Developing Animation 3
Towards a European Consensus
in Teaching Animation
PETER BLUMELIn the 1960s and 1970s, there were some very interesting meetings of the Animation Artists' Association that took place regularly in East Berlin, and also in Dresden. At one of those meetings, I unexpectedly met a master of the Soviet animated film industry that still existed at that time, whom I esteemed highly - the cartoon film director, Fyodor Khitruk from Moscow. I knew that he also headed a training course for animators there. At that time there was still no such course in East Germany and there were many, including myself, who were giving serious thought to the problem. In my shy embarrassment I asked the esteemed master the banal question: "Will you be talking about animation today ?" He replied without hesitation: "I always talk about animation."
I know now that Fyodor Khitruk does not just talk about animation as such, but is, as it were, a prophet of animation and that it would be hard to find anyone who has given as much attention to the question of methodology in animation teaching as he has.
In the meantime a training centre for animators had been opened in the Berlin area as well. It was set up in 1984 at the Konrad Wolf College for Film and Television in Potsdam Babelsberg. Since I was appointed to head the training course in 1986, there has been warm friendship between Fyodor Khitruk and myself, and I have been one of his grateful disciples. He taught, and is still teaching me, how animation can be taught. The idea of a Europe-wide school of animation also came from him.
The differing cultural traditions in the USA and Europe have led to differing developments and expression. It is true that the art of animation first saw the light of day in Europe - we shall be observing the 100th anniversary of the first cartoon drama, the pioneering artistic and technical feat of the ingenious forebear of animation, Professor Emile Reynaud - but nonetheless the art of animation owes its triumphal march around the world to the American cartoonists in the twenties and thirties of this century, and in particular to the fascinating masterpieces of Walt Disney and his comrades-in-arms.
While the method of industrialised studio cartoon film production developed for the most part in the USA, a multitude of remarkable individual artistic achievements and lines of tradition based on them emerged on the European continent.
In the same way, differing views and traditions developed in the field of animation teaching as well. The production methods in the USA offered many outstanding cartoonists the possibility of developing their artistic talents to the full under the patronage of experienced animators, and the precondition for animation education there was, logically enough, a sound training in the visual arts at a school of art.
In Europe too, the path to proficiency led and still leads chiefly through a school of fine and applied arts. Here the principle of individual creativity, which was characteristic of the production methods in the state cartoon film studios in Eastern Europe as well, shaped the variety of techniques and traditions, personal styles and subjective interpretations of animation as a medium that determined both the outward appearance of the European art of animation and the various views and methods of animation teaching.
In the course of that process, the post-war European art of animation was repeatedly stimulated by the fascinating creations of the Canadian animated film makers. And especially by the unforgettable Norman McLaren's variety and delight in experimenting.
Nowadays, in contrast to the situation in the sixties and seventies, there are a multitude of outstanding possibilities for teaching animation that are now rich in tradition. Unfortunately, the public support given to the graduates in this field of art is in no way proportional to their artistic potentials. This is particularly true of the television companies, which could help both the schools and the beginners to find their way into the cultural consciousness of the public. The only place the creative potentials of the animation artists and the qualities of their training institutions are made known is at festivals, and even there it is only to a small circle of insiders.
Within the context of the European community programme, the College of Film and Television would like to contribute. The regular guest seminars given at our College by Fyodor Khitruk have always been coupled with intensive discussion on questions pertaining to the methodology of animation teaching. How does one teach such a fascinating art as animation? In what way can the variety of formal possibilities be made effective in the teaching process? What criteria should be considered selecting applicants for the course? Which key features, what directions should the teaching programme contain? And above all, what knowledge and skills do we have to provide our students with so that they can prove themselves in the practice of working life in their chosen trade? For one thing is certain: without sound, subject-specific training, it will scarcely be possible, in our day or in the future, to be professionally active in this field.Thus the future of the European animated film is inseparably linked with the qualities and potentials of animation teaching.The economic and political unification of Europe poses, among others, the question of the preservation of the cultural traditions of its peoples and nations.The art of animation is indubitably one of the most fascinating cultural achievements this century. It is up to us to carefully preserve and maintain the traditions to which it has given rise, as well as to perfect and make accessible to coming generations the methods and technologies that have been generated.Within the context of the European Community programme, the College of Film and Television would like to contribute its share to the overall cultural concept of the European Community. It seems to me that Fyodor Khitruk's idea about a consensus among the European schools of animation on the question of animation teaching has the potential to promote initial steps in the direction of a common European concept in this field.What objectives and expectations can be linked with such a programme?The main premise should be reserved for the preservation and maintenance of the national and individual traditions and the variety of structural forms arising from them. This variety of styles, views, forms of expression and technologies should be made accessible to all animation students within the framework of extensive opportunities for exchange.The prerequisite for this is the reciprocal recognition of study performances and examination results. The specifics of the various schools should not be levelled out, but should, on the contrary, be utilised to make the variety of courses offered as wide as possible.The art of classical cartoon animation should be accorded a key position in the imparting of the technical and formal rudiments, but should not be given cult status, to the exclusion of everything else.The aesthetic foundations and generic specifics of the art of animation should be formulated in a joint analysis, taking artistic and media science aspects into consideration.Teaching material should be prepared systematically and exchanged on a reciprocal basis.The different technical and financial resources could be utilised co-operatively in the interests of the students.Through joint interventions and joint publication and public relations work, the schools should make the public more culturally aware than hitherto of contemporary animation art, especially by utilising the public and commercial audiovisual media.No less an authority than Sergei Eisenstein expressed his admiration of the art of Disney-type animation at the beginning of the forties with the apt characterisation "Great!" "Walt Disney's work, " he wrote in an essay, "is the most appealing I've ever met. Justified to suppose that this work has most or all the traits of pre-logical attractiveness." "Living drawings, line drawings, animals that have been humanised, more than that: given souls, doubly animated: as stationary drawings brought to life and as animals imbued with human traits and emotions. 'Motorically' and 'spiritually' animated as it were." And Eisenstein sums up: "Ergo: There is nothing on earth as attractive as this!"Let us together do our best to see that the art of animation has a firm place in the cultural consciousness of Europe. Let us begin with the quest for a consensus on animation teaching in Europe.