Janeann Dill, Ph.D., MFA, MA

Founder and CCO

The artist is a creative intellectual,
not an inspired idiot. 
1956 Brown Report, Harvard University

Your Subtitle text
Research and Publications
 (Scroll down to read numerous articles.) 

(To read more about research ... scroll down) 


"What is Great Animation?"  
Author: Karl Cohen
Janeann Dill with Jules Engel, Los Angeles,1998. Photo Courtesy of ©Janean Dill
Janeann Dill with Jules Engel, Los Angeles,
1998. Photo Courtesy of ©Janean Dill.
In the process of researching this paper two people sent me notes that questioned the importance of greatness in animation.  Dr. Janeann Dill did her graduate work at Cal Arts (MFA) and European Graduate School (PhD), is a fine artist (painter), experimental animator/animation artist and the authorized biographer of Jules Engel.  She wrote, “As a young writer, I asked Jules Engel which of his films was his favorite.  He introduced his response by saying ‘I don't know about favorite, but the most important ...’.  Ever the positive artist-teacher-mentor, Engel's response taught me to think more critically about my use of language.  This conversation reminds me of that conversation.  I have grown uncomfortable with language that heightens a subjective and personal hierarchy, such as ‘favorite’ and ‘great,’ although I understand the asking as a way to stimulate discourse, so I want to respond."

“The compelling qualities of animation that attract my attention and hold my interest are its direct ability to unpack an idea in time and its inherent interdisciplinarity to reach across the boundaries of cinema, technology, literature, dance, music, philosophy, science and art.  To experience a particular animation as interesting or more compelling than another, i.e., to elicit a greater or lesser aesthetic experience, means that the animation communicates a consciousness in its creator of being as equally committed to the particular idea of the piece itself as to the inherent qualities of the animation mode.  That moment is the moment I walk away and want to share the good news that an intelligent work of art can move one to absolute joy! [Dill]

George Griffin.
George Griffin.

The second person is independent animator George Griffin whose works I’ve admired since the late 1970s when I saw Candy Machine and The Club.  More recently his abstract images in Koko capture the essence of the Charlie Parker performance on the film’s soundtrack; his figurative A Little Routine is a loving moment with his daughter andNew Fangled is a caustic or cynical moment at an advertising agency meeting.  George is a remarkable fine artist whose personal work can not be pigeonholed into a style, school or technique.  He creates what is appropriate for the project at hand.

When I asked George to be part of this project he suggested I take into account the avant-garde/experimental films work of Robert Breer (1926 – 2012), an important American artist who for over 50 years worked in many mediums including animation.  Breer’s animated works do not fit neatly into this project (about 7 or 8 of them are on YouTube including Fuji, 1974, that was added to the National Film Registry in 2002).  They are important abstract kinetic works of art that are extremely personal experiences.  He was a part of the East Coast avant-garde art world and his work at various times reflects elements of Abstract Expressionism, the absurdness of Dada, the spirit of fun found in Pop art and the severe boldness of Minimalism.  He provided film for early Happenings in NYC and exhibited work with Alexander Calder and other kinetic artists.  He was an important part of American art landscape for several decades.

Breer Courtesy of Anthology Film Archives.
Breer Courtesy of
Anthology Film Archives.

Breer’s work is difficult for the general public to relate to as there is neither a traditional story nor a cast of characters.  He works with abstract lines and forms that create their own patterns of movement.  There can be themes that may be repeated from time to time (the same or similar images) and his designs may grow and metamorphose into other forms.  There may be visual counterpoint to the passage you are seeing and various visual moods can be expressed. 

Unlike the abstract films of Oskar Fischinger, Mary Ellen Butte and other pioneers of abstract animation, he used sounds and music sparingly.  In A Man And His Dog Out For Air (1957) the only sounds are birds chirping.  In Fuji the soundtrack seems to come from the wheels of the train he is on clicking on the rails.  In the works of his I’m familiar with, he is not illustrating pieces of music; he is using sound to enhance his kinetic art.

Color is another element he uses sparingly.  Instead Breer stays focused on exploring the many ways he can use shapes and lines.  In some of his early films like Blazes (1961) his work reminds me of the bold splashy forms of abstraction expressionist paintings from the 1950s, but in A Man and A Dog Out For Air we see no bold forms.  Instead we see constantly changing lines that flow in a somewhat lyrical way.  In Swiss Army Knife With Rats and Pigeons (1980) forms reminiscent of his early works appear along with drawings that suggest Pop Art subjects (a roll of Scotch Tape, tin cans, etc.) and semi-figurative images of animals that appear and disappear quickly.  His films seem to be explorations of new concepts and the result is a rich range of works.  You can find his work online and articles about him using Google.

