Communal Material, Quilt Material; copyright by Mary Beams

Where the studio system fosters collaboration and depends upon group support of individual roles to produce the animation, independent animation can be a solitary path. It can be almost a point of honor to do everything oneself. I come from the independent animation movement, so I never learned the studio system. The possibilities of group animation have long intrigued me. Lately, group creation has taken on more significance in my life, and I am returning to the animation structures with which I experimented in the 70's, only now the computer provides a new tool for experimenting.

I'd like here to relate some of the games that I have played within group animation, and to suggest some possibilities for other approaches to group creation. ASIFA members have participated in an anijam recently; there might be more forms of collaboration suggested from this article.

Tueday Animators

Boston in the 70's was blessed with a strong animation community, much of it centered around Harvard's Carpenter Center for r the Arts, which happened to have one of the few Oxberry animation stands in the area. For a short period of time a group of us met once a week, with the commitment to produce an animation per week. Each week, someone would be in charge of the "assignment;" The evening's drawing was up to that person to organize. The other members were willing creators, ready to produce anything requested. A different person was responsible for filming the drawings produced from the evening, and by the next week we would have another film ready to go. We did not keep up with our commitments entirely, but we did produce one film, Cat Heaven, which was shown at the Boston Cat Film Festival in 1976.

Among the "assignments" we shared were these:

Poses - individuals modeled animated sequences for gesture drawings, and the results were filmed in various combinations of cycles.

Still life - we all sat in a circle around an object and drew our particular view of that object, plus a zoom into an agreed-upon feature. The drawings were filmed in various combinations, resulting in the object seeming to spin in a loopy, loosely animated manner, and then to spiral in to the center of the object.

Rotoscoping - we began with a photocopied rotoscope cat cycle, which we colored and added animation to throughout the evening. We also made flipbooks using the theme of cats, which images became Cat Heaven.

Alphabets - each of us chose a letter, illustrated it, and inbetweened from our letter to the next.

Communal Material

Paul Revere Is Here is a rotoscoped record of a month spent in Paul Revere Mall in Boston, 1975. The sound track comes from comments recorded from tourists and local residents who came to the drawing booth to see what was going on. The visitors were invited to rotoscope the shots of Paul Revere's statue, and while they were drawing they were asked various questions about the nature of history, memory, and their feelings about where they were just then.

Minneapolis Movies is a collection of rotoscoped self-portraits from the students of Minneapolis College of Art and Design (1977). The students had one week to film ten seconds of themselves making a characteristic gesture or comment, to rotoscope the images and to film, edit and cut the sound synchronous with the original film footage.

Soon after Minneapolis Movies, I got a job in an ad agency and set off on a computer career. Recent purchase of a 486 DOS machine allows me to work with Audodesk Animator as well as with fax and email art.

And Now I Am Pencil is an Autodesk Animator videosong, animated from the results of a writing group which meets regularly. In the writing sessions, we cycle and recycle seed phrases, writing together from a seed phrase and then reading our work, using phrases from each writing to seed new writings. Some of the writings are clearly animatable. Pencil is an example of taking something created individually from within group energy, and working with it as an individual piece.

Quilt Material

Within group activity, there are a variety of creative structures. One such structure uses a group to create something quickly; in this structure, individual cells are created simultaneously, then joined together into a single work. The video animation, Kid Quilt, is an example of this type.

Another structure is as a highly personal cell within the body of a more impersonal work; in this case the intensely personal statements by each cell member become less personal when one steps back to view the whole. Kid Quilt and the fax art piece, Digital Quilt, are examples of this. In both examples, a quilt provides rich metaphors for structuring group activity.

Kid Quilt is a piece made at a kid's camp over a two day period. The kids ranged in age from 3 to 14. The first day, they painted individual pieces of cloth; the next day they stitched them into quilt patterns while at the same time converting the digitized image of each square into Animator flic files. They had the opportunity to observe their works as painted pigment and as moving light. They had the chance to arrange their pieces into motion sequences, to tell stories, and to contribute on an original and personal level to a group whole. They had the opportunity to experience an enormous amount of creative work being finished in a short amount of time, as a result of each person's contribution.

Digital Quilt is not a video song, but a collection of images faxed and mailed by individual contributors. The black and white images are arranged into patterns on a wall. The concept of a digital quilt fits the collaborative potential of computer art: Binary information is the stitching which turns patterns of dark and light into words and images; individual patterns make their unique contribution to the whole. Individual pieces are created and pieced together into one overall pattern. The piece involves a community of creators building according to a theme.

The Digital Quilt was originally a multi-site fax-art event presented during Women's History Month in March of 1993, curated by Byron Grush and myself. A call for entries involved more than 60 participants from as far away as Australia, who submitted images created on the computer or with electronic media of some sort, based on the theme, "Women and Spirituality." We received works by fax, USmail and email. Images were hand-drawn and photocopied, collages pasted or electronically composed, or created entirely on computers. Some images were down-loaded as image files, some were text. The technology generally transcended the wide variety of hardware and software used. The quilt was hung in several sites: Northern Illinois University, De Kalb; Columbia College, Chicago; College of New Rochelle, New York; Grand Valley State College, Grand Rapids, Michigan; Cleveland Institute of Art, Ohio. Each site had curatorial freedom in hanging the images. Since then the quilt was installed in Chicago SIGGRAPH's Brave New Pixels show. This installation appeared last summer at the Northern Illinois University Art Museum Gallery in Chicago, and at the NIU Art Museum Gallery in De Kalb Altgeld Hall last autumn.

The advantages of creating a pool of collaborators are great. When you want to dip into the creative pool, there is always someone's work to build from; and if you truly collaborate there will always be someone eager to do things you may not want to do, while you prefer to cover those tasks others don't wish to do. Your creativity can feed each other to reach to areas you may not have imagined. When you can contribute your piece and not worry about holding onto your territory, you are freed from constriction into the flow of creative impulses. You can work faster with group effort. To play with animation is one of the most stimulating qualities of the medium.