ÉCRIRE L’ANIMATION : ÉTHANN NÉON

 

Georges Sifianos : Can you explain your background to us?

 

Ethann Néon : I was born into animation. In terms of training, I spent 5 years between 2012 and 2016 in a school in Brussels, the ERG (École de Recherche Graphique). I was registered in the animation option knowing that at the ERG, the options are not completely fixed. We have two options in parallel: a main option and a secondary option. In parallel with animation, I did engraving, digital arts, etc. I talk about it because, this interdisciplinary side, I am still working on it currently and it is something inscribed in the DNA of the school and which also pushed me to practice other mediums than animation. I went on Erasmus for 1 year in Budapest at a school called MOME (Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design) which is a more traditional school when it comes to animation. It’s still author’s animation, but less focused on experimentation than ERG. And besides, I wrote a rather classic film there which I subsequently directed, a children’s film which is not very close to what I usually do.

As for writing films, I can tell you about the things I did at ERG. These are school exercises around themes that I subsequently worked on in a professional context.

They are not necessarily animated films. I often mix video and animation or timelapse.

 

Train

 

In Train, I filmed all the train journeys between Brussels and Louvain-la-Neuve and I digitally overlaid animation by scraping onto the video, like the sound waves that we can be found in the film Wavewidth (2023).

 

GPS

 

GPS is a détournement of the James Bond films. It’s an endless chase based on extracts from the series. These are quite playful films which are not necessarily directly linked to animation, but in which there is already the presence of split screen and other recurring processes or figures in my work.

I used split screen in a first film 1999-2014 (2014) which deals with a theme that we find from one work to another: the representation of time, the way of feeling time in cinema.




1999-2014

 

In this film, which was also a video installation, I was walking around an apartment. On the left, in the split screen, a walk that I took as a child in an apartment in Brussels and, on the right, the same trip that I took again 15 years later when I no longer lived there. I had asked permission from the residents at the time to be able to refilm the same journey 15 years apart. There were little things that responded to each other, like a cat passing by at the same time and in the same place, everyday things that resonated.

 

1999-2014

 

Then, I carried out more graphic experiments such as static animation with Animaglyphs at the border of animation in technical terms.

 

 

This raises the question of whether it’s still animation. Because when we look at these still images with blue and red stereoscopic glasses, they come alive because there is a vibration that is created due to the fact that the eye is trying to focus on both the image blue and both on the red image.

 

 

These animaglyphs are made from lithographs, stone engravings, one blue and another red, superimposed. I consider this vibration to be animation, however tenuous, due to perception and the way our brain interprets images. This border between one medium and another particularly interests me.

 

 

With Tactilanimation, for 2 years, I sporadically conducted workshops with blind and visually impaired people during which I sought to transcribe the image in a tactile way. These people illustrated their memories tactilely.

 

 

During one stage of work, there was a 5 cm thick tactile film on which a person had illustrated a memory with pieces of texture, branches, fabric and others. I manually synchronized the film with the audio story of their memory with the editing table. I subsequently developed this device in an installation which is not yet finished, Reliques d’outre-terre, which collects tactile memories from around ten people.

 

Reliques d’outre-terre

 

I explicitly asked that these be memories linked to touch, to the extent that I consider that the reminiscence is often stronger when it does not come from sight and when it comes from another sense. She sometimes surprises us, whether through smell or taste – we all know Proust’s Madeleine – or touch. The latter is a somewhat forgotten meaning which sometimes makes us rediscover layers of our past in unexpected ways. I collected these tactile memories. Starting from this documentary material, I rewrote them to integrate them into an underground science fiction universe to record them and illustrate them tactilely with objects. We are no longer in animation at all, but in an installation which unfolds in a black space, within which the spectator walks around blindly and will touch these objects. These objects will reveal the memories to him in an audio way. We find the relationship between sound and tactile image as it was already developed in Tactilanimation.

 

Furthermore, I also did a very classic school exercise in animation, that is to say a walk broken down into 12 positions with 12 images of different people. It was a lively loop.

 

I took up the principle of walking in a somewhat exponential way in my first film, Human Walkers in Motion (2020). I filmed then broke down the march of around fifty people, then I played on the rhythm of the steps to create a musical soundtrack that inhabits this urban space.

 

Human Walkers in Motion

 

Obviously there is a direct reference to Muybridge in the film and in the title moreover which is inspired by the movement’s decomposition boards. This return to pre-cinema for me is something that comes up regularly in my practice as well as in a work that I subsequently developed.

