What Is Drawn on Film Animation: A Technique Explored

Drawn on film animation is a technique where animators create images directly onto film strips, bypassing traditional methods like cels or computer-generated imagery.

This hands-on approach allows for unique textures and effects that digital processes cannot replicate.

It’s akin to painting with light, as each frame is meticulously etched, painted, or otherwise manipulated to bring a story to life.

In the realm of filmmaking, this method stands out for its distinctive aesthetic and the personal touch it lends to animated sequences.

Our exploration today delves into how drawn on film animation enhances cinematic storytelling and why it remains relevant in an era dominated by advanced technologies.

Definition Of Drawn On Film Animation

Drawn on film animation is a technique where animators create images directly onto the film strip itself.

It’s a process that bypasses traditional methods like cel animation, allowing for unique and organic effects that are difficult to replicate with digital tools.

In its essence, this method involves scratching, painting, or using various materials to alter the surface of the film.

Animators have used everything from ink and paint to stencils and stamps – each material offering a different texture and visual experience.

Historically, drawn on film animation has roots in the experimental cinema movement.

Pioneers like Len Lye and Norman McLaren produced mesmerizing works that pushed the boundaries of what was considered ‘animation’.

Some notable examples include:

  • A Colour Box by Len Lye showcased vibrant patterns that danced rhythmically to music.
  • Blinkity Blank by Norman McLaren employed innovative techniques such as intermittent printing and frame-by-frame animation.

This form of animation is less common today due to the rise of digital filmmaking.

Yet it remains an important part of cinematic history and continues to inspire contemporary artists seeking a hands-on approach to their craft.


History Of Drawn On Film Animation

Drawn on film animation is a technique where animators create images directly onto the film strip.

It’s an approach that emerged in the early 20th century.

Pioneers like Len Lye and Norman McLaren are celebrated for their groundbreaking work in this field.

They manipulated film emulsion to craft visuals that were both abstract and rhythmical.

During the 1930s, drawn on film animation began to gain prominence.

Animators found they could produce unique effects by scratching, painting, or otherwise altering frames of film.

This form of animation saw a surge in experimental art circles.

Artists were attracted to its ability to explore motion and color without the constraints of traditional cameras or actors.

Here’s how drawn on film animation typically works:

  • The artist removes the emulsion from each frame.
  • They then draw or paint directly onto the transparent celluloid.
  • Sometimes materials like sand or fabric are affixed to the surface for texture.

By the 1950s, iconic films such as Begone Dull Care showcased this method’s potential for intricate rhythms and visual music.

This particular piece was created by Norman McLaren and Evelyn Lambart using hand-painted imagery and sophisticated jazz scores.

This technique has evolved but remains relatively niche due to its labor-intensive nature.

Nonetheless, it continues to inspire animators who seek a more tactile connection with their work.

Techniques Used In Drawn On Film Animation

Drawn on film animation, also known as direct animation, involves creating images directly onto film stock.

Artists employ a variety of tools to etch, paint, or otherwise modify the film’s surface.


Scratching or Etching – One common technique is physically altering the emulsion layer of a film strip.

Animators use needles, pins or other sharp instruments to scratch away at the film’s surface which creates lines and textures that appear animated when played back.

  • Norman McLaren is famed for his work in this area with films like Begone Dull Care showcasing intricate patterns and rhythms scratched into the film.

Painting – Another method involves applying paint or ink directly onto each frame of the film.

Artists meticulously craft their animations by painting images frame by frame.

  • Len Lye’s Color Box bursts with vibrant colors painted straight onto celluloid strips.

Stamping – Some animators use stamps soaked in dye to press shapes and symbols onto each frame of the film.

This can create a mesmerizing effect as simple shapes transform into complex motion.

  • The experimental animator Stan Brakhage explored this technique among others throughout his career, leaving behind an impressive body of work that pushes the boundaries of drawn on film animation.

Exposure Variations – By varying exposure times during filming or development processes, animators can achieve unique visual effects.

  • This often results in flickering light patterns that contribute to the abstract nature of many drawn-on-film works.

Decalcomania – A less common but visually striking technique where substances are pressed between two surfaces then pulled apart to create interesting textures.

  • When applied to filmmaking, these textures can be photographed and sequenced together for an ethereal quality seen in some avant-garde cinema.

These hands-on techniques contrast sharply with digital animation methods prevalent today yet continue to inspire modern filmmakers due to their tactile nature and unpredictable outcomes.

Each method requires patience and precision but rewards audiences with truly original visual experiences.


Notable Drawn On Film Animation Films

Exploring the world of drawn on film animation unveils a treasure trove of cinematic gems.

Let’s delve into some films that have left indelible marks in this unique genre.

It’s essential to acknowledge pioneers such as Norman McLaren, whose works are foundational in this method.

Len Lye, a New Zealand-born artist, is renowned for his experimental animations.

His 1935 work Color Box was groundbreaking, introducing vibrant colors directly onto the film stock.

This piece set the stage for future filmmakers to experiment with materials and techniques.

McLaren’s Begone Dull Care shines as an exemplary model of drawn on film animation from 1949.

Here he painted and scratched images onto blank film strips to an invigorating jazz soundtrack.

The result is both visually and audibly dynamic.

Another notable creation is Free Radicals.

Released in 1958 by McLaren, it features stark black-and-white patterns sketched right onto the surface of the film.

This minimalist approach proved that simplicity could still captivate audiences through raw kinetic energy.

As we look at more recent examples, films like The Dante Quartet by Stan Brakhage demonstrate evolution within the medium.

Created between 1987 and 1993, Brakhage’s hand-painted frames tell a story inspired by Dante Alighieri’s “Divine Comedy”.

His technique breathes life into classical literature through abstract visuals.

While these films represent just a few highlights, they’ve significantly impacted both animators and cinephiles alike.

They showcase how artists can transform celluloid into stunning visual poetry without traditional cameras or computer-generated imagery (CGI).

What Is Drawn On Film Animation: A Technique Explored – Wrap Up

We’ve explored the captivating world of drawn on film animation and its unique place in cinematic history.

This technique has allowed creators to produce works that are as diverse as they are visually stunning, intertwining artistry with motion picture technology.

Drawn on film animation isn’t just a relic of the past; it continues to inspire modern animators.

Despite the rise of digital techniques, this hands-on method holds a special charm that digital animation struggles to replicate.

Let’s recap some key points regarding drawn on film animation:

  • It offers a tactile and direct way for artists to animate by drawing directly onto film strips.
  • Pioneers like Norman McLaren made significant contributions to expanding its artistic possibilities.
  • Films such as Fantasia showcase the timeless allure of combining traditional animation with classical music.

In our journey through various styles and techniques, we’ve seen that drawn on film animations possess an irreplaceable aesthetic.

They remind us that there is always room for traditional methods in our rapidly evolving digital world.

As filmmakers and enthusiasts at Filmmaking Lifestyle, we appreciate how these animations enrich our understanding of the medium’s potential.

Our exploration underscores the importance of preserving these techniques for future generations who may draw inspiration from them.

Animation is an ever-evolving art form, yet drawn on film remains an endearing chapter in its story.

We encourage you to continue discovering and supporting both classic and contemporary works within this fascinating genre.