Thursday, December 6, 2007

Quay Brothers

One of my favorite classic stories is the The Epic of Gilgamesh. Even though the story is the oldest known written text it is not very often that it is retold or referenced in modern story telling. But it seems that the Quays once again wanted to stand out of the crowd by creating a short animated film based on this classic story. However, for the life of me I cannot make the connection between the text and the Quay film "This Unnameable Little Broom (Epic of Gilgamesh)".

For those who have not read it the story is about a king, Gilgamesh, who befriends a man who is somewhat like a beast. Both are supposed to have strength beyond normal men. They go on a few fantastical adventures until Gilgamesh's friend is killed in a battle. Gilgamesh is beside himself with grief for he became so close they we as if lovers. But Gilgamesh is also reminded of his own mortality and sets off to find immortality. However, his travel is in vain and is told that the only way for a man to gain immortality is in his actions as they are retold through out history.

The Quay film, on the other hand, is about a character (who seems to represent a boy) who takes joy in torturing helpless and unsuspecting victims. At one point the film cuts away to an other worldly realm (possibly a post-death state) where life continues to decay.

Possibly its the relation to mortality that connects these two pieces, but I recommend watching the film for yourself and making your own judgements.

Florian et Malena

During my travels in Europe a few years back I came a cross a DVD of recent European animated films at a small art gallery in Paris. I was intrigued so I purchased it knowing nothing of the films or filmmakers. All I knew was that I had not seen enough European animated films.

Within it I found many beautiful animated pieces and one in particular was by Anita Killi entitled Florain et Malena. I know very little French and none of the films have English subtitles, but I was able to understand the story with no issues for it is a story we have all heard time and time again and yet it never looses it's original power.

The film is about a boy, Florain, who has a friend who lives a cross a small river named Malena. They go to the river every day to play, but one day they are divided by war and a wall is put on the very river that they play at. Florain's father goes to fight in the war. Florain's mother tries to explain why he can't go to play with Malena, but he is unable to comprehend.

The piece uses cut-outs and is heavily character based with perfect timing and brilliant replacements. It is extremely moving especially the scenes of battle with demons riding horses and the dissolve to a devastated land and Florain looking for a place to play in the unfamiliar landscape.

Watching this film one can't help but think of World War II and Yori Norstein's representation of the effect on people's lives in his films. I find it interesting how those messages and memories are still alive today in Europe (and they can be found in a lot of Japanese art and animation). It makes me wonder about the effect of war into continuing generations when the war occurred upon the homeland. Europe (and Japan) were fairly devastated by the war physically, but the United States was not. It makes me curious about the current situation of war and the difference between the United States and most of Europe.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Alchemist and his animation

Harry Smith has been dubbed by many to be one of the worlds last Alchemists. Sensational in life,
excessive in collection and larger in life in creativity Harry Smith made many films and many works of art in his time on this planet.

Perhaps one of the most famous art work of his (and the one that is almost constantly being showing somewhere in the world with the appropriate Magic Lantern technology he envisioned) is "Heaven and Earth Magic".

This bizarre concoction of cut out animation, for the most part, using replacement rather then traditional inbetween illusion of movement was all made with a theoretical single take. Throught out the different scenes of the film there is always something that is kept from the previous scene to the next. Whether it be the artificial frame, the primary "character", for lack of a better term, or at least one of the magical objects that are presented something always stays from one scene to the next, which creates the illusion of one entire take. However, being from 1966 and shot on film; this was created on at least 3 different reels of film (and probably more). So the piece took a certain amount of perfection to hide each reel cut.

The film itself tells an abstract story of dark magic where skeleton horses dance and enormous static female heads poses small men to work wonders before our very eyes. Nothing about the film makes any sort of exact sense and even from an abstract point of view the images seem like they should be fairly uninteresting. But there is some sort of hypnotism about the film. It runs just over an hour and from the first minute your eyes are afraid to blink out of fear of missing something crucial. It is memorizing in a way that no other film is (except maybe "The Tin Woodman's Dream" another cut out animation by Harry Smith). It is magical within the film's own reality, but somehow, even after 40 years, the film has a certain amount of magic in our reality that keeps us fixed upon the screen.

"What's going on?"
"I don't know, but its fascinating and surprising at the same time!"

Thursday, November 29, 2007


There was an interesting Japanese animation series that came out about five years ago that was really quite spectacular. Both in its animation and in content. The story was very heavy in philosophy and science (fictional and factual). The story was really quite complex and, at times, could lose it's audience. But it always kept to very spectacular images and didn't have very much preaching (unlike most anime from the past couple of years). So, it made being lost bearable, which, in turn, evokes an certain amount creativity within the audience to fill in the gaps.

