An­i­mated ex­hibit:

‘The Art and Me­chan­ics of An­i­ma­tion’ en­gages at the Grohmann

Wisconsin Gazette - - Opinion - By Kat Kneev­ers Con­tribut­ing writer

Many peo­ple — young and old — en­joy car­toons or an­i­mated films. If you’re among them, you should con­sider ex­plor­ing the cur­rent ex­hi­bi­tion at Mil­wau­kee School of En­gi­neer­ing’s Grohmann Mu­seum, The Art and Me­chan­ics of An­i­ma­tion: The J. J. Sedel­maier Col­lec­tion.

This should be re­quired view­ing for any­one in­volved in an­i­ma­tion or il­lus­tra­tion, but it is just as fas­ci­nat­ing for the layper­son. The ex­hi­bi­tion of­fers a com­pact in­tro­duc­tion to the art of an­i­ma­tion as it has evolved through time, pre­sented through the ad­mirable col­lec­tion of an­i­ma­tor J. J. Sedel­maier. It is a se­lec­tion of works that spans the field, from il­lus­trated an­i­ma­tion cells to in­trigu­ing pieces of old ana­log equip­ment for view­ing and hear­ing fin­ished works.

While Sedel­maier of course fea­tures sam­ples from projects he has been in­volved with — in­clud­ing The Ren and Stimpy Show, Beavis and Butt-Head and The Am­bigu­ously Gay Duo su­per­heroes fea­tured on Sat­ur­day Night Live — he also is keen on the his­tory of an­i­ma­tion. He has amassed a col­lec­tion that also high­lights ar­ti­facts from prom­i­nent stu­dios such as Dis­ney, Bray and Fleis­cher.

A charm­ing open­ing to the ex­hi­bi­tion is the dis­play of a flip book. The draw­ings on in­di­vid­ual pages change ever so slightly, but quickly fan­ning through the pages gives the im­pres­sion of move­ment. This is es­sen­tially how old-school an­i­ma­tion works, with im­ages mod­i­fied over and over again.

This is a key point to note, as it res­onates through­out the view­ing of ephemera and be­hind-the-scenes ar­ti­facts on dis­play. This is what makes the ex­hi­bi­tion so en­joy­able and in­ter­est­ing. Did you know that an­i­ma­tors used guides like “Beavis mouth chart” or “Butt-Head close-up for ink & paint”? While the end re­sult flashes by al­most in­stan­ta­neously, hours have gone into the pro­duc­tion of each de­tail.

The tech­ni­cal chal­lenges of an­i­ma­tion are daunt­ing — con­sider the process of imag­in­ing char­ac­ters and sto­ries and then mak­ing them come to life in a mov­ing im­age. The ex­hi­bi­tion shows sto­ry­boards, rich in de­tail, which are key to the process.

How­ever, sto­ry­boards are not de­tailed draw­ings. Rather, they are rapid sketches that give a sense of char­ac­ter and ex­pres­sion. These are aug­mented with notes on sound ef­fects and di­a­logue, re­mind­ing us that an­i­ma­tion is usu­ally not a silent medium.

Very sur­pris­ing are the ma­chines in­cluded in the ex­hi­bi­tion.

The Movi­ola Synch, a spi­dery piece with film reels and gears, gave pro­duc­tion teams an idea of how sound and pic­tures would ap­pear to­gether in fi­nal form.

A vin­tage ADM-5 Lear Siegler Com­puter, used in the 1982 film Tron, is now to­tally ob­so­lete.

While it is of­ten noted that the com­put­ing power of ubiq­ui­tous smart phones sur­passes any­thing from that long ago, such ma­chines are a re­minder that the in­no­va­tion and per­sis­tent ded­i­ca­tion of creative pro­fes­sion­als drives any project, re­gard­less of the tech­nol­ogy at their dis­posal.

In this spe­cial­ized world, there is a strong sense of ca­ma­raderie and his­tory of mu­tual in­flu­ence. That be­comes clear when view­ing the An­dre Martin Chart. This is a di­a­gram show­ing the “Car­toon Fam­ily Tree” from 1906 through 1941. The cre­ator, An­dre Martin, spoke with many of the in­di­vid­u­als rep­re­sented, and the chart is an homage to pre­de­ces­sors who be­came teach­ers and in­flu­ences.

The ex­hi­bi­tion text asks, “Are there any ‘An­dre Martins’ out there who could please do the same for the 1941-present day pe­riod?” We can only hope that this re­quest is an­swered af­fir­ma­tively for this art form.

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