I’ve talked about Jan Švankmajer a few times during this project but I want to discuss some of his work further. This animation discussion features Darkness Light Darkness (1990), a claymation film which revolves around a clay character building themselves, a similar theme to the final animation I will be creating.
The animation has a classic Jan Švankmajer atmosphere to it: creative but also unsettling and sometimes grotesque. The animation plays with a lot of imagery that would be pretty disturbing if it was real. Luckily stop motion is used appropriately here and having the character clearly made from clay gives the character visual appeal.
Modelling clay is used as the main material with the various limbs being made from it, as well as the character using the moulding properties of the clay to build himself. There’s a lot of visual gags that arise from the use of clay. Sound also plays a good part in this short film with the sound effects adding to the unsettling nature of the content.
In general, the modelling clay has a smooth, elastic property to it. The limbs retain their shape to where they would resemble the firmness yet softness of real human limbs. Sometimes this is broken for a purpose, for example when the ears are torn off they leave an uneven tear which contrasts to the typically smoother use of clay within the animation. That itself can create unsettling moments as the tear feels more real to the audience.
The nature of the story means there’s a lot of imagery that can get a reaction from the audience, from playing around with eyeballs to realistic looking organs making an appearance. A tongue and set of teeth enter the room and as they are the first non-clay moving objects (other than the eyes) there’s a distinct contrast between them and the clay character. The use of realistic (maybe even real) organs that are wet in texture, coupled with the squishy sound effects, might alarm the squeamish and this is more than likely the intended effect.
I particularly like the different ways that the clay is deformed throughout the animation. Opening the head up to put the brain in leaves a nice effect in the clay that looks like the hands have left indents in the skull. The feet crushing the head from either side is also a humorous moment that leaves the head crushed in a comical way. As more clay comes in from outside the room it becomes more fluid and has a texture that looks hand moulded with lots of fingerprint indentations.
Another moment I particularly liked was when one of the hands reacts to seeing something outside the door. The hand points then turns against the door and raises all its fingers as if to convey shock. This was both funny but also interesting in that I have considered doing a similar effect in my own animation, where my own hand (animated with the pixilation technique) will gesture towards my wire armature character.
Overall I really liked this animation. In context with other animated shorts and features I’ve looked at, I feel this is the most relevant to my project and I’m glad I took the time to discuss it further. For a claymation it does a lot of things and has contains many interesting techniques. I’ve said a lot of good things about the animation so I’ll balance that by saying that I would’ve liked to have seen the hands mould the clay in more detail. Sometimes I didn’t always feel the drag on the clay that it could have. I’m also not entirely sure of the few live action moments such as the use of water. I understand that it is impossible to animate water the way you want it to so I get why they are live action scenes but it does stand out. But on the whole this is superb animation and a must watch for those interested in stop motion with clay.
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