Let’s Animate!

My story here stems from teaching one term in 2D and 3D animation, for a company named Coding with Kids, and mixing in my background as a “Martian Math” teacher, which I explain more in other stories.

Suffice it to say here that “Martian Math” is intensively geometric as well as science fiction oriented, and so makes use of many of the same tools as used by cartoonists.

kitchen collage: “measuring cups” with juice maker and tape measure

As someone living in a Pacific Rim town, I’m always within easy reach of Japanese culture, which has an intense interest in cartooning, and animation more generally.

Portland, Oregon is a popular tourist destination for Japanese visitors plus we have many indigenous people of Japanese descent and heritage.

Portland is proud of its Japanese Garden (it also has a Chinese Garden), and includes a Japan-America Friendship Park along the riverfront, with annual ceremonies commemorating the first and only use of nuclear weapons against cities.

We want it to stay that way: no further use of nuclear weapons. The Office of the Mayor has been clear on its opposition to nuclear weapons manufacture and war planning. Like most cities, we have other dreams for Planet Earth.

City of Portland Proclamation, 2017

When I think about Japanese culture, I think about manga (comics) and anime (cartoons). In colloquial English, comics consist of still frame illustrations that may serve as a storyboard for the movie version, or animated cartoon. We learn 2D animation as a prelude to developing a 3D version in some cases. Both 2D and 3D come in “still” (manga) and “moving” (anime).

2D anime on Animatron

Europeans are proud of their Calculus which they bring to bear when studying the tiny deltas that add up to smooth motion and action in general, as our daily lives might be considered framed moments accumulating in memory.

Both 2D and 3D animation feature timelines divided into “tracks” for each entity that’s not part of the scenery or background. The foreground characters do the walking and talking, or whatever it is they do, and their actions derive from transformations between key frames on their timelines (tracks).

In 2D animation, we usually imagine looking at a framed canvas and having a default “third person” point of view, meaning we’re not subjectively included in the action. We’re observers, even if a 2D character is our “avatar” (we’ve moved to interactive computer games for the moment).

3D animation may be “first person” and in general puts more emphasis on taking control of the viewpoint. However in both cases there’s relative motion between a subject and object and a need to keep track of what’s moving relative to what’s relatively stationery.

In 2D animation, the background or scenery conventionally defines what’s “not moving” compared to what’s in the foreground.

3D animation in clara.io

By this time, you may be thinking that conventional theater, with a stage, scenery, a left and a right (relative to the audience), a right and left (relative to characters looking back), and a Z axis (even if only in 2D), is prototypical of both manga and anime. You’d be correct in such thinking.

Even 2D animation has the idea of one thing behind another, and getting relatively smaller with distance. When rendered in careful perspective, the photo-realism of 3D on a 2D canvas, photograph, film screen, is realized.

VR goggles and other forms of stereography take us another step towards a faithful recreation of our phenomenological experience (our everyday sense of a changing environment).

However, virtualization of everyday experience need not be the end goal. We find Bugs Bunny cartoons perfectly adequate to the task of providing an engaging experience. Sometimes shadow puppets are all one needs, or call them “cave paintings”.