Stage 3, Part 2: Animated portraiture.

January 26, 2011

In order to construct my animated portraits I have made multiple sketches of each subject, even up to 25, and have digitally placed them in sequence, so as to create a slow animation of their shifts and changes in expression over the time of the sitting. The portrait is a record, so to speak, of our interaction, and my sketches are testament to part of whatever happened or was said during that time; they describe the subject during the brief part of their lives that I was with them.
One artist whose work distinctly connects animation and film is Jeff Scher. A New-York based film maker, animator and painter, Scher makes vibrant animations by projecting a short section of film, slide by slide onto paper, then colouring in the image. Each slide is done in contrasting styles, creating a hand spun, psychotically vibrant effect. In 2004 he made an animated portrait of Susan Shin, which appears to have been the start of a series, as more people soon commissioned him to do their own. This, however, was openly influenced by the Work of Warhol, with the main difference between it and the ‘screen tests’ being Scher’s further processing of the filmed face into animation. Unlike other animated portraits, Scher’s portrait gives the eerie impression of being a single drawing copied and repeated in contrasting styles and colours over multiple frames which then raises its head before falling back into the same still position. The movement is so natural and fluid that the filmic reference shows through in a similar way that many paintings made from photos have a distinctive look of flatness.
For the last four years, Victorian artist Julia Holden has also explored the connection between the traditional medium of painting and the ephemeral presence of animation. Through such animations as ‘muse’ and ‘painter’ she looks at how faces are made up or put on to present to the world. These constitute hundreds of paintings that are recorded with a digital camera before being wiped off the board and another image painted on. The rationale for the persistent gaze of the subject is the implication that they are looking into a bathroom mirror, putting on their ‘face’.
Compared with the number of animated self-portraits in existence, the number of artists whose practice gives a prominent place to the animate portrait of other people appears to be few. However, to add to Holden and Scher is the work of Julian Opie. Based on manipulation of digital images, his animated portraits are a direct contrast to theirs. Most of his work in the last decade has involved human figures, usually with name-titles, implying that the simplified features indeed refer to specific individuals. He does digital paintings, and from his online portfolio he has animated many of these. The animations are simple and in generally two types: many consist of figures side on, shown walking. The rest are generally front-on, either the head or more of the body being depicted, with small parts of the picture moving – this may be the eyebrows raising, lips twitching, eyes blinking, earrings swinging gently or even the chest slowly rising and falling. The sheer number of named portraits produced by Opie could be seen as a community, a mass of beautiful middle-class individuals who are only distinct from each other by the variations in hair or dress. However, by his simplified style their individuality seems to be presented as lost, or reduced to a choice of external trappings.
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