-
tive toolkit. Scholars and practitioners have begun to articulate ways of
understanding computer animation artists as skilled artisans whose mas-
tery of visual software interfaces involves a direct relationship between
the artist’s hands, mind and tools (McCullough 1998; Power 2009;
Hosea 2010; Wood 2014; Harris 2019). While interactions with 3D
computer animation software that require calculative logic and special-
ised knowledge of complex user interfaces are often considered counter
to the immediacy of handicraft, more intuitive interfaces and virtual tool-
sets in contemporary 3D programmes offer artists a sense of manipula-
ble materiality and manual control. For instance, Miriam Harris (2019)
observes that it is possible to “experiment in a tactile and intuitive fash-
ion” in 3D software programmes like Autodesk Maya (121). Toolsets
in Maya such as Artisan and Paint Effects offer artists options for
­two-dimensional painting, three-dimensional object and texture paint-
ing, three-dimensional sculpting and attribute manipulation. As Aylish
Wood (2014) points out, the responsive simulations that are accessible
through the program’s viewport gesture “towards the familiarity of real
world space by projecting volumetric objects, allowing control over con-
structed spaces” (324). Harris further notes:

human agency and artistic input are there from the outset […], and may
be experienced in quite a visceral fashion - rotating in space, one negoti-
ates an object in three dimensions, pulling points and moulding, creating
a rhythm with increased proficiency, and receiving instant visual feedback
through renderings in real-time. (2019, 121)

In this way, computer software can offer an experience of process that

is “akin to traditional handicrafts, where a master continuously coaxes a
material” (McCullough 1998, x). Beyond this, the simulated materiality
of digital media allows for an extraordinary amount of play and experi-
mentation, providing opportunities for creative exploration and surpris-
ing results that would be impossible in the real world.
Computer animation has of course been a major component of
experimental animation as an art form since John Whitney’s analogue

computer animations in the 1950s, the early collaborations of Ken

Knowlton, Stan VanDerBeek and Lillian Schwartz at Bell Laboratories
in the 1960s, and Larry Cuba’s work in the 1970s. These early pioneers’
use of algorithmic input computer languages like BEFLIX has been lik-
ened to the sort of dematerialised, instruction-based conceptual artworks
of artists like Sol LeWitt (Gere 2008; Hosea 2010). (This conceptual,
machine-collaborative strand has continued in experimental animators
such as Karl Sims, William Latham, Jon McCormack and, more recently,
Ian Cheng, who have made works using parametric algorithms, artifi-
cial intelligence and other complex forms of coding.) The use of digi-
tal technologies in the production of animation initially aroused anxieties
around rendering analogue materials and technologies obsolete; how-
ever, Sara Álvarez Sarrat and María Lorenzo Hernández (2013) have
noted that despite the proliferation of computer programs used to make
animation since the 1980s, 2D handmade animation techniques have
continued to be used, particularly during the early stages of animation
production (e.g. via drawing on WACOM tablets or scanning hand-
made images for compositing). The computer’s capacity as a metame-
dium (Manovich 2013) to remediate earlier forms of analogue media
(Bolter and Grusin 1999) is manifest in the simulation of handmade
processes and aesthetics in programs like Photoshop, Flash and TVPaint.
While these ersatz effects may be seen as a departure from the ethos of
handmade authenticity, experimental animators do not tend to uncriti-
cally apply these simulations and filters. Álvarez Sarrat and Lorenzo
Hernández (2013) argue that the power and affordability of animation
software have created “a paradoxical relation between digital revolution
and crafts” in that these new technologies have expanded rather than
diminished the expressive and technical capacities of the artist-animator.

Authenticity, DIY and the Aesthetics of the Amateur

The recent resurgence of interest in craft and the handmade has often
been attributed to the ubiquity of digital technologies and their intan-
gible, mutable and purportedly depersonalised characteristics. Digital
technologies and the Internet have brought about significant changes
to the systems of production, distribution and exhibition of experimen-
tal cinema and animation, to which artists and animators have responded
in different ways. Tess Takahashi (2005) has observed that the putative
“death” of celluloid (Turvey et al. 2002, 115) in the 1990s gave rise to

an increase in avant-garde filmmakers using “artisanal” practices such as

direct animation, which emphasised the physical connection between the
artist’s body and the celluloid filmstrip as “a guarantee of authenticity
and claims for auratic presence” (168). She noted that the trend sought
in part to reclaim these qualities “through a construction of film’s speci-
ficity as singular, old-fashioned, and one-of-a-kind in its attention to the
‘craft’ of filmmaking” (2005, 166). Considering the origins of experi-
mental animation in the modernist period are concomitant with the very
mechanised, reproducible and mediating forces that inspired such con-
demnation and ambivalent critique from thinkers such as Ruskin, Max
Weber and Walter Benjamin, it is ironic that these artists would cling
to film as an anchor to the authentic. While Takahashi suggests that
the surge in direct animation production at the turn of the twenty-first
century can be seen as an ambivalent response to technological change,
scholars such as Erika Balsom (2017) and Melissa Gronlund (2017)
have identified the attempt to return to the materiality and authentic-
ity in contemporary art and consumer culture as more of a conservative
impulse rooted in false consciousness than an avant-garde willingness to
face the complexities of wide-ranging cultural changes.
Ruskin’s art criticism and Morris’s idealisations of craftwork as a
socialist alternative to industrial capitalism that would enable peo-
ple to return to an unalienated way of life have had lasting effects on
craft’s cultural value and meaning. They have imbued it with deep and
problematic associations with the idea of authenticity and naïve aspira-
tions of escaping capitalist systems of commodification. Media literate
younger generations who have grown up in the neoliberal, postmodern
era relate somewhat differently to the traditional ideals of craft. While
the nineteenth century’s Arts and Crafts movement and the Back-to-
the-Land craft movement of the 1970s focused on mastering traditional
craft materials and obtaining greater self-sufficiency, some forms of con-
temporary craft, especially DIY craft, tend to be more accommodating
of new technologies and engagements with mainstream culture. Many
contemporary crafting communities rely on the Internet and digital tech-
nologies for their existence (Jönsson 2007, 246). This somewhat contra-
dictory hybridity also characterises younger generations of experimental
animators who freely mix analogue and digital technologies in the pro-
duction and distribution of their work. In his discussion of the impact
of the Internet on craft practice, Denis Stevens (2011) credits younger

crafters with “a strong sense of semiotics” that manifests in their use of

“the tools of the re-mix, namely, satire, parody, and irony along with an
occasional tinge of cynicism or nihilism, respectively drawn from their
grunge and punk influences, to make cultural statements that often man-
ifest themselves via their nostalgically ironic aesthetics” (55). He further

In a large sense, DIY crafters seem to have embraced the realities of how the
culture of capitalism, marketing, and corporate co-optation have pervaded
American lives since the 1970s—and essentially negated all of the 1970s’
naive aspirations of ever living independent of capitalism’s reach. (52)

While craft in the postmodern, neoliberal era does not escape the appara-
tus of late capitalism, it does still often seek to resist and subvert systems
of hegemonic power, albeit in ambivalent and semi-compromised ways.
In recent years, especially, this nostalgic appeal of craft has manifested in
consumer culture in interests in personalisation, authenticity and ethical
consumption. Rather than standing in opposition to capitalist economic
models, contemporary craft offers small-scale alternatives that remain
tinged with the elitist/luxury connotations that beset the products of
the Arts and Crafts movement. This to some degree also applies to the
material conditions and economic contexts of much experimental ani-
mation production. Due to its general lack of economic viability (except
perhaps through its compromised infusion into popular commercial
media), many experimental works have been made during an animator’s
off hours and with miniscule budgets, rendering the practice unfeasible
for many.
Experimental animation has aspects in common with the DIY and
amateur connotations of craft, in terms of its ambivalent relationship
to commercialism, its resistance to industrial models of production and
its use of appropriation and repurposing as techniques. An example of
this can be found in James Whitney’s repurposing of surplus World War
II anti-aircraft guidance hardware in the 1950s and turning it into a
mechanical analogue computer that became one of the first computer-
graphics engines (Moritz 1997); it would go on to create both exper-
imental animations and motion graphics and special effects sequences
for the Hollywood film industry. Collage animation has been one of the
principal forms of experimental animation to repurpose found materials,

often with a socially critical intent.4 Using technologies against their

intended purposes also manifests in cameraless animation techniques that
circumvent the reliance on expensive equipment and processing labo-
ratories. In her guide to DIY techniques and processes of experimental
filmmaking such as direct animation, optical printing and hand-process-
ing, Kathryn Ramey (2016) acknowledges the inherently critical aspects
of appropriation and prioritises the personal experience of making over
the quality of the outcome. She writes that it “is about using things for
purposes other than intended by their manufacturers. It is about free-
ing yourself of the need to make something ‘perfect’ or ‘beautiful’ and
just making. […] [T]he best part of making art is making it” (2016, 2).
This emphasis on personal creativity and the pleasures of making work
that exists outside of the strictures and expectations of professionalism
resonates particularly with the idea of the “amateur” avant-garde film-
maker. Experimental filmmaker Maya Deren (2015) addressed the sub-
versive potential embodied in the social position of the amateur, citing its
Latinate root meaning “lover” or “one who does something for the love
of the thing rather than for economic reasons or necessity” (39). For
Deren, amateurism offered the advantage of artistic and physical free-
dom from commercial constraints. For the skilled amateur, in particular,
a conventional notion of perfection is one of many aesthetic choices to
be ignored or subverted in productive ways. Take for example one of the
most well-known and prolific American experimental collage filmmakers
Lewis Klahr, who has spent his career making collage animations on an
artisanal animation stand in his garage studio (Klahr, personal communi-
cation 2013). His work is often noted not only for its nostalgic evocation
and oblique approach to narrative but also for its “technical poverty” and
“total lack of illusionism” (Gunning 1989–1990, 5). This impoverished
aesthetic is an integral aspect of Klahr’s expressive audio-visual language,
which he has expertly developed over the years. As James Peterson
(1994) notes, “[s]ince the avant-garde is supposed to be an oppositional
film practice, and what it opposes is highly crafted, the unmasterful use
of material should proudly be displayed as a mark of that opposition”
(148). Indeed, the “unmasterful” uses of techniques and materials in
some experimental animations serve to challenge received notions of
beauty and perfection in a liberating exploration of alternative modes of

The Significance of Skill and Sloppy Craft

Denis Diderot’s definition of craft in his Encyclopédie (1751–1780) states
that craft is “any profession that requires the use of the hands, and is lim-
ited to a certain number of mechanical operations to produce the same
piece of work, made over and over again” (quoted in McCullough 1998,
12–13). Craft manifests in animation in the skill and dexterity developed
through the necessary repetition inherent in the form as well as in the
specialised knowledge of how to animate. This specialised knowledge
includes both the mastery of technique and technology (e.g. how to cre-
ate characters and fluid and coherent movement as well as how to manip-
ulate a rostrum camera or specialist software). In the commercial realm,
these skills have been developed primarily in the service of achieving high
degrees of mimetic realism. Craft in experimental animation, alterna-
tively, does not adhere to the same criteria. That is not to say that exper-
imental animators are unskilled and their works are not “well-crafted”
(in fact, often a high level of technical mastery is required to achieve
a desired “imperfect” effect), but rather that they are not beholden to
expectations of perfectionism that so often dictates the parameters of
more popular forms of animation. Indeed, some experimental anima-
tors, like Lewis Klahr mentioned above, make an explicit point of defying
these very expectations, with works that are consciously counter in their
approach to the creative possibilities of animation as an expressive art
form. As Adamson (2007) has pointed out with regard to craft’s essen-
tialness to art, skill “is most conspicuous in its absence” (69), and when
such an absence is purposeful in experimental animation, this element of
self-referentiality corresponds to the self-analytical bent of modernism
and the historical avant-garde.
Art history offers some illumination on the role skill has played in the
critical function of the avant-garde. The origins of experimental anima-
tion in the modernist period are concurrent with the devaluation of craft
(as object and process) in art more broadly. As Malcolm McCullough
(1998) suggests, art in the early twentieth century “became increasingly
independent of technique. Early modern art expunged personal touch”
(15–16). The art movements of this period brought about what John
Roberts (2010) refers to as a “radical transformation of conceptions
in artistic skill and craft” (77). These transformations consisted of the
“deskilling” and “reskilling” (Roberts 2010, 77) of artistic labour as an
oppositional strategy to the “authority of skill” (Adamson 2007, 78)

that undergirded bourgeois art and, in particular, neoclassical realism

in academic painting. Starting in the mid to late-1800s, artists such as
Gustave Courbet and Éduard Manet disrupted “official canons of taste
and aesthetic propriety” with their embrace of “a ‘semi-disorganised’
pictorialism, the representation of divers [sic] themes and non-bourgeois
types, and an indifference to the coherent modelling of form and the
production of convincing illusion” (Roberts 2010, 79). From this point
onwards, the negation of previous art conventions became a central
tenet of modern art and avant-garde movements such as Impressionism,
Cubism, Futurism and Dada. Strategies of rupture involved artists using
a “deflationary logic” where “inherited techniques and forms of natu-
ralism and realism are submitted to a radical process of denaturalisation,
abstraction and formalisation” (Roberts 2010, 81). Roberts notes that
“as the artisanal became dissociated from the category of art, authorship
came more and more to incorporate both the non-artistic hands of oth-
ers and the development of mechanical/technical and executive artistic
skills” (2007, 2). This denial of artisanry continued into twentieth cen-
tury movements such as pop art, found art, minimal art and conceptual
Art historian and curator Denis Longchamps (2015) has explained
that, “from a craft perspective, deskilling occurs when makers distance
themselves from the technical mastery of their craft medium and engage
in a form of reskilling by expressing their artistic concept” (64). Thus,
reskilling refers to the application of alternative, non-traditional kinds
of intellectual and technical skills to the conception and execution of a
work of art. Craft has traditionally been inextricably linked with highly
skilled technical execution, but young craft-based artists (such as textile
artist Josh Faught) have started to use deskilling as an expressive and
inherently critical technique. Although the phenomenon has been partly
attributed to the hybridity of post-disciplinary craft education, scholars
and critics distinguish between these artists’ conscious “strateg[ies] of
deskilling” and a simple lack of skill (Paterson and Surette 2015, 78).
Craft theorists have called this tendency “sloppy craft”, or “a consciously
deskilled aesthetic” (Paterson and Surette 2015, 9). In their theorisa-
tion of sloppy craft, Elaine Cheasley Paterson and Susan Surette (2015)

If skill is set up as a way of achieving “cultural authority” within a mate-

rial discipline, then working within that discipline without the requisite

skill has the potential to mount a challenge to this authority. The need to
be highly skillful in using materials may have excluded some artists from
expressing a number of their ideas in craft materials; but other ideas, usu-
ally framed as social critiques, can be effectively expressed in these same
materials using less skill involving material and tool manipulation. (7)

With its origins in modernist abstraction, experimental animation has

since its very beginnings been in dialogue with aspects of deskilling, and
the ways this conscious resistance to cultural authority has manifested has
varied significantly over the years.
One way that experimental animators have achieved this coun-
ter aesthetic is by subverting expectations of a particular kind of skilled
draughtsmanship in animation. Birgitta Hosea (2010) has pointed out
that drawing “involves a tacit knowledge of tools and materials” (354),
and young animators learning the trade have been encouraged to cre-
ate “animation according to traditional rules and technical methodolo-
gies that refer to the canon of ‘classical’ animation rather than to lived
experience” (360). The hand-drawn cel animations produced during
the “golden era” of the American animation studios in the 1930s and
1940s set a professional standard for mainstream animation that still
holds sway today. However, since Robert Breer’s elaboration on Paul
Klee’s philosophy of line drawing in A Man And His Dog Out For Air
(1957), experimental animators have revived hand-drawn animation
and cartooning in inventive and subversive ways. Experimental anima-
tions such as Mary Beams’ Tub Film (1972), Stuart Hilton’s Six Weeks
in June (1998) and Peter Millard’s Boogodobiegodongo (2012) are just a
few examples of works that play with technically imperfect line drawing
(as doodle or sketch) in evocative ways that move towards very different
expressive ends than their mainstream counterparts. For instance, in the
case of Hilton’s Six Weeks in June, the subjective, sketchy drawings and
bits of text capture the disjointed and fragmented experiences of vision
and audition in motion, from the little details that fleetingly catch one’s
attention to those that stand out in one’s memories (Husbands 2014).
More recently there has been a trend in experimental animation towards
“ugly” aesthetics being used in terms of character design, for example
in Amy Lockhart’s Landscapes (2012), Matt Reynolds’s Hot Dog Hands
(2016) and Jamie Wolfe’s Roommates (2016).5
Another recent development in the way in which sloppy craft has
been applied in experimental animation can be seen in the works of

some contemporary experimental computer animators. Many scholars,

critics and artists have over the years noted a tendency in 3D computer
animation towards a homogenised aesthetic of hyperrealistic perfec-
tionism that is inextricably linked to its industrial origins. Experimental
animators such as James Duesing, Vibeke Sorensen, Joan Staveley, Paul
Glabicki and others have explored computer technology’s potential for
artistic expression since consumer grade 3D animation software became
more available in the 1980s and 1990s, searching for “fresh imagery
untouched by stereotypes and conventional artistic standards” (Russett
2009, 23). The increasing power and capacity of VFX and 3D anima-
tion software has engendered thriving subcultures of contemporary
independent and experimental animators working in 3D. Many of these
artists explore alternatives to the hyperrealist mainstream, with some
pursuing neo-baroque (grotesque, even) aesthetics and others distin-
guishing themselves through a purposefully imperfect or sloppy appli-
cation of techniques. Their works demonstrate some developments in
formal experimentation and what Pat Power (2009) has referred to as
the “expressive” capacities of 3D computer animation (107). Sloppy
craft as an expressive technique is manifest in the experimental computer
animations of contemporary artists such as David O’Reilly, Lilli Carré,
James Lowne and Nikita Diakur. In these artists’ works, the intention-
ally imperfect application of techniques—in modelling, shading, aliasing
or incomplete rendering—often distinguishes an artist’s personal style.
Instead of the “aesthetics of effortlessness” (Sobchack 2009, 384) that
has come to define the trajectory of mainstream 3D computer animation,
these artists’ works often explore and make visible the complexity of 3D
animation software and the intensive labour of the individual artist.
Thinking about experimental computer animation through the con-
cerns of craft raises a number of important issues related to software
user agency in the context of computer automated processes and com-
puter animation’s erasure of (the visibility of) labour. Issues surrounding
simulated physical laws and pre-rigged models and assets raise ques-
tions around personal style and creative expression in an age dominated
by corporate-owned software programs. In her investigation of issues
around automation and user agency in Autodesk Maya, Aylish Wood
(2014) has called attention to the high levels of skill and tacit knowledge
of modelling and animating that are required to creatively negotiate with
the default settings of software toolsets. There are myriad ways to modify
and customise a program’s automatic default processes, and arguably the

greatest resistance to the “natural” tendencies of software take place at

the highest levels of industry. Wood (2014) quotes an anonymous CG

[…] I seem to do a lot of work getting away from the perfect. Most of the
effort I would say in CGI or animation, it’s always taking away the com-
puter-ness, it is always removing the CG from the CGI… I think for me,
doing character modelling and environment and things like that, you’re
always fighting to get computer-ness out of it. (325)

Perfection here refers to the “cold” mathematical precision of, for

instance, smooth lines and curves mapped onto points on a three-di-
mensional grid. In an industry context, what is meant by “getting
away from the perfect” often refers to “enhancing the contours of
shapes, creating textures that deepen time and age an object, knocking
off corners, or adding scratches to give an impression of a lived world
within a computer-generated environment” (Wood 2014, 325). Keith
B. Wagner and In-gyoo Jang (2016) refer to this sort of imperfection
when they note a relatively recent tendency in mainstream computer
animation towards imbuing characters (such as Pixar’s “rusty” Wall-E
and “glitchy” Vanellope Von Schweetz) with an “imperfect aesthetic”
in order to render them more endearing and nostalgia-inducing. They
draw on Ruskin’s view of the humanness of imperfection and Roberts’
notion of deskilling in their discussion of this imperfect aesthetic, which
they describe as “a manner of showing style with purposeful digital
defects” (131). As they point out, however, these commercial produc-
tions “employ such imperfect character design in the diegetic world
rather than within the design process itself” (137). Enormous amounts
of money and labour go into the careful crafting of such imperfections,
while genuine glitches, disturbances or defects remain taboo.
Outside of these large commercial productions, artists have the
opportunity to work against the perfection of computer animation in
different ways that reveal the mechanics of the software more overtly.
3D computer animation software requires a significant degree of train-
ing and expertise to master. In an industrial context, teams of experts
work on specialised areas of production (e.g. modelling, animating and
compositing), and the amount of storage and computing power that
these productions enjoy often far exceeds what is possible in the con-
text of the individual artist. In order to make working with 3D software

practicable for individual artists, it is often necessary to circumvent

labourious and time-consuming procedures, and for some artists this
can become a productive creative constraint. Experimental computer
animator Gregory Bennett notes that making these shortcuts preserves
“a creative spontaneity in the making process while acknowledging the
medium itself rather than effacing the base digital aesthetic behind the
lure of the photoreal” (2019, 268). David O’Reilly employed a set of
rules based on the idea of economy for his work Please Say Something
(2009), which became a part of the animation’s overarching aesthetic
(2009, 3). He simplified his process by using preview renders, sim-
ple geometry in his models, aliased images, flat shading (e.g. no light
sources or realistic shadows), avoiding smoothing/blurring filters or tex-
ture maps and by animating every second frame. These shortcuts result
in a “bad” yet coherent aesthetic that creates an engrossing and believ-
able world (O’Reilly 2009, 1). In other works like Octocat Adventures
(2008), O’Reilly plays with the viewer’s expectations by shifting sud-
denly towards the end of the animation from childlike 2D drawings
(crudely hand drawn in MS Paint) to an intricately crafted 3D computer
animation that maintains the same childish aesthetic. This shift unexpect-
edly reveals the high level of sloppy craft that had undergirded the work
The misshapen and forlorn figures that people James Lowne’s deso-
late landscapes in Someone Behind the Door Knocks at Irregular Intervals
(2010) and Our Relationships Will Become Radiant (2011) result from a
combination of imperfect techniques, including improper model rigging
(especially around joints and skinning), UV mapping of a two dimen-
sional image onto a three dimensional model’s head, and of drawing
faces directly onto the models in Cinema 4D using a WACOM tablet.
Lilli Carré’s Jill (2016) and Tap Water (2017) display sloppily crafted
female characters behaving strangely in digital environments. As we
can see in Fig. 3.1, Jill displays a sloppily sculpted naked female figure
standing in a white digital space. The figure responds (with greater or
lesser reluctance) to commands issued by the animator in voice over.
When told to sit, Jill deflates and tumbles down into pile of simulated
parts; when told to touch her nose, her finger disappears into the front
of her face; when told to look at the camera while her back is turned,
two eyeballs appear on the back of her head. When Carré commands
Jill to “sharpen” and “smoothen”, she gradually turns into an abstract
polygonal virtual object. Jill plays on the classic trope of the recalcitrant

Fig. 3.1  Jill (Lilli Carré 2016)

animated subject (from Gertie the Dinosaur to Koko the Clown to Daffy
Duck) while simultaneously demonstrating the unintuitive ways in which
CG models are made to move and the difficulty in creating convincing
simulations of contact between different surfaces. The sloppily crafted
figures in O’Reilly’s, Lowne’s and Carré’s works achieve a certain pathos
and humour that engages the viewer while equally calling attention to
the mechanics of their construction.
Another experimental animator who has worked in subversive ways
with the 3D computer animation software Cinema 4D is Nikita Diakur,
whose animation Ugly (2017) works with technical defects and acci-
dents arising from placing “ragdoll” characters (who functioned like
virtual puppets) in the program’s dynamics simulator and recording
the unpredictable results. The characters are built of roughly bound yet
interconnected body parts (consisting of unsmoothed polygons) that
hang on dynamic strings, which are controlled by the calculations of the
simulator (Snoad 2018). Over several months, Diakur learned how to
control the actions of the characters just enough to be able to “direct”
them to convey the animation’s narrative. In addition to the faulty char-
acter dynamics, he purposefully made use of “unusual angles, incorrect
camera projections, along with the deliberately obscure simulations”
(Failes 2017). In Ugly, Diakur both collaborates with and subverts the

automatisms of the software, creating unique and highly entertaining

visual effects that demonstrate a fine balance between control and acci-
dent, skill and reskilling.

Unexamined notions of craft often position it as a supplementary means
to an end, in the sense that “proper craftsmanship draws no attention to
itself; it lies beneath notice, allowing other qualities to assert themselves
in their fullness” (Adamson 2007, 13). Sloppy craft in these experimen-
tal animations is one instance where craft refuses to be ignored, thereby
highlighting the interrelation that is always at play between craft and
concept in a work of art. In his book Thinking Through Craft, Adamson
presented a challenge to us to deal with craft in theoretical terms, to
treat it “as an idea” (2007, 1). When we begin to think of art in terms
of craft, its marginalisation within arts discourse seems both absurd and
understandable, because once its significance is foregrounded it becomes
increasingly difficult to disentangle it from all other aspects of practice.
Even when thinking about a particular work, the different concerns of
craft often become intertwined and slip easily one into another (from
forms of personal labour to issues of skill, tacit knowledge and hand
making to its critical cultural position and so on). Experimental anima-
tion shares with craft an emphasis on individual labour and an opposition
to industrial forms of production; however these qualities also designate
experimental animation as an art form. Craft can manifest in experimen-
tal animation as refined skill, mastery of technique and a striving for
perfection, but also as sloppy craft, technical subversion and intentional
imperfection. It is rooted in the material-based knowledge of analogue
techniques but increasingly it encompasses the mastery of digital tools,
where the relation to materiality is simulated and prosthetic. Ultimately,
craft is always present in one way or another, and, often, the nature of its
presence is central to the overall project of the artwork in question. Such
a crucial component should not be overlooked.

1. Some contemporary experimental animators describe themselves as multi-
media or interdisciplinary artists that make art and craft objects as well as
animations. For example, in addition to digital versions of her animations,

Lilli Carré’s handwoven textiles and ceramic sculptures are availa-

ble for sale through the commercial contemporary art gallery Western
Exhibitions, and Amy Lockhart produces paper sculptures of herself and
her characters.
2. Many other forms of abstract animation exhibit ornamental and decora-
tive characteristics, especially in terms of how they make use of geometric
patterns (e.g. some of the early computer animations of John Whitney and
Larry Cuba). Experimental animators like Max Hattler also explore the
decorative qualities of abstraction.
3. The fabric studies include: Harlequin (2009), Rad Plaid (2010), Posthaste
Perennial Pattern (2010), Point de Gaze (2012), Persian Pickles (2012),
Blanket Statement [s] #1 and #2 (2012 and 2013), and Razzle Dazzle
(2014). The material studies include: Dusty Stacks of Mom (2013),
Undertone Overture (2013), New Fancy Foils (2013), Glistening Thrills
(2013), and Let Your Light Shine (2013).
4. A more in-depth discussion of collage animation than is possible here
would include consideration of the particular compositional strategies and
types of handwork that characterize collage and photomontage, shifting
“motor function from expressive manipulation in painting, and moulding
and carving in sculpture, to the demands of conjunction and superimposi-
tion” (Roberts 2007, 88).
5. The infusion of experimental and independent animation on television
in the 1980s and 1990s (some of which was influenced by “lowbrow”
graphic art subcultures such as underground comix and fanzines) had a
disruptive influence on standard aesthetic expectations of perfectionism in
mainstream animation (Husbands 2019).
6. O’Reilly initially published the work on YouTube under the guise of being
an eight year old boy from Chicago, something that becomes increasingly
unbelievable as the animation unfurls.

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Lotte Reiniger: The Crafty Animator

and Cultural Value

Katharina Boeckenhoff and Caroline Ruddell

Palfreyman writes, “I discuss the tendency to praise Reiniger and her

work, rather than analyse it in depth, and argue that such neglect is in
part due to the difficulty of contextualising Reiniger combined with
her technical virtuosity which sees her relegated to ‘craft’ rather than
art. Her very difference, however, opens up a starting point for a closer
examination of her work” (2011, 6). While there are difficulties in con-
textualising Lotte Reiniger in a political, social and industry context (see
Ruddell 2018), one of the main “problems” in the discourses that sur-
round Reiniger is, as Palfreyman notes, to do with her constant align-
ment with craft. The scissor artistry used by Reiniger in her fairy tale
films creates an intricate, detailed aesthetic, and this skilled method is
therefore usually considered and described in terms of craft. The “prob-
lem” here lies in the fact that craft is continually seen as an inferior prac-
tice, particularly in its relation to “art”. Rachel Palfreyman quite rightly

K. Boeckenhoff 
University of Manchester, Manchester, UK
e-mail: katharina.boeckenhoff@manchester.ac.uk
C. Ruddell (*) 
Brunel University London, Uxbridge, Middlesex, UK
e-mail: caroline.ruddell@brunel.ac.uk

© The Author(s) 2019 75

C. Ruddell and P. Ward (eds.), The Crafty Animator, Palgrave Animation,

calls for more in-depth analysis of Reiniger’s work, but this chapter takes
a different focus and will scrutinise the language used to describe her
work and considers how a craft-based animator such as Reiniger is rep-
resented in both the scholarship and the trade press. Within the broader
contexts of craft and handmade aesthetics, we will engage a cross-cul-
tural approach which takes into account scholarly reception and the
trade press in both English and German languages with the aim of fur-
ther repositioning this underexplored female artist in the field. Although
Reiniger is by no means unheard of within the fields of animation, film
and art, she has received little attention relative to her extraordinary
technical abilities. By considering Reiniger in terms of handmade, craft-
based animation this chapter aims to highlight what kinds of cultural
value such an animator might have, by providing analysis of her recep-
tion critically and publicly. We will explore these ideas in three ways:
firstly, by analysing the language employed to describe the form and aes-
thetic of Reiniger’s scissor cutouts and silhouettes; secondly, by consid-
ering the language employed to describe Reiniger herself; and thirdly,
by reflecting on how these discourses can be contextualised within the
craft debates and ideas about gendered aesthetics. As Rosalind Galt sug-
gests “aesthetics are both a question of gender and a question of value”
(2011, 25).
This research should be seen in the wider context of women in ani-
mation generally. What can Reiniger’s work tell us about what kinds
of media are associated with women historically and in contemporary
society? And further, how are notions of a so-called feminine aesthetic
formed and valued? While, broadly speaking, it is the case that the rep-
resentation of women onscreen has been interrogated in a number of
ways,1 what is still underexplored is the position of the comparatively
few female film-makers in the industry. This is particularly evident in the
context of German film studies where scholars have taken little notice
of Reiniger. Despite a number of projects dedicated to a recuperation
of this animator her extensive oeuvre remains marginal to discussions of
historical, theoretical and aesthetic developments in German film.2 Not
taking into consideration the relevance of Reiniger’s work is particularly
deleterious given the vast archive of materials available in Tuebingen.3
A university workshop instigated in 2009 has explicitly taken Reiniger’s
legacy—fully catalogued and made available in 2008—as a motivation to
revisit her work from the perspectives of cultural history, the history of

film, as well as literary studies, an approach not often reflected in much

of the established literature.4
While it is certainly the case, as Palfreyman has noted, that there is
much praise offered for Reiniger and her method of production, it
is her status as an independent animator that sets her apart from the
mainstream and as such she can be viewed through the lens of Galt’s
“excluded bodies” (2011, 20). Galt analyses the cinematic “pretty” (an
aesthetic continually applied to Reiniger’s work) and argues that the
pretty is troublesome because it is both gendered feminine and is bound
up with cunning and trickery. She argues that:

The production of the pretty as a space of rhetorical exclusion depends

heavily on its connection to the wrong kinds of bodies. Plato’s cosmet-
ics instantiate a connection of the untrustworthy image with the decep-
tive woman that has dogged the history of Western art, and the devices
and tricks of the cinematic pretty oppose an overly fussy feminine mise-en-
scène to the grandeur of the masculine exterior. (Galt 2011, 20)

Galt’s arguments are particularly useful for teasing out the way that
Reiniger has been characterised herself in much of the press coverage;
while Reiniger may be an “excluded body” from the mainstream (seem-
ingly by choice) she can also be understood to be excluded by the way
that she has been characterised in terms of trickery, witchcraft and gen-
eral “craftiness”. Christine Battersby takes a similar line of enquiry where
she discusses the idea of genius and aesthetics, arguing “a new rhetoric of
exclusion that developed in the eighteenth century […] gradually grew
louder as the nineteenth century progressed”; this exclusion is women
from the realm of male creative genius (1989, 3). This kind of exclu-
sion is what Palfreyman highlights when she argues that Reiniger has not
been positioned in the “canon” of film history in the way that she should
have been (2011, 8). Alongside the frameworks of exclusion that both
Galt and Battersby outline, this chapter will also employ the concept of a
“discursive reserve”. As Robert Ferguson discusses in relation to race and
the media, discursive reserves exist as ideologically loaded frameworks
within which we read texts, he argues “It is […] important to consider
the ways in which specific forms of discourse are structured […] and
the rhetorical skill with which such matters are often handled […] The
recurrent patterns certainly occur at the level of choice of vocabulary”
(1998, 153). Before analysing Reiniger’s reception at the level of “choice

of vocabulary” it is first necessary to consider her fully in relation to the

concept of craft and the silhouette method.

