Database for Animation Studies


Traces of the World: Cel Animation and Photography

The animated cartoon has traditionally been excluded from photographic theories of cinema on the grounds that the animation camera is only incidental to the cartoon’s production, an assumption this article challenges. Taking as its basic premise that all works of celluloid animation were photographic in origin, this article demonstrates the ways in which the physical reality of our world, and particularly the world of the animation studio, leaves its mark on the cartoon image. Through the frame-by-frame analysis of cartoons by Warner Bros and other major American studios of the mid-20th century, the author catalogues the various visual imperfections that testify to cel animation’s photographic origins. These include improperly placed cels, reflections of the camera apparatus, dust and dirt particles, and even the fingerprints left by anonymous labourers. Although these mistakes may only appear on the screen for a fraction of a second, each has been preserved for posterity as a still photograph. In effect, an animated cartoon is a photographic record of its own production. A model for this method is the work of the artist Andrew Norman Wilson, whose ScanOps (2012) consists of a series of photographs culled from Google Books. Ultimately, this method of analysis serves as an inquiry into both the politics and the aesthetics of the labour process.

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Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal
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