“People think of animation only doing things where people are dancing around and doing a lot of histrionics, but animation is not a genre. And people keep saying, ‘The animation genre.’ It’s not a genre! A Western is a genre! Animation is an art form, and it can do any genre. You know, it can do a detective film, a cowboy film, a horror film, an R-rated film or a kids’ fairy tale. But it doesn’t do one thing. And, next time I hear, ‘What’s it like working in the animation genre?’ I’m going to punch that person!” Brad Bird (2015)
Brad Bird couldn’t say it louder and clearer, after his words there is not too much to add. Nevertheless, as an animator, lecturer and researcher, I may not punch you if I hear “animation is a genre, especially for kids.” Rather, I will expose some good reasons why I still find that animation is underestimated by the academy and the lay audience when its power goes beyond that of live-action movies.
Animation can be the bridge between arts and sciences, body and mind, reason and emotion; these cannot be separated, and need each other like we need both hemispheres of our brain, equally important, to properly function. What if I tell you that by watching and working on animated movies we can change our perspectives, learn all kinds of content, and visualize impossible realities that still are virtual concepts in our minds. We can rehearse from pilot programs to complex surgeries, enhance our cognitive skills and creative learning, use it in therapy, education, sciences and probably more territories where overall, we learn through storytelling. Yes, it is so, animation can be an excellent media to learn and regulate our emotions, understand different perspectives and be more conscious about our realities. Scientists such as Dan Siegel, Richard Davidson, Uri Hasson, among others, led studies showing how our brain changes through experience and how movies affect it, connecting us through empathy and compassion. We learn more and better in a state of flow, when we play, repeat, trust in teams, listen to stories that make us remember and experience cause and effect.
Animation is all about repetition, mimic, acting, focusing our attention, etc. It is a very plastic mix-media, extremely rich in techniques that include basically all kind of artistic expressions: illustration, painting, comics (sequence, fragmentation), sculpture (3D, puppet), drawing, music, theatre, acting, filmmaking language… This is part of its success together with its power of abstraction and symbolism, as a language itself. Let’s recall that this art form is a primitive communication tool already present since the beginning of Humanity, in the Upper Paleolithic caves of Altamira or Chauvet (France, ca. 30000 BC). Scholars such as Marcos Nadal (University of Vienna, 2014) believe those caves were like cinemas, where the tribe rehearsed a situation like hunting.
Where I work, at the Animated Learning Lab, Denmark, we use animation as a social emotional learning media to practice emotional intelligence and the neuroplasticity of our brain. We connect cognitive, affective neuroscience with animation through the creative process of making animated films. We obtain a pleasant experience as we learn something, changing our brain by experiencing new worlds, feelings, situations, or by re-creating them from the past. It can cultivate a wise and sensitive mind, helping to develop critical thinking, questioning beliefs, feelings and actions, since we embodied characters’ mind-sets and emotions.
We encourage artists and scientists to use the knowledge of producing animated movies to change our perception, to learn and reflect about life as a meditation practice, in order to understand the Self and the external world. We can use its potential to rewire our brain, re-write and preserve our story, our history, memories, and even cultural identities. Animation is transformation, thoughts and emotions in action; animation is not a genre, it is a NeuroplasticArt Media of communication.
*Animation as NeuroplasticArt media. Term coined by Inma Carpe for the Phd research on animation and neuroscience conducted between The Animation Workshop, Denmark and the University Polytechnic of Valencia, Spain.
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Ramachandran, V.S. (2012). The Tell-Tale Brain. London: Windmill books. 2012.
Born in the Mediterranean, Inma Carpe is living and working abroad between her home based in Denmark and Los Angeles. She is an experienced freelancer visual development artist, animator-lecturer specialized in short formats and pre-production, splitting time as a production assistant at film festivals. She is currently working and researching how animation and visual literacy improve self-development and communication (emotions-beliefs) based on art productions experiences, connecting cognitive/affective neuroscience with film making/storytelling.