Jules Engel in his studio, 1949. Courtesy of Tobey C. Moss. Photo credit: Lou Jacobs Jr.
Jules Engel in his studio, 1949.Photo credit: Lou Jacobs Jr.

As I reflect on Jules Engel’s comments and the works of George Griffin and Robert Breer I was reminded that some animation exists to please the public and other works are private/personal experiences.  If the latter also excite the public, great, but that is not necessary for them to be considered significant works of art.

I thank all who have contributed to this intelligent discussion about animation.  An interesting observation in reviewing this research project is how we used the word “great” in slightly different ways based on the way we are related to the art form.  When I began this project I told people I expected a wide range of answers as the word’s meaning is actually quite vague.  What I didn’t consider at first is that the word is somewhat inappropriate to use when describing the work of some significant artists.  We must use other criteria, knowledge and words to express our thoughts and feelings about their work.

It has been a pleasure researching and writing this article and I hope it influences some readers, especially students, to go deeper into their exploration of what animation can be and to not simply and superficially call it great. 

-- Karl Cohen is president of ASIFA-SF and teaches animation history at SF State University. He is the author of Forbidden Animation: Censored Cartoons and Blacklisted Animators, as well as hundreds of articles about animation, many published by AWN.


Visualizing Art History: Experimental Animation and Its Mentor, Jules Engel

Author: Janeann DIll
Published by Massachusetts Humanities Council

A dictionary begins when it no longer gives the meaning of words, 
but their tasks. ---
 Georges Bataille

It is most often the case when I refer to my work as experimental animation that I am met with the question, what is experimental animation? I am instantly reminded of a story about Louis Armstrong in conversation with Johnny Carson who asked Armstrong, “What is jazz?” Louis Armstrong enthusiastically responded, “Well if you don’t know what it is, I sure as hell can’t tell you!”

In some ways, Louis Armstrong’s response might be said to be universal for questions having to do with art, in that any attempt to offer definition tends to further confuse, bind, constrict and/or be irrelevant, rather than to clarify meaning. As a scholar and as an artist, I am most interested in the unanswerable. As I understand it, to ask the unanswerable is the beginning of an event … if you will, an event of language, timing and gesture, experimentation and conceptualizing. The more important consideration in a “what is ____?” question is not the answer, but the asking. How is it we know so little about the art form?

The artist is a creative intellectual, not an inspired idiot. 
--- Brown Report, Harvard University, 1956

With an historical critical trajectory in mind, I would like to briefly consider the advent of Modernist artists who widely experimented with new concepts of time and movement in painting, dance, music, and theater, and the resulting art history generated across those disciplines. Seeking to make visible an interior life held focus, conceptually speaking, in lieu of illustrating an exterior “reality.” As if in concert, art movements in France, Germany, Russia, and Italy gave value to a critical and literary examination of rhythmic processes and multiple perspectives of forms in art, not only as spatial relationships on a flat painting surface, but temporally.

Documentary Film Frame ©Janeann Dill  Biographical Permission, Jules Engel. 
"Wet Paint," film by Jules Engel, ©iotaCenter  

Framing Experimental Animation inside Modernism’s pursuit of a time-based visual art, experiments in animation by the painters, Léopold Survage (France, 1914), Walter Ruttmann(Germany, 1921) and Viking Eggeling (Germany,1924) were realized, but short lived, to be eclipsed by an absence of acknowledgment or by death. Léopold Survage did not live to see his paintings on glass plates filmed (the Museum of Modern Art in New York has a series of his ink washes that were studies for animations) but spoke elegantly of his conscious commitment to experiment with animation:

“I will animate my painting, I will give it movement, I will introduce rhythm into the concrete action of my abstract painting, born of my interior life; my instrument will be the cinematographic film, this true symbol of accumulated movement. It will execute the ‘scores’ of my visions, corresponding to my state of mind in its successive phases. I am creating a new visual art in time, that of colored rhythm and of rhythmic color.” (Léopold Survage)

In 1921, Walter Ruttmann exhibited the first completed experimental animation, a hand-tinted 35mm film with a live performance of a synchronous musical score composed especially for the film, “Lichtspiel Opus I.” Ruttmann was also a musician and performed with his film in the live quartet.

