February 2018 archive

Phantasmagorie Analysis Essay


Phantasmagorie Analysis Essay


Emile Cohl’s Phantasmagorie is considered one of the most important and influential films in early animation.  Cohl, an artist in Paris in the early 1900’s, made over 250 short animations and films, many of which share a similar “morphing chalkboard” aesthetic.  In discussing it’s artistic innovation, one must consider how and why it was made, as well as its messages about society in 1900’s Paris.

At first glance, Phantasmagorie appears to be a simple chalk and blackboard line drawing.  The animation was actually created using over 700 drawings—black lines on white paper—with the image printed as a negative to achieve the “blackboard” effect, and also aided by a few frames that incorporate paper cutouts.  These drawings were then shot with stop-motion photography to create a seamless transition from one frame to the next. The intentionality of this effect is a direct jab at the Vaudevillian caricature style which was popular in Paris at the time.

The main character, a clown figure, is “drawn” by Cohl, and then proceeds to weave in and out of different scenarios and the scene morphs from one scene to the next.  This could be viewed as an early form of special effects.  Cohl shows the viewer 1.5 minutes of seamless and impossible transformations—particularly impressive is the scene where the police officer dissolves into thin air.  The artists hand can also be seen in the film as well, both as an intentional element—as seen in the beginning and end— and as a ghost image as scenes flicker past.  This creates an interaction between a 2D environment and a 3D world — The drawings and the creator.  In showing his hand, Cohl asserts his dominance as an omnipresent creator— in the beginning of the animation, he draws the character, bringing him to life, while at the end, he glues the broken character back together, bringing him back to life.

In the book Larry Cohen: The Radical Allegories of an Independent Filmmaker, “…caricature played a very important role both in animation and early cinema as a critical ideological weapon against conformist tendencies in bourgeois society.”  Like most art of the early 20th century, the role of women in Phantasmagorie is passing or nonexistent.  The only woman in the film is depicted in a theatre, and portrayed as more of an obstacle for the male viewer than a casual moviegoer.  The man sitting behind her removes this female “obstacle” by first plucking the feathers from her hat, and then lighting her on fire with a cigar.  This not only reinforces male dominance in society, but alludes to the popular belief that women should not be in the public sphere.

The only other scene that could include an (unseen) female figure is near the end of the animation where the elephant morphs into a building.  There is speculation that the elephants eye turns into a sort of “red light district” sort of marker, that would signify the presence of a brothel.  The main character quickly looks around before entering the building, as if making sure that he has not been seen.  The police officer—a constant presence in the film—could be a not-so-subtle reference to the police presence in Paris at the time, specifically in the case of crackdown on “unsafe” brothels”. After being locked in the building by the officer, the main character jumps out of the building, presumably, rather than being locked inside a brothel with “unsafe” women.

Phantasmagorie, despite it’s attempts to poke fun at the bourgeoisie status quo, neglects to defy any societal gender norms. Women are portrayed as a hazard to the public world, while the main —male— character travels in and out of each scene without restrictions.  It’s hard to deny the brilliance and imagination of Cohl, but it’s even harder not to view Phantasmagorie as a both a relic of early animation, as well as of an outdated societal ideal.


Popova, Maria. “Before Walt Disney: 5 Pioneers of Early Animation.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 5 July 2011, http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2011/07/before-walt-disney-5-pioneers-of-early-animation/241448/.

Pottecary, Christopher. “Émile Cohl: Fantasmagorie (1908).” The Artifice, 24 Sept. 2014, the-artifice.com/fantasmagorie-gender/.

Williams, Tony. Larry Cohen: the Radical Allegories of an Independent Filmmaker. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2014.

Apparatus 9: Andrew John Milne’s Modern Praxinioscope

Frances Ross

Seminar 4D

Andrew John Milne’s Modern Praxinioscope

The praxinoscope of the late 1800’s is an archaic example of early motion graphics.  Made by placing two cylinders inside of each other— the outer one having a succession of still images, and the inner circle containing mirrors—when spun, an illusion of movement was created by the images projection onto the inner mirrors and by our own retinal persistence of vision.

Andrew John Milne’s reinvented Praxinoscope is a swirling mass of lights and wood suspended from the ceiling.  His piece, entitled, Apparatus 9, is a bulbous cylindrical orb composed of a wooden checkerboard pattern of square panels and windows, paper, mirrors, lights, and a motor.  Its etherial quality is only reinforced by its “autonomous” motorized movement.

When gazing inside Apparatus 9, one first sees only the wooden skeletal framework of the piece as it flickers past.  With a closer inspection into the windows, the viewer is able to see a ghostly image of a walking nude female. The image is projected along a vertical axis as well, which gives the appearance of holography and perspective.

What makes this piece effective is the apparent “wow” factor.  Apparatus is a giant spinning orb, that basically begs to be looked at and looked into.  There is also a sense of wonder that comes from looking into this archaic object: This work is strictly analog, despite the digital-like precision of the moving images, which shows off a level of craftsmanship and attention to detail.  My only criticism is that I wish that the entire piece was on a larger scale, although it’s size perhaps adds to the sense of intimacy with the viewer.

The concept behind Apparatus is an exploration of autonomous technology and how we relate to it, especially regarding digital technology.  In this analog piece, we are given a view of an almost Digital view of a the moving figure, and although the viewer perceives it as a seamless, there is a a flicker of malfunction which creates an Uncanny Valley.  The figure is naked and idyllic like Eve in the garden of Eden, but she looks robotic and detached.  Milne is trying to make a statement on digital technology. IN a review of Milne’s Apparatus, Tom Kohut writes, “ruination is encoded in the apparatus, that the dematerialization….in the present digital situation leads inexorably to disappearance.


Apparatus 9:


Apparatus 9 in motion:



All images are taken from http://andrewjohnmilne.com/apparatus/

and http://andrewjohnmilne.com/project/apparatus-9-holographic-praxinoscope/




Animation 1

This is my first attempt at animation.  Gunther the Dinosaur makes another appearance in my work (he’s so cute that he really just lends himself to drama). The assignment guidelines were: A character enters a space, encounters a problem, and solves the problem.

Made using index cards, shot with Dragonframe, and edited with Photoshop.


Gunther: Part 1 from FrancesAlbatross on Vimeo.