Experimentalism has guided Animator Jules Engel for the lot of his artistic profession. Throughout his early practices, Engel delved into geometric abstraction, manipulating tectonic shapes for the sake of examination. Engel explored the realm of simplicity in his works, using flat shapes and solid colors to define his compositions. Certain features of design and motion are characteristic to Engel’s animation style – takes on timing and color, especially, apply to all of his pieces.
Engel pioneered in abstractionism, engaging in the genre even in the latter stages of his career. In Train Landscape (1974), Engel depicts a series of simple, solid shapes translating very quickly across the composition. Squares, circles, rectangles – these basic figures, accompanied with a very plain color scheme, are signature to Engel’s work. Train Landscape‘s linear sense of motion (movement dashes from right to left throughout the entirety of the piece) corresponds with his ordinary figures and simplistic tones. Other forms of geometric abstraction can be found in Villa Rospigliosi (1988). Here, Engel continues to stay consistent with his use of unadorned shapes and solid colors, neglecting to transform his figures in any way. Filled shapes of all sorts move fluidly within the white silhouette, remaining constant in their scale as they travel down curvaceous paths. This standard fashion of animating is indicative to Engel’s experimental abstraction.
While Engel applied absolute movement to a great deal of his animations, there were also some in which he placed a bit more complexity. In Wet Paint (1977), Engel expands his grasp on motion and animates squiggly lines, erasing their paths while simultaneously adding to them. Animating geometrical patterns as well as smooth curves all in one composition speaks on Engel’s versatility in the medium. Whether absolute or unrestricted, Engel’s motions gave life to whatever shape or line was being manipulated.
Each of Engel’s abstractions were accomplished by the means of limited animation. Engel did not redraw entire frames like full animators would. Instead, he variably reused common parts between frames. For instance, in The Meadow (1994), Engel reuses solid, L-shaped frames, looping them in circles alongside a series of circumscribing lines. This same timesaving technique is utilized in almost all of Engel’s abstractions, from the continuously spinning oval in Villa Rospigliosi to the repeated cycles of various shapes in Wet Paint.
According to Engel, the key guideline to filmmaking is not the design, but the rhythm and timing (Dill, 2009). This conception may play a role in Engel’s use of very fundamental polygons like squares and rectangles. It doesn’t so much matter the quality or complexity of a figure’s appearance; Engel rather directs his attention toward the execution of an animation. Giving life to a drawing holds more weight than the drawing itself.
During his time in the United Productions of America (UPA), an animation studio that pioneered the use of modern graphics and limited animation, Engel worked as a background artist and color stylist for many of the studio’s shorts (Solomon, 2003). He created one-color backgrounds alongside simplified landscapes. UPA’s Gerald McBoing-Boing series is an ideal representation of this minimalistic style. Subjects and objects of each episode are attributed with constant degrees of shade; there are no differences in domestic value. Architecture of various sceneries lack complexity, and some features are not entirely colored in. Many of these characteristics may reveal Engel’s roots in synthetic cubism, an art style that is heavily congruent with his line of work.
Additionally, Engel’s color work can be examined through Disney’s Bambi (1942) in which he shifted light values within his compositions to contrast foregrounds and backgrounds, creating the illusion of volume (Nash, 2003). This artistic technique is known as chiaroscuro, and it was used all throughout the animated film.
This image of Bambi’s father silhouetted in front of a luminescent background is a prime representation of Engel’s construction of depth through brightness. In its foreground, trees and bushes are darkly colored, while background colors fade through tints of white.
Engel perfected elements of abstract motion and was highly influential in regard to color design, but what some may not know is that he has also animated representational shorts. Experimental films like The Toy Shop (1998) and Carnival (1963) do deviate from Engel’s other works in terms of art form, however, they are still aesthetically similar in several different ways. Limited animation shows much prevalence in both works – The Toy Shop, especially, presents loops consisting of two or three separate drawings for one animation. Due to this, motion is choppy and abrupt, as can be observed from this snippet of The Toy Shop in which a man removes his top hat.
Like Engel’s abstractions, The Toy Shop‘s movements were also very linear in some respects. Drawings moved on imaginary horizontal axes, animating from right to left or vice versa. Their linear translations, accompanied with minimal transformations, give authenticity to Engel’s manner of animating.
Carnival sets itself apart from a large number of Engel’s experimental works. Color is infrequent and lines are hastily assembled in this short. Animating representational characters like humans, motion is nonlinear and organic. Limbs and appendages express agitation, and joint movements are acknowledged. Although Carnival attains unique qualities on its own, it’s comprised of properties that align with the aforementioned works from Engel. For example, the ape’s arm turning the jack-in-the-box’s crank at the end of the short personifies limited animation. Character outlines are simplified, expressing where certain features may exist (hands, feet, nose, eyes), but not defining elements that may compose them (value changes, facial strokes, curvature lines of necks). Solid white also constitutes for a good portion of the composition – another component that reflects Engel’s avant-garde style.
Whether it be through drawing or coloring, Engel brought forth methods of animating that hold to be innovative even in today’s world. Engel cut production times in half with his uses of limited animation techniques and simplified design concepts. He was an experimentalist at heart who indulged in evoking emotion from his multitude of shapes, figures and forms. Visually executing a proper animation; through design, through color, through timing, has guided Engel to animated excellency, and by way of common curiosity, Engel managed to discover refreshing concepts and convey them on screen.
Dill, Janeann. “JULES ENGEL: ARTIST FOR ALL SEASONS / “Visualizing Art History: Experimental Animation & Its Mentor Project”” Vimeo. N.p., 2009. Web. 27 Nov. 2015.
Nash, Eric. “Jules Engel, 94, Animator Known for ‘Fantasia’ Scenes.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 14 Sept. 2003. Web. 28 Nov. 2015.
Solomon, Charles. “Jules Engel, 94; Innovator in Animation Art.” Los Angeles. Times. Los Angeles Times, 12 Sept. 2003. Web. 28 Nov. 2015.