Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…
I am a artist and researcher whose enquiry is two fold. That is to say that I am investigating two questions concurrently through formal research and practical enquiry.
My research questions are as follows:
What is the tension I experience when I interact with CGI Software as a stopmotion animator working in the animation industry and the visual arts?
How can I communicate my practice-based research to others in Academia and the wider research community?
Why these questions and not something else?
Well, these questions originate in my practice and resonate with other practitioner’s experience in the animation community. This can be in either commercial practice or in independent artist animation. I work as an artist-animator and commercial creative director. The way in which my practice straddles art and industry while also allowing for an ‘insider’ view, arguably provides a valuable research perspective in what is essentially a practical discipline.
What do I mean by formal? All practitioners conduct research in the process of their everyday work so what exactly is formal research? I have been researching in my creative work for over twenty years (although it has been said that I have been engaged in this topic of enquiry all of my life), and so what is academic research? This can depend on the community in which the research is conducted but in Academia it can best be defined by a credible methodology. Art Schools generally define practice research as either practice-based or practice-led research. The AHRC provides a sound definition.
But why is my research of value? The field of animation studies is a young one. It is a field that is heavily theorised by non-practitioners working in academia who are necessarily writers, reporters and observers of practice. This is problematic for the field of animation studies as research informs industry, education, innovation and of course economic decisions. Research steers the Academic discipline and informs new practitioners entering the field. When I began my formal research there was very little practice research in the academy. I wanted to improve my own practice by better understanding the tensions within it and I wanted to help improve the life of other practitioners, giving voice to their experience aswell as my own.
I initially spent a year reading philosophy and literature. I engaged in academic combat with others in the research community and listened to general discourse in the field. I located my research in the field of Animation Studies and other disciplines at the periphery of my research interests. I conducted practical research (literally in the field) to test my ontological and epistemological models. This process would go on to inform my methodology and the methods I would apply in the investigation of my research project. My early experiments had helped to define my ontological and epistemological questions in my practice. That is to say, the process of experimentation had helped me to better understand what the world was and how I think I come to know what I think I know.
So, How did I discover the topic of my practice-based research enquiry? My topic of enquiry began on the same way one might try to start an old rotary lawn mower. Tugging on the string with all ones might only to end up with a disappointing non-starter. Twice. Then one day, while sitting in a supervision session I was asked, ‘What do you do in practice?’ Or rather, ‘What does your practice do?’. Opposite to me sat a theoretician and a visual artist, neither of which had first hand experience of working with animation.
And so I began to recall my work. I described my creative process, my research track to date and the products of my practice. Although I was able to eloquently verbalise a description of my practice, I grew increasingly frustrated as I fumbled around trying to find the ‘right’ terms to describe my work. I began to borrow words and contort meanings to describe how I worked in practice. It became clear that I needed to describe my work in the language of Academia, or at least I needed to use the philosophical terminology of the Art School if I was to effectively communicate my practice research within this arena. I simple didn’t have the words, I couldn’t show them the ‘images’ in my head and they didn’t have access to the common experience that came so easily in the studio.
I could easily pinpoint the point of tension (the thing that really irked me) as I connected the dots, or rather pinpoints that exploded like tiny bubbles of dye along my own messy research track. I knew that I could learn new software easily but my interaction with CG tools was very difficult. My experience seemed common to others working in the stopmotion animation community, some in the industry and others in the visual arts.
While attempting to answer questions relating to the field of animation studies such as, What Is animation? What is practice-based research? and How does one claim authority to ones own knowledge? the main focus of my enquiry was evaluating the tension I experience when I use CGI Software. A tension that I could only describe at this point, as a sense of disconnection. I asked what was, ‘disconnected’? What did other animators think? What did other researchers think? How could I go about finding out? Could I relieve the tension? and could I reconnect the disconnect?
There was much discussion in the field about what Animation actually was, how it was defined or whether it needed defining at all. I had read the theoretical discourse and felt I needed to define animation for myself. I couldn’t accept the view of Animation proposed by theoreticians. Their view seemed nonsensical to me. Although I could understand their position, I could not relate to their perspective as it just wasn’t how I experienced animation in practice.
I worked through many of the assumptions held about Animation in my ‘nature’ experiments. I discovered that theories defining Animation had roots in ontological and epistemological models constructed on assumptions drawn from a material, mechanistic, western, post enlightenment perspectives, supported by ancient philosophy mainly analytic dialectic philosophy. This model of world simply did not hold for me. It was a model that did not consider the implications of a quantum world or the perspective of the practitioner.
Quantum Physics became central to my world model early in my Animation practice. It was a model that had uncertainty at its heart. To me, the world was an uncertain, shifting dynamic one that could only be filtered through my limited senses, filtered through my personal values and influenced by social notions of truth. At this time my model was informed by William James’ Pragmatism and Gregory Bateson’s 2nd Order Cybernetics theory.
In these early years, I produced puppets, props and sets for stop motion Animation. this gave me valuable access to the experiences of other practitioners and allowed for many informal, animated discussions to take place. I was also able to align these with theoretical discourse in Academia.
By placing myself as a practitioner within the investigation and openly disclosing personal and cultural values and beliefs I could access communities of practice in the industry, arts and Academia. I could set about answering my research questions and proceed as an action researcher drawing from the methods Action research , documenting my research as a living thesis.
My emerging methodology was a difficult one to navigate as ontological, epistemological, physiological, psychological and neurological uncertainties were highly problematic in the certainty of Academic enquiry. This was partly resolved through a kind of QBism (Quantum Bayesianism) as I measured my own uncertainty against a sense of probability informed by my own personal experience and the socially constructed values and beliefs of the environment in which I worked. One thing that did become apparent was the problem of Freewill. The indeterminacy of Quantum Physics could be solved by a two stage model of which there were many. The cogito model held the greatest promise in resolving differences between the quantum and the macro in that it couples the indeterminate quantum world with choices applied in a determined macro world. Freedom as Free (chance) in the quantum world and Will (choice) in the macro world resolving the issue of personal responsibility.
The set of assumptions I identified prompted me to ask if the disconnection was one of social/cultural embedded values and beliefs, one of materiality, one of haptic/tactile feedback, one of embedded behaviour, one of peripheral device design, software interface design, of cognitive load in the learning process or whether it was, potentially, something else.
By slowly working through the set of assumptions, by pushing the investigation further in practice, by going deeper and deeper, by questioning personal and cultural world models and the evolution of a sound methodology; I was able to define my conclusions some of which are relevant to the field of animation studie, others to interaction design and some to visual communication generally.
As I move forward and turn back into practice rather than pure research, I discover more about human-technological evolution, humans impact on the natural environment and the emergence of conflict between social groups that leads to mass migration and war. I am motivated to discover how to counter or improve these vital interactions while engaging with the ethical implications of this process.