Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘animation’

19 FEBRUARY, 2010

Duelity: Earth’s Story, Split Down the Middle


Darwin vs. the General Organization of Development labs, or why truth comes in pairs.

Science and religion may be odd bedfellows, but they’ve always had a shared mechanism of propagation — both are simply the product of the stories we tell ourselves and each other to explain the world, be it rationally or emotionally or mystically. So what happens when these conflicting stories are pitted against each other? That’s exactly what Duelity does in a brilliant split-screen animation telling both sides of Earth’s story, winking at the evolution of human thought and language along the way.

Directed by filmmaker Ryan Uhrich and animator Marcos Ceravolo, Duelity is a curious hybrid of humor and philosophy, mythology and ideology, capturing the tensions and frictions inherent to our cultural storytelling.

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18 FEBRUARY, 2010

HBO City: Artisanal Animation Magic Circa 1983


Craftsmanship lessons from the 80’s, or why 100 lightbulbs are putting Tim Burton to shame.

With all the stop-motion, time-lapse, paper-cutout, tilt-shift, CGI animation floating around these days, it’s easy to fall into the all-too-common trap of modern arrogance, assuming we’ve practically invented these art forms and none of this has ever been done before, let alone well. We, of course, are here to wiggle a disapproving finger and prove otherwise.

In 1983, HBO made a short but impressive opening sequence that really embodied just what makes HBO “premium” — brilliantly conceived and produced with enough meticulous craftsmanship to make Wes Anderson feel inadequate and send Tim Burton’s set designers running to mama.

Now, a short documentary goes behind the scenes of the elaborate production process.

If there’s something missing, you know something’s missing, but you don’t know what it is. So you put in as much detail in it, so the eye picks up every little thing.

Six craftsmen worked for over three months to create close to 100 unique buildings for the 30-foot-long HBO City, each handcrafted with painstaking precision to produce one of the best-constructed model cities ever built — with working lightbulbs in all buildings, headlights on the cars and buses, and hundreds of unique trees covered in handmade foliage.

Even when the model was finally completed, bringing it to life as an opening sequence was equally elaborate — it was photographed with a bleeding-edge computerized camera, filming for 14 hours something designed to last 20 seconds on the screen.

We didn’t want just a line. We wanted to communicate to the viewer that when they were turning on HBO, they were tuning into an entertainment center.

This sort of patient, labor-intensive, artisanal entertainment craftsmanship is quite rare these days. (Though the fantastic Moray McLaren We Got Time animation does spring to mind.) And while the digital revolution may have opened the doors to incredible CGI whimsy, we have to wonder whether it has also, ironically, reduced our capacity for such meticulousness. Could the digitally-induced shrinkage of our attention spans be eating away at our attention to detail — and at our tolerance for the effort require to attend to it?

Because in this world of ubiquitous Flashturbation, there’s still something to be said for the art and craft of old-fashioned, hands-on, painstaking creative tinkering.

via Movieline

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03 FEBRUARY, 2010

Wayfinding in Wittgenstein’s World: 88 Constellations


A non-linear tour of philosophy, or what Carmen Miranda has to do with the Vienna Circle.

How do you represent one of history’s famous philosophers, a man who wrote abstruse texts about the nature of representation itself? If you’re Canadian artist David Clark, you create the ambitious online art piece 88 Constellations for Wittgenstein (to be played with the Left Hand).

Clark wrote, produced, and directed the Flash-based site 88 Constellations, a kind of stream-of-consciousness narrative-as-game and an ingenious treatment of some of the 20th century’s greatest cultural touchstones, from the highs to the lows. Navigating its universe is like playing a Choose Your Own Adventure with one of history’s greatest philosophers as the protagonist. The best part is that you can play without any prior knowledge of Ludwig Wittgenstein, which makes the work a bravura feat and great fun all at once.

You start out with the introductory animation, which invites you to “join the dots together; make pictures in the sky. Connect the muddle of our thinking to these drawings in the sky. This story is about a man named Wittgenstein. He was a philosopher. His life was a series of moments, and our story is a series of constellations.” From there, you’re presented with a celestial map and an intricately interlocking set of ideas and images that unfold from the central point, Orion, the constellation chosen to symbolize the philosopher himself.

“Who is Ludwig Wittgenstein?” asks the narrator in a voiceover.

There were so many… He was a boy who didn’t talk until he was four years old. he was an engineer who designed propellors. He was a schoolteacher in rural Austria. He was an architect who designed an elaborate modernist house for his wealthy sister. He was one of the richest men in Europe after his father died but he gave all his money away and lived off of his wages. He was a whistler and a lover of music. He was an aesthete. He was a homosexual; he was an exile…”

All that and we haven’t even gotten to the philosophy yet.

Like its subject, 88 Constellations is in fact many things: an interactive online film, a biography of the Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, and a selective history of Europe over a period spanning both World Wars. Whatever you call it, it’s a satisfyingly rich, fully realized experience that could be used as a case study in maximizing the web’s narrative capacity.

From Orion, you can branch out in any order to other stellar clusters on topics ranging from Godard to the Twin Towers. Each constellation launches a short animated film, from which point you can connect to other stars along the same vector. This is how, on one particular journey, we learned such arcana as the fact that Psycho was the first film ever to show a toilet flushing, and that the widow of the film’s lead actor, Anthony Perkins, perished on American Airlines flight 11 when it crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center.

Such a seemingly random connection is typical of 88 Constellations, a quality that makes it a very clever conspiracy theorist’s dream; because the cumulative effect of these pieces is the feeling of a system that’s not so random after all. Perhaps, we found ourselves at one point thinking, there was some heuristic as rigorous as Wittgenstein’s philosophical logic that could illuminate all of the connections — if only we could figure it out. Clark skillfully plays to this sensation of mastery just beyond our reach.

For example, on the significance of the number 88: the number of constellations in the night sky; the number of keys on a piano; a component of the year 1889, in which Wittgenstein, Charlie Chaplin, and Adolf Hitler were born within days of each other; the age at which Chaplin died; and an integer no longer found on the back of German athletic jerseys (the eighth letter of the alphabet is H, and so the number 88 could be taken to symbolize “HH,” or “Heil Hitler”).

Sometimes the revelations provide pure entertainment. On constellation number 55, Leo, the narrator tells us the following:

[A] lion appears on the screen and roars. if lions could talk then we wouldn’t understand them,’ Wittgenstein wrote. ‘Language is about sharing a view of the world. A lion and a man could never share their world view.’ Leo, the mascot of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer got this name from Samuel Leo Goldwyn, one of the founders of the studio. Goldwyn, a Polish emigre, was famous for his propensity to mangle the English language in paradoxical ways, something that became known as Goldwynisms. ‘A verbal agreement isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.’

The piece, which was started in 2004 and finished in 2008, brings the ideas and life of a commanding intellectual figure from another era into our own digital one, while retaining all of his complexity. You can learn more about 88 Constellations on the project’s blog, including the meaning of its ambiguous southpaw-referencing subtitle.

Take a trip down the rabbit hole that is 88 Constellations — and find out why the rabbit itself was an important part of the philosopher’s seminal treatise, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.

Thanks, @melissa_djohnst

Kirstin Butler has a Bachelor’s in art & architectural history and a Master’s in public policy from Harvard University. She currently lives and works in Brooklyn as a freelance editor and researcher, where she also spends way too much time on Twitter. For more of her thoughts, check out her videoblog.

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