on-going research project
Minutiae01 is the first implementation of the theory described in the Theoretical Framework text. It is a software showing 13 animation cycles. An initial cycle of 12 frames plays in loop when the software is launched. Each of these 12 frames are the first frame of 12 other corresponding cycles.
At any given moment the software may decide to switch the loop it is currently showing. For example, if the software is currently showing frame 4 and the change function is triggered, then the software will proceed by showing the cycle corresponding to frame 4 (in fig.1 this would be the cycle of frames f4, f4.2, f4.3 etc). The software will show this cycle in loop until the change function is triggered again. It will then revert to the initial cycle until change is triggered and so on. The change is triggered randomly.
In the film, a man is performing a series of clumsy dance gestures. At any given moment the set of gestures he is performing may change, resulting in a series of dance gestures which form a choreography being practically set by the software in real time, as the film is shown.
The film is of infinite duration, which means that theoretically the spectator is viewing a never ending not so elegant dance.
This is a film that can not be seen twice. Each time the film is watched the order and duration of the dance gestures is different. Furthermore, this is a film that has no documentation value: there is no specific and precise action recorded but, rather, a random series of actions that can not be memorized or recalled by replaying the film. Much like memory itself, the film reinterprets the fact it recalls each time it is being played.
This is in relation to Nietzsche's axiom that facts do not exist and to Wittgenstein's proposition about the non-accessibility to objective and observable facts that compose the totality of facts we refer to as the world (in the philosophical use of the term) and that, therefore, we are limited in our capacity of understanding and speaking about the world. The series of gestures presented by the film remain, however, precise, indicating that the facts do, in fact, exist, although elusive and subject to interpretation.
fig.1: Graph showing the structure of Minutiae01
Towards a non-linear film
According to Ulo Pikkov's definition, in order to consider something to be an animation, it has to be structured as a sequence of static images (frames) that create the illusion of movement once shown (sequentially) in rapid succession. The main difference between animation and live action film would be that in the latter, the movement recorded (also in the form of a sequence of static images) is a real movement. When it comes to animation, we have a series of stops and, therefore a created movement.
This sequence of static images that create the movement in animation, offers, due to the graduality of its construction - the slowness of the process of its construction - a huge range of creative possibilities. This graduality allows the animator to calculate and organize a series of eventualities that can happen in the inside of the movement he creates. A movement may be analyzed and controlled in its smallest subdivision, the individual frame, on which the animator has immediate and absolute control.
While in a live action film the movement is perceived in a macroscopic level (the duration is calculated in terms of minutes and seconds), the animator perceives the movement in microscopic terms - in the level of frames.
This "free access" in the smallest subdivision of the film is a source of infinite possibilities, offered only in the sequence of images we call animation.
With the transition to the the digital form of film, these possibilities (innate in the structure of animation), are expanded. More possibilities are unleashed due to the freedom of associations offered by the digital programming of the film.
1. Films are constructed as linear narrations because their presentation is based on the linear physicality of the pre-digital (analogue) film
The film, in its pre-digital era, consists in a sequence of static images in a linear succession, from a given beginning to a given ending. This order is predetermined (it is defined during the editing of the film) and cannot be altered, unless the film is edited again; even in that case, though, we'll have a new cut, a new version of the same film, which, in its turn, can be seen, once again, only from a given beginning to a given ending.
Even in the case where the content of the two versions is significantly different in terms of narration, we'll still have two separate versions of the same film, that cannot coexist and "run" at the same time. We'll still have two different linear narrations. They will be two different linearities that will never meet, cross each other's path, interrupt, contradict or complement each other. They can only be seen in a single way, starting from a precise point and ending in another, equally precise and defined point. They will have a fixed duration and a single direction.
With the transition to the from of the digital file, film has maintained the linearity of pre-digital film. The film is now codified into a digital file containing the given frame sequence that composes it (be it a live action film or an animation). The new possibilities offered by the digital file as a new reality, concern mainly practical aspects (easier sending, diffusion and viewing modes of the film) and technical issues (better speed of processing and editing the film, more possibilities in altering the image in the post-production stage, better image quality etc).
What still eludes us, is that the nature of the film itself may change radically due to the new possibilities offered by the ability to group the frames through digital processes instead of their analogue photography procedure. Now, the linearity of the sequence of images is not imposed by the physicality of the film - which is, by nature, a line.
Instead of exploring the possibilities of shuttering this linearity and searching ways to put to creative use the new paths of the digital era, what happens is not a digital way of presenting the frame sequence, but a digital simulation of the analogue film process. We have only developed ways to do the same job with digital means instead of also looking for ways to do the job differently or even alter its nature.
If we accept that the raw material of animation are the individual frames that compose it, then this material may, as of now, be used differently.
We can not, of course, break the sequence of the images in a way that the illusion of movement is shuttered. However, we may easily experiment on the sequentiality of the film's segments.
2. The digital processes are inherently non-linear
An idea towards what these experiments may lead to is given by principle of the non linear editors (NLE). These are practically all the editing software used in the film industry. Them being non-linear means that they offer the possibility of non-destructive editing of the raw material of the film: the editor may work on the raw footage of a film as much as he wants and retrieve it in its initial state at any moment. The modifications he applies on the source footage do not immediately affect it: the software creates a new, temporary preview file so that the editor may see what the result looks like before he decides whether he keeps it or not. At any given moment he may reject and cancel all the changes he applied on the footage and return to the initial, raw footage to try something different (that is why the procedure is described as non destructive: it is not a one way road).
