Fairytales of Motion

“Animators often build characters and their motions at the same time, creating an equivalence between who someone is and how they move. It feels natural, but in fact it’s a technique designed to aid storytelling. It’s a fairytale of motion.” That is how video essayist Alan Warburton introduces this particular piece, created for Tate Exchange, which delves into the history (and future) of animating movement. But this description sells short this great video essay. Because what starts as a fairytale, ends as a thought-provoking cautionary tale about gait and movement analyses and their possible uses as a surveillance tool.


With the aid of animator Ewan Jones Morris, Warburton starts off by sketching the history of depicting movement – from painting over photography to film and animation. He throws in examples of the ways in which motion is specific to individual people and to peoples, and makes astute observations about the ideological aspects of abstracting motion into an animated representation. All of this narrated by… an animated mouse.


But don’t let the almost frivolous form of this expertly executed video essay mislead you. As the video essay moves through time and discusses modern computer-generated imagery, the focus shifts to the ideological pitfalls of this technology. To realistically render movement in 3D, animators now rely on the analysis of big data. But when such data is categorized, classified and archived… it can be put to other uses. The lines between technology used to depict movement and technology used to detect specific movement patterns (and attach predictions to those patterns) get blurred. Like Snow White getting tangled up in the animated branches of a malevolent tree, will we become the target of sophisticated surveillance techniques that study our gait? “The violence of being misidentified, or being too precisely identified, is equal”, Warburton concludes, starting up what will be an animated debate.