centre for animation & interactive media

Animation Project #2
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METAMORPHOSIS - hand drawn animation
Animation theorist, Professor Paul Wells, posits that 'Metamorphosis' - the ability for an image to literally change into another completely different image - is one of animation's most distinctive tropes.

"… [as] the constituent core of animation itself… metamorphosis… means that it is possible to create a fluid linkage of images through the process of animation itself rather than through editing... metamorphosis in animation achieves the highest degree of economy in narrative continuity, and adds a dimension to the visual style of the animated film in defining the fluid abstract stage between the fixed properties of the images before and after transition. Metamorphosis also legitimises the process of connecting apparently unrelated images, forging original relationships between lines, objects, etc., and disrupting established notions of classical story-telling. Metamorphosis can resist logical developments and determine unpredictable linearities (both temporal and spatial) that constitute different kinds of narrative construction. It can also achieve transformations in figures and objects which essentially narrate those figures and objects, detailing, by implication, their intrinsic capacities. In enabling the collapse of the illusion of physical space, metamorphosis destabilises the image, conflating horror and humour, dream and reality, certainty and speculation." - Paul Wells

Metamorphosis (transfiguration or transmogrification) is a magical transformation that happens before one's very eyes. It is a fundamental device in the animator's repertoire and has potency because of the trust we place in our eyes. Seeing is believing and when the impossible is made possible, we are utterly engaged. There is a spell-binding, entrancing quality that comes with watching such impossible changes taking place and in speculating about where the transformation might actually lead.

Metamorphosis is called 'Henshin' in Japanese, and the favorite object of metamorphic transformation in animé is the human body - often the adolescent body - where hormonal flux seems to manifest itself in visual externalisations that have consequences at a global or even cosmic level - from human to monster or animal, from fleshy to metallic, from corporeal to ethereal.

Metamorphosis was once a device found primarily in animation, but in the age of digital special effects, image manipulation makes anything possible. Now humans can become animals without any hint of camera or film laboratory tricks resorted to in previous generations of film-making. Computer generated imagery has almost entirely replaced most special effect make-up for sequences which can be startling for their impossibility and the way the effects have been perfectly integrated into the live-action scenes.

For this assignment you will use pencils, punched paper, peg bars, field guides, animation discs and a 'pencil-tester' - the complete tool-set of the traditional animator. In spite of the advent of computers, hand-drawn animation is still a widely used animation technique and can imbue the work with a strong personal style which is unique to the artist and the graphic drawing tools she or he uses.

You can morph between anything you like. If you are stuck for an idea, design a monogram of your initials. This will be the starting point of your sequence. Now create some design, object or creature that you associate with your personality. Did you have a childhood nick name? These two drawings will become your 'key-drawings' which map out the start and end points of your sequence. Alternatively, you could think of two contrasting images or ideas that you could throw together to produce an interesting association. Eg beauty/beast, pen/sword, devil/angel, Bush/Howard.

The aim of the exercise is to transform one drawing into the other in an engaging way over a period of 1-3 seconds (25-75 frames) of video using about 10-15 drawings.

This is NOT an exercise in full-blown animated storytelling so stick to the notion of a short magical transformation, rather than depicting an action-based event, and please keep it simple. Feel free to design a number of transformations if you wish e.g. from initials, to beast, to object and back to your initials again. This will open up all sorts of possibilities for shooting the sequence in a variety of interesting ways.

Remember that shape and form are not the only things you can transform but also the elements of colour, texture, the density of image and its shading effects as well as the speed at which various parts of your design will change. Work rough to begin with. You can clean up your drawings once you have 'pencil-tested' them to see if they are working. There is no point in spending lots of time doing finished artwork if the animation doesn't work. When you are happy with the finished result, you can take your drawings home to colour them in and we can re-shoot the sequence on our digital capture system to make a movie for your showreel or personal web page. Please keep your drawings within the animator's field chart supplied and number each drawing so that you don't loose track of their order.

As a studio standard, let's place your drawing paper on the bottom pegs of your animation disk rather than the top set of pegs.

We will use our digital 'pencil tester' (VidiRT) on the Amiga computer to 'action-test' your sequence. This is a great tool to check your animation in the quickest possible time. Don't worry about the way it looks as its not your final output device. Part of this exercise is to experiment with shooting your drawings in a variety of ways. You will soon realise that although it was painful to make so many drawings, compared to your cut-out animation, there are endless ways of recycling and reusing your artwork to produce more 'on-screen' time than you would expect. You can make the whole sequence run backwards for example. Although metamorphosis sequences often work very nicely when shot at 3 frames per drawing, or equivalent to a playback rate of 8 on the digital pencil tester (see notes on animator's time), try varying the number of frames recorded for each drawing to make the changes happen slower or faster. The changes can be shot so that the action occurs in fits and starts like someone catching their breath from time to time as they blow up a balloon.