The Value of the Silhouette: Craft, the Ornamental

and the “Pretty”

Situating Reiniger, and the silhouette form more generally, within

broader frameworks of arts and crafts is both important and challenging
because both occupy a liminal space where they are neither one thing
nor another (Ruddell 2018). Michael Cowan argues, “couched between
caricature and avant-garde, the silhouette film thus stood on precar-
ious ground, hovering between high and low art, between abstraction
and figuration” (2013, 786). This liminal or “in-between” status has
arguably impacted on how seriously Reiniger’s work has been received.
In his discussion of art cinema’s relationship to more mainstream film
forms and “hierarchies of cultural value”, Geoff King suggests that
“A key framework is a distinction between that which is understood to
be serious, substantial and important and that which is accorded the sta-
tus of the unserious, the insubstantial or the trivial” (2019, 35, italics
in original). Such a framework could easily be mapped onto the art ver-
sus craft debates where art is seen as “serious” and craft more “trivial”.
Rachel Moseley makes a similar point specifically in relation to handmade
television animation, drawing on case studies produced by Smallfilms,
Gordon Murray Puppets and FilmFair, where she notes that what is seen
as “‘the whimsical’ sits outside of particular economies of seriousness and
worth” (2016, 5). We could equally identify such distinctions, as they
are often depicted in the press and scholarship, between the “serious”
avant-garde work of Reiniger’s male collaborators and Reiniger’s “unse-
rious” and playful fantasy, fairy tales. Larry Shiner notes that the division
between arts and craft happened in the eighteenth century; before this
“art” referred to all sorts of skills, craft and artistic practices. He argues,
“the fine arts, it was now said, are a matter of inspiration and genius
and meant to be enjoyed for themselves in moments of refined pleas-
ure, whereas the crafts and popular arts require only skill and rules and
are meant for mere use or entertainment” (2001, 5).5 As outlined more
fully in the introduction to this book, craft and its value has been under-
explored in relation to animation. An exception is Moseley who argues
that craft-based television animation is associated with “the domestic, the

feminine, [...] the decorative” and that this has impacted negatively on

both its cultural value and status, and has contributed to its “invisibil-
ity” (2016, 70). A gendered hierarchy of the arts in Western culture has
been well documented; Christine Battersby argues that the idea of genius
in art and literature is a distinctly male one, but that an understanding
of female genius should be possible through feminist aesthetics (1989).
Battersby uses the term feminist aesthetics which differs from feminine
aesthetics; this is deliberately political on Battersby’s part, but as shall be
discussed below there is tendency for some slippage between these two
terms in other scholarship.
Cowan acknowledges the “gendering” of the silhouette film suggest-
ing due to its “ambivalent gendered position […] only the silhouette
film provided a space in which a woman artist such as Reiniger could
gain recognition” (2013, 787). That said, and as Cowan points out, it
was still the case that female artists of the Weimar Republic were side-
lined or marginalised. Cowan, referring to Marsha Meskimmon’s work,
provides one explanation for this: many female artists were considered
too “arts and crafts” rather than “art”, and many female artists went
to “Kunstgewerbeschulen (arts and crafts schools) rather than prestig-
ious arts academies” (2013, 787). A remark by Siegfried Kracauer, a
renowned film critic in Weimar Germany, demonstrates how a reference
to arts and crafts is a way to belittle if not dismiss a film produced by a
female artist. In a review on Die Wunder Asiens by Martin Hürlimann
he briefly touches on Reiniger’s Doktor Dolittle short screened prior to
Hürlimann’s documentary, calling it “commercial, but nice” (“kun-
stgewerblich, aber nett”, 2004 [1930], 338). Kracauer’s association of
arts and crafts with trivial commercialism is, to some extent, entrenched
in language given that the German term for “arts and crafts schools”,
Kunstgewerbe, brings to the fore aspects of trade and industry: Kunst
(art) is coupled with Gewerbe, a term that variously translates into trade,
industry, or profession. Emphasis is placed on aspects of skill, utility and
appliance of “arts and crafts” which is at odds with a notion of high art
detached from an immediate use value.
One of the most skilled qualities of the silhouette form becomes
apparent in its ornamental features which are in part due to its aesthetic,
notably the lightness of the paper, the detail in the cuttings, the rococo
and orientalist influences, but also in the way that the figures move
(Cowan 2013, 789). These notions of the ornamental and the “del-
icate” can be usefully connected to Galt’s argument about the pretty

in cinema.6 Galt maintains that “prettiness is consistently evoked as a

lesser quality, a gesture toward what goes wrong with aesthetics rather
than toward its positive qualities”. She continues: “derived from the Old
English prœtt, meaning ‘a trick, a wile or a craft,’ the word pretty and its
earliest meaning involve cunning and art. One should not make the mis-
take of supposing this craft to be neutral, however, for its metaphysics is
close to witchcraft” (Galt 2011, 7). For Galt, then, the pretty relates to
trickery and witchcraft, a point to which we will return below. Cowan
concludes his article by suggesting that although it is possible to con-
sider the silhouette form, as “relegated” to the ornamental and women’s
domain, as a “prison house for women artists and consumers” this is not
the only reading (2013, 805–806). Instead he argues:

Not only did work in silhouettes facilitate women’s claims to artistic crea-
tion, albeit under certain constraints, it also helped to promote a different
kind of aesthetic modernity: one marked not by the imperative of effi-
ciency or the architectonic forms of constructivist design, but rather by a
certain lightness, refinement and even luxury. (2013, 806)

For Cowan, then, the silhouette form allowed female artists a space and
form within which to practise, and even develop their own aesthetic,
although Cowan terms this a “kind of aesthetic modernity” rather than a
feminine (or feminist) aesthetic.
Another way in which the silhouette form can be considered a gen-
dered practice is through its association with children and fairy tales.
Cowan argues that scissor artists can be considered as magicians, creat-
ing what Thomas Worschech and Michael Schurig call a “poetic mise-
en-scene” (2000, 47). Reiniger’s work is most often based on the fairy
tale, which in its many forms has historically been linked to both chil-
dren and women.7 Cowan argues that there is an increasing association
of silhouette films with fairy tales and children’s culture, suggesting sil-
houettes became “associated with a kind of visual ‘innocence’” and were
“easily reconciled with notions of ‘motherliness’” (Cowan 2013, 794).
He makes the case that this is due to a “historical process” and nothing
to do with any “inherent qualities” of the silhouette form (2013, 796).
However, as he also argues, the silhouette film and scissor artistry has
an intriguing history where, prior to the advent of photographic pro-
cesses, it was a method used in portraiture to depict the “real” rather
than the fantasy-based fairy tale. With the change outlined by Cowan it

seems there is a move away from rationality or from depictions of the

real, towards magic, and crucially this becomes associated with fantasy,
most notably in the form of children’s culture and fairy tale. The silhou-
ette film therefore becomes associated with “naivety”, “innocence” and
in this way is seen as “appropriate” for children (2013, 794). The silhou-
ette film also becomes aligned with women through the fact that it has
been used in advertising beauty products, which target a female market
(Cowan 2013).
Béla Balázs also engages with both the material quality of Reiniger’s
work as well as the fairy tale source, but he also considers her work in
the context of the avant-garde movement of the time and the value of
the silhouette method and aesthetic. While the ornamental is often asso-
ciated with the excessive, nonessential, and distractive—for an example,
see Kracauer’s essay “The Mass Ornament” (1995, originally published
1927)—film critic Balázs offers an alternative reading of the ornament,
using The Adventures of Prince Achmed [Die Abenteuer des Prinzen
Achmed] (1926) as a case in point. In Der Geist des Films, Balázs outlines
the potential of film to create meaning through form rather than content.
By utilising film techniques such as montage and camera perspectives, it is
possible, he argues, to have images convey meaning through their shape,
movement, and rhythm rather than by what they depict. Balázs favours
surface over depth, images over words, appearances over substance, fore-
grounding the effect of an object as a visual impression on the spectator.
Images gain significance through the sensations they induce in the spec-
tator rather than through a mimetic relationship with reality. Balázs larger
vision is for film to afford the spectactor “a purely optical experience”
in which images produce realities by way of the sensory impressions
they create, detached from any historical, social and cultural context.
Silhouettes therefore play a central role in this celebratory account of
the abstract film as a new experimental genre emerging at the beginning
of the twentieth century. In a sub-section entitled “the visual fairytale”,
Balázs illustrates the benefits of silhouette films, citing Reiniger’s Prince
Achmed and Ladislas Starevich’s Lead Soldier (1928) as examples. While
the technique of cutouts and the genre of fairy tale are said to be fun-
damental to the film’s ability to conjure its own world, Balázs unites
both aspects by stating that the very appearance of the silhouette “is fairy
tale” (p. 98). Instead of the invention of a story the term “fairy tale”
denotes the magical appearance of a silhouette. The fairy tale quality of
Prince Achmed is not a consequence of events but inheres in the shape

of its protagonists. By means of this re-conceptualisation (or revaluation)

of the fairy tale as a technical term, Balázs is able to apply this phrase to
Reiniger’s film not to underline its enchanting aesthetics (as others have
done) but to cite Prince Achmed as a notable example of a truly abstract
film. Reiniger’s film is credited with the embodiment of pure art to the
extent that it lends itself to the fantasies of aesthetic objectivity and purity
voiced by a male film critic. Whereas Cowan outlines how the silhouette
form has largely been perceived in negative terms because of the histor-
ical processes that led to certain associations, Balázs highlights that it is
possible to value the silhouette form as “art” in purely aesthetic terms.
Balázs’ reading is a fairly unusual one, however, and here we can turn to
the trade press to explore more fully how Reiniger has been received in
those contexts.

The Characterisation of Reiniger in the Press: Magic,

the “Pretty” and Infantilisation

The kind of language used to describe Reiniger and her work in press
cuttings and articles often make her out to be some kind of goddess,
attribute magic to her work, or infantilise her. Moreover, many articles
place her in what Cowan describes as the “aesthetic of the ornamental”,
though often with the use of more troubling terminology such as the
“pretty”, a term which Galt has suggested we must be deeply wary of.
The publication The Cinema in 1936 attributes a religious quality to
Reiniger, saying of her Exhibition at the time in the V&A that “there
ought to be a sort of religious pilgrimage […] for worshipping at the
shrine of Frau Lotte Reiniger”. The journalist goes on to refer to her
work as “pretty pretty cut outs”—note here the repetition of the word
pretty (Anon. 1936a). In 1956, the National Film Theatre Programme
Notes describe Reiniger as producing “art […] that approaches wiz-
ardry”. David Robinson in The Financial Times in 1970 refers to her
animation benches as “magic tables” and he uses the words “wonders”,
“sorceries” and “marvels” in his article. A few years later in 1973 the
same journalist, again in the FT, describes her work as “bewitching”,
refers to “her charm”, and writes that “she has retained a child’s unques-
tioning faith in magic and marvels”. In 1973 Michael Hellicar in the
Daily Mirror suggests that Reiniger is “hooked on dolls” and has a “lit-
tle girl addiction to little people”. Paul Gelder and Hugo Cole in The

Guardian in 1973 write that her work “has a purity and enchantment”
and that “there is real magic and art and a childlike simplicity in these
charming moving tableaus”. Such descriptions characterise Reiniger as
some sort of childlike magician who has conjured up her films out of
Publications regarding screenings, workshops or events to do with
Reiniger are at times in a similar vein. A pamphlet for a Reiniger ret-
rospective in Montreal in 1974 uses both the words “art” and “ancient
craft” to refer to her work and also refers to her personality in a sim-
ilar way to some of the other press publications: “Lotte Reiniger is
not only one of the great pioneers of the cinema but also a warm and
gifted pedagogue” (Anon. 1974). However, some of these texts pay
more attention to her social and industrial context, as well as her tech-
nical skill. An information sheet from the Puppet Centre Trust of the
Battersea Arts Centre about a Reiniger exhibition and seminar notes that
“she was an innovator, an artist of her time” going on to highlight that
her large number of films is “an astonishing output in what was essen-
tially a male-dominated film world” (Anon. 1983). The Bristol Evening
World discusses her as an artist, and one that has created “a new kind of
film” suggesting she is a pioneer, but the article also suggests her “life
has been influenced by the beauty of legend and fairy tale” and discusses
her “delicate, sensitive fingers” going on to posit “it is fitting that her
hands should be soft and sensitive, with cunning fingers to hold the
magic scissors” (Anon. 1935b). Here, Reiniger is described along the
lines of Galt’s notion of the pretty as her hands are made out to be both
pretty (sensitive and soft) but also cunning: the pretty is bound up with
witchcraft and trickery (Galt 2011, 20). Attention paid to her body is
echoed by Paul Gelder who, on discussing Reiniger as she turned 80,
notes that “[s]he remonstrates with her feet when they refuse to walk
far or fast. She still diets by eating off small plates”. He goes on to quote
Jean Renoir, who says of Reiniger, “[w]hat do you say, […] if you find
yourself suddenly in the presence of Mozart? Especially if this Mozart is
a disarming woman, slightly plump and chats like a magpie…?” (1979,
155). Through a focus on anatomical details and personal habits these
descriptions frame Reiniger as approachable, friendly and unexceptional.
In the German press the body also figures as a central site through
which journalists approach and assess Reiniger. This indicates the per-
vasiveness with which gender affects reception: it is difficult to find
responses to the work of a male film-maker that bring into focus his body

and habits to a similar extent. Although she is a prolific creative art-

ist in the film industry, Reiniger once again becomes the object of the
gaze. One of the repercussions of reading Reiniger and her creative
production by way of references to the female body is that she, and her
works, are read in relation to ideals of femininity. While works of male
film-makers are evaluated in their own right, the output of the female
animator is here viewed as gender-specific rather than a production of
general significance with wider implications for developments in film.
Against the background of this reading practice, it is helpful to consider
Ferguson’s notion of the “discursive reserve” to grasp how ideologies of
gender shape the way journalists approach and speak about Reiniger. In
Representing “Race”: Ideology, Identity, and the Media (1998), Ferguson
argues that media representations of race observe a tacit code of con-
duct with the effect of preserving the white body as a norm. To do so,
Ferguson demonstrates, the media deploys a vocabulary in their descrip-
tions of subaltern groups that conform to common conceptions of the
“other”, leaving intact social hegemonies and normative structures. In
the context of press releases on Reiniger the terms “charming”, “senti-
mental” and “pretty” constitute a cluster of established descriptive terms
applied not only to her films but to Reiniger herself. It is possible to view
these phrases as part of a reserve of vocabularies acceptable to use to
describe a female artist’s oeuvre. In contrast to reviews of films, animated
or not, produced by male film-makers, comments on Reiniger’s works
often oscillate between a focus on her creative output and attention paid
to the contours of her body as well as her demeanour. Particularly in
reviews of Prince Achmed from the late 1920s and 1930s, a few years
after women had gained suffrage in Germany, a dominant ideology of
gender roles surfaces in journalists’ association of Reiniger with the realm
of the domestic and with norms of feminine beauty.
Moreover, characterisations of Reiniger’s animated silhouettes often
borrow from the vocabulary of female virtues or maladies. Movements
are gracious, silhouettes capricious, profiles refined and curved bodies
delicate. While such descriptives may be valid it is conspicuous that these
are all adjectives attributable to a person, usually a woman. Phrases like
“charmingly cut silhouette forms” and “sentimental shapes” are surpris-
ingly imprecise but notably gendered with regard to the kind of shape
they seek to capture (Wollenberg 1926). They transpose character traits
associated with women onto the art they produce. Indeed, while Hans
Wollenberg, writing for the Lichtbild-Bühne, speaks of the silhouette

forms as “charming”, other reviewers use the same phrase to describe

Reiniger as a woman (see Hiller 1924 and an anonymous article in
Der Kinematograph in 1930). Bearing in mind the aesthetics of Prince
Achmed there is a shift from referring to a tendency towards excessive
feelings to denoting an aesthetic of intricacy, detailedness and smooth-
ness. The common denominator is excess—of details or of affect—which
is either read as an indication of the artist’s skill to finely handle scissors
or as a drifting away from reality. Here the ornamental as a decorative
fancy, an exaggerated style that is juxtaposed with the essential and the
real, is linked to the fairy tale as a story that likewise ignores conventions
of reality by imposing the fantastical onto the real. If lavish ornamental
aesthetics indicate a preoccupation with surface detail, then the subject
matter of the fairy tale signifies a going astray in a fantasy world. In sev-
eral press comments, the language used to describe and categorise the
aesthetics of Prince Achmed also pervades depictions of Reiniger’s char-
acter and life world. An association of her craft with fairy worlds, discon-
nected from the zeitgeist and opposed to real facts, resonates in Siegfried
Kracauer’s remark that she cuts away “sweet silhouettes” in a “tiny
realm of her own” (Kracauer 2004 [1947], 128). A columnist for the
Lichtbild-Bühne recognises in Prince Achmed “girls’ dreams come true”
(Wollenberg 1926) and a reporter of the Reichsfilmblatt remarks that the
childhood demons appearing in this film expose an imagination that is at
times too opulent (Anon. 1926c).
However, mobilising ideals of female embodiment as an interpre-
tative framework through which to evaluate Reiniger also hints at how
this film-maker is used to serve the needs of cultural politics and the pub-
lic sphere. Facilitated by a Reiniger who was very eager to explain the
process of making a silhouette film in meticulous detail and who, later
in life, welcomed journalists at her private home,8 her persona and her
films advance to the status of a cultural asset for a public with intellec-
tual or educational aspirations. Exhibitions showcase imitations of the
multi-plane camera she constructed, provide scissors and cardboard to
encourage visitors to create their own shadow play; municipalities pub-
lish pamphlets with instructions on how to best use Reiniger’s film in
schools; film screenings are accompanied by workshops for children. The
public viability of Reiniger also manifests itself in the form of numerous
newspaper articles whose number surges at key events like the release
of her feature-length film, Prince Achmed, and biographical milestones.
Here Reiniger is a crowd favourite although critics working for the more

specialised film magazines are careful to offset any enthusiastic outburst

with the more sober language of professional terminology.
What also comes across in the press is a portrayal of Reiniger as a
maternal and domestic figure with “caring hands” (with hands that may
be “caring” but by no means seductive) (Anon. 1930). If a male artist
like Starevich, who also used craft-based methods, exemplifies the notion
of the artist and his works as mysterious, unreproducible, and auratic,
then the work of Reiniger sits at the other end of the spectrum. The
work of art as a product of male genius contrasts with the work of art as
the result of trivial labour. This tangibility assigned to her and her work
also serves to legitimise manipulations of her films, depending on the
particular pedagogical needs—a stark contrast to the idea of the artwork
as a self-sufficient, sacred object. Prince Achmed invites numerous pieces
of advice about the way in which it should be delivered to the public.
Several critics recommend the release of a shortened version; in this way,
as one magazine puts it, it would become suitable as a supporting film
for a feature-length box-office success (Anon. 1926a). In other words,
it should serve to add interest to a picture conceived as the main attrac-
tion but nevertheless (and ironically) in need of an ornament. On at least
two occasions in the years to follow, Prince Achmed served precisely this
function. For a screening at the cinema Kamera in Berlin in August 1928
an anonymous film editor cut and reassembled episodes, causing Bertolt
Brecht and Reiniger to write letters to the editors of two different news-
papers, expressing their dismay. “A similar mutilation of a work of art, a
similar misrepresentation of facts and misleading of the audience about
the nature of this work and the personality of its author is inconceivable
in any other form of art” (Brecht 1928). By identifying the “form of art”
as the factor that invites manipulation, Brecht brings into focus the genre
of craft-based films as particularly liable to the interference of external
bodies seeking to advance their own interests.
Reiniger herself leans on both magic and poetic movement in Life
and Letters Today in 1936. In an article entitled “Film as Ballet” Reiniger
and her “familiar” discuss the importance of gesture and movement in
her work, likening her silhouette films to ballet. And on the difficulty
of making her films she is quoted as saying “the fairies must have pitied
me and helped me” (Reiniger 1936). Jean Renoir is quoted in her obit-
uary as saying “she was born with fairy hands”. In many press cuttings
and articles she is either infantilised (or her work is given connotations
of childlikeness) and/or directly associated with magic and fairy tale,

as if she herself is somehow magic and fairy tale incarnate. In Canada’s

National Newspaper, The Globe and Mail, the journalist refers to her
“‘fairy tale’ life” (Anon. 1981); this is an odd comment made about
someone who fled Germany before WWII, and had a transient existence
all around Europe for many years after, and was so grief stricken by the
death of her husband that she didn’t make a film for a decade after. Her
work and aesthetic, in this instance, overtakes any sense of her context
or journey (see Ruddell 2018 for more on Reiniger’s context, and also
Palfreyman 2011). Is it the case, then, that constantly focusing on the
aesthetic of Reiniger’s work (and aligning this with magic, fairy tale and
particular kinds of aesthetics that are considered “pretty”) has been a
counterproductive way of understanding her work?

Technical Skill and (Trans)National Appeal

Much of the press coverage emphasises Reiniger’s technical skills and
creativity while couching this within particular, and familiar, discourses
about the magical quality of her films and/or the charm of her work.
For example, the film correspondent in the Yorkshire Post describes in
some detail the technical processes Reiniger uses and also discusses her in
terms of authorship suggesting she has “an almost complete artistic free-
dom”, yet s/he also describes Reiniger’s work as “miracles of craftsman-
ship”, “quaint”, “delicate and romantic” (Anon. 1936c). The Harrovian
outlines her “infinite skill” and goes on to say that she “tell[s] her sto-
ries in a most charming way” (Anon. 1936d). The London art critic in
the Liverpool Post similarly describes her as an artist and then goes on to
describe her work as “delicately cut”, “delightful” and as having “grace
and fancy” (Anon. 1936e). In a perhaps more interesting note s/he also
points out that her work is being exhibited at the V&A, and says, “Miss
Reiniger is, of course, without a rival in this branch of films, and that
films should be given such a proud place in a museum of art is, indeed,
significant” (ibid.). There is something about the positioning of Reiniger
here that smacks a little of snobbery; the implication is that Reiniger
should be flattered that her work might be considered as art. This can
be usefully compared to a German context where Reiniger is frequently
featured in museum exhibitions, permanent or otherwise. A case in point
is a recent exhibition which places Reiniger’s work side by side with
renowned male avant-garde artists and film-makers to gauge similarities.9
Although this exhibition is dedicated to the recognition of Reiniger as an

artist, it is important to note that the recovery or revalidation of this art-

ist is channelled through a comparison with male contemporaries. There
is a long history of critics who emphasise Reiniger’s collaborations with
male artists whose works are understood to define the period and/or
canon. The implication being that the significance of her work can only
be understood alongside her male contemporaries, despite there being
such differences in her methods, style and content. Such an approach
neglects a consideration of what her creative work might say about film
aesthetics in the early twentieth century.
Initial discussions of Reiniger’s film Prince Achmed in the German
press revolve around the scale of the production process, artistic and
technical skills of the film-makers, questions of originality, particularly in
terms of technical innovations and the development of a new medium
for film, and the film’s suitability for a mass audience. Reviews peak in
1926, following a press preview of Prince Achmed on the 2nd of May
and then again in response to the film’s first public screening on the 3rd
of September. A number of announcements prior to the first screening
emphasise the international focus of the event by listing the European
cities from which visitors have travelled. For instance, an article in the
magazine Film-Kurier speaks of its significance for German society
at large (Anon. 1926a). Several publications report on the screening
of Prince Achmed in Paris, depicting the film’s success abroad as a sign
of its transnational appeal and cosmopolitan credentials. One author,
for instance, notes how this film “meets the French and Parisian taste”
(Anon. 1926e). While the film is noted for international appeal, Reiniger
is also praised for her contributions to the development and reputation
of German film (in terms of a national cinema). An article in the news-
paper Berliner Börsen-Courier underlines the potential of her silhouette
film to become a “representative form of German film” (Walter 1926).
Nearly a decade later the film magazine Film-Kurier credits Reiniger
for having created a fully fledged German piece of cinematic art (Anon.
1935a) and notes how films by Reiniger stand for “a German specialty”
worldwide (Anon. 1936b). As such there is more scope given here for
understanding Reiniger’s potential influence and her position in the
wider context of the film industry.
The scale of the production process and the use of the silhouette
method are two aspects mentioned by nearly all articles on Reiniger
published in 1926. Many pieces comment on the staggering number
of images required for a feature-length film and meticulously detail the

multifaceted production process to underline the scope of the work

accomplished by Reiniger. While many examples of stop motion ani-
mation commentaries refer extensively to how painstaking the process
is, in the case of Reiniger the humble tone of admiration characterising
many articles on her seems a patronising performance of gentlemanly
behaviour rather than the validation of a work of art. By praising the
film-maker’s devotion to “painstaking work at home”, her “cumbersome
and loving” and “self-relinquishing” labour, they are arguably upholding
patience, self-sacrifice and care as female virtues (Anon. 1926b, 1927).
Two reviews explicitly state that Reiniger’s achievements lie in the labour
and craftsmanship she has invested in the making of Prince Achmed
rather than in technical finesse and innovation: the statement that “our
admiration counts for the scale and the sophistication of the labour, not
the technique” (Anon. 1926d) is echoed a few months later in another
journalist’s clarification that the audience’s tremendous cheer is to be
understood as praise for an artistic and tedious production process rather
than the effect of the film itself (Anon. 1926f). Instead, Reiniger’s col-
laborator Walter Ruttmann, who created the backgrounds to Reiniger’s
silhouettes is occasionally credited for his technical accomplishments. For
example, Der Kinematograph reports that in terms of “purely decora-
tive matters” the film sparks interest due to Ruttmann’s ability to add
depth and relief to an otherwise “flat game” (Anon. 1926g). Similarly,
the author of an article in The Film views the groundbreaking “union
of animation and the absolute film” in Prince Achmed as the result of
Ruttmann’s assistance (1926a). Katherine Rochester also notes that
one German reviewer “remarked upon the dissonance between special
effects technician Walter Ruttmann’s ‘radical masculine force’ and Lotte
Reiniger’s ‘tender feminine tracery’” (2015, 123). One author (Anon.
1926c) states that “as an expert” he is primarily interested in techni-
cal aspects rather than content and proceeds to highlight the technical
achievements accomplished by Reiniger’s male collaborators. Against
this background, the tribute paid to Reiniger for her ideas (conceptual
work) seems rather condescending. Such condescension is echoed in a
UK 1953 Picture Post where, during a supposed exchange between a
child and her or his mother, the child asks why children go to Reiniger’s
house to watch her make films. The mother responds: “Because she’s
a nice lady and gives the children chocolates and biscuits, and also,
I suppose, because they are interested in the way she makes the pic-
tures” (Anon. 1953). Here Reiniger’s films are an afterthought; it is

the fact that she is a “nice lady” with biscuits that is important. These
descriptions of Reiniger’s work arguably position Reiniger in particular
ways; despite the terms “art” and “craft” both being used to describe
her, she is generally made out to be “only” technically skilled, which is
one of the principal ways the press coverage positions her work as craft
rather than art. In some of the coverage she is not even given that much
credit as her male collaborators are attributed with technical skills, and
her craft is attributed to tracery alone. If her creative input in some
instances is downplayed, in other discourses her creativity is aligned
problematically with a feminine aesthetic. This final section shall address
how Reiniger has been positioned in some of the specialist academic
scholarship (as opposed to the more “popular” trade press publications
analysed in this last section).

A Feminine/Feminist Aesthetic?
One of the problematic assumptions often made about Reiniger’s work is
that it somehow encapsulates a feminine aesthetic which is mostly attrib-
uted to her method of handmade silhouettes. To a certain extent this is
implied in some of the press coverage discussed above where terms such
as “pretty” are often used to describe her work. However, such a con-
cept is dealt with much more explicitly in some of the scholarly work
on Reiniger. Christiane Schonfeld notes in the preface to her edited col-
lection on female creativity (that includes work on Reiniger) that the
chapters in her book are “linked by themes of a specifically feminine
aesthetic” (2006, xvi). On discussing women and animation, Paul Wells

If men, in general, have used animation to echo and extend the premises
and concerns of men in live-action film-making, then women have used
animation to create a specific feminine aesthetic which resists the inherently
masculine language of the live-action arena, and the most dominant codes
of orthodox hyper-realist animation which also use its vocabulary. (1998,
198, italics in original)

Wells’ point is that animation, because it has more potential for auteur
practices, offers women a “safe space” to work outside the mainstream
industry, and outside dominant representational modes (1998, 199). He
goes on to suggest that female animators are often more concerned with
the subjective, arguing that:

Women animators more readily seek to express themselves in ways that

trust and exploit the ontological equivalence of imagery. The creation of
animated dream-states mixes easily with subjective interpretations of fairy-
tale or poetry, which in turn sits comfortably with the use of the documen-
tary tendency, or the overt use of abstract symbolism. (1998, 199)

He is referring specifically to female animators such as Marjut Rimminen,

Christine Roche, Suzan Pitt and Alison De Vere who often deal with var-
ious issues related to female experience. He argues that the films pro-
duced by such animators make use of a feminine aesthetic which he
defines in the following way: women are represented as subject rather
than object; language is perceived as masculine and is therefore mis-
trusted and instead visuals are prioritised; the films are radical and polit-
ical rather than conservative (in terms of dominant norms); and lastly
the films focus on women’s relationship with their own bodies, their role
publicly and privately, and the nature of desire, sexuality and its relation-
ship with creativity (1998, 200).
While Wells bases these categories on the film-makers noted above,
among others, he argues that a feminine aesthetic can be identified in
the history of female animation and one of his examples is Reiniger. In
what appears to be a slippage from “feminine” to “feminist” Wells argues
that Reiniger’s work displays what he terms a “feminist tendency”. He
attributes this to the fact that “the language of such work is couched
most specifically in the lyrical movement of the figures, and the emo-
tional intensity of gesture – a profound departure from the (male) agen-
das of the evolving cartoon” (Wells 1998, 201, italics in original). He
also notes her “lightness of touch, this subtlety of expression, this desire
to delineate emotional states” and suggests that Reiniger was “secure
of her own femininity as an expressive tool” (ibid.). What is interesting
here is that he describes Reiniger’s work only in terms of aesthetics, and
there is no real suggestion about how this might be thought through
in terms of a feminist approach. While the later female animators noted
above are being explicitly political in their work, as Wells acknowledges,
there is very little that Reiniger produces, says or writes during her life-
time that could be construed as feminist. There is a troubling tendency
here in some aspects of the scholarship to switch between discussing the
feminine and feminist as if they are interchangeable terms, which can also
be detected in other works (see Christine Battersby for explicit discussion
on the difference between these two terms [1989]). In a similar line of

enquiry, Moritz suggests that “The genre of silhouette films also con-
stitutes for Reiniger a kind of feminist validation of a women’s folk art
form” (Moritz 1996, 44). Importantly, Moritz also acknowledges that
silhouettes were used for portraiture before photography took over (as
does Cowan discussed above), and silhouette cutouts were then prac-
tised more by women who couldn’t do other kinds of art training but
“scissor-craft” could be part of domestic chores (p. 44). And he notes
lots of female artists were producing this kind of art in the 1900s.
Perhaps the “feminist validation” here relates to some sort of ownership
over the artform? Balázs’ ideas discussed above are at odds with some of
the English-language scholarship where, while praising Reiniger’s work,
these scholars are firstly asserting that her work has a feminine aesthetic
(whether they use the term or not) and then suggest that this is in some
way feminist, either by working outside of the mainstream or by (re)
claiming scissor craft as “women’s folk art form”.

In Bonnie Mann’s book on gender and the “war on terror” she sug-
gests that language is core to how gender discrimination retains a hold
on society and culture. Mann is discussing US soldiers and the impact
of particular kinds of uses of language on the experience of one’s gen-
der identity, however her work has resonance when looking at the com-
pletely different example of Reiniger. Drawing from several thinkers,
including George Lakoff, Mann suggests that words and language form
“frames” that “activate a whole network of cognitive, affective, emo-
tional and moral associations” and “that language puts certain frames
into play without having to pass through conscious thought” (2014,
141). Mann’s examples are the frames of “bitch” and “slut” used fre-
quently in the military, and she discusses the consequences for female
soldiers in terms of gender identity (2014, 144–148). Lakoff’s cogni-
tive linguist paradigm is in line with Ferguson’s “discursive reserve” dis-
cussed above and both frameworks offer ways to consider how language
works to enforce dominant ideologies in a number of ways. For Reiniger
the frames are much less aggressive and indeed both press and schol-
arly sources praise her and her work. Yet the frames employed are to do
with the ornamental and the “pretty” in terms of aesthetics (which Galt
reminds us is always thought of with deep suspicion); magic and wiz-
ardry (paradoxically given the stress on her craft and labour) suggesting

she has magicked these films out of nowhere, and links her with chil-
dren’s culture; and finally the characterisation of her as maternal and
unthreatening with a focus on her body/hands as well as her benign
What is interesting about much of the writing about Reiniger is that
explicitly she is described in terms of being a “nice lady”; she is often
depicted in terms of her approachability. Implicitly, however, there is a
suggestion that she is cunning and wily and this is apparent in the many
characterisations of both her and her work in terms of magic and witch-
craft. In this way she inhabits Galt’s model of the “deceptive woman”
who is “untrustworthy” and has somehow conjured her films into
existence. This is perhaps best summed up by a Goethe-Institut Film
Programme that describes the “faint smile on her lips and a look of mis-
chief in her eyes” (Schobert and Strobel 1999, 8). Reiniger is repre-
sented as “crafty” in two ways: as someone who employs a craft-based
approach to animation production, but also as a childish trickster figure
who is potentially untrustworthy. What is revealed through analysing
Reiniger’s work in this way is that hegemonic/normative constructions
(whether of women, ethnic minorities, the working class, or specific con-
cepts like “craft” etc.) are riddled with contradictions; the terms that
are used (the discursive reserve) are evidence of hidden power relations.
The cultural value attached to Reiniger’s work is also contradictory and
multifaceted. In some ways her technical skills are held up as pioneer-
ing, yet in other ways she is downplayed in comparison to her male col-
leagues. As such she is praised and understood as an innovative animator
while at the same time continually framed by gendered discourses such
as the feminine aesthetic and fairy tale. What this chapter has demon-
strated is that while much of the discourse we have looked at is in praise
of Reiniger’s work, the uses of particular language, and gendered frame-
works, work to position Reiniger as culturally less important than, say,
her avant-garde collaborators, or anyone else considered more “art” than
We also think there are a number of things happening here to contrib-
ute to this persistent return to a feminine aesthetic or, for some, a fem-
inist tendency, when looking at Reiniger’s work. The language used to
discuss Reiniger in academia often promotes her aesthetic and the move-
ment of her characters in terms of delicacy, the lyrical, and the emotional.
She’s someone whose work we struggle to understand in any way other
than on an aesthetic level (as Palfreyman noted in 2011); this is perhaps

partly due to the fact that her extraordinary context is not immediately
obvious in her work. Scholarly work has therefore often problematically
assigned a feminine aesthetic, (and even a feminist agenda) to her films.
What seems particularly apparent is that one is continually reminded in
the literature that surrounds her that she had (mostly) male collabora-
tors. As Cecile Starr notes:

Lotte Reiniger’s life has been a wonderful fairy tale, thanks, in part, to
the succession of people who “discovered” her and set her to work spin-
ning out fabulous films from pieces of card and metal: Paul Wegener, Carl
Koch, Louis Hagen, Sr., John Grierson, Jean Renoir, Louise Hagen Jr.,
Richard Kaplan, the National Film Board of Canada, Gordon and Pat
Martin. The films they enabled Lotte Reiniger to produce will never grow
old; they will only become more and more enchanting. (1980, 19)

Such continued reference to her collaborations dilutes her own influ-

ence in film and animation history. In her analysis of the pretty aesthetic
Galt explains her methodology as follows: “the first move is to gather
together under one heading a hitherto dispersed array of critical terms
and dismissive gestures that, I argue, operate to produce a consistent
space of exclusion” (2011, 8). We argue that the frames (or “discursive
reserve”) used to delineate Reiniger provide one example of such a dis-
missive gesture; although routinely disguised behind a general praise of
Reiniger and her work, she does occupy a “space of exclusion” as defined
by Galt. Reiniger’s exclusion highlights a need to reimagine the estab-
lished film and animation “canons”; only by (re)discovering female
film-makers and animators and making their contributions much clearer
can we hope to usefully problematise the frameworks that enforce domi-
nant ideas about gender, craft, aesthetics and value.

Acknowledgements   We would like to thank the staff at The City Museum in
Tuebingen and attached archives, The Film Museum in Dusseldorf, and the
German National Library in Frankfurt for all their assistance and support in the
writing of this chapter.

1. See Laura Mulvey’s seminal work on the male gaze for example (1989).
2. Scholarship on literary modernism faces a similar difficulty, having to con-
tinuously insist on the importance of considering women’s writing and

gender issues in discussions of experimental aesthetics in the early twen-

tieth century. See, for example, Madelyn Detloff’s piece “Strong-Armed
Sisyphe: Feminist Queer Modernism Again… Again” (2018).
3. The City Museum in Tuebingen (Stadtmuseum) holds a permanent exhi-
bition on Lotte Reiniger and also has an attached archive with many more
4. See Lotte Reiniger im Kontext der europäischen Medienavantgarde [Lotte
Reiniger in the Context of the European Avant-Garde], https://tst-pub-
5. Shiner argues that the main reason for this shift in understanding art is
commercialisation and shifts towards mass culture (see Shiner 2001, or
King 2019, for further discussion).
6. Both Cowan (2013) and Galt (2011) discuss the decorative in relation to
oriental and rococo aesthetics, which, although it is beyond the scope of
this chapter, is certainly relevant to understanding Reiniger’s aesthetics.
7. See Andrew Teverson for a full discussion of fairy tale and its associations
through history (2013).
8. One journalist draws attention to the nurturing and homely environment
of Reiniger’s flat (she “generously serves tea”). Another journalist states:
“The old lady …applies pink powder to her face for our photographer” (6
October 1976, AZ).
9. See the special exhibition “Animation and Avantgarde—Lotte Reiniger and
Absolute Film” on view in Tuebingen and the Filmmuseum Duesseldorf
between May 2016 and April 2017. Here Reiniger’s oeuvre is compared
to works by Paul Wegener, Walter Ruttmann, Viking Eggeling, Hans
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Börsen-Courier. August 30. Accessed at Deutsche Kinemathek, Berlin.
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Advertisements in Print and Film in Early Twentieth-Century Germany.” Art
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Detloff, Madelyn. 2018. “Strong-Armed Sisyphe: Feminist Queer Modernism

Again … Again.” Feminist Modernist Studies 1 (1–2): 36–43. Routledge.
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London: Bloomsbury.
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Columbia University Press.
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University Press.
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Werke Band 6.2: Kleine Schriften zum Film. 1928–1931, edited by Inka
Mülder-Bach, 337–338. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag AG.
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History of the German Film. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
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Terror. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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Autobiography and Authenticity
in Stop-Motion Animation

Carla MacKinnon

This chapter will interrogate ideas of authenticity in relation to

­handcrafted animation, focusing on the use of stop-motion to tell auto-
biographical stories. It will identify techniques that can be used to cre-
ate an impression of authenticity in animated autobiographical films,
and will explore these further through the analysis of two short films:
Karen Watson’s Daddy’s Little Bit of Dresden China (1988) and Timothy
Mercier’s Model Childhood (2018). Elizabeth Bruss’ categories of truth-
value, act-value and identity-value will be used to explore how each of
these films addresses and subverts conventional expectations of the auto-
biographical form.
The chapter will briefly discuss the concept of authenticity before out-
lining Georgia Christindis’ concept of the “authenticity effect” (2013),
Steven Lipkin’s work on “warranting strategies” (2002) and Bruss’
three autobiographical values (1980). It will then explore how stop-
motion animation can, through its associations with handmade craft pro-
cesses and authorial presence, generate an “authenticity effect”. It will
argue that this effect can be particularly potent, and used as a warranting

C. MacKinnon (*) 
Arts University Bournemouth, Poole, UK

© The Author(s) 2019 99

C. Ruddell and P. Ward (eds.), The Crafty Animator, Palgrave Animation,
100  C. MacKINNONN

strategy, when applied to autobiographical stories. The final section will

apply some of these ideas to an analysis of the two short film examples.

