Rethinking Animation: the animate! Book

By David Jenkins

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Is there any higher form of social acceptance than to have your business card announce that you’re a member of an “animation collective”? That dream is now a reality for the 85 artists who were commissioned to produce work for animate! – a unique space for the promotion and creation of “manipulated moving image work”. Founded by the Arts Council England and Channel 4, apart from a clear directive to commission animated works for television, this informed and lovingly presented volume (although the cover does make it look a bit like a VCR manual) seeks to shatter the myth that animation means Disney, Pixar and Manga.

Comprising a series of essays, think pieces, dissections and critiques all of which attempt to place the commissioned works into a broader cinematic and artistic context, the book not only acts as a rigorous retelling of the story of animation, it also pushes the idea that the formal nature of animation doesn’t stop with the page or computer screen. For example, director Tim Macmillan, whose 1999 work Ferment was commissioned by the group, discusses how he invented specific technology (drolly described at one point as “a remarkable ocular revisioning engine”) to facilitate the shooting of his film.

Written with a prose which is almost as electric as some of the work of which it speaks, its a book in which a knowledge and adoration of the subject screams from every sentence. We’re levered in with an essay which discusses the many peaks and troughs of so-called “popular animation” encompassing the work of Norman McLaren, The Quays and Svankmajer. Gareth Evans and (the late) Dick Arnell later join heads for a poetic overview of the project which expresses the need not only for creative freedom, but positively espouses the mixing of and manipulating live action footage to create an animated work. There are also a series of Q&As in which the assistant director of the LUX in London, Mike Sperlinger, attempts to get to the bottom of some of the enlightened minds behind many of the works.

But the message is loud and clear: “those who see animation simply as a frame-by-frame process, akin to an incrementally extending line of dominoes butted together, or merely as special effects to be considered in ‘post production’ will never be amongst the real creative visionaries and art directors devising this extended cinema.”

For those who think that the subject matter teeters on the darker side of obscure, the volume comes bundled with a supplementary DVD which includes a selection of animate!’s commissions, ranging from Phil Mulloy’s bawdy charcoal western Cowboys/That’s Nothin’ to Ruth Lingford’s sexually provocative What She Wants. This not only allows you to keep up to speed with the evolution of the project, but offers a neat shortcut through the center of animate!’s weird and wonderful world. A great guide to a gutsy and passionate project which will hopefully swell in size and stature despite the sad demise of its pioneering figurehead Dick Arnell.


The animate! book is published by LUX London. It includes a DVD with 10 commissioned animations, 870 full colour images and 160 pages. For information on ordering the book see www.lux.org.uk/

For more information on animate go to www.animateonline.org/.

David Jenkins writes for Time Out London and is Film Editor of Little White Lies.