>>> More Paintings Here
September 4, 2007
>>> More Paintings Here
July 20, 2007
A rare find of Oskar Fischinger’s work on the net. Watch them while you can.
January 16, 2007
Red & Green Concetric – 1952 – Oil painting.
© Elfriede Fischinger Trust
“..it is only that MOTION PAINTING N°1, as it unfolds itself, offers the viewer the same deep emotional feeling that he can receive from good music. Thus we find that music is not limited to the World of sound;there also exists a music of the visual World.”
Fischinger, Oskar (1951)
After Fischinger’s passing away, it is reported in an interview with his wife that he had always wanted to create a feature film, or as she expressed, “an audio-visual abstract concert feature”. Fischinger’s work is undeniably the ultimate expression of a profound and life-long search for a ‘visual music’ in the early 20th century. It is interesting to note that although he was first and foremost a filmmaker, he shared a growing interest amongst some of the greatest European artists of his time. That interest had its foundations in music and its abstract nature as an art form. Looking at the above examples, we can acknowledge a certain sense of rhythm and composition of graphical elements that were much a part of the aesthetic of his era and surroundings. Some may even be forgiven for reading Mondrian or Klee in the above works, for Fischinger was indeed conscious of the Bauhaus tradition developing in Weimar and the works of Klee, Kandinsky and Laszlo Maholy-Nagy. Maholy-Nagy had even rented Fischinger’s films on various occasions and had met with him during his time in Germany.
However, Fischinger was not only pushing abstraction forward, along the lines of the great modernists of his time. He was also pushing the form into a completely new medium that would lay the foundations for generations after. Len Lye, McLaren, Saul Bass, Binder, and right up to the present day. Fischinger had coined the word ‘Raumlichtmusik’, meaning ‘Space Light Music’. “Of this art….Plastic, dance, painting, music become one.” The ‘audio-visual abstract concert feature’ is only just beginning to find its place within contemporary culture, everything from art installations, danse, VJing to theatre and music concerts. I’m sure Fischinger would be overwhelmed with today’s plethora of visual musics in retrospect to how he fought, often alone, on a vision that was given little light in his days.
Fischinger, Oskar “Sounding Ornaments”
First Published in Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, July 8. 1932
Fischinger, Oskar 1951 “A Statement About Painting”
The Fischinger Trust
“Space Light Art”-Early Abstract Cinema and Multimedia, 1900-1959
White Noise Exhibition Catalog. ACMI Melbourne. 2005
Moritz , William “You Can’t Get Then From Now”
Southern California Art Magazine, No. 29, 1981
Moritz, William Oskar Fischinger : Artist of the Century
Exhibition catalog. KINETICA 2. Los Angeles: The iotaCenter, 2000.
October 29, 2008
:::::: PART 1 – Motion Graphic Designer: A Misunderstood Profession
As part of a series of articles, essays and interviews on the topic of motion graphic design, I thought it pertinent to start by tackling one of the great mysteries in the domain – its definition. The search for a clear and undisputed sum of words that pertain to boiling down the sensational effervescence behind motion graphic design today has always been at the back of my mind. Occasionally those thoughts are catapulted to the fore in times of discussion with others or when explanation be needed for laymen and indeed professionals alike. The definition of motion graphic design should be self-explanatory – all the necessary words needed to describe it are part of its morphology. Despite that fact, there is much confusion about what motion graphic design is, and more importantly if we can even consider it as a professional field of work with the accredited title of motion designer.
Before I continue with a brief guided visit amidst the confusion of the misunderstood let me make clear my own objective in publishing these articles. The aim is not to propose another view on motion graphics nor is it to conclude with an all-new shiny 3D spinning definition. Rather, I want to open up the discussion on the subject, encourage critical analysis, debate and thoughtful insight and hopefully rise motion graphics above the unfortunate sensationalism that seems to pour from what little coverage there is in the field. We need more thoughtful discussion and less sensationalism.