Authenticity can be difficult to pin down as a concept, but it nevertheless
carries a great deal of commercial and cultural currency. In its simplest
usage, authenticity in art can be seen as a provable quality, akin to what
is classed as genuine; an authentic work of art is one that has been pro-
duced by the artist it claims to have been produced by, or that is from
the period that it claims to be from. A Rembrandt, or a Fabergé egg, can
be shown to be authentic, or to be a fake. But authenticity can extend
the idea of the genuine to encompass not only objects and human behav-
iour, but also a complete way of being. The Existentialists believed that
the authentic man was one whose behaviour reflected his true self; for
them, authenticity described not just a person’s artistic product but their
whole mode of living. Lindholm (2013, 363) describes how the tradi-
tional notion of authenticity as related to genuine origins can be carried
from objects to humans. Authentic things

are what they purport to be; their provenance and authorship are known
and verified […] the same is true for individuals. I am authentic if I am
true to my heritage and if my life is a direct and immediate expression of
my essential being, that is, if I am true to myself.

A person’s claim to authenticity, then, is linked both to how honestly

their life reflects their personal origins and histories, and how clearly it
expresses the pure essence of their true selves (an ambiguous concept
in itself). Despite its ambiguity, the notion of authenticity is commonly
used in marketing language employed by the creative industries. It is
often applied to artists making work that reflects the conditions of their
life or history, that is perceived as emotionally sincere, or that does not
seek commercial success. Preece (2015) describes how Chinese artist Ai
Weiwei’s “celebrity brand” revolves around a sense of authenticity estab-
lished through a mythologisation of his personal history, which involves
his incarceration by the Chinese Government and his continuing politi-
cal activism. Ai Weiwei’s “brand narrative” reinforces the idea that he is
driven to follow his true moral beliefs at great personal risk and sacrifice.
His “essential self” is seemingly manifested in every aspect of his work

and life, despite the difficulties that this apparently causes him. An art-
work such as Surveillance Camera (2010), in which the artist replicates
in marble the CCTV cameras that were positioned around his home
by police, directly references his own surveillance and persecution. The
meaning of the artwork emerges, at least partially, from the context of
the artist’s life.
While the focus varies, interpretations of authenticity all gravitate
around the concept of truth. It is easy to see, then, why authenticity is
an important value for documentary filmmakers (Vaughn 1999, 85).
A documentarian’s preoccupation with authenticity may relate to the his-
torical veracity of the filmed images presented—the question of to what
degree they are genuine images of what they purport to be. Equally, it
could relate to the integrity of the documentary’s overall argument and
its contextualization of image—the extent to which the film is a fair
and true representation of the story and characters. However, the per-
ceived authenticity of film can extend further than questions of indexical
­veracity or faithfulness to an external, objective reality. Just as a musi-
cian may achieve a “personally authentic” performance through orig-
inal self-expression (Kivy 1995, 7), a filmmaker can achieve a sense of
authenticity through the sincerity of their voice. In art, subjective truths
can be presented no less authentically than supposedly objective ones.
Christinidis (2013, 35) notes that authenticity is often attributed to art-
ists who strive to honestly represent their subjective response to external
events. Indeed, it is often the perceived authenticity of a work of art that
allows a subjective representation to be recognised as “true”.

Authenticity Effect
Christinidis (2013, 36) has written on literature’s “epistemological
problem of knowing and understanding any reality beyond that of sub-
jective affect”. This challenge can be overcome through the creation of
an authentic authorial voice, the use of which will encourage a reader to
accept subjective perspectives as being representative of a genuine truth
(in other words, to accept them as authentic). This sense of authentic-
ity, Christinidis argues, can be created (or staged) through the use of
“a range of aesthetic choices, the preference given to stylistic means
likely to result in what one might call the ‘authenticity effect’” (ibid.)
To interrogate ways in which this “authenticity effect” can be generated,
Christinidis draws on Goffman’s concept of “front regions” and “back
102  C. MacKINNONN

regions” in social spaces such as workplaces, institutions and homes.

Goffman (1959, 111–121) proposed that front regions are spaces for
public “performance”, for activities perceived to be desirable or appro-
priate to outsiders and authority figures. Back regions, by contrast, are
the private spaces in which an employee or occupant can relax and step
out of character. In the back regions, facts, behaviours and objects that
are supressed in the “social performance” are permitted. Goffman’s
examples include a mental hospital, where visitors have no access to
chronic wards (back regions) and are instead restricted to well-furnished
visiting rooms (front regions), where patients are clean and respectfully
handled. In the case of a funeral parlour, in order for a corpse to be pre-
sented in an attractive and tranquil state (in a front region) there must
also be a back region in which the body can be cleaned and prepared,
not to mention space for the undertaker and staff to partake in activities
inappropriate for the bereaved to witness, such as eating lunch and tak-
ing breaks. To see beyond a space’s front region and into a back region is
to witness the whole space in what feels like a more authentic way.
Christinidis suggests that texts also have front and back regions. The
back region refers to that which ought not to be visible to an audience,
and through making visible a text’s back region an author can cre-
ate an “authenticity effect”. This can be achieved through the revela-
tion of aspects of the narrative world initially hidden from the narrator
and reader, or through the breaking of narrative conventions, as well as
through the representation of social taboos and subjects generally con-
sidered unsuitable to be represented in literature. Different means of
producing “authenticity effects” can be used in combination:

authenticity effects based on the revelation of hidden truths and the vio-
lation of decorum are often accompanied by further stylistic devices
designed to generate an impression of immediacy and to thus minimise
the apparent distinction between front and back regions. Examples include
fragmented and multipersonal narrative, the inclusion of “documentary”
evidence such as photographs, and paratextual elements such as blurbs
referring to the autobiographical or semi-autobiographical nature of the
narrative presented. (Christinidis 2013, 38–39)

Christinidis uses the example of the “misery memoir” as a genre that

exploits the “authenticity effect” through its representation of traumatic
experiences and often taboo subject matter, within an autobiographical

framework that reassures the reader that what they are reading recounts
true, if subjectively interpreted, events.

In his studies of docudrama films, Lipkin discusses the use of “warrants”,
devices that “link data (the evidence upon which an argument is built)
with claims (the position the argument advocates)” (Lipkin 2002, 13).
These warranting strategies are used to convince an audience watching
a re-creation that they are seeing a credible representation of real events.
Lipkin discusses three types of warranting: “modelling”, which refers to
iconic representations of real referents; “sequencing”, which refers to
the process of placing actual indexical documentary sequences alongside
re-enacted sequences in order to strengthen the credibility of the rep-
resentation; and “interaction”, which refers to the practice of combining
indexical documentary elements with recreated elements within the same
scene or sequence. Warranting strategies can include the shooting of a
film in locations where the real story happened or the casting of non-ac-
tors, as well as the inclusion of stock footage, photographs or newspaper
articles. Through sequencing and interaction, re-created elements can be
placed in proximity to real materials and have their credibility “tested”
and reinforced. Formenti (2014, 103–115) has argued that animated
documentary is a form of docudrama, as it visually reconstructs or inter-
prets real events using performance. Lipkin’s work on warranting can be
usefully applied to animated documentary in order to understand how
iconic representations and re-creations can be imbued with a sense of
authenticity and credibility.

Bruss’s Autobiographical Values

Autobiography has been described as “a diachronic narrative whose
author is its subject and which makes claims to extra-textual veracity”
(Sitney 1977, 60). If authenticity describes an honest and direct link
between author and text, the autobiography is arguably the genre most
dependent on perceived authenticity for its success. The audience’s emo-
tional investment in an autobiographical work is predicated on a belief
in the sincerity of the author, and the scandalised response to the reve-
lation of autobiographical imposture demonstrates the depth of betrayal
that is felt when this sense of authenticity is undermined (Egan 2004,
104  C. MacKINNONN

15). An example of this sense of betrayal can be seen in the outraged

public response to the discovery that James Frey’s supposed memoir of
addiction and recovery, A Million Little Pieces (2003), was in fact largely
Bruss (1980, 299–307) argues that film is not well suited to telling
autobiographical stories. For Bruss, film problematizes the three “val-
ues” that autobiographical works must demonstrate: “truth-value”, “act-
value” and “identity-value”. Truth-value refers to an autobiographical
work’s veracity and sincerity. For Bruss, film has a weak claim on truth-
value as film language fails to “discriminate between the essential and the
accidental” with the precision of the written word. Referring to Bazin’s
idea of the filmed image as an unmediated representation of reality, Bruss
notes that “the automatic undoes the autobiographic; we no longer need
to infer the presence of a human agent, nor by the same token can film-
makers entirely control what will be filmed” (ibid., 303).
Act-value relates to autobiography as “a personal performance”, one
that Bruss argues cannot be autobiographically legitimate when authorial
responsibility is shared with actors and crew (Bruss 1976, 9). Even in
auteur productions, there is mediation. Bruss believes that the auteur is
distinct from the author as “Authors must exercise their own capacities
where auteurs are free to delegate; authors actually possess the abilities
that auteurs need only oversee, and they fabricate what filmmakers may
only need to find” (Bruss 1980, 304).
Identity-value relates to the way in which, in literature, “the logi-
cally distinct roles of author, narrator, and protagonist are conjoined”
(ibid., 300). For Bruss, there is no filmic equivalent for the semantic acro-
batics that the role of “I” in written autobiography is able to perform,
where the author is both within and outside of the text. Bruss suggests that
when a filmmaker appears in front of the camera it can have an unsettling
effect on the audience, who are given to feel like “no one is in charge”.
Bruss’s criticism of the capacity of (live-action) film to tell autobio-
graphical stories is problematic, and her argument has been challenged
by a number of scholars (see Barefoot 2006; Gernalzick 2006; Everett
2007; Dowmunt 2013). Nevertheless, the descriptions of truth-value,
act-value and identity-value are useful in understanding some of the spe-
cific qualities that stop-motion animation brings to autobiographical sto-
rytelling, and the ways in which it can create or enhance an “authenticity

Before looking at the ideas of Bruss, Christinidis and Lipkins in the

context of our two examples of stop-motion autobiography, it is useful
to consider how the technique of handmade stop-motion can generate
an “authenticity effect” in film, and how this can be used as a warranting
strategy in some documentary contexts, particularly those that tell per-
sonal stories based on true events.

The Authenticity Effect of Handmade Stop-Motion

For some filmmakers and commentators, the use of a stop-motion
­technique can give an animated film an increased sense of authenticity,
as it seems to offer a truer link to its physical origins or “essence” than a
digitally produced image. While stop-motion puppets and sets are a clear
construction, they nevertheless bear evidence of something that has at
one time existed in three-dimensional space (Ward 2011, 294; Priebe
2006, xv). Shadbolt (2013) argues that this allows stop-motion to make
a “claim on reality” despite its obvious artificiality.
The “authenticity effect” of stop-motion can be amplified through the
use of a handmade aesthetic. Johnson notes a common perception that
“art made by hand is more ‘authentic’ to the human condition” than
digitally produced art. Handmade art is perceived as “heroic”, and an
artist’s personal struggle is believed to be made visible through “irregular
brushwork and uneven marks” (Johnson 1996, 39). The identification
of handmade production with authorial presence and honesty of expres-
sion is reinforced by accounts from animators working with handmade
techniques. Canemaker describes a “visceral connection between the
head, heart, and hand” in hand-drawn animation (Canemaker cited in
Kriger 2012, 53), while for Fierlinger “Anything you do by hand defines
you; it shows your personality” (Fierlinger cited in Kriger 2012, 190).
Collington notes that handmade animation techniques are often used in
animated documentary films, and “help the audience to feel even more
fully connected with the subject’s internal state of mind, in a similar
way to how the expressive paint marks and vivid colours of Van Gogh’s
post-impressionist paintings help us comprehend his unfolding madness”
(Collington 2016, 213).
The romanticisation of handmade animation is particularly evident
in commentary surrounding stop-motion production. Gambrell (2011,
106  C. MacKINNONN

117) observes the fascination that commentators display for the expe-
rience of making stop-motion animation, with its long and physically
challenging process. Aardman’s Nick Park describes the animator’s expe-
rience of being in physical contact with the clay: “you’re manipulating
it frame by frame so you’re kind of struggling with it” (Park 2012).
This “struggle”, which echoes Johnson’s description of perceived artis-
tic authenticity, is described as a force that connects the maker to the
made object. It frames the stop-motion animator as both artist and
labourer, working honestly with their hands. For Aardman co-founder
Peter Lord, this gives stop-motion a sense of authorial presence that
borders on the mystical, whereby “the animator is ever-present, every-
where in the shot, an invisible spirit transforming the puppet into a living
being” (Lord, quoted in Harryhausen and Dalton 2008, 9). Aardman
trade on their reputation as a studio that was built from the ground up
by a small group of passionate craftspeople who found global success but
never sold out. These humble origins are referenced and reinforced by
the consciously flawed, “thumbed” visual style the studio applies to its
work. The uneven, handmade look even extends to their CG work; in
some cases artists are asked to “wonkify” their digitally created designs,
in line with the Aardman identity (Lane and Aardman 2003, 107–141).
In foregrounding the human hand behind their work, Aardman increase
the sense of the personal touch and the perceived authenticity of their
Priebe (2006, xv–xvi) links authorial presence in animation to tradi-
tional ideas of artistic authenticity, describing the experience of seeing an
animator’s fingerprints visible on clay as:

much like leaning in close to a painting to see all of the brushstrokes and
canvas texture leaking through, and then stepping back to see the won-
derful illusion it creates. The mark of the creator is evident in the work
itself, which is why we still travel miles to see the pyramids or an original
Leonardo or Picasso.

By wearing the clear visual evidence of the physical labour that went into
its production, a Claymation film fits Johnson’s description of a work of
art that appears to directly communicate the personal struggle of its crea-
tor, and that therefore carries a sense of artistic authenticity.
The romantic notion of the handmade as carrying a special honesty
or authenticity is problematic. As Johnson argues, elevating the status of

authorial presence in the handmade is to diminish it in digital production.

Kriger (2012, 74) suggests that handmade animation embeds the anima-
tor’s decisions and processes into the story, while computer animation
can reduce “the connection the filmmaker has with the act of making”.
Kriger’s thoughts echo those of many commentators who appear to have
difficulty, when observing CG animation, in distinguishing that which is
the product of the animator’s agency from that which is the product of
inherent software capabilities. Wood’s (2014) study of the user interface
of Autodesk Maya demonstrates the complexity of mapping the shared
agency between user and software in the study of computer animation.
This complexity and the inaccessibility of automated processes means that
the labour that goes into CG production is often misunderstood. The
animator’s perceived role can be reduced to an imagined process of push-
ing buttons, with the real work left to the computers.
It should also be noted that very few animation pipelines rely
solely on either digital or handmade analogue processes. Drawing is
a key technique used in the development of many CG films (Wells
et al. 2008, 93–5) and physical clay modelling is often used in the cre-
ation of digital 3D characters (Buckley 2011, 83). Furthermore, hand-
made animation is almost always digitally processed. Even the most
apparently authentic, handcrafted animated image is likely to have been
through various points of digital mediation. For example, it may have
been shot on a digital camera and assembled using a stop-motion pro-
gramme such as Dragonframe, or it may have been scanned, cleaned up,
assembled in or composited in a programme such as Adobe After Effects,
and exported to a digital file for exhibition. Hosea (2010, 357) suggests
that as digital processes have become ubiquitous a new paradigm, the
“post-digital”, has emerged, synthesising computer and handmade pro-
duction. This mode of production carries practical and creative benefits
for filmmakers. Álvarez Sarrat and Hernandez (2012) argue that digital
technology can remove barriers of mediation between the artist’s hand
and the final image, allowing craft-based artist-animators to translate
their handiwork to screen with a minimum of visual interference. If dig-
ital technology can remove, rather than create, barriers between the art-
ist’s hand and the final product, it could be argued that it can increase
the authenticity of a piece of work, in the sense that it allows the work to
be the most honest reflection of the artist’s intention.
Although the realities of post-digital filmmaking undermine the idea
that authenticity is linked more closely to the handmade than the digital,
108  C. MacKINNONN

the emotional connection that audiences feel with the handmade, the
perceived authenticity, is evidently still strong. Filmmakers can exploit
this, using handmade techniques, even in combination with digital
production, to increase the sense of immediacy and authorial presence
in a work, thus increasing its perceived authenticity. The use of hand-
made techniques and aesthetics can, therefore, be seen as examples of
Christinidis’ “authenticity effect”. In a stop-motion production, the
narrative action of the puppets could be considered a film’s front region
while the evidence of manual production, such as fingerprints in clay,
could be seen as a managed, performed glimpse into the private space
behind-the-scenes—a staged authenticity. In this way, audiences are
given to intuit that they are seeing something more “real” and “true”
than they would with a purely digitally produced image. This “authen-
ticity effect” of the stop-motion technique can be particularly effective in
autobiographical films and those that portray personal experience.

Animating Personal Experience

Ward argues that the stop-motion technique creates an ambivalent view-
ing experience when applied to documentary. Stop-motion puppets are
physically constructed models, made to perform by an animator. While
stop-motion entices audiences with its tactile materiality (Barker 2009,
137) its construction also “foregrounds alienation and distance” (Ward
2011, 297, italics in original). Audiences of these films are not being
asked to believe what they see in conventional terms. Nevertheless, Ward
observes, the use of stop-motion in documentary can invoke deeply
emotional responses (2011). Wells tells us that “the tension between
belief and disbelief is integral to the achievement and effect of animation
as a form” (Wells 1998, 20, italics in original), and Ward sees stop-
motion documentaries as existing in a “liminal space between imagination
and belief” (Ward 2011, 302, italics in original).
While animation cannot offer the visual indexicality that has tradi-
tionally been associated with documentary, I have shown that the idea of
indexicality takes on a compelling dimension in stop-motion, due to its
physicality and strong sense of authorial presence. While the relationship
between the pro-filmic event and the represented event is different in an
animated film to that of conventional documentary, there is still an index
of a kind. Marks (2011, 309) describes how “animation indexes the hand
that made it, the labour and time that went into it”. When the body
that handcrafted the animation is the very same body that experienced

the events depicted, it acts as a bridge between the referent and the rep-
resentation. Through the performative process of stop-motion, where
the animator is physically and psychologically invested into every frame,
the animated image could be seen as an indexical document carrying,
sometimes literally, the fingerprint of its author and subject. Life leaves
its mark on the artist, and the artist in turn leaves their mark on the
clay. This sense of connection that pervades autobiographical stop-motion
draws the audience closer to the author, even as it distances them. In
a film that purports to represent personal subject matter, this sense of
physical and emotional authorial presence becomes very important.
Honess Roe (2013) argues that animation is particularly useful in
expressing the discontinuities in personal histories and in the sense of
self that can be caused by trauma. For Jeremy Blair, stop-motion anima-
tion is a particularly useful technique for self-representation. Through
the process of stop-motion, Blair proposes, “animation may be able to
occupy places in the mind that words cannot” (Blair 2014, 12). Pilling
(1992, 6) notes that animation can usefully address “taboo” subjects
that would have traditionally been “unthinkable in feature documen-
tary film”, such as incestuous sexual abuse. If, as Christinidis suggests,
an “authenticity effect” can be created though the violation of social
taboos, and if animation is particularly well suited to the communication
of trauma and taboo subjects, it would follow that animated films deal-
ing with personal experiences of trauma caused by a socially taboo sub-
ject can feel highly authentic. The remainder of this chapter will look at
the examples of two films that deal with personal experiences of trauma,
Daddy’s Little Bit of Dresden China and Model Childhood, arguing that
these films both achieve a strong sense of authenticity through the use
of warranting strategies and devices that create an “authenticity effect”. I
will also show how these films complicate Bruss’s requirements of truth-
value, identity-value and act-value in autobiography.

Stop-Motion Films Representing Personal Trauma:

Daddy’s Little Bit of Dresden China and Model
Daddy’s Little Bit of Dresden China (1988) is an eight-minute gradua-
tion film made by animator Karen Watson for her BA (Hons) at West
Surrey College of Art and Design. Watson did not expect the film to
110  C. MacKINNONN

have a significant audience beyond her course tutors (Watson, “Short

films”) and was surprised to see it go on to be highly successful, playing
at prestigious film festivals and on broadcast channels, winning awards
and receiving a BAFTA nomination. The film was also broadcast on
BBC2 and Channel 4 and has been the subject of scholarly attention (see
Pilling 1992; Wells 1998, 2016; Ward 2005). Watson’s film centres on
the subject of Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) and draws on Watson’s own
childhood experiences. The action is framed by a voiceover, narrated by
Watson, presenting a subversion of the Snow White fairy tale. The nar-
rative jumps between the violent playing out of the fairy tale, in which
a daughter and mother become victims of an abusive father, and other
scenarios visualised using a range of analogue techniques, which situ-
ate the personal story in a wider cultural and political context regarding
CSA. Throughout the film we hear female voices recounting their expe-
riences of surviving abuse. There is no indication in the text of whether
these voices are actors or real survivors, or whether any of the accounts
relate to Watson’s own experiences. The film also includes a scene set
in a pub in which men are seen to be condemning CSA, while at the
same time partaking in misogynistic intimidation and objectification of
women. The central, recurring scenario in the film shows a family in a
domestic setting, played by stop-motion puppets in handmade sets. The
family members’ conventional roles are gradually undermined to reveal
dark secrets. Wells (1998, 66) describes Watson’s resistance to “a unity
of style” as a technique which works to “broaden the canvas of the issues
she is implicitly and explicitly addressing”. Ward (2005, 96–97) suggests
that the film’s use of multiple narrative and visual modes allows it to
effectively explore the contradictions and hypocrisy inherent in the sub-
ject matter, while the sequencing of fairy tale material alongside contem-
porary populist notions reinforces the film’s criticism of the folk beliefs
that allowed much sexual abuse to go unchecked at the time the film was
Timothy Mercier’s Model Childhood was made in 2018 as the grad-
uation project for a Masters in Documentary by Practice at Royal
Holloway, University of London. Like Daddy’s Little Bit of Dresden
China, Mercier’s film centres on his personal experience of CSA. Unlike
Watson, his abuser was not a family member but a stranger, who offered
the 12-year-old Mercier a ride in his car, drove him into the woods and
assaulted him. As an adult, Mercier found himself experiencing a cri-
sis of mental health, which led him to undergo a therapeutic process

in which he was encouraged to confront his childhood trauma. Model

Childhood evolved from this process. The film includes self-shot live-
action video diary footage, originally recorded as personal therapy, with
no wider audience in mind (Mercier 2018, 4). This is combined with
footage of the director painstakingly crafting models of his childhood self
and his abuser. These models are then animated, with the events of the
day of Mercier’s assault reconstructed as stop-motion segments in the
film. At the time of making the film, Mercier was a 51-year-old mature
student with a successful career as a drama director behind him and a
strong understanding of how the language of film can be used to evoke
emotion. The dissertation that Mercier wrote to contextualise his film
demonstrates a highly developed grasp of film theory and practice. As
a filmmaker he was aware that the telling of his life-story “demanded
authenticity above all” (Mercier 2018, 7). Mindful of this, Mercier’s
approach self-consciously sought to retain and create “reflexive” home-
made production values (ibid.). While Mercier’s use of stop-motion
animation evolved from an organic, therapeutic and unselfconscious pro-
cess of model making, the way that the stop-motion technique is used,
framed and deconstructed in the final film evidences an acute under-
standing of this technique’s potential to represent traumatic events with
a sense of authenticity and intimacy.
Both Daddy’s Little Bit of Dresden China and Model Childhood address
the filmmakers’ childhood experiences of traumatic sexual abuse; both
films present themselves as revealing hidden truths and violating deco-
rum, and so both can immediately be argued to produce an “authenticity
effect”. In both films the narrative and visual style is fragmented, moving
backwards and forwards in time and space, and across multiple modes
of visual realisation. Watson made Daddy’s Little Bit of Dresden China
as “a personal attempt to give voice to the experience of sexual abuse”
(Watson 1992, 96), drawing on her own experiences as well as the expe-
riences of others. While Watson’s film arguably does not fit our genre
expectations for an autobiographical work (the protagonist does not bear
Watson’s name and is at no point referred to as “I”), the film has clear
autobiographical elements, for example the use of Watson’s own family
photographs and her discussion of her own abuse in paratextual materials.
Watson even included a shot of her own birth certificate in the original
cut of the film, though this was removed in later versions (Watson, ‘Short
films’). The link between the events portrayed and the filmmaker’s own
childhood is made more explicit in paratextual materials released after the
112  C. MacKINNONN

film, in which Watson describes how the film relates to her own experience
(Watson 1992). The use of these documents, as well as the verbal accounts
of abuse which are presented in the film and the paratextual materials and
dialogues that exist alongside the film, function as warranting strategies
and amplify the “authenticity effect”.
Watson’s real family photographs are presented alongside fictional,
constructed photographs featuring the puppets from the film in “happy
family” scenarios. These images highlight the idea that a family is engag-
ing in a process of performance whenever they represent themselves.
Later in the film, a photograph shows the puppets playing out a differ-
ent scene—one of abuse. This photo is torn up, indicating the repression
of the violent truth in the family’s performance of itself. The combina-
tion of real and clearly constructed photographs creates an “authentic-
ity effect” while simultaneously challenging faith in the photographic
image that traditional documentary relies on. It also offers a fascinating
perspective on Lipkin’s concept of interaction in warranting—the combi-
nation of iconic representations and indexical documents within a scene.
The inclusion of the real photographs adds credibility to the imagina-
tive representations, while the imaginative representations undermine the
narrative of the indexical documents.
In Model Childhood, photographs of Mercier’s family and his young
self are featured, as the older Mercier looks through photo albums.
Here, a conventional “authenticity effect” is created through the war-
ranting presence of photographic documents reassuring us that the film
links to an external reality. This sense of reality is enriched, rather than
subverted, by the expressive manifestations of Mercier’s trauma provided
by the animated segments. The sequencing of the animated reconstruc-
tions and the more conventional, indexical documentary material also
lends credibility to the animation, as we can see the way that both the
content and the process of the animation interacts with and expresses
Mercier’s real-world experience.
While these conventional means of producing an “authenticity effect”
are used and explored in Daddy’s Little Bit of Dresden China and Model
Childhood, a sense of authenticity is also evoked by each film’s use of
stop-motion puppet animation with a handmade, homemade aesthetic to
re-enact traumatic past scenarios. In Daddy’s Little Bit of Dresden China,
Watson’s models are raw and overtly handmade; no attempt has been
made to mask their construction. The materials used reflect each charac-
ter’s personality and role, but they also evoke physical memories that link

to fear, violence and insecurity. The puppet of the abusive father is made
from sharp metal, broken glass and razor blades, while the vulnerable,
damaged child victim is built from bandages and feathers, with a china
vase for a head. Here we see a strong example of the paradoxical power
of animated documentary that Ward describes. When the father’s razor-
blade body interacts with the bandages and broken china of the girl-
puppet in Daddy’s Little Bit of Dresden China we know we are watching
a creative representation (as opposed to an indexical record) of abuse,
but we respond to the violence and fear that the scene points to. By
exploiting stop-motion’s haptic, tactile qualities, Watson allows an audi-
ence to feel the personal experience she is depicting, helping the audience
to experience a sense of identification with the character and story and,
by extension, with the filmmaker (Fig. 5.1).
The animated segments in Model Childhood are notable for their
handcrafted look; Mercier’s fingerprints are clearly visible on his char-
acter’s faces. We even see self-shot live-action scenes of Mercier carving
these faces, working and re-working the clay as he endeavours to find
the character in it. This documentation of the animator battling with his
materials shows us the physical and emotional investment of the maker
in his models. We are given access to a back region of production which
reveals the personal struggle of the author, and this insight creates an

Fig. 5.1  Daddy’s Little Bit of Dresden China (1988)

114  C. MacKINNONN

“authenticity effect”. The sequencing of this material with the stop-mo-

tion itself also means that it functions as a powerful warrant for the
authenticity of the animated reconstructions. By extension, the hand-
made aesthetic itself becomes a warranting strategy.
Later, in a video-diary scene, Mercier talks about his memories of the
man who abused him. He remembers “sensing that there was something
a little awry about him, not in a threatening way yet, but that he was not
quite finished as a human being”. As he says this, the image changes from
Mercier’s adult face to the plasticine face of the Abuser-puppet, who
drives a car as the camera observes him from the perspective of the pas-
senger seat. The nonprofessional modelling lends the puppet a primitive,
“unfinished” quality that eerily captures Mercier’s subjective memory of
the man. Here, the handmade quality of the work creates a different kind
of “authenticity effect”, by indicating that the amateur and unfinished
look of the puppets is the most honest and genuine way that the author’s
subjective experience can be documented. This is achieved through the
juxtaposition of the animated image with the warranting footage of
Mercier describing his memory (Fig. 5.2).
Both Watson and Mercier’s films were partially therapeutic. For Watson

Daddy’s Little Bit of Dresden China acted as a form of therapy, enabling me

to express feelings I could not have expressed otherwise […] The process

Fig. 5.2  Model Childhood (2018)


of making the film helped me to come to terms in some ways with what
had happened to me as a child. (Watson 1992, 97)

Mercier approached Model Childhood in the hope “that the process

might be healing for me, and the film could communicate important but
‘unsayable’ things about my life to people I know and love” (Mercier
2018, 1). The starting point for the film was Mercier’s therapeutic vid-
eo-diary, which led to him making trips to locations from his past and to
begin modelling human figures and costumes from his memories. At this
stage Mercier was still working “without a ‘filmmakers’ plan”, predom-
inantly driven by a need to “keep busy” and avoid psychological break-
down (Mercier 2018, 5). Over the course of production, Mercier found
that he could use model making as a healing tool, while also discover-
ing its effectiveness for communicating his experiences. For Mercier,
stop-motion clay animation was well suited

to tell a story that readily slips between naturalism and the surreal, the
expressive and the impressionistic, the gritty and the whimsical and the
fluidity with which the film moves between these modes helps me convey
the psychological damage caused by CSA. This fluidity also solved a sto-
rytelling challenge… how to “describe” to the audience what happened
to me, foregrounding the paedophiles [sic] criminal actions (the sexual
assault) while avoiding fixating the audience on graphic depictions or
descriptions of the paedophilic sex acts themselves. (Mercier 2018, 16)

Here, animation offers a way to focus on what is important in the story,

without resorting to literal representations that may not communicate
the reality of Mercier’s subjective experience.
Returning to Bruss’s autobiographical requirements of truth-value,
act-value and identity-value, it is useful to consider how these two films
meet, or fail to meet, each of these and how this impacts on their appar-
ent authenticity as true personal accounts.

Bruss’s scepticism about the truth-value of filmic autobiography relies on
a belief that the visual language of film is impossible to control and com-
bine with the precision of the written word, so the nuanced intention
of the author will never be perfectly expressed. The author is not present
and too many elements are left to chance. Bruss’s claim that film images
cannot signal what is important in a scene implies a lack of visual literacy
116  C. MacKINNONN

and is particularly inappropriate when applied to animation. As I have

shown, in animation the inference of the “presence of a human agent”
is unavoidable. In animated documentaries the human agent is more
intensely revealed than in its live-action counterpart, as the animator
“interferes directly in the visual representation, creating animated com-
positions of the narrative, while in traditional live-action documentary
the presence of the director is blurred by the photographic aspect of the
film” (Costa Luz 2016, 48). The degree of control which animators have
over every element in their films is also, arguably, much greater than it
is in conventional live-action documentary. Animation can be seen as “a
‘completely fake’ medium by virtue of the fact that it does not use a cam-
era to ‘record’ reality but artificially creates and records its own” (Wells
1998, 25). For Karen Watson, the most important aspect of animation
is that “it offers total control” (Watson 1992, 97). In Daddy’s Little Bit
of Dresden China, multiple animation styles are brought together into a
visually chaotic and unsettling world entirely conceived and executed by
Watson. Given the nature of the subject matter, and Watson’s personal
connection with the subject, her absolute control over the representation
of both abuse and abuser is powerful and essential.
The nature of control is commented upon in Model Childhood. We
learn through video-diary voiceover and through behind-the-scenes
footage of Mercier directing television productions that he has had a suc-
cessful career as a live-action director, but that his work is suffering as
a result of the long-term effects of his past trauma. “I can’t write any-
more, I can’t be bothered with the fuss of making films anymore. And
it might mean my not making another film again, not even trying” he
says, close to camera in an intimate, self-filmed scene. But he is mak-
ing a film, and as the film progresses, the director in Mercier becomes
apparent not just as an “invisible hand” behind the scenes but as a vocal
character, directing the performances of his puppets. We hear Mercier in
his “director” role giving instructions to the plasticine models that he
has constructed to dramatise his memory of abuse. Mercier also voices
these puppets, and each is given two voices—a character voice (that of
the young Mercier and his older abuser) and an actor voice. The pup-
pets are not, however, compliant. They raise concerns about the action
they are asked to depict, and make suggestions as to how Mercier could
approach the scene differently. They have questions on their motivation,
challenging the “script” that they are required to perform. At one point,
during a scene of the two puppets driving in a car, the puppet playing the

12-year-old Mercier breaks character to peer out of the vehicle’s window

at the invisible director. He demands to know why the young Mercier
would believe the strange man who wants to give him a lift. The follow-
ing dialogue ensues between the puppets and the offscreen director:

Director Mercier (offscreen)

“Maybe you trust him now”

Actor playing Young Mercier (puppet)

“I wouldn’t—I wouldn’t get in the car”

Director Mercier (offscreen)

“And you’re really needing fatherly attention”

Actor playing Mercier’s abuser (puppet)

“It’s a script darling, just read it.”

Director Mercier (offscreen)


The puppets slip back into character, the young Mercier taking on a
high-pitched voice and a naïve smile as he settles into the passenger seat.
In the above exchange we witness a slipping of control by Mercier not
just over his film but also over his memory. He is questioning his childhood
motivations, trying to make sense of the actions he took or didn’t take in
the moments leading up to his assault. For Mercier, this conceit allows for
the expression of a common difficulty that CSA survivors face: “as the only
witness to overwhelmingly traumatic events that remained secret for dec-
ades we lack confidence in our memories” (Mercier 2018, 12).
Later, we come to the scene of the act of abuse. The Abuser-puppet
begins to assault the young Mercier-puppet, who weakly protests in his high-
pitched, character voice. After several uncomfortable seconds, the Mercier-
puppet stops the action, turning to camera and challenges the director:

Actor playing Young Mercier (puppet)

“Tim, you said we weren’t gonna show your torture?”

Director Mercier (offscreen)

“Well, I think the idea was to shoot it, and cut in with the other
118  C. MacKINNONN

The “actor” refuses, so the director agrees to go straight to the “other

stuff”. In this exchange, we see Mercier engage in a negotiation with
his re-enactment. His professional, directorial identity, aiming to get
full “coverage” of the scene, clashes with another voice that demands he
does not relive his “torture”. The conflict over what is necessary or rea-
sonable to perform, to show, seems to speak to his internal conflict and
revulsion when faced with his horrific memories. Through the interac-
tion, Mercier seems to be playing out his own personal struggle relating
to what is possible and permissible to remember, to revisit, and to reify
through re-enactment. The use of his first name by the puppet, as well
as the reference to his real-world profession as a director, functions as a
warranting strategy, once again rooting the action in the real world.
After the exchange with his puppet, Director-Mercier “resets” to
shoot the “other stuff”. He directs the Abuser-puppet “just his head—
grab the pink and the green”. The puppet acquiesces, and Director-
Mercier resets and calls “action”. The Abuser-puppet returns to his
assault, but this time he attacks the boy’s head, which splits easily open
to reveal a multi-coloured plasticine brain. The Abuser rummages
around in the boy’s brain, pulling apart pink and green chunks of mod-
elling clay. We hear the boy softly weeping. A long, cartoony tongue
appears from the Abuser-puppet’s mouth and he licks the brain and
vomits back into the head, before putting the skull back together. The
repaired head is still broken, misshapen. We can see that this puppet can
never return to its original form; the damage done to the material, and
to the character, is permanent. This sequence is lengthy, and difficult
to watch. The expressive representation of physical and psychological
violence is visceral and shocking—more so than a literal representation
might have been. Here, the “principles of metamorphosis” (Wells 2002)
inherent in clay animation are being harnessed to powerfully express the
personal, subjective experience of sexual assault, creating a strong and
painful sense of authentic experience.
In these re-enactment scenes Mercier’s voice is strongly present, but
is distributed across a range of characters, an imagined cast and crew—all
crafted and physically voiced by Mercier. The effect of this is a strong
sense of a fragmented identity that has lost control of its history, a dia-
logue employed to search for the truth in a repressed past. The illusion
of the controlling vision of a director/author disintegrates, and we are
drawn into the experience of conflict, chaos, alienation, guilt and loss of
self that can characterise experiences of trauma. The scenes play with the

conventions of film sets and the breaking of the fourth wall, pointing
ironically to the back region of any re-enactment. More powerfully, they
seem to allow access to a back region of Mercier’s own psychology as he
struggles to make sense of his past. We witness the performance of pro-
cesses, desires, fears and memories that are unresolved even to the film-
maker. Here, the specific capabilities of animated film are used to play
out a complex experience with extraordinary nuance, challenging the
simplistic claims that Bruss makes about truth-value.

Bruss’s scepticism about the act-value of filmic autobiography relies on
a belief that the filmmaker can never be an individual author, and their
personal vision will always be diluted by the contributions of collabo-
rators. Gernalzick (2006, 3) points out that Bruss’s argument is predi-
cated on a universalizing of the conventional division of labour in film
production, arguing that “single-person produced filmic autobiography”
can mitigate the issue of shared authorship. While stop-motion films
can involve large teams, the technique has traditionally avoided the
industrial processes and division of labour that became standard prac-
tice in other animated forms (Frierson 1994, 83–106), and independ-
ent auteur animation “offers the possibility for a filmmaker to operate
almost entirely alone” (Wells 2002, 73). As Ward 2011, 299) has shown,
“animating constitutes a particular form of performance—the giving of
life to inanimate objects and things via a repeated, almost ritualistic set
of actions”. In single-author animated films, this performance can be
“owned” entirely by the author, although it is distributed across a range
of materials.
Daddy’s Little Bit of Dresden China was written, directed, ani-
mated and edited by Karen Watson. Aside from two names in addi-
tion to Watson listed as model and set makers, there are no credited
roles relating to the film’s visual presentation. This speaks to the level
of authorship that Watson had. Model Childhood is also almost entirely
single-authored. Mercier shot and lit the film himself, made all the mod-
els and sets, animated everything, edited the image and laid the sound
himself. The inevitable result of single authorship in film is that some
elements of production are executed to a less professional standard than
others. This could be seen as the price of taking the role of “author”
rather than “auteur”—a filmmaker retains complete control over their
120  C. MacKINNONN

vision, but loses the advantage of delegation to experts. This can exacer-
bate the “homemade” quality of the films and, in doing so, may offer the
impression of insight into the film’s back region—creating an enhanced
“authenticity effect” in the process.

Bruss’s concept of identity-value centres on the belief that a filmmaker
cannot be both the performer and author in a text with the elegance that
a writer can, and that the appearance of the filmmaker in front of the
camera is alienating for an audience. While the appearance of a filmmaker
on-screen may have produced an uncanny effect at the time Bruss was
writing, this is no longer the case. We live in an age of portable, acces-
sible recording technologies and self-publishing: video diaries, vlogs and
other home-recordings are widely consumed. The effect of the filmmaker
appearing on screen, particularly when the implication is that there is no
one behind the camera, is arguably now one of intimacy rather than alien-
ation. Dowmunt (2013, 272) suggests that the aesthetic of the video-di-
ary has taken on a perceived integrity, suggesting a personal, subjective
filming process that brings the subject closer to the audience. The self-
shot footage in Model Childhood is largely shot with cheap equipment in
Mercier’s home. Little thought seems to have gone into composition, or
into tidying the domestic space visible in shot. Mercier himself looks tired
and dishevelled. This provides the impression of an insight into the back
regions of both Mercier’s domestic space and creative process, creating
a strong “authenticity effect” and bringing an atmosphere of intimacy
and immediacy. It also underscores Mercier’s isolation, the difficulty in
connecting with other people that he mentions in the film. Even when
he revisits the woods where his assault took place, and we see him walk-
ing through the trees, it is clear that the filmmaker is alone—the qual-
ity of the film and movement points to the use of a rudimentary “selfie
rig”. The footage of Mercier’s visit to the woods acts as a warrant for the
woodland that we have already seen in the animated reconstruction, but
it does much more than this; it reinforces his loneliness. Here we once
again see Mercier employing visual language specific to film to commu-
nicate his subjective emotional experience, thereby increasing the overall
sense of authenticity in the work. The theme of Mercier’s adult isola-
tion, made explicit in his interviews, also acts as a warrant for the pres-
ence of the animation technique; here is a man who can only tell his

story through an isolated, single-authored process such as stop-motion

Watson’s presence as an onscreen character in Daddy’s Little Bit of
Dresden China is subtler. While her own family photographs are used to
represent the protagonist’s family in the film, this link to her own life is
not made explicit. For Watson, the personal connection between film-
maker and story is one that she feels can be deduced from the content
and context of the film. She writes: “I always thought it was fairly obvi-
ous […] I don’t think it would be possible for any 21-year-old to have
made something of that intensity from research alone without having
had some experience of it” (Karen Watson, ‘Short films’). Indeed, the
film is highly emotionally charged, thick with a sense of rage, anxiety
and claustrophobia. The creative choices made and the materials used in
set and character design enhance this atmosphere. The animation style
is awkward and sometimes jerky. The puppets are not “acting” with the
grace that is associated with professional stop-motion. But this “ama-
teur” edge to the animation style only serves to further highlight the
presence of the filmmaker, who controls the scene as a God-like child,
forcing her resistant, archetypal dolls to act out unspoken, unspeakable
experiences and family dynamics. The awkward motion of the characters
and the obviously handmade aesthetic underlines the constructed nature
not only of the film but also of the performance of the idealised fam-
ily; the homemade quality of Daddy’s Little Bit of Dresden China height-
ens its emotional tone. There is an urgency to the film, a sense that the
filmmaker has a story to tell “by any means possible”, and this evidence
of deep personal commitment to the subject matter implies a real-world
connection with it. In this context, the homemade, unsophisticated aes-
thetic not only creates an “authenticity effect” through exposing a back
region of production, but also, in combination with the weight of the
subject matter, acts as a warrant attesting to the filmmaker’s drive to tell
her story, even in the absence of the budget and skills usually associated
with making an ambitious animated film. Renov states that his accept-
ance of what is shown in a documentary is dependent on “the filmmak-
er’s deep knowledge and passionate engagement with the subject at
hand, her mastery and reinvention of a slice of the world” (Renov 2014).
While retaining a sense of youthful naivety, Watson’s film emanates pas-
sionate engagement with—and confident knowledge of—her subject.
Bruss’s claims are difficult to completely refute, as the language of
cinema is clearly different from the language of the written word. But
122  C. MacKINNONN

animation makes it possible for a filmmaker/subject to be tangibly pres-

ent both behind and in front of the camera, in the present and in the
past. In animation, although the represented subject is not the flesh and
blood referent, it can be an image created by the hand of the referent.
This link is surely as authentic as the use of written language to recount
personal experience, and no less distorting than what Bruss herself refers
to as “the self-imaging which occurs in traditional autobiography”
(1976, 9).

Both Daddy’s Little Bit of Dresden China and Model Childhood use
stop-motion animation with a handmade, homemade quality to evoke a
sense of authenticity. Through this technique, in combination with other
“authenticity effects” and warranting strategies including stories that deal
with the confrontation of hidden truths and the use of documents such
as photographs, the films generate an impression of authorial presence,
minimising the distinction between the films’ front regions and back
regions. Through the use of highly tactile materials, the films invite a
haptic viewing experience. This draws the audience into the films, allow-
ing them to “feel” as well as see the events depicted, and encourages a
sense of connection with the author and subject.
Sitney (1977, 61) writes that

the very quest for a cinematic strategy which relates the moments of shoot-
ing and editing to the diachronic continuity of the film-maker’s life is the
true theme of our contemporary avant-garde film autobiographies […]
In this respect the film-makers resemble the literary autobiographers who
dwell upon, and find their most powerful and enigmatic metaphors for the
very aporias, the contradictions, the gaps, the failures involved in trying to
make language (or film) substitute for experience and memory.

In both Model Childhood and Daddy’s Little Bit of Dresden China,

we see filmmakers addressing their traumatic memories not through
the processing of these memories into neat narratives and resolved
images, but through the expressive manifestation of the complex emo-
tions that the experiences have left in their wake. The films are cha-
otic landscapes of anger, confusion and hurt. By representing not only
past events but also the complex nature of remembering, the films both

meet and complicate Bruss’s requirements of truth-value, act-value and

The use of animation means that the perpetrators of the abuse
are both absent from the films and present as immediate threats. In
Mercier’s film, memories are reconstructed as a film-within-a-film, a
stop-motion set visibly surrounded by evidence of its construction. Even
as memories begin to be performed they are disrupted, challenged,
aborted. In Watson’s work, devices such as photographs and theatre
sets are used and subverted to reinforce the social conventions and false
narratives that allow abuse to go unchallenged, as well as to function
as warrants for the credibility of the film’s message. The use of rough,
handmade models and animation styles in both films references the inno-
cence of the child protagonists through the idea of dolls and play, while
reinforcing the violence and emotional ugliness of the events depicted.
The use of the language of fairy tale in Watson’s film also points to child-
hood and to complex strategies of remembering. Through their obvious
construction, the stop-motion models highlight the presence of the sin-
gle author, giving the audience the impression of a strong connection
between the subject and the representation, and encouraging a sense of
Both these films were produced in educational environments by
non-professional animators. While Mercier’s film is more knowingly
reflexive than Watson’s, both works display a technical naivety that
implies an urgency, a need to tell the story. Perhaps it is the sense that
these stories could only be told by these authors that ultimately points to
the films’ authenticity.

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Handmade Aesthetics in Animation

for Adults and Children

Ewan Kirkland

Animation is a medium of contradiction, a theme evident across

­numerous cultural histories of the form. Often characterised by a cer-
tain “innocence” or child-like simplicity, animation nevertheless employs
sophisticated imaging technologies which contribute to its promotion
and reception. As Mark Langer (1992) observes, technological innova-
tion was heavily implicated in the early competition between animation
studios, as evident in trade reviews, publicity and awards ceremonies.
Animation often suggests an unthreatening cosy nostalgia, commonly
associated with fairy tale adaptations and childhood trips to the cinema.
At the same time, as screen media freed from the “realism” of photo-
graphic representation and associated classical forms of storytelling, it
frequently expresses a chaotic or transgressive edge. Within American
animation, Paul Wells suggests the batting eyes of Disney’s cute cartoon
characters exist alongside the knowing wink of Warner Bros’ more anar-
chic antagonists (2002, 49). Animation incorporates an expansive range
of moving image cultures, from commercial studio products to outsider
work with explicitly artistic ambitions. While early animation expressed

E. Kirkland (*) 
University of Brighton, Brighton, UK
e-mail: e.kirkland@brighton.ac.uk

© The Author(s) 2019 127

C. Ruddell and P. Ward (eds.), The Crafty Animator, Palgrave Animation,

modernist, avant-garde artistic tendencies, Esther Leslie points out the

form was soon integrated into the production of advertising and prop-
aganda (2004, 9). Animation is dismissively aligned with child viewers,
as detailed in Jason Mittell’s (2003) account of cartoons in the post-
theatrical era. Yet film and television animation continues to be popular
with audiences of all ages. A Sight and Sound article published in January
2017, retrospectively assessing the previous year’s cinema successes,
identifies animation as the most lucrative feature film format. Zootropolis
(Byron Howard, Rich Moore, 2016), The Secret Life of Pets (Chris
Renaud, 2016), Finding Dory (Andrew Stanton, 2016), Kung Fu Panda
3 (Alessandro Carloni, Jennifer Yuh Nelson, 2016), Storks (Nicholas
Stoller, Doug Sweetland, 2016), Trolls (Mike Mitchell, 2016) and The
Angry Birds Movie (Clay Kaytis, Fergal Reilly, 2016), while entertaining
child filmgoers, are seen as addressing adult anxieties, presenting allego-
ries on contemporary politics, and, in the case of Sausage Party (Greg
Tiernan, Conrad Vernon, 2016), offering comedy for a distinctly mature
market (Singer 2017, 46–47). On the small screen adult animation
flourishes, with Rick and Morty (TV Series, 2013–), BoJack Horseman
(TV Series, 2014–) and Big Mouth (TV Series, 2017–) bidding for cult
status, while animation for children like Adventure Time (TV Series,
2010–2018), My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (TV Series, 2010–
2019) and Steven Universe (TV Series, 2013–) enjoys cross-generational
appeal. By many accounts, the most successful television show in history
is an animated sitcom, popular with a wide audience demographic, about
the yellow-skinned inhabitants of Springfield, USA. Indicative of the
contradictions inflecting the form, Jonathan Gray considers The Simpsons
(TV Series, 1989–) a product that is both cult and mainstream, both crit-
ical of media institutions and part of a powerful media empire. The series
expresses cynicism towards practices of branded merchandise, evident in
the morally bankrupt figure of Krusty the Clown, yet is itself a highly
successful commercial source of licenced products, betraying an “eco-
nomic complicity” in the same cultural processes it parodies (2006, 8–9).
Many contradictions surrounding “animation” result from the broad
range of formats covered by the term. Animation exists as film, televi-
sion and digital cultures, with every medium asserting its own demands
and affordances. The word refers to cel, stop-frame, claymation, pixila-
tion and computer-generated imagery, each accompanied by their own
aesthetics, studios, media, practices, cultures and audiences. This chap-
ter explores three diverse examples of animation: the children’s television

series Charlie and Lola (TV Series, 2005–2008), the adult cartoon fran-
chise South Park (TV Series, 1997–), and the family action-adventure
film The Lego Movie (Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, 2014). A central
concern will be the different ways in which each example negotiates var-
ious tensions surrounding the nature of animation, its commercial and
industrial contexts of production, its status as both mainstream and
outsider culture, and its relationship with audiences of different ages.
The means of reconciling this contradiction is through the implication
of an imaginary child figure in the process of the text’s construction.
In the context of this anthology, each of these very different exam-
ples employs animation which conspicuously emulates a handcrafted,
cutout, home-made style. Variously evoking a sense of naivety, unpro-
fessionalism, amateurism, playfulness and subversion, such “childish”
dimensions partly serve to obscure the computer-augmented animation
involved in their production. There is an evident disjuncture between the
texts’ naïve aesthetics and the knowing, professional, serious, commer-
cial contexts in which they are manufactured. That three very different
screen cultures—a children’s television programme, an adult animation
and a family film—all employ associations of the child-like as part of
their operation suggests the considerable mobility of this mythical fig-
ure, able to fulfil a range of functions and ideological requirements. This
contradiction simultaneously underlines complex relationships between
children, animation culture, screen media, modernity and technology.
Notwithstanding the demonstrable popularity of animation with adults,
the form has persistent associations with child audiences. Wells forcefully
argues that the dominance of Disney in the field of popular animation
means all American animators, and by extension animation scholars,
must in some way respond to practices and traditions established by the
studio (2002, 45). The same can be said of animation’s alignment with
young people. The introduction to Jayne Pilling’s (1997) edited collec-
tion makes repeated references to the emergence of adult animation as
both explicit explanation, and implicit justification, for the growing criti-
cal interest in its study. As I have previously argued (Kirkland 2017), the
figure of the child has historically functioned to articulate adult ambiv-
alence towards the modern condition. The symbolic child defined by
this process is caught in a position of liminal temporality, between past
and future, between adult nostalgia for a childhood lost and collective
hope for a brighter tomorrow. Children, and the media with which they
are associated, simultaneously articulate and seek to reconcile the same

tensions between regression and progress Wells (2002) sees as a recur-

ring theme throughout animation culture.
Several recent authors discuss how animation that is deliberately
“rough around the edges” engages with the experiences of moder-
nity. Exploring the Disney/Pixar features WALL-E (Andrew Stanton,
2008) and Wreck-It Ralph (Rich Moore, 2012), Keith B. Wagner and
In-gyoo Jang (2016) argue that both films adopt an “imperfect aes-
thetic” regarding their protagonists. The robot, the videogame character
and his companion Venellope are presented in a manner which effec-
tively counteracts the precision of digital cinema. Through an emphasis
on defects, errors and flaws the characters are defined as disadvan-
taged, sympathetic underdogs. Wagner and Jang argue such aesthetics
construct these protagonists as endearing, relatable and human, con-
tributing to the films’ engagement with labour politics, disenfranchise-
ment and worker alienation. In an essay also exploring WALL-E, Vivian
Sobchack discusses the term “animation” as evoking a contemporary
sense of machines becoming increasingly lifelike, while humans experi-
ence a deteriorating sense of agency and control (2009, 375). Sobchack
suggests that WALL-E gestures towards a superseded era of photochem-
ical cinema and analogue recording technologies, symbolised by the
robot’s ironic fetishisation of a VHS recording of a Broadway musical
set in the last decade of the nineteenth century (Hello, Dolly! [Gene
Kelly, 1969]). At temporal odds with its digital composition, futuristic
setting and 2008 release, the first act of Pixar’s film is as dialogue-free
as cinema of the pre-synchronised sound era (ibid., 379–380). Within
these films, criticism of the dehumanising impact of mechanical class-
based labour, over-consumption, and environmental destruction are
expressed in a manner that obscures the texts’ own situation in tech-
nologised production practices, consumer capitalism, and multinational
corporate cultures. Both articles, however briefly, also gesture towards
the ways “flawed” animation relates to issues of age and audience.
For Wagner and Jang, imperfect aesthetics contribute to animation’s
engagement with “more mature or overtly adult themes” (2016, 134),
while Sobchack regards WALL-E as a child-like character, constituting
“a rusty, beat-up, ‘yellow blankey’”, a “transitional object” mediating
between mechanical and electronic, humanity and posthumanity, infancy
and adulthood (2009, 385–386).
Connections between childhood, modernity and handcrafted ani-
mation of a distinctly tactile nature, are more extensively articulated in

Rachel Moseley’s monograph on British children’s television of the

1960s and 1970s. Drawing on work surrounding the Victorian craft
movement, with its associations of rurality, nature, domesticity, cosi-
ness and comfort, Moseley argues such iconography inflects television of
this era with a nostalgic sense of national identity, providing a form of
“solace” for producers and viewers. The desire to escape contemporary
forces is considered to have had particular appeal during the tremulous
1960s, a period of significant social, cultural and political unrest. While
focussed within a specific national and historical context, Moseley’s
observations also have contemporary significance. The author sees con-
tinuity in the craft aesthetic of the new Clangers (TV Series, 2015–)
television series which employed the same knitted characters and stop-
frame animation of its predecessor. The show reflects adult nostalgia
surrounding its original broadcast, but also more recent articulations
of cultural disillusion and disconnectedness paralleling those of previ-
ous decades, evident in fashions for vintage home decorations and “hip-
ster” DIY. Here is the context in which “contemporary decisions to use
(or simulate) processes which so explicitly bear the trace of the maker’s
hands” can be understood (2016, 71–73, my emphasis). This chapter
will explore such handcraft simulation in Charlie and Lola, South Park
and The Lego Movie. Like the films considered by Wagner, Jang and
Sobchack, all three are highly computer augmented, although this is
obscured by their flat, cutout, jerky rendering. Only the first case study
is specifically for children, but all employ an imaginary child as part of
their visual strategy. The later example is the only one to emulate stop-
frame and the animation of toys, a consistent theme of Moseley’s study.
Nevertheless, all affect a child-like aesthetic, evoking both the appearance
of children’s culture, and culture made by children. This contributes to
a distancing from processes of modernity and massification which they
are variously critiquing or retreating from. Creating the impression that
these artefacts of the culture industry are the work of children playing
with felt pens, construction paper, or building blocks obscures the adult
professionalism and technological virtuosity entailed in their production.
In appropriating such an aesthetic, the simulated handmade strategies
employed by these media illuminate the extent to which children and the
child-like have historically functioned as a means whereby adults nego-
tiate discomforting aspects of modern life, culture and art in the age of
mechanical reproduction.

Charlie and Lola: The Animated Picture Book

Of the three examples discussed in this chapter, Charlie and Lola is most
unambiguously associated with child audiences, animation for children,
and the kinds of programmes discussed by Moseley. Originally com-
missioned by the BBC, Charlie and Lola was the adaptation of a book
series created by current Children’s Laureate, Lauren Child. As detailed
by many commentators, among them Jeanette Steemers, the BBC has
an esteemed history of catering for preschoolers dating back to the
1950s puppet show Andy Pandy (TV Series, 1950) screened as part of
the For the Children and Watch With Mother slots aimed at the under-
fives. Preschool provision continued on both the BBC’s terrestrial chan-
nels, culminating in the launch of the dedicated digital channel CBeebies
in February 2002. The channel was a partial response to the success of
cable and satellite competitors such as Nick Junior and Playhouse Disney,
while also digitally expanding the corporation’s role as a public service
broadcaster (2010, 42–43). The channel achieved approval from parents
and policy makers, but Steemers observes audiences started to decline in
2006–2007, leading to a shift in targeting to include six-year-old school-
children, and the prioritising of four- to six-year olds. Broadcasting
Charlie and Lola, alongside such titles as Lunar Jim (TV Series, 2006),
Underground Ernie (TV Series, 2006) and LazyTown (TV Series,
2004–2014) represented efforts to raise the channel’s age demo-
graphic (ibid., 46–48). As such the series negotiates a number of ten-
sions, between CBeebies as a channel for preschool and schoolchildren,
between the BBC as a terrestrial and digital broadcaster, and between the
corporation as a traditional public service provider and entrepreneurial
broadcaster within a competitive international marketplace.
In Steemers’ account, the show was cited by a BBC executive as an
example of a local and international success, which maintains the cor-
poration’s creativity and commitment to the channel’s core audience.
No mention is made of the series’ animation style. Nevertheless the
executive emphasises the show’s “well-crafted stories” and “well-crafted
characters” who are seen as expressing “true personality and integrity”
(ibid., 54). This emphasis on narrative craft, character and authentic-
ity resonates with the series’ visual style, distinct from both cell anima-
tion and the three-dimensional computer-generated techniques often
employed in recent children’s television. The show has a distinctly “flat”
visual style. The title characters and their friends Lotta and Marv are

composed of slightly crooked lines, as if hastily sketched without c­ oncern

for their ragged edges and overlapping corners. The simple strokes with
which they are drawn have an uneven texture suggesting the inexpert
marks of a felt tip pen. Sections of colour are similarly imperfect and
rough, as though scribbled in with crayon. The butterflies which flutter
across the screen in the opening sequence appear to be made of wallpa-
per scraps, while both Charlie and Lola are seen literally drawing on their
environment (see Fig. 6.1).
Many objects in the world of Charlie and Lola have a photographic
quality, suggesting a collage stuck together from magazine pictures,
while the patterns of clothing suggest actual fabric cut out and glued
into place. The style faithfully reproduces the design of the book series
on which the franchise is based, while more broadly exploiting anima-
tion’s proximities to sequential art, picture books and other visual cul-
ture aimed at children. This contributes to a perception of the series as
safe, appropriate viewing for young people. As if to underscore its literary
origins, Charlie and Lola DVDs have a distinct design, reminiscent of
small hardback children’s books, complete with a space for the owner to
write their name.
As Moseley’s brief mention of the series suggests (2016, 86), Charlie
and Lola follows many qualities of earlier British children’s television.
The show has the multimedia collage aesthetics of handmade animation,

Fig. 6.1  Charlie and Lola (TV Series, 2005–2008)


combining “cut-outs, line drawings, areas of pattern and texture […]

which evoke the graphic and illustrative design trends of the 1950s and
1960s”. While largely focussed on stop-frame, Moseley’s study makes
some mention of paper cutout animation (ibid., 80–81). The method
has clear presence in the British children’s television of Moseley’s era,
with shows like Mr Benn (TV Series, 1971–1972), Crystal Tipps and
Alistair (TV Series, 1971–1974) and Captain Pugwash (TV Series,
1957–1966, 1974–1975) employing a combination of still drawings,
paper puppets and limited animation techniques. Like the Lauren Child
adaptation, they evoke a sense of picture or popup books brought to life.
As with the stop-frame techniques of The Pogles (TV Series, 1965) and
Chigley (TV Series, 1969), Charlie and Lola’s aesthetic “speaks of the
hand and the touch of the craftperson” evoking cosiness and simplicity
(ibid., 70–71). Its flatness, texture and design suggest work with scissors,
wallpaper and pages torn from magazines, implying the hand of the ani-
mation artist, just like the knitted, sewn or stitched-together characters
Moseley examines. Part of the appeal of children’s animated television,
Moseley argues, is the “aesthetics of child’s play” being evoked. This is
understood as revealed through “the slight hesitancy and unevenness of
the movement created as commensurate and ‘realistic’ with the move-
ment of the small object in the hand of the child at play”. The result is
a brand of television associated with craft, the child and the domestic,
rather than art, the adult and the public sphere (ibid., 14–15). Just as the
BBC shows Moseley explores produce the impression of gazing down
upon a miniature world resembling the wooden brick towns and toy fig-
ures of children’s playsets (ibid., 38–39), Charlie and Lola presents view-
ers with a tabletop of two-dimensional craft materials: patterned paper,
scraps of fabric, cutout pictures of bananas and tomatoes. The imple-
ments with which characters and their world are drawn might be the
same as found in a pencil case or schoolroom desk. This is underlined
in the opening sequence where Charlie draws a flight of stairs allowing
his sister to pursue the swarm of collage butterflies. The show’s hand-
made aesthetic secures alignment with Child’s book series, but also sug-
gests the pages and frames might themselves be drawn by an actual child.
In this respect, an attempt is made to obscure the adult authorship of
both book and television series which resonates with Jacqueline Rose’s
discussion of the impossibility of children’s literature. The production
notes for J. M. Barrie’s play Peter Pan, the focus of Rose’s provocative
study, suggested that technicians and set designers as well as the author

of the production be somehow “in league” with the child in the audi-
ence or on the stage. Rose considers this a characteristic manoeuvre to
obscure the absence of children’s participation in the adult-authored the-
atrical experience (1984, 32). The dotted line on the inside cover of each
Charlie and Lola DVD, intended to mark ownership in a practice other-
wise exclusive to books for children, seems designed to interpellate the
child viewer into a more intimate relationship than the adult-authored,
mass-produced consumer product might warrant.
As Moseley argues, there is an absence of critical engagement with
stop-frame filmmaking outside explicitly modernist or avant-garde art
projects, and cutout animation appears almost entirely overlooked. In
historical terms, Charlie and Lola might be compared to the work of
Lotte Reiniger, a figure whose films have received relatively little schol-
arly attention (see Boeckenhoff and Ruddell in this collection). Notably
paralleling Moseley’s observations, Leslie’s history of animation and the
avant-garde spends little time discussing the filmmaker. For the contem-
porary commentators Leslie cites, Reiniger’s “filigree shadows, trapped
in a flat world of genies and demons” reflect little upon contempo-
rary modernity. Leslie only notes a preoccupation with exploring two-
dimensionality, evident in “façades, layout, display, surface, dabbing,
plaques, plate, panels, effacing, flattening and film” which character-
ises much early twentieth-century modernist work (2004, 50). William
Moritz implies the neglected art of silhouette is an issue of gender, the
technique being aligned with women’s folk art and skills developed per-
forming household activities (2009, 15). There are connotations of cul-
tural femininity aligned to this delicate, intricate, intimate animation,
suggestive of paper doilies, crochet and lace making. As Reiniger’s work
expresses aesthetic qualities of Wedgewood jewellery, crockery and orna-
ments (ibid., 13), the style of Charlie and Lola has a similar feminine
domesticity, associated with floral wallpaper, textiles and scrapbooks.
There is significant overlap between the femininity of the style and its
perceived alignment with child audiences. Moritz cites one commenta-
tor who opined that all films for children ought to adopt this technique,
allowing the imagination of the child to expand upon the simplified
appearance, something not considered possible with puppetry or tra-
ditional animation (ibid., 15). Notably, the majority of Reiniger’s films
were fantasy, fairy stories, or television commercials for domestic prod-
ucts. In echoing Reiniger’s style Charlie and Lola further secures its

status as domestic children’s entertainment, while suggesting intersec-

tions between the child-like and the feminine.
Máire Messenger Davies observes that within the British television
establishment there is suspicion of animation, a format associated with
a culturally imperialistic Americanisation of the airwaves and the prioriti-
sation of commercialisation over quality. As Messenger Davies observes:
“the more animation in the schedule (especially the more imported
American animation) the more the guardians of public service val-
ues are likely to be worried” (2001, 232–233). This was certainly evi-
dent in Steemers’ account of CBeebies’ establishment. In justifying the
corporation’s role in providing digital children’s television the then
Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport spoke of the BBC’s
commitment not to rely on cartoons, in contrast to more commercial
television rivals (2010, 44). Charlie and Lola’s visual design manages
such concerns, its soft lines, uneven colouring and scribbled aesthetic
standing in stylistic contrast to American and Japanese cartoons. It may
also be deliberately designed to evoke an older, seemingly more naïve,
national, terrestrial form of children’s television, more familiar to adults
than to children. Nostalgia is a recurring theme of children’s television,
evident in the range of recently revived shows, from Andy Pandy (TV
Series, 2002) to Postman Pat (TV Series, 2016–2017), from Bill and
Ben (TV Series, 2001–2002) to Thunderbirds (TV Series, 2015–), from
Danger Mouse (TV Series, 2015–) to Teletubbies (TV Series, 2015–).
Successful children’s brands require the approval of parents and guard-
ians. Reproducing adult-favoured franchises, like basing screen media
on classic works of children’ literature, secures their status as appro-
priate for children. Consequently Charlie and Lola evokes the same
“craft aesthetic” as “classic” BBC children’s television such as Clangers
(TV Series, 1969–1972), Trumpton (TV Series, 1967) and Paddington
(1976). The series appears designed to evoke a sense of “enchantment”,
tentatively described as “whimsical? funny? simple?” (2016, 11–12) in
Moseley’s interrogation of the nostalgic register expressed in popular
writings on British children’s television. The emulation of Child’s “pic-
ture book” aesthetic distances the series from its status as television and
animation, and from its origins within an institution increasingly adopt-
ing commercial strategies in an international marketplace far removed
from the gentle domestic concerns of the programme’s storylines. In this
respect, the Britishness of Moseley’s quaint handmade animation, imply-
ing a retreat from the “professional” and “adult” world of commercial

capitalism, becomes a unique selling point. There are parallels here with
another internationally recognised British animation brand, the work of
Aardman studios, who have adopted a similar handmade look. Marian
Quigley aligns Aardman’s work with an assertion of national identity,
the imperfect animation linked to the studio’s Britishness, in contrast
to the smoother, more “‘showy’” visuals of American studios such as
Dreamworks and Disney (2009, 58). An irony is that Charlie and Lola
has proven a successful brand for subsequent BBC-licenced commercial
products. Susan Edwards in a nuanced engagement with the “corporat-
isation of childhood and childhood artefacts” (2010, 263), includes the
series alongside Waybuloo (TV Series, 2009–2013), In the Night Garden
(TV Series, 2007–2009) and Numberjacks (TV Series, 2006–2009), as
representing media convergence between CBeebies television, digital
games and products. Affiliated Charlie and Lola merchandise currently
includes wood and card playsets, colouring-in dolls, umbrellas, balloons
and stickers, all of which carry the same scrappy child-made design as
the series. These products would appear as much at home in Charlie and
Lola’s illustrated world as in the domestic space occupied by the child in
front of the screen. The consequence is a cosy fit between the environ-
ment of the child and that of the show’s fictional children, in a manner
which suits the corporation, the carer and possibly the child consumer.

South Park: Cartoon Crudity

Despite many obvious differences, there are some striking parallels
between Charlie and Lola and Comedy Central’s South Park. Both
employ the same flat, cutout, handmade visual style which implies a
certain naivety to their production. While the CBeebies show’s main
medium appears to be felt tips and crayons, South Park’s textured colours
suggest cutout construction paper, along with the same photo montage
insertions featured in background posters, images and occasional charac-
ters (see Fig. 6.2).
Both draw upon traditions of children’s culture, evident in South
Park’s focus on the activities of schoolchildren and the ironic pedagogic
lessons which conclude early episodes. And both shows align themselves
with children, childhood and children’s media, by giving the impression
their animation might have been produced by a child’s hand. This aes-
thetic of childhood appears fundamental to South Park’s comic impact,
incongruously juxtaposed with the series’ often grotesque or sexually

Fig. 6.2  South Park (TV Series, 1997–)

explicit imagery. The show capitalises upon associations between child

audiences and television animation, together with traditions of children’s
culture as non-violent and non-sexual, to produce comedic friction
between form and content. South Park also mobilises alternative under-
standings of childhood and conventions within children’s media. While
Charlie and Lola appears characterised by its innocent, unthreatening,
whimsical qualities, South Park is dependent on conceptions of the child
as a playful trickster, as a figure whose apparent unknowingness allows
them to express the inexpressible. Consequently, media and culture pro-
duced for children is permitted certain liberties not afforded to main-
stream adult media. While the child-like aesthetic facilitates the series’
shocking impact, the impression that what is being aired might itself be
produced by a gang of naughty children also enhances the show’s satir-
ical function. Marcus Schulzke observes that many South Park episodes
hinge upon the differing perspectives between adults and children (2012,
24). Humour is frequently produced through the young characters

misunderstanding aspects of adult life, biology and sexuality, but simi-

larly frequent are moments when adult society is shown up as particularly
ludicrous “through the eyes of a child”.
Origin mythologies of the series are widely known. According to var-
ious accounts South Park started life as a student project, Jesus vs Frosty,
co-created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, which later became The Spirit
of Christmas. Produced in Parker’s parent’s basement for just two thou-
sand dollars, this was intended as a video Christmas card for a Fox exec-
utive, featuring now-familiar child characters in a narrative pitting Jesus
against Santa Claus in a battle for ownership over the season. The car-
toon short became one of the first internet memes. Following its early
success, Comedy Central was chosen as South Park’s home, and the
series soon became its flagship show, reviving the network’s fortunes
and leading to a merchandising sensation (Gournelos 2009, 145–146).
This narrative, which has been repeated across numerous sites, constructs
the series origins as amateur, makeshift and low budget; its producers as
outsider chancers; its success resulting from the authentic support of an
emerging network of fans facilitated by new distribution technologies
outside the control of media conglomerates. There are even connec-
tions between the basement location of the show’s conception and the
workshop environments in which the handmade animation that Moseley
discusses was brought to life (2016, 20–21), suggesting a transatlantic
parallel of small scale, domestic crafted production. The subterranean
homegrown genesis of South Park’s virtual pilot, as well as the juvenil-
ity of the student filmmakers, defines the showrunners as themselves
adolescent or child-like in a manner which suits the show’s aesthetic
and characters. Parker and Stone perform the same role of adults play-
ing at making television, entailing signs of amateurism, cultivated spon-
taneity and managed chaos that David Buckingham, in a piece inspired
by Rose’s work on children’s literature, identifies in Saturday morn-
ing British television (1997, 51). Even in a show merely masquerading
as children’s culture, the construction of the adult author as child-like
remains an important component, obscuring the more calculated fea-
tures of this story, including the deliberate courting of studio executives,
the lucrative licenced products which followed the show’s success, and its
creators’ subsequent financial fortunes.
If Charlie and Lola echoes traditions of British children’s television,
South Park draws upon aspects of American animation, often aligned with
more adult-orientated interrogations of modernity. Like the cartoon style

of Hanna-Barbera, South Park employs a “‘flat’, two-dimensional theat-

ricality” with less emphasis on quality animation than the comic script
(Wells 2002, 88). Wells’ sees a similar “limited” style in shows such as
Rocky and his Friends (TV Series, 1959–1961), The Flintstones (TV
Series, 1960–1966) and Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures (TV Series,
1987–1988), observing the presence of satire, irony and parody within
these series in relation to American values, suburban lifestyles and previ-
ous cartoons. The 1980s Mighty Mouse revival reflects an appreciation of
how “subversive representations and agendas could be ‘invisibly’ placed
within the seemingly innocent and ‘unregulatable’ space of the cartoon
form” (ibid., 83). While the aesthetic of Charlie and Lola might be com-
pared to the work of European auteur filmmaker Reiniger, South Park
recalls practices of the United Productions of America animation studio.
This approach was characterised by two-dimensionality, minimalism and
boldness of design, but also, Dan Bashara argues, a visual style exploring
conditions of modernity (2015, 83–84). Detailing critical attention paid
to the studio’s trademark look, the author identifies an illuminating con-
tradiction. UPA characters are said to exist in a “never-never land” of flat
backgrounds and simplified figures, while simultaneously rejecting the
more familiar “never-never land” of cartoon fantasy for a more authentic
expression of contemporary human realities. Reconciling this contradic-
tion, Bashara argues UPA artists produced a vision which, in the context
of modern art, rejected photorealistic representations in favour of modes
more effectively able to communicate sensations of modern life (ibid.,
89–90). Regarding intersections between childhood, animation and
modernity, the choice of metaphor is telling. Cartman and friends, like
Gerald McBoing Boing, inhabit the realm of Peter Pan as criticised by
Rose (1984). As fictional boys voiced and animated by grown men, they
have not aged since their first appearance in 1998. Like the inhabitants of
J. M. Barrie’s fantasy realm, they embody a childhood made by and for
adults, designed to address a particular adult experience of modern disillu-
sionment. But while the Darling’s flight represents a retreat from moder-
nity into an endless childhood of children’s fiction, the South Park boys,
trapped in their quiet two-dimensional mountain town, serve to illumi-
nate the tensions, anxieties and horrors of contemporary modern culture.
Many commentators on South Park do not consider the show’s status
as animation, or its distinct style, however Ted Gournelos notes how the
series’ crude aesthetics facilitate its political dimensions. Uncomplicated
animation, Gournelos argues, allows for the abstraction and

simplification of the show’s cultural, generic and textual points of refer-

ence, which are subsequently layered to make them, and the ideologies
they represent, satirically absurd (2009, 146–147). The animation’s “aes-
thetic crudity” (ibid., 155) contributes to its humour, both heightening
and managing its impact. South Park’s style is “innocent”, like Charlie
and Lola, presented as something which might be made by a child play-
ing with sugar paper and scissors. It is also “crude” in terms of its lack of
technical sophistication, rendering objects and actions two-dimensional,
awkward in movement and lacking in detail. The series’ comedy relies
upon the tensions between idealised conceptions of children, and a suspi-
cion that these mythologies mask a cruelty and vulgarity more reflective
of lived childhood experiences, a tension embedded in its visual appear-
ance. The show has elements in common with the early avant-garde ani-
mation discussed by Leslie, the visual language of which “hoped to shock
and surprise and make the viewer ask: What will they try to pull on us
next? How repulsive can they make my environment seem? This ugliness
and flatness and motility that they portray—does it lay bare how all this
civilization is merely a façade?” (2004, 19). Consistent with this chap-
ter’s opening themes, Gournelos relates flat aesthetics to the reconcilia-
tion of the show’s industrial and ideological contradictions. South Park
inhabits a dominant status within popular culture while affecting a crit-
ical disposition associated with alternative media. Despite its frequent
engagement with contemporary politics, it manages to maintain a large
audience by refusing to occupy any clearly defined or consistent ideolog-
ical position (2009, 162). The management of such contradictions partly
resides in the show’s handmade aesthetic. Audiences might dismiss any
unpalatable politics as meaninglessly playful. If the animation requires so
little effort, it can be assumed the content is not taken seriously by its
producers. The style also aligns the series with the cutout techniques of
filmmakers whose animation belongs to absurdist, surrealist or Dadaist
traditions. It is interesting to note the work of Monty Python member
Terry Gilliam is frequently cited as an influence. The sometimes gro-
tesque, unsettling, confrontational nature of Gilliam’s work employs the
same crude cutout style and jerky movement as Parker and Stone in a
manner aligning their work with satire, caricature and anti-establishment
counterculture. Through its playful use of collage, frequently entailing
the mutilation of classic works of art, there is also something ambigu-
ously child-like about these animated inserts. It is significant to note that
before branching out into adult sketch comedy, many members of the

Monty Python team, Gilliam included, worked on the British children’s

show Do Not Adjust Your Set (TV Show, 1967–1969) (Home 1993,
Also discussing the series’ child-like design, David Larsen describes
the show as “infantile cut-out cathode ray theatre” in a consideration
of South Park and the carnivalesque (2001, 65). A recurring feature
of children’s culture, the carnivalesque is observed in both American
(Jenkins 1993) and British (Messenger Davies 2005) examples of media,
toys and games. Young people’s various connections with the trans-
gressive, vulgar, disruptive activities of the carnival reflect the multiple
associations between children and pre-modern, undeveloped, abject
and underground culture. Historical overlaps between children and
the carnival emerge from the exclusion or expulsion of children, along
with women, the old and the insane, from the Enlightenment model of
rational, regulated, closed adulthood (Kirkland 2017, 181–183). This
perception is reflected in the many ways contemporary children’s culture
derives from medieval folk tales, however Bowdlerised, Disneyfied or
mass produced. In Larsen’s analysis, which draws on Foucault, Bakhtin,
Baudrillard and Freudian psychoanalysis, the South Park children stand in
for the non-productive, anally fixated “infantile masses” of postmoder-
nity. Episodes featuring characters such as Big Gay Al and Mr. Hankey
the Christmas Poo—bearing telling traces of both Walt Disney and
Mickey Mouse—are characterised by autoeroticism, the omnipotence
of thoughts, and a grotesque irrational body which refuses to abide by
the sacred distinction between the internal and external (2001, 68–69).
A similar infantile fascination with waste products is observed by Judith
Kegan Gardiner, who argues a particularly “masculine anal” obsession
runs throughout South Park, exemplified by episodes revolving around
talking faeces, explosive diarrhoea or record-breaking stools. In this,
Gardiner identifies a particularly infantilising form of regressive mascu-
linity. Animation, reduction, anality and arrested development are all
considered qualities of a superficial adult male rebellion based on curs-
ing, frequently referred to as “potty mouth”, and farting in the absence
of any effective collective resistance or alternatives to dominant political
structures. Also drawing on Freud and Bakhtin, Gardiner pessimistically
relates such popular culture developments to an adult malehood that
employs infantile behaviour, only as a gesture which ultimately serves the
interests of patriarchal capitalism (2000, 257–259).

Critiquing the cinema-released musical South Park: Bigger, Longer &

Uncut (Trey Parker, 1999), Gardiner explores the function of childhood
and its evocation of “innocence” in the movie’s happy resolution, which
sees the bloody consequences of a war between America and Canada
magically reversed. Drawing on film musical theory Gardiner argues the
animation aesthetic enhances populist, folksy, communal generic tradi-
tions, allowing audiences to feel that they can both hum the songs and
draw to the same degree of professionalism as the movie’s animators
(2005, 54). There are evident overlaps between animation, child audi-
ences and this Hollywood genre, as many contemporary examples of the
musicals—notably Disney feature films—are animated. In considering
the masculine agenda of South Park the show and South Park the movie,
Gardiner draws on Fred Pfeil’s discussion of American alibis of “inno-
cence” (2005, 56) and “childishness” (2000, 259). This is regarded
as a mode of masculinity which rejects political activism and respon-
sibility in favour of a playful boyhood that ultimately shores up white
­middle-class privilege. While emphasising the film and series’ ambiguity
and self-awareness, the author concludes: “The very crudity of its ani-
mated images is… part of its underlying ideology, of a masculinism that
wants to retain the world just as it is, unjust as it is, as the playground
of powerful, male-bonded, American white boys who never need grow
up and who can continue to enjoy the world’s pleasures and treasures
without taking responsibility for them” (2005, 61–62). If Charlie and
Lola mobilises a distinctly feminine animation style, evoking the cutout
tradition of Reiniger, the crudity of South Park produces a more mascu-
line register. A similarly unsophisticated child-like aesthetic masquerading
as children’s culture is employed to obscure the show’s commercial and
critical success, excuse its provocative politics, and justify the plethora of
poo, wee and fart jokes which continue to run throughout the twenty-
year-old series.

The Lego Movie: Dimensional Animation

Despite belonging to another very different franchise, there are many
parallels between The Lego Movie and the “imperfect” animation dis-
cussed above. Although digitally produced in an era when smooth-
moving animation technologies are well within the means of a studio
such as Warner Bros, this is a film affecting stop-frame animation. This
appears in the jerky movement of its characters, the photorealism of

its imagery, and the simulated cracks and fingerprints dirtying its digi-
tal models. Unlike the slightly uneven, clumsy, imperfect “‘lurch’” of
British children’s animation (Moseley 2016, 85), this is no unavoidable
consequence of the filmmaking process, but a deliberate visual strat-
egy designed to evoke an older, more artisan, tradition of animated
culture. It distinguishes the feature from other Lego screen products,
such as non-theatrical DVD releases and Lego videogames which boast
significantly smoother movement and considerably slicker surfaces.
Consequently The Lego Movie works to make visible what Sobchack
refers to as the “‘shamanic’ power” of the animator’s hand, usually hid-
den, or made evident only in conspicuous moments of self-reflexivity
(2009, 384). In this respect, the film gestures to the earliest of animation
media which performed a certain demystification of its own processes.
Leslie describes the self-reflexivity of early hybrid cartoons combining
live action and animation, where the artist would be included as part
of the scenario, drawing an often uncooperative and antagonistic figure
into existence (2004, 13–14). The Lego Movie implies the presence of a
human craftperson through its stuttering movements, flawed models and
soiled photorealism, in a manner which effaces the considerable process-
ing power necessary for its generation. In this case, the “ghost of the
animator” (Moseley 2016, 85) is just that, a spectre, and the intimate,
intricate, handcraft production processes it pretends to unmask are sim-
ilarly mythical. A certain child-like quality is suggested in this amateur
appearance. But while Charlie and Lola and South Park only hint at the
presence of the child in the filmmaking process, The Lego Movie goes fur-
ther by incorporating a fictional boy into its diegesis as the source of the
film’s world. In this respect, to paraphrase Rose (1984, 32), the child is
scripted into the scene with the implication that they, and not the adult
computer coder employed by a multinational film studio and toy fran-
chise, are responsible for the animation on the screen.
It is undoubtedly the case, even more so than the examples cited
by Moseley, that The Lego Movie takes place within a world of toys, an
extravagant metropolitan version of Trumpton’s parochial doll’s house
(2016, 36–37). The film’s settings give a clear impression of being built
from bricks, while every object and machine it contains resembles acces-
sories and vehicles assembled from construction packs. This is strikingly
evident in the film’s opening sequence, where cars, trucks, buildings,
paving stones, signs, trees and people look like components from the
franchise’s long-running Lego City range (Fig. 6.3).

Fig. 6.3  The Lego Movie (Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, 2014)

Characters make no disguise of their status as iconic minifigures.

Close-ups reveal their plastic surfaces, swivel joints and necks, while
their simple expressions and mouth movements appear drawn from the
stock range of heads in the toy box. If Clangers and Soup Dragons only
became available for purchase following their television success, Lego
was an established and recognised brand decades before the film’s pro-
duction; the company began manufacturing licenced film tie-ins fifteen
years prior to the feature’s theatrical release. While the inhabitants of the
Trumptonshire trilogy were reportedly burned to ensure they were not
turned into commercial products (ibid., 69), The Lego Movie contains
characters from across the various Lego brands of media merchandise,
including superheroes, Harry Potter, The Simpsons and Lord of the Rings.
Original characters such as Wildstyle and Unikitty were also ready to buy
in Lego stores. In this respect the film series constituted an unabashed,
even celebratory, partnership between the film industry and children’s
merchandise. The movie embraces a certain toyetic turn which charac-
terises the post-Star Wars era, notably the first franchise enshrined in
Lego kits, with a cameo from Han Solo, Chewbacca and the Millennium
Falcon. Explicitly mass-produced, corporate, commercial aspects poten-
tially compromise qualities of homegrown animation, as does the Lego
aesthetic itself. In considering the handmade miniatures of British tele-
vision, Moseley draws on the comments of Roland Barthes to empha-
sise the virtue of natural materials, such as wood and fabric (ibid., 61).
Bright plastic bricks represent the antithesis of the style of plaything

positively appraised by the famous semiotician. Unlike the original pup-

pets and models which traditionally populate stop-frame animation, Lego
bricks and minifigures can only result from factory processes and their
very function is reliant upon mechanically produced uniformity. The Lego
Movie’s jerky gesticulations towards stop-frame techniques might be
designed to counteract this potential lack of charm, implying handmade
processes in their animation if not their production.
The contradictions at the centre of the Lego film series have been
observed by many commentators. Discussing the Batman spin-off (Chris
McKay, 2017), Andrew Osmond describes the “charming collisions”
between the “jerky, faux low-tech aesthetic” of the film, and the “over-
blown spectacle, full of giant tanks, planes and monsters” (2017, 84).
Kate Stables notes a central theme of the original movie being “the dual-
ity of Lego”, as either a regimented experience designed around pre-
scriptive construction kits, or a more creative imaginative activity (2014,
77). Matthias Zick Varul explores this duality, interpreting the film as
expressing contradictory developments within contemporary capital-
ism, exemplified by the building block toy manufacturer. As a franchise,
Lego is considered the perfect product of the “prosumer”. Within Lego
culture enthusiastic fans upload stop-frame clips onto YouTube, propos-
ing and rating new designs on the brand’s official website, in a manner
which effectively provides the company with free advertising and labour.
Mythologising such practices, the film’s climax sees everyday minifig-
ures rallied to think outside the box in frenetically devising idiosyncrati-
cally imaginative designs in order to defeat the villainous Lord Business.
Reproducing the kind of stop-frame animation used by amateur vid-
eo-makers locates the film in the kinds of consumer–creator activities this
narrative champions. In apparent opposition to an increased emphasis on
pre-scripted play in the form of franchise-based kits, the movie appears to
enact a reclamation and appropriation of what Varul considers the original
“childlike playful spirit of Lego” (2018, 731–733). Just as the film hinges
on tensions between following building instructions and embracing a
more individual freeform play, so too did The Lego Movie merchandise. As
concession to the film’s ludic disposition, many affiliated kits allowed two
different objects to be built from the same bricks instead of just one.
In this respect, the film maps onto Lego play various tensions within
capitalist modernity, a system that requires both individualism and
conformity, freedom and control, creativity and regulation. Its open-
ing moments parody many aspects of contemporary urbanity and mass

culture, including regimented fitness routines, expensive coffee and vac-

uously optimistic pop music. Indicative of the contradictions the fran-
chise exploits, “Everything is Awesome”, the film’s semi-theme song was
a download chart success and received an Academy Award nomination.
In a moment reminiscent of Robin Williams’ rendition of South Park’s
“Blame Canada”, the number was performed at the ceremony against a
cartoonish backdrop resembling Charlie and Lola’s child-like scribbled
crayon. Varul’s emphasis is on the tensions the film expresses between an
older, rigid, traditionally structured form of capitalism, and more con-
temporary, flexible strategies for organising economic production and
consumption. The uncompromising, hierarchical rule of the presciently
characterised Lord Business, who erects walls between different world
brands and aspires to glue the Lego universe into place, represents this
negative kind of capitalism. It exists in opposition to the communal,
crowdsourcing, collective intelligent activities of the minifigure citizens,
who foil the villain’s evil scheme in the film’s frenetic climax. Rather than
expressing an anti-capitalist message, the film champions new flexible
over older organised capitalism in which the prosumer revolution’s radi-
cal potential will be ultimately absorbed and harnessed by the corporate
machine (ibid., 735–736). This endorses a more seemingly democratic
form of consumerism, foregrounding the kind of popular creativity,
fandom and user-generated content which the company has increas-
ingly capitalised upon through its online community. In paying tribute
to these spontaneous, subversive expressions of artistry The Lego Movie
draws on the countercultural aspects of animation and stop-frame toy
play. These include Adult Swim’s Robot Chicken (TV Series, 2005–) and
Channel 4’s The Adam and Joe Show (TV Series, 1996–2001), together
with amateur animations known as “brickfilms” facilitated by Lego ani-
mation packages. Incorporating the film’s gesture to stop-frame fan cul-
ture, selected brickfilms feature incidentally in the film’s background as
winners of a competition designed to promote the movie. Also paying
tribute to YouTube practices, whereby famous film scenes are incongru-
ously remade in brick and minifigure form, the movie was accompanied
in UK cinemas by Lego-rendered promotions for high-speed internet
provision, car insurance and a hotel chain. The reproduction of familiar
adverts in the medium of Lego, broadcast on British commercial televi-
sion in a crossover promoting both the products and the movie, exem-
plifies the obscuring of capitalist processes under an alibi of childish play
and whimsy in a manner enhanced by the animation’s affected jerkiness.

While television has been historically successful in specifically cater-

ing for child audiences, the theatrically released family feature film’s
traditional demographic incorporates young people, teenagers and par-
ents. Despite being based on a toy franchise and promoted as a half-
term film, the adverts for adult products which accompanied screenings
implies The Lego Movie was partly aimed at more mature audiences.
Despite lacking the cosy textures of Moseley’s children’s animation, the
persistence of the Lego brand means the range has likely nostalgic reso-
nance for adult filmgoers to complement its contemporary significance
for children. Such a point is made in Lincoln Geraghty’s discussion of
Lego fandom, in which they argue the brand’s longevity is integral to its
transgenerational success (2014, 165). In fostering this multi-age popu-
larity the film parallels the Lego videogame series, a franchise based on
the brand’s film-themed kits. Jessica Aldred observes how, in contrast to
the usual dismal performance of film-based videogames, this series has
enjoyed consistent critical and commercial success (2014, 105). Like the
Lego movie kits, this range started with Star Wars in 2005, subsequently
expanding to incorporate many franchises featured in The Lego Movie.
The movement of film characters frantically building vehicles from frag-
ments of their world mirrors the actions of videogame avatars perform-
ing similar acts of frenetic construction. The combination of characters
from different films, television shows and intellectual properties, repre-
sent a unique selling point for the subsequent Lego Dimensions range,
with its fan-style mash-up of Portal, Dr Who, Back to the Future and
Ghostbusters. The feature film clearly anticipates this “playful” assembling
of multi-generational brands from different media, studios, genres and
eras. A form of handmade animation, remediated into the digital con-
sole, is also evident in the small scale of the games. Drawing on ani-
mation scholar Donald Crafton, sequential art theorist Scott McCloud
and videogame academic Mark J. P. Wolf, Aldred argues the aesthetics
of simplification entailed in characters’ translation into iconic toys facili-
tates the role of the avatar as player substitute (ibid, 108). Furthermore,
playable Lego versions of famous characters and actors, in their cartoon-
ish, minimalist, pantomime performance, parody the aspirations of more
seamless videogame-movie adaptations, while Warner Bros continues to
profit from the series (ibid., 114–115). Considering the Lego Star Wars
series’ transgenerational appeal, Robert Buerkle suggests these video-
games functioned symbolically to counteract a sense of disillusionment
experienced by adult fans at the second franchise’s perceived childishness.

Sincerely echoing the song which plays out the South Park movie, like
the films’ producer, the games encouraged jaded adults to ­re-experience
the new trilogy through the “eyes of a child”. This permitted a recu-
peration of the franchise for older fans through engaging in a digital
experience marketed at young players (2014, 120–121). Crucially, as
two-player games they allow children and adults to play together in a
cooperative and mutually enjoyable experience of family fandom (ibid.,
143). This is precisely the implied audience experience of The Lego
Movie, ultimately emblemised in a narrative of father and son bonding
over the shared pleasures of playing with bricks.
The desire “to awaken life in petrified things”, Leslie argues, is that
of a child (2004, 8). This is a mythology of childhood The Lego Movie
evokes in its final act, which reveals the world of the film as existing
in yet another basement, that of an adult kit assembler played by Will
Ferrell, who also provides the voice for Lord Business. This father’s frus-
tration at his son’s frequent interference with his carefully constructed
sets has led him to start gluing bricks together, effectively prohibiting
both their reconstruction and animation. Following miraculous con-
version to his offspring’s more creative perspective, the conclusion sees
both playing freely together in a manner endorsing the child’s preferred
disposition towards Lego bricks. Such closure, reflected in the parallel
recuperation of Lord Business, appears consistent with the company’s
promotional strategies which have frequently encouraged cross-gen-
erational play at the expense of cross-gender activities (Johnson 2014,
86). In this the film reveals the centrality of an adult male-appropriated
childhood to its animation and ideology which, as argued by Varul,
constitutes “an anti-Fordist, anti-bureaucratic liberation myth in which
the joys, frustrations and rebellions of Lego-playing children coincide
with those of the grown-up employees and consumers” (2018, 735).
The rigid authority of the father merely appears compromised through
indulgence in juvenile activities which, reflecting Gardiner’s (2000,
2005) infantile innocence of masculinity, do little to undermine patriar-
chal structures even as they are pulled apart and reassembled. The adult
man is the star and voice actor, while the child whose hand represents
the animating ghost in the machine has no equivalent avatar in the Lego
universe. The movie’s in-world climax involves a confrontation between
Lord Business and Emmet, the film’s everyman character. Like South
Park, the world of The Lego Movie is inherently male centred, despite the
presence of girl power action figure Wyldstyle, and a brief cameo from

a 1970s Wonder Woman preceding her 2017 live-action counterpart by

several years. This world is constructed by a child, but one of a certain
age and gender, positioned in opposition to a grotesque younger fem-
ininity. The film’s final punchline is provided by the father who warns
that now his son is allowed into the sacred basement, so must his sis-
ter. This leads to a terrifying, briefly glimpsed, alien invasion of the more
infantile Duplo brand into the Lego universe.

This chapter has interrogated intersections between childhood, anima-
tion and the handmade. Parallels have been drawn across a disparate trio
of screen franchises—a children’s television programme, an adult com-
edy series, and a family film—all of which deliberately reproduce the
imperfections of handmade animation. This style is evident in the cray-
oned lines, scribbled colouring and wallpaper patterned surfaces of the
BBC’s Charlie and Lola. Its aesthetic includes the flat cutout world of
South Park with its construction paper mountains, photomontage post-
ers and wobbly walk cycles. And it also runs through The Lego Movie
with its jerky stop-frame movements, plastic tactility and scratched fig-
ures. Rather than being the result of technology limitations, deficiencies
in skill, or a consequences of the animation techniques being mobilised,
this style constitutes an affected performance of simplicity, crudity and
amateurism, at odds with these series’ status as professional products
of the fully integrated culture industries. These are all successful screen
media with high viewing figures, significant cultural impact within their
field, and substantial merchandise tied into their respective franchises.
While numbering just three seasons, the last of which aired in 2008,
Charlie and Lola remains on the Cbeebies channel and website, while
its toys continue to have a presence in stores and children’s bedrooms.
South Park is still being produced and is recognised as one of the most
popular series on Comedy Central, currently in its twenty-first season,
and set to continue into 2019. A range of four-season box sets were
released this year (2018), together with the next instalment of a popular
videogames series. The franchise is accompanied by an extremely divert-
ing website. In an act of digital interpellation, South Park enthusiasts
are afforded the opportunity to design themselves as an avatar employ-
ing the series’ instantly recognisable reduced style of graphic representa-
tion. Testimony to its success, The Lego Movie has been followed by two

sequels, The Lego Batman Movie and The Lego Ninjago Movie (Charlie
Bean, Paul Fisher, Bob Logan, 2017). The latter example, based on an
original Lego franchise, places the first film’s parallel narrative centre
stage in the story of a boy in an Oedipal battle with his villainous father.
Meanwhile, on the small screen, Unikitty has been given her own cel-
style television show on the Cartoon Network.
Despite not being crafty animation, in the sense of being handmade,
bespoke, constructed in someone’s shed or basement, the choice to
adopt this visual style is nevertheless crafty in the sense of being shrewd,
knowing and somewhat deceitful. The affectation of scrapbook montage,
paper cutouts and stop-frame movement functions to disguise the texts’
digital construction and entrenchment in capital-driven corporate cul-
tures of production. Such instances where the handmade is a deliberate
creative or corporate choice highlight the meaning attached to the style,
with its positive associations of artistry, artisanship, subversion, playful-
ness and authenticity. Just as digitally animated characters who express
analogue imperfection appear more endearing and relatable, the same
can be said of the media in which they appear and the affection gener-
ated towards their respective franchises, a fundamental requirement for
their continued function as branded products. The style of Charlie and
Lola evokes a sense of the domestic, the homely, the safe and comforta-
ble, which avoids the uncanny resonance of the digitally generated, and
the perceived mercenary intentions of children’s media of international
origins with a more cynical commercial agenda. In South Park the hand-
made aesthetic constructs the series as outsider, anarchic, countercultural
and confrontational. Investment in this simulated mode of animation is
evident across various versions of the show’s opening sequence. In some
the hands of the animator appear constructing the show’s iconic cen-
tral characters; others suggest a comic juxtaposition between the series
low-fi style and the overblown pyrotechnics of the commercial box
office blockbuster; more recently the two-dimensionality of the show’s
characters are emphasised in a sequence which moves through a three-
dimensional landscape populated by explicitly flat figures. The easy trans-
lation of Lego into a digital aesthetic, as evidenced by the plethora of affil-
iated video games which pre-date the movie cycle, means an even greater
emphasis on physicality is required of The Lego Movie. Appropriating a
style associated with amateur video making aligns the Warner Bros series
with cultures of creativity, fandom and parodic irreverence. The emula-
tion of brickfilm also suggests the movie is rooted in the endless creative,

versatile and potentially chaotic ludic possibilities of the product itself,

positive brand associations which persist long after the film has run its
This chapter has also explored the significance of childhood within
this process. In many respects, there are overlaps between animation
which is inexpert, scrappy, naïve, simple, reduced, crude, primitive,
diminutive and playful, and children to whom the same adjectives are
also applied. In contrast to the hand-drawn or hand-animated, digital
animation can appear cold, hard and off-puttingly technological in ori-
gin. Its three-dimensional figures and photorealistic graphics appear to
lack heart, humanity and the touch of the artist. In the history of digital
animation the child-like has an evident role in counteracting such per-
ceptions. It is telling, for example, that out of all the potential stories
which might have been chosen, the first computer-animated feature film
tells the tale of a group of talking toys in a young boy’s bedroom. It is
also significant that the child in this film is largely displaced in favour of
a bickering confrontation between two icons of masculine adulthood,
the cowboy and the spaceman, both voiced by adult stars. Despite
their diversity, all three examples considered in this chapter rely upon
childhood, either as media for children, as adult media masquerading
as children’s television, or as a family film involving the animation of a
brand heavily associated with children. Like the handmade, the child-
like evokes a range of meanings. In the case of Charlie and Lola it sug-
gests quaint whimsy, but also a British terrestriallity countering not only
digital animation but also digital television. For South Park it consti-
tutes carnivalesque grotesqueness, the pleasure of laughing at bodily
functions, and a certain Emperor’s-new-clothes authenticity in debunk-
ing the pomposity of adult authority. Where The Lego Movie is con-
cerned childhood means the eclectic combination of differently themed
toys, a challenge to older models of capitalism in the form of a youth-
ful crowdsourcing kickstarting gifting gig economy, and the bonding
experience of playing with plastic bricks. Childhood can signal nostalgia
experienced by older people who are no longer children. It can mean
rebellion and disregard for the sacred cows of adult society. Childhood
might also function as a leveller, an identity everyone has experienced,
the perfect means of appealing to a universal audience. In every case,
this childhood is an adult-authored construction, compiled by the adult
corporation with the adult gatekeeper, viewer or ticket-buyer in mind.
The exclusion of the child from the production process, an absence

central to the claimed impossibility of children’s media, requires the

simulation of the child’s hand alongside the manufacture of handmade
techniques. This affectation represents the primary dimension to these
texts’ craftiness.

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In Good Hands? Indexes and Interfaces

in A Computer Animated Hand
(Ed Catmull & Frederic Parke, 1972)

Christopher Holliday

A Computer Animated Hand (Ed Catmull and Fred Parke 1972) is a
short film made during the formative era of digital animation that fea-
tures a three-dimensional and entirely computer-generated human hand.
It was produced by Pixar Animation Studios co-founder Ed Catmull
during his tenure as a graduate student at the University of Utah, and
depicts a digitised reproduction (based on a three-dimensional plaster
mould) of Catmull’s own left hand (see Fig. 7.1, which demonstrates the
mimetic standards of this digitally sculpted reproduction and the formal
qualities of its ground-breaking computer graphics). The action dur-
ing the course of the film’s one-minute duration is largely rudimentary,
devoted to showcasing a number of signature moves that exhibit the
flexibility of new computer graphics through the hand movements of a
persuasive replica. Firstly, the three-dimensional body part fills the screen
as it rotates in a circular motion as if fixed on a plinth, before coming to

C. Holliday (*) 
King’s College London, London, UK
e-mail: christopher.holliday@kcl.ac.uk

© The Author(s) 2019 157

C. Ruddell and P. Ward (eds.), The Crafty Animator, Palgrave Animation,

Fig. 7.1  A Computer Animated Hand (Ed Catmull and Fred Parke 1972)

a stop and flexing each of its fingers as it clenches into a fist. The hand
then swivels again, momentarily this time and in the opposite direction,
pointing its fingers before continuing its clockwise rotation and coming
to rest with its finger directed outwards at the spectator. One last spread
of the fingers and a concluding rotation left brings the hand to its final
frontal position, before it unexpectedly flips at the wrist to reveal a hol-
low cavity, into which the virtual camera slowly tracks. Moving right, and
then left, to take in the contours and crevices of each finger, the camera
enters the hand from the bottom and searches the void now from the
inside, a seemingly impossible manoeuvre but one easily accomplished by
this novel technology.
The film’s status as a landmark of digitally animated filmmaking,
revealing just what could be made possible with Computer-Generated
Imagery (CGI), has often been squared to its convincing reproduction
of Catmull’s left hand that looked and moved like a real human hand.
Tom Sito argues that A Computer Animated Hand provided “proba-
bly the first 3-D rendered images, or raster images, ever seen on film”
(2013, 64); a foundational element of contemporary computer graphics.
Writing in 1972 in a piece to accompany the film, Catmull also described
the high levels of anatomical accuracy and digital detail such as “object
representation, object manipulation, concurrent motion, and ease of

specifying motion” (1972, 422) required when constructing a convinc-

ing digital copy of his hand. Yet among its many achievements as both
a pioneering scientific research project and a showcase for the comput-
er’s technical potential as a tool for animation, A Computer Animated
Hand also places front and centre the role of “handiwork” in the con-
struction of the very first digital images. This chapter argues that with its
accumulation of shots depicting extended fingers, tightly clenched fists
and widened palms, A Computer Animated Hand recalls the formal rep-
ertoire of early animated cartoons, which with a degree of consistency
turned to the image of hands as a way of supporting the spectacle of the
animated illusion. This “hand of the artist” (Crafton 1979) trope sig-
nalled the animator’s creative presence at the same time as it mitigated
animation’s arrival as a new technology, a relationship replicated by A
Computer Animated Hand in its focus on the creativity of hands to like-
wise marshal the arrival of digital animation. By first examining the film’s
production within the U.S. computer graphics industry—including the
influence of Ivan Sutherland’s computer drawing program Sketchpad
that first pioneered human/computer interaction—this chapter explores
how A Computer Animated Hand sought to plot the trajectory and
emergent “craft” of innovative digital animation as something reassur-
ingly handmade.

March of the Robot Draftsmen

The context of A Computer Animated Hand’s production is ulti-
mately the story of the expansion of the computer graphics industry
across North America, if not the aesthetic journey undertaken by CGI
towards the representation of persuasive and achievable human form.
The film’s genesis as Catmull’s doctoral project emerged at a time when
the University of Utah was one of a number of specialist institutions
and top-level university research facilities across the U.S. experiment-
ing with embryonic modes of computer-augmented communication.
Xerox, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the New York
Institute of Technology were all major centres for computer graphics,
exploring digital forms of animation within the contexts of engineering
and scientific research. Originally a computer programmer at The Boeing
Company in Seattle, Catmull had moved to Utah to complete an “engi-
neering PhD working on computer facial modelling, texture mapping
(where a texture could be imported into a computer and mapped onto a

rendering of a surface) and drawing” (Kemper 2015, 25). Given Utah’s

contribution to computer-aided geometric design, virtual reality and dig-
ital visualisation/imaging, A Computer Animated Hand unsurprisingly
marked a collaboration between several significant personnel who would
shape CGI over the subsequent four decades. The film’s co-director,
Frederic Parke, was a graduate of Computer Science at Utah’s College
of Engineering, and like Catmull had experimented with three-dimen-
sional computer graphics in the early 1970s on a short project repre-
senting a human face (based on his wife’s likeness). Partially funded by
the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Parke’s test
short pioneered experiments in virtual modelling and facial animation,
paving the way for the increased expressivity of human physiognomies
in the digital realm. A Computer Animated Hand also benefited from
the research of another Utah alumnus, Henri Gouraud, whose “Gouraud
shading” system calculated the digital application of continuous light/
shadow that could be wrapped around three-dimensional models
(including the rendering of curved surfaces). Discussing Utah’s wealth of
creative personnel in this period, Rick Parent argues that “although the
imagery was extremely primitive by today’s standards, the presentations
of lip-synced facial animation and linked-appendage figure animation
were impressive demonstrations well ahead of their time” (2008, 28).
Despite its trialling of pioneering digital programs at the vanguard
of several technological and aesthetic frontiers, A Computer Animated
Hand also emerged out of a particular industrial context that framed
revolutionary digital processes as nonetheless rooted in the kinds of pre-
digital labour skilfully produced by hand. This tension between continu-
ity and rupture, tradition and modernity, so common to the teleolog-
ical narratives of technological innovation, is spun out in the status of
the computer as a complex—and, at that time, relatively unknown—tool
that nonetheless was made to evoke the spirit of more traditional craft
practices and forms of image-making. Stephen Turk explains that in the
1950s and 1960s, “[t]he working methods and craft traditions of a host
of ‘practical’ arts were drawn upon to serve as analogical models dur-
ing the development of computer graphics” (2006, 64). This suggests
a reflexive working through within digital production of the place of
this new technology through an abstracted understanding of the “prac-
tical” craft of animation. Indeed, the activity of building virtual rep-
resentations within a computer appeared immediately bound up with
the conceptualisation of craft and craft techniques as something stable,

transferable, even adaptable, to the new medium. Early experiments in

digital imagery, as developed at Utah by Catmull and his contemporaries,
therefore raise significant questions about the ability (and, perhaps, even
the contradiction) of computer graphics to be understood as craft(ed)
objects or artefacts. This, in turn, spotlights the ambivalent work of
hands and handicraft within such processes, and the extent to which the
handmade elements in and of digital manipulation might support an
understanding of the “craftiness” of computer animation more broadly.
Nowhere can the potential “craft” of digital media be better under-
stood than in the work of computer scientist Ivan Sutherland, whose pio-
neering Sketchpad system (written in 1963) was introduced to Catmull
while he was studying under Sutherland at Utah’s School of Computing.
Sketchpad was a real-time computation program enabling the interpre-
tation of data drawn directly onto a computer display, which Sutherland
had already developed at MIT prior to his tenure as professor at Utah
between 1968 and 1974. At the time, MIT’s status as a major research
organisation for digital technology was largely predicated on its devel-
opment of numerous defence systems at its Lincoln Laboratory. This
included signal and data processing needed for modern laser radar/
advanced warning systems, tactical surveillance and collaborations
with the Federal Aviation Administration (air traffic control, safety) in
response to a series of mid-air collisions in the early 1970s. But it was
Sutherland’s advancements in the Sketchpad tool at MIT that contrib-
uted enormously to the co-operation between man and machine that
would form the basis of subsequent instruments and techniques that
blended craft with computers. In particular, it was the early identifica-
tion of hand-drawn techniques as a prevailing component of digital pro-
cessing and image-making (if not the language of this new medium that
spoke of ‘paper’, ‘pads’ and ‘pens’ rather than pixels) that would influ-
ence Catmull’s own convergence of the biological with the technological
in A Computer Animated Hand.
Nicknamed the “Robot Draftsman”, Sketchpad was an interac-
tive “man-machine graphical communication system” that allowed
the user to sketch directly onto a computer display (known as a scope
screen) using a “light pen” (Sutherland 1964, R-3). Catmull describes
Sketchpad as an “ingenious computer program that allowed figures to
be drawn, copied, moved, rotated, or resized, all while retaining their
basic properties” (2014, 12). The computer would track the movement
of the “light pen” across the screen to draw with precision (as well as

erase) straight and curved lines. Designed to accommodate manual inter-

vention and the human variable, Sketchpad was an innovative craft tool
exploiting the very “medium of line drawings” (now configured as a
command, rather than as an outcome) as a way of improving how “a man
and a computer” might communicate (Sutherland 1964, R-3). The abil-
ity of the computer to track and image objects in virtual space certainly
offered a new way of conceptualising human/computer interaction now
based on a shared graphical language. Yet the very design of Sketchpad
retained the (craft of the) drawing hand as the locus for the c­ omputer’s
behaviour and series of manipulations, not just simulating but relying
upon craft process and certain skills in draughtsmanship that could then
be registered by the computer. Sutherland had claimed that “[m]ost
interaction between man and computers has been slowed by the need
to reduce all communication to written statements that can be typed. In
the past we have been writing letters to, rather than conferring with, our
computers” (ibid.). The talking to/conversing with dichotomy that sup-
ported the new reciprocal relationship between human and responsive
Sketchpad machine would, however, remain highly prescient rather than
fully resolved within the context of computer art and animation. Indeed,
these same issues of human/machine interaction as fundamental to this
new digital craft, as well as anxieties around the possible place for the
“medium of line drawings”, would take stronger hold as digital technol-
ogies came to occupy an increasingly prominent position within moving
image culture.
Nervousness surrounding the cessation of traditional hand-drawn
techniques at the hands of computer-generated imagery throughout the
latter part of the twentieth century has remained squared to the effect
of digital technology upon the act (and art) of drawing, now seemingly
erased and effaced from the production of pristine computer graph-
ics. Following the popularisation of new digital effects in commercial
Hollywood cinema during the mid-1980s, and a little over two dec-
ades after Sutherland’s effectively ‘paperless’ animation system, Patrick
Baudelaire and Michel Gangnet wrestled with the knotted issue of “com-
puter-assisted animation” (1986, 472). They identified a perceived split
between what they termed “conventional” or “usual” animation founded
on traditional animation practices (largely the cel animation, hand-drawn
work at the Disney studio), and “the application of computerized tech-
niques” (ibid.). Such a shift in the role of drawing as an input direc-
tive, rather than as a creative consequence, “puzzled and continues to

intrigue practitionners [sic] of computer-assisted animation” (ibid., 470).

Catmull had also been mindful of these issues soon after A Computer
Animated Hand, delivering a paper at the SIGGRAPH event in 1978
titled “The Problems of Computer-Assisted Animation”. Catmull noted
that while there had been “some success and a great deal of optimism”
with regards to the integration of the computer into the “conventional”
animation workflow, “the transition from simple drawings optimized for
use on the computer to the complicated and detailed drawings of qual-
ity conventional animation has been much harder than expected” (1978,
348). Nonetheless, Catmull concluded that “the computer offers a dis-
tinct advantage over the hand operation” (ibid., 349), not just via the
scanning in of pre-existing drawings for further digital manipulation (in
ways that anticipate contemporary live-action/CGI compositing), but in
the virtual creation of entirely new ones.
Despite Sketchpad’s practical reliance on hand-drawing techniques (as
well as the flexibility and efficiency the computer affords over the “hand
operation”), the production of CGI continues to be attributed to “the
digital” in ways that side-line the practitioner, as the technology replaces
the immediacy of their labour with computer programming and auto-
mated imaging techniques. However, the categorisation of drawing
as outdated or irrelevant to digital technology is at best illusory, and at
worst reductive, to the numerous functions that drawing plays in com-
puter graphics. Acknowledging the received narrative that has enveloped
pre- and post-digital forms of animation, Birgitta Hosea argues that
“[w]ork that is created by digital technology is regarded by some com-
mentators as having lost the authenticity implied by the subjective
hand-drawn mark” (2010, 355). Yet as Hosea notes, this view cre-
ates a “reductive binary” (ibid.) between old and new forms of image-
making that fully obfuscates “drawing” as a fundamental component of
computer animation and the production of digital media. The design
of Sutherland’s Sketchpad system belies the mythological banishment
of drawing from computer processes, insofar as it actually foregrounds
the act of drawing as central to its human/machine circuit of engage-
ment. More recent tools such as the Apple Pencil, which update the
user-potential of the digital stylus (such as the Stylator [1957] model),
the RAND and WACOM tablets, and WACOM’s Cintiq pen and screen
to name a few, likewise all gesture to the place of digital hand-drawing
within graphical computer input devices and instruments (ibid., 356).
Even Catmull had identified the importance of “manual intervention”

within supposedly automatic, mechanistic digital processes in his 1978

SIGGRAPH paper. Discussing the various stages of production in which
an animator may wish to use a computer, Catmull noted the requisite
“hand touch up” in the colouring and cleaning of virtual images (1978,
349) that compensate for the computer image constraints (despite other
advantages innate to such systems, such as real-time playback of ani-
mated footage and “automatic inbetweening” to create the illusion of
movement [ibid., 350]).
Rather than the absence of drawing outright, the advent of com-
puter graphics has prompted a broader, and no less pervasive, anxiety or
ambivalence around the absence of “craft” within digital forms of anima-
tion. Despite the term craft holding “historical alignments with refined
skill, mastery of technique and a striving for perfection” (Paterson and
Surette 2015, xxv), the same mastery embodied by CGI has tended to
muddy computer animation’s relationship to “craft” (whether considered
as an adjective, noun or verb). The computer interpolates and obfus-
cates the animator’s expertise and talent too forcefully, with its result-
ant images too seamless and “well-crafted” to be considered the product
of craft at all. Malcolm McCullough has argued that “[t]he computer
industry’s intense impetus to come up with solutions in search of prob-
lems, and then to oversell them, invites a backlash of scepticism. […]
Cultural production with digital technology claims aspects of non-tra-
ditional craft” (1998, 270). The impact of a kind of digital processing
and its associated labour practices upon animation is therefore one that
operates in what might be understood as a “non-traditional” or “post-
craft” moment. The practice of “postcraft” has been conceptualised his-
torically according to a postwar “Taylorist” vision of “automation” and
the attempt to de-personalise and “erode workers’ control” (Blackburn
et al. 1985, 84). The outcome of industrial modernism’s “mass-work
postcraft mentality” (Hapke 2001, 171) underlying twentieth-century
Marxist thought established the blueprint for more contemporary “post-
craft” movements in which “techniques of industrial design” have shifted
the emphasis towards “high-tech appearance” and away from the hob-
byist whose style and process are more artisanal and bespoke (Selz 2017,
What is not fully resolved within the context of computer animation
and a film like A Computer Animated Hand, however, is precisely its
increasingly complex identity as a “postcraft” system of management and
work(er) efficiency. The industry desire to view the computer as simply

another pencil or animation instrument runs into resistance when con-

fronted with the division of categories between “traditional” anima-
tion more readily understood through artisan craft (delicacy, patience,
precision) and “postcraft” computer processing (efficiency, automatic,
mechanical). As ex-Disney animator Frank Thomas ventured in a 1984
piece titled “Can Classic Disney Animation Be Duplicated on the
Computer?”, animation “may simply not be suited” to the medium’s
digital turn, which replaces the skill and “advanced knowledge” of the
animator with images created via an “electronic process” and viewed
“on a monitor” (1984, 20–21). The hostility to which computer ani-
mation has been subjected as a “non-traditional” or ideological counter
to craft communities has strengthened its position as a highly opposi-
tional category, with the digital’s usurping of cel animation within fea-
ture production (even at the Disney studio) not helping the computer’s
contentious place within film and animation industries. Equally unhelp-
ful in this respect is the perceived heavy-handedness of computer ani-
mation as a tool that requires technical expertise and proficiency, rather
than high levels of artisanal control. This is a view that has its roots in
the technology’s own scientific origins, and the initial disciplinary split
in the application of digital imagery between research (computer scien-
tists) and production (animators). For example, Baudelaire and Gangnet
argue that “computer scientists involved in computer animation may
have sometimes underestimated the subtlety of animation craft and
complexity of the animation trade” (1986, 470). In these terms, com-
puter animation is blatant, unconcealed and unashamed, with its array
of “processors and algorithms” (ibid.) not quite gelling with the inti-
macy and immediacy of traditional techniques usually allied to the craft
of animation.

Digital Handiwork
The industrial and ideological framing of “the digital” as adversar-
ial to other kinds of animation made through skill, bespoke tools and
to a crafted finish strongly echoes cinema’s historically ambivalent rela-
tionship with technological advance. The fear and wonder surround-
ing computer graphics certainly recall the political formulations made
by several theorists in the early twentieth century around film aesthet-
ics and the democratic possibilities of the medium, which were qualified
largely through a consideration of cinema’s relationship to techniques of

reproduction. Walter Benjamin’s examination of the “aura” of pre-mech-

anised art, and the subsequent inauthentic qualities of their mechanical
copies, certainly speaks to the technological assault waged upon tradi-
tional conceptions of artistic value in ways not dissimilar to contempo-
rary views of the computer’s fractious relationship to craft. McCullough
(1998, 44) makes clear this connection between the advent of “dig-
ital craft” and a Benjaminian understanding of the loss of the auratic
encounter within art, noting that recent digital dematerialisation recalls
the manual or technical reproduction of art whose “aura”, as Benjamin
claimed, “withered” due to the plurality of copies now substituting its
“unique existence” ([1936] 2008, 21–22). Benjamin was one of a num-
ber of cultural critics throughout the 1930s invested in cinema’s medium
specificity, its status as a mass medium, and its links to industrial capi-
talism. However, Esther Leslie notes that Benjamin’s numerous writ-
ings on material agency and the wider impact of capitalism on cultural
experiences of art are strongly marked by references to the power of
craft. For Leslie, nowhere does this image of craft prevail more than in
Benjamin’s evocation of moments where “craft” and “narration” meet.
The experienced craftsperson works in intimate environments and under-
takes activities (weaving, spinning) that compel stories to be exchanged,
and knowledges of space, distance and skill to be handed down/passed
on (Leslie 1998, 6). This is why the German cultural critic champions
the figure and labour of the “vollkommenen Handwerker” (“perfect
artisan”), if not the image of craft as a strongly social practice. Yet the
“hand’s redundancy for production” (ibid., 7) is, of course, central to
Benjamin’s wider preoccupation with a “pre-industrial mode of labour-
ing”, where craft is “submerged in mass industrial society”, where
“[t]echnology has stormed the human body”, and where “humans
become adjuncts of the machine” (ibid.). In the conditions and stand-
ardisation of mechanical reproduction, craft is no longer attributed to
the speed of the hand but the efficiency of the industrial machine.
When considering the work of (computer) animation in the age of
mechanical (digital) reproduction, Benjamin’s sentiments echo loudly in
the many cultural and critical responses to the realism—if not the met-
amorphic and mimetic capabilities—of the digital aesthetic, which has
created a graceful and uncomplicated style of animation that to look at
“do[es] not appear to have been created by hand, or, more precisely,
[creates] images that do not contain traces of the human labor that went
into making them” (Williamson 2015, 98). The inclusion of Catmull’s

left hand as it twists and turns throughout A Computer Animated Hand

is, as this chapter argues, vitally important for working through com-
puter animation’s perceived tension with traditional craft practices, if
not in challenging the digital’s highly industrialised image as embody-
ing “coldly manipulative, soulless, mechanical imaging processes” (Prince
2012, 9). The scepticism felt towards digital imagery as a technology
devoid of human presence is challenged by the film’s strong human ele-
ment and desire to reclaim an immediacy of human agency. A Computer
Animated Hand finds a place for hands and handiwork, seeking to
assuage cultural (and, perhaps, industrial) anxieties about “postcraft”
processes in the digital age, and to key into the values of the pre-­modern
prior to the industrial appropriation of cultural production. As Leslie
puts it “[t]he hand – so crucial to the Handwerker, artisan or craftsman
– was retired by technological advance. The role of the hand in produc-
tion shrunk” (2007, 169). A Computer Animated Hand, by comparison,
repositions the crafting hand as the locus of its enquiry, working to offer
a positive picture of computerised humanity that brings the craftsperson
out of retirement and, in doing so, places computer animation beyond
automatic operation.
A Computer Animated Hand is foremost a film about control.
Through the image of the controlled (and controlling) digital hand,
the many values associated with the cultural value of craft (personal-
ised labour, authenticity, transparency) are immediately folded into
A Computer Animated Hand in spite of its technologised (re)produc-
tion. In the absence of materiality, the film utilises a well-worn discourse
of “craft” to both ground and structure the spectators’ understanding
of CGI in the same way as one might think of the materiality of wood
(grain), paper (tooth) or metal (temper). A Computer Animated Hand
reveals computer animation to be worked upon, not in abstract virtual
space or inaccessible digital environments, but in studios and laboratories
in the many behind-the-scenes shots that punctuate the film. The human
hands give a sense of creative affordances and constraints, difficulties and
versatilities, authenticating an image of the craft tradition during the
film’s very production at the same time as consecrating the digital as a
new filmmaking frontier. To strengthen this discourse of reassurance and
retrieval of craft within new kinds of industrial production, the virtual
replica of Catmull’s hand in A Computer Animated Hand actually points
a finger at the very history of animation as a way of clearly indexing the
arrival of a new digital medium.

In representing so forcefully the flexibility, motion, communica-

tive actions and gestural possibilities of digital hands (and in showing
real human hands working on these animated replicas), A Computer
Animated Hand follows the historical trajectory of animation that,
since its origins, has always been wrought with questions of animator
agency and influence. Catmull’s film and its clear autobiographical ele-
ment (rooted in the spectacle of a three-dimensional model of his own
hand) recalls the motif of “self-figuration” so pervasive across early
twentieth-century animation. Indeed, in its vision of the dexterity and
creativity of hands, A Computer Animated Hand reconjures something
of the cluster of icons and images that fall under what Donald Crafton
(1979) calls the “hand of the artist” trope. Belonging to early pre-
animated forms as one of its most abiding and oft-rehearsed images, the
inclusion and intrusion of the animator’s hand into the image articulated
both their labour and total control over the new technology. Named
after the intruding hands in The Hand of the Artist (Walter Booth 1906),
this ritualised practice within early cartoons was rooted in the image of
animation as highly author or artist-centric. Animators—via their work-
ing, labouring hands—cast the spotlight on “the special magical prop-
erties of the animated film about to be seen”, with the artist strongly
positioned as the “mediator between the spectator and the drawings”
(ibid., 414). In these terms, the presence of the artist’s hands both weak-
ens and simultaneously enforces the identity of animation—just like cin-
ema itself—as nothing more than an elaborate conjuring trick.
In A Computer Animated Hand, the digital representation of
Catmull’s left hand therefore finds a place for deft handiwork within
digital processing, but it also magnifies these historical discourses of
“self-figuration” even further by actually animating the hand of its art-
ist as its primary subject. Early commercial animation’s signature scene
is reproduced and foregrounded as a spectacle in a film that, at the same
time, stresses a division between effortful handiwork and digital out-
come. The film is also notably titled “A Computer Animated Hand”,
rather than the “The Computer Animator’s Hand”, thereby emphasising
the effortful activity of the animator and the process of its construction.
A Computer Animated Hand fully captures the vitality of the performer
in emergent computer graphics, and in doing so reinterprets the “hand
of the artist” for the digital age. Catmull and Parke’s film coerces the
hand into an independent object of thought in ways that further reframe
digital technology as the product of more artisanal arts and crafts. It then

balances the “sleight of hand” digital illusion with behind-the-scenes

footage showing real human hands at work on such virtual replicas. The
evocation of (analogue) forms of moving images through historical prac-
tices of animated labour checks the presumed absence of such practices
in computer-assisted processing, and presents the hands of the animator
as both the cause and effect of digital imagery.
What we are seeing in A Computer Animated Hand, then, is a return
to the animator’s hand as the animated medium’s primary means of
creation, just as filmmakers Winsor McCay or J. Stuart Blackton might
themselves enter the image to enchant the drawings they create. The
animator’s sudden presence in many early silent cartoons was, unlike in
A Computer Animated Hand, exploited almost entirely to augment the
two-way conflict and contest between the animator-as-creator and the
animated subject. As shorthand to denote artist/animation engagement,
the “hand of the artist” device was utilised in service of personality,
used to fortify character individualism and motivation by cueing events
that would activate their attitudes, sentience, activity and purpose. The
struggle of animated characters who fought against the animator was
conventionally articulated through—and reflected in—the materiality of
drawing as a craft practice. The visibility of tears, fissures, flaws and era-
sures in the animation process became a central concern in supporting
the instability of certain types of anarchic characters, such as Koko the
Clown or Felix the Cat, whose irritable relationship with the hand of the
animator often allowed the fullest expression of their subversive, modern,
transgressive trickery.
The artist in these early cartoons was regularly positioned “on hand”
to redraft, redraw, reconfigure and even remain in conflict with the
mutating animated space. The artistic dexterity and narrative potential of
their hands became as volatile, as unpredictable and as changeable as the
exertions of the characters they created. The “hand of the artist” trope
therefore achieved its objectives and obtained its effect from a number
of connected elements that supported its role in the staged magic of ani-
mated illusion, many of which are still to be found underlying Catmull
and Parke’s 1972 film. These elements might be summarised as:

• the ontological difference(s) between photographic images and

drawings through a reflexivity of/between surface and depth;
• the disruptive role of the animated simulation in the creation of
narrative drama and conflict;

• the circuits of engagement, and processes of co-presence, colli-

sion and compatibility between animator/offscreen and character/
• the pleasure in labour and the identity of animation as an art form
(including its disclosure or deconstruction);
• the identity of “craft” as both an intervention and a set of aesthetic
motifs (chalk/chalkboard, pen/paper).

But beyond its evocative representation of the animator’s hand from ani-
mation history past, A Computer Animated Hand’s position on the cusp
of the digital revolution recalls other values associated with the “hand
of the artist” motif that first qualified animation as a strongly artistic
and handmade product. Early animation’s many artists and their visible
hands were undoubtedly central to the invention and dissemination of
the medium as a technology, exploited to enforce the identity of ani-
mation’s very first images as openly created “by hand”. Scott Bukatman
argues that the very presence of the animator’s working hands substan-
tiated the medium’s illusory credentials, because “animation was too
new, and perhaps too mysterious to emerge fully formed onscreen”
(2012, 109). The peculiarity of the new medium countered the many
ontological challenges posed by animation, including its flagrantly non-
photographic means of representation. At the same time, the “hand of
the artist” disclosed all at once animation as an art, craft, concept, set of
processes, medium, form of communication, style of representation and
a performance. Just as the “hand of the artist” of silent animation main-
tained the centrality of the artist—albeit one metonymically represented
by their hands or instruments—to arbitrate the cultural status of early
twentieth-century animation, A Computer Animated Hand likewise
used the hand of its creator (in this case, Catmull) to alleviate any anx-
iety around the missing or mislaid “handiwork” of digital imagery. The
“hand of the artist” was ultimately both a performative gesture and con-
venient artistic device that played an important role in explicating and
foregrounding the process of animation for early film audiences. In its
own revision of this most durable of tropes, Catmull’s film introduced
spectators to the unwieldy and unruly medium of computer animation
one hand at a time.

The “Machinic New”

A Computer Animated Hand draws from animation’s enduring visual
traditions of “self-figuration” as part of a formative discourse of reas-
surance and rehabilitation, falling back on the same old image of craft
through an emphasis on apposite cultural images of animated labour.
The handmade element to the film pulls in digital processes and the
modernity of computer graphics together with the vestige of an old(er)
tradition, mining the author-centric dimension of the “hand of the art-
ist” and its “representing [of] the artist as the mythic bringer of life”
(Crafton quoted in Bendazzi 2017, 26) to effectively “show its work-
ing” and, by extension, show it is working. The result is that Catmull and
Parke’s film offers a guiding hand that discloses the humanity behind
the anonymous digital images as more in line with other handmade cel
or stop-motion practices, directing emphasis away from computer ani-
mation’s automatic, generated construction and instead aligning it as a
crafted medium. In the same way that “the audience of 1911 […] must
have marveled at the dexterity of McCay’s hand” (Bukatman 2012,
112), the wonder of Catmull’s own computer animated hand for the
film’s early seventies computer scientist audience authenticated the
novelty of a new technology via the agility and flexibility of a human
hand. However, there are other ways that the “hand of the artist” can
be mapped onto A Computer Animated Hand. This is because during
the late nineteenth century, the trope functioned not just as part of early
animation’s author-centric discourse, but was an important connective
between two visual cultures and entertainment forms: the modernism
of early animated cinema and the prior “lightning” cartoon or “chalk
talk” tradition, a touring stage act from which numerous silent cartoons
obtained much of their formal repertoire.
An entertainment practice which began as a Victorian parlour game,
but which rose to prominence in British music halls throughout the
1880s and 1890s, lightning sketches involved the production of draw-
ings “drawn skilfully and quickly (thus the term ‘lightning’)” (Torre
2015, 142). Malcolm Cook argues that in making “a performance out of
the act of drawing” (2013, 238), the lightning sketch tradition provides
a significant context for understanding early animation no less invested in
the artist’s skill through the accelerated speed and accuracy with which
they could produce drawn images. Many lightning cartoonists would
later become involved in the production of animated shorts, including

Walter Booth and Tom Merry in the U.K., McCay, Blackton and Earl
Hurd in the U.S., Georges Méliès in France (billed as a “dessinateur
express”) (Crafton 1990, 137–138), and Harry Julius in Australia, while
many animation historians have constructed causal chains between these
eminent figures to illuminate powerful networks of influence (McCay
inspired by Cohl; Cohl influenced by Blackton; Blackton working with
McCay at the Vitagraph Studio). The titles of the animated shorts A
Lightning Sketch (Georges Méliès 1896), Lightning Sketches (J. Stuart
Blackton 1907) and Booth’s The Lightning Postcard Artist (1908) make
further explicit this historical overlap between live “lightning” theat-
rical performance traditions and emerging frame-by-frame animation
processes. Produced within roughly a ten-year period, these films are
indicative in combining “trick” camera effects (double-exposures, super-
impositions), stop-motion animation and a “chalk talk” performance
aesthetic of nineteenth-century stage entertainment to extend the vocab-
ulary of the lightning cartoon as it was executed onstage in these vaude-
ville and musical hall routines.
Involved in the attribution of agency to the interventionist filmmaker,
the residual “hand of the artist” trope reflected a key—albeit often
forgotten—stage in the development of early animation by pointing a
finger at prior lightning sketch traditions that shaped the appearance of
the first moving images. However, despite their claims to author-cen-
tricism and artist agency through this association with “lightning” per-
formers, the visible hands of animators such as McCay, Méliès, Booth,
Merry, Blackton and Julius that laboured so lovingly over their crea-
tions on stage were firmly implicated in more mechanical processes of
image-making. For Bukatman, the vaudevillian lightning sketch artist
was “another response to the shock of the machinic new” (2012, 112),
with many of these live performers embroiled in an “industrial culture”
of accelerating modernity (ibid., 109). These extremely popular artists,
magicians and performers therefore stood at a meeting point between
what Emily Shapiro calls the “pre-industrial craft traditions rooted in
manual skilled labor” and an “industrial ethos” that demanded “the effi-
ciency and exactitude of the machine” (quoted in ibid., 112). This brings
into disrepute the “hand of the artist” as a supposed signifier or agent
of craft through its deconstructive, demystifying properties, and instead
highlights its machine-like perfection akin to industrial production.
Bukatman argues that “The hand of McCay would thus be both indi-
vidual and industrial, artist and assembler, master craftsman and machine

operator – at once a tool of both production and reproduction” (ibid.).

A Computer Animated Hand, as its playfully paradoxical title intimates,
equally converges the technological/industrial and the biological/
individual. Catmull’s left hand is a technological marvel embroiled in both
production and reproduction, and is itself a “trick” effect of machine-
like precision. Its rotational movements and flexed positions obtain their
impact from their reproductive accuracy, all the while informed by the
spectral presence of Catmull manifest onscreen through his hands.
Made by hands and of hands, A Computer Animated Hand further
intersperses its live-action “in progress” footage and the final polished
CG animation of the digitally rendered hand with six instructional inter-
titles that explain the various stages of production and technical features
of the resultant computer imagery (“A model was made of a real hand”;
“Polygons were drawn on the model”; “The model was digitized”; The
data output as lines”; “A half tone sequence without smooth shading”;
“The final sequence with smooth shading”). Such deconstructive rheto-
ric serves to carefully plot the hand’s acquisition of “realism” through its
evolution from a crude wireframe outline—which Catmull interestingly
defines as a digital “line drawing” (1972, 427)—to a three-dimensional
model replete with 350 interconnected triangles and polygons supported
by newly developed “smooth shading” lighting techniques. Figure 7.2

Fig. 7.2  The wireframe model prior to full digital rendering


shows the exposed geometry of Catmull’s hand signalled within the film
as an earlier phase of production, the image capturing the component
polygons, connected lines and vector points that build the finished rep-
lica and enable the fingers to evenly clench and contract. The intertitles
in A Computer Animated Hand also stress processes and procedures that
are far from automatic, but instead rely on the labour of technicians, ani-
mators and scientists that occur beyond the frame. But the narration of
process via these intertitles (in combination with shots of the animators
working; holding plaster models of hands; digitising the model into a
computer by hand) further matches the structure of the lightning sketch
and the requisite interplay between progress and process.
The particular organisation of A Computer Animated Hand recalls a
subset of the lightning sketch as performed on stage: the evolution pic-
ture. As early twentieth-century American stage magician and illustrator
Harlan Tarbell explained:

Evolution pictures are produced by drawing a picture and then with a few
strokes of the crayon changing it into something radically different from
the original conception. Such a picture never fails to hold the interest of
an audience, because it always keeps them on tiptoe with curiosity until the
drawing is finished. (1926, 21)

While sowing the seeds of metamorphosis as a quality germane to the

animated medium, the live evolution picture performance stressed the
vibrancy, rapidity and mobility of drawing, while positioning the pre-
cision of sketching and drafting as an outcome of a creative process in
flux. These processes all find their way into A Computer Animated
Hand, which through the juxtaposition of the hand “as an image of
work” (Bukatman 2012, 113), together with the finished film’s CG
footage and multiple production stages, provides clear equivalences
to transformations within evolution pictures as they mutate between a
series of preliminary sketches. Indeed, the “surprising alteration[s] to
the image” (Telotte 2010, 25) made by the live sketch artists via their
additions are evoked in A Computer Animated Hand, particularly when
we are told that “Polygons were drawn” on the model of Catmull’s by
hand. Figure 7.3 illustrates the division of the plaster mould on its sur-
face into more intricate geometric shapes. These shapes could then be
traced and scanned into the computer, with the “smooth shading” pro-
cess turning the resultant sharp edges into a more even or levelled virtual

Fig. 7.3  Polygons are drawn onto the plaster mould as part of the film’s

copy. Qualities of transformation also come into play during the three-
dimensional spinning and metamorphosing letters that constitute
A Computer Animated Hand’s opening credit sequence (designed by fel-
low Utah student Bob Ingebresten). This fluidity to the film’s typogra-
phy recalls the graphic transformations that were central to the impact
of the lightning sketch’s speed of performance, if not the ability of the
drawn image to unexpectedly change before the spectators’ eyes.
In A Computer Animated Hand, it is the self-directing three-
dimensional digital hand flexing and straining onscreen that assumes the
role of the “animation”, supported by a range of optical perspectives and
virtual camera movements that showcase the possibilities engendered
by this new technology. The behind-the-scenes footage disclosing each
technical step functions as the signifiers of process (much like the paper,
easel, chalkboard and animator’s arm that, when taken together, work
to attribute responsibility to the animator). It is also photographic foot-
age, thereby providing indexical anchorage to the subsequent digital ani-
mation, and again evoking the many hands of the artists that delivered
the requisite reality effect for audiences seeing animation as “too new”
and as “too fully formed” a technology. Furthermore, the intertitles
explicating the craft of production in A Computer Animated Hand are

equivalent to the lightning artist who “often provided oral description

of the drawings progress through humorous ‘patter’” (Torre 2015, 143)
as part of the routine’s exhibitionist vaudeville style. This entertaining
“patter” (as a verbal accompaniment to the mark-making of drawing)
was intended to connect the transformative with the performative, nar-
rating the life-cycle of a drawing suddenly caught between multiple states
of being. When the lightning sketch transferred to film, the performance
was stripped of this spoken commentary, and so regular gestures by the
artist to the audience give the impression of intimacy and liveness. From
Blackton standing by his easel and turning to acknowledge the watching
crowd in Lightning Sketches to Booth’s smart dress (akin to a stage magi-
cian) as he presents his drawings in Comedy Cartoons (1907), the artists’
quick glances and performative gestures created the exchange of show
and tell that largely substituted for the narrative monologue that they
would otherwise have given on stage while completing their drawings.
Managing the metamorphosing image within this popular stage act,
the verbal patter central to these live routines finds an equivalent in A
Computer Animated Hand as a place where “craft” and “narration” also
meet, providing “oral description” through the presence of onscreen
text. Dan Torre argues that within the culture of “quick change” that
framed the particular economy of the evolution sketch, the “actual draw-
ing process” was combined with “the overlays of fictional narrative and,
as a climax, by a dramatic metamorphic twist” (2015, 143). The align-
ment of process and fiction as fundamental to the lightning sketch cartoon
also accurately describes the way in which the fragmented structure of A
Computer Animated Hand presents the digital as a visual novelty, juggling
written text, living subjects and computer animation. Supported by its
own reinvention of the “hand of the artist” motif and, perhaps, presenting
the fullest realisation of “self-figuration” within an animated context, A
Computer Animated Hand becomes a performance of image-making, of
computer animation, in much the same way as the chalk talk-influenced
shorts at the turn of the twentieth century delighted in similar forms of
trickery. As part of its own impressive routine, the intertitles present the
information; the live-action footage (as the indexical element that spec-
tators “grasp almost intuitively from the start” [Bukatman 2012, 109])
provides the mechanisms of production; and the dazzling computer ani-
mation functions as the outcome of these processes. Bracketing the action,
and just as it had done over 70 years previously, it is left to an image of the
artist’s hand to intrude into the frame to complete the illusion.

A Computer Animated Hand culminates an understanding of the expres-
sive power of hands, and their ability to articulate energy, tension, vital-
ity and power, as central to the history of representational arts. Beyond
any singular anthropological significance, the human hand has ultimately
“played a part in the creative life of every known society, and it has come
to be symbolic or representative of the whole person in art, in drama,
and in the dance” (Alpenfels 1955, 4). Images of human hands mark
the historical narrative of parietal art, where handprints were impressed
into clay and stencilled (using coloured pigment) onto rocks as part of
Palaeolithic-era cave decoration. From the “self-figuration” of the 7300
BC Cueva de las Manos (Cave of Hands) in Santa Cruz, Argentina to
Leonardo da Vinci’s anatomical sketches and Renaissance-era Study of
Hands (1474) and work by artists as diverse as Albrecht Dürer (Praying
Hands [1508]) and M.C. Escher (his lithograph Drawing Hands
[1948]), human hands have remained at the centre of visual art history.
The increasing convergence of art and science throughout the twentieth
century found further new homes for such artistic representations of the
hand. Since its first issue in July 1976, The Journal of Hand Surgery has
published articles on artists Henry Moore (Robins and Robins 1987),
Barbara Hepworth (Robins and Robins 1988; Afshar and Afshar 2014),
Auguste Rodin (Chang et al. 2014) and Pablo Picasso as a way of bet-
ter comprehending the physicality of hands as a “medium of expression”
(Robins and Robins 1990, 131). Later scientific studies into Rheumatoid
arthritis also focused on the hands depicted in paintings of the Flemish
school (Dequeker 1977), and even the work of Sandro Botticelli
(Dequeker 1984).
Part-scientific experiment, part-treatise on the kinds of animated
images achievable in early computer graphics, A Computer Animated
Hand emerged through a similar conjunction of art and science, assuming
its place within this lengthy tradition of hand-centric visual arts. Originally
intended as a practical application of computer software—and screened
with images of an artificial CG heart valve and Parke’s original facial
animation—the film gave autonomy to a digitally rendered hand flex-
ing, straining and pointing its fingers as part of its simple choreography.
Yet at the same time as A Computer Animated Hand identified computer
animation as another weapon in cinema’s armoury of magical practices
and trick techniques, its articulation of a human body part in performance

can be understood as fully enshrined in the contradictions that sur-

rounded the arrival of digital technology. In its recourse to the spectacle
of labouring hands, Catmull and Parke’s film worked through the pos-
sible place of craft within the “fascinating potential” and speculations of
animation produced by a computer (Thomas 1984, 25). A Computer
Animated Hand reveals that the break between old and new technologies
is never clean but jagged and residual, allowing the digital to sit alongside
traditional forms of animation as no less steered, shaped, sculpted and ani-
mated by hand. The film shows that despite the absence of any material
base, computer animation still required pre-digital technologies as part of
its production—from crafted plaster moulds to the detail of sketches and
drawing—and finds a place for the handmade in the machine age. This
permits the film to fully frame digital technology through a set of prox-
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Crafted Wonder: The Puppet’s Place Within

Popular Special Effects Reception

Alexander Sergeant

For a short while at least, Hollywood loved puppets. Between the late
1970s and mid-1980s, a spate of fantasy films (Dragonslayer [Matthew
Robbins, 1981], The NeverEnding Story [Wolfgang Petersen, 1984],
Return to Oz [1985]), science-fiction movies (Alien [Ridley Scott,
1979], E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial [Steven Spielberg, 1982], The Thing
[John Carpenter, 1982]) and horror-comedies (Ghostbusters [Ivan
Reitman, 1984], Gremlins [Joe Dante, 1984], Little Shop of Horrors
[1986]) were released as part of the first wave of blockbuster filmmaking,
all of which featured the heavy use of live-action puppet effects. During
this period, production companies working both inside and outside of
the major studio system struggled to adapt to the market flux created
by the surprise successes of Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975) and Star Wars
(George Lucas, 1977). Puppetry techniques ranging from a traditional
handheld approach involving a hidden puppeteer performing off-camera
to a far more technically sophisticated blend of animatronics with human
actors became one of many solutions adopted by the film industry to
produce the kind of effects-based narratives the consumer was perceived

A. Sergeant (*) 
Bournemouth University, Poole, UK
e-mail: asergeant@bournemouth.ac.uk

© The Author(s) 2019 181

C. Ruddell and P. Ward (eds.), The Crafty Animator, Palgrave Animation,

to demand. The popularity of live-action puppetry, although short-lived,

was an important part of the landscape of the early blockbuster, helping
to guide the expectations of both the industry and the audience as to
what to anticipate from this new category of filmmaking, and to alter
attitudes towards both practical (pro-filmic, photographed, live-action)
and visual (cel, stop-motion, CGI) effects onscreen.
These puppet films were not animations, at least not according to
any conventional understanding of the term. Though individual schol-
arly definitions of animation vary in precise detail, almost all insist upon
an element of “frame-by-frame” manipulation to achieve the illusion of
movement onscreen (Wells 1998, 1; Ward 2000). Yet, if the puppet film
is not a form of animation, it is certainly part of the culture that sur-
rounds animation, speaking to—amongst other things—a relationship
that both media share towards notions of craft. In terms of production,
the technical and labour requirements of puppet effects necessitate a
development process that shares as much in common with that of the
traditional animated feature as it does with live-action. Decentralising
the photography stage of production in favour of extended pre- and
post-production processes, puppet effects contributed to a broader cul-
tural shift within the Hollywood film industry towards what Bob Rehak
has described as the constant “previz mindset” of contemporary CGI
filmmaking that has fundamentally altered attitudes towards author-
ship, creativity and labour practice (2018, 105). In terms of audience
reception, puppet cinema sits alongside other technologies includ-
ing traditional cel and CGI animation, received as part of what Philip
Kelly Denslow describes as a screen culture centred on the appreciation
of “created performance[s]” (2011). The puppet achieves an illusion of
movement onscreen that gestures not only towards animation, but also
towards theories of posthuman performance and perceptual realism pro-
posed elsewhere within academic studies of digital media (Bode 2010;
Prince 1996). Although puppetry is not animation, its neighbourly or
adjunct status suggests that studies of live-action puppetry can contribute
a great deal to the study of animation’s relationship to craft. Both the
puppet film and animation stand out amongst other cinematic effects as
being situated within a register that privileges attention to the labour,
creativity and skill required to achieve their respective illusions of move-
ment onscreen. At the same time, a cross-comparison of the two medi-
ums can shed light on the distinct characteristics of their relationship
across and between two otherwise separate fields of academic research.

This chapter argues for just such a productive comparison within the
reception of Hollywood’s 1980s puppet blockbusters. It offers up an
analysis of this cycle of filmmaking in order to shed light on the spec-
ificity of puppetry as a special effect, understanding the uniqueness of
live-action puppet cinema in relation to the wider culture of popular
effects reception. At the same time, it contends that the puppet’s role
within the reception of the early blockbuster gestures towards a shift-
ing relationship between animation and craft being played out within
popular culture during this crucial phase of Hollywood production. As
Michele Pierson has argued, the emergence of CGI technology initiated
a shift in the culture of popular effects reception which she defines as a
restaging or return to wonder (2002). The audience’s appreciation of spe-
cial effects became focused on the labour activities of a select group of
technological pioneers, celebrating the efforts of visual artists to develop
new computer systems that could render innovative graphics onscreen.
This stood in contrast with the way special effects had been discussed
within popular culture during the mid-twentieth century. In line with
Sennett’s definition of craft as an appreciative register that places value
on “the process of making concrete things”, popular discussions of spe-
cial effects within the mid-twentieth century had been predominantly
focused on the efforts of a diverse team of costume and set designers,
model makers and matte painters, to name but a few of the varied skillsets
required to produce Hollywood’s arsenal of physical effects (2008, 8).
The initial phase of the blockbuster, then, saw practical and newly devel-
oped animated effects compete for recognition and status from both the
industry and its audiences. This struggle manifested through two compet-
ing discourses of labour practice: one based on a vision of effects as the
end product of the new expressive capabilities of technology; the other
focused on the creative and technical power of individual human agency
or, as Sennett describes, the relationship between “hand and head”
embodied within the valorised figure of the craftsperson (2008, 10).
In occupying a liminal status between animation and live-action,
Hollywood’s puppet films became sites of contention which could both
embody and contest these shifting power dynamics in the audience’s
appreciation of the craft involved in effects filmmaking. Puppet cinema
gestured towards traditional practical effects given its reliance on tech-
nologies such as prosthetics and makeup, whilst at the same aligning
itself with the cinema that would soon replace it through its capacity to
remove the overt traces of human agency onscreen in favour of a display

of technological sophistication. Utilising the early film work of The Jim

Henson Company as a case study, I will examine the way in which this
industry leader in puppet effects was received amongst popular media
sources during the initial shift from their early work on television to
the production of their first and only all-puppet feature film, The Dark
Crystal (Jim Henson and Frank Oz, 1982). As I shall outline, instead
of courting an appreciation of the craft behind effects based on the pure
wonder of technological spectacle related to animated visual effects, pup-
pet cinema offered a liminal experience I call crafted wonder. This expe-
rience of crafted wonder combines elements of traditional live-action
effects reception with that of the new culture of technological wonder.
Focusing on the physical craft of construction provides an alternative
position within discussions of special effects in which audiences’ atten-
tions were often directed towards the new technologies available through
computer animation. I suggest that the puppet film therefore functions
as an important transitional stage in the shift from practical to visual
effects within the Hollywood industry during the blockbuster era.

The Early Reception of The Jim Henson Company

In its dual capacity as a production company and effects unit, The Jim
Henson Company played a key role in popularising and legitimising the
craft of live-action puppetry during the first wave of blockbuster film-
making. Operating in both the US and UK, the company became known
within the industry and amongst mainstream audiences as a leading
innovator of puppet effects, a reputation earned largely through the pop-
ularity of their television shows Sesame Street (1969–) and The Muppet
Show (1976–1981). As a result of this popularity, The Jim Henson
Company were provided with multiple opportunities to produce their
own feature films, work as a hired effects unit on other productions,
and act in a consultancy role on a number of high-profile blockbusters.
Prior to the adoption of CGI technology as an industry standard, block-
busters briefly became testing grounds for a range of technical solutions
within the field of both practical and visual effects (Whitlock 2015, 6).
Live-action puppetry became one such solution adopted by studios, and
The Jim Henson Company spent the first half of the 1980s working to
demonstrate both the technical and commercial viability of their method
of production. These efforts would culminate with the release of the
company’s self-produced fantasy adventure, The Dark Crystal.

The first mass-market live-action feature film to replace all human

actors with puppets, The Dark Crystal acted as an important showcase
for The Jim Henson Company’s array of effects work, pioneering a
number of innovative techniques in the fields of traditional puppet per-
formance, prosthetics, set design, costuming, and camera effects. Such
pioneering efforts were foregrounded within the film’s creative choices,
telling a high fantasy adventure set in an alternative world popularised
by a menagerie of fantasy characters. The release of The Dark Crystal
therefore represents not only a climactic moment in the history of the
puppet onscreen, but also in the popular reception of this technology.
Aside from sheer creative ambition, the film was also an attempt to inter-
ject a new narrative into the culture of special effects reception. The Dark
Crystal gave puppetry newfound prominence as an effects craft.
Within the competitive effects environment of the early to mid-
1980s, The Jim Henson Company’s previous association with televi-
sion efforts like The Muppet Show both helped and hindered attempts to
establish itself within the fabric of the Hollywood film industry. Airing
on 156 local outlets within the US and 108 countries worldwide, and
making both Henson and his puppets household names in the process,
The Muppet Show provided the necessary industry standing and cultural
visibility for the company’s move into feature filmmaking. Its vast popu-
larity allowed them to build a lucrative Muppet franchise, expanding into
feature films such as The Muppet Movie (James Frawley, 1979), The Great
Muppet Caper (Jim Henson, 1981) and The Muppets Take Manhattan
(Frank Oz, 1984) as well as the cel-animated television show The Muppet
Babies (CBS, 1984–1991). Yet, the company’s close association with The
Muppet Show also impacted negatively on its attempt to work as a hired
effects unit on other productions. Reviews of the company’s work on
The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner, 1980) are indicative of the kind
of reception their early forays into special effects received. The film was
the first high-profile effort The Jim Henson Company had been commis-
sioned to work on outside their self-produced works, with the character
of Yoda being developed through a lengthy consultancy process between
LucasFilm and The Jim Henson Company and with Frank Oz eventu-
ally agreeing to perform the role. Yet, despite the acclaim the character
received, Yoda was nevertheless described somewhat dismissively within
a number of media outlets as a more “sophisticated” version of Kermit
the Frog and as an “astral muppet”, as reviewers noted the element of
distraction that occurred when watching the film and hearing elements

of Miss Piggy in the vocal performance (Delson 1980; Wyatt 1980).

The Jim Henson Company therefore initially struggled in establishing an
identity for itself outside of The Muppets. Their popular television char-
acters either served to eclipse the work being done behind the scenes to
create the puppets, or else directed audiences’ attentions to the live act
of performance instead of focusing on the craft behind the puppets’ con-
struction. This prevented company from being considered as a potential
rival to the other mid-scale companies operating within Hollywood at
the time, particularly in comparison with the way audiences had received
the pioneering effects work happening elsewhere within the realm of dig-
ital animation.
Like The Jim Henson Company, the effects work of George Lucas’s
Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) had been showcased initially through
its involvement on a particular franchise, namely Star Wars. However,
unlike The Jim Henson Company, ILM had very quickly managed
to break free of these initial associations with a particular fictional uni-
verse to become an industry player whose work could be incorporated
into a variety of science-fiction, fantasy and action films. This transition
was assisted by the rise of a popular form of special effects reception
fostered within popular fanzines such as Cinefantastique, Photon and
Cinefex. Within such publications, the vision of the labour activities of
Hollywood’s effects artists matched closely with what Mark Banks argues
has come to typify discussions of the contemporary creative industries
in the post-digital age (2010). Instead of presenting the visual effects
engineers as craft labourers building a digital object with their hands,
the focus instead remains on the “computerisation” of the workplace,
celebrating the power of the technology rather than that of the human
agency using it (2010, 308). This would increasingly become a feature of
these behind the scenes publications throughout the ensuing decade, as
the focus in early editions towards a range of different effects technolo-
gies shifted to predominantly discuss visual effects.
In this early period of the blockbuster, The Jim Henson Company
rarely featured in such influential fanzines. Their coverage was lim-
ited to the occasional cursory review of their latest production but
they were never featured as pioneering effects artists to rival a com-
pany like ILM (Jensen 1979). Instead, discussions of the making of The
Muppet Movie can primarily be located in trade press such as American
Cinematographer (a special edition of which was dedicated to the film in
July 1979), as well as in publications like Variety and The New York Times

(Anon 1978; Brown 1978). Within these behind the scenes discussions,
almost no space was devoted to the technological achievement in design-
ing or sculpting the puppets, or indeed the various prosthetic and anima-
tronic techniques utilised within the film. Instead, the focus was almost
exclusively taken up by company’s innovative decision to shoot the pup-
pets on location, something which required a range of new shooting
techniques to perform the puppets outside the controlled studio envi-
ronment. Whilst the work of ILM was largely discussed in relation to its
impact on the pre- and post-production stages of filmmaking, The Jim
Henson Company were received primarily as performers.
The documentary Of Muppets and Men, a behind the scenes look
at The Muppet Show commissioned by PBS and aired on syndication in
1981, is indicative of the contrasting ways in which the puppetry tech-
niques were considered by audiences in comparison with the work in
visual effects pioneered by a company like ILM. Providing the docu-
mentary’s production team with access to all aspects of production of
the show, The Jim Henson Company clearly made an effort to counter
the view of their work purely as a kind of live performance. Beginning
with an extended clip of an opening song from the show itself, the doc-
umentary proceeds to interject a series of shots of a team of performers
operating the puppets beneath the stage. Interviews with the puppeteers
frequently emphasise both the physical exertion of performing as their
characters and the levels of manipulation and construction at work to
make the characters seem real. The documentary makes an effort to draw
the audience’s attention to the sheer time and effort required to present
the puppet characters onscreen, highlighting an element of craft behind
the performance. Yet, at the same time, the documentary still largely
focuses on the puppet as a performance rather than as an effect. The
extensive pre-production process required to construct both the puppets
themselves and the stages on which they performed within the compa-
ny’s workshop is largely ignored, and it is instead the efforts of the pup-
peteers rather than the craftspeople working in the Henson workshop
that are valorised throughout the documentary footage. Publicity efforts
further cemented this discourse, with the muppets often giving live tele-
vision interviews alongside their puppet performers on shows such CBS
This Morning or The Tonight Show (Kermit even guest hosted the show
in April 1979). The Jim Henson Company was celebrated as a team of
innovative performance artists. Yet, they were not considered as effects

The contrasting reception of The Jim Henson Company and compa-

nies like ILM reflects two diverging ways of appreciating the craft of film
and television effects at the time. Popular histories of special effects pro-
duced prior to the emergence of the blockbuster place an emphasis on a
variety of physical (miniatures, sets, costuming, props, stunt work) and
visual effects (rear projection, matte paintings, camera splicing), with ani-
mation playing often a secondary or peripheral role within such discus-
sions (Brosnan 1974; Brandt 1980; O’Connor and Hall 1980; Culhane
1981). The appreciation for effects work was focused on a vision of craft,
highlighting the ability of teams of workers to build illusions physically
on set. However, as the 1980s progressed, a new way of appreciating
effects emerged. The audience’s attention was directed away from an
appreciation of the craft of physical construction to that of technological
innovation. This, in turn, saw a shift in emphasis from a discussion of
live-action to animated effects, as companies working within the field of
stop-motion and early CGI were prioritised within a new special effects
culture, one that was centred on the activities and interests of a youthful
generation of new media users vested in the world of early video games
and computers.
If The Jim Henson Company had been taking their first steps into
Hollywood filmmaking just a decade prior to their initial effects work
in the early 1980s, one can envision a scenario where their pioneer-
ing work in puppet design and construction might have taken cen-
tre stage in popular discussions of special effects. However, their initial
work in cinema needed to respond to a cultural paradigm shift that
had taken place as a result of the dual emergence of both the block-
buster and companies like ILM. As an object of wonder, animation had
been partially restored to a role it occupied during early cinema, allow-
ing audiences opportunities to engage in a self-conscious appreciation
of the new experiential potential offered by technological innovation
(Williamson 2015). This created something of a dilemma for The Jim
Henson Company. In order to be appreciated as effects artists, the com-
pany would somehow have to produce media capable of providing the
same kind of self-conscious technological display witnessed within the
popular reception of animated visual effects. Yet, to do this, it would
have to significantly alter how the public viewed the puppet as a spe-
cial effect. Histories of the live performance art of puppetry stress the
links between the puppet and folk art, highlighting the puppet’s role as
a form of expression with the traditions of carnivalesque and its ties with

occult and mystic practice (Nelson 2003; Gross 2011). This vision of
puppetry that focuses primarily on the transformative potential of the
act of performance, rather than drawing attention to the technical inno-
vations involved in the construction of the puppet, acted as a barrier for
company to be received as an effects craft. A concentrated effort would
be needed to refocus the public’s attention away from the aspects of
puppetry that seemed to align it to an increasingly outdated concept of
special effects, and towards aspects of puppetry that were more closely
aligned with technological innovation. How it would eventually achieve
this would speak not only to the relationship between live-action and
animated effects within the popular reception of the early blockbuster,
but the unique role that craft played in the public’s eventual apprecia-
tion of the puppet as a special effect.

Crafting The Dark Crystal

In an attempt to alter the perception of the puppet as inferior to
other kinds of effects within early 1980s Hollywood, The Jim Henson
Company would seemingly take inspiration from an individual to whom
Henson was often favourably compared, namely that of Walt Disney.
The Disney studio’s release of their first fully animated feature Snow
White and the Seven Dwarfs (David Hand et al., 1937) quickly estab-
lished a reputation for the company as a technological pioneer within
the Hollywood film industry, earning a special technical Academy Award
at the 1939 ceremony. Snow White cemented Disney’s growing reputa-
tion as a leading creative and technical pioneer of animation, acting as
a showcase for what has been described subsequently by scholars as the
studio’s “hyperrealist” or “formalist” animation style (Wells 1998, 25;
Pallant 2013, 35). Requiring an elaborate and expensive production
process, Disney’s animation style highlighted a relationship between
animation and technology that remains persistent in the contemporary
appreciation of both the CGI animated feature and CGI visual effects
within popular culture more generally (Telotte 2008). Numerous ani-
mation textbooks place great emphasis on the need for students to con-
centrate their efforts on achieving a form of animation that gives the
impression of life through an intensive labour process on the part of
the artist, as well as achieving the necessary precision offered through
the latest in technological innovation to achieve “life-like” movements
onscreen (Hooks 2005; Giesen and Khan 2018). This widespread

cultural association between animation and technology would also play

a key role within the emerging appreciation for animated visual effects
within popular culture during the initial wave of the blockbuster.
It would be fair to describe The Dark Crystal as The Jim Henson
Company’s Snow White. The film represents a comparable technical and
commercial leap forward for the art of puppetry onscreen as Disney’s
feature debut provided for cel animation. Aside from a few seconds
of footage, the film’s characters are rendered entirely through a blend
of traditional puppetry performance and animatronics, an effort that
required a number of technical innovations in the field of prosthet-
ics and set design in order for the vision of an all-puppet feature film
to be achieved. Yet, aside from its place within the development of pup-
pet effects, The Dark Crystal also has a comparable role to play in the
popularising of puppetry through its self-conscious display of techno-
logical craft. Like Snow White, The Dark Crystal instilled in the public
an appreciation for the sheer labour and skill involved in the film’s pro-
duction. In her consideration of contemporary motion-capture technol-
ogies, Mihaela Mihailova demonstrates a series of hierarchies of labour
practice in contemporary discussions of the role of CGI animation
(2016, 40–58). Labour activities associated with acting are given pri-
macy over labour activities associated with animation or, more broadly,
technology. This is due to a tendency within popular culture to assign
human agency to screen effects over more mechanical or industrial solu-
tions. Milhailova therefore contends that it is only when the presence
of an actor is removed entirely, or when digital animation is applied to
non-human subjects, that effects techniques tend to be valued. The Dark
Crystal performed just such an act of removal, stripping away the pres-
ence of its human performers so as to focus the audience’s attention on
the constructed nature of the film. In the words of Christopher Finch in
the book The Making of the Dark Crystal, “this was to be a film of ulti-
mate paradox – something never attempted before – a live-action feature
film in which not a single human being would be seen” (1983, 30). The
Jim Henson Company produced a film that would continually showcase
the fact that these puppets were built, constructed and, eventually, per-
formed by a skilled group of engineers in a manner comparable to the
technical sophistication of animated effects being pioneered in works
such as TRON (Steven Lisberger, 1982) and Star Trek II: The Wrath of
Khan (1982). This allowed The Dark Crystal to function as something

comparable to an animated feature in the public’s perception of the film,

a feature that helped highlight the craft of its special effects.
The Dark Crystal managed to initiate this shift in public perception
due to a number of successful commercial decisions made in the film’s
pre-production stage. Henson originally conceived of the project some-
time in the mid-1970s, the idea first emerging out of a series of visual
influences drawn from his time developing puppet-based sketches for
Saturday Night Live. However, beyond the essential premise to develop
a fantasy film in which the entire world would be constructed through
puppets, The Dark Crystal did not take shape until after the success of
The Muppet Show and The Muppet Movie. Afforded a lengthy period of
development, The Jim Henson Company hired a creative team including
fantasy artists and illustrators Leonard Lubin and Brian Froud (the lat-
ter of whom was hired as the film’s main conceptual artist), scriptwriter
David Odell (who had previously worked on The Great Muppet Caper)
and co-producer Gary Kurtz, who had worked with The Jim Henson
Company on The Empire Strikes Back. Kurtz in particular brought his
experience of working in Hollywood’s new promotional climate to the
production, and set about marketing The Dark Crystal in an entirely
different way to company’s previous productions, shifting the pub-
lic’s attention away from the aspects of puppetry that align it to tradi-
tional filmmaking techniques, and towards a vision of The Jim Henson
Company as technical innovators.
This shift in promotional focus is evidenced in numerous press out-
lets from the time of the film’s release. Interviews given to promote The
Dark Crystal reveal a resistance on behalf of the creative and publicity
team to have the film discussed purely in terms of the puppet perfor-
mance; the words puppet and muppet were all but banned from being
used in interviews as a way of directing attention towards the film’s
extensive pre-production process. Well-known performers such as
Henson and Oz were limited in their involvement in interviews and
features, providing only a few press statements that circulated across
numerous articles. Instead, most interviews were conducted with indi-
viduals selected to show off the range of skilled labour required in the
film’s production, including figures like sculptor and creature designer
Lyle Conway and production designer Harry Lange (Samuelson 1982;
Harmetz 1982, 64). Throughout the publicity on the film, efforts were
continually made to shift the audience’s attention towards the numer-
ous technical solutions pioneered by the film’s set designers, character

engineers and prop makers. Ultimately, such efforts were successful in

triggering a shift in the way puppetry effects were discussed within pop-
ular press outlets at the time. Whilst the film itself would go onto receive
mixed reviews amongst newspaper and magazine critics, the technical
achievement of the film’s production team was highlighted for praise
amongst reviewers, quickly becoming the film’s unique selling point.
The efforts made to construct a narrative surrounding the function of
the puppet as an effect were epitomised in the behind the scenes docu-
mentary, The World of the Dark Crystal. Like its predecessor Of Muppets
and Men, the hour-long documentary on the making of The Dark
Crystal was produced in partnership with The Jim Henson Company
and originally aired on PBS (it has subsequently been included in most
DVD releases of the film). The construction of the documentary itself
reveals a shift in marketing focus when compared to the previous mup-
pet documentary, downplaying the elements of performance involved in
the production in favour of focusing on the technical sophistication of
the film’s lengthy development process. Quite strikingly, The World of the
Dark Crystal begins by directly reversing the technique utilised in the
beginning of Of Muppets and Men. Using footage of the feature film’s
production, the film cuts from the raw, unfiltered image of performers
to the onscreen illusion of characters battling, reversing the shift from
broadcast to onset footage utilised in Of Muppets and Men. Instead of
celebrating the performance behind the images, the film instead show-
cases the level of construction to create the image in the first place, some-
thing it then emphasises throughout. The documentary’s running time
is taken up with prolonged discussions of the process of creature design,
storyboarding and set design. Conceptual designer Brian Froud is fea-
tured extensively, whilst Henson and Oz appear in numerous interviews
explaining the meticulous pre-production process of the film, in which
an entire ecosystem for this fictional universe was designed and created in
their workshops prior to the production stage. Artists are featured paint-
ing the matte paintings, model makers are shown building, and sculptors
are seen creating the sets within Elstree studios; all of this contributes to
a self-conscious display of technical achievement.
In this way, para-texts such as The World of the Dark Crystal—along-
side other promotional efforts undertaken by the company at the time—
fostered the public’s appreciation for the puppet as a form of special
effect by highlighting the technical sophistication of the film’s produc-
tion process. From start to finish, the film was portrayed as a production

that seemed to straddle popular conceptions of both practical and visual

effects, creating a feature that, in the words of Stephen Hunter writ-
ing in The Baltimore Sun, felt as though it were “not quite live-action,
certainly not animated” (1982, 17). The similarity between the kind of
effects utilised in The Dark Crystal and animated effects allowed the film
to be received as part of a broader conversation about special effects in
cinema that was taking place. Cinefantastique devoted a special edition
to The Dark Crystal in March 1982, highlighting the company’s work
as effects artists, featuring an extended interview with designer Conway
entitled “Confessions of a Creature Craftsmen”, and articles on the pre-
production process. Perhaps most notably, discussions of the film’s
effects across various media outlets compared The Dark Crystal not
just with Henson’s other features but to the pioneering visual effects
displayed in productions like Fantasia (James Algar, 1940), Star Wars
and Clash of the Titans (Desmond Davies, 1982) (Matthews 1982; Mills
1982). By merging the emphasis on technological sophistication and
innovation within the contemporary appreciation of visual effects with a
focus on physical construction present in discussions of practical effects,
The Dark Crystal was advertised as a work that was not simply filmed,
but created; not simply photographed, but built.
The unique physicality and labour processes involved in the produc-
tion of The Dark Crystal gave it a unique identity that separated it from
other productions at the time. Behind the scenes discussions of ani-
mated visual effects within productions like TRON typically provided
audiences with exclusive views of storyboards, primary sketches and
post-production footage featuring early incorporations of live-action with
CGI imagery (Bonifer 2010, 51). Discussions of The Dark Crystal, by
contrast, would combine drawings of concept art with photographs of
a team of manufacturers physically building sets and sewing costumes.
Also evident is the inherently pro-filmic nature of production made clear
through numerous stills capturing the incorporation of puppet effects on
set during production.
The numerous comparisons between The Dark Crystal’s puppet
effects and animated works did not mean that the reception the film
received amounted to a merge equation of the art of puppetry with that
of animation within the public’s appreciation of the film. Instead, the
technological innovations and costly development process required to
design and build the different puppet characters became the focus in a
number of newspaper and magazine discussions of the film up to and

during its release (Kleiner 1983, 15). Producer Kurtz pointed out in
interviews at the time (in a rather tongue-in-cheek manner) that it would
have been far cheaper to hire Robert Redford to perform the role of Jen
than it was to build him (Harmetz 1982, 64). Equal focus was also given
to the lengthy production and post-production process, the film requir-
ing 22 weeks of filming and an additional year to edit and complete the
various effects shots (Rosenthal 1983). This combination of technical
innovation and lengthy physical labour became key to the audience’s
appreciation of the film, blending aspects of the reception of animation
and live-action effects together through an appreciation of craft.
In his book on Hollywood production culture, John Caldwell
argues for a need to understand films as a creative expression of the
diverse communities that created them (2008, 2). The reluctance
audiences might have in viewing films as a product of collective effort
and exchange is partially a by-product of the persistent perception of
Hollywood as an industry based on an adherence to the principles of
Fordist production. This association with capitalist industry has been
present since Hollywood’s inception. Yet, the public’s association of
Hollywood with capitalist industry became particularly heightened
during the early period of the blockbuster as attention gravitated away
from the auteur-driven films of early 1970s New Hollywood towards an
influx of expensively produced blockbusters that took advantage of the
latest developments in computer animation technology. The virtue of
The Dark Crystal highlighted by the film’s promoters was that the film’s
effects seemed to be divorced from this new world of computers, relying
as they did on traditional craft-based building activities. Yet, at the same
time, the film was not simply a throwback to previous filmmaking tech-
niques either. By rendering the entire narrative through puppetry, The
Dark Crystal represented a clear technical achievement made possible
only through a production process similar to those utilised in the pio-
neering visual effects apparent in other blockbusters at the time. It was
just that the film’s technical achievement came not in the invention of a
new piece of technology, but the skill and labour involved in combining
and evolving previous technologies. The film was not a showcase for a
particular effects art, but a showcase of all effects craft that collectively
worked together to build a sophisticated fictional world onscreen.
This focus on world-building would be key to the distinctive nature
of the appreciation of craft registered in the promotion and recep-
tion of The Dark Crystal. Fantasy film historian David Butler describes

The Dark Crystal as “a remarkable piece of alternative world-building”

(2009, 79). Yet, Butler’s celebration of The Jim Henson Company as
world-builders has dual connotations. World-building refers to an inten-
sive act of creation and imagination, tapping into the foundations of
fantasy as a mode of storytelling emerging out of post-enlightenment
Romanticism (Hume 1984, 90). Yet, world-building also refers to a
labour-intensive and time-consuming process of human ingenuity and
perseverance. A world is as much built as it is imagined. The connota-
tions of world-building are presented in the officially licenced book, The
World of The Dark Crystal. Featuring conceptual art by Brian Froud, the
book provided readers with narrative information about the alternative
world, giving additional detail on various races and cultures, as well as
the geographical and historical depths of the world onscreen (Llewellyn
1982). At the same time, a great deal of emphasis is placed on the atten-
tion to detail in the construction of this story-world, commissioning a
vast team of jewellery makers, wig makers, wood carvers, and bronze and
plastic casters to design the garments, trinkets, ornaments and functional
items used in The Dark Crystal. This was not a world built on a com-
puter. This is a world built by the hands of The Jim Henson Company.
This sense of world-building through craft tapped into a number of
anxieties surrounding the influx of visual effects into blockbuster film-
making at the time The Dark Crystal was released. As previously argued,
animated visual effects were becoming an increasingly prominent part
of the landscape of the blockbuster, and companies like ILM tapped
into an emerging fan discourse based around an appreciation of such
technological innovation. Yet, at the same time as these effects were
being praised by a particularly youthful demographic of filmgoers and
fanzine-subscribers, they were generating a backlash amongst more con-
servative members of the audience. Opinion pieces in local newspapers
often presented a now familiar narrative of an industry falling back on
“technically sophisticated” spectacle or “hardware” at the expense of
devoting their efforts to narrative filmmaking (Culhane 1982; Ryan
1982; Scott 1984). This backlash against visual effects was commented
on in the fanzines of this period. In an article appearing in Cinefex
entitled “Post-Animation Blues”, Paul Mandell discusses the failure of
films like Clash of the Titans to match their box office successes with
critical acclaim from traditional press outlets (1983, 29–49). Although
writing in defence of the animated effects utilised in such productions,
Mandell nevertheless compares Harryhausen’s stop-motion somewhat

enviously to traditional practical effects, suggesting that because cos-

tumes, makeup, and sets have been around for so much longer than
visual effects, they have been allowed to settle into the public conscious-
ness in a way that Harryhausen’s dynamation could not (1983, 30–33).
The “newness” of the technology alienated more conservative audience
members who saw the influx of new animation techniques as a disrup-
tion or intrusion on traditional practical filmmaking techniques. This
conservative backlash against animated effects was prominent during the
early period of blockbuster filmmaking, with visual effects received by
some audience members as part of what Paul Greenhalgh describes as
craft’s counter answer to “machine pessimism” (1997, 105). Practical
effects were valorised as somehow being more natural or organic to
filmmaking practice than what was perceived to be the intrusive nature
of stop-motion and early digital animation. Histories of special effects
produced during the early 1980s cast their eyes back to a nostalgic fan-
tasy of practical effects that never actually existed (animation has been
part of Hollywood’s effects arsenal since cinema’s creation), but was
nevertheless perceived as representative of a more “innocent” time for
filmmaking (Finch 1984, 9–11).
What gave the puppets in The Dark Crystal a unique identity as a
special effect was the film’s ability to reinforce virtues of practical film-
making within a climate in which more conservative audience members
were voicing discontent at the influx of animated effects into fea-
ture production, whilst at the same time foregrounding the technical
sophistication of its production process through its ability to function
as a blockbuster. This was a film that could be discussed within pop-
ular fanzines alongside the works of ILM and others for its ability to
invite a wonder-like appreciation of its technological innovation. At the
same time, The Dark Crystal could be discussed amongst more tradi-
tional press outlets for its self-conscious display of practical filmmaking
craft. This bringing together of the more conservative with the more
youthful aspects of popular effects reception is witnessed not only in
the film’s behind the scenes discussions and reviews, but within syn-
ergistic commercial activities accompanying the film’s release. Whilst
other productions sold merchandise products including toys and
games to a youthful blockbuster audience, The Dark Crystal was pro-
moted through fashion exhibitions of its costumes, and museum exhi-
bitions that displayed the artwork and objects designed for the film.

Such exhibitions toured the Lincoln Centre in New York, The Craft
and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles, the National Film Theatre in
London and the Museum of Natural History in Paris (Wright 2008,
256–274). The Jim Henson Company had put on such exhibitions
beforehand for the promotion of their television work. However, The
Dark Crystal brought a newfound cultural legitimacy within the public
eye. Exhibitions of The Muppet Show characters were often reported in
the media with a characteristic tongue-in-cheek celebration, featuring
telegrams from Miss Piggy thanking the institution for recognising her
beauty. The Dark Crystal’s museum exhibitions received a far more rev-
erent reception. They served to provide a space to both continue to
draw the public’s attention to the craft of the filmmaking on display,
and to feed and reward the public’s developing enthusiasm for pup-
petry as a craft form.
In this way, the display of crafted wonder within The Dark Crystal
helped to foster a particular vision of The Jim Henson Company that
would help it circumnavigate the competing attention surrounding prac-
tical and animated effects in popular culture at the time. Compared to
the other special effects houses of the time, the recurring image of The
Jim Henson Company was as a workshop-like environment dedicated to
the art and craft of making puppets, and depicting their labour practice
as a relaxed affair in comparison with the commercially driven enter-
prises of its contemporaries; the workshop was a place that as you walk
through the door it becomes “obvious [it] isn’t IBM” (Shales 1977,
b1). Described in various news specials and officially sanctioned behind
the scenes publications as a “remarkably anonymous” and “somewhat
ordinary workshop on the upper east side” of New York City, the US
workshop featured as the setting for numerous interviews with Henson,
Oz and other key players within the company, often depicted sitting at a
bench next to the inanimate puppets of their famous creations, including
muppets such as Kermit, Miss Piggy or Rowlf the dog (Bacon 1997, 9).
The persistent image of The Jim Henson Company as puppet crafters
allowed them to distinguish themselves as effects-merchants within a
crowded industry market, as well as to present themselves as makers of
a form of blockbuster filmmaking that seemed to have as much in com-
mon with folk art as it did with the technical sophistication of studio
filmmaking. This identity would be key as the company tried to establish
itself further within the era of the blockbuster.

Given the ultimately apathetic box office performance of The Dark
Crystal and the slow decline of puppetry within studio filmmaking
throughout the 1980s and 1990s, it is perhaps not surprising to see dis-
cussions of live-action puppetry largely omitted within critical accounts
of visual or special effects technology. Given the teleological nature of
many historical surveys, the influx of puppet cinema during the early
1980s can be seen as a momentary aberration before the rise of CGI,
a technology that has now come to dominate not only special effects
practice within the Hollywood film industry, but scholarly considerations
of the potential experiences special effects provoke within spectators
(McClean 2007; Whissel 2014). However, understanding the contem-
porary significance of the digital requires an awareness of the pre-­digital
effects that both precede the influx of CGI, and continue to exist along-
side such technology. Different kinds of special effects enact different
kinds of experiences amongst viewers. Examining what kind of experi-
ence The Dark Crystal offered, and continues to offer, viewers help us
to understand the broader relationship between the filmed puppet and
audience. The filmed puppet walks a strange tightrope between live-
action and animation; it resonates with a range of aesthetic nuances that
are bound up in the cultural understanding of craft as a creative activity.
As Peter Dormer argues, any suggestion that craft-based arts are
made obsolete due to the pervasive use of new media within contem-
porary society presents a vision of digital technology that does not cor-
relate with the “variable or flawed” ways in which it is actually used by
its consumers (1997, 3). An assumption that computer-based technol-
ogies naturally replaces craft ignores the very notion that the neces-
sarily frequent use of digital technology within contemporary culture
might in fact instill a passion for the things that are handmade precisely
because so much of our technology has become digitised. Dormer’s
argument speaks as closely to live-action filmmaking as it does to ani-
mation, problematizing the assumed-to-be natural evolution from prac-
tical to digital effects as presented in most popular histories of cinematic
special effects. Given the growth in appreciation for The Dark Crystal
that has emerged amongst a millennial generation thanks to its availa-
bility through home-viewing technologies, the combined experience of
fantasy and puppetry offered by The Jim Henson Company has found
relevance amongst an increasingly digitised media platform, giving

audiences an opportunity to appreciate practical screen crafts in a world

saturated by the spectacle of pure technology. As reports swell of a pre-
quel series in development with Netflix entitled The Dark Crystal: The
Age of Resistance, it will be interesting to see how a platform synony-
mous with the increasing digitalisation of media distribution will manage
to offer audiences pleasures reminiscent of the early 1980s cult classic.
The success of Stranger Things (Matt and Ross Duffer, 2016–) suggests
a track record for combining enthusiasm for new viewing technologies
amongst a younger millennial generation with a cultural nostalgia for the
1980s. However, it remains to be seen whether this widespread nostalgia
for the 1980s can translate to the same desire for craft present within the
early reception of the blockbuster with which The Dark Crystal originally
resonated. Henson’s company pioneered a mode of special effects, and a
mode of special effects reception, informing our shared cultural under-
standing of the craft of the blockbuster.

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Q&A with Eric Dyer

Caroline Ruddell and Paul Ward

The central aim of this book has been to engage with the concept of craft,
to examine how it is valued and articulated in relation to animation. It
is impossible to do that in a holistic way without understanding how a
practicing artist uses materials, and their views on the practice of crafting
digitally. This closing chapter therefore provides a dialogue between the
editors of this collection and Eric Dyer, an artist, animator, experimen-
tal filmmaker, and educator. Dyer has been described on YouTube as the
“modern master of the zoetrope”: what makes his artworks so relevant
to this collection is that he crafts his work using both material, physical
objects while also using digital technologies. Dyer’s fascination with dig-
itally repurposing the zoetrope—a pre-cinematic device which is promi-
nent in much of his work—is due to the ways in which it creates magical
visual representations that have clear connections to the tactile and phys-
ical world. We cannot think of a clearer encapsulation of the central
themes of this book.