Besides the fact that this makes the procedure, in several ways, faster and more supple, the element introduced by this technology is that of the non-linearity. The footage does not exist in a linear order as is the case of the analogue film. It is stored in the digital file as a whole. Theoretically, the totality of the duration of the film exists simultaneously in one single file. The volume of the film is digital, not physical. It is, therefore, theoretical.
By opening the file, the user may position the viewing moment at any place in time with an instant click of the mouse. These are things one experiences in everyday life, nowadays. However, we need to underline that which eludes us: the viewing of a digital film from the beginning to the end, following the predefined order of appearance of the scenes, is a matter of choice; it is a convention we follow by choice and not because it is imposed by the physical reality of the medium. We may, at any moment jump from the start to the end, go back to the middle of the film and so on, as we wish. This is something that the analogue film does not allow. If we chose to do so, of course, the film will have no actual narrative sense, it will be a huge meaningless mess of random scenes. This, however is due to the choice of its creator to put the given scenes in a set linear order, to structure not only the narration of the film but also its way of being unrolled in a linear way.
Now the creator of a film has the choice to not structure his film in this way, but to invent new and more complex ways to do so.
3. The non-linearity of existing non-linear films is depended on their linear presentation (because their non-linearity is narrative).
We must insist on one point: what concerns us here is not the narrative linearity of the film, but its linear un-rollment.
A non-linear narration is still a narration presented in a linear way. Actually, its non-linearity is based and depended on the linear way it is being presented. The most well-known example of a non-linear narration, Christopher Nolan's Memento, is a great case of a non-linear narration that works narratively only if presented in a linear way: from the beginning to the end.
The analogue film imposes the linear viewing due to its nature. With the use of digital technology to the structure of the film, it does not have to be constructed in this way. With only a few lines of code we may create films which follow much more complex paths.
To be more precise: a film follows a path from point A to point B. This is a line, a linear path. With digital technology, the path of a film may follow the path of a graph. This graph may be circular, non circular or follow a random direction.
Let's come back to non-linear narration: it is achieved with the placement of the scenes of a film in the timeline in a non-chronological order. By "scene" we refer to a narrative piece of the film, with an internal independence, which is connected to the rest of the narration chronologically and causally. By contrast, when an editor places the scenes one after the other according to their actual chronological order, then we have a linear narration. In other words, when the chronological order of the events depicted in the scenes coincides with the chronology of the film itself, then we have a linear narration. In case this placement follows a different order, for example a random one, then we have a non-linear narration.
Yet, in both cases the viewing of the film is linear, because the direction still starts at point A and ends at point B.
The structural material of a film are its scenes. They are the molecules which compose the body we call film. These pieces have, of course, another, smaller subdivision that composes them: the frames. We will come back to that later on.
With the possibilities of the digital means, these molecules, the scenes, may be placed (or rather, may appear) in time following a graph and not a line. The film may be played following this graph instead of following a line. So, although the film will start at point A, it may be left open whether it will end up in B or C. Actually, we may leave completely open which scenes will be actually shown - we may even leave it up to the film itself to chose the path it follows as it plays out. So the actual viewing of the film is no longer linear.
fig.1: The linear structure of a film. Whether its narration is linear or non linear, its order of presentation (its way of being un-rolled) is the same
fig.2: Example of a graph indicating a non-linear way of structuring and presenting a film using digital tools
fig.3: Example of a circular graph indicating a non-linear way of structuring and presenting a film using digital tools
This not only modifies the nature of film itself - the way it is presented and viewed - but also has an impact in the nature of the narration we may propose in the film. This is because, following the graph, the order in which two scenes may appear in the film can change at any moment. In contrast with the limitation of the linear narration, the moment of appearance of a given scene A may be before and / or after of a given scene B. The beginning, the path and the end of the narration may be multiple. The film itself may be programmed in a way to be different each time it is viewed, so that it can not be seen twice.
But let's come back to the frames.
As we mentioned, the raw material of a movement are the individual still frames which compose it. In the case of animation, each individual frame is constructed from zero. As Pikkov states, we do not record a movement happening in reality, but we construct it, frame by frame.
This gives animation a great advantage over live-action films: we may design alternative paths of the same scene, simply because we can re-create the sequence of frames starting on any given frame we choose.
With digital technology we may apply on animation the idea of the graph paths we mentioned above (see fig.2 and 3), but, instead of creating the graph in order to connect the scenes between themselves, we can use the graph to appoint the order of appearance of the frames. This is a microscopic version of the macroscopic proposition we just laid out.
Let's imagine a given scene of a duration of one second which is composed by 12 frames. In order to create an illusion of movement, we have to play these 12 frames from frame 1 to frame 12 in a speed of 12 frames per second. These frames may, however be associated, each one of them, in the graph, to a different scene (of the same or a different duration) which has them as the starting point. So, frame 1 may be followed by frames 2 to 12 of the initial scene, but may also be followed by frames 2 to 12 (or X) of another scene. In the same way, for example, frame 7 may be followed by frame 8 to 12 of the initial scene or by the frames 2 to 12 of another scene - and so on.
This gives us the opportunity to alter the way a narration evolves not only in the body of a film, but also in the body of the individual scene as well.
fig.4: Graph representing the structure of a non-linear animation. The bottom row (f1 to f12) represents one second of animation. Each column respresents a different bit of animation starting from each frame of the initial clip and evolving differently. For example, f1 could be followed by f2 to f12, but also by f1.2 to f1.7.
The possibilities of a theory like this one are as many as the alternatives of the graphs we may think of. The purpose of this may not be narrative. This way of presenting a film may be used for the presentation of abstract content, for purely aesthetic or visual and experimental purposes. Also, the factors which alter the narrative path of a film can be as many as we choose.