Society for Animation Studies:
8th Annual Conference
by Harvey Deneroff
I find that the annual conferences of the Society for Animation Studies
(SAS) is one of those necessities of life that refreshes both the mind and
the spirit. While they may often lack the scale and frenetic energy that
one encounters at festivals (although their second conference was held in
conjunction with Ottawa '90) or even at a conference of the 1200-member
Society for Cinema Studies (SCS), that's not the point. SAS is still a fairly
modest-sized organization, whose membership generally lurks under 150. However,
if you want to know what's going on in animation history, theory and criticism,
SAS is the place to go. But then I'm biased, since I started SAS back in
1987 and was its president for several years.
This year's event, which focused on "Japanese Animation and Global
Media" and was held at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, September
25-29, had a special meaning for me. Back in 1984, I had come to Madison
to present my first conference paper at an SCS conference. Originally, I
was to be part of a panel on animation, but it did not make and I and another
panelist were placed elsewhere.
The idea that there were only two acceptable proposals seemed absurd, as
I knew there were a lot more animation scholars out there. But somehow the
Society for Cinema Studies, for all its power and prestige, was unable to
draw them out of the woodwork. It was an incident that eventually led me,
with the help of other like-minded people, to start SAS. (One of those like-minded
people was Russell Merritt, who helped run the 1984 conference!) And sure
enough, when the first SAS conference was held at UCLA in 1989, some 40
(academic and independent) scholars and filmmakers showed up from around
the world to participate. (Total attendance at the three day event was over
Since then, schools in the US, Canada and England have played host to SAS
each year, sometimes in conjunction with local film archives and festivals.
As a result, other organizations, including SCS and the Asian Cinema Studies
Society, have opened their arms wider to animation, as have mainstream academic
The organizer for this year's event was Donald Crafton, whose pioneering
history of silent animation, Before Mickey (1982), helped provide
a solid academic footing to the field. While the conference was not the
biggest in SAS history, Crafton did bring in a large number of mainstream
cinema studies superstars, most of whom inevitably spoke with considerable
passion on anime!
What It's All About
After a half day of screenings and a tour of Wisconsin Center for Film &
Theater Research, the conference proper began on Thursday, September 26,
with a panel on Animation Technology, featuring papers by Richard Leskosky
and Carolyn Shaffer on the history of the Mutoscope and the technology of
puppet animation respectively. Both presentations were embellished by a
constant interchange in which the audience seemed to collaborate with the
panelists in the process of their historical research. This, after all,
is what academic conferences are really all about, as researchers test their
findings and hunches with their colleagues before going public.
With the exception of Brian Camp (who spoke on "The Evolution of
Street Fighter: From Video Game to Spiritual Quest"), the anime
papers were mostly given by people who were not specialists in Japanese
animation. However, many were expert in Japanese live-action films and helped
put the development of anime in a different perspective. This was especially
evident in David Bordwell's "Stylistic Transformations Between Live-Action
and Animation in Japanese Cinema," as well as David Dresser's "Why
Anime?," which dealt with anime's rise against the background of the
decline of Japanese live-action cinema. On the other hand, Rei Okamoto,
who specializes in wartime literature of Japan, provided some new insights
into Momotaro--Divine Troops of the Ocean, that nicely complemented
Fred Patten's piece on
the film in the September issue of Animation World Magazine.
Outside of anime, there were the usual mix of papers exploring the familiar
and unveiling the little known. Thus, Mark Langer revealed his researches
into the silhouette films of Canada's Bryant Fryer, while John A. Lent provided
a historical overview of Korean animation (which, not surprisingly, has
been heavily influenced by anime). At the same time, Hank Sartin talked
about "Bugs Bunny and the Problem of Stardom" and Christopher
Sieving presented "A Social Analysis of MGM's Tom and Jerry Cartoons."
Lelsie Bishko shared her experiences in using Laban's dance notation system
in helping explain to computer animation students what the hell squash and
stretch is all about--something which is perhaps not as obvious as it may
seem. Sybil DelGaudio explored the almost forgotten training films which
gave UPA and John Hubley their start, while Mikhail Gurevich looked at the
nature of "Literary Animation" in a series of Russian films based
on the drawings and writings of Aleksander Pushkin.
This year's screenings did not offer the rarities provided in years past
by the likes of the UCLA Film & TV Archive and the George Eastman House,
but some (like the Popeye retrospective) proved useful. The James Whitney
Retrospective, though, proved much more than that, especially given William
Moritz' thoughtful accompanying lecture.
But above all, the conference once again proved a great place to meet friends,
find out what's going on and even do business. (Editors from five academic
journals were present, including myself.) In other words, SAS is doing exactly
what I was hoping it would do when it began nine years ago.
Next year's conference will be hosted by the Nederlands Institute for Animation
Film under the direction of Ton Crone, and will most likely be held in Amsterdam;
in 1997, the venue will switch to California's Orange County, up-the-road
a bit from Disneyland at Chapman University, under the guidance of Maureen
Furniss (editor of Animation Journal).
For more information on SAS check out its home page at: http://www.awn.com/sas/index.html.
Harvey Deneroff, in addition to his duties as Editor of Animation
World Magazine, edits and publishes The Animation Report, an industry
newsletter, which can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
He is also Editor-In-Chief of Animation Review, AWN's new peer reviewed
academic journal and serves on the Society for Animation Studies Steering
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