World Festival of Animated Film /
3 to 8 June 2024
World Festival of Animated Film / 3 to 8 June 2024
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ANIMAFEST PRO | ANIMAFEST SCANNER XI | Panel 1: Studying Early Animation (Tracing Some Basics)

Miniaturised Materialities: Traces of Animation’s Physical Past - Jack McGrath (Australia)

04/06 TUE 11:55-12:25 KIC

The history of animation is the history of the miniature. To re-create the world, we first needed to miniaturise it. Across time and cultures, miniature figurines have served as important storytelling and metaphorical devices, and filmmaking has undergone a process of miniaturisation: transitioning from material techniques to digital. Animation began its material journey in the form of miniature figurines, tracing their origins to early human history. Paleolithic cultures carved small figurines from stone of metaphoric significance, Hellenistic Babylonians used figurines to describe and reinforce cultural roles through materiality and story, and Andean people carried carved objects called conopa that were believed to influence full-scale phenomena. Tracing the history of cinema, magic lanterns contained tiny paintings on glass slides that were projected on a grand scale, paving the way for the mutoscope, zoetrope and the praxinoscope. These paintings were in effect, static miniatures coming to life in real time. Photography itself went through a process of miniaturisation from camera obscura to glass plate negatives to celluloid film, the camera evolving from a cumbersome apparatus to a portable item. The rise of celluloid and the mechanisation of the motion picture camera was the further miniaturising of animation: thousands of paintings on cells could be photographed and thus shrunk to rolls of celluloid film. The digital was the final act of miniaturisation, shrinking animation to a scale of digital bits and thereby rendering it immaterial. Baudrillard argues that with miniaturisation through digital microprocessing, ‘there is no longer an ideal principal of these things on human scale’ in a ‘disappearance of the real’. Miniatures, though long outgrown by the film and VFX industry, now appear in contemporary film and television, and stop-motion feature films are more prevalent than ever: their appeal entangled with the materiality of the miniature. Animation's material journey from its roots in miniature figurines through to pre-cinematic devices and the loss of the material to the digital, this paper examines the dialectical relationship between miniaturisation, materiality and the human-scale experience.

Jack McGrath is a filmmaker, stop-motion animator, director and lecturer with 20 years’ experience producing visual content. McGrath has a background in Fine Arts from the University of Sydney and has lectured in film and animation for a number of years at the University of Sydney and The University of Technology Sydney. He has written and directed a wide range of short films that have been screened around Australia and internationally. Jack is a lecturer in animation at the University of Newcastle, Australia. His research investigates the liminal zone between traditional stop motion animation and emerging digital technology. With his background in stop motion animation, Jack is interested in hybrid animation workflows and the potential for incorporating and merging new technology with traditional animation.