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Five Artists Creating New Visions of What Animation Can Be

Karl Cohen discusses the art of Ben Ridgway, Zeitguised, Max Hattler, Andrew Jones and PES as examples of a new aesthetic in animation.

Ben Ridgway, who recently joined SF State’s cinema department, presented a program at the school in September that focused on the works of artists who are using stop-motion, computers and other techniques to create new kinds of wonderful images.  While looking at their art, thinking about how it was made seemed secondary to enjoying the new aesthetic experiences that were unfolding on the screen.  I was absorbed with the pleasure of the moment.  If you visit the websites mentioned in the article, you may also be amazed by what you discover in the art of PES, Zeitguised, Max Hattler, Andrew Jones and Ben Ridgway.

Ben Ridgway

Ben Ridgway’s recent works breathe life into inorganic matter.  He showed Triboluminescence (2010), a remarkable looking work where shapes glow, pulsate and seemingly dance about to form complex, intricate mandala patterns.  Seeing the film was a meditative experience in which I was transfixed on the beautiful forms as they subtly changed.

At a faculty exhibit a few weeks later he showed Cellular Circuitry (2011), in which his organic forms seem more cellular/plant-like.  They form logical looking patterns found in nature that rotate in circular patterns.

Ben has been creating experimental animated films since 1992 and it appears his art has constantly been evolving in form, content and technique.  In Tic Toc Continuum (2005) dozens of clock faces exist in a black and white landscape that might have been inspired by Salvador Dali.  In Xenomycology (1998) alien plants and creatures live in an extraterrestrial world.  In Olive Shower (1997) olives rain down in a hand-drawn world. 

Ben’s films have been showcased in film festivals around the world including Annecy.  Besides being a fine artist he has over a decade ofexperience working both as a 3D artist in the video game industry and as a professor.

Ben Ridgway’s Website: www.benridgway.wordpress.com/

Ben Ridgway's video catalog on Vimeo: www.vimeo.com/user3877495

Zeitguised

Zeitguisedis German sculptor Jamie Raap and architect Henrik Maulerwho have teamed up to create digital works that are breaking new ground in the realm of digital surrealism.  They have created their own universe of abstract geometrical forms that defy the laws of physics.  Their scenarios with objects rather than characters are the focal point of their unfolding abstract narratives. Riding the line between fine art and industry, they continue to push the boundaries in both arenas.

Peripetics or the installation of an irreversible axis on a dynamic timeline is a bizarre series of moving surreal sculptures that were constructed for an opening of a gallery exhibition.  “It entails six imaginations of disoriented systems that take a catastrophic turn, including the evolution of educational plant-body-machine models and liquid building materials.”  The pieces are very strange looking forms and neither their appearance nor movements makes much sense; however, they are curious looking and fascinating to watch. 

The Zoo is a strange playful work that has nothing to do with our standard concept of a zoo.  Instead unusual things inhabit their “park” including a space satellite, 3 giant steam locomotives that spin around on their cow catchers and two tugboats that jump up into the air like dolphins, but they are in an urban construction site. 

Zeitguised helps support theirartistic endeavors by creating TV commercials that are quite inventive.  In a 30 second ad for Banque Populaire Cooperative we see a futuristic world unfold that includes unusual looking plants, ultra modern buildings, a strange amusement ride and other eye catching creations.

Sweethearts

opens with an elaborate heart shaped, Pop-Art inspired arrangement of brightly colored candies.  For the next 20 seconds it flies apart and rains candy, ending with a MTV logo in the center of the mess.

Rain

isa Peugeot ad that is unlike any car ad I’ve seen before.  It begins almost like a normal ad, but what are those strange things above the shiny new car in the showroom.  They might be chunks of plaster and for unknown reasons they come crashing down on the car in slow motion.  I don’t know if there is a point to all this except to create a bizarre, memorable ad. 

If you want to see shorts Ben didn’t have time to show, visit their website.  It has about 50 ads and shorts on it and hopefully you will be fascinated by it.  I was.

Zeitguised’s Website: www.zeitguised.com

Zeitguised's video catalog on Vimeo: www. vimeo.com/zeitguised

Max Hattler 

Max Hattler, a German video artist and experimental filmmaker, uses a wide variety of techniques: stop-motion, motion graphics, 2D and 3D computer animation and everything in between to create stunning abstract films.  Some are handsome experiments in design, while others touch on serious themes.  In the case of RE:AX (2011) the film evokes wartime experiences (the suggestion of bombs sailing through a night sky and exploding) and ominous feelings (rays of light coming from the eyes of a skull).

In Collision (2005)the work has an abstract symbolic narrative with bold, colorful American quilt patterns and Islamic symbols meeting each other and hopefully existing in harmony. 

