Len Lye (1933)

Experimental animation.

Despite the interest generated by his first film, Tusalava (1929), the early 1930s were a difficult time for artist and animator Len Lye. A series of projects were abandoned through lack of funding, and he supported himself by designing book jackets. By 1934 he was doing relatively menial work in the Wembley studios of Associated Sound Film Industries, while trying to convince investors to back his latest project with his long-time friend and collaborator, Jack Ellitt, provisionally titled Quicksilver. Lye had already produced dozens of set and costume designs for this ambitious science-fiction musical comedy but, although an American producer eventually expressed interest, the film that emerged bore little relation to the original concept, and neither Lye nor Ellitt benefited financially.

In the meantime, Lye turned his attention to puppet animation. He scraped together enough funding and borrowed equipment to produce a three-minute short featuring his self-made monkey, singing and dancing to ‘Peanut Vendor’, a 1931 jazz hit for Red Nichols. The two foot high monkey had bolted, moveable joints and some 50 interchangeable mouths to convey the singing. To get the movements right, Lye filmed his new wife, Jane, a prize-winning rumba dancer. Ellitt assisted in synchronizing the animation with the music.

Lye hoped to use the film to interest advertisers, but again had no success. However, on the strength of the film the head of the newly established Shell Film Unit, Jack Beddington, was later persuaded by Lye’s friend Humphrey Jennings to commission Lye to make a short animated advertising film, The Birth of the Robot (1935).

a-ha (1984)

At the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards, the video for Take On Me won six awards—Best New Artist in a Video, Best Concept Video, Most Experimental Video, Best Direction, Best Special Effects, and Viewer’s Choice—and was nominated for two others, Best Group Video and Video of the Year. “Take On Me” was also nominated for Favorite Pop/Rock Video at the 13th American Music Awards in 1986.

Take On Me is a song by Norwegian synth-pop band A-ha, first released in 1984. The original version was produced by Tony Mansfield and remixed by John Ratcliff. A new version was released in 1985 and produced by Alan Tarney for the group’s debut studio album Hunting High and Low (1985). The song combines synthpop with a varied instrumentation that includes acoustic guitars, keyboards, and drums. It is considered to be the band’s signature song.

A-ha released a less slick version of the song in 1984, but redid the tune after it proved to be a commercial flop. And despite releasing a revised rendition in 1985, Waaktaar-Savoy says, “it took, like, four months to reach number one in America. And it felt like years. Every week it would go up a spot, up three spots…. It would pick up, then slow down. [It] was a whole process.”

They teamed up with director Steve Barron, who directed Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean, for a short-form piece that mixed live action with rotoscope animation — never before used in a music video. “It was a dream to work with talent like that,” Waaktaar-Savoy says of Barron. “Normally, videos took a week of shooting in a hangar. But for this, we did a whole day that was only to make the comic magazine. Then four months spent doing hand-drawn drawings. It was very thorough stuff.” Illustrator Mike Patterson drew more than 3,000 sketches for the final clip.

Weezer (2019)



Weezer had teamed with Calpurnia – the indie rock band led by Stranger Things‘ Finn Wolfhard – for a nostalgic new video for their cover of a-ha’s Take On Me. The track appears on Weezer’s self-titled covers record, also known as The Teal Album.

David Lynch (2002)

David Lynch Theater Presents: RABBITS 1

Rabbits is a 2002 series of eight short horror web films written and directed by David Lynch, although Lynch himself refers to it as a sitcom. It depicts three humanoid rabbits played by Scott Coffey, Laura Elena Harring, and Naomi Watts in a room. Their disjointed conversations are interrupted by a laugh track. Rabbits is presented with the tagline “In a nameless city deluged by a continuous rain… three rabbits live with a fearful mystery”.

Len Lye (1929)

With the screen split asymmetrically, one part in positive, the other negative, the film documents the evolution of simple celled organic forms into chains of cells then more complex images from tribal cultures and contemporary modernist concepts. The images react, interpenetrate, perhaps attack, absorb and separate, until a final symbiosis is achieved.

