In Jonna Bouldin’s essay Cadaver of the Real (Animation Journal: 2004, Volume 12, p. 7-26) she observes and analyses the distance between animation and reality, and the influence of technologies such as the rotoscope on this relationship. She starts by looking at how theorists such as Bazin and Barthes have talked about photography
“It is important to note that Bazin and Barthes describe the photographic copy’s proximity to the original, and thus to the ‘real’, in sensuous and material terms, rather than purely visual or aesthetic terms. The visual accuracy and exact correspondence between referent and image is less important than the indexical nature of the representation. This Indexicality-the physical contact or material connection with the original-is what gives the image its powers, not its verisimilitude.”
This idea of the image’s “power” is really interesting. What does it mean for an image to have power? Power over what or whom? Here Bouldin describes it as an erotic power – the image’s proximity to reality is sensual – perhaps all the more so for lacking “visual accuracy”. Photography and films use this distancing from reality to create romantic or sensual atmospheres, blurring footage to avoid sharp outlines or close up focus.
But later, Bouldin explores a different form of images’ power:
In his preface, Taussig defines the mimetic faculty as “the nature that culture uses to create second nature, the faculty to copy, imitate, make models, explore difference, yield into and become Other.” […] Like a magical totem, amulet, or figurine, mimesis allows the copy to draw on the power of the original.”
Here the power of the mimetic image, is more fantastical, magical even. This reminded me of how when I show people my animations (basic as they are) they will often bring up how magical it is that my drawings are moving (as if they didn’t watch images move in films,tv and youtube all day long.) But at the same time I kind of agree, it does feel magic when something comes to life under my fingers, even though I can see under the bonnet as it were and so know for sure that magic much less of a part than sweat and tears.
I also love what Taussig says about being able to “yield into and become Other” – this feels particularly pertinent of character animation, where in bringing a being into life you have to enter into that character – ask yourself the Stanislavski questions about who they are and what they want – move as the move, contort your face into their expressions. And when after you have put all these aspects of yourself into them and they begin to move independently it does feel a lot like magic.
Bouldin goes on to build a critique of mimesis in animation, particularly in regards to Snow White and Betty Boop who are both rotoscoped off real life dancers. She writes the following about spectator’s reactions to Disney’s Snow White:
Viewers are not given the space or perspective to grasp that these ‘real’ characters are also constructs; they are discouraged from reading these bodies as effects of power, as the products of the patriarchal, white, middle-class, heteronormative prerogatives that guided Disney’s (re)construction of bodily reality. Just as unnatural or unlikely as the dwarves in the enchanted forest or as Cab Galloway’s spectral performance in Minnie the Moocher, Snow White and Prince Charming are also fantasies, simply of a more mundane nature-fantasies about the bodily performance of gender, race, class, and heterosexual romantic love.
Disney films, as a huge part of the last three generations’ childhood, play an important role in reinforcing “social norms”. How “real” is Disney’s version of “reality”? How much does it create the myth of objective neutral normality – ie white, heterosexual cisness?
Despite it’s sophisticated technology, Disney’s claim to the real erases so many of our lived experiences – even the most magical mimesis can only represent the experience of its makers.