Motion graphic design as a term has no clear history. We can perhaps only guess that the first mention of motion graphics came from John Whitney’s company name in the sixties – Motion Graphics Inc. Apart from that apparition though, there is little to claim on how the term arrived and became one of the biggest buzz words of the nineties. That lack of knowledge however is perhaps now, ten years on, proving to risk its demise. Why? Because it appears that being a motion designer is akin to being some sort of schizophrenic chameleon constantly juggling varying professional caps and occasionally spluttering the words title design, Bass and the odd Binder for good measure. The bottom line is no one seems able to clearly express what they do and commit with sincerity and integrity to the title of motion designer. So, does motion graphic design really exist or are we seeing the end of a ‘trend’, a buzz word of the nineties that had some loose connection with the past? The question is perhaps purely rhetorical but I do hope an open debate can ensue.
There are a number of articles, essays, and book prefaces on the subject of motion graphics. Indeed, all maintain the view that this is slippery terrain. However, they all offer essential notions on the subject and more importantly express common ideas that show a firm background in history. One of the first papers to arrive on the web on the subject was Matt Frantz’s thesis that takes both a theoretical and historical approach, drawing example from the work of Saul Bass and the profession of title design. Frantz makes a vague stab at defining motion graphics as “designed non narrative, non-figurative based visuals that change over time.” He goes on to explain and indeed attempt to define the very form of motion graphics within a context of graphic design. His approach is problematic for two major reasons.
Firstly, he limits his historical approach to one single figure, based on the idea that Bass was “the earliest significant motion graphic designer that had a tradition in graphic design.” That very statement has undoubtedly had vast ramifications on people’s perceptions of motion graphic’s history. Many websites hail Saul Bass as the pre-eminent figure of the discipline and consequently this has bonded a cliché tie between the work of title design and motion graphics. The historical context is important but as I have set out to show throughout this blog, many others have contributed to defining the form and discipline. Bass played his role in cementing a firm link within the film industry, his status however in the field has been blown out of proportion. Bass was more a graphic designer than a motion designer (the term ‘motion designer’ having never been assigned to Bass and no doubt didn’t exist as a term until much later). Moreover, the likes of Oskar Fischinger, Walter Ruttman, Man Ray, Viking Eggeling, Laszlo Maholy-Nagy, Lotte Reiniger, all of whom were pre Bass, had backgrounds or an influence on graphic design and were making images move. Reiniger and Fischinger had both worked in titles or on some sort of moving graphic form for advertising (Muntz TV, 1952, Oklahoma Gas, 1945-50). Reiniger had created hand-cut silhouette titles for Paul Wegener’s film, The Pied Piper of Hamelin in 1918.
Secondly, although he makes the valid point of motion graphics’ inherent link with traditional graphic design, Frantz focuses too much on form and completely by-passes any questioning of the function of the discipline. Non-figurative, non narrative forms sliding across the screen are all very well, but if we do not extrapolate on their visual meaning, intention and context, then they remain just that.
Images Over Time, Matt Soar and Peter Hall. (Eye No 06 Vol 15 Summer 2006), is a brilliantly written, albeit short text that suggests the broader issues of motion graphics within todays creative climate and points more specifically to its rich history, quoting Oskar Fischinger, Lotte Reiniger, Man Ray and others as valuable precursors in the field. The authors point out Louis Sandhaus’ definition from ‘Los Angeles in Motion: A Beginners Guide from Yesterday to Tomorrow.’ (SEGD Journal 2006).
Motion graphics describes a broad field of design and production that embraces type and imagery for film, video and digital media including animation, visual effects, film titles, television graphics, commercials, multi-media presentations
…architecture, and….digital/video games.
