The Infinite Animator, Remastered: iotaCenter and The Adam K. Beckett Project
A young artist, a career full of promise, a life of innovation and energy tragically cut short. Such a summary barely begins to describe the bright, fast burn that was rising star Adam Beckett (1950-1979), one of the first graduates of the CalArts Experimental Animation program, and a prolific animator, sketch artist, and effects prodigy. Known for his unique abstract film loops, as well as for his precise, yet organic work with the optical printer, Beckett’s work continues to influence young animators both at his alma mater, where he is frequently mentioned, as well as in the wider animation world.
Many in mainstream animation, however, may be unfamiliar with the name Adam Beckett. That could very well change in the near future. Thanks to the contributing efforts of Beckett's family and friends, the iotaCenter has spent over 8 years on the Adam K. Beckett Project, conserving and preserving Beckett’s film material. Their restoration efforts have culminated in exhibitions and screenings at The National Gallery of Art, The Academy, and L.A.’s own REDCAT. Now, the iotaCenter has produced a comprehensive DVD as part of their Kinetica Video Library. The resulting compilation, which covers the years 1970 to 1979, includes both published and unreleased work, Beckett's film loops, and additional photographs and documentary material. Among the disc’s bonuses are his collaborations with James Gore, and a gallery of Beckett’s drawings, some of which have visible char marks, a somber reminder of the house fire that took the young animator’s life.
From the sheer volume of material left behind, and the number of former colleagues and classmates willing to be interviewed by Pam Turner, who headed up iota’s research, it is clear that Beckett’s short life was a full one. Before joining the then-new Experimental Animation Program at CalArts, Beckett had studied mathematics. A seemingly incongruous link, his ease with numbers and abstractions would prove essential, and made him a natural when it came to manually exposed and re-exposed animation.
Appropriately, Beckett's earliest works are very much a representation of the direction of Jules Engel's Experimental Animation program in the early 1970s. Engel, a former animator at Disney, and later UPA, was at that point a dedicated abstract expressionist whose interests were concentrated in visual music and painterly, geometric animation. The influence of this iconic program chair can be felt in early Beckett pieces like the musically-driven Dear Janice, with its mixture of abstract cycles, words, sexual imagery, and live footage, or in Kitsch in Synch, where playroom shapes build and build in time to a nonsense chant that grows from child-like voices to wild cacophony. Never content to repeat himself, Beckett’s films show a range of techniques, and a continuous expansion of his past discoveries. Works such as Evolution of the Red Star, with its cycling, multiplying shapes, color tinting, and playful use of the animated frame, or Heavy Light, with its energy trails optically printed on black, showcase Beckett’s sense of experimentation and personal evolution. The figure makes an appearance, too, memorably in the pornographic, yet placid, Flesh Flows with its homages to Schiele and Dali enveloped by pulsing, gradually distorted imagery.