Oskar Fischenger (1940)

In Disney’s mind, the success of Snow White and the Mickey Mouse cartoons had purchased for the studio the artistic and financial freedom to take their art to new heights — and to take the risk of venturing into abstraction. “The abstractions that were done in Toccata and Fugue,” he explained, “were no sudden idea. Rather, they were something that we had nursed along for several years but we never had a chance to try.”

German-American animator Oskar Fischinger, whose Optical Poem (1938) had been set to music by Liszt, was regarded as the world’s finest creator of abstract animation.

Disney called on Fischinger to design visuals for the Bach animation — but when Disney insisted on adapting Fischinger’s work to a degree Fischinger found excessive, he quit and did not receive credit for his work.

By 1940, abstraction in art wasn’t new or shocking. Was the world ready, though, for dark, dense abstraction in an animated family feature? That was what Walt Disney was ready to find out when he brought his new film Fantasia to debut in New York City, which had been rocked 27 years earlier by Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase.

Opening Fantasia with the Bach animation was a very deliberate choice. Not only did the challenging segment establish from the outset that this would be a very different sort of film than Snow White or Pinocchio, it served as a bridge between the orchestra and the screen.

With Fantasia, Disney aimed not only to explore new frontiers in the medium of animation, but to help a mass audience unlock the layers of complex classical music such as Bach’s organ composition.

“There are things in this music that the general public will not understand until they see the things on the screen representing that music,” Disney said in a Fantasia story conference. “Our object is to reach the very people who have walked out on this Toccata and Fugue because they didn’t understand it. I am one of those people; but when I understand it, I like it.”

-Jay Gabler

by Sylvain Chomet (1997)

The Old Lady and the Pigeons is a 1997 animated short film written and directed by Sylvain Chomet. It tells the slightly surreal story of a starving policeman who dresses up as a pigeon and tricks an old lady into feeding him.

If you like this short film check out The Triplets of Belleville and The Illusionist. 

In this Oscar®-winning short film, Norman McLaren employs the principles normally used to put drawings or puppets into motion to animate live actors. The story is a parable about two people who come to blows over the possession of a flower.                      Directed by Norman McLaren – 1952

This Oscar®-winning animated short from Chris Landreth is based on the life of Ryan Larkin, a Canadian animator who produced some of the most influential animated films of his time. Ryan is living every artist’s worst nightmare – succumbing to addiction, panhandling on the streets to make ends meet. Through computer-generated characters, Landreth interviews his friend to shed light on his downward spiral. Some strong language. Viewer discretion is advised.

Animator Ryan Larkin uses an artist’s sensibility to illustrate the way people walk. He employs a variety of techniques–line drawing, colour wash, etc.–to catch and reproduce the motion of people afoot. The springing gait of youth, the mincing step of the high-heeled female, the doddering amble of the elderly–all are registered with humour and individuality, to the accompaniment of special sound. Without words.

Phil Tippett has spent a lifetime in the film industry, working as a model-maker, visual effects supervisor, director and stop-motion animator. He’s been involved with big-name productions such as Star Wars, Jurassic Park, and RoboCop among others. But his real passion lies in handmade stop-motion animation. For over 30 years, Tippett has been working on an incredibly detailed film called “Mad God”. He describes it as being set “in a Milton-esque world of monsters, mad scientists and war pigs.” Amazingly, each character is painstakingly constructed by hand from foam, clay, latex and wire. Despite all the arduous toil, Tippett sees “Mad God” as a form of therapy and a way to reconnect with a time when special effects and animation were all done by hand.