Friday, 17 October 2014

The Hippopotamus in the Room

Eva Goldman Hippo
Walking back from work to Manchester train station late yesterday evening I received an email suggesting ‘Links-Friday'. I confess, I am guilty of often ignoring links I’m sent while sending too many in return - a frustration in both directions. 

The idea of Links-Friday was to put aside Friday evening for the exchange of a few well chosen links that I would make the effort to actually watch or listen to. Despite barely being able to keep my eyes open at this point having been staring at an Excel version of corporate credit risk for the last three hours I felt inclined to agree. 

"Knock yourself out" I said.

I was promptly delivered links for two music video. Neither of which did anything for me. Links are a bit like advice, everyone wants to give it; no one wants to take it. So of course I had one to hand I really thought they should hear.

By this time I was back at the delightful Leek road car park having escaped mugging or otherwise unwanted attention and was on the dark and misty drive home. I clicked my own link.

And that’s when it happened.

As Einaudi’s ‘I Giorni’  built up speed so did my little, well worn micra but I was happily oblivious and away with Tinker Bell and friends. 

The only thing in my mind was the story, unfolding in a beautiful hand drawn five minute masterpiece. I could see the whole scene panning out in glorious sepia, a charcoal character creeping silently down a shadowed hallway, the last kiss on the forrid of the youngest child, the backwards glance, the pain in his eyes, he picks up his suitcase, shuts the door quietly and leaves.

And it’s happened before with puppetry so I should know better, how could I fall for this one again? There I was, minding my own business, looking neither to the left, nor to the right or even in the rear view mirror, but it didn’t make any difference. 

I was twitterpated.

This first week of the course has changed things. Now I see the world through animation-tinted spectacles - but ones that seem araldited to my head (I’ll have to demand my money back from Lasik). 

Everything I see now is an animated story, every piece of music I hear is movement, every book I read is a scene set, a background drawn, every conversation I overhear on the train is the birth of two new characters, everything I touch that is in anyway mouldable is transformed into a puppet like I have some kind of mutated Midas touch. It has become an (un)healthy addiction and I don’t think they do patches.

And it comes full circle because Einaudi created 'I Giorni' ('The Days') because he in turn couldn’t deny the inspiration of a 12th century folk song from Mali about a dead hippopotamus. 

It takes all sorts.

So animation has become the elephant in the room (or in this case, the hippo). It is there watching me with its watery eyes, chomping soundbites into my ear, and snorting ideas into my brain every time I watch, hear or feel anything. Even my son has turned into a silicone coated armature just waiting to be rigged. I fear once you fall into the pit of animation, climbing out might be harder than sobering from one too many Absinthe. One frame at a time.

We were asked to consider the definition of animation and ultimately that’s what animation is to me. Moving images that tell a story. I don’t care if it’s CG about an angle poise lamp, a hand drawn Jurassic native, a music video for a falsetto Norwegian, a revolving logo or Tufty the squirrel, there is story, direction and connection with the audience.

Animation is the illusion of movement. Good animation has beating, breathing, growing, life.

Animation tells a story, however short. After good animation – that story stays with you.

Animation needs to be sharable. Good animation has an audience which suspends disbelief and lives for a moment in that animated world.

Animation has characters. In good animation those characters have memory, emotion, purpose and anticipation.

I wish we had been asked to define what makes /good/ animation. Maybe next week?

And wow factor. To me it’s not animation unless it makes you go ‘oooOOOOooo…’ (or at least ‘eugh’). Ok, even sticking a grey circle to a grey square and twizzling it round in three dimensions had that effect on me in Maya yesterday but I’m easily impressed. I’ve only just got used to using a mouse. 

I am a 'mature' student, after all.

If only I could plug my brain directly into Maya (Existenz style) and cut out the middle woman things would be so much easier (though it’s probably only a matter of time before we’re fitted with USB ports at birth). Between the pit and the pendulum I fear it more likely I’m wallowing in the former, than swinging Barnham style from the latter but no doubt (aka Bobby Vee) like a rubber ball I’ll come bouncing back for more in next week’s session.

What they didn’t warn you in the prospectus is that animation involves pouring yourself, mind and body into your creation and then blatantly and without shame, exposing yourself like a life model for others to gawp at, praise or criticize and interpret how they will, outside of your control. Baring your soul for judgement (assuming you didn’t sell it to pay for the course fees).

But seeing your ‘baby’ through the eyes of an audience is another surprising delight about animation. When you’re a parent  you see the world anew through the eyes of your children in an ‘Oooh Sparklies!’ discworld kinda way. When you show your animation you see a different interpretation through the eyes of your audience, new aspects which you may never have noticed if you’d not been brave enough to set it free. So animation has to be sharable. Good animation you take back and love, even after everyone has poked and prodded it and covered it in their sweaty, chocolatey, grubby little fingerprints.

So that’s all folks. Forget that elephant-fly or whether you can hear a Hoo. Animation is now the hippo in the room. Always there. Always in the way of the TV. Threatening to swallow me up at any moment or at least make a mess of the carpet. Whispering suggestions in my ear like a 6ft rabbit, and cleaving through my runaway train-of-thought like a sledge hammer. And do I care? No. Give me Einaudi any day (or days). 

That hippo is my new best friend.

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