Isolation, Uncertainty and Animation’s Healing Hands

Animation is often a solitary discipline: frequently, it’s a single artist, maybe with pen on paper, or perhaps two hands manipulating practical puppets in isolation on a stop-motion stage. I often marvel at Lotte Reiniger’s individual work giving incredible life to silhouettes over a hundred years ago. Solo.

As we navigate these bewildering times, the days of COVID-19 and a fractured world, we are overwhelmed. Globally, in the midst of this crisis, we have witnessed families and friends devastated by furloughs and layoffs. We have seen global economies shrink in a matter of weeks, small businesses destroyed and dreams derailed. We watch as the media paints apocalyptic pictures of our future every day; and many of us are not buoyed by a fractured government spreading confounding messages during official press conferences. And where we stand now, saddened and angry, on a global scale, we find ourselves reeling during a seemingly unforeseen pandemic.

Alone. Confused. Isolated. I turn to the world of animation, its prescience, its intuition. It is necessary therapy. I am saddened that we can’t group together in unison right now at needed events like the Stuttgart Festival of Animated Film-ITFS. This would have been the ideal time to assemble to discuss feelings and celebrate intrepid creativity within our industry. But this year we cannot congregate in the Gloria Passage to sing, to drink a toast or to celebrate and debate the plots or styles of animated features and short films. We cannot collectively in person share and plan our next rendezvous in Annecy or Zagreb. And that is crushing.

But, as always, within troubled times, there are glimpses of hope. For me hope continues to be realized by the prospect of animation. Fortunately, for many, this artistic engine continues to churn, even now. Creativity is often spawned by darkness and uncertainty. Not ironically, in isolation where animation often thrives, many artists, especially 2D and 3D animators are delivering incredible individual content. In an inconceivable time when Hollywood is essentially dark, many in the animation milieu have broken through with inspiring works that critique media and our muddled global political system.

I am lifted by the speed with which festivals like Stuttgart have developed online platforms and discussion groups for the virtual community. I am inspired by CalArts students — led by editorial cartoonist Ann Telnae — who have created “Commentary Through Cartoons,” an important confluence of journalism and political observation so indispensable during this time of the pandemic.

Because animation is solitary, it also has the ability to move with the speed of its time, albeit painstakingly, frame-by-frame, but still reflecting and commenting upon culture, politics and the will of human consciousness.

While many festivals begin the necessary and wonderful work of sharing and posting films online, this does come at a price. For the Stuttgart festival this year, I curated four “Best of Animation” programs, gleaned from ITFS’ incredible vault of animation since 1994. But I’m despondent that we don’t get to share it together as a live audience until 2021. The film blocks were assembled over a month before the word “coronavirus” was in our global vocabulary, but in my introductory comments at the time I wrote that I wanted each short program to communally highlight:

“… themes of imperfection and general human vulnerability… these works honor everyday life, burdened or blessed, with a dose of bureaucracy, love, family and pain. The universal toil reflects the artist’s relationship to their political, societal or deeply personal experiences.”

Actually, in many ways, this makes the 2021 Stuttgart Festival of Animated Film program worth the wait. I am excited by the prospect of sharing thoughts and unfiltered analyses about this inexplicable time. I am looking forward to hearing from those who can provide a particularly unique perspective, and to be in an unparalleled festival environment that embraces thought and deep discourse.

We will persevere through the planet’s latest crisis. I am thankful for the creative alliance of animators, working individually, often in isolation but nevertheless fully conscious of the role they serve as artists, creators, and, ultimately, archivists of a beautiful, yet fragmented time in our world.

Author

In his role in brand management and marketing at LAIKA for twelve years, Mark Shapiro worked on the international publicity campaigns for Coraline (2009), ParaNorman (2012), The Boxtrolls (2014), Kubo and the Two Strings (2016) and Missing Link (2019). He currently serves as an entertainment marketing consultant based in Oregon (USA).