Panel CFP: "The Transforming Figure: New Histories of Metamorphosis in Animation" SCMS: Deadline Aug. 4, 2014

full name / name of organization: 
Society for Cinema and Media Studies (Montreal, March 25-29, 2015)
contact email: 

In animation studies "metamorphosis" has been a versatile term designating a range of distinct, recurring, visual tropes, from "squash and stretch" effects that date at least to nineteenth-century phenakistoscopes to the fluid transformations of the Fleischers' rotoscoped Koko the Clown to the "plasmaticness" Eisenstein celebrated in Disney cartoons. Recently animation scholarship has opened new, provocative lines of inquiry into the theory, history, aesthetics, and cultural implications of metamorphic motion. Among the notable propositions currently under discussion are the assertion that historically animation itself is a technique rooted not in a drawing's capacity to come to life but in "the ability of an image to transform" (Tom Gunning); the aesthetic argument that animation tells "the story of the line's revolt and independence from figuration" (Andrew Johnston); the theoretical premise that in metamorphosis figure and abstraction are not oppositional poles but provisional states on a representational and perceptual continuum (Robin Curtis); and the progressivist contention that metamorphic animation "proffers…a transformation that could be undergone by all—politically, socially" (Esther Leslie). This panel seeks to present new perspectives on these and related issues while gauging the significance of animation scholarship's renewed interest in metamorphic motion for studies of animation, cinema, and visual culture more broadly.

Possible paper topics might include, but are not limited to:

  • Fluidity and transformation as defining features of the time-based image.
  • The spectatorial experience—emotional, perceptual, narrative—of metamorphic motion; the relative pleasures of figural stability and instability.
  • Political, social, and cultural implications of figures that eschew consistent self-identity in favor of the provisional and the transitory.
  • The metamorphic figure as a site linking the semiotics of vitality, liveliness, and playfulness with those of loss, dissolution, and mourning; the dynamics of fading and becoming in figural motion.
  • The historical relationship between metamorphic spectacle and early "trick films," cinematic "attractions," and established accounts of early cinema's transition to visual and narrative complexity.
  • Figural transformation in relation to theatrical performance, especially historically localized popular acts such as vaudeville lightning-sketchers, quick-change artists, and shadow performers.
  • Figural malleability and instability in relation to pre- and post- cinematic fascination with mechanical, "Taylorized" motion; the legacies for metamorphic animation of chronophotography (Marey), series photography (Muybridge), and phenakistoscopes, zootropes, and other optical instruments that feature metamorphic spectacle as a cyclical or repetitive visual effect.
  • The influence of cel animation, rotoscoping, and other technologies of industrialization on metamorphism as an aesthetic or narrative technique.
  • Technical aspects of metamorphosis in production; distinctions and continuities between traditional (drawn, clay, stop-motion, pinscreen, sand-on-glass, etc.) and digital forms.
  • Inter- and cross-disciplinary relationships between animation's engagements with metamorphosis and those exhibited in other fields such as biology (Darwin's theory of evolution), literature (Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Kafka's The Metamorphosis), and aesthetics (art nouveau style; Van de Velde's theory of the "animating line" in the decorative arts).
  • The role of metamorphosis in narrative vs. non-narrative modes of visual expression.
  • Implications of metamorphism for conventional critical distinctions between mimetic figures and abstract forms.
  • The role of metamorphic motion in clarifying or complicating animation's relation to theories of indexicality in "live-action" cinema.
  • The impact of metamorphic movement on realism as an aesthetic or narrative desideratum in animation.

Please forward inquiries and paper proposals, including title, summary (max. 2500 characters), list of 3-5 bibliographic sources, and a bio (max. 500 characters, to Nicholas Miller at by August 4, 2014. Panelists will be notified by August 12, 2014.