Animation Discussion – Out of the Inkwell (1919 – 1921)

By March 1, 2016Honours Project

This is the first in a series of blog posts I will be making. These “Discussion” posts will consist of myself talking about a short animation and analysing its techniques, themes and narrative. The series of posts will be similar to my earlier case studies but not as in depth, I think of them as mini case studies. My hope is that doing these quick evaluations will help me to establish points and examples in my dissertation, in addition to broadening my knowledge of animations seen.

The first animations I’m going to look at are from a series called Out of the Inkwell animated by Max Fleischer.

This animation is 95 years old at the time of writing which is pretty early in the film and animation industry. In this animation Ko Ko the Clown is drawn by the animator onto paper. The ink from his pen flows out of it (animated) and forms the clown and the colour of his clothing. The clown moves around and talks to the animator (in that classic; switch to text then back to footage style). Meanwhile in the studio room another pair of live action characters are conversing: one man appears to be creating a model of another man’s face.

The clown ends up leaving the confines of the paper and I love the eventual interaction of the clown character and the second modelling scenario although I wished they’d have had the clay head interact from the beginning, there was potential for some good gags in there. Standout moment for me is the animator throwing a clay ball into the animated scene and the clown getting hit – three materials all interacting with each other.

While the film itself feels dated, the animation by modern standards holds up. The clown is very cartoony and there’s lots of exaggeration going on. The animation appears to be rotoscoped over existing film footage which for the most part is brilliant but at times it can get a little uncanny since the movements are so close to real life which don’t always translate well into animation. The animation pacing is also very fast and frantic which has its pros and cons in a film like this. I think this is down mostly due to the way that old film often had that strange speed to it due to the nature of manually projecting the film.

From a narrative stand point there does seem to be a lot of “filler” content where the clown spends a lot of his on-screen time skating around, doing tricks and frantically moving across the screen. I feel the film focuses a little too much on the clown and not on what’s going on with all the characters in the scene. I’ve already said I would’ve loved to have seen more interaction with the clay head and the live action actors. I think though, because of how animation was so magical and unique, that more time was spent on this as a visual spectacle.

That being said I can understand why Max Fleischer is so beloved for the time and still today. I checked out another short from the Out of the Inkwell series.

In this animation, which was produced 2 years before the previous animation I talked about, it again features Ko Ko the Clown and an interaction with the animator. This time a pesky fly keeps landing on the paper infuriating both the animator and the clown character.

The film is shorter in length than the other I’ve discussed and I think its better for it. The interaction between the animator and the character is more concise and the chemistry is greater as they have a common foe.

The animation itself isn’t as fluid and focused upon but the character’s actions don’t seem as out of place. The rotoscoped actions are noticeable compared to the non-rotoscoped: the facial animations are more stylised compared to the real life actions that have been translated to animation. I do think the rotoscoped movements are great but the transition to a stationary character is sometimes jarring. Just like the modelling short, the animation is still very good and I particularly like how he plays with depth and the use of props.

I loved the interaction between the fly and the character and there were a good number of gags that played across very well. I was hoping that the “fly trap” would trap the fly in the drawing but that might also have not worked well.

The ending to how they catch the fly is genius, only I wish there was some setup before hand. The clown jumps through the paper (which is a spectacle itself) and climbs into the inkwell. While I think it was a great way to lure the fly in, he initiates the jump through with no apparent intention and the animator seems to know immediately what to do. I imagine this was more of a time constraint. I can relate to approaching the end of an animation and not sure entirely how to end it so just rush it.

Again, despite any flaws, the animation still holds up and with this short in particular: the humour and narrative are still relatable and its a joy to watch.

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