A Complex Understanding of Compressed Time


August 30, 2019


This is a GIF.

This GIF is 26 sequential drawings (looping).

Sentience fragments.  

I began this image, and although there are 26 frames, I do imagine that this is one image and approach working on it that way. I mean, each frame is not completed one by one in a linear fashion. I am attempting to understand non-linear time, so drawing is done going in multiple directions, from back to front, front to back, and around again.

It all starts with one line, as this piece did. I began the composition while teaching an Intro to Digital Drawing class. In math, no one questions being asked to solve for X. In art, X is a moving target. X is the answer to a problem the artist is making up as they go along. My hypothesis is that art and science should be reconnected. Art is the science of making invisible things real. Much like truth, The Unseen needs no permission for existence.

Many people say everything has been done before. I, for one, have never believed that. There is this thing called imagination that makes things real in one’s mind. The creative process is about making those things real for others to see.

In a GIF art piece, the problem is making a movement so beautiful that one will be enamored enough to watch for longer than the length of the footage of said content.   I hope to transfix people, to shake them out of the rut of their day to day and help them relax a bit.

Art is not always in museums, you know. It is on the internet, too.

What does it mean that so many shapes are repeating themselves? What is the story exactly? For me, it feels like filling in the blanks to a mathematical puzzle that I set in motion.

The unity of it is that each part must contribute to a stronger whole, each part being a frame, a drawing. So, what about the content? Content can be anything, correct? “So what?” I say to content. I want form to dictate content in this case—the animation ART form. An art form so misunderstood. An art form that I myself have taken many thousands (or tens of thousands) of hours to practice and study.

The difference here is that most use the form to serve their content. In that case, the content (i.e. the story of the work) must be based on the strength of the experience of its maker combined with the understanding of the viewer, and the connections made between the two. Here I seek a purely visual form of communication whose strength lies in the beauty of the motion itself, even in its confusion.

That confusion represents the unknown, which, of course, is possibility.

Each drawing has its own imaginary time. This animated version is played at 10 drawings per second, each playing for three frames (30 fps).

I’ll bet most viewers will watch for far more than 2.6 seconds, as the time is not simply back and forth, but weaving through at a different pace.

There is always so much extra “fluff” in most media—the cliffhanger, if you will, is designed to keep people waiting and usually annoyed. The GIF form is the opposite: an exponential equation about to burst at the seams, shapes mutating every frame.

This is a recording of changes. I hoped in class to explain to students that imagining a drawing, a simple line or shape, is much like staring at a cloud. To re-draw that form is to reimagine the cloud. Time may be manipulated in so many ways.

It was important to me to create and write about this artwork at the same time. This is the result of that process. It was also important to make both the writing and drawing as direct as possible and to have multiple versions to study in time (the still image sequence vs. the animated sequence).

The art form of animation as a generative ideation process.

The content is always the surprise for me. I do not watch the cartoons I make as I make them; they are being drawn by algorithm. This animation was drawn by machine. These 26 sequential images tell a story, of course, but that story is up to interpretation according to the experience of the viewer. The work is about geometry, time, and symbolic perception. I hate when artists try and dictate meaning in a work. Everything is always up to (re)interpretation.

I am a method actor for a line—these lines are trying to come to life, adding together to make faces expressing, drawn in reverse by algorithmic expression.

What are written lines but prose that hopes to reveal something to the reader? What are drawn lines moving but wordless expressions trying to shout, dance and sing to anyone who can see something in a moving cloud?

Finding surprise answers at the square root of discovery.

Doing the foxtrot frequently,
In audible frequencies heard in doggie dream sequences.

To animators of any import, time is clearly the larger medium at play. Some may use a distinctive change in timing for comedic effect in a work or to catch someone’s eye in the information age for myriad reasons, but time is not just the frame rate for upload. The design goes much farther than that.

Straight-ahead animation is one of the 12 principles of animation and an old-school animation production approach very much akin to jazz improvisation. Although a painstaking method, the results are always highly fluid in movement and lyricism.

PUSHING form back into content, moving past abstraction.

Lyricism is an effervescent quality of movement in time and space that travels through all aspects of artistic expression, be it music, dance, the written word or visual art.

To Get Fast, you must REVEL IN THE SLOWNESS…

It is about making a movement that is smooth and perfect in a way—the arrangement of the whole and the parts of the whole. Unity of movement. The still images may be imperfect. The surprise is revealed to the artist and viewer.

Time and space can bend in your imagination.

Pixels may cut through time in ways that marble can’t.

I have always advised people that truly want to know about animation to not only know that it is a craft that takes a long time to learn and to practice, but also that reveling in the slowness of it makes it all the more rewarding.

The road of learning animation for myself was very long, so I would like to get to the heart of the subject in a way that may communicate the deeper ways of thinking about time, regardless of what the final output of the creative expression may be (2D, 3D, stop motion, VR, etc.).

Because in fact, with a nuanced understanding of time, form and movement, one may practice all endeavors of digital creativity now or forevermore, with any tools, making things come alive frame by frame with complete control of the movement, the form, and the interplay of meaning betwixt.

Dax Norman is an Assistant Professor of Practice at the School of Design and Creative Technologies. 

Read More Stories