Commentary 25 Jun 2009 08:14 am

Nijinsky – “He’s ALIVE !”

- The New Yorker magazine, this week, has a short article by Joan Acocella about some YouTube videos that have appeared recently showing Nijinski dancing. They’re all short clips (10-15 secs) in, what looks like, early film footage as Nijinsky goes through bits of his most famous dances from 1910-1912.

The only problem, of course, is that Nijinsky was never filmed dancing. These pieces are animated bits by Christian Comte, a French animator working out of Cannes. He’s taken the famed series of stills of the great dancer and maneuvered them in his computer to make it look as though they are actual moving. I watched them all and only one move looks artificial, as though Nijinsky were on wires as he glides up and over.

In Acocella’s interview with Comte, he describes his work:

    Comte acknowledged his authorship. “These films are animations of photographs, achieved thanks to a process that I invented,” he said. “I work as an alchemist in animated cinema.” He uses still photographs and, by employing a computer to alter them—tilt a head, move an arm—fills in the gaps between successive shots. That’s why his “Faun” footage is so much longer than his other footage. He had all those de Meyer stills. This is basically no different from the way Steven Spielberg got the dinosaurs to run around the jungle in “Jurassic Park.”

    Comte insists that he is not trying to pass off his Nijinsky clips as authentic films. His YouTube profile page opens with a statement that it is a “mad legend” that any film of Nijinsky dancing survives. Yet he goes on to call his postings “film fragments.” All of them display the date of each ballet’s première—1910, 1911, or 1912—but they do not explain that this is not also the date of the video.

Here is one extended YouTube piece that I believe shows some tests and dailies strung together. All of the others are cut into shorter snippets and black-outs, hence feel more like actual fragments. When strung together like this, you can feel the manipulation.

We’ve undoubtedly entered a new era of artificiality. Animation has moved closer to reality (except for the inexperience of the animators, themselves.) The first 20 mins of Wall-E set a tone of reality that matches the effects in Dark Knight. The mix of live action footage with the animation made it feel more real. (Of course the last 60-70 mins of the film felt artificially devised and spoiled those opening 20.)

It’s hard to go back to Snow White anymore now that the apple has been tasted.

5 Responses to “Nijinsky – “He’s ALIVE !”

  1. on 25 Jun 2009 at 10:03 am 1.Jason said …

    Looks like really bad puppet animation.

  2. on 25 Jun 2009 at 10:35 am 2.Mark Mayerson said …

    This technique was used in the early 1990′s. At the time, it was used to morph one thing into another (PDI’s Black and White video) but the same technique can be used to animate something from one position to another. There were softwares developed specifically for this like Elastic Reality and Mojo. For someone to claim they recently “invented” this is either based on nerve or ignorance.

    The work just looks like a blend from one body position to another. There is no sense that muscle is moving a body. When the action reverses, you get a bump because the person doing this doesn’t know enough about ease ins and ease outs. It’s one thing to have a bump in a live action reverse and repeat done optically, but when a computer is blending, there is no excuse.

  3. on 25 Jun 2009 at 10:38 am 3.George Griffin said …

    Looks pretty cheesy. There’s another story about animation/dance pioneers. Alexander Shiryaev made training films for the Imperial Ballet in St Petersburg using animated drawings and puppets, before 1909, predating Starewicz. Read Peter Lord’s review of a recent film by Viktor Bocharov that documents this.

    more here:

  4. on 25 Jun 2009 at 5:40 pm 4.Jenny said …

    That doesn’t look good at all. “Animation”-harrumph, no.

    It’s just a morphing program. There are examples on youtube of what I’m sure is the same software, where people have used them to morph between photographs of different actresses’ faces (example here: Morphing actresses).
    In that case the effect is quite startling, kind of haunting.
    This just looks goofy and “off”-to me at least. Certainly it’s nothing to do with dance. I was curious before watching the clip because I was wondering–assuming the guy really made an attempt at “Nijinsky dancing”–how on earth he’d decided the timing, but obviously that wasn’t the issue.
    This is no more animating Nijinsky than morphing the mouths of Carole Lombard and Katharine Hepburn to open and close on dialogue would mean I’m making them give a new performance-it’s all me. There must be a human intelligence making the unseen decisions, and its that that animates the object seen. Same with Wall-E, same with anything where a puppet or rig or lines are manipulated. But this is lazy nothing to me.

    Boy, but I’m harsh today!

  5. on 25 Jun 2009 at 8:19 pm 5.David Nethery said …

    “It’s hard to go back to Snow White anymore now that the apple has been tasted.”

    No, after biting this rotten apple I’ll run back to Snow White (and Pinocchio …. man , those Tytla drawings are so great. Thank you for posting those. Looking forward to the next installment. )

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