You can also create shimmering stilted motion effects by taking two steps forward and one step back i.e. shoot 1, 2, 3, back to 2, then 3, 4, to 3 etc. Why don't you try it?

Drawing lots and lots of artwork can be a tedious affair. However the following mechanical method of creating inbetweens will help save you work. Place both your first and last drawings on the peg bars of your light box. The light allows you to see through both sheets of paper. Now place a new sheet of paper on top and draw the difference between the linework of the first and last drawings. This is your first 'in-between'. Now take the last drawing off the pegs bars, and on a new sheet, trace off the difference between the first drawing and your in-between. Repeat the process, sub-dividing the drawings as often as you feel necessary. Remember, the more drawings you make, the slower the transformation will be. And remember to number your drawings!

The above inbetweening technique requires little thought and will result in a smooth but rather mechanical piece of animation. It may be far more interesting to make some areas change quicker than others. The transformation could ripple across your drawings over time. If a part of your design is to stay still while other parts change, it will be necessary to trace off this section of your artwork onto each new sheet of paper so that it remains still.

'Street Musique' by Ryan Larkin (1970s)
Entirely hand drawn and coloured with ink washes on punched paper, this classic film harnesses the magical qualities of metamorphosis with its fluid transformations. It is a stream of consciousness opus. An animated homage to Larkin won an Oscar a few years back.

'Allegro Non Troppo' by Bruno Bozetto (1976)
Ravel's 'Bolero' sequence depicting life originating in a Coke bottle and transmorphing through various forms.

'Hunger' by Peter Folds (1973) (see image below)
Perhaps the most accomplished of early computer animations which attempted to use a computer to create changes between two key drawings. It puts its message across metaphorically through the association of images via metamorphosis.

'The Street' by Caroline Leaf (1976)
A story set amongst the Jewish community in Montreal during the 1930s. The leading character is a young boy living in an overcrowded apartment with his mother, father, sister and dying grandmother. This film uses its 'paint-on-glass' technique
to produce a metamorphosis between various scenes and ideas in an extraordinarily fluid and organic way.

An early computer morph sequence from 'Hunger' by Peter Folds (1973), using animating vectors. This film produced by the National Film Board of Canada as a research project was an important collaboration between computer scientists and an animator which led to the development of one of the earliest 'key frame' automatic computer inbetweening systems.


Practice in the use of traditional animator's tools - pegs bars, punched paper and field guides. To keep your drawings/composition within a defined field of view. To create a magical transformation. This project will be completed on paper. See "Tools of the Trade"


Friday 27th March
This is a project that you can do at your desk. Work rough during the testing phase. You can colour your drawings up at home and either scan or re-shoot the final version in your own time after the above deadline.

"I met a morph once who lived in the village of Phosis"


The AIM Metamorphosis Collection - ask David


Nothing new under the sun...
Circa 1833. This truly magical, if politically incorrect, hand-drawn transformation from a young woman into an old hag and finally to a devil-like creature, is beautifully realised involving changes in both form and colour.

Why is the transformation so smooth?
Optical toys such as the Zoetrope, Phenakistiscope and Pranxinascope usually had around 16 segments with slots and/or mirrors in which to present images. This normally allowed for only very short cyclic animations. In the example above, a total of 56 images are ingeniously arranged in a spiral covering the entire surface area of the disc. The eye locks onto a face in the centre of the disc and follows that image to the disc's outer circumference.
A Phenakistiscope disc, circa 1833 featuring metamorphosis from which the above motion was digitally reconstituted. To find out more about these Victorian era optical toys, <click here>

Roll over the above Phenakistiscope disc to activate it. This metamorphosis sequence relies on the animation principle of 'squash and stretch' for its effect.
Metamorphosis by Greg Zaritski, 1995
(click to view movie)
Metamorphosis by William Trumble, 1993
(click to view movie)
Metamorphosis by Jon Rowdon, 1995
(click to view movie)
Metamorphosis by Sharon Parker, 1995
(click to view movie)
Grey Avenue by Eugene Foo. Based entirely on metamorphosis, the icons of Melbourne magically transform as an iPoded youth passes by. Ask AIM staff to see this gem!
Digital morphing software can distort and transform both static and moving images. Such programs could be useful for creating some sequences or for producing odd-ball character designs (avbove and below)

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