Art in Motion: Animation Aesthetics

Giannalberto Bendazzi reviews Maureen Furniss' book, Artin Motion - Animation Aesthetics, where he discovers a knowledgeable,bright, new voice in writing on animation. Available in English and Italian.

Reviews based on exclamations and superlatives invariably annoy the reader, but I beg you to make an exception this once: Art in Motion: Animation Aesthetics by Maureen Furniss is a truly splendid book, one of the three or four that anyone seriously interested in animation must absolutely have on their bookshelf. The title can be deceptive. It isn't a philosophical tract that attempts to give a theoretical global framework to a subject that is in continuous, lively and (for those who prize rationality) disorderly evolution.* Maureen Furniss declines to answer the unanswerable question "What is Animation?," and bases her study on the concept that the broad category of "Motion Picture Production" is a continuum that flows imperceptibly, by degrees, from the abstract animation film to the realistic live-action film with actors. As the author herself says in her introduction: "Using a continuum, one can discuss a broad range of materials without qualifying the extent to which each example belongs to a precisely defined category called `Animation.' (...) Rather than limit its examples according to some defining criteria, this book expands outward from a basic conception of what animation means, under the premise that it is discussing motion pictures on a broader level." The book is thus a pragmatic work, clear, based on concrete examples, and convincing. The conclusions that it expounds are brilliant, derived from a profound knowledge of the material and a vast and fastidious research that is exemplary. Now we come to the content. To summarize in general, one could say that in this book the various aspects of animation are described and analyzed in such a way to allow the reader to form an aesthetic appreciation or just a personal enjoyment of the films. It goes from `Foundations of Studio Practices' to `Alternatives in Animation Production,' from `Mise-en-Scène' to `Sound and Structural Design,' from `Classic-era Disney Studio' to `Full and Limited Animation,' from `Three-Dimensional Animation' to `Animation and New Technologies.' It should be required reading for the many people who still regard creative work through a particular viewpoint of Ideology (any ideology) and reject or promote this or that without bothering to get to know the material in-depth. The second part of the book, Studies in Animation Research, touches magnificently on some specific themes, like the influence that social rules (`Broadcast Standards and Practices') and economics (`Merchandising Strategies, Market Research') have on creativity, women's animation (`Gender and the Animation Industry') and abstract animation (`Considering Form in Abstract Animation'). Although she has first-rate credits as the founder (1992) and editor of the magazine Animation Journal (since 1992), as well as Assistant Professor and Director of the Film Studies Program at Chapman University in Orange, California, Maureen Furniss is a scholar still quite young in years. This is her first book, yet she shows a maturity and general culture out of the ordinary, in addition to a broad range of vision that few others in the world could equal on the most articulate phenomena Animation. I am sure that we can expect to hear much more from her. (*) The theory of "live-action" cinema has been debated since the 1910s. The Theory of Animation, as far as I know and while still awaiting the publication of Georges Sifanos' research, is limited to Uvod U Estetiku Kinematografske Animacije by Ranko Munitic, Univerzitet Umenosti-Filmoteka 16, Beograd/Zagreb, 1982, 317 pp., text in Serbo-Croatian, with an English summary. Art in Motion: Animation Aesthetics by Maureen Furniss. Sydney, Australia: John Libbey & Company, 1998. 278 pages. ISBN: 1-8646-2038-2 (hbk.), 1-8646-2039-2 (pbk.). [U.S. $49.95 hardcover (£40), $24.95 paperback (£22.50)] Translated from Italian by William Moritz. Art in Motion - Animation Aesthetics may be purchased now on-line in the Animation World Store. Giannalberto Bendazzi is a Milan-based film historian and critic whose history of animation, Cartoons: One Hundred Years of Cinema Animation, is published in the U.S. by Indiana University Press and in the U.K. by John Libbey. His other books on animation include Topoline e poi (1978), Due voite l'oceana (1983) and Il movimento creato (1993, with Guido Michelone) .