This show had one episode in particular that was a very interesting integration of factual science and fictional narrative. This was a constant theme through out the entire series, but in this particular episode, entitled "Protocol", the show jumped into an information documentary type of film (similar to something on the science channel). It explained the history of the Schumann Resonance and how it is related to a collective unconscious. The theory, originated by NYU professor Douglas Rushkoff, goes that the extremely low frequencies that radiate from the electromagnetic field of earth and the people of the earth might awaken a kind of unconscious communication with the earth and with each other if they all resonate at the same frequency.

Its kind of a mouthful, but within the show it explains it fairly simply. From there it jumps into the fiction of the story where a man continued with that theory of Douglas Rushkoff and was somehow able to connect with the Earth's ELF (extremely low frequency) and hens forth commits suicide while continuing to live within the neural network of the earth with the help of the internet (aka "the wired"). At which point he refers to himself of the God of the wired.

It is really a well constructed story in the same vein as Neil Stevenson and other cyberpunk writers. However, this is much more fascinating with it's strong integration of complex "factual" science - jumping to "artificial" science and the fictional narrative that the story tells.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Powers of Ten

Now I must admit that Quantum of Mechanics, Relative theory and String theory really leave me in the dust a lot of the time. Lots of times I find it quite frustrating because I studied lots of Post Structuralist Philosophy as an undergraduate, which, in a lot of ways, leaves people in the dust with rhetoric.

For the most part these forms of deeply theoretical sciences are either explained with the most complex forms of equations or through highly flawed analogies. And given my background in Post Structuralist Philosophy I have a hard time with the analogies and I can't even begin to understand the in depth equations.

However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel! Animation!

When I was in maybe 3rd grade I saw this film in class called Powers of Ten. It was an extremely fundamental representation of space and time in relation of Quantum Mechanics, the Theory of Relativity which all relates to String theory. The film does so in such a subtle way that even an 8 year old was able to understand the film and the way the filmmakers were able to communicate to me such astronomically theoretical concepts is quite astounding. And it was all animation. The original Rough Sketch version from 1968 was certainly much more demonstrative of relative time and space more then the 1978 version; even though the 1978 version is much more polished and nicer to look at.

I just hope that my old 3rd grade teacher is still showing that film in class, but I, unfortunately, doubt it.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Late Stan Brakhage

Brakhage died because of animation. He died in the pursuit of pushing the technique founded by Len Lye....or Harry Smith (no one seems to know for sure): hand painted film. It was from the paints he used that gave him cancer, which he eventually died of. And long before his death, in fact, all through out his life his films were filled with analogies to death (and life). One of his animated films in particular, "Mothlight", he describes as "What a moth might see from birth to death if black were white and white were black". The entire film is simply clear leader with bug body parts, blades of grass, leaves and other things that Brakhage found around his cabin in the mountains of Colorado pasted on to it.

This is interesting because over ten years later he used the same technique over ten years later in his film "The Garden of Earthly Delights". A direct reference to Hieronymus Bosch's painting for what he sees a lying between Heaven (Eden) and Hell. However, in this he oscillates between a negative and positive image begging the question: is this what a moth actually sees through out its life in the eyes of Stan Brakhage?


One film in Japanese animation (anime) that has received quite a bit of spot light is Akira from 1987. The introduction is one of the most pivotal points in anime history. It starts with a nuclear explosion which engulfs the city of Tokyo. Nuclear explosions and rhetoric surrounding it is not uncommon in Japanese art. From "Godzilla" to the recent anime series "Paranoia Agent", Butoh dance to the "Time Bokan" paintings of Takashi Murakami - the bomb and its impact on the Japanese society, politics and art have been extremely palpable.

However, Akira stands out because it shows the explosion. Most often it is the mushroom cloud that dominates the popular signifier for a nuclear explosion. And really it is more then just the explosion because in just about any sorcery anime (i.e. Dragonball or Slayers) you can't go 5 minutes without seeing some sort of explosion that can be considered atomic in size. It is the way Akira treats the explosion. It is silent. The sound of destruction of an awesome scale can only be demonstrated with silence. In a way it is similar to Stan Brakhages take on the concept that he used sound on a small fraction of his 300+ films because he felt that sound distracted the audience from the visuals; that they had to choose one or the other. In the opening of Akira the visual is so dramatic, so focused upon that sound is completely erased; there's not even an ambient track - it is pure silence in a sense that is not usually seen this day in age.

