Animation Today – brunch with the authors on 7 March 2020 at MSU introduces the topic of animation in the context of multimedia and videogames. Petra Zlonoga talks with Darko Masnec.
As part of the exhibition “From Imagination to Animation: Six Decades of Zagreb Film,” on 7 March 2020 at high noon, AM Centre in collaboration with MSU Zagreb schedules a talk on the topic of animation in the context of multimedia and videogames.
How animated film influences videogames and vice versa while popular aesthetics penetrates high art and vice versa, was revealed to us by Darko Masnec in a talk with animator Petra Zlonoga.
When we speak of multimedia, animation is an essential part of the discussion, not only in the context of an author’s work, but also its influence and formation of audio-visual activities in general.
Through a talk on his own artistic creation, Darko Masnec presented his perspective of deliberating animation, and how it acts in the context of authorial animated film, videogames, and gallery space.
As part of the interest in artistic research of the videogame medium and interactivity, Masnec explained the manner in which the authorial and artistic procedures that characterise Zagreb School of Animated Films (ZŠCF) and modernism act in a medium such as videogames.
Videogames relate to animated film with the classical understanding of the function and process of animation, fine art, and sound, as well as of the narrative techniques from film and literature. Save for aesthetic features, key elements are also the commercial and technological links within creative economy, i.e., popular culture, which indicate increasingly strong mutual influences between said media.
The situation on the videogame market is quite similar to the one of animated film at the moment of founding ZŠCF: a saturated market ruled by canons established by popular industry. ZŠCF showed that such market is open to artistic experimenting and new approaches.
Questions arise thereby, e.g., on the meaning of authorship and/or artistry in videogame space. Animated film influences videogames, videogames influence film, popular aesthetics penetrates high art and vice versa. In the authorial sense, the new logic of production and flow of information requires the seeking of a niche.
The following is part of the talk held at the exhibition space of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb (MSU).
Interview with Darko Masnec
- How did you decide to study in Maribor and how was this experience for you, how did it form you?
I enrolled in the study programme in Maribor after I had failed to enrol in the study programme at Ljubljana’s Academy of Fine Arts and Design (ALUO). I knew I wanted to engage in art, so Maribor was my next choice. I planned to try again in Ljubljana after a year of studying in Maribor, but I eventually decided to complete my studies in Maribor.
This experience has proven to be extremely essential. On the one hand, I met colleagues from my class with whom I am still in contact, and their influences were overwhelmingly positive; on the other hand, the study programme itself was not narrowly specialised, which opened up to me space for exploring different techniques and possibilities, including those of animated film, for which I initially opted in collaboration with my colleagues, and then independently.
The time I spent there actually helped me realise what I was interested in the most, which was naturally also accompanied by some crises and self-questioning.
- What is your experience at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb as a student? What are your impressions of collaboration with your colleagues?
Again, similarly as in Maribor, collaboration with colleagues is one of the most important aspects of studying in my opinion. Mutual communication, stimulation, discussions and the like were extremely important. I was fortunate enough to have been part of an extremely tight-knit generation, and my friendships with colleagues from Zagreb have lasted until today.
I think I also managed to make good use of my studies in Zagreb, since I had been somewhat older than my colleagues when I arrived from Maribor. A few years’ difference in your twenties does count for something; I was ready to work with a clearer idea of the direction I wanted to take. Naturally, with such knowledge, the artistic (authorial) orientation provided by our Academy also suited me quite well.
Darko Masnec “I Already Know What I Hear”(2012.)
The idea of the film was to show the impossibility of communication between characters through coarse lines that indicate the materiality of the work process. I integrated in the film all errors in animation during production, as I sought to see the ways in which animation could be ‘fragmentised’. In terms of style, there is influence of ZŠCF, i.e., in the types of gags and focuses on the characters and the interplay with their dialogue.
- How did you decide to enter into doctoral studies, and how did you find collaboration with your mentor?
Doctoral studies were one of the requirements for the project I entered as a research fellow under the guidance of Professor Joško Marušić. The general framework of the subject was more or less prescribed, but there was plenty of space within it to make certain connections, i.e., to do research work. I think that my mentor and I understood each other excellently; initially, he directed me towards the right people and helped me to set the direction of the doctoral course. Later, I included in my doctorate the aspect of videogames, which somewhat began to impose itself organically considering the subject itself, and I was completