Features : animate! 2001: Pushing it...
...out into the world. The animate! scheme picked its eleventh annual slate of new commissions at the end of March 2001. A couple of days after the selection team had made its decisions we arranged a round-table discussion, to 'measure the moment'.
Dick Arnall: Can I start by making a generalisation... an observation? I think it's been the strongest year yet for animate! - fewer applications that missed the remit to risk-take, very very tough competition in the shortlist. But a vast number of the applications were primarily concerned with narrative... it was extraordinary. Hardly any abstract proposals, structuralists, people who wanted to drill down into the film emulsion! In the shortlist half of the projects weren't just narrative-driven works - they were actually script-led... you know, a scripted washing-line for the form of the works. And these were mostly pushing out into the 'real' world. Why do we think this year there were so few people pursuing 'conceptual quests' and so on?
Ruth Lingford: Well, certainly, looking at the Royal College of Art and the National Film School, there's been very little of that for quite a while. I think abstract stuff has been quite underdeveloped in a way.
DA: Have students actually been attempting 'abstract' projects, the sort of ones we would recognise as being experimental film or video works?
RL: Well, probably two of the first-years are doing some sort of abstract work at the moment; none of the second-years. And one of the present second-years tried to be abstract in the first year and it didn't really work, so she's shied away from it. So it's not like they tried to be abstract and we'd go, "Ooh, no, don't do that." It's like, we'd love them to actually explore that a bit more, but they have nearly run out of steam, somehow.
DA: How many students have you got in each year?
RL: The Royal College has twelve in each year; and at the Film School we've got nine students altogether, over two years, and there it's slightly different because there is really more of an agenda of storytelling there, so they tend to do that, and it tends to be what they're good at doing there. There have been quite loose things, like Swimming in a Sick Head, which is quite an expressionistic collage of things, but with a thread of written stuff going with it.
DA: Can I ask you a question? The motivation for these few abstract projects, is it people continuing an exploration of something that they see as part of the animation tradition, or... this is an impossible question for you, really, but... or do they feel that they're actually at frontier-land and testing something new, as it were? Is it a homage and beyond, or is it actually a fresh quest?
RL: When we get applications in, you tend to get quite a few wannabe Stuart Hiltons and, of course, Stuart Hilton you can see as a wannabe Robert Breer or Jules Engel or all sorts of people. I mean, there's a tradition in animation at the Royal College that continues quite a sort of observable straight line coming from itself. But last year's student I mentioned was more into being at the Royal College of Art and looking at print-making work, fine art work. Actually, the College's painting department tends to be fairly narrative, quite a lot of it, but I think there's more coming in from other angles - or there's one woman who's doing stuff that's much more close to sort of, like... sorry, I don't know the right term for it: I call it 'difficult filmmaking', you know, the sort of filmmakers' co-op stuff, independent, non-narrative sort of filmmaking work.
Gareth Evans: Do the students have a real sense of the history of the medium? Because in the larger filmmaking culture, with the exception of selective journeys back into the tradition, cinematic ancestry is almost completely lost now, and particularly in cultural cinema, in the broader sense of what that means.
RL: Yes. I would say it's something that's almost lost at the National Film School in general, that it's not part of the agenda there at all in terms of teaching history of film. At the Royal College there's Al Rees doing like the pioneers of abstraction and stuff every Thursday night, and that tends to be the students who are interested in that stuff who go there. It's on offer. But of course, it isn't what they've seen, it isn't what they've grown up with, and it's extraordinary how much people do revert to the pattern of what they've grown up with. I mean, one of the most depressing things is that occasionally you get somebody coming and saying, "Well, I've been doing fine art; I'm a painter, I'm a sculptor, but I've just really got into animation," and they show you what they're doing, and it's like the most naff cartoon stuff, because they think that you're allowed to be visually stupid when it comes to animation, and you lose half your brain cells somehow when you approach it. But, you know, all of us have, I think, grown up with coming home from school and watching cartoons...
DA: Which half of the brain cells do you think one loses?
RL: The ones about subtlety of characterisation. You know, the thing that often gets lost with animation is any sort of engagement with the real world. I mean, very good animators tend to make little hermetically sealed worlds for themselves.
Gary Thomas: I think that's it, and I think that that applies whether you're making abstracted work or anything, really.
GE: It's in the nature of the profession, isn't it? You're on your own, often in a room for a very long period of time. The patience, the endurance nature of animation often breeds that kind of hermetic world, perhaps.
GT: But I think it's also a failure to make reference to the outside world, because though your students might not have grown up with what we grew up with, they're growing up with much more to see in the world. You know, they go to the cinema and they'll see adverts and they'll see Kyle Cooper titles for films and things, and... it's not sinking in, I guess.
RL: Mm, it often doesn't, no. I mean, I'm not slagging off my students, because we've got some very wonderful students, and the examples I'm telling you about are really awful: they're people who don't get into the Royal College, they're people who come but think that through this animation they can be really stupid, so they don't get in. It's just interesting that that's their perception, that you can be really stupid when you come into this world, that it's like a holiday from thought, you know. But this hermetic thing - partly it's the isolation. I mean, if you look at somewhere like the Film School, they don't get out much; they're out in Beaconsfield, and generally they stay there, and that's where they have their waking hours. Also, I think, something that is particular to animation is a sort of despotism: like, you have total control over this world, and like, the pay-off for getting RSI and spending years on your own over a light-box is that you have this world where you have total control and you can make everything happen and you can make anything happen.
DA: Except that people so often don't make anything happen, and there's something about the form and the engagement with the form that is its great strength but also its big final pitfall... that it's more engaging, perhaps, on the surface than any other sort of screen-based work, but because of the methodology and the isolation you're talking about, the inward-looking channelling that you have to apply to realise it, then somehow people miss the point... or miss the bigger point.
GT: It's more engaging for the person making it...
DA: And for the audience. So, somehow there's a level at which it's a very lazy form. Although it's incredibly labour-intensive, it's actually very lazy, because you don't have to think an awful lot to make something which people will enjoy and get off on.
GT: Yes. I don't mean this, but in a way you don't have to think very much to make very bad soap opera, and people probably engage in that quite...
RL: There's organisational skill involved.
GT: Yeah, but even bad soap opera... I think an audience engages more readily with a live image than a drawn one, in a way that people engage perhaps more readily with photographs than they do with painting - I don't know.
GE: As you said, the idea about engaging with a live image... do you think that makers self-censor at a very early stage? They realise that the general push culturally at the moment is towards a kind of realism in visual culture, particularly photographically you would see that now. And is there the sense, in parallel with the journalism that doesn't go investigatively anymore or whatever - do you think people just assimilate a more limited framework for what's possible, because they know that when they get out there, they'll face greater difficulty?
RL: I think, for some reason, animators are particularly self-limiting. It's weird, you know... Well, I suppose part of it is it's a medium where you can do absolutely anything but people will return to redo the same things, and that's inexplicable to me, except that I suppose it's scary to...
GT: Well, if you can do anything, you must really want to narrow it down.
RL: Yes. I mean, if you can imagine writing, that you could make up any words, you would go back to the tried and tested - you know that they're going to communicate and that it's going to work.
GE: Well, this is with the digital, isn't it? Because suddenly now, visually anything is possible, you've got to put some borders on it; otherwise you don't even start. How do you begin? How do you frame anything? So maybe that's why the storylines have just kicked in in a big way because, as you say, there's got to be some kind of washing line to hang things on; if not, it's just overwhelming.
DA: Gareth, say more about what you reckon is happening in the wider world. You talked about photo-realism and the pressure of the real...
GE: Well, I think you see it in non-visual culture as well, in literary culture to the same degree, that there's a real shying away from the more crazy end of the spectrum, away from launches into the full realm of the imagination. Particularly if you look at the way that the Citibank Photography Prize has moved, even in its five years, perhaps. There might be the theatricality of certain photographers, and I think the White Cube2 exhibition in Hoxton as well underlines that, but they're still operating within very a recognisable realism, and at one end you've got Boris Mikhailov, who won the prize this year with a gruelling realism, and at the other end you might have the adolescent photographs, the teenage girls, again staging themselves but within a totally recognisable realism. And that's come out of magazine culture, it's come out of art photography, it's come out of television, I think, television's growing impact on more explicitly cultural forms as well. And underlying that realism in a sense is the sense of narrative, that if you stop that visual image at any point, that visual flow, you will be able to extrapolate a narrative from it, in a way that with abstract work you can't. And parallelling that, but perhaps at a once-removed level, is the idea of confessional culture, which again is a highly realist culture, from Oprah Winfrey through to abuse testimonials. And that is the world of realism, and it's the everyday realism of people's lives, and those two come together in cultural production, I think.
RL: Do you think there's an altered sense of what an audience is? Do you think there are fewer artists who are content to do work for a tiny audience of other artists?
GT: I think that the audience is much more sophisticated now, and the audience that goes to The Lux Cinema is the audience that goes to White Cube2 and goes to see Gladiator , and that's good. And there may be people who are making work for other people like themselves, but we wouldn't know, would we?
RL: I guess we wouldn't know, you're right.
DA: But that's an interesting point, the sophisticated audience. Do you think that the animators' sense of the context in which they're making the works has shifted?
GT: Well, I don't think it's shifted in the way that some YBAs [Young British Artists] might have shifted, though they're probably addressing a market more vigorously than animators might be. I don't know. An awareness of an audience would be a move on, wouldn't it, from the way things have been?
RL: I mean, certainly it's something I'm kind of aware of because of the broadcasting pressure. I mean, I think my Death and the Mother got an audience of 300,000 on the telly, which in terms of an artist is huge, it's a huge number of people, but in terms of Channel 4's demands now, it's tiny and insubstantial and...
RL: Highly inadequate.
GT: But that doesn't change the way you'd make films, does it?
GE: But at some point it will eventually...
RL: Well, it'll change the way I get commissioned!
GT: Yes, yeah.
GE: But there'd be two pressures: one from above and one internally. The remit is narrowing all the time... But it's interesting with animation, isn't it, because if you look at someone like David Shrigley, say, who seems to be a good example... he was talked about twice at the animate! selection meeting as an influence on a couple of applications... but the process of assimilation now, particularly within visual culture, is so so fast, so rapid, that you can go from... people discovered Donald Parsnip's Journal when it was just off Brick Lane, and then it's at the Hayward Gallery in the space of maybe 18 months, and the two venues would never have met maybe 10 years before in the same way, through magazine culture, through all the intermediaries. And that's the sophistication that you talked about as well, because people will take on board the counter, or sub-cultural, so much more quickly because they can frame it within various debates and 'discourses'. But that also, I think, affects things. I mean, it can be positive, obviously, that you bring these forces in to expand the mainstream, but at the same time, the energies that were present at the edge can also get severed.
GT: It makes it much harder to be at the edge if it's just getting used up that quickly.
GE: Yeah, because where is the edge? Yeah, exactly.
DA: animate! is at the edge!
GT: animate! is on television... which is sometimes the edge, yeah.
RL: It's on the edge of television!
DA: Gary, I remember a conversation with you at the Arts Council before Finetake took on this latest round of animate! commissioning... I think we were talking about a particular animate! work that had just come in, and some of us were saying how refreshing it was to have an animate! project that was actually about something, and you said - well, wouldn't it be great if all animate! projects were actually about something! And Finetake, we tried, I think, to construct the guidelines this year to present that as being an ambition of the scheme... without being specific, prescriptive about what the something might be. That's why we rattled on a bit in the guidelines about seeking irresistibly original ideas. We wanted it to be clear that we welcomed projects that used animation as a window, a prism, on the wider world. But we tried to say it so that we didn't undermine... so it was just as clear that the idea, the something, could be an abstract or conceptual quest - like perception of vision or something - that people wanted to pursue with passion.
GT: Yeah. Maybe though it's not so much wanting everything to be about something, but wanting everything to know what it is that it is about.
DA: To be a knowing... ?
GT: Not so much to be knowing, but to know itself.
RL: To take responsibility. I mean, it's about taking responsibility for your energies.
GT: I think it's to do with intelligence even, and thought, and things like surefootedness...