In Spin (2010) computer generated toy soldiers create Busby Berkeley like patterns. 

In Basement Jaxx: Where's Your Head At (2009), Max matches up different sounds with visual patterns. 

His 1923 aka Heaven (2010) is an award winning psychedelic short which zooms in on a series of complex patterns of moving dots and shapes

Another side of Max is his public performance art.  One of his commissioned pieces, X (2012) was projected outdoors onto a curtain of fine mist. www.maxhattler.com/x/ There are also audiovisual performances he creates for concert situations at www.maxhattler.com/live/. Have a wonderful time discovering the many facets of Max's art.

Max says, "I am interested in the space between abstraction and figuration, where storytelling is freed from the constraints of traditional narrative.  My work contemplates microcosms, moments, atmospheres:  Close-ups as reflections on the big picture.  While my films tend to be without dialogue, they explore the relationship between sound, music and the moving image." 

Max Hattler’s Website: http://www.maxhattler.com 

Max Hattler's video catalog on Vimeo: vimeo.com/maxhattler/reax

Andrew Jones 

Andrew Jones, a.k.a. Android Jones, is a Bay Area visual artist working in the fields of concept art for movies (George Lucas’ ILM), video-games (Nintendo), illustration, fashion design, body painting, and digital performances.  His images are complex 2D visionary surreal works of art that you might expect to find in an art gallery or reproduced in art books.

Andrew is not really an animator, but he has worked with others who have used computers to turn his art into wonderful trips into unknown worlds.  The film Lion Heart is a magical journey that combines footage of his art, shot with zooms, pans and tilts, with other footage and CG effects.  The results are a beautiful breathtaking journey where you float into the unknown. 

Another unusual use of his art was the company Obscura Digital projected his painting “Digital Geisha” on the exterior of the Sydney Opera House in 2011.  It was part of their architectural mapping projection that accompanied a YouTube Symphony Orchestra concert.  Photos of that motion graphics moment have become iconic images of this new kind of spectacular art form.

Andrew Jones’ Website: www.androidjones.com

PES

PES,a New York stop-motion animator with a whimsical sense of humor, became an overnight sensation with Roof Sex (2002), his first film.  It stars two upholstered chairs making love on a New York roof.  It has been in over a hundred film festivals, has won several awards and it has been viewed about two million times on YouTube.  It can be found on lots of other websites including his website listed below.

Since 2002 PES has created a good number of less risqué shorts and TV commercials that include humorous, ironic twists.  In his Fireplace the burning logs turn out to be pretzel sticks and the animated flames that rise and fall are actually pieces of candy corn cut to different lengths.  In Western Spaghetti all the ingredients are found objects including Pick Up Sticks for the uncooked pasta and bubble wrap that is manipulated to suggest the boiling water.

PES’ creative plots/ideas derive from being an English literature major in college and from his discovering the films of Jan Svankmajer.  PES is currently living in the LosAngeles area where he is developing a feature based on the Garbage Pail Kids.

PES’ Website: www.eatpes.com.

Ben Ridgway’s program was a wonderful exploration of new possibilities of what animation can be.  Each artist presents unique experiences, suggesting animation is capable of creating endless kinds of artistic encounters.  Perhaps there are no limits to what our minds can create.

The program suggests there is a growing new aesthetic movement in animation

When I asked Ben if he would enjoy introducing his work to ASIFA-SF members and SF State University students he suggested that we also show the work of four animators he admired who use a combination of old and new technology to create both commercial and personal work.

After seeing the program I realized that Ben’s selection showcased what I believe is a trend in animation that I find to be highly inventive and fascinating.  They are creating imaginary worlds where their abstract forms seem to exist and go about “life” normally, although that life may not be one we recognize from the world we live in.  It also appears a great deal of intellectual thought goes into creating them.  It seems to be a post-industrial surreal or constructivist world.  While I suspect the artists are influenced to some degree by Jan Svankmajer, their new visionary worlds are more peaceful.

I sent my comments to Ben and he replied, “This is a trend in animation that can be traced back to a variety of artists. Oskar Fischinger, Len Lye, Norman McLaren and John Whitney are just a few key players in the development of the movement we have today in modern experimental animation.  Max Hattler, and Zeitguised work mostly with abstraction and surrealism. Andrew Jones is part of the visionary art movement - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visionary_art. PES is definitely a surrealist at heart and early surrealists like Jan Svankmajer definitely had a significant influence on his development as an artist.”

I hope you enjoy discovering work by the artists discussed.  It appears their successes at festivals and in the commercial world will encourage them to continue to explore new possibilities of what animation can be.

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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.

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