Here we have a supple definition of the field that gives a realistic overview of both its scope in terms of media output and its possible professional domains. If we are to believe however in this as a working definition, then motion graphics is indeed an extremely vast area. Moreover, as well as having an extensive reach in terms of professional output, it also suggests expertise, especially on a technical level, of each of those fields of work. As Matt Woolman points out in his book, Motion Design, (Rotovision SA,2004). ‘Motion graphics design is not a single discipline. It is a convergence of animation, illustration, graphic design, …. filmmaking, sculpture and architecture to name but a few.’ This multidisciplinary approach is an essential yet problematic characteristic of the field. The very nature of this openness complicates our search for a clear definition. With so many forms and media to play with, motion graphics could well be anything you want it to be yet that is unfortunately to say nothing about what it really is. That said, Sandhaus’s definition is probably the best and most realistic definition to date.
What could be retained from all this so far, is that we are talking about a field of work that takes root in the elements of (graphic) design and has a wide ranging means for professional output within other creative areas and disciplines. In his preface, Woolman goes on to stress the importance of ‘graphic’, referring to Paul Klee’s notion of point, line & plane, which he says is the premise of motion graphic design. Woolman’s work is an insightful and convincing introduction to what I would like to think motion graphics is about. He lays down the basic foundation of a discipline that clearly is informed by the visual language of graphics, a foundation that is clearly not to be confused, as is often the case, with the language of film. The distinction is important I believe.
Up till this point, neither of our definitions takes into account what motion graphics is actually for. Sure, we have pinpointed some professional domains: title design, broadcast design, vfx. No one though has specifically underlined the function of motion graphics. The answer for me is clearly found with graphic design, a line of creative work that distinguishes itself from other strains of the artistic sphere by a basic premise: to communicate clearly and effectively a message in line with a given client brief. Graphic designers are first and foremost concerned with informing or to varying degrees inferring a message. There is a line of thought here that can be applied to exactly what motion graphics should be about. Whether it appears as part of an identity for a television program, the opener to a film, the menu to a dvd or an interactive page from the Web, the basic premise remains the same. There is always a fine line here between entertainment and information, aesthetic and functional form, self expression and collective thinking…..etc. The balance however always tilts to informing rather than (self) performing.
The City in Motion – L.A.’s Hyperactive Graphics Scene by Holly Willis is not exactly a stab at defining the form, but it does describe with light-hearted candour a particular scene that is representative of today’s concoction of work for the commercial world and the effervescence of branding. Again, we find numerous common denominators in the article with mention of Saul Bass, Fischinger, Ruttman and the strong link with graphic design. However, her text opens up a whole new dimension of thought and problematic to our conundrum. There is suggestion that motion graphics has not only become blurred in a strain of hybrid form and creation, it has also succumbed to the commercial powers whereby the only defining rule of form and function is to break all rules and create something “new and innovative”
“Branding used to be all about creating “one clear message,” adds Brand New School’s Notaro, shaking his head. “But that one clear message is boring. So we’ve always tried branding a different way. We say, let’s try branding by attitude rather than visuals.”
And this is where motion graphics seems to have lost its footing amidst the almighty commercial forces and the all new moving image culture where hybrid cocktails are fuelling the ‘now look what I can do’ attitude. If we are to follow in the steps of current creative trends, then perhaps motion graphics has found itself sucked into the wider, and evidently more popular, area of the moving image. If this is the case then I can but only assume that motion graphics was never really given the serious attention it needed to stay above and stand out from the rest. If it has merged, if we can only consider it as this constant multitude of hybrid creation, then it seems urgent to address the situation. Otherwise we are letting a strain of the moving image culture get tangled in lax attitudes that in my view will only result in accepting its demise. As Kyle Cooper points out:
“So much of what is called motion design is pushing towards lower-end visual effects and cartooning, leaving behind content, composition, typography and colour choices that make up the foundation of good design.”
Kyle Cooper in ‘Motion by Design’
(S. Drate, D. Robbins, J. Salavetz. Laurence King Publishers 2006).
A question imposes: Do we make a distinction between motion graphics and what has become a wider field of expression: the moving image? Again, this is a question that needs to be addressed.
>>> To be continued……..
