Silhouette animation is a form of cut-out animation. The latter is familiar as the style used to give that extra-cheezy feeling to South Park. If you were to take South Park style cut-outs and light them from behind, rather than the front, so that surface colors and textures were eliminated leaving only black silhouettes, you would have silhouette animation.
Despite the crude image this analogy conjures up, silhouette animation can be used artfully and effectively, particularly if great attention is given to the detail in the silhouetted shapes. The oldest surviving full-length animation, in fact, is a silhouette animation called The Adventures of Prince Achmed, created by German animator Lotte Reiniger and released in 1926.
Today, it’s almost a lost form except in experimental shorts. An exceptional example of this is The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello. This is a series of wonderfully done short animations that have been nominated for an Academy Award and already won awards at Annecy, AFI and various festivals in several countries.
Directed by Anthony Lucas and written by Mark Shirrefs, this “triolgy” (actually 4 episodes) follows the adventures of a Jasper Morello, airship navigator from the city of Gothia. The films are set in a somewhat dystopian world with a decidedly steampunk look and feel. It’s in the graphical representation of that world, full of arcane Victorian machinery, elaborate airships, cranes, gantries, gears and attendant intricate objects that the silhouette format becomes a brilliant choice. Though not strictly limited to silhouettes, the backgrounds can be rich with detail at times, the characters are all simply black cut-out shapes, with the eerie exception of one characters glasses. The detail in the backgrounds is handled with a subdued chromatic range and blended with the silhouetted characters to make a harmonious whole.
There is a site devoted to the films, The Gothia Gazette, done in period style and fun to explore. It includes a trailer and you can order all four stories on DVD. Much better than the trailer, though, in demonstrating how effective these stories are, is the availability now of the entire first short, Jasper Morello and the Lost Airship, on YouTube. You can see all three segments of that short pulled together on the Wired blog Table of Malcontents.
Given that the characters are simply black silhouettes, the piece is remarkably effective, and affecting, even if a bit gruesome. The design, drawing and production values of these shorts have a unique look and feel and enough atmosphere to put many feature movies to shame.
Link via Wired