The Magic of Animation | ArtSocket Gallery Magazine

The Magic of Animation

By Header image credit: smeech

Like most children, I grew up with cartoons.

The world was a new, beautiful place that I had to discover. Toons helped me learn about it. And love it. These fabulous images and whacky voices on the TV brought things to life that could never be.

When I grew older, animation helped me understand how things work. Video tutorials, computer software and console games. None of it would make sense without the powerful moving image.

The human brain is a complex device. We don't get to see, hear or smell things as they are. Our visual spectrum is limited to a tiny section of what's there. We can't see anything too small or too far, too bright or too dim. The hearing and olfactory senses are also sub-par. Even our reaction time is slow.

We suck.

But not when it comes to making sense out of that little slit of reality we get to perceive. Our limits are our advantage. We only see what we need. The most advanced biological computer (our brain) would have a tough time coping if we saw everything. From atoms to galaxies in all the visible spectrum, at once. Nobody needs that shit.

Reality is a construct

This is not a pipe.
"This is not a pipe" is a famous play on reality by René Magritte. He was trying to say that the image he drew and most would refer to as a "pipe" isn't. It's just a drawing or a collection of color pigments on a piece of paper. Can't smoke that.

The things that we see go beyond being merely projected onto the back of our eyes. It all has to go somewhere. Before we even get to react to the images a part of our brain turns everything into a visual story that has a meaning. Without this crucial process, humans would not be able to distinguish between a child and a fire hydrant. Even the simplest things like lines and squares would not exist unless the brain can find them in the matrix of dots that our eyes transmit.

Life isn't static. Neither is our perception of it. Motion, just like the objects (which are dots before they become things) has to be understood. If we fail, we can no longer live a healthy life as everything turns into a slideshow. The horrors of an old computer and a demanding video game become a reality.

Most of the time things work just fine. We see stuff, the brain makes sense out of it; how it moves and changes over time. Occasionally, nothing is there, neither does it move. A video that you watch on YouTube isn't real. It's just millions of tiny light bulbs changing color as dictated by the computer. Everything is static, except for the intensity of light and the wavelength for each pixel.

We think something is in motion when it changes ten times per second or faster. What happens to it within each one of those moments is crucial as it adds to our idea of where it moves or how it changes.

The irst time we tricked our brains like that was over 5,000 years ago. We never stopped since. Animation has been with us through time as we told stories and brought them to life through sound, written word, and images.

Phenakistoscope
Phenakistoscope is a cool device that was invented in 1831 to delight the olde-time folks with the wonders of animation. Way before TVs or computers came around.

As we experimented and learned about the medium the power of perceived motion became more apparent. We now have a set of rules that can help artist give any object life. It's not about the quality of a drawing anymore. Stick figures can walk with a limp and look livelier than a dude in a photograph. Even circles can act "happy" with the right amount of bounce.

Mathematicians got involved. Motions now have curves as objects accelerate and slow down. Our knowledge went as far as equations and algorithms that can generate realistic water, swarm or explosion physics. Medicine, engineering, and commerce depend on animation to model, predict and demonstrate the course of events over time.

This very website has an animated logo that moves and changes color if you put your mouse over it or load a page. The browser windows that you opened probably scaled as if they were born out of a tiny dot. Calculators and microwaves come with animated displays - even if all they have is a number 8 pattern screen.

The illusion of life by cento lodigiani on Vimeo. This cute video is a fun way to explore the majority of animation principles that guide our perception of motion & character. Learn this and you'll be able to make a square feel alive.

Animation & I

Before I got involved with making websites and even photography animation was my primary method of expression. Back in the 90's my elementary school friends and I got pirated copies of 3D Studio MAX to play with. Back then computers were a novelty so just seeing things move on a screen was cool as fuck. Everything we created was obviously garbage but this process started an itch. An itch to create and experiment that made me the man I am today.

A few years later I had to leave everything, everyone, behind to move with my family from Russia to Canada. My hobbies varied considerably since the days of playing with ancient software. Most of the time I just wanted to speak and understand proper English and fit in somehow. Later I decided that I wanted to pick up chicks, so skateboarding and electric guitars took over.

My inability to decide what to do with life while at school connected me with the craft once again. An immensely popular program at University of Toronto (cryptically called CCIT) engulfed everything loosely related to computers. It didn't involve studying "classical" computer science and was comfortable enough to act as a "filler" major. I half-ass enjoyed it because sometimes it had courses with good profs and, occasionally, topics I didn't hate. One of them was an introductory class to computer animation.

According to the prof (who later brutally failed me in another course), my project was the best in class. I'd like to think that this wasn't the reason my obsession with making cartoons took off. Whatever it was, it led me to create some videos. Some were just for fun; others were paid gigs, including my first full-time job after graduation. And then there was one that took over my life entirely for three months.

During my third year at the university, I was composing music and playing it live. A world of inspiration, guitars and sounds were calling me. I was no longer playing to attract the ladies. But it was hard. As I foresaw myself decline into poverty or giving up music to have a job, unless I figured out how to be successful. My music had soul, although I wasn't a prodigy. I didn't get lucky. Sales was not my strong point and I didn't have anyone helping me navigate the show business. Didn't even like business.

An opportunity came around when I got approved for a 2K grant from school to create an animated video. It would be entirely up to me what it looks like, sounds or the story. Of course, it would feature the music I composed all throughout.

The resulting film was the first and the strongest collaboration with Thaya to date. It involved a dance actress, professional drummer, five cameras, help from at least ten of my closest friends and faculty. Over hundred hours in a dark room, tracing low-quality video with pencil on paper while using a monitor as a light table. A month's worth of sound and video editing; thousands of test runs and experiments. I spent so much time drawing Sai dance that I developed a crush on her.

I was "fashionably" late to my premiere. There were about a hundred people who filled the seats of a small theater to see me present the film. A month later there were a hundred more at U of T Film Festival, which won me some cash. Montreal Film Festival was the largest event that landed me a week-long trip to the city, followed by an online release and a gradual decline of interviews and public interest.

It's been seven years since that video got released today. A lot of things changed since, yet I still think that was one of my most creative moments in life. All thanks to the magic of animation that drove me to obsess over bringing my vision to life. And the few people who respected me and my work a little as a result.

I never stopped making motion graphics since. The skill has led me to create over two dozen videos, not counting demos and digital interfaces that make apps for my clients more intuitive. Perhaps some day I'll take on another larger-than-life visual project and obsess over it like I do with most of my work. But for now, I have to figure out where in the world do I want to live.

One of my serious attempts besides ArtSocket was "Dmitri's Animation", which is a glorified portfolio page. It used to host a blog and some art with photography as well before I moved it all here. But the videos are still there. If you are interested, feel free to check them out. There are 24 in total. My latest ones aren't on this site; they were mostly commercial anyways.

This article is an edited version of what was originally posted on December 17, 2014.