 

Human Walkers in Motion

 

After this first film, I returned to a previous idea. I should rather speak of continuity than of resumption because I always take, a little further or elsewhere, the idea of developing in a study framework or other. I work very well like that where I write down ideas and come back to them several months or years later. Sometimes I make a first sketch that I develop like this over several years. My second film, 1MTH/MIN, is inspired in particular by a short film which was made during the 24 Hours of Animation in Brussels and which is called 1H/S where I compressed 24 hours into 24 seconds in time lapse.

 

1H/S

 

In another short film called Cieux, I put several temporalities in parallel with split screens again in the form of a tape. 

 

Cieux

 

These two short films gave years later 1MTH/MIN in which I summarize 3 months of time in 3 minutes and each image is composed of columns of pixels which show 24 hours of time in a single image.

 

1MTH/MIN

 

To express myself more clearly, in one image, there are 1920 photos taken over one day. These 1920 photos are taken every 45 seconds because if you divide 24 hours by 1920, it gives 45 seconds. I display the first column of pixels from the first image, then the second column of pixels from the second image and so on to recreate a single image with the 1920 columns of pixels from the 1920 photos of the day. There are 24 hours in a frame and each frame in the film represents a day in the 3 months of spring 2020 when everyone was confined at home. This camera filmed for three months continuously. Again, in terms of subject and concern, the question of time, its condensation, its representation is omnipresent in each of the works in a different way. In this film, it is very clear, starting with the title.

 

1MTH/MIN

 

Then, I declined this project in two other different forms. The film medium interests me, but I think there are other relationships to time that can be developed in other mediums. I showed it in the form of 93 photos, each showing a day. In these photos, the movement is not present, there are things that we do not perceive and other things that we perceive much better. Having a fixed image places us in another relationship with time.

 

 

There was also a video installation in which time passes on the screen for 25 minutes very slowly. We see on a screen the 3 months of confinement in a loop without beginning without end. The fact that it is much slower allows us to perceive other details.

This basic photographic material was so rich that there were really ways to exploit it in 1000 different ways.



Schéma : vidéo interactive – installation

 

Blinkitty black was produced in 2023. Initially it was supposed to be an installation and perhaps it will be one day. It became a film in which I tried to capture all the little lost moments of a day, because we closed our eyes.

It’s again a fairly conceptual idea at its core which, in its development and in its writing, resulted in a rather narrative 22-minute film. I focused on different reading layers: a fictional layer, a documentary layer with an interview with a scientist who deals with blinking and interviews with people that I filmed in very close-up.

 

Blinkitty black

 

Once again the subject of memory comes up because I asked them questions about fairly specific memories. I asked three questions to around thirty people: 1. what is the last image of your daily life that you remember? Everyday life is understood as something that repeats itself and not necessarily the last image we have in mind. I asked them to describe it. 2. what is the first image of everyday life that you remember? So the furthest in the past and 3. what is the last image of everyday life that you captured with a camera or a smartphone? Each time I asked them to describe these images very precisely. And I was surprised that the last question seemed to be the most complicated because I put my finger on the fact that we don’t take photos of everyday life but rather of exceptional events. Although shooting has become more everyday with the smartphone, we don’t necessarily take photos of things that are repeated. We will look for the detail in everyday life which escapes repetition, which escapes this banality of everyday life. I took the opposite approach by trying to find the lost images of my daily life, by taking images lost because of blinking. What can I reveal about my daily life in these lost images? Doubly lost because we pay more attention to the repetition, the banality, the everyday. This double loss interested me in the writing which was done a lot during editing.

 

Blinkitty black

 

I’m trying to carry out the experiment to the end so, in technical terms, I carried for almost 2 months, sporadically, a portable eye tracker which is more dedicated to scientific laboratories and which is made to do what This is called eye-tracking, therefore tracking eye movements, to see the places where we look and analyze how we decipher an image. This is not necessarily done a priori to capture the blink of the eyes, on the other hand it is one of the data collected by this eye tracker in the form of Smart glasses. I used this data to find all the unseen images of my daily life.

 

Étienne-Jules Marey

 

In 2024, I looked again at the question of time, linked to pre-cinema like the chronophotographs of Étienne-Jules Marey. I am trying to make a chronovideography in an interactive installation facing a mirror: a person enters a black box and finds themselves facing a mirror which sends back reflections shifted in time. All his movements are multiplied on a mirror screen, several reflections shifted in parallel. And moreover, I use, which is more linked to animation, a phénakistiscope in the installation, this pre-cinema toy directly linked to the mirror, since we watched the animation in a mirror. It is also a way of paying homage to the first demonstrations of cinema at fairs with optical toys such as the zoetrope, phenakistiscope, praxinoscope and other scopes that we know well in the world of animation. 

