Plato Stole My Key Frame

Paul Harrison

{Animation & Public Engagement Symposium – Bradford Animation Festival, National Media Museum Bradford, Organised with the The Animation Academy, Loughborough. (2014) – I met so many people at this event it was amazing :)}

To begin let’s start with a question why has Plato stolen my key frame, and how is this relevant to the topic we are here to discuss? The public’s engagement with animation does not necessarily have to be an overly complex relationship. However this is before an ancient Greek’s thought compels us to re-think animation’s connection with it’s public. We are all familiar with his name, or more accurately the name he chose for himself. Plato was actually born as Aristocles and chose Plato because of his broad appearance and the breadth of his thinking [1]. Here in this account rests an explanation as to why Plato has stolen my key frame. Plato nicked this important image to remind us that appearances are potentially an illusion. Yes, Plato one of the first people to be deeply concerned with the forms things take, the man who would ban the artist and painter from his ideal city because they engage in mimicry. With their attempts at representation they distort and deceive, when waiting for a viewer to trap.

Well this information seems to be both counter-intuitive and counter productive to the discussion we are having today. Animation is undoubtedly an art form that has relied on both a painterly and deceptive quality of practice or creation. This can be seen as self evident in a powerful and accurate description I am found of using. ‘Animation is the creation of the illusion of movement through drawing.’ So here I believe Plato would start if he was here with us, to become more agreeable to the aims of this gathering. One believes that Plato’s lasting legacy compels us to alter the aforementioned definition of animation. So we can see the formal elements that the public potentially use to engage with animation with more clarity. In this way, in my suggestion the descriptive sentence alters into this:

‘Animation is the realisation of the illusion of movement through dialogue.’

So the words ‘creation’ and ‘drawing’ become ‘realisation’ and ‘dialogue’ when appeasing Plato. Why does this make Plato happy? The changes have such a positive affect because he himself was a student of Socrates, and a product of his teachers method. A route which used dialogue to attain realisation through debate, this path has been known since antiquity as the dialectic. Seeing that we are at a symposium it makes complete sense to demonstrate the importance of dialectical qualities in animation as a vessel for realising illusionary movements. To demonstrate this in Plato’s Symposium we are greeted with a re-telling of a discussion between Socrates and five or six other people on Love as a god. After you move through the homoerotic sections of speech on what qualities a younger man needs to have, in order to be a good lover. Then we reach an interesting depiction of the creation of the human form, traits, and characteristics. The words of Aristophanes offer this strange creationist account of where we come from. Zeus has grown tired of the behaviour of the first humans after they attempted to climb up to heaven to attack the gods. Quoting Zeus’s words portray a rather ‘public’ humanity. It’s a rather cartooned account of the malleability of our appearance. Making one wonder or ponder, if this perspective on human form, has more affinity. With the stance of a creator or the created?

‘I think I have a plan by which human beings could still exist but be too weak to carry out their wild behaviour. I shall now cut each of them into two; they will be weaker and also more useful to us because there will be more of them. They will walk around upright on two legs. If we think they’re still acting outrageously, and they won’t settle down, I’ll cut them in half again so that they move around hopping
on one leg [2].’

Surely we should reference an animation to decipher why we should not be fearful of this ‘cutting in half’. Precisely because animation already exists between forms, just like there is something between ignorance and wisdom[ 3. Ibid, p.47.]. This should be self evident and under no doubt, the problem we have is understanding the form this art takes, when such a large part of it is formless. Let us now watch the animation Tango (1980) by Polish animator Zbigniew Rybczyński. A film which one believes offers a way of opening the problem up by viewing the humorous historical past, in the contemporary future […] One first glimpsed this animation placed as just one of the many masterful examples of this art form. In the Barbican exhibition Watch Me Move, one did just that and watched Rybczyński’s magic unfold before one’s eyes[ Greg Hilty and Alona Pardo, Watch Me Move The Animation Show, Barbican, Merrel London/New York, p.184, (2011). ]. It not only made this speaker’s obsession reach unpreventable depths. Another thing this film does as you have seen is that it portrays a vast range of human forms, all in motion, all existing under one roof. In this singular locality the plurality of forms present bear more than a remarkable resemblance to what’s philosophically known as the Third Man Argument. Rather than bore you and lose time on mulling over what the correct interpretation of this is. I’d rather offer a definition and opinion that arose when flirting with philosophy.



Defining the argument as simply as possible T.M.A is the problem of having a singular definition of some form (F). When in fact this creates an immediate contradiction where to have the singular you need a plurality. A person can only define the form of a human in relation or next to another human form, which then needs another form to validate itself. My interpretation of the importance of this to a public engagement in animation, is that it brings into sharp focus, the pieces we have on today’s chess board. The T.M.A and Tango show the graceful intertwined dance that the essential notions such as causality, and humour. Share in both the animated and philosophised rooms we are walking through today. So in animation do we need to stress about the ad infinitum aspect that this platonic argument gives rise to? As it is validating animation’s existence; putting it in another way, on a gestural level. The essence of animation is both one of infinity or infinite possibilities. Where nothing is impossible and everything is at the mercy of humour. If ever there was something that demonstrated the insignificance of relying on a formal singular definition to construct meaning it is humour. Humour as a construct is very important in breaking through the institutional subconscious of control. That is always latent and fully present in attempting to enforce one definition or limit.
Humour an absurd dualistic thing, it oscillates dependent on the viewer, yet remains unifying.