This, in fact, harks back to historical accounts of the bombs that devastated the country of Japan (and in a sense the entire world). Where most eye witnesses recalled the utmost silence and stillness in the air just before the explosion occurred in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. So, in a way, I suppose, nature has in one respect a similar rule to Brakhage and other filmmakers that silence will accompany a scene of astronomical proportions.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Links to Introductory Material on String Theory

Perspective, Time, and Space

One of the themes Dr. Bars finds in his work, and one he'll discuss during seminar, is perspective. He gives the example of looking at an object from different angles and says that " this will be an analogy for casting events in our usual space-time as being perspectives of what goes on in a higher dimensional space-time."

I started thinking about the theme of perspective and its huge relevance in animation and film. Obviously the viewer has to know the point of view(s) of the film in order to understand its context. I thought about some of the animations and animators I've seen that played with different perspectives in an interesting way. The first animator that came to mind was Priit Parn. He constantly played with changes in perspective, time and space in his films, like Breakfast on the Grass (I tried finding clips online but there are none to be found). The film is about several people in Soviet society whose lives run parallel until they ultimately meet in the setting of the famous Manet painting Breakfast on the Grass. There are elements in each character's story that somehow intersects with another character's story. It also played with the idea that events that occurred in one character's life altered or determined what happened in another's. The ending is even more bizarre when the characters end up in another time and space - in an 1863 French painting.

I'm interested in learning more about Dr. Bars' ideas about a second time dimension. Already in film and animation, time has no rules - the filmmaker is in the unique position to manipulate time; a one minute film can cover a span of years and a two hour movie can be about something that happens in a half hour. It would be interesting to see how filmmakers play with the idea of a second time dimension. Would it be another device to enhance films or would it not really matter since time is already so malleable in the realm of film?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Physics 101

Thinking a little bit about our seminar topic, it is hard to deny the importance of physics in the matter. I don't know how many of us have studied or were ever interested in physics, so I thought nothing better than a 6 minute you-tube video with a weird narrator and some trippy music and sound effects to clarify a few things. Prepare for the PHYSICS LIGHTNING TOUR!!

What it means to know your own death

Once again I am returning to Derek Jarman - I am very fascinated with his art and the fact that he knew the face of his own death and confronted it head on.
In conjunction with his last film Blue he made a series of paintings that also dealt with his rage, frustration, paradox and absurdity of the AIDS virus that lead to his blindness and death.
Here are just a few of those paintings.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Dr. Itzhak Bars Recommends!

...that we all get a lot smarter...and fast, cause if we don't, then we won't understand his talk. Nah, but I did get in contact with him and he had a few recommendations regarding reading, watching and a general outline of his impending speaking engagement at seminar.

He recommended a book called "The Elegant Universe" as a general guide to the problems and issues his theories are attempting to address; while we may not have time to read the book, there is a related NOVA program he directed us to which you can watch online in short segments.

"NOVA: The Elegant Universe"

Also, he mentioned four topics that will be coming up, briefly in his talk, that might help to better clarify the concepts he is studying. Those topics being "Quantum Mechanics", "Cosmology", "Elementary Particles" and "Relativity".

Lastly, he gave a breakdown of the thematic structure of his talk which I will quote below.

"My talk will have three themes to which I will come back several times
1) Symmetry (in particular symmetry in equations that describe physics,
but I will describe it with more familiar analogies)
2) Perspectives (usual concept of looking at an object from different
angles - this will be an analogy for casting events in our usual
space-time as being perspectives of what goes on in a higher dimensional
3) Subtle effects (things that are there in our own environment, but
difficult to notice). These will lead to predictions or existing
evidence that tests/proves the theory."

These themes are excellent starting points for the search for more material that will compliment his presentation. Enjoy!

- Midshipman Cox -

Friday, October 5, 2007

Two Different Perspectives on Death

So, cruising the net for profound things to post on our blog here I came upon a couple of animated works that I thought provided wonderful contrasting views on death and how one copes with its looming spectre.

The first one is interesting largely because it is dealing with a type of death that is somewhat overlooked within the scope of Burstein's Epitaph Project, that being assisted suicide. The piece really does a fantastic job of using typography and 3D motion graphics strategies to create an incredible sense of emotion regarding the subject. All told from the perspective of one who cannot speak up to defend their wish to live; granted I am a supporter of one's 'right to die', but that doesn't change the fact that this is a powerful piece of work.

Tragic Peaceful Death

This next one is just a great piece of animation, reveling in the idea that we can fight back against Death itself, beating it into submission when we aren't ready to go yet. In some ways its a product of the old axiom, "It is better to live on your feet than die on your knees", only in this case it not applies the notion to even the inevitability of death due to old age. Enjoy!

How to Cope With Death

- Chaplain Sean Cox -

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Joyce Burstein: The Epitaph Project

Here's the link to Joyce Burstein's website for her ongoing project.

The Epitaph Project.

It is really a fascinating notion to be able to write one's own epitaph, and it gives a sharp clarity to the concept that we are finite beings and that after we die all that will be left of us is a small imprint on those we knew throughout our lives.

So always remember kiddos, "Be Kind. Please Rewind." Or else you'll end up with a really cruddy epitaph.

- Tsar Sean Cox III -

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Animators and Death

When one thinks of animators and death one of the first things to come up would probably be Len Lye's "Free Radicals", which he was finishing as he was on his death bed.

Stan Brakhage would hopefully be up there since the reason why he died was from bladder cancer, which he contracted from painting on film in an poorly ventilated room.

However, I believe Derek Jarman should be added to this list. His last film Blue was all about Death and the AIDS virus. Now, you might not think of it as animation exactly, because the entire film is an hour long soundtrack with just a blue screen. Now you might ask: "How is that animation?" I know it's not exactly what we would traditionally call "animation", but the film was made while Jarman was dieing of a disease he contracted because of the AIDS virus. That disease left him basically blind for the last few years of his life. He picked blue because it is the color of the AIDS virus magnified - so who is to say that this is not a blind film - a blind animated film. I do.

The film is an amazing mix of poetic monologue and music that confronts the endless tragedies that the queer community was forced to confront in England (and the world) during the late 80's and early 90's. The film is literally about Derek Jarman's own inevitable death that he was awaiting, but it was really about a generation of a queer community that was basically left to die. It's a film trying to make sense of the nonsense that occurred during that time. "The earth is dieing...and we do not notice it."

And even though it is a film I have a copy of the entire soundtrack (cause the picture is out of print) and it you would like a copy please ask. And when you watch it; please watch it first to a blue screen - the film seems a lot more potent that way.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Paul Driessen - The End of the World in Four Seasons

This is a great animation dealing with time, decay and the nature of multiple threads of space/reality all interacting on some level.

Paul Driessen - The End of the World in Four Seasons

Click on it, you know you want to.

- Private First Class Cox -

Paul Shepherd's Post

Here's Paul's post that was under comments, just so everyone can actually read it.

"Dr. Itzhak Bars is a professor at USC in the physics department. There is what appears to be a lecture outline, which is currently the first result that appears on google when you search "Dr. Itzbak Bars":

Dr. Bars appears to be an expert on duality. It's hard to decipher from the rough outline, but it appears the "duality" that Dr. Bars specializes in is within time and space instead of the cliche human psychology (however, that should be apparent since Dr. Bars is in the Physics department).

Film of the week:
This is a poorly uploaded video of one of Bill Morrison's films. Bill Morrison is an experimental filmmaker who mostly deals with decaying cinema (in such a way that it could be considered animation). His most well known film is "Decasia" and he recently visited the USC Moving Image Archives in research on his next film. Enjoy.


Dr. Bars Explains Two-Time Theory

Here's another article where Dr. Bars gives us laymen (and women) an idiots overview of his theory regarding a Two-Time Universe. I thought it was particularly helpful regarding just how revolutionary his theory is and in what ways he is helping to create a unified theory of physics.


Overlord Sean. C. Cox

Friday, September 21, 2007

Basic Overview of String Theory

Here's a pretty good breakdown of the String Field Theory of our universe that is the standard scientific belief that is being expanded upon by the good doctor's new 2 Field Theory of Time.

It is from Wikipedia, but it seems fairly well constructed.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Blog Links for Weekly Topics

Here are the links for the other weeks' topics, feel free to post your thoughts.

Sept 5th – Visualizing Science and Visual Effects

Sept 12th – Documentary and Animation

Sept 19 - Visualizing Science - Art & Science

Sept 26th – Visual Effects, Stereoscopic and perception

October 3rd – Character Animation and performance, gesture kinetics, dance

October 10th – Facial gesture, emotional resonance through animation and cinema

October 17th Consciousness and sound

November 7th – Fine Art, cinema and The Virtual Window

Share your thoughts people! Show the world how smrt you are!

- General Sean C. Patton -

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Information About Our Guest!

So, as you may or may not know, the guest for Week 9 is Dr. Itzhak Bars. Here are a couple of articles that cover his theories and research interests.

"Timing is Everything for Modern Physics"

"Itzhak Bars, Research Interests"

Feel free to look them over to get a better grip on what he will be talking about.


Friday, August 31, 2007


Welcome to the DADA Seminar Week 9 and 10 blog on Death, Time and Animation!

Post your thoughts, articles and findings on the subject below.