 

 

Vincent Gilot : What is the relationship between what is written, pre-cut and storyboarded and the work of editing and assembly?

 

EN : I never do a storyboard or a scenario. The writing is done by testing directly with the material, the filming being done beforehand. Once I have the material, I begin to explore several avenues. There are sometimes diagrams to help me see things more clearly, especially when there is a significant amount of material. Basically, I develop a conceptual idea. It works by trial and error, as long as they are errors, to arrive at a form that crystallizes.

 

Zepe : In the installation with the mirror and the echoing images, even if we start from a concept, don’t you think that a narrative is put in place? Do you prefer that the viewer thinks about this or are you considering a form of montage yourself? 

 

EN : There is, let’s say, a common thread once the process is finished, but on the other hand, it is woven as the work progresses by putting your hands in the dirt and working the material itself. The basic concept is a guide not like the script bible that must be respected, but a goal to achieve from which I can turn away at any time depending on what happens in the work.

 

Zepe : Ultimately you can consider a montage of these captured images.

 

EN : I shoot with a specific idea. For example, for Wave width, I already had the piece of music and the simple initial idea was to draw a parallel between the waves of time and the waves of the sea. I shoot the images with this idea in mind and I make the film evolve by working directly with the material, by testing something, by coming back to it digitally. I work with digital as a graphic tool.

 

Wave width

 

As with other films, you have to settle on the idea at some point because the technical aspect behind it is difficult to manage, but I allow myself the leisure to test things. On several things several tries until at one point I go in a specific direction.

 

Wave width

 

Z : It raises questions between cinema, video art, interactivity, the reaction of the viewer and also animation because there are isolated images. Wave width seems much more narrative to me than the others.

In some optical games, the mirror is used. This is the question that arises precisely between the cinema that is captured and the cinema that is animated. Animators are more likely to identify cuts between images. However, the mirror system prevented the animation from developing because the mirrors create a fade between images. The cut creates a shutter like in your film Blinkitty black about the blink of the eye.



Blinkitty black

 

EN : Blinkitty black is much more narrative with this text on the image but this narration and this text arrived at the time of editing. Fragments of ideas, in the juxtaposition of these images, emerged. The editing had to be changed once the text was introduced. In a back and forth work, the images began to echo the text and vice versa, without there being a predominance of one over the other, whereas in Wave Width, there is a predominance of the sound on picture. The sound guided the narration of the image. There are even chapters, which correspond to a musical movement with an evolution from one to the other. The first is just the waves of sound coming from the horizon to the beach; the second is the waves which remain on the horizon but which develop more and more; in the third, there is a juxtaposition of the two.

For chronophotography, there is a breakdown by chapter. There are three chapters. I must first build a tool before I can write.

For 1MTH/MIN, I asked someone to program software that cuts the images into strips of pixels and only from there, by testing different ways of cutting the image, did the writing happen.



Blinkitty black

 

GS : In Blinkitty black, it is a work on several layers. Around the exceptional and the ordinary, in the sense of everyday life. The exceptional thing can be these images that we lose with the blinks of an eye, this is the promising subject which is announced in the introduction to the film. I quote a sentence from the film: in the blink of an eye, his life is lost. It has nothing to do with the lost footage. This is a metaphor connected to the main topic, but that’s the nondescript part.

In another layer, the girl in makeup with the piercing in the middle, says things that are not related to the images that we lose when we blink. There is a shift, a gap with what the introduction promised us. Consequently, I have the feeling that by starting with an exceptional subject, we have reduced this subject, by adding these layers, to one subject among others. I thought of Warhol filming a sleeper for eight hours for his film Sleep.

I had similar feelings about the other films.



Sleep d’Andy Warhol (1964)

 

Z : All these levels don’t shock me. A film is not an object that must have precise contours.

 

EN : From the moment everything is written at the base and pre-thought, it becomes a very circumscribed object that is intended for a certain distribution.

In experimentation, we don’t know where we are going, the writing is done in progress.

