Thursday, December 12, 2019

What Does Cave Art Have to do with Animation?


awn |  The first thing that strikes me when looking at the many reproductions (I have yet to see an original) is that there are no stories, at least so far as I understand a graphic story to be. Instead what appears are images of local fauna in full view, mid-view, and close-up.

Even though these paintings were created more than 10,000 years ago, the drawing style is highly accomplished. There's a strong sense of 3D form translated onto a 2D surface, the coloration is finely tuned, and the animals breathe life. So these artists could have told a story if they had chosen to.

But nothing is chronicled in the way that we structure narrative, with a beginning, middle, and end. Instead the artists have chosen to present these huge images (the bulls at Lascaux are 20 feet wide) singly or sequentially, on the rock wall deep inside these safe chambers well below the earth's surface.

Sequentially? What are sequential images doing on a cave wall painted tens of thousands of years ago? As an animator I recognize them immediately to be like the key frames of an animation.

It's one thing to enter a cave and be confronted with a huge still image, but how much more dramatic would be an image that reads as an animal in motion.

What finer way than this to present shock and awe from a safe vantage point. Perhaps the artists were seeking to recreate and thereby control these near overwhelming sensations, feelings certainly experienced above ground and probably often in dangerous if not deadly circumstances.

Did these artists want to recreate them in a controlled way so that while the audience's experience was akin to the real thing, the real dangers remained above ground and well outside the cave?

Think of experiencing a huge thunderstorm from the safety of a cozy cottage, or watching a horror film from the security of a movie theater. There's something deeply satisfying about being awed or terrified while knowing one is safe.

Were these paleolithic men and women our film artist ancestors?