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