GT: No, I don't think confidence... You're not confident, are you, Ruth? No, confidence is probably a killer.
DA: What is surefootedness, then, if it's not confidence?
GT: Er... we're talking about art - we don't have to make sense!
GE: But isn't it... I mean, the architecture can be hidden, but there must be some architecture to it. It can be invisible to the viewer, but there has to be some organising intelligence behind the work. And some of the animate! proposals... you know, some of those nebulous, floating mood pieces that came in... haven't got that; there's not an anchoring point either in form or in content. Is that...?
GT: It is. An example of that is Love Is All. I don't have the language to discuss Love Is All, but I know that it knows what it's doing. I think it's difficult to say what Paul Bush's Furniture Poetry is about, and yet when you watch it, you know... A general audience immediately knows what it's about, and laughs, because one of the things it's about is being funny. And that's the same with abstract work: if it knows what it's doing, it's much easier for the audience to accept, I think.
DA: OK, well, there was a noticeable lack of applications this year from people who wanted to, as it were, drill down into the emulsion of film or those sorts of explorations, those sorts of quests. Can those quests be as knowing as the more pre-configured works...?
GT: Well, absolutely they can, yeah. And I think it's strange that there weren't those proposals, but that work is certainly still going on elsewhere, and interestingly.
DA: Why didn't we see that in animate!, do you think?
GT: Possibly, some of those people think they're artist / filmmakers rather than animators.
DA: We tried to lay out the stall this year in such a way that those people would feel welcomed to animate!, but I guess we didn't pull it off.
GT: I think it's a hurdle to get over, I think it's a barrier. The term 'animation' is a barrier, I think. You know, we've been in audiences where there's been discussion of animation and art... and there's often that distinction between fine art and photography and artists' film and video and everything, and animation. Well, you know, it's all art. You know, new media art, it's all art; that's what it comes down to being.
DA: There are people who have been supported on animate!, who have actually made previous projects, like Paul Bush, despite the fact that he says he's not an animator. And even more surprisingly, perhaps, someone like Stuart Hilton who still protests that he is not an animator and yet that, to the rest of the world I think, is his territory, and he's been supported on the scheme and made really interesting stuff on the scheme.
DA: Can I ask you, Gareth, coming back this latest selection round of new proposals... you're very well aware of all the works that have previously come out of animate! but you haven't been 'inside' the scheme before... on the selection team you were put through the mangle of the processing and the criteria that drive the scheme. I think you were quite struck by the sort of internal world that was being applied to the proposals, the references and shorthand that were being used. How did that strike you? Were you surprised by that?
GE: Well, I mean, I extrapolated to work out who the names were and so on, but I suppose I never conceived of the animation world as being so perhaps clearly defined before; I'd always thought that it would spill out more. I mean, not that it doesn't spill - obviously it does - but still, within that, there is a space that very clearly could be called the animation industry or world in the UK, the family of animators. And I just find that very interesting; it's not a positive or negative observation, really, but just clearly there is this tradition of people working often on their own, in a very intense and isolated way, and yet they are part of that larger family, and then that itself sits within the larger visual culture. And I hadn't thought about it in that way. I'd thought that there would be less sense of self-definition within the larger visual culture, because of the need financially to move into, say, commercials. Other people perhaps... you know, a lot of people work in the other areas we talked about. But it came across very strongly yesterday, and obviously I was the only person who wasn't in that world.
GT: Well, you say that, but actually I think animate! itself isn't in that world. You know, I'm certainly not on that world's mailing lists, for example.
GE: But you're watching people, and you are catching people on the up, aren't you?
GT: It's catching people on the up, and it's wrenching people out of that world, really, back into reality! Well, it's one of animate!'s declared aims, to afford people in that world the opportunity to do something that isn't part of that world.
DA: Do you feel that it's a sort of hermetic world?
GE: No. I like hermetic worlds in lots of ways... I like other people's imaginative universes, other very distinctive parallel worlds. And when you take that into a sort of more commercial business sense, the idea of the animation world being hermetic, given the nature of the cultural and financial climate, I think it's probably a supportive world rather than a negative hermeticism; because it's difficult out there, it's a hard world, and people need someone, like a producer maybe, to give them that boost when they really need it. So I think in that sense, it's actually a supportive intensity, as opposed to a smothering one or a kind of enclosing one. That's how it came across.
RL: Mm. It's got drawbacks as well, that world. This is something I keep harping on about, but there is the flip side of that support, and of everybody knowing how long everything takes, and what agony the whole process is, that there's a real lack of critical grist, you know, of cut and thrust.
GE: Can I ask you... I mean, you personally, but also, is it a tendency among animators to show to the wider community, of whatever degree, their work in progress?
RL: It hasn't been, and I think that's a real lack. Certainly, when I had a studio at Clerkenwell and there were lots of animators dotted about, people would show their...
DA: Including the animator who got the Oscar this year...
RL: Oh, yes, including Michael Dudok De Wit, yeah... people would tend to show each other little bits of work in progress, much more in terms of... sort of almost technical stuff - "Is this movement working? Can you read this?" - and that's very supportive. People tend not to say to each other, "That's complete crap. Why are you making this shit?" That tends not to be said, but people tend to go, "What about if you put another couple of frames in there? Wouldn't that work better?" So it's supportive and critical to an extent, you know, helpfully critical. But people are very respectful about each other's ideas and...
RL: Agendas, yes.
GE: But given the longevity of the process, I would think that's inevitable, isn't it? You have to respect that, because you can't just go back and have another take, as you might do with live action. Is it not perhaps almost a constituent ingredient of the medium?
RL: Yes, that once you've done it, you've done it, and it's uncriticisable.
GE: Well, it's a bit like an Australian road train: it's very hard to brake; once you start up, you've got the momentum.
RL: The momentum, and also you get so close, you know.
GT: But even after the work is done and out there, there's a lack of critical engagement, I think, where you can get away with jokes in animation that you can't get away with anywhere else. I've seen so many animated films which are not funny, in an audience of animators who are laughing uproariously, and you just think, "You're wrong!" And how many times do we need to applaud a film about urban isolation and the little funny figure who's red going to work in the streams of funny blue figures? It's not like you see those films once or twice: you see them again and again and again.
GE: But that kind of semi-constructive... or constructive... criticism is always on hold. Just before coming here, I was at the London Book Fair... the publishing industry is another incredibly sealed world from the outside. I think that cultural production is multiple worlds, isn't it, that have little bridges between them?
GT: It should be, yes.
GE: It should be, certainly the multiple worlds, whether the bridges have been burnt or still in place. I suppose partly just because the scale of production is so huge now, in whatever medium you work, you have to find some way again of restricting yourself or framing or excluding... I mean, the whole process it seems to me, being a contemporary spectator of culture, is how you exclude, not how you actually perceive, but how you actually edit.
RL: I guess that's something people have to learn very quickly with the internet, isn't it?
GE: Yes, exactly, which I think is a complete shift from maybe even just twenty years ago, when you were still hunting out little pockets of activity. Now, whether you want to or not, they're going to come to you if you're vaguely in the loop, and you've just got to somehow keep them out. You know, there aren't enough hours in the day...
GT: It's also peer response, I think, as well. Certainly in avant-garde film, people will tell people that they think a film doesn't work, and the artist doesn't think it's the end of the world, whereas I don't know if that happens in animation...
RL: It tends not to, and it's quite shocking when it does. We're all very unused to it. And I'm sometimes seen as a very harsh tutor, because I sometimes say that to my students, and actually the expectation is that mostly people say things are lovely, and the students are terribly soft compared to other departments at the Royal College.
DA: Really? Relatively speaking? I got rightly ticked off by Sarah Cox today on the phone. She's changing the voice on Dear Nelson and I said, "Good," and she said, "What do you mean? Why didn't you tell me beforehand then, if you felt it should be changed?" And she's absolutely right - I didn't.
GT: Well, on animate!... we don't hold back!
RL: Yes. It's painful, but you need it. It's sort of salutary; and occasionally someone'll get drunk and tell you what they really think.
GT: It's easy for me to say, because I don't have to take it, but it must make you stronger, doesn't it? If you're not questioning what you're doing, and are unable to accept other people questioning what you're doing, then why are you doing it? You know, that's what you do in your day job, isn't it?
GE: And because of the nature of the medium it's much closer, to use a literary parallel, to poetry than it is to prose... every word counts, very frame matters. And if there isn't that precision there in the original project proposal, either for oneself or to the larger world, then just the slightest deviation can take you off course. Maybe it needs to be sort of more formalised, perhaps, with some kind of constituency forum where people can take things at various points.
GT: Well, that sounds like an animate! website to me!
GE: Absolutely. So that the personal nature of one person responding directly to another is somehow diluted into a larger observation.
DA: I think that's very good. Finetake wants to help kick-start that!
GT: But, you know, 'fine' artists open themselves up. They get their work reviewed in 'Time Out', people say nasty things about it. Then they carry on doing the same stuff!
RL: It's still painful, but it's sort of part of the 'contract'. And even if it's something you are outraged by, you do have something to rebel against.
GT: Well, it can even make you more convinced of your rightness.
RL: There's this horrible sort of sogginess in animation. I mean, I can remember a couple of occasions going to festivals which were mixed festivals, with animation and short fiction and documentary, and on both occasions, in Tampere and in St Petersburg, the chairmen of the juries stood up to give speeches at the end of the festivals, and they said, "We noticed in the fiction films there was a lack of blah blah blah, and things tended to be rather badly cut, and blah, and there was an awful lot of films that we just thought were too blah and too blah. The documentary people weren't very good at using dialogue, and blah blah blah and blah blah blah... And the animations were lovely." And in writing as well you get that as well, as a sort of a footnote: "Lovely animation".
DA: But some of that is the easy seductiveness of the form, that somehow is its strength and its pitfall.
GE: There's also a patronising quality there: that it's not worth the debate...
DA: But also, perhaps, there's the puritan work ethic, that pays too much respect to the amount of time that has been invested in a project.
GT: Well, that's physical work. But there's the same kind of creative philosophical input going on as in any art, and that doesn't put the other art above criticism. Just because someone spent a long time realising something, doesn't place it above criticism. It's also that either there isn't a language, or people are lazy about finding a language, to discuss animation. And that lack of discrimination between works, you know, the idea that animation is this one thing... and it's not this one thing. You can't like everything. I don't like everything that the animate! scheme's commissioned, in the same degree.
RL: It's like saying, "I love people," isn't it?
GT: Yeah, "I like all films."... Yes, "I like people. I'm a people person."
GE: But is there that siege mentality, the idea that animation is kind of surrounded by threat, and in that sense you're expected to like everything, because if you don't, then maybe there'll be a slight gap in the wall, and suddenly who knows what'll happen? I don't know - is there?
RL: I think a little bit. So little is written about animation that when you write about it, you have to just support it all the way and go: "Look, you must look at this - it's fantastic," and it doesn't allow for going, "Well, you might like to look at this. Actually, it's a bit kitsch, but it's got nice bits. Look at this quality in it."
GE: And I suppose because the whole of culture generally is so much against longevity either in production or in the nature of the work lasting, the immediacy and brevity of production is now endemic. So maybe there's just a sense that when people start thinking beyond any immediate response about animation, there's an alienness to it - that's not the right word, but there's some kind of otherness to animation that is actually at odds... however seductive the immediate surface might be, if you stop to think about how the animator got to that surface, you suddenly think, "God, well, that took two years".
GT: Well, that's kind of to do with craft and preciousness, isn't it?
GE: The positive side is craft, I suppose; the negative side might be the precious.
GT: Actually, I didn't mean "precious" just in a bad sense, because when I was thinking about Love Is All and how I could possibly put into words my feelings for that film, all I could think of was that I could only talk about it in the terms that one might use to talk about jewellery. And it's not just that film, it's other crafted works of beauty - you know, terrible beauty as well.
DA: Did you see some of that on animate! selection day, amongst the proposals... terrible beauty?
GT: Everything that we funded was terrible beauty... wasn't it?!
