Cartoon Physics || AR-358 Reading Response

Here’s another reading response from the motion graphics/animation class I took last fall. It discusses the article, Some Observations on Cartoon Physics, or The Cartoon Cat in the Machine, by Scott Bukatman.

A line in Scott Bukatman’s article that I feel relates closely to this motion graphics class is the description of cartoon physics as “freedom from traditional causality, freedom from natural law, and freedom from consequence”. I interpret this as permission to bend traditional reality to enhance the artwork that we produce.

By not adhering to the physics that we’ve grown accustomed to and by embracing cartoon physics, we can emphasize the messages we’re trying to get across through the use of the animation principles explained in The Illusion of Life such as squash and stretch, follow through and overlapping action, secondary action, and exaggeration.

The image of a magician popped into my mind on numerous occasions while reading both the chapter that was recently assigned from the Illusion of Life and the Bukatman article. While I haven’t done much magic work, I do know that it’s critical for a magician to direct the attention to a specific spot while performing a trick. By incorporating cartoon physics, we can direct the attention of the audience to specific areas of the screen. Also, while it may not be reality that “any body suspended in space will remain in space until made aware of its situation”, classic cartoons have shown us that the audience is willing to accept and embrace it.

Another key takeaway from what Bukatman writes about is the point he touches on towards the end of the article, where he compares the replication of real-world physics in modern digital animation to the prevalence of over-scheduling activities, teaching to the test, and the abundance of achievement awards in modern childhood. In contrast, cartoon physics can be likened to unregulated free play that opens up the imagination which can ultimately lead to the creation of thought provoking pieces of art.

I interpret unleashing the cartoon cat as not just the application of cartoon physics to our pieces of art, but also the process we take to get there. Through curiosity, imagination, and plenty of trial and error, we have the power to create something special. I feel that this same process of unleashing the cartoon cat can be directly applied to our learning the program After Effects. With enough playful exploration of the program, we will gain more proficiency with it, which will ultimately aid us in telling our story as artists.


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