This produces a hybrid form made up of several layers. Blinkitty black reflects the way it was made. I started from the idea of capturing unseen images which are, if you like, exceptional indeed. But deep down, they are banal, there is little to save in these everyday images, because they are very similar to the image we saw just before and to the image we see just after . Conceptually, they may be exceptional, but what they show is not. How then to search for the exceptional in the extraordinary is the whole quest for the realization and the narrator of the story. I am convinced that, in a repetitive daily life, there are a lot of things to save. This relationship between the exceptional and the banal, between the extraordinary and the infraordinary, is indeed and constantly present in the film, including in the interviews because the scientist interviewed tells us about quite extraordinary things when he teaches us that every time we blink, it is our awareness that the brain shuts down, that certain areas of the brain activate and others turn off. This is exceptional. If we did not blink, we would not be able to understand the world, by caricaturing what is said by the scientist. This little moment of pause that is blinking makes us perceive the world and allows us, via the brain, to understand, analyze and process it. The memories mentioned in the interviews are quite banal, a walk with your dog as a child, a person waking up next to their partner… very simple and everyday things. For this film in particular, the two echo and respond to each other, which is not the case with the other films.

 

Blinkitty black

 

GS : How do we stop? You can make it longer or shorter.

 

EN : It’s the text that helped me to stop and give length to this film, to construct it with chapters, with six hands, since I worked with two different editors. On the other hand, when it came to filming, it wasn’t easy to say when we stopped. I took two months to film my daily life, on a recurring basis, to find exceptional or different moments that come out of repetition. It wasn’t easy to stop. There are also technical constraints: the more images I take, the more we have to cut. It takes forever. There is also a production framework.

 

GS : If you didn’t have these constraints, you could have continued to add strata, layers for a lifetime.

 

EN : There are things that I would do over a lifetime, a bit like Opalka who took photos of herself every day in front of her paintings. Whereas filming your daily life is theoretically possible, but it is super intrusive, especially with glasses. I marked out the moments to film in everyday life, which constitutes a form of pre-writing.

For example, I would like to work, as in 1MTH/MIN, on time compression for a year with another technique. This artistic proposal would not be a film.

When we work on time, we must perceive this temporality in advance at the time of filming and therefore of writing. Filming is the first step in writing. We create the material that will be used to write the film on the editing table or with animation software. I need to define this matter in terms of temporality.

 

1MTH/MIN

 

GS : What are you interested in ? The initial concept or the technological work and the development of the images?

 

EN : I’m not going to choose: I find as much pleasure in the search for ideas as in working. The idea itself doesn’t interest me until it’s developed. I have sheets full of notes with lots of ideas, but until I bring them to fruition, they have no value.

 

Conceptual art reached its limits from the moment it limited itself to the concept. A sentence on a white wall in a gallery is not generous. In my practice, it is in the production that I find the most interest, and not necessarily from a technical point of view however. It’s not the technique that interests me, but the trajectory.

 

VG : In 1MTH/MIN where time is concentrated on 1920 vertical lines, doesn’t the pure technical process make up the whole film? And then there is a speech about the film. What freedom remains once such a process is put in place? Whereas in Human walkers in motion or Blinkitty black, you give meaning to the things we see in a narrative mode and you don’t just put them in a raw way.

 

EN : In 1MTH/MIN, I can give someone else the opportunity to exploit the concept, but the result will not be the same at all. The concept is not the technical process, but the question of compressing time to the extreme. Once you have the technical tool, there is still personal and unique writing. Because the montage, with, first, this vertical movement of the images which scroll then horizontal of time on the image and then both at the same time, on Le sacre du printemps by Stravinsky.

Blinkitty black seems more personal because it invests in my daily life, but it is an illusion because the story that I wrote is not mine. Even if it’s part of my daily life because I made myself the guinea pig of my technical equipment. Asking someone else to wear glasses for 3 months in their daily life is super intrusive.

All my films are just as personal as each other.

 

VG : Human walkers in motion evokes Zbigniew Rybczynski’s film, Tango, where a false narration is much more significant than in 1MTH/MIN.

 

 Schéma et esquisse de Zbigniew Rybczynski pourTango (1981)

 

EN : I’m quite confident in the narrative potential of music. There is already very strong narrative writing in Stravinsky’s Le sacre du printemps or in the piece by Ben Bertrand that I used in Wave Width, with a beginning, a middle and an end and with very clear division.

 

William Henne : Éthann produced variations around 1MTH/MIN, as part of the 24 Hours of Animation 2020, from the same images, these are Temporal Landscapes, 5 very short, quite playful capsules of 24 seconds each: