“Why Animation, Alan?” by Alan Cholodenko


People often ask me, “Alan, why did you get involved in animation?”
And, I’d add here, “Why did you stay involved?”
Well, it wasn’t just my child’s delight at so many wonderful cartoons at so many Saturday matinees at the Center and Royal movie theatres in Bloomfield, New Jersey, as a kid. Though that is a factor.
It wasn’t just my taking for granted as a student and teacher of film that animation is a form of film. Though that is a factor.
It wasn’t just the request of Madame Barbara Gré, who gave us the Mari Kuttna Bequest in Film in the Department of Art History and Theory at the University of Sydney, that I bring the Hungarian animator Sandor Reisenbüchler to Sydney because her daughter Mari loved animation most of all film forms and his work in animation most of all animators. Though that is a factor.
It was what I wrote in my 1991 introduction to The Illusion of Life: Essays on Animation, my realisation that not only is animation a form of film, film—all film, film “as such”—is a form of animation (a claim I made 10 years before Lev Manovich, I might add, but which, I must add in turn, others made before me, including Sergei Eisenstein).
What that means is that film has never not been animation. Such a radical proposition requires that film and film theory be (re)thought through and as animation and animation theory, which reanimation would have the most profound repercussions for film theory and Film Studies, which has neglected and marginalised animation, even considered animation as not a form of film at all, rather a graphic art. Put simply, animation is for us film, and as well media, studies’ “blind spot.”
And that blind spot has grown, even as animation has grown and transformed in film and media. And as film and media have grown and transformed as forms of animation.
Indeed, since The Illusion of Life was published, animation has increasingly come forward, presented itself, as the most compelling, indeed singular process of not only contemporary film and media, where its presence is obvious and overwhelming, but the contemporary world. We live in a world increasingly animated, at the same time acknowledging that the world was never not animated.

This means that the logics and processes of animation—of what I have called and elaborated in my writings as the animatic—of which film animation provides singular exemplification and performance, offer the best description of not only film animation but the contemporary world, and the subject herein. The implication is clear: we need animation film theory, film animation theory, animation theory “as such,” to understand film, the world and the subject. And we need television animation theory, video animation theory and especially computer animation theory as these media increasingly pervade and reanimate the mediascape of the world and the subject. Or rather immediascape, in which world and subject are immersed, even as it is immersed in them. These are an immediascape, world and subject increasingly hyperanimated, hyperanimatic—the pure and empty, virtual forms of animation and the animatic.

Yet, even while being so pervasive and marked all the time, even while being transfaculty, transdisciplinary, and transinstitutional, animation as “something” in its own right has largely remained unacknowledged and unaddressed by scholars, something it has been my work and that of the other authors of essays in The Illusion of Life and its sequel The Illusion of Life 2: More Essays on Animation to try to redress.
These are some of the key factors that animated and have continued to animate my thinking about animation!

For more, check out the Introduction to and essays in Alan Cholodenko’s recent book, The Illusion of Life II: More Essays on Animation, published by Power Publications in Sydney, Australia, and distributed in North and South America by the University of Illinois Press. Alan Cholodenko was a senior lecturer in the Department of Art History and Theory at the University of Sydney before he retired in 2001.

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