>>> Shortly after writing this first article I came across Justin Cone’s poll over at Motionographer.
The many varying replies to this poll clearly outline the problems within the professional domain.
July 28, 2007
John Maeda’s first ever exhibition in Europe took place in november 2005, Paris. His huge ‘motion paintings’ were exhibited in the large downstairs hall at La Fondation Cartier. This space gave ample view of each piece. However, there was an essential dimension that seemed to be missing.
The visual impact of Maeda’s motion paintings presents the viewer with sufficient abstraction amongst the various forms and colours to engage one in a vast array of interpretations. The particular finesse of each image would suffice in static form, so to view them in movement is quite spectacular. And this was where I stumbled upon my thoughts. The added dimension of motion gave a wonderfully rhythmic quality to the works and I immediately felt a sonic connection. The play on polyphony, tone, rhythm and even timbre, graphically depicted upon these screens, conjured up an imaginary soundscape within my head. Why hadn’t Maeda added music to his works?
Apart from the actual layout of the large screens, seven in total, making it virtually impossible to have sound amplified for each in such a space, there was a perfectly understandable explanation for the lack of sound. Maeda pointed out to me that each piece was an ‘interpretation’ of some kind of data. Collecting as well as organizing this data, Maeda had designed and written various code-based systems which enabled him to interpret vast amounts of information in a visual and artistic context. One particular piece for example had gathered information using Google’s search engine, this data was then used as a kind of raw material with which to ‘paint the canvass’. Sound therefore was not a part of the work.
If we look at the development of motion paintings, the artists at the beginning of the 20th Century were experimenting directly with this relationship between sound and image. Music had become not only an inspirational source, it was at times the very basis of the visual work. Norman McLaren’s Synchromy is a perfect example and Oskar Fischinger devoted his whole life to what has been named ‘visual music’. Nowadays it appears that we have come full circle. Many artists are turning to music and musicians to art. The two mediums have been mastered in technical terms. With the birth of home computing and dedicated audiovisual software, the artist has ultimate control over image and sound. Each pixel or grain of sound can be manipulated on a micro level.
What Maeda has accomplished and what appears to be becoming an increasing trend for future artists, designers and musicians is drawing from the bottomless well of information, in terms of data, that surrounds us today. Whether it be to create for creation’s sake or to organize that information for meaningful design objectives, information is being fed into new systems of visual, sonic and interactive possibilities. This is not to say however that the relationships between sound and image have been exhausted as a source of inspiration.
Robert Hodgin of the Barbarian design group uses the software Processing as a means to develop interactive design systems. Robert already has a variety of quality design work to his portfolio and one of his most coveted projects appears to be in sonic visuals. Taking rhythm, pitch and timbre as the basic data, he feeds his home grown systems with this musical information to create some of the freshest visuals to have adorned our screens in the motion arena for a long while.
April 13, 2007
Rhythm in Motion
Part 2 of a 3 Part Essay on Music and Motion.
>>> PART 1 Read Here
The artistic developments in search of a ‘visual music’ took on a whole new realm for experimentation once the technological possibilities of movement were available. Film as a medium for expression amongst the early avant-gardes was a natural progression and in releasing the painting from its static state of the canvass, artists were given the means for spatial as well as rhythmic manipulation of their ideas. In line with this major evolution in the visual field, once again sound and music was to play a large part in influencing the artists’ visual palette.
In the Language of Vision, first published in 1944, Gyorgy Kepes writes, ‘The invention of the motion picture opened the way to a hitherto undreamed scope and flexibility of rhythmic organisation.’ (pg. 58 Dover Edition 1995). He continues with an analogy to music, quoting from a number of musical theorists on composition and making a direct link with the plastic qualities of color, tone, value, texture, form etc. with melody, counterpoint and rhythm. The shared temporal quality of motion picture and music had obviously been noted well before Kepes’ observations, however as he states himself, ‘The new possibilities of the synchronization of the temporal and spatial structure of the vision are, however, still barely touched upon.’
Early foundations though in these ‘possibilities’ had been experimented with, and one of the first purely graphical films with music still surviving today is Walter Ruttmann’s ‘Light Play Opus Nr. 1’, completed in 1921. It used colour painted directly on to the film stock, making use of tone and hue upon simplistic graphic forms that repeat in light synchronisation to an orchestrated music. Ruttman had gone to great lengths to indicate precise colour information on the musical score itself as an aid to the musicians. Although repetitive and rudimentary, the film had been a painstakingly difficult and complex creation for its time. It should be given more attention than it receives and stands as a brilliant example of the direction in which many would follow. It has been well documented that this particular piece had a decisive effect on a certain young compatriot who was to take the idea of painting music in motion as his life long creative quest, Oskar Fischinger. Fischinger had met Ruttman at the premier for Opus 1 and it is at this point that the influence as indeed the inspiration took its hold on the young artist. The work of Fishinger is a weighty subject and has been carefully documented by the late William Moritz of which a good number of his writings can be read on line. What is clear about Fishinger and his work, is that he remains, albeit with unfortunately modest recognition to this day, an historic cornerstone in the industry of the moving image. He helped develop new perspectives and was an inspiration for a generation of artists to come.
That first generation of artists to arise and draw upon these new perspectives in motion and sound comprised of Norman Mclaren, Len Lye, Harry Smith, Jordan Belson and the brothers John and James Whitney. All, except the Whitney brothers were to begin with painting directly on to film as a means to create and all were to work in strict syncopation with music. And a new style of music was to take hold, that of Jazz. It is interesting to note here, as a short parenthesis, how jazz became a huge influence not only on the avant-garde but also in creating strong ties with the modernist movement in general. The rise of graphic design saw it’s use for many an album cover from Columbia Records with designer Alex Steinweiss and Jim Flora to Reid Miles for Blue Note and David Stone Martin for Verve. This of course marks the beginnings of a strong tie between the two mediums of music and graphic design which were to develop in a sort of harmonic symbiosis and continue right up to the present day. Classical music on the other hand had already undergone huge developments in the early twentieth century. Arnold Schönberg, the father of modern music had exploded the traditional form of scale and compositional form, his developments having an enormous effect on the beginnings of abstract painting with notably Kandinsky at the helm. Jazz, however, brought with it a completely new dimension and a new energy that excited many visual artists working in the film medium. Jazz had rhythm, from rag time to swing, be-bop to improvisation and this quality alone was to inspire a colourful visual palette for decades to come.
A notable early work that epitomises this marriage and a sense of true experimentation between the two mediums is Len Lye’s extraordinary 1935 work, ‘Colour Box’. It is a mix of jazz and African rhythm, ‘La Belle Créole’ which is visually interpreted by myriad colours of pure graphic rhythm. The creation was one of the first really successful, as well as critically acclaimed pieces of early moving abstract works. What is striking in ‘Colour Box’, is the complex and dynamic spectacle that meets the eye. The explosion of colour conjures fascination leaving the imagination to swell yet the rhythmic syncopated style that is coordinated with the music keeps the attention focused. Even the juxtaposition of the music’s composition is cleverly interpreted in the visual continuity of the film. The pure abstract quality may be nerving for your average passer-by and for some the film has little to offer than it’s enlightened technique of painting directly onto film. However, the technique was indeed an interesting new perspective and one that developed into what became known as ‘cameraless animation’. The visual with the sonic had therefore come a step closer and the possibility for the artist to paint directly in sync with the musical composition became a reality.
Ten years on from ‘Colour Box’, Harry Smith must take claim as the first video disc jockey of modern times. It’s the mid Forties and Smith projects his early abstract works in a west coast jazz club, Bop City. Whilst the musicians perform live improvisation, Smith modulates his images on the fly using a multi-speed projector. Harry Smith was a prolific artist and had made at least seven films alone, which were dedicated to Dizzie Gillespie’s music. Inspired by the occult and eastern philosophy, as were many of his colleagues of the time, he often spoke of his films in terms of synesthesia much like Kandinsky, searching for an ultimate relationship between colour and sound.
Two other West Coast artists, John and James Whitney also shared a fascination with eastern philosophies. John, being perhaps the better known of the two for his groundbreaking work in computer graphics and his presence in the film industry. They both had met with Oskar Fischinger at a gallery in 1939. Although the encounter could be seen as a motive for developing in line with Fishinger’s work, they eventually went on to pursue a much more intricately detailed and purely electronic view of what visual music could be. This came with John’s innovations in new technologies culminating in the creation of ‘Variations’ and two ‘Film Exercises’. John had invented a pendulum system, which enabled him to compose electronic sounds in tight synchronisation with the visual. He later went on to construct his ‘cam-machine’ – an analog computerised motion camera enabling him to have fine control over plotting graphics on to film. This was most famously used in collaboration with Saul Bass on the film titles for Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’. John went on to set up business for the production of further commercial work in film and founded in 1952 the company, Motion Graphics Inc. Arguably, the first use of the term motion graphics in film history. The Whitney brothers had started to work with jazz scores in their early film work but were to develop an affinity for more Worldly rhythms as well as themselves compose some of the earliest electronic music in the mid Fifties.
The discovery of a new way to create sound via electronic means was however nothing new and indeed had opened up a different perspective in bringing sound and image together. It had been termed ‘Tonal Handwriting’ to begin with and later on, ‘Animated Sound’. Another man was pioneering not only in the visual realm in both animation and film but also directly in the musical, taking off where early Russian experiments with Avzaamov and the Swiss born Rudolf Pfenninger had layed down important work. Scottish born Norman McLaren was directly influenced by his own ‘visions’ and desire to express music through visual means and some of his earliest works demonstrate this with superb results. He described three methods of working for creating sound with film: Painting or inking directly onto blank film, scratching into black film stock and photographing and exposing on film ‘sound cards’ that each depict pitch and tone. It is this third technique, which had first been developed by Pfenninger in his piece ‘Tönende Handscrift’, (Tonal Handwriting) that McLaren takes to perfection with his 1971 ‘Synchromy’. ‘Synchromy’ is a purely graphic work and the most explicit example of the technique. A mammoth 7 minutes over of ‘visual music’ perfectly justifying McLaren’s claim that, ‘you see what you hear.’
In his ‘Workshop Experiments in Animated Sound’, 1957 we encounter visual ‘bleeps’ and ‘blips’, foreseeing some of today’s electronic music scene and visual work by half a century and the likes of arcade video game music by twenty years. Other works of McLaren are also equally interesting and were successful films, the likes of ‘Blinkity Blank’, 1955 and ‘Neighbours’ 1952 both used synthetic sound techniques and are critically acclaimed pieces. And there is ‘Loops’, 1940, ‘Canon’, 1964 and even one of his very first films for the GPO in London, ‘Book Bargain’, 1937 had started out with experiments with sound.
>>> “Who’s Who in Filmmaking: James Whitney.”
Sightlines. v.19 n.2 (Winter 1985/1986): 25-27.
>>>Norman McLaren – The Master’s Edition. DVD. ONF 2006
>>>Oskar Fischinger. Ten Films. DVD. Center for Visual Music 2006
Motion Graphic Design & Fine Art Animation. Focal Press, 2004
Sons & Lumière. Une Histroire du Son dans l’Art du XX Siècle
Editions de Centre Pompidou, Paris 2004
January 17, 2007
Walter Ruttmann – Lichtspiel Opus 1. 1921-25
I thought I would add this in line with the last post on Oskar Fischinger – Motion Paintings. This particular early work is said to have been Fischinger’s first influence in the genre, motivating him to create his ‘Studies’ series in non-objective film.
I’ve started a few playlists in You Tube for further works in this era :