I assign primacy here to a first critical theorist in experimental animation, Viking Eggeling. His experimental animation, Diagonal Symphony, was completed in 1924 but when he became ill almost immediately after its release and died, this extensive research in visual language lay dormant until the late 20th century. (Ruttmann’s “Opus I”. and Eggeling’s “Diagonal Symphony” may be found on YouTube.com, but please be aware that contemporary composers have appropriated the visuals to accompany new soundtracks.)

Experimental Animation is an important and neglected strand of experimental fine art practice. Examined in relation to art history as a whole and cinema history in particular, “all” animation has largely been considered ‘cartoon.’ When all animation is framed within cinema studies, it is largely assumed to be a subcategory of live-action, just as experimental animation is largely assumed to be a form of frame-at-a-time experimental film. A combined examination of the histories of art, cinema, and philosophy has yet to be undertaken. An arts criticism that accommodated these disciplines is particularly potent, precisely because it is terrain that has been overlooked. Historically deemed untenable and alien to a canon of measure and practice of fine art, experimental animation was assumed to be mode of experimental film with its accompanying standard of measure, an ill fit.

“Visualizing Art History: Experimental Animation and Its Mentor, Jules Engel” is a documentary feature that links this critical research to a contemporary art practice of experimental animation. An exemplary focus for any experimental art form lies in the power of an artist-mentor-educator to transform its creative practice. Jules Engel (1909-2003), who began a parallel career in the mainstream as an animation timing artist for Disney’s Fantasia, was that exemplar for over three generations of students at Cal Arts.

California Institute of the Arts was the first higher educational institution in America to create an academic track for the study of animation as an art form. In the early 1970’s, Cal Arts appointed Engel the Founding Director/Chair of the Animation Department and was named Institute Fellow prior to his death in 2003. Experimental animation in America grew up in California in the belly of the beast of Hollywood and extends its reach into New England through the generations of students that Jules Engel successfully mentored in fine art, film industry, and independent film.

In closing, here is a small offering of an example of experimental animation ("Elegy for Jules"), a brief segment featuring me talking about the meaninig of "abstract" in my art, and an excerpt from my documentary in progress about the work of Jules Engel:

with drawings on the Vimeo IIACI CHANNEL.
Still image from documentary film of Jules Engel in his office,
and Institute Fellow at the California Institute of the Arts.

Gender Differences in Technology Use:
Women Connect More than Men

Amanda M. Kimbrough
(University of Alabama, Undergraduate, Lead Researcher)

Rosanna E. Guadagno, Ph.D. (National Science Foundation, Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences)

Nicole L. Muscanell (University of Alabama, Graduate Student, Psychology)

Janeann Dill, Ph.D., MFA, MA (Scholar-Researcher-Founder IIACI)


We took a contemporary look at these gender differences in Internet use. Participants discussed their experiences with many forms of technology. Contrary to prior research, our results indicate that women, not men are more frequent technology users. These results suggest that social norms for online interaction may be changing.

Summary of Research

Previous research has shown that while men use the Internet more than women, they use it for different things. For instance, Weiser (2000, 2001) reported that men, compared to women are more likely to use the Internet to search for dates, read the news, look for job leads, get sports and financial information, read politics, and to play games, whereas women, compared to men, are more likely to use it for interpersonal communication (email, chatting, etc.) Fallows reported in 2005 that there were no longer gender differences in the overall amount of Internet use, but differences in motivation and utilization of time spent online. For example, during these five years we see women using the Internet more for social interactions and the promotion of relationship maintenance, while men were more likely to spend their time online engaging in more task focused activities (e.g. reading the news and getting financial information). Muscanell & Guadagno (2012) found the same pattern of results among Facebook users. The purpose of this study is to take a contemporary look at these gender differences in the use of wide variety of Internet technologies. Using an online survey, we asked participants about their experiences with several forms of technology. The technology use we asked about pertained to the use of social networking sites, e-mail, video calls, and instant messaging on the Internet. Other offline technologies included texting and phone calls. Our results indicate that women, compared to men, are more frequent technology users and show a greater preference for mediated communications. For instance, compared to men, women preferred text messaging, t(352) = 2.97, p =.003, and social media, t(351) = 2.57, p =.01. They also report more frequent use of text messaging, t(355) = 4.06, p < .001, and social media, t(355) = 2.61, p =.009.  These results suggest that social interaction online may be changing. As social networking sites and other technology-mediated communications become ever more popular, it is likely that we will see more and more women in the technology world.

Closing Notes: Amanda Kimbrough

The concept for this publication has been building for years, and believe it or not, it started with an art project for a creativity class. In this project, I attempted to visually display, in an almost puzzle like way, the interaction of experiences common to almost all members of my peer group. It ended up being less of a commentary on society, and more of a self-portrait about how I perceived the social interactions and environment of those around me.

