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A Critique of Animation


#1

In 2014, Harun Farocki was beginning work on a film project on Marey and Muybridge and the origins of cinema. The last thing I received from him was a DVD copy of a wonderful but obscure Thom Andersen film on Muybridge from the 1970s.

The body in movement: this project would have been a logical continuation of his work, an explication of a concern with “life” and its mobilization and reconstructibility that was already implicit in most of his films. More specifically, this new work would have drawn comparisons between the alliance of film, physiology, and the science of work that are at the origins of cinema, and the role that computer simulations and computer animation have assumed in reorganizing life (as well as the body and work) today.

A few years back, when Harun was beginning to draft the series Parallel, he was speaking of his interest in the technologies used in films like Avatar. In particular, motion-capture technology is somehow close to the techniques used by Marey: actors in special suits perform movements in spaces equipped with cameras and sensors. Human actors lend their gestures to what will later become a digitally animated character.

Indeed, the suits actors wear in motion-capture rooms recall those black suits with white points that were used in Marey’s physiological laboratory to track and dissect movements. As is well known, these physiological experiments not only led to the moving image, but were also foundational for an emerging science of work, for the rationalization of labor on the assembly line.

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