A Still from The Hand, Czech puppet-maker Jiří Trnka's 1965 short about artistic expression under totalitarianism. The Hand is on display at Watch Me Move: The Animation Show until Dec. 24.
courtesy KRÁTKÝ FILM PRAHA a.s.

Watch me move

Glenbow museum celebrates legacy of animation with media-based exhibit

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"It moved! It was alive!" exclaims French animator, comic writer and Academy Award nominee Sylvain Chomet in the foreword of the book The World History of Animation. He recalls a time when he was a young cartoonist working in London, illustrating commercials during the day while working on his own projects in the evening.

One night he created a simple 12-drawing loop of an elderly bearded man playing a street organ. "It was magic, but real magic, not the kind you do when you know the trick," says Chomet. "It tricks us without ever revealing itself. It is called 'animation.'"

The magic that Chomet is talking about can be seen throughout Watch Me Move: The Animation Show, one of the current exhibits at Calgary's Glenbow Museum. On display is a diverse selection of over 111 works of animation, including some of the earliest contributions to the 150-year-old craft, as well as some of the most famous and recognizable works.

It is divided into five main galleries covering two floors and identified by six interlinked themes. There is so much content that you couldn't dream of watching each frame in a single visit. But don't be discouraged -- it doesn't matter if you have the whole day or just a couple of hours. Thanks to the ingenious setup, you can appreciate the content in any number of ways.

You can bounce from screen to screen and observe the countless styles of animation -- the flashy computer-generated works of Pixar to hysterical clips from The Simpsons and South Park. Some of the most interesting and rewarding animations, however, are more obscure.

One of these is The Hand by Czech puppet-maker Jiří Trnka, an extremely moving short about the difficulties faced by artists under totalitarian rule.

"It sends a very important message," says Melanie Kjorlien, Vice-President of Access, Collections and Exhibitions at the Glenbow.

This is Watch Me Move's real triumph -- its ability to blend pop culture and high art. Some animations may lack the polish of, say, The Incredibles, but they are no less important or captivating. In some cases, offbeat artistic techniques stop you in your tracks to, quite literally, force you to watch.

Take the "apparitions"-themed exhibit as an example -- the physical setup is as hauntingly beautiful as the works on display. Here you will find some of the earliest animations, ranging in length from several minutes to just a few short frames. Certain animations are examples of early experimentation -- those from 19th-century scientist Étienne-Jules Marey contain as little as eight frames of something as simple as the opening and closing of a human hand, or a cat contorting its body to land on its feet.

Calgary is the only Canadian stop for the exhibition, which originated in London, England.

"It really is a world-class exhibition," remarks Melanie on the unique logistical challenges presented to organizers. "An exhibit like this is unique for any museum. Not often is something this size media-based."

Melanie also suggests taking some of the self-guided highlight tours to help you navigate the displays. Be prepared to return, though. "I personally know some people who have been back three times," she says.

One can also view a wide range of full-length animated films playing continuously in a makeshift theatre. You can watch classics like Tron and Animal Farm, or more recent additions like Toy Story 3 and Up.

From the young at heart to just the young, Watch Me Move offers something for everyone. It captures the essence, diversity and, most of all, the magic of animation.