DA: So that's the promise, is it? There were real difficulties, I think, in trying to construct a sense of criteria, an agenda for animate! this year. There's this increasingly nebulous idea of what animation actually is, as a genre and everything. And we tried to put something down which would encourage people to think perhaps more openly than previously, but without being prescriptive. What do you think of the outcome, Gary?
GT: Well, we're always trying to push it, and that's the point. If we kept on funding the same work year after year, then we'd stop funding it - you know, what's the point? It's about pushing it.
DA: You've been waiting to say that!
GT: Absolutely not! It's about pushing it and reassessing it, and one good thing is that this year it wasn't simply about pushing it in terms of technique and things like that, but in terms of what's possible, and engagement with narrative is terrific.
DA: Well, to come back to the first question this evening, the curious thing to me during the selection process was that, because the structuralists and so on were almost completely absent, we spent very little time discussing techniques in themselves; technique was really the underpinning.
GT: Well, it was absent in animate!; in the world they're not absent.
DA: I think there's more to be said about that... perhaps animate! didn't pick up on that and we should look at why...
GT: I think that might be something we'd need to address next time and make sure that the word spreads even further.
GE: When you did the surgeries around the country, did you have people coming up who were working in that world?
DA: No, no, there wasn't any evidence of it. The people who were preoccupied with their process were like the ones who couldn't get their plasticine to lip-sync the way they wanted it to, and they were in a quandary about putting a tape into animate! because it wouldn't show what they hoped their plasticene would achieve eventually. You know, maybe a film about the leeks and turnips in their allotment patch.
RL: Well, that's been a very respectable subject in animation.
DA: Erm, are we sensing the Aardman factor here?
GE: Well, it is a real danger when one aspect of the medium becomes supremely successful, isn't it? I mean, obviously, not only does it erase other fields, but you say "animation" to people and they go "Oh, yeah, I know what that is: that's dah-dah-dah,". Then everything potentially falls in line behind that, and suddenly you think... at a certain moment of exposure, you might applaud the success, the commercial reception of that aspect of your medium, and suddenly you think, "Oh, no, hold on - I think that's enough now. You've done enough to get us talked about, but not at the expense of everything else that's possible."
RL: Although I'm sort of rather sanguine about both Nick Park and the Simpsons, in that in their own special ways they're both quite intelligent.
DA: Do we feel that after the animate! selection we're any closer to knowing what animation currently is, as a genre?
GT: But Dick, you know that's not an answerable question, and you know that I will say that Gladiator is an animated film, that it's...
DA: No, I didn't know that, Gary!
RL: Because of the manipulation of the image?
GT: Yes, because it's an intervention into live action, or the continuum, I guess, of the moving image. That's what it is.
RL: Yes. And they animated Ollie Reed, didn't they?
GE: And a CGI reconstruction of the Colosseum?
GT: Yeah. The building's not there, it doesn't exist, it's not live action. What is it?
GE: But I suppose, if it's a question of foregrounding or backgrounding materials, maybe that's where you could distinguish...
RL: But I don't have any problem with Gladiator being animation. Does anybody have a problem with it?
DA: Well no, except that traditional funders of film production, who support a genre which is conveniently labelled 'animation', they might have a lot of problem with that definition.
GT: But clearly Channel 4 and the Arts Council don't have a problem, so that's OK, isn't it?
DA: I guess it is. But the point of the scheme, for the makers... It may be very confusing to the constituency that animate! has always appealed to, and somehow also missing the point with the peripheries and adjoining constituencies that actually could be very interesting to the scheme. I don't know quite how we'd crack that one.
GT: Well, this year's projects could certainly all be shown outside an animation context.
GE: Maybe that's what defines real animation - there's no limit, it can be shown anywhere, in any format, it breaks out of that world. That's not a very helpful comment, really, but...
DA: No, no, it's directly relevant to animation festivals. I think it's a very sad comment on the constricting envelope that traditionally surrounds animation, that many of us have an ambition to create something that would be more successful and valued beyond that circuit... outside that loop.
GE: That it can exist without the supporting edifice of a safe, supportive world. Yeah, well, that sounds like a healthy agenda.
27th March 2001
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