There are many reasons to love mutoscopes, from nostalgia to mechanical beauty, but any expensive niche medium competing with less expensive and widely available systems must have a design rationale and purpose in it’s own right beyond the purely aesthetic. Within the context of the art world mutoscopes have a place as more than a curiosity- they are a solution to a real problem facing animators like Fernando.
Fernando Renes is an animator but his drawings don’t move. All of his animations are digital movies of static drawings one degree removed from his works on paper. If you want to see his work, you’ll have to go to a gallery or museum showing them, because Fernando’s income is dependent on the sales of limited editions his animations. He can’t just post a video to YouTube, it would devalue the work of his collectors. Online and in print there are plenty of stills from his work, but you can’t see any reproduction of his finished pieces anywhere outside of a gallery.
This is problematic for Fernando and other animators in the fine art world, as well as for the art world in general. Painters can be known by their prints- I don’t have to fly to Paris to have seen the Mona Lisa- because prints don’t devalue the originals. But animators’ drawings don’t move, only the movies of their drawings do (Harry Smith, Stan Brackage, and other film scratchers excepted). The “original” is always a print, and the number of prints must be severely limited to control their value so the artist can make a living.
Animators are therefore marginalized within the fine art world. Their work is the hardest to see, so fewer people know of them than artists in other media. Critics, students, and art lovers can’t sit with the work and come to know it they way they can when good prints exist. As a result, the entire field lacks a sense of history and development.
Large-scale mutoscopes can address this problem for Fernando and other animators that draw animations frame by frame. A mutoscope is a circular flip book with it’s pages radiating out from a central binding, played in a mechanical player. Traditionally they were used for photo reproduction of short peep show movies. The Mutoscope for Fernando is for original drawings, and so must be substantially larger (4″ x 3″ drawing area) than a traditional mutoscope (1 7/8″ square). The Mutoscope for Fernando can accept reels of original drawings from 500 to 2500 frames in length, or 30 seconds to 3 minutes, playing back at 8-16 frames per second.
By drawing directly into mutoscope reels, Fernando can make his original drawings move, creating an original object bearing his mark as an artist that is also an animation. Since it is an original, “prints” may be made from it- movies of the machine in action- that have the same relationship that paintings bear to prints. My hope is that mutoscopes can bring the same level of study and distribution to Fernando’s animation that paintings currently enjoy, strengthening the art world and widening his audience.
Lots more to come, but I finished the Mutoscope 2 weeks ago… been totally buried in work. Now in Oberlin, OH for one more week, Philly next weekend, then Wellesley/Boston ’till 30th, New Years in New York, Portland, OR on Jan 5th.
Between coats of paint and sealer, waiting for the last epoxy bonds to take hold, and tweaking the Mutoscope’s tripod I’ve played around with small mutoscope reels. Last year I tried making one out of paper with a craft knife, but the accuracy of a knife and flimsiness of paper got the better of me.
Now, with the help of Matt, and Raphael, and especially Kelly at NYC Resistor‘s craft night I cut a 500-card capacity hub based on the original dimensions of the Kinora. Wonderfully meta: the Kinora hub is laser cut out of spare Mutoscope cards. A miniature mutoscope manufactured from a super-sized one. If I can dig up the material and machine time I’ll cut enough cards to fill it. Or you could make your own (here’s the .ai file).
Kris de Decker produces some of the most insightful and well-researched articles on technology anywhere on the internet. He has a simple premise- novel “high-tech” solutions aren’t always that great. Don’t give up on established, simple, and efficient solutions to human problems. He just linked back to me when I pointed him to KMODDL, and I wanted to share some stuff he’s posted, since it’s been sitting in my “to post” folder since August:
Kris often finds works from another age whose techno boosterism is familiar, but whose object is odd to a contemporary reader. From the height of airship mania ( Zeppelin’s commercial air transport service was established a year later) and before airplanes proved themselves in the skies, Airships Past and Present (1908) is a fantastic snapshot of globalized tinkering and ingenious innovations:
In 1792, Uyton de Morveau recieved official instructions from Napoleon to develop military balloons. Morveau developed a team with chemist Lovoisier and physicist Coutelle, and together they developed a novel hydrogen generator that used a hot iron with steam passing over it, and a novel means of sealing silk balloons with 5 layers of linseed oil based varnish. The varnish was particularly effective, holding hydrogen in the balloon for upwards of 2 months, but the recipe is lost to history. The envelope of a hydrogen balloon capable of carrying 2 passengers to 1600ft would weigh only 180-200lbs, in line with early 20th century numbers (134).
My favorite balloon of the period, the Parseval-Sigfeld, featured with hard numbers on wind speed (66ft per second). Parseval invented the “sausage” balloon design that once refined was deployed by Germany, France, and to great effect Belgium in WWI. But this text is of course from before the war (209, 211, 274).