Animating On VHS

When working on my own animations, I’m always looking for new ways of experimenting with my process of animating. This adaptive approach to workflow recently led me to work on an animation in class that combined collage and digital brutalist aesthetics to create a mock end credits sequence for a cartoon. 

Going into the project, I had a preliminary character design that I used as the starting point and then I made decisions that added upon that foundation; what’s the character’s personality, and how does that affect the tone of the piece: What environment would this character inhabit, and how can it be abstracted for the sake of the piece’s aesthetics; and, especially given it took shape as a class assignment, how should the degree/ technical level of animation be distributed throughout the project, and what aspects of the animation necessitate a lot of attention to framecount? Within the framework I progressively constructed for myself, I experimented with how I tackled the animation further. For example, I hadn’t done collage like this before! Of course, I have done collage before, but this project required a different kind of focus, more on halftones and bold contrasting colors. Moreover, I hadn’t animated using halftones before, only using the visual motif in illustration work; specifically, I painted in the halftoned shading on ones in of the penultimate shot. The project became an example of my animation and an opportunity to learn a new technique and style.

However, once I completed the assignment, I still had one more thing I wanted to try. I enjoyed how the animation came out but wanted to bring the homage further— making sure the final product was more authentic and felt like a cartoon caught on tv. The conclusion was to add more elements common to the credits of television shows, including a (fake) credits sequence and putting the animation on VHS.

Of course, that does beg a question regarding the latter of “why put the animation on VHS,” which I would emphatically answer with “I don’t know, like— it looks funny.” While on the one hand, I can recognize that putting the animation on VHS is an obviously ridiculous idea— both because VHS as a medium fell obsolete years ago, if not decades ago, as well as how details of the video like the halftone shading would get entirely chewed by the degradation in quality. Yet, on the other hand, the prospect of transferring my work to tape immediately reignited my excitement after working on the project for so long. Honestly, VHS has always held a comfortable spot in my heart. I remember watching and rewatching tapes with episodes of SpongeBob and Power Rangers (actually, episode singular, since they fit one episode onto each tape); which inadvertently sowed a sense of nostalgia for the format and its imperfections that would itself become built upon when I grew into enjoying Vaporwave and Signalwave internet aesthetics. Undeniably, it’s hipster nonsense to use and proliferate VHS media in [current year], but I think its flaws add a sentimental and lived quality to it.

That said, accomplishing such a look became a challenge. Adding the mock credits was the easy part— I found the list of credits for The Bee Movie, reversed the names, and then added them into a new version of the HD edit (side note: the professor I submitted this assignment to still does not know that the names were from The Bee Movie, but I think it’s better and funnier that way). Meanwhile, I couldn’t find many tutorials about moving HD footage onto VHS— go figure— so I would have to troubleshoot my own methods. After a series of trails and errors utilizing a frankly absurd amount of equipment: I uploaded the video to YouTube, played the YouTube upload on my Wii U (shout out to the Wii U), changed the settings of the Wii U to a 4:3 composite output, ran the Wii U through a VCR which recorded the feed of the video, and then ripped the video from the VCR onto my laptop using a screen recorder. After all that: here’s the result!

Indeed, I still could stand to improve the process more in the future. Although the Wii U has a composite 4:3 output, that setting still only displays widescreen (if you understood that, you’re a nerd). Nonetheless, that’s what’s fun about animation: even when you find an answer to your problem, you can always experiment by continuing to search for new solutions in the future. In that way, animation— as with other forms of film and art— becomes iterative of what you’ve learned from each compounding experiment, the sum of each part of the artist’s continuously adaptive process. In that way, putting a short animated segment onto an obsolete media format— although relatively frivolous and ridiculous— is another step toward creating more stylistically compelling and creatively freeing animation. 

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