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Computer Animation : Artistic Flair Lacking In Video Exhibit

September 03, 1986|ROBERT McDONALD

LA JOLLA — Young people are flocking to the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art in impressive numbers. Last weekend, groups of 300 to 400 appeared two and even three times a day. They came not for paintings in the galleries, however, but for a computer animation exhibition in Sherwood Hall.

The target audience for the show, organizer Steven Churchill said, was the 18- to 24-year-old range. And he appears to have been right on target. But there were a few younger and older citizens in attendance. There should be more mature attendees, however, especially those interested in the culture of the future. Without their interest, computer animation will remain a dazzling technical achievement barren of artistic content.

The 20 works exhibited were the personal selections of Churchill, who is director-manager of Odyssey Visual Design, a San Diego firm among whose many credits are logos for several local television stations. Having attended many computer animation shows, he wanted, as a curator, "to avoid standard animation, to organize an art show focusing on content rather than on hardware."

To realize his purpose, he transferred many pieces from videotape to film to create "a more powerful and theatrical presentation." One of the delights of the exhibition is seeing the works in large scale on a film screen with an interested and enthusiastic audience.

As an exhibition that aspires to be artistic, however, it falls short. Its range is too broad, including, as it does, segments of cutesy butterflies and flowers a la Walt Disney's "Fantasia."

Even the monsters of Pacific Data Images' "Chromosaurus," for all they represent technically, are far less impressive than the hand-drawn creatures of the Stravinsky "Rite of Spring" segment of "Fantasia" or even the original "King Kong," with all its clunkiness. The new mechano-monsters are simply too elegant to inspire either fear or awe. Perhaps robots would enjoy watching them and experience tremors of computerized apprehension. The illusion of movement in three dimensions is awesome, but it does not perforce touch the soul.

The aesthetic represented by most of the works is about on the level found in most La Jolla galleries, visual fluff for the tourist market. Like television, they offer passive predictable pleasure rather than emotional engagement and intellectual challenges. Not one of them is equal to a significant painting.

The problem with computer animation as an art form is that, although the medium is of our time, the artistic vision of its creators is retarded by at least 20 years. Perhaps genius has no chance to express itself in a socialized mode of production. (One credit for a piece lasting perhaps a total of five minutes listed nearly 100 names.)

It is, moreover, a continuing problem in our culture that those who are technically proficient and commercially successful are often artistically backward, while professional artists are hindered from obtaining the means to realize their visions.

In addition, the musical scores are egregiously bad, not even equal to the mediocrity of television. There is a dreadful synthesized, soulless sameness to it. Perhaps the most inappropriate was a kind of happy burbling that accompanied what appeared to be one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse performing his destructive function.

Despite these caveats, there are examples of real brilliance. Not surprisingly, one from Hollywood, a segment from Paramount Pictures Corp.'s "Young Sherlock Holmes" in which a stained-glass armored knight leaps from his gothic window and attacks a verger. Another was Digital Productions' "Hard Woman" with Mick Jagger. It not only skillfully combines human and computer-created characters in an artistic visual and musical presentation, but it engages the viewer in its narrative content. It bears repeated viewings.

"Quest--A Long Ray's Journey into Light: Fairplay" by Apollo Computer is also engrossing because of the exceptional amount of simultaneously occurring visual activity, its dynamic three-dimensional movement and its suggestion of a story line.

Canned food and Hawaiian Punch advertisements, for all of their brevity and commerciality, also evince artistic merit.

As a total presentation, the exhibition is like an anthology of snippets, with no introduction or explanatory notes. Some prepared comments before and at intervals during the filmings would have created a context for greater appreciation of the technical, if not the artistic, achievement of the many people involved in the production of the works.

Still, the show is an important educational and cultural event.

It continues Fridays through Sundays through Sept. 14.

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