Animation, in theory

Book chapter

Buchan, S. 2014. Animation, in theory. in: Beckman, K. (ed.) Animating Film Theory Durham and London Duke University Press. pp. 111-127
Chapter titleAnimation, in theory
AuthorsBuchan, S.

Most of us today are aware of the many ways animation has infiltrated our visual culture. Exposure and access to animation for scholars and the public – broadcast TV, creative computer programmes, online archives, new media platforms – have dramatically increased. While animation studies has been active for over 50 years, film studies is only beginning to deeply engage with a cinematic form that has more to do with sculpture, algorithms or painting than with the genres of narrative cinema. For over 25 years, Buchan has examined film theory for gaps and queries that seemed to address animation – or not. These trawled fragments formed the basis for animation: an interdisciplinary journal, published since 2006. The essay traces the origins and intellectual genesis of the journal, locating this in a historical and theoretical framework that, with some exceptions, spans the 1950s to mid 2000s. In doing so, Buchan takes the 'long view' – without Plato no Gilles Deleuze, without Emile Cohl no Wall-E, and in her view without Jean Mitry, Heinrich von Kleist, Noël Carroll and Stanley Cavell, no animation ‘theory’.
The chapter commences with reflection on past shortcomings and achievements in nascent animation studies, then discussing what Buchan regards as some key problems and challenges in the study of animation: definitions, genres, and how the hegemony in theorising animation primarily through graphic and cel techniques determines canons and influence topics in the quickening of animation theories. She then offers methodological approaches and suggestions for how to work with the animated form, followed by reflections on animation's marginalisation in academia that does not acknowledge its influence in private and public domains. She then addresses a selection of theoretical writings based on queries and positions that are relevant to her premise of 'animation, in theory' that entails a sceptical, but hopeful attitude to theorizing animation. Buchan examines specific aesthetic, perceptual and ideological meanings and impact, through some exemplars used in her own writing: Stanley Cavell, Alexander Sesonske, Dudley Andrew, Jean Mitry, Torben Grodal, Noël Carroll, Gilles Deleuze and Vivian Sobchack, concentrating for reasons of space on concepts around animated 'worlds' and figures. This is followed by a constructive critique of recent film theory (David Rodowick, Dudley Andrew) through a veil of Gilles Deleuze and Thomas Elsaesser, with a mind to appeal to future researchers and makers of animation to be sensitive the historical continuum of authorship and creating in the (mainly digital) striving ahead. Buchan then offers what she regards as crucial methods towards developing animation 'theory' without losing the dispersed wealth of existing scholarship. This is followed by a description of her process and philosophy as Editor of animation: an interdisciplinary journal, and includes a selection of incisive articles published so far. Buchan concludes with observations on how, as practice differentiates and makes its way from status of 'low' to 'high' art and from photochemical to digital production methods, its companion theoretical conceptualisation will also grow and differentiate, perhaps one day forming something close to an interdisciplinary 'theory' of animation.

Keywordsanimation theory, animation aesthetics, film theory, animation: an interdisciplinary journal; animation studies
Research GroupElectronic and Digital Arts cluster
Page range111-127
Book titleAnimating Film Theory
EditorsBeckman, K.
PublisherDuke University Press
Place of publicationDurham and London
Publication dates
Online07 Mar 2014
Print21 Mar 2014
Publication process dates
Deposited19 Dec 2014
Output statusPublished
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
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