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Eyeworks: Paul Bush

This is the fifth installation of an ongoing series of articles by Alexander Stewart and Lilli Carré, founders of the Eyeworks Festival of Experimental Animation.

This film uses an animation technique called replacement animation, which involves replacing objects with different objects from one frame to the next. It’s a technique that’s usually less known to casual animation fans than hand-drawn, stop-motion, or computer animation, but it can result in dazzling effects. The results often have a frenetic and manic quality to them, with the differences in size, shape or position from one object to the next standing out. There can be heightened cognitive tension between recognizing frames as individual objects, and allowing them to flow together as animation. It’s a perfect technique for people approaching animation with more conceptual or even avant-garde sensibilities, since it both calls attention to the unique properties of the medium and provides a satisfying visual experience. On the other hand, the use of replacement animation in the classic George Pal Puppetoons of the 1930s and 40s, and for facial animation in big-budget projects like the Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline, attest to its usefulness in more polished animation efforts.

Here, Paul Bush uses cases of preserved and cataloged insects to make an animation. By replacing one bug with the next in line in the case, he creates a sense of high-energy transformation and gives the bugs a distinct sense of evolution. The film begins with a specific sense of place, as the voice of a museum docent gives instruction. The iridescent colors, delicate wings, intricate patterns, and even the cataloging pins on individual bugs provide fascinating visual details. Gradually, the insects onscreen ease into faster and faster movement, and the audio allows the viewer to zone out in what Bush calls “a mescalin vision dreamt by Charles Darwin.”

Paul Bush, While Darwin Sleeps. 2004. 5:00.

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