Journal of Sonic Studies, volume 6, nr. 1 (January 2014)James Batcho: THE SONIC LIFEWORLD: A PHENOMENOLOGICAL EXPLORATION OF THE IMAGINATIVE POTENTIAL OF ANIMATION SOUND
Animation is unique among audiovisual arts in that its stories are created entirely from the imagination. Other audiovisual forms such as film and television, by contrast, always have physical substances, specific worlds, and corporeality as their base components. No matter how much the ideas exist in the mind, the external world, and all its inhabitants, must eventually be shot on location or in a studio. Animation begins without physicality in its creative process. Storytellers may reference reality, but aside from rotoscoping techniques, there are no actual settings, no sound stages or green-screen sets, and no actors. Its stories often take place in completely imagined worlds. The raw materials of a film or TV show recorded on production are captured within actual spaces; the raw materials of animation come from the mind. As such, animation is liberated from the physical and logistical restrictions of developing and reproducing physical objects and events in space. The potential is there to produce the physically impossible and the otherworldly. These imagined settings, characters and plots comprise the backdrop for new stories or re-imaginings of existing fables and socio-cultural themes.
When it comes to developing these ideas, great care is given to the “visualization” of these new worlds. When we think of “imagination,” we think of images, and about how we can create this new world in a visual manner. Tremendous energy and creativity is poured into storyboards and animatics, backgrounds and character design. But there is a critical missing element in this process. Worlds, whether real or imagined, are not only of sight, but also of sound. Animation practice too often regards sound as an outcome of what is visibly evident, rather than embracing the unique modes of presentation that the audible produces from these newly invented environments, contexts, cultures and psychological states of being. In this essay I hope to present a means of injecting the sonic into the creative development of animated worlds and the stories that inhabit them. What I propose is a way of conceiving sound that is a shift from the consideration of image reproductions—inherent in motion photography—and toward phenomenological disclosures. This latter approach, I will argue, is more akin to the world-building that is the strength of the animated form. In the process, I will propose the idea that sound is less about adherence to existing objects, and is better conceived ontologically—as a process of producing and reflecting a sense of being through characters interacting within and with a lifeworld.