Tango is mainly humorous in the absurdity and range of the sequences available within the animated room (imagine this occurring in your bedroom or living room?). Whilst, one can observe truly absurd animation’s in the antiquity of ancient Greece. Staying with the T.M.A you glimpse the logic of one’s opinion in that animations humour and it’s numinous essence. Are what any public will immediately freely associate with, so if we wan’t to increase engagement, in one’s opinion we should immediately forgo and denounce all stationary definitions of animation. We should adopt a tactic which successfully embarrassed Plato, for that is what Diogenes of Sinope did, when he arrived in ancient Greece after defacing currency. There exist many account’s that relate to this cynic’s animated attempts to get his public to think about how they live. From walking around in the middle of the day with a lamp and looking for an honest man[5]. To the moment when Plato was left red faced after confidently announcing to the world via the Academy, that man is a ‘featherless two legged being’. After hearing this Diogenes rushed to grab a chicken, plucked it’s feathers, and brought it into Plato’s school. After this event Plato’s definition was altered adding ‘with broad flat nails’, so we have here an example of the importance of a fluid understanding of animation.

So one feels like I have discussed the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of the public engaging with animation. This fluidity or plasticity is what has driven both the production and consumption of this diverse form of art. It should be our duty to allow our thought’s to move toward understanding the illusions we create, not devaluing them with notion’s of property, with ownership via knowledge. Another way one would choose to express this particular sentiment is by saying that, ‘you wouldn’t squander the work of the Warner Bros animator Chuck Jones by turning the river of movement in his work into a drab stationary puddle’. How then can one understand this practical aspect of the symposium today? Well, embracing the topics one has already mentioned is a start. Yet I find myself drawn to Language and the work of one little known philosopher (one last philosophical reference). Ludwig Wittgenstein is often thought of as an anti-philosopher, he only wrote one book, which finished with a puzzling statement.

Wittgenstein suggested ‘Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent[6 ].’ a seemingly truthful simple suggestion. However this demand has a context and that is this philosopher’s hell bent obsession to understand truth, what is true, here in the immediate present? Is his question in the only book he published during his life the Tractatus. In this text he discusses thought as logic and spawns the ‘verification principle’, using the analogy that logic is a picture of the world. So you have actual reality and a picture of reality and if you can get them to line up then this is true according to Wittgenstein. Now you may be thinking this is just one reiterating problems of definition, and you could be forgiven for adopting this opinion. Especially when you look at the contents of this text, as this example demonstrates:

‘This perhaps explains that the figure




can be seen in two ways as a cube; and all similar phenomena. For we really
see two different facts. (If I fix my eyes first on the corners a and only glance
at b, a appears in front and b behind, and vice versa.)

5.552 The “experience” which we need to understand logic is not that such
and such is the case, but that something is; but that is no experience.
Logic precedes every experience – that something is so.
It is before the How, not before the What[7].’

However Wittgenstein offers us a unique thing to consider because humorously after publishing this book and his thinking. He immediately dismissed it instead turning to language in his posthumously published work Philosophical Investigations[8]. Where his work in what he called ‘language games’ and using the phrase ‘language gone on holiday’, attempted to dissolve the habit of philosophy to use words out of context. This makes me wonder if animation like language and philosophy to an extent is always self referential? One doubt’s that it is and to demonstrate my opposition to this whilst also concluding how one would choose to engage with animation as a potential member of it’s public. One would choose to focus on how open animation is in it’s ability to push all forms of language into new and uncharted territories, that are potentially outside of matter?

We have to continuously create new language for animation.


  1. Diogenes Laertius, Life of Plato, IV
  2. Plato, The Symposium, Trans: Christopher Gill & Desmond Lee, Penguin Books, London, p.27-28, (2005)
  3. Ibid.
  4. Greg Hilty and Alona Pardo, Watch Me Move The Animation Show, Barbican, Merrel London/New York, p.184, (2011).
  5. Laërtius & Hicks 1925, Ⅵ:41
  6. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Cosimo, New York, p.108, (2007)
  7. Ibid, p86.
  8. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, Blackwell, Oxford, (1967) .

A section of Alexander Pope’s “Essay On Man”

(beautiful part of a great poem)

“In vain, in vain-the all-composing hour
Resistless falls: the Muse obeys the pow’r.
She comes! She comes! The sable throne behold
Of Night primeval and of Chaos old!
Before her, fancy’s gilded clouds decay,
And all its varying rainbows die away.
Wit shoots in vain its momentary fires,
The meteor drops, and in a flash expires.
As one by one, at dread Medea’s strsin,
The sick’ning stars fade off th’ ethereal plain;
As Argues’ eyes by Hermes’ wand opprest,
Closed one by one to everlasting rest;
Thus at her felt approach, and secret might,
Art after art goes out, and all is night,
See skulking Truth to her old cavern fled,
Mountains of casuistry heaped o’er her head!
Philosophy, that leaned on Heaven before,
Shrinks to her second cause, and is no more.
Physic of metaphysic begs defence,
And metaphysic calls for aid on sense!
See mystery to mathematics fly!
In vain! They gaze, turn giddy, rave, and die.
Religion blushing veils her sacred fires,
And unawares morality expires.
Nor public flame, nor private, dares to shine,
Nor human spark is left, nor glimpse divine!
Lo! Thy dread empire, chaos! Is restored;
Light does before thy uncreating word;
Thy hand, great Anarch! Lets the curtain call,
And universal darkness buries all.