                  From this early project, I was encouraged by Dr. Janeann Dill, to take some independent study hours to further my research on social interaction and creative experience. Since my first project was written from a personal perspective, my aim in this second project was to incorporate more research and gain insight into how others viewed their social environment. Therefore, I conducted approximately twenty-five interviews on the subject of social interaction and creativity. I determined several factors that could effect interpersonal interactions and creative functioning. These were time, environment, openness, and participants perceptions and/or previous knowledge of another person. There was a section pertaining to each topic within the interview.

                  When looking back over my interviews to code responses some of the most interesting, diverse, and conflicting answers came through in the section on time. A major factor that many of the participants sited as a strain on their time was engaging with technology through a variety of different mediums, especially social-centered technology. I found this interesting at the time, because heavy engagement in technology-mediated communications is, in essence, voluntary. However, my sampling of college students spoke of it in a language expressing responsibility or obligation. Essentially, they felt that in order to effectively communicate among their peer group they needed to embrace these mediated forms of communication such as online social networking and text messaging.

                  These questions spawned another set of independent study hours to research more in-depth the role that time and technology play in social interaction. For this study, the topic was more specific and I wanted my data pool to be larger. So I drafted a survey asking participants about six types of technology mediated communication: phone calls, text messages, e-mail, social networking sites, video calls, and instant messaging. Questions pertained to use, preference, perception of control, stress, ability for creativity, number of accounts (if applicable), etc. 

                  For this third project, I was planning on collecting large amounts of data, so I decided to bring in someone else who had more experience with extensive research data. Thus, I contacted Dr. Rosanna Guadagno, a social psychologist in the Psychology Department at the University of Alabama specializing in technology research. After a very encouraging first meeting, she decided to join the project.

                  After a long battle with the Institutional Review Board at The University of Alabama, and armed with my survey and two amazing advisors, Dr. Dill and Dr. Guadagno, I started to gather my data. This process took about a semester, but in the end I had almost four hundred participants. The entire time I was fighting the IRB and gathering data, I continued to increase my knowledge of technological use and mediated communication research. Upon looking at the data, Dr. Guadagno and I sighted some significant findings contradicting previous research that men use technology more than women. As social networking sites and other technology-mediated communications become more popular, it seems that we will see more and more women in the technology world.

                  As you may be able to tell by now, I did not start off wanting to look at gender differences in technology use. All I knew four years ago was that I liked to write and was interested in people. Now, I have my own line of research, as well as plans for its future. I want to learn more about how people communicate through technology in terms of persuasion, aggression, etc. As well as how they interact with technology, and maybe even eventually help design an interface that provides optimal communication value in terms of creativity and social effectiveness.

                  I may have never found what I loved and where my passion lies if it had not been for Dr. Janeann Dill coming into my life as a professor and mentor while lending me her ever-vigilant encouragement.  I have to thank her for this and all the countless instruction that she has given me during my tenure at the University of Alabama. If it were not for her and her creativity seminar, I would never have taken an independent study. Without that, I never would have had the courage to start my own line of research. Dr. Dill has been so inspiring to me over the years. I cannot thank her enough for all the work she has done with/for me as well as all of the lessons she has taught me. I will truly value my time and experiences working with her for many years to come.              

This publication has been accepted for presentation to the American Psychological Science Convention at their 2012 conference held in Chicago, May 24-27th.   


Published, Institute for Interdisciplinary Art & Creative Intelligence (ThinkTank), March 21, 2012

Excerpts from lecture by Dr. Janeann Dill, University of Alabama, New College

For Martin Heidegger, the philosopher, we know that questioning and thinking are self-justifying. To question clears the way to think.  Having no certain destination in mind, to be underway is a response to that call. 

Briefly and extreme in its abbreviation, I want to invoke, as example, one of Heidegger’s university lectures
. Describing a cabinetmaker’s apprentice, Heidegger equates the teaching-learning process of handicraft, poetry, and thinking to focus his students on aspects of relatedness as a path --- a path to alert his students to the dangers of learning without responding to essentials.  Heidegger cast such an approach to learning as “empty busywork.”

For Heidegger, handicraft and thinking are linked:  thinking is akin to building a cabinet. Grasping is a function of the hand although it cannot be said to be its essence. The hand grasps and catches or pushes and pulls, reaches and extends, receives and welcomes, and "not just things.”  Only a being who can speak, i.e., think, can achieve works of handicraft. Heidegger locates “all the work of the hand” as rooted in thinking.*

©JaneannDill all rights reserved
See Heidegger's What Is Called Thinking?


