June 6–September 1, 2014

Watch Me Move: The Animation Show

  • Max Fleischer. Betty Boop (film still), 1932–39. 35mm black-and-white film, sound, 6 minutes, 28 seconds. BFI National Archive

  • Bob Sabiston. Snack and Drink (film still), 2000. Rotoshop, color, sound, 4 minutes. Courtesy of Flat Black Films

  • Steven Spielberg. Jurassic Park (film still), 1993. 35mm color film, sound, 127 minutes. Courtesy of Universal City Studios LLC

  • Ang Lee. Hulk (film still), 2003. 35mm color film, sound, 138 minutes. Courtesy of Universal City Studios LLC

  • Winsor McCay. Gertie the Dinosaur (film still), 1914. 35mm black-and-white film, silent, 5 minutes, 38 seconds. Courtesy Ray Pointer, Inkwell Images, Inc.

  • Willis O'Brien. The Dinosaur and the Missing Link, a Prehistoric Tragedy (film still), 1917. 16mm black-and-white film, silent, 8 minutes, 45 seconds. Courtesy of the Motion Picture and Broadcasting Division of the Library of Congress

  • Cecil M. Hepworth. Explosion of a Motor Car (film still), 1900. 35mm black-and-white film, silent, 1 minute, 37 seconds.BFI National Archive

  • Winsor McCay. Little Nemo Moving Comics (film still), 1911. 35mm hand-colored film, silent, 2 minutes, 18 seconds. Courtesy Ray Pointer, Inkwell Images, Inc.

In 1911, American cartoonist and animator Winsor McCay prefaced his short film Little Nemo with the invitation to “Watch Me Move,” introducing a cast of colorful characters in a playful promenade. This exhibition uses these same words to invite visitors to a celebration of animation. Watch Me Move: The Animation Show is the most extensive exhibition ever mounted to present the full range of animated imagery produced in the last 120 years. Presenting animation as a highly influential force in the development of global visual culture, the exhibition explores the relationship between animation and film.

Rather than being a chronological history of animation, the exhibition features over 100 works placed in thematic groupings that cut across time and geography to explore narratives of fantasy, humor and violence, and transformation. Including pioneers who invented ways to gleefully upend the expectations of early viewers and commercial filmmakers whose mass entertainment appealed to global audiences, the exhibition also features works by independent visual artists who explore the incongruities in contemporary life. Watch Me Move celebrates the contributions of all these animators, which for over a century have nurtured a vivid cultural imagination.


                 Watch Me Move: The Animation Show is
by the Barbican Centre, London.
The Barbican Centre is provided by 
the City of London Corporation.




Recent Press:

The Tennessean
Nashville Scene
La Campana


Suggested Reading:

Either before or after your Frist Art Museum experience, consider reading the selections below to heighten your understanding of the exhibition. All will be available in the Frist Art Museum Gift Shop.

  • Watch Me Move: The Animation Show, ed. Greg Hilty and Alona Pardo, Merrell Publishers, 2011
  • The Animation Bible: A Practical Guide to the Art of Animating from Flipbooks to Flash, Maureen Furniss, Harry N. Abrams, 2008
  • The World History of Animation, Stephen Cavalier, University of California Press, 2011
  • Performing Illusions: Cinema, Special Effects and the Virtual Actor, Dan North, Wallflower Press, 2008


While animation is often thought of as a medium for children, many animators create adult narratives that are not appropriate for all ages. In this exhibition, works that contain violence, profanity, or sexual themes are clearly marked by content advisories.

Location: Ingram Gallery


Continue Reading »

Thematic Groupings in Watch Me Move

Animation emerged from the late nineteenth-century experiments of English photographer Eadweard Muybridge and French physiologist Étienne-Jules Marey that documented humans and animals in motion. Muybridge photographed sequences of running horses, flying birds, and walking people, and printed these images in strips and grids to make the mechanics of motion visible. His experiments famously led to the observation that a galloping horse’s hooves all leave the ground simultaneously. Muybridge invented the zoopraxiscope, a device for projecting his stop-motion images from rotating glass disks—an important precursor to the movie projector.

Marey, meanwhile, invented a camera that recorded multiple images on a single negative that rotated behind the camera’s lens at short intervals. From 1890 to 1900, Marey and his assistants created many motion-analysis filmstrips, including a well-known sequence of a falling cat, which always landed on its paws.

Following the experiments of Muybridge and Marey, early filmmakers began to produce moving sequences of photographs, or drawings, or both combined. They delighted in dissolving the gap between the real and the imaginary, challenging perceptions of logic, time, and space in their unsettling caprices. Apparitions presents a selection of these early animations and inspires viewers to imagine the uncanny sensations that the first audiences must have felt when they encountered the jerky, ghostly images of such visionaries as Max Fleischer, the Lumière Brothers, Winsor McCay, and George Méliès.

The sense of wonder inspired by animation illustrates how new technology often seems magical when first introduced. Despite knowing how animations are created, we are as charmed by the hand drawn works of yesteryear as by the computer-generated images (CGI) of our own time—each brings an imaginary world to life. And just as optical tricks never lose their power to amaze, some themes retain a hold on viewers’ imaginations through the years. In The Dinosaur and The Missing Link: A Prehistoric Tragedy (1917), Willis O’Brien anticipated Steven Spielberg’s fascination with prehistoric life as seen in Jurassic Park (1993).

With its capacity to contradict logic, subvert the flow of time, and explode perceptions of reality, animation is ideal for conveying the magic of both classic and modern fables. From Walt Disney’s Snow White to Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit, powerful archetypal stories from around the world tap into a deep collective well, bringing these narratives to generations of viewers.

While much animation is aimed at storytelling, avant-garde artists have long been concerned with manipulating film’s structure, or its elemental properties—form, color, sound, movement, and duration—to create dynamic aesthetic experiences. Since the 1920s, filmmakers have experimented with creating cinematic equivalents of abstract paintings and montages. Today, digitalization provides an expanded toolkit, as seen in the collaborative group Semiconductor’s Matter in Motion (2008) which comprises a series of fanciful structural interventions, dissolving and reforming within the urban landscape, as if to emphasize its transience.

The clips in Characters feature some of the biggest stars of animation. The 1930s saw a shift to standardized narrative formats built around characters such as Betty Boop, Felix the Cat, and Mickey Mouse. Animation’s focus on individual personalities continued with the rise of television cartoons, in which Fred and Wilma Flintstone, George Jetson, and Yogi Bear reflected the mores of the 1960s. More recently, characters like the Simpsons and the cast of South Park have been vehicles for social satire. A sustained development of personality appears in such animations as Pixar’s Toy Story trilogy (1995/1999/2010), in which Woody and his cohort are shown as complex and compelling virtual beings.

From its earliest days, animation has provided allegories for complex and often disturbing aspects of humanity, challenging the perception of the medium as fun, fanciful, and aimed at children. Recently, filmmakers and artists have used both handmade and digital technologies to reflect war, sexuality, and fragmentation in contemporary life.

Characters with extraordinary capabilities are a staple of post-World War II animation. These superhumans are typically ordinary people who have been possessed or traumatized by supernatural occurrences, giving them magical powers of body or mind. Drawn out of their normal existence to engage in stark conflicts between good and evil, superhumans often embody the archetype of the outsider, alienated and misunderstood by society. While culturally specific, as in Japanese manga and anime or America’s Marvel Comics, the appeal of the superhuman is international in scope.


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