C. Ruddell (*) 
Brunel University London, Uxbridge, Middlesex, UK
e-mail: caroline.ruddell@brunel.ac.uk
P. Ward 
Arts University Bournemouth, Poole, UK
e-mail: pward@aub.ac.uk

© The Author(s) 2019 203

C. Ruddell and P. Ward (eds.), The Crafty Animator, Palgrave Animation,

Editors—Can you say a little about how and why you utilize/
reimagine “older” technologies and protocinematic devices in your
ED—My initial forays into zoetrope-based art and filmmaking began
as a reaction to, or maybe a rebellion against, an over-adhesion to the
screen; working as a freelance animator, compositor, and music video
director, plus working on my own experimental films, had me spend-
ing my days and nights in front of screens for work that would be pre-
sented on a screen. The experience became dehumanizing. I craved
tactility and physical presence. This craving coincided with a visit to
the American Museum of the Moving Image where I was exposed to
Gregory Barsamian’s work, and my acquisition of a digital video cam-
era (in 2003). I realized that the full-frame nature (as opposed to inter-
laced fields) of progressive scans along with a fast shutter could replace
the slits of a zoetrope. This was a thrilling discovery for me, as it meant
I could make films from physically constructed sculptures. And since I
had invented the process, a vast unexplored land of experimental art and
filmmaking stretched before me. My recent work manifests as interactive
animated sculpture rather than films.
Editors—So, your work is a critical reaction to the dominance of
screen-based work and seeks to reconnect people with the tactile,
physical, sensuous, and material experience of visual engagement
with artworks. Can you elaborate on the use of physical and mate-
rial objects in your work?
ED—Early on, the materiality was critical only to my process.
With Copenhagen Cycles (2006), I alternated between riding about
the city shooting video, and printing, cutting, and assembling bicycle-
wheel-sized zoetrope-sculptures back in my studio (Figs. 9.1, 9.2, 9.3,
and 9.4). Spinning and shooting the twenty-five artworks in “real-
time” made for an uncanny hybrid of animated collage and live cam-
era movements, some handheld. The Bellows March (2009) was my
next film (Figs. 9.5, 9.6, 9.7, 9.8, 9.9, and 9.10). Made in the midst of
the US–Iraq war, the film was a contemplation of the war-peace-war/
destroy-create-destroy cycle we seem eternally stuck in; the individual
sequences and the film as a whole are cycles. The projects’ animations
were created in the computer, as were the zoetrope-sculptures composed
of those sequences. 3D printing brought the zoetropes into the real
world where they were painted and textured. Procedurally, I was inter-
ested in mixing digital, handmade, and live processes, creating bridges

Fig. 9.1  Copenhagen Cycles (2006)

between the digital and physical worlds and my access to digital fabrica-
tion tools in 2007 made this possible.
The importance of materiality expanded while exhibiting the zoetrope
sculptures made for these films as behind-the-scenes exposés of their pro-
cesses (at, for example, the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, SIGGRAPH
in 2008, and Sweden’s Avesta Art in 2011). Using liquid-crystal shut-
ter glasses to reveal the animations in four dimensions, viewers gasped
in surprise and wonder, reactions that were present yet less pronounced
during screenings of the film. Such visceral responses encouraged my
transition from screen to real spaces. Moving beyond process alone,
materiality was becoming the art’s final manifestation.
However, materiality is more than physical presence and the things
of construction and fabrication. The work needs to be touched by the
viewer. We have a new, well-funded, and very well attended light art fes-
tival here in Baltimore [Light City: https://www.lightcity.org/]—about
400,000 people attend each year. The festival was an opportunity to

Fig. 9.2  Copenhagen Cycles (2006)

make animated sculpture for the general public to interact with. I made
two large ships-wheel-like zoetropes (Fig. 9.11) sculptures that, inspired
by the recent Panama Canal expansion and Baltimore’s dredging of its
harbours to prepare for the mega Neopanamax ships, combined moving
images from those two places and Shanghai, the busiest container ship
port in the world. The project is titled Shabamanetica (2017), a mashup
of Shanghai, Baltimore, Panama, and kinetics. The public were invited to
grab the walnut handles and spin the seven-foot diameter steel wheels,
which activated a synchronous strobe light, bringing the dense collage of
sequential images on the wheels’ faces to life.
Over the following year, I made fifteen new artworks that were sim-
ilarly interactive and touchable. These came together to make the solo
exhibition at the Ronald Feldman Gallery in New York, entitled Seeking
Motion Hidden. The wall-hung zoetrope-like sculptures explore forgot-
ten histories, a suppressed subculture, ulterior motives, machine empa-
thy, and secret motion hidden in the everyday. It is a crazy mix that was

Fig. 9.3  Copenhagen Cycles (2006)

the result of an explosion of ideas spurred in part by my excitement over

this material animated form that hid its enabling technologies, making
for a simple, tactile, and dynamically visual experience for the “audience”
(Figs. 9.12 and 9.13).
Editors—It’s interesting that you see the best way to explore the
themes seen in your work is through a tactile approach to experi-
encing the artwork and its animatedness, something over which
the “viewer” has ultimate control. This is really a radical move
away from the “passivity” of audiences for screen-based artworks,
towards a clearly designed, built, architectonic notion of animation,
one that foregrounds its crafted status. George Griffin writes of
your (and others’) work:

The concrete aspect of these works, so rooted in the tradition of

Emile Reynaud, Ètienne-Jules Marey, and Eadweard Muybridge,
using both mechanical and digital technology, goes beyond merely

Fig. 9.4  Copenhagen Cycles (2006)

revealing material and process. By building complex environments

and contraptions which are unwieldy, clanky, and not easily port-
able, designed to investigate the essential mechanisms of perception
in motion, these artists are becoming the architects of animation.
Just as pilgrims in an earlier age flocked to magnificent cathedrals
to actively witness a unique experience, we can expect to visit spaces
of controlled intermittent observation, where image and sculpture
spring to life as we physically move from position A to position B,
through, along, over and under animating demimondes of synthetic
time. (2007, 270)

Do you consider yourself an “architect” in the manner Griffin

ED—Motion media had two histories it could have evolved from in
the late 19th-century—photography or optical devices such as the zoe-
trope. Photo-evolution won—the ability to motion-document other
places, people, and times, or fabricate alternate realities, duplicate and

Fig. 9.5  The Bellows March (2009)


Fig. 9.6  The Bellows March (2009)

Fig. 9.7  The Bellows March (2009)


Fig. 9.8  The Bellows March (2009)

transport compact reels of wound-up film, and replay the recordings for
eager masses comfortably seated in large theaters had numerous advan-
tages over a then yet-to-be-realized “unwieldy, clanky, and not easily
portable” evolved zoetrope.
The public’s visceral response to physically present sculptural anima-
tion we witness today was very much present in early cinema audiences—
most of us are familiar with the story of the first moviegoers jumping
from their seats when watching the Lumière Brothersʼ Arrival of a Train
at La Ciotat (1896). But now we have reached the opposite end of the
movie-wonder spectrum. Considering YouTubeʼs boasting of 4 billion
views per day, the ubiquitous pocket-sized screen (a.k.a. smartphone),
and Hollywoodʼs scramble to recapture audiences’ attentions with tricks
like stereoscopy (3D movies), it seems that the screen-based moving
image has become almost dismissively commonplace, with diminished
power to impact viewers viscerally.
This all makes the resurrection of the motion object’s simple inter-
activity (spinning), tactility, and mandala-like totality of imagery (you
can see all the “content” at once) feel very timely. It’s an under-explored

Fig. 9.9  The Bellows March (2009)

Fig. 9.10  The Bellows March (2009)


Fig. 9.11  Shabamanetica (2017)

Fig. 9.12  Seeking Motion Hidden (2018)


Fig. 9.13  Seeking Motion Hidden (2018)

art-form, one that speaks through a unique language of loops and spi-
rals, that only rarely in its 180-year history has transcended novelty. I am
moved to explore its unrealized expressive potential and do feel like one
of the “architects” Griffin describes.
If I’m building a cathedral, it’s still in progress—I’m creating a walk-
through rotating cylindrical sculpture that the public explores with
strobe flashlights like archaeologists exploring a newly discovered cave,
a cave in which all the strange and wonderful artifacts come to animated
life in the torches’ light.
Editors—Spaces and places—and the ways that humans interact
with them—seem vital to your work. Could you tell us about your
use of space in terms of exhibition and how the space is “crafted”?
It would also be interesting to hear how space relates to the audi-
ence, especially in relation to performance and performativity, or
challenges to them. For example, to quote George Griffin again,
he notes in relation to one appropriation of a Gregory Barsamian-
esque approach (the strobe-lit Toy Story sculpture displayed at a
2006 Pixar exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York):
“we stand mesmerized by whirling objects in real space transformed
to a performance in synthetic time” (2007, 269). Clearly, the inter-
relationship between space and time is one that is fundamental to

all human understanding, but animation—particularly what Griffin

refers to as “concrete animation”—appears to have the potential to
make us think radically about space and place and how we navigate
and interact with them.
ED—Moving from filmmaking to physical objects, film’s forced and
rigid temporal nature opens up to the fluid, non-linear spatial nature
of installed animated sculpture. One needs to translate time into space
when moving from cinema to gallery, and it’s both challenging and
thrilling to create the spaces, through position, order, light, and dark,
that the somewhat out-of-control public will navigate.
My first artwork made specifically for spaces was Implant (2015)—
an imaginary medical device that fits around the optic nerve. It’s super-
enlarged, making the viewer feel microscopic (Figs. 9.14 and 9.15). They
explore the cylindrical spinning sculpture with handheld strobe lights,
discovering thousands of colorful, fluffy, and sinister nanobots (cell-sized
robots) performing unknown tasks, and a spiral of organic-synthetic
gears on the tube’s interior. Diagnosed with a degenerative genetic ret-
inal disease at the age of 14, I’ve closely followed developments in gene
therapy, including the insertion of healthy genes into the body using
viruses. With Implant I play with the paradoxical threat and promise of
bleeding-edge, anatomically invasive, potentially rampant, yet borderline

Fig. 9.14  Implant (2015)


Fig. 9.15  Implant (2015)

miraculous medical practices, while also creating a soft and colorful fan-
tasy cure for my incurable eye condition. Ideally, no signage is needed
for the public to figure out how to view the artwork—in the case
of Implant, the flashlight is placed on a plinth three or four feet from
the sculpture. The sculpture itself must be in a dark or dimly lit area,
so a spotlight on the flashlight makes a strong suggestion: “use me.” A
motion sensor activates the motor so when someone nears the sculpture
it begins to spin—one feels like a special event is about to transpire.
Girona Octopi followed in 2016—this was a more immersive installa-
tion that reflected on my earliest memory of being captivated by an ani-
mal in motion (Fig. 9.16). While snorkeling off the coast of Spain at the
age of 14, I reached out to hold on to an underwater rock and nearly
touched a well-camouflaged octopus. It darted away, leaving a cloud of
ink in its wake. The complex, compound motion of its tentacles mixed
with the ink-cloud filled me with wonder and fascination—emotions I
attempt to recreate for the public in the artwork. Viewers walk to the

Fig. 9.16  Girona Octopi (2016)

center of an 18′ × 18′ (about 5.5 × 5.5 meters) synthetic inkjet print

adhered to the floor that’s a radially sequenced composite image of hun-
dreds of swimming octopi, see an overhead view of themselves in the
projection, and activate the animation by turning a small crank (that also
activates a soundtrack of a traditional Spanish melody). The crank box
evokes Eadweard Muybridge’s zoopraxiscope—a device he invented to
project his own studies of animals in motion. I was thrilled to later learn
that Len Lye’s earliest animal-motion-memory also involved an octopus.
Some visitors literally perform when they see themselves in the projec-
tion, some have even writhed around on the image—as if they wish to
become part of it. Upon discovering the crank box, they must experi-
ment to understand how the art works.
Designing spaces and means of interaction and exploration involves
predicting behavior but also surprise—the unexpected actions of the
public are often a welcome counterpoint to the sometimes precise and
calculated processes of making animated art.
Editors—It’s apparent that space is important in the sense of
the exhibition space, where people encounter and engage with your
works. But there’s also a wider meaning of the term, one which
encapsulates place, location, and geography. Can you say more
about the significance of these concepts in your work?

ED—There’s nothing like putting yourself in new and unfamil-

iar environments to reawaken the neurons. Making Copenhagen Cycles
was first proof of this, and what an exceptional way of experiencing and
observing a place. I spent my days riding about the city on my bicycle
shooting video, searching through the footage back in my studio, find-
ing workable loops, digitally laying out and printing the sequences, cut-
ting out the elements, and constructing zoetropes from the cut paper.
Respectively, I physically connected with the city while very closely
observing it, rewatched my recorded observations, analyzed the motion
frame-by-frame, discovered patterns of motion and image, meditatively
followed the sequential forms with scissors for months, and built my own
concentrated, dimensional, and animated perspective of Copenhagen.
Also, these processes embody the Copenhagen lifestyle: both are tactile.
The bicycle-riding, café-going, park-lounging existence has one touch-
ing and breathing in one’s surroundings, just as the footage-collecting,
paper-cutting, and assemblage stages of my process does. This was all
especially significant for me personally, since I come from a society that is
often sealed-off and separated by the automobile.
It was during that Fulbright Fellowship year in Denmark that the
seeds of The Bellows March were planted. My family and I took a train
trip to Italy, stopping in various cities along the way, including Berlin.
Berlin holds on to memories of a dark and recent past—remnants of the
Wall remain, and the bombed cathedral known as The Broken Tooth
stands with a holocaust memorial. Today, Berlin is an inventive, inspired,
artistic, prosperous, “green” city—it exemplifies the human potential for
both murderous destruction and inspired, optimistic creation. Though
The Bellows March contains no images of Berlin, I could only have
imagined the film after what I saw and experienced there.
And for Shabamanetica I journeyed through hyper-urban China, and
hiked through dense jungles to backcountry waterfalls in Panama (Figs.
9.17 and 9.18). Bodily experiencing place seems to best stimulate my
creativity, and those experiences critically balance the very digital pro-
cess of masking out and collaging the sequential video elements. When
I work with the images, the emotions I felt when collecting them return,
making for a far deeper connection than if I’d used stock footage or
sourced them from YouTube.
Editors—Place, physical/sensuous experience, geography—all
of these are things that you obviously feel compelled to explore
through a self-conscious, reiterative crafting of materials in order to

Fig. 9.17  Shabamanetica (2017)


Fig. 9.18  Shabamanetica (2017)

complete your works. As you just noted, however, you also use dig-
ital processes in your work, to recontextualize or repurpose the real
materials—can you explain the value you place on digital technolo-
gies for producing some of your work?
ED—As much as I would like my entire processes to be a physical
adventure, I’m hopelessly augmented by the computer’s proficiencies:
its perfect registration, ability to automate certain procedures, and con-
trol over every pixel. Technology is inseparable from my human cre-
ative self and always has been, starting with the family super-8 camera
and early home computers. I’m excited by the new frontier we’re enter-
ing into where the digital and the material worlds are crisscrossing,
merging, hybridizing. For example, photogrammetry is democratized
3D-scanning—not just of form but color and texture as well: anyone
with a smartphone can turn a real world thing into a digital model. And
3D printing gets the digital into reality.
Editors—In one of your earlier comments, you noted the audi-
ence response to your work in terms of surprise and wonder. Could

you say a little more about the importance of such responses, par-
ticularly in relation to how you position the viewer? A recur-
ring theme discernible in your work can be linked to a tradition
of thinking about film and related media, exemplified by Tom
Gunning’s idea of the “cinema of attractions” and “an aesthetic of
astonishment”. Likewise, the discourses around wonder or novelty
can be usefully linked to the “magical” notion of craft.
ED—The public’s reaction to the work seems related to my deep
need to create it—I believe this is because the developed world has very
recently experienced a dramatic shift. Work, play, and socialising had
formerly involved our bodies in motion, our collected senses, and our
physical presence. Today these activities can be and often are accom-
plished remotely, virtually, and with our nearly static selves, seated and/
or staring at screens. Perhaps we are collectively feeling the loss of phys-
icality and tactility, leaving us with a craving for human connections to
our world. And with fabricated realities so common in traditional media,
witnessing material objects coming to life in a fantastic way reawakens
our sense of wonder. I’ve also been experimenting with live performance,
spinning zoetrope-discs live, like a DJ spins records, with a camera fed
to a projection instead of a needle and amp. The collective experience of
performer and audience is another facet of human connection, another
way to answer the cravings.
Editors—Lots of the academic work in this area suggests that
crafting something is as much about a personal satisfaction for the
maker than it is about creating something for an audience (or an
object to be used in some way). For example Ellen Dissanayake sug-
gests that “art contributes something essential to the human being
who makes or responds to it […] not in the usual sense of being
good for his soul or pleasurable for his mind and spirit (though
these benefits are not denied), but beneficial for his biological fit-
ness” (1988, 8). What are your thoughts on this? How does it feel
when you are immersed in a project? Does this immersion vary
across handmade and digital processes as you use them?
ED—Having started my artistic path as a filmmaker, I was taught
the traditional “pipeline” of treatments, storyboarding, production, etc.
which was all labour to produce the vision of my imagination, only to be
disappointed with the result as the real world’s limitations could never
allow the imagination’s limitlessness. It’s also the case that the bulk of
creative thinking is only needed at the project’s conception, so there is a

certain misery involved while realizing the project, which is mostly hard
labor in service of the plan set forth in preproduction. This status quo
has been a hurdle for the art of animation—it’s a “right way” to make
animated works that’s reinforced regularly by school animation pro-
grams. I need the satisfaction that comes from exploration and discov-
ery, though the misery of that is the numerous dead ends and u-turns
encountered. Exploration into areas where no map exists can be thrilling,
but you must be able to endure spending most of your time going in the
“wrong” direction, and not realizing it is wrong until a lot of time and
effort has been spent. But over time I have learned that an experiment
or idea that seemed like a failure, or useless at first, later revealed itself
as brilliantly useful when collided with new ideas and discoveries, prov-
ing itself critical to that future project. For example, in 2014 I taught a
workshop in Shanghai. In my free time I shot video of interesting kinetic
moments throughout the city. Noticing the prevalent use of umbrellas
and parasols, I asked my students to bring their favourite bumbershoots
to class and perform various motions for the camera. I had no idea what
I would use the footage for and the clips sat in a folder for months. One
day it dawned on me that the umbrella itself could be an optical device,
which led to the development of an umbrella zoetrope prototype.
While beginning the Shabamanetica project months later, I visited the
Baltimore Museum of Industry and learned that Baltimore was once the
umbrella-manufacturing capital of the world, an industry that died when
cheap goods began flooding in from China. These findings added depth
to the project—it became a rumination about industrial heydays: the
first-world’s past trades and China’s young and blossoming industries—
and made footage I’d shot years before in Shanghai essential. On the
face of one of the sculptures, “ghost umbrellas” from Baltimore’s past fly
over a landscape of Panamanian highland waterfalls where my Shanghai
students play with their parasols. Though I began the project with a
desire to connect disparate places together, it was through engaging with
an exploratory, free-association process that led to its most engaging
ideas and visuals, sparking new realizations for the public.
When I work, I set all devices to “do not disturb” and ignore the
phone, consciously creating a creative sanctuary. Since there are so many
competing responsibilities—family, teaching, the business of art—I often
set a timer so I need not think about time. Our sense of time and related
urgencies come from a different part of the brain from creativity and dis-
tract us from it. Computer work, while its mathematical precision and

endless bounty of tools are super-enabling, is devoid of physical satisfac-

tion (even breathing is reduced to a minimum), and serendipity is rare.
Material work engages more muscles and more senses—the sound and
feel of cutting paper, the smell of paint, the multiplicity of thought and
action needed when flying a drone, to name a very few examples. These
differences certainly effect flow and creativity. I do feel like a zombie
after a day at the computer, yet when I’ve tried to work completely in
the material world it’s never gone well—digital processes are an insepara-
ble part of my craft.
Editors—It’s interesting that you home in on the idea of your
past works—or material gathered/filmed in one place, but not used
there and then—bleeding into current and future projects. This
again raises the idea of temporality and particularly history. We’ve
already discussed how your body of work and approach seems abso-
lutely centered on a self-conscious crafting that is focused on and
facilitated by older, pre-cinematic objects and processes.
Vivian Sobchack argues:

[looking for the “presence” of the past in the present] calls forth
a new kind of methodology—and a new kind of historiography.
Empirical and materialistic, emphasising qualitative and often quanti-
tative description, this new methodology emphasises the “thinginess”
of things and entails not interpretive “reading” or cultural “analysis”
but closely looking at and, when possible, touching, operating, and
performing the object of study. Historiography is also transformed—
conceived and written (to use Hayden White’s useful distinction)
not in narrativized acts of interpretation that impose a comprehen-
sive vision on the world but rather in narrated acts of discovery and
description that open up our senses as well as our intellect to the
world—and, particularly, to its constant discontinuities, its always
marvelous “otherness”. (Sobchack 2011, 327)

Likewise, George Griffin’s idea of “concrete animation” is impor-

tant here: he argues it has “a precedence in contemporary art prac-
tice; it has one foot in the distant, pre-cinema past, and one foot on
a path leading to a future of digital and manual animation” (2007,
259). How important is the presence of the past in your work,
beyond the use of protocinematic devices? How do you see your
work engaging with questions of media historiography, or history
more generally?

ED—Moving images are ubiquitous, yet only a tiny fraction of the

public knows the name Eadweard Muybridge. I’m not on a mission to
educate them, but there is a lush history to draw from and connect to
contemporary times and issues. Eadweard’s Menagerie (2017) is one
example. Muybridge revealed the hidden moments of human and ani-
mal locomotion with his hundreds of sequential photographic studies.
While his male subjects hammer anvils, box, and ride horses, several of
his female nudes pour buckets of water over each other, kiss, and fall
onto mattresses, landing with buttocks presented. Muybridge directed
nude women to perform exploitive actions for the camera one hun-
dred and twenty years before the pornographic Girls Gone Wild fran-
chise launched. In Eadweard’s Menagerie, I place a collection of these
sequences into little virtual boxes under the gaze of a giant Muybridge,
who posed nude for a number of his own studies. I digitally smoothed
the subjects’ motion, adding images to the sequences that never before
existed, making them feel as if they were shot in modern times. Shining
a light on this long history of the camera and cameraman’s power to
exploit helps to diminish that power.
A related artwork, Flora, followed in 2018. During walks along west-
ern Colorado irrigation ditch trails this past June, I was transfixed by
common milkweed flowers—their pudgy complex of white and purple
petals together formed a kind of frozen firework burst. I guiltily cut a
flower and found it had half-wilted upon return to my resident-artist
studio just 15 minutes later. Flora Muybridge, Eadweard’s wife, imme-
diately filled my thoughts. Her lover was murdered by Muybridge, the
child of their affair orphaned, and Flora died of what seemed like a bro-
ken heart. She was 24. Cut off from her husband, lover, beloved San
Francisco, and child, she wilted quickly. Flora’s abandonment by the
busy photographer both during marriage (he often was away for months
shooting landscapes) and after (he bitterly fought her attempts to secure
alimony and child support), together with my love and respect for my
mother, sister, wife, and daughter, moved me to create a motion portrait
of Flora, for Flora. Wall hung and hand-spun, the artwork collages pieces
of Flora’s life, poetically interpreted and visualized.
A final example—aware of Muybridge’s western landscape photo-
graphs and his stunning panorama of San Francisco, I sought to create
my own art in the American West. I camped in and hiked through a
desert canyon-land about one-hundred miles east of San Diego, CA. I
searched for kinetic moments in this stillest of places, soon realizing it

was my own changing perspective that created motion. I took sequences

of photos as I moved past and around the formations that were sculpted
by water over millions of years. I collaged the sequences as image-rings
with varying numbers of frames per rotation, giving the artwork an over-
all feeling of perspective change via parallax shifts. Mud Caves #2 is my
own kinetic version of the traditional western landscape panorama.
Social activism, portraiture, landscape photography—nearly every
pocket and niche of art history and practice is void of the zoetrope’s
means of interpretation and presentation. I suppose part of my interest in
history is all the lost time—a 180-year near-absence of zoetropic art—to
make up for. The surface of possibilities has only been scratched.

Dissanayake, Ellen. 1988. What is Art For? Seattle and London: University of
Washington Press.
Griffin, George. 2007. “Concrete Animation.” Animation: An Interdisciplinary
Journal 2 (3): 259–274.
Sobchack, Vivian. 2011. “Afterword: Media Archaeology and Re-presencing the
Past.” In Media Archaeology: Approaches, Application, and Implications, edited
by Erkki Huhtamo and Jussi Parikka, 323–334. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and
London: University of California Press.

A 111, 112, 114, 115, 120, 122,

A Computer Animated Hand, 13, 123, 132, 151, 152, 163, 167
157–161, 163, 164, 167–171, Authenticity effect, 13, 99, 101, 102,
173–178 104, 105, 108, 109, 111, 112,
Adulthood, 130, 142, 152 114, 120–122
The Adventures of Prince Achmed Autobiography, 99, 103–105, 109,
(1926), 81 115, 119, 122
Allographic mark-making, 35, 37 Autographic mark-making, 34, 35, 37
Animate, 6, 11, 13, 18, 33, 35, 36, Automatism, 36, 68
39, 50–55, 61, 67, 84, 91, 99, Avant-garde, 13, 30, 31, 48, 51, 58,
103, 105, 107–109, 111–114, 60–62, 78, 81, 87, 122, 128,
116, 119–121, 128, 134, 140, 135, 141
141, 143, 144, 151, 152, 158,
159, 164, 168, 169, 171, 172,
174, 176–178, 182–184, 188– B
191, 193, 195–197, 204, 206, Balsom, Erika, 30, 32, 58
207, 215, 217, 218, 222 BBC, 132, 134, 136, 137, 150
Art and craft debates, 78 Beams, Mary, 63
Arts and Crafts Movement, 10, 24, 25, Benjamin, Walter, 31, 32, 58, 166
32, 45, 58, 59 Bennett, Gregory, 66
Aura, 31, 32, 166 Birgitta Hosea Erasure, 26, 28
Authenticity, 2, 10, 13, 28, 30, 31, 46, Bishop, Claire, 19, 30, 31, 35
51, 57–59, 99–103, 105–109, Blackton, J.Stuart, 169, 172, 176

© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive 227
license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019
C. Ruddell and P. Ward (eds.), The Crafty Animator, Palgrave Animation,
228  Index

Blair, Preston, 36, 37 D

Block buster, 151, 181–184, 186, Daddy’s Little Bit of Dresden China
188–190, 194, 195 (1988), 99, 109–114, 116, 119,
Bray, John Randolph, 26 121, 122
Breer, Robert, 11, 53, 63 The Dark Crystal, 14, 184, 185,
Deskilling, 61–63, 65
C Diakur, Nikita, 39, 64, 67
Cameraless animation, 50, 60 Digital art, 36
Capitalism, 10, 20, 40, 58, 59, 130, Digital handiwork, 107, 159, 165,
137, 142, 146, 147, 152, 166 167, 168, 170
Carnival, 142 Digital stylus, 163
Carré, Lilli, 64, 66, 67, 69 Digital technology, 12, 107, 161–164,
Catmull, Edwin, 13, 157–161, 163, 168, 178, 198
164, 166–171, 173, 174, 178 Direct animation, 30, 51, 58, 60
CBeebies, 132, 136, 137, 150 Direct animation on film, 18
Charlie and Lola, 13, 129, 131–141, Discursive reserve, 13, 77, 84, 92–94
143, 144, 147, 150–152 Disney, 35, 36, 127, 129, 130, 132,
Cheng, Ian, 57 137, 143, 162, 165, 189, 190
Childhood, 33, 85, 110, 111, 117, Drawing, 4, 8, 10, 11, 18, 28, 35, 46,
123, 127, 129, 130, 137, 138, 47, 50–52, 57, 63, 66, 78, 92,
140, 141, 143, 149, 150, 152 107, 111, 131, 133, 134, 142–
Children’s media, 137, 138, 151, 153 144, 148, 159, 160, 162–164,
Collage animation, 47, 59, 60, 69 168, 169, 171, 173, 174, 176,
The Communist Manifesto, 23, 24 178, 189, 193
Computer animation, 55–57, 64–67, Duesing, James, 39, 64
69, 107, 161, 163–165, 167,
170, 171, 176–178, 184, 194
Computer games, 188 E
Computer Generated Imagery (CGI), Evolution pictures, 174
3, 4, 9, 33, 36, 38–40, 65, Expanded animation, 53
128, 158, 159, 162–164, 167, Experimental animation, 6, 9, 12,
182–184, 188–190, 193, 198 17–19, 33, 40, 45–53, 55, 56,
Computer graphics, 157–165, 168, 58–61, 63, 68
171, 177
Courbet, Gustave, 62
Cowan, Michael, 78–82, 92, 95 F
Craft as critique, 18, 45 Fairy tale, 75, 78, 80, 81, 83, 86, 87,
Craftivism, 17, 20, 40, 45, 48 93–95, 110, 123, 127
Crafton, Donald, 13, 148, 159, 168, Fandom, 147–149, 151
171, 172 Faught, Josh, 62
Cuba, Larry, 57, 69 Feminine aesthetic, 76, 79, 90–94
Index   229

Feminism, 48, 53–55, 80, 91, 92, 94, K

95 Klahr, Lewis, 60, 61
Feminist aesthetic, 10, 79, 90 Klee, Paul, 63
Fischingers, Oskar, 54, 95 Knowlton, Ken, 57
Frayling, Christopher, 24, 32, 36, 38

G Labour, 7, 8, 18, 20–26, 29, 33–35,
Galt, Rosalind, 76, 77, 79, 80, 82, 83, 38, 40, 45, 49–51, 53, 54, 61,
92–95 64, 65, 68, 86, 89, 92, 106, 107,
Glabicki, Paul, 64 119, 130, 146, 160, 163, 164,
Greer, Betty, 20 166–171, 174, 178, 182, 183,
Griffin, George, 11, 52, 53, 214 186, 189–191, 193, 194, 197,
Latham, William, 57
H Lego, 144–151
Handcraft, 2, 3, 5, 99, 107, 108, 113, The Lego Movie, 13, 129, 131,
130, 131 143–152
“Hand of the artist”, 2, 6, 13, 35, LeWitt, Sol, 57
159, 168–172, 176, 178 Lightning cartoon, 172
Hattler, Max, 69 Lockhart, Amy, 50, 63, 69
Hilton, Stuart, 63 Looms, 20–22
Hobbs, Elizabeth, 50 Lowne, James, 64, 66, 67
Hobsbawm, Eric, 32 Luddites, 20, 22
Husbands, Lilly, 9, 12, 18, 39

I Mack, Jodie, 54, 55
Imperfection, 37–39, 65, 68, 150, Magic, 1, 5, 6, 12, 13, 81–83, 86, 87,
151 92, 93, 169, 177, 186, 203
Industrial Revolution, 9, 19–23, 25 Maker Movement, 20
Ink animation, 34 Manet, Éduard, 62
Innocence, 80, 81, 123, 127, 143, Marx, Karl, 24
149 Masculinity, 142, 143, 149
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
(MIT), 159, 161
J Materiality, 26, 30, 31, 39, 40, 46, 47,
The Jim Henson Company, 14, 49, 51, 54–56, 58, 68, 108, 167,
184–192, 195, 197, 198 169, 204, 205
John Lewis Christmas advertising, 33 McCay, Winsor, 169, 171, 172
230  Index

McCormack, Jon, 57 Puppetry, 14, 135, 181–185, 187–

Merchandise, 128, 137, 145, 146, 194, 197, 198
150, 196
Mercier, Timothy, 99, 110–120, 123
metamorphosis, 118, 174 R
Millard, Peter, 63 Reiniger, Lotte, 13, 75–95, 135, 140,
Mills, Jon, 50, 193 143
Model Childhood (2017), 99, 109–113, Reskilling, 61, 62, 68
115, 116, 119, 120, 122 Reynolds, Matt, 63
Modernism, 46, 51, 61, 94, 164, 171 Ruskin, John, 8, 9, 23, 24, 26, 37–39,
Modernity, 80, 129–131, 135, 139, 58, 65
140, 146, 160, 171, 172 Ruttmann, Walter, 89, 95
Montage, 81, 137, 151
Morris, William, 7–10, 23–26, 49, 58
Moving image in the art gallery, 32 S
The Muppet Show, 184, 185, 187, 191, Schultz, Elliot, 50
197 Schwartz, Lillian, 57
Musicals, 130, 143, 172 self-figuration, 168, 171, 176, 177
Shanghai Film Studios, 34
Shapiro, Miriam, 55, 172
N Silhouette films, 13, 78–81, 85, 86,
Nake, Frieder, 36 88, 92
‘The Nature of Gothic’, 23, 24 Sims, Karl, 57
Nicolson, Annabel, 53 Sketchpad, 159, 161–163
Nostalgia, 13, 18, 26, 32–34, 40, 127, Skill, 6, 7, 10, 18–20, 22–26, 33, 38,
129, 131, 136, 152, 199 40, 45, 46, 48–50, 52, 53, 61–
64, 68, 77–79, 83, 85, 87, 88,
90, 93, 121, 150, 162, 164–166,
O 171, 182, 190, 194
Ontology, 55, 91, 169, 170 Sloppy craft, 13, 46, 61–64, 66, 68
O’Reilly, David, 55, 64, 66, 67, 69 Social critique, 35, 46, 63
Ornamental, 55, 69, 78–82, 85, 92 Sorensen, Vibeke, 64
South Park, 13, 129, 131, 137–144,
147, 149–152
P Special effects, 59, 89, 181, 183–186,
Palfreyman, Rachel, 75, 77, 87, 93 188, 189, 191–193, 196–199
Performance, 14, 28, 31, 35, 47, 53, Spectacle, 18, 33, 48, 51, 53, 146,
89, 101–104, 112, 116, 119, 159, 168, 178, 184, 195, 199
121, 148, 150, 170–172, 174– Stark, Mary, 54, 86
177, 182, 185–192, 198, 221 Star Wars, 145, 148, 181, 186, 193
Pixar Animation Studios, 157 Staveley, Joan, 64
Pretty, 77–80, 82–84, 87, 90, 92, 94 Stop-frame animation, 5, 131, 143,
Index   231

Stop motion, 4, 11, 18, 33, 50, 52, 89 Vicky Smith Noisy, Licking, Dribbling
Studio craft, 48 and Spitting, 28, 29
Virtual camera, 158, 175
“Vollkommenen Handwerker”, 166
Takahashi, Tess, 30, 57, 58
Technology, 3, 4, 9, 12, 21, 22, W
25, 26, 31, 34, 36, 37, 61, 64, Wabi-sabi, 38, 39
129, 150, 158–160, 163, 165, Walt Disney studio, 189
167, 168, 170, 171, 175, 178, Warburton, Alan, 33
183–186, 189, 190, 194, 196, Warranting, 99, 103, 105, 109, 112,
198, 199, 220 114, 118, 122
Toys, 131, 134, 142, 144–148, 150, Watson, Karen, 99, 109–114, 116,
152, 196 119, 121, 123
Trauma, 13, 102, 109, 111, 112, Weavers, 21
116–118, 122 Wells, Paul, 11, 48, 51, 90, 91, 107,
Trickery, 6, 77, 80, 83, 169, 176 108, 110, 116, 118, 119, 127,
129, 130, 140, 182, 189
Whitney, John, 56, 69
U Wireframe, 55, 173
Ugly aesthetics, 63 Witchcraft, 1, 13, 77, 80, 83, 93
University of Utah, 157, 159 Wolfe, Jamie, 63
Wonder, 8, 82, 150, 165, 171, 181,
183, 184, 188, 196, 197, 205,
V 211, 216, 221
VanDerBeek, Stan, 57 Wood, Caleb, 50