What Is History?: A Concept Study and Its Link to Animation”

Laura Godorecci

History: “the aggregate of past events in general; the course of events or human affairs (OED).” Documentation: “the accumulation, classification, and dissemination of information (OED).”  Two definitions worded in the most deceptive of ways.  Apparently clear and concise, they would appear to suggest no meanings of the words they describe unknown to the masses: no meanings that conflict with the uses of these words made by what James Joyce referred to as “the marketplace.”  Yet it should be noted that Joyce put no trust in this “marketplace” for its irresistible tendency to take language at face value; and indeed, the above definitions—these two sets of words seeking to explain other words—are only non-threatening when they are accepted without analysis.  A closer look at both would soon reveal that even such “safe” descriptions of two terms quite commonly occurring in the English language conceal more than a few unsettling elements.  “The aggregate of past events,” for example, would appear to mesh well and unremarkably with the common use of the word “history” to mean “a record of the past.”  However, problems arise when it is additionally noted that in the marketplace sense of the word, this “record of the past” is qualified as a “true” record: a record of events that “actually happened.”  Yet “the aggregate of past events” is a phrase that allows for the inclusion of many incidents well outside the marketplace concept of “true.” Similarly, the term “documentation” deals by its definition with “information,” which in turn is formally defined as “knowledge communicated concerning some particular fact, subject, or event (OED):” a definition that in no way qualifies or limits “information” to the realms of tangible existence, truth, or “fact,” by the common value of the final term.  Furthermore, matters grow more complex still when it is noted that there is no definition of a word that is not valid, even if it has fallen out of common use—for each new use of word is based upon the uses that came before it, and should any of those previous uses be considered null and void, the word itself would lose its very depth of meaning: the word itself would have no history.  Were that to be the case, then just as with people who pass away without leaving some record of themselves behind, the word would pass out of memory and, consequently, out of all existence.  How, then, does it affect the common sense of what is “history” when it is noted that the very first definition of the word in the Oxford English Dictionary defines the term as “a relation of incidents (in early use, either true or imaginary; later only of those professedly true); a narrative, tale, story (OED)”? The common understanding of history must be reviewed: the possibility that history can in fact be made up of “false” events—in the terms of marketplace, by events that never “really happened”—must be included.  We of the marketplace must ask ourselves what are these “true” events “real” history is made of? What is history? In asking these questions, this essay will also analyze whether “fiction” in the common sense of the term can also live within “fact,” and specifically whether animation—seen by many to be the ultimate visual expression of fictional events—can in fact fall under the name of history.   

Although the most essential place to begin this analysis of history is from the fundamental meaning of the word in question, in this particular instance it may serve a clarifying purpose to already have a sense of the essay’s eventual point of arrival—animation—before the analysis of history begins in earnest.  This sense, in an ironic turn, can be conveyed through a brief summation of animation’s “history,” with the latter term’s meaning being understood at its most superficial value.  Having at the outset some idea of animation’s “aggregate of past events” can serve as a fixed point amidst the potentially complicated passages of the analysis to come, as well as a beacon of the analysis’ eventual point of conclusion.  Very briefly, therefore, the foundations of animation are recorded as having been set down in the following way.

Animation as both the art form and the source of entertainment for the masses that it is viewed as in the modern day is thought to have its earliest roots in late 19th century France, more specifically with a French entrepreneur and inventor by the name of Emile Reynaud.  Born in 1844, Reynaud was apprenticed at an early age to the well-known photographer Salomon, owner of a precision-mechanics shop—an apprenticeship from which Reynaud emerged with a considerable knowledge of optics and mechanics (Bendazzi 3). This knowledge, combined with considerable artistic skills garnered from his mother, who was a former student of the painter Redouté (Bendazzi 4), eventually planted in Reynaud a vested interest in experimenting with the possibilities of movement as expressed through the visual arts.  In 1872, Reynaud came across an article in French magazine La Nature explaining some of his time’s most contemporary findings in “the optical reproduction of movement (Bendazzi 4),” and shortly thereafter, “combining experience and ingenuity (Bendazzi 4)” Reynaud developed his first optical invention: the praxinoscope. 

Here a moment must be taken to look even further back in history and give brief descriptions of the two major optical “toys” that preceded Reynaud’s own essential contribution to the development of animation, as these earlier examples of optical devices were key to Reynaud’s development of his own invention.  The first and earliest of these devices was the thaumatrope, invented in 1825 by the English physician John A. Paris and consisting of: 

A disc with a complementary image on each side, and strings attached at each end of its horizontal axis.  When the disc is spun on the strings, the two complemen-tary images appear to merge.  

(Bendazzi 3)

The second device, now remembered as “the prototype of optical toys (Bendazzi 3),” owed its creation to Belgian scientist Joseph Plateau.  Called the phenakistiscope, it was:

A device made of a pivot and a cardboard disc, along the edge of which successive images of an object in motion had been drawn.  By focusing on one drawing while viewing the rotating disk [sic] through a slit, one had the illusion that the drawing moved.  (Bendazzi 3)

Familiar with both of these inventions, Reynaud created his praxinoscope as a device that traced its optical principles to the former and based in its structure greatly upon the latter.  Like Plateau’s phenakistiscope, Reynaud’s praxinoscope was formed with the idea of a moving cylinder on a pivot.  In the case of Reynaud’s creation, however, the viewer instead of looking at the images on the inside of the cylinder through a slit, viewed the chain of drawings in a mirrored prism fixed directly to the pivot.  As the cylinder spun, the images were reflected in the prism, where they appeared to come together to form a single moving picture (Bendazzi 4). Reynaud patented his invention in 1877 and proceeded to sell it as a highly popular children’s toy; but his ideas for widening the device’s appeal (now remembered by history and documented in this essay’s principal source as having been the product of equal parts curiosity in the possibilities of optics and Reynaud’s own personal hunger for fame [Bendazzi 4]) eventually spurred him to even greater heights.  In 1889, Reynaud improved upon his praxinoscope and named his new creation théâtre optique.  The praxinoscope had now become a complex creation, and one that required Reynaud himself to be the operator; for:

By means of a projector and more mirrors, the images which the viewer of the praxinoscope had once seen directly on the prism were now brought to a screen.  Images were no longer arranged on a short, self-terminating strip placed within a cylinder, but were painted on a long ribbon, a true film with a canvas support that unwound from one spool and rewound on another.  Finally, an auxiliary ‘magic lantern’ projected a fixed background on the same screen where the action film was taking place. (Bendazzi 5)

A skilled manipulator of the device—in the end, always Reynaud himself—had to watch the winding spools to ensure that the projection ran smoothly.  Also, the painstaking precision and long amount of time required to create the hand-painted animations limited the reach of théâtre optique and eventually caused its downfall in the face of industrially-friendly photographic cinema.  Yet it was with théâtre optique that the evolution of animation as it is known today began; and before it disappeared, Reynaud’s last and greatest creation set the stage for what would eventually be resurrected and championed as the animated film. 

Now that a certain understanding of animation’s history is had, the analysis of history to which it will eventually tie into can begin.  The first step into this analysis—to begin at the most general level of inquiry—is to ask again “what is history?” The marketplace, as previously noted, would have “history” be the collection of all events perceived by mankind as “true.”  The same marketplace would argue, too, that such definitions of “true” and “history” are perfectly clear.  But what exactly is a “true” event? And even before that, what is an “event” itself? The latter would perhaps appear as an easier question to answer than the former, as the common sensibility of meaning has the ready definition of “event” as “something that happened.”  Yet another look at formal definitions—to be expounded on below—soon reveals that are many events that never happen but are events all the same: for occurring and happening are two markedly different concepts.  Animation, in fact, is the perfect example of this phenomenon, for it is itself the documentation of events that occur without happening.  Should one watch anything from “Snow White” to “Finding Nemo” back to one of Emile Reynaud’s pantomimes lumineuses (Bendazzi 5), he would in every case see the same miracle of art working in time: a compendium of events occurring before him, unfolding in real time, yet existing without having ever actually happened.  The events the viewer would see would be occurrences that went straight to documentation without passing through the so-often-supposed necessary phase of taking place in the actual world as well as the documented one—a phenomenon that fascinatingly juxtaposes with the fact that animation (the verb) itself is an action that always happens but never occurs.  For “occur” and “happen” are defined respectively in the following ways: “to happen, come about, take place, esp. without being arranged or expected” and “to come to pass…to take place…the most general verb to express the simple occurrence of an event, often with little or no implication of chance or absence of design (OED, emphasis added).” The strong ties of synonymity coupled with the opposing qualifications of these words mirrors exactly the ironic paradox between the relation animation has to “occurring” and “happening” and the inverted relation with these words had by the events that animation records.  For, in the words of the historic animator Alexandre Alexeïeff: when one is animating “nothing can be left to chance (Bendazzi xxii).” 

Even if the events documented by animation have the quality of having never happened, however, they are indeed “histories” by one of the definitions of the word history given above: history as “a relation of incidents (in early use, either true or imaginary; later only of those professedly true) (OED).” Animation is certainly image-inary; and as for true: the images recorded in an animation are indeed “consistent with fact; agreeing with the reality; representing the thing as it is (OED),” since the fact, reality, or “thing” in question is the concept of the animator, which is the driving force, the basis, and the lifeblood of all animation. Animation exists after careful consideration, and leaves no room for anything random that is not a part of the animator’s original plan.  It is not like photography or photographic cinema, which has ample room for chance, as Alexeïeff also makes clear in an example: a photograph is taken, and those who see it are amazed that there is present “even the fly on the dish! (xx)” from the original scene that the picture portrays.  Yet the fly was not placed there by the photographer: it was one of the many details in the shot that the photographer took for granted—that appeared behind or before or around the true focus of the picture, whatever that may have been, and fortuitously provided an interesting context for the subject.  Instead in animation, in art, Alexeïeff says, “there is no place for the superfluous (xx).” When one tells a story through thousands of hand-drawn frames, time and labor prohibit anything less than the meticulously planned.  All must be foreseen.  But to return to the question of animation’s “truth,” the images of any animation once drawn are also “firm in allegiance; faithful, loyal, constant, trusty (OED)” to the vision of he who made them.  It would appear, therefore, that even an animated story made of events deemed “false” or “unreal” by the marketplace can, in fact (the stuff of documentation), be true.  As such, there is no question that animation is in every sense a history; for now each of the definitions of “history”—both current and “outdated”—have been proved to encompass it.

And now, with the common understandings of history and animation having been properly subverted, the analysis can move onto a look at the concept of documentation: the “stuff of history.”  It is this final analysis that will unequivocally prove whether or not “fictions” can indeed be histories: for the marketplace sees history as “history” and not “story” because history can be “verified” by documentary evidence.  However, this again assumes that documents are somehow “true,” or at least that there are “true” documents and “false” or “fictional” ones; for the common sense of documentation is “anything recorded,” and since animation is a recording of images, even the marketplace can agree that animation is in this sense “documented.”  However, as noted above, describing an event as “documented” within the context of history causes the marketplace to bestow upon the word a much more limited meaning.  Within this framework, the common idea is that when one reads a document in the tactile, nominative sense of the word, one expects to be reading something reliable and “true” containing at least some perfect record of the events it describes.  An animated fable, therefore, might be something “documented,” but it would never be “a document” by the common definition.  It is to the specific meaning of documentation, therefore, that one must turn to determine just what documentation is and whether or not animation can be called an accurate example.

There is a syllogism that potentially foreshadows the outcome of this close reading of “documentation.”  One could say that animation must be an example of documentation since in order for history to exist it must be documented—as history is, by its name, a story, and stories must be recorded, whether in written or spoken words, in images, or in any other perceptible medium.  One could point out next that it has already been proven in the above portion of this essay’s analysis that an animation is a history; and he could complete the circle with the conclusion that, since a equals b and b equals c, a must equal c and animation is therefore neatly proven to be a type of documentation after all.  But the trap of the false syllogism is an ever-present one, so to err on the side of caution, an analysis of the nature of documentation is the following.  The first definition of documentation as supplied above was “the accumulation, classification, and dissemination of information.”  A second definition of the term is “to furnish (a person) with evidence; to keep informed or instructed (OED).” Already it can be seen that the latter of these two meanings fits the essence of animation by the earlier discussion of animation’s making manifest the evidence of an animator’s will and concept; and with regards to those wills and concepts, animation undoubtedly keeps its viewers informed and instructed about both.  An animation passes on a story, and those who follow that story through the animation come away from the viewing edified.  Accomplishing such, animation also “disseminates”—a key part of documentation’s first definition.  But as for determining whether animation is an accumulation of information, let us now look at the word “information.”  This term can mean “an account, relation, narrative (OED):” animation itself, therefore, again by the earlier discussion of animation as history; for animation is the account, relation, or narrative of the story thought up and planned out by the animator.  But “information” can also mean “knowledge communicated concerning some particular fact, subject, or event; that of which one is apprised or told.” Yet is not every image drawn a conveyor of the subject the animator wishes to elaborate upon? One might not think of animation as an example of documentation, because one may associate documentation as only dealing with happenings; but just as with history, for a documented event to be “document-worthy” it need only occur—and by that token, any myth, any story, any painting, and any film is a documentation of those ephemeral but still very real non-happenings, which make up history as much as those events that the marketplace feels it can “prove.”

