Culture Magazine

Hubley on Animation

By Bbenzon @bbenzon
Michael Sporn has reprinted a 1946 article about animation written by John Hubley and Zachary Schwartz. Both had had distinguished careers in animation by that time. Before World War II they'd worked on cartoons for entertainment. That's what animation WAS. But, things changed during the war and the animation industry started doing propaganda, of course, but also instructional films. It's the instructional work that changed their sense of what animation could do, hence their title, Animation Learns a New Language.
Here's a passage:
We can photograph reality. Or we can create a synthesis of reality, and record it.
For instance, we may see the subtle shades of expression on the face of a resistance leader before a fascist firing squad. This may be actual (documentary) or enacted. We see his bodily aspect, his clothes, his hands, the barren wall behind him, the distance between the man and the guns, the sky, the trembling, the blood. Dramatically, we are made to feel the relationship between the victim and the firing squad, the emotional conflict, the tension, the fear, the hatred. We can understand these emotions because we have experienced similar emotions. The specific situation is the focal point that gives us the clue to the general situation. We see this victim of fascism shot, and we gain a better understanding of the general nature of fascism.
With animation, this process is reversed. Instead of an implied understanding resulting from the vicarious experience of a specific situation, animation represents the general idea directly. The audience experiences an understanding of the whole situation.
Dynamic symbols, images representing whole ideas, the flags, the skulls, the cartoon characters, can explain the nature of fascism in terms of its economic roots, the forces behind it, the necessity for its policies of aggression, its historical roots, its political structure. The dynamics of changing symbols—ballots turning into guns, books to poison, plowshares to swords, children changing to soldiers, soldiers to graves—can carry a visual potency as clear as the growth of a seed into a plant. Our understanding of the process as a whole is experienced directly and immediately.
The significance of the animated film as a means of communication is best realized in terms of its flexibility and scope of expression. It places no limitations upon ideas; the graphic representation grows out of the idea.

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