The Living Metaphor in Animation
At the beginning of the 1940s, Russian filmmaker and film theorist Sergei Eisenstein wrote in a very brief and underdeveloped paragraph about 'plastic metaphors', which Eisenstein argued to have observed in American filmmaker Walt Disney’s early hand-drawn animations (1986a: 49). Grounded in a comparison between animal and man similar to totemism in ancient thinking, Eisenstein suggested that the animal characters in Disney’s animations could likewise be considered to be metaphorical to man, although in a different manner than in linguistic metaphors. The animal-like characters that were brought to life in Disney’s animations provided the visuals for the metaphorical relation that could be created, and the characters in turn were based on the ability for 'plasmaticness' in the animated film, which Eisenstein described as follows: '(…) a being represented in drawing, a being of a definite form, a being which has attained a definite appearance, and which behaves like the primal protoplasm, not yet possessing a ‘stable’ form, but capable of assuming any form and which, skipping along the rungs of the evolutionary latter, attaches itself to any and all forms of animal existence' (1986b: 21).
A close tie between the ability for plasmaticness in animated images and the promise for metaphorical meaning that this imagery helps to manifest has, therefore, already been proposed in Eisenstein’s early writing about hand-drawn animation. However, this specific relation has not yet been thoroughly investigated down to its very fundamental nature, although the idea of metaphors in hand-drawn, stop-motion and computer animation has been touched upon by scholars writing about animation (see for instance Carroll 1996; Wells 1998; Sobchack 2000; Jean 2006; Fore 2011; Honess Roe 2013 and Forceville & Paling 2018). I wish to pursue the exploration of animation and metaphor by investigating what the ability for plasmaticness in hand-drawn animated images provides in the development of a theory of metaphor in animation that moves from semantics to moving images.
In order to critically examine the essential nature and manifestation of metaphor within contemporary animated shorts, this interdisciplinary research project will build upon Eisenstein’s notion of 'plasmaticness' by drawing from French philosopher Paul Ricoeur’s semantic theory of metaphor (2003). Embedded in Ricoeur’s theory of metaphor, and hence in Ricoeur’s more comprehensive philosophical hermeneutics, this project will take on an interpretive approach to the animated shorts, deploying formalist methods to analyse the selected animations, such as Elon Musk hosts meme review and then floats away (2019). The overall aim of this project is not to provide a guide on how to create, find or catalogue metaphors. Instead, this project aims to critically engage with ongoing conversations on what I perceive to be common themes positioned within animation studies, metaphor studies and philosophical hermeneutics, such as ideas of 'image', 'metamorphosis', 'imagination', 'event' and 'being'. Such an approach will help to consider a wide range of relevant dimensions in each field, and to put forth corrective critique, as this project seeks to provide an alternative to previous inquiries into metaphor in the animated form. The research outcome will be presented in a monograph.
animation; plasmaticness, metaphor, Eisenstein, Ricoeur, Formalism, event, imagination, being.
Carroll, N. (1996). Theorising the Moving Image. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Eisenstein, S. (1986a). "The Animal Epos [Alma-Ata], November 1941". In Leyda, J. (ed.) Eisenstein on Disney. Translated from Russian by Alan Upchurch. Calcutta: Seagull Books.
Eisenstein, S. (1986b). "II [Kratovo], 21. IX. 1940". In Leyda, J. (ed.) Eisenstein on Disney. Translated from Russian by Alan Upchurch. Calcutta: Seagull Books.
Elon Musk hosts meme review and then floats away (2019). [computer animation]. Directed and produced by surreal entertainment. Sweden: Youtube. URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4ubopjX-wg
Forceville, C & Paling, S. (2018). “The metaphorical representation of depression in short, wordless animation films”. In Visual Communication, Vol. 0(0), pp. 1-21. SAGE.
Fore, S. (2011). “Reenacting Ryan: The Fantasmatic and the Animated Documentary”. In Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal Vol. 6(3), pp. 277-292. SAGE.
Honess Roe, A. (2013). Animated Documentary. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Jean, M. (2006). Le langage des lignes: et autres essais sur le cinéma d animation. Montreal: Les 400 coups cinéma.
Ricoeur, P. (2003). The Rule of Metaphor: the creation of meaning in language. Translated from French by Robert Czerny with Kathleen McLaughlin and John Costello. Routledge Classics. La métaphore vive first published 1975. London: Routledge.
Sobchack. V. (2000). Meta-Morphing: Visual Transformation and the Culture of Quick-Change. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Wells, P. (1998). Understanding Animation. Abingdon: Routledge.
School of Communication
Communication Research, 2018–
Throughout my studies I have been investigating theoretical, philosophical and narrative approaches to the animated film form. I am continuing this effort in my PhD at the Royal College of Art, where I focus on critical and theoretical reflections on the metaphorical dimensions in the animated short, by deploying a formalist approach to film analysis. My research interests include animation studies, metaphor studies, films studies, hermeneutics, philosophy of language and metaphysics, and word and image studies.
Profile image by Moritz Dittrich.
- MA Animation Production, Arts University Bournemouth, 2014; BA Character Animation, The Animation Workshop, 2013
- Founder and convenor for Figurative Meaning and Metamorphosis in Animation, Society for Animation Studies affiliated special interest group, 2019 – present.
- 'Situating Animated Metaphors in Theories of Mental Imagery: From visual perception to imagination'. Society for Cinema and Media Studies. Seattle USA, 13–17 March 2019.
- (2019) Hannibal, C. 'Metamorphic Identity Over Time: Interpreting Priit Pärn’s Some Exercises in Preparation for Independent Life (1980)'. In Animation Studies Online Journal, Vol 14. https://journal.animationstudies.org.