All of a sudden it hit me — if there was such a thing as composing music, there could be such a thing as composing motion.  After all, there are melodic figures, why can’t there be figures of motion?” 

Len Lye

This remarkable animation film was first screened by the London Film Society in 1929. Jack Ellitt’s original piano music for Tusalava has unfortunately been lost. The film imagines the beginnings of life on earth. Single-cell creatures evolve into more complex forms of life. Evolution leads to conflict, and two species fight for supremacy. The title is a Samoan word which suggests that things go full circle.  In this film Lye based his style of animation partly on the ancient Aboriginal art of Australia. Tusalava is unique as a film example of what art critics describe as “modernist primitivism”. In contrast to the Cubist painters (who were influenced by African art), Lye drew upon traditions of indigenous art from his own region of the world (New Zealand, Australia and Samoa).

Despite the interest generated by his first film, Tusalava (1929), the early 1930s were a difficult time for artist and animator Len Lye. A series of projects were abandoned through lack of funding, and he supported himself by designing book jackets. By 1934 he was doing relatively menial work in the Wembley studios of Associated Sound Film Industries, while trying to convince investors to back his latest project with his long-time friend and collaborator, Jack Ellitt, provisionally titled Quicksilver. Lye had already produced dozens of set and costume designs for this ambitious science-fiction musical comedy but, although an American producer eventually expressed interest, the film that emerged bore little relation to the original concept, and neither Lye nor Ellitt benefited financially.

In the meantime, Lye turned his attention to puppet animation. He scraped together enough funding and borrowed equipment to produce a three-minute short featuring his self-made monkey, singing and dancing to ‘Peanut Vendor’, a 1931 jazz hit for Red Nichols. The two foot high monkey had bolted, moveable joints and some 50 interchangeable mouths to convey the singing. To get the movements right, Lye filmed his new wife, Jane, a prize-winning rumba dancer. Ellitt assisted in synchronising the animation with the music.

Lye hoped to use the film to interest advertisers, but again had no success. However, on the strength of the film the head of the newly established Shell Film Unit, Jack Beddington, was later persuaded by Lye’s friend Humphrey Jennings to commission Lye to make a short animated advertising film, The Birth of the Robot (1935).

Norman McLaren (1971)

Synchromy is a 1971 National Film Board of Canada visual music film by Norman McLaren utilizing graphical sound. To produce the film’s musical soundtrack, McLaren photographed rectangular cards with lines on them. He arranged these shapes in sequences on the analog optical sound track to produce notes and chords. He then reproduced the sequence of shapes, colorized, in the image portion of the film, so that audiences see the shapes that they are also hearing, as sound.

McLaren had experimented with this technique for creating notes through patterns of stripes on the soundtrack area of the film in the 1950s, working with Evelyn Lambart. Their technique was based on earlier work in graphical sound by German pioneer Rudolf Pfenninger and Russian Nikolai Voinov.

The creation of Synchromy was documented by Gavin Millar in 1970 in a film called The Eye Hears, The Ear Sees. In McLaren’s production notes, he stated that “Apart from planning and executing the music, the only creative aspect of the film was the ‘choreographing’ of the striations in the columns and deciding on the sequence and combinations of colours.”
The film received eight awards, including a Special Jury Mention at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival.

Hans Richter (1921)

Hans Richter was a German painter,  graphic artist, avant-gardist, film and animation experimentalist, and producer. He was greatly influenced by cubism in the 1910s.

Richter believed that the artist’s duty was to be actively political, opposing war and supporting the revolution.

Throughout his career, he claimed that his 1921 film Rhythmus 21 was the first abstract film ever created. However, this is simply not true. He was in fact preceded by German artist Walther Ruttmann, among others. Nevertheless, Richter’s film Rhythmus 21 is considered an important early abstract film by filmmakers and film scholars throughout the world.