A systemic functional approach to the analysis of animation in film opening titles

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NO FULL TEXT AVAILABLE. This thesis contains 3rd party copyright material. ----- This research presents a theoretical exploration of animation and meaning in Film Opening Titles (FOT). Animation is like a language with resources organised functionally to create meanings in a determined context. The primary focus of this project was to investigate how designers express ideas and experiences with animation. Kress and van Leeuwen’s 'grammar of visual images’ has been applied to a ‘grammar of animation’ on the basis of a detailed study of American film titles. Although film and design have been analysed by film theorists and designers, there has been little semiotic research into film titles, animation, meaning and graphic design. Social semioticians have studied such diverse areas as sound, arts, architecture, film, advertising, graphic design but not animation. In multimodal analysis of advertisement (Bauldry and Thibault) and websites (van Leeuwen), movement and meaning are considered only peripherally. There are no in-depth academic studies of the way animated film titles construct meaning. Animation as a signifying device in motion graphics is not well understood: designers work intuitively. The differences between traditional animation and motion graphics are not clearly defined and this field of research lacks a systematized vocabulary. This thesis has four aims: to develop an analytical approach to animation, combining social semiotics and design methods; to develop a vocabulary for animation and motion design; to describe the semiotics of animation resources which designers use in communication and to explain animation through Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL), specifically the ideational metafunction. The initial phase of the research, presented in Chapter 4, comprised a case study analysis of four film opening title sequences by an American designer Kyle Cooper. In initial observations the transcription elements were assembled, the main goal being to identify which elements were animated in FOT. To assist the cinematic, real time playing analysis, a multimodal (printed) transcription of the credits was developed, based on the work of Baldry and Thibault. The next phase involved a historical survey of other titles, tracing movement and editing techniques in FOT from the birth of cinema to the 1950s (Chapter 1). Together with the meticulous analysis of the four study case film opening titles sequences in Chapter 4, this formed the foundation of a much broader system, an animation/change resources system presented in the following chapter (Chapter 5). Chapter 5 defines animation as a concept consisting of not only movement (change of place) but also changes of luminance and form. It presents the animation/change resources system as a system of options, consisting of ‘elements and changes’, which are the structural components, or ‘lexicon’ of animation. Elements and changes are the equivalent of nouns and verbs in verbal languages. The ‘grammar’ of animation thus combines elements and changes to realize ‘animated’ experiential statements. The final chapter (Chapter 6) describes in SFL terms how these structural resources are organized functionally to represent human ideas and experiences, so constituting the experiential metafunction of a language. A Transitivity System of Animation has been developed based on Halliday’s transitivity theory. These resources are seen as realisations of the three semiotic categories of process, participant and circumstances. Like Halliday’s transitivity system consisting of static and dynamic processes and Kress and van Leeuwen’s grammar of visual design involving conceptual and narrative processes, the Transitivity System of Animation considers two broad types of processes. Transformational processes are related to ‘being’; Actional processes to ‘doing’. The new system is described showing how Participants and processes relate to form meaningful wholes. In conclusion it is shown how content and expression planes combine to express meaning; and how animation can be successfully described as a language with a lexicon and a grammar, instances and meanings. This study is an example of a research approach drawing on both practical film title design and theoretical social semiotics. This collaborative approach could be applied to similar investigations in related fields, such as TV and web design. The results disclosed that presenting animation as a signifying resource and translating the intuitive work of designers into a more systematic form has the potential to improve design, both practical and theoretical.
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