August 11, 2006
I haven't seen A Scanner Darkly yet and I wasn't as keen on Monster House as most, but I appreciate both movies for one thing: they've once again reopened the debate on rotoscoping and motion capture ("Satan's rotoscope," according to some) and their relationship to animation. There were several spirited discussions on the subject during SIGGRAPH this year, including one during a lunch with two PC World editors who weren't animation fans.

I've often thought that the debate—among animators, at any rate—is spurred by the notion that rotoscoping and motion capture are a kind of cheating, since the animation performance isn't created from whole cloth. But after a week of discussion, I've come to the conclusion that the real crux of the matter is that rotoscoping offends our notion of animation's unreality. It goes hand in hand with the question, "If you can film it in live-action, why animate it?" as well as the seeming paradox of animated documentaries.

Little did I know that Marcel Jean has been giving this debate, in a more comprehensive form, serious thought. In fact, he curated a six-part retrospective called "Quand le cinéma d'animation rencontre le vivant" ("When Animation Meets the Living") at the Annecy festival earlier this year. Each part was organized around a particular theme, featuring shorts from as far back as 1907 (James Stuart Blackton's The Haunted Hotel) to as recent as last year (Rosto's Jona/Tomberry and Chris Cunningham's Rubber Johnny)—illustrating how many of these "new" issues in animation that test the boundaries of real and unreal have been around since the medium's inception.

If you weren't able to make it to Annecy, you've got a second chance at catching this fascinating retrospective; the Cinémathèque québécoise will be running the retrospective from September 14 to October 12. The six programs are "Vanités et natures mortes" ("Vanity and Still Lives"; September 14), "La Tentation surréelle" ("The Surreal Temptation"; September 21), "Hybrides et mutants" ("Hybrids and Mutants"; September 27), "Les Soubresauts du temps" ("Marks in Time"; September 28), "De l'humain et de la technologie" ("The Human and Technological Element"; October 5) and "L'insoutenable étrangeté" ("Unbearable Strangeness"; October 12). For a complete program listing, check out the Cinémathèque's website; you can search the listings of upcoming programs here.

The retrospective will also be the occasion of a book launch: Marcel Jean's Quand le cinéma d'animation rencontre le vivant, a collection of twelve essays and interviews exploring the same themes as the retrospective. More details on that later.

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