Showing through April 7.

The abstract animation in Visual Music speaks to the essence of an experience or may evoke a feeling and has an underlying structure much in the way that music does. Pure forms – points, lines, planes – can, like notes, chords and scales, be arranged in time and space, free from the limitations of representing objects which already exist. Often referred to as “visual music”, these three animations are stellar examples of moving images for the eye like music for the ear. These all have beautiful soundtracks, though we experience them on Cabell’s Big Screen as pure visual structures; the shapes, movement and color may suggest sound.

These films are part of The iotaCenter collection and were curated by Pamela Turner, whose research includes experimental animation of the 1970s and 1980s. She is Chair of the Kinetic Imaging Department in VCUarts, and also serves on the Board of Directors at The iotaCenter. Robert Darroll and Adam Beckett’s work are available on DVD and can also be viewed on Kanopy through the VCU libraries.

In order of appearance on the big screen:

  • Larry Cuba, Calculated Movements (1985) (shown at right)
  • Robert Darroll, Lung (1986)
  • Adam Beckett, Kitsch in Synch (1975)

Larry Cuba’s Calculated Movements, made in 1985, is an early computer animation created by programming the graphics and movement using ZGRASS language, developed by Tom DeFanti of EVL in the University of Chicago. This language allowed the creation of volumes and the use of four ‘colors’; black, white, dark grey and lighter grey. The forms build and cascade in rhythmic, flock-like movements, disappearing as new forms advance in a more orderly formation, as if following an invisible leader. Gene Youngblood said of Cuba’s compositions: “They are as close to music—particularly the mathematically transcendent music of Bach—as the moving-image arts will ever get.” Cuba is known for his pioneering work in computer animation, including the computer generated wire-frame image of the Death Star in the first Star Wars movie (1977).

Robert Darroll’s Lung (1986) is the first animation in his Korean Trilogy.  The title Lung refers to the Tibetan Buddhist concept of air-energy. Darroll, who was born in Great Britain, studied in the Hamburg Academy of Art. His teacher, Kurt Kranz, had studied with Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky, so it is not unexpected that his work would be abstract composition that has kinship to music. While the images and movement would appear to be created on the computer, they are all hand-drawn. The sequences take the viewer through meditative and transformative passages, as shapes and colors are dynamically orchestrated in time and space. Darroll studied Zen Buddhism at Songgwang Sa, in Korea, for two years. Lung  is dedicated to the master Kusan Sunim.

Adam Beckett was a ground-breaking animator in the early 1970s; his unique work still influences animators today. He is known for developing the evolving animation cycle and was a master of manipulating images on the optical printer. Kitsch in Synch, from 1975, was made by Beckett and his students from an animation and an optical printing class he was teaching at CalArts, where he also studied. The geometric shapes are cut out of black and white paper, with color added through the optical printing process. Images are mirrored, manipulated, and woven together in a piece that ranges from cacophony to calm. This is a film that is worth revisiting online, through Kanopy, just to hear the soundtrack, which was also made by the students under Beckett’s direction, and won awards. Beckett’s alchemical mastery of abstracted imagery caught the attention of the visual effects industry; he was the head of animation and rotoscoping on the first Star Wars movie.

For more thoughts on abstract animation visit the VCU Scholar’s Compass and read Pamela Turner’s paper “Content and Meaning in Abstract Animation” which was presented at Siggraph in 2003.

Categories Digital Collections, Faculty Work