The use of quotation marks in the above analysis should be indicative of a very important point, which ties the whole of this essay’s analysis together.  When people make use of language, it is a rare event that they are also aware of precisely what it is they are saying.  This is the reason a literary work can have meanings that seem to change with time (and the reason any literary work from a time long past can never have its meaning reconstructed in the present), the reason why a comment made by an elderly person can be misunderstood by a younger one: words are living things, and they have shades of meaning that very few of those who use them, if any, have a complete sense and knowledge of.  This is the trap of relying upon the superficial values of language, which Joyce saw the marketplace falling into and which he himself sought to avoid; and the quotation marks in this essay seek to denote these deficiencies in understanding.  For any time a word is used in a superficial sense, a false perception of the meaning of the word is the immediate result; and speaking of “reality” in history, or of “truth” in documents, is a perfect example.  When one says that a document is a record of “true” events, all one needs to do to counter that statement is find two documents that speak of what is arguably the same moment in time and yet differ in the details of their accounts.  World history is made of such documentation, and any history book will make note of the difficulties historians labor under to determine the “most accurate”—the “truest”—course of events.  This, though, inevitably means that the recorded version of the past is that viewed as most probable by the historians’ standards and, more broadly, the standards of the historians’ times.  But the standards of the historians who come long after an event has passed are not the standards of the time of the event itself, and in consequence there is often little that is a less accurate record of “what truly happened” than that which the marketplace calls “history.” That which is considered by the masses to be one of the most secure areas of human knowledge is actually one of the most fictional, the most invented.  But even so, it is a history; and being a history despite its elements of “fiction,” history reveals that there are other fictions, other non-events comparable to the non-events invented by historians in the telling of their particular brand of fable, that can be counted as history, as well.  Animation is one such example; for when one takes the time to analyze, to study the meanings of “history,” “documentation,” “information,” and even “truth,” one sees well that animation harmonizes with every set of meanings, and that—incredible as it may seem to one who looks at face value and seeks to move no further—an animation is as much a history as the “history” the human race employs each day to define its past, and thence itself.   

©All Rights Reserved Laura Godorecci
(Critical paper undertaken under Directed Research Studies, Dr. Janeann Dill)

Published, Institute for Interdisciplinary Art & Creative Intelligence (ThinkTank), July 2012



Author's notes: The feature film produced by Tim Burton, "9," was once a short film by Shane Acker that garnered "Best of Show" at SIGGRAPH.  With Burton's feature release in 2009, 
here are my thoughts about "9" then!

Immersed in Domes, Falling Bodies and Stereo Vision: Where's the Gravity?

     "I think SIGGRAPH 2005 was meant to prepare our bodies for space travel and, doubly, for the loss of earth’s natural environment by redefining 'nature.' ... 

"9," a beautiful and poignant film by Shane Acker, received top honours as Best of Show by the jury (on which our esteemed editor sat). While viewing the film, I couldn’t help but think of Tim Burton and Henry Selick’s Nightmare Before Christmas and, somewhat, the Brothers Quay, both in imagery and sensitivity.  In fact, these influences alongside John Lasseter and his PIXAR productions were spread throughout the shorts, probably largely due to the number of films screened in the festival that were student films, and secondly, because these animation artists are of the age to have seen these works as children so that these figures now replace the Disney film as early influences. Beautiful in 9 is the choreography of a kind of mime-movement of its character, who faces a Gollum-like skeleton portrayed as a stalking force of death. In contrast to Nightmare, this film is of a sombre, industrial colour palatte and reads as a futuristic dismissal of warring skeletons, textures and mechanical structures—a fabricated rebirth of wandering into a circle of light—the hero’s journey. Its universal theme both grounds the story and differentiates it from its predecessors. It was only after returning home that I read Tim Burton had picked up the film to develop a feature. How much of the feature version will remain Acker’s will be interesting to note after he is absorbed into the machinery of bigger budget Hollywood.  That said, what might or might not happen in the evolution of 9 as a feature can not diminish the beauty of the animation of Acker’s ten-minute version."--- Janeann Dill 

fps, Festival Watch feature article, Emru Townsend, Ed., pp 14-16.

To download the complete .pdf of the Sept. 2005 issue of fps, go here:

Stay tuned for more articles and interviews.  
The commitment here is to scholarship that may, otherwise, be difficult to publish because it is interdisciplinary in scope, historically marginalized, and/or pushes the limits of current focus.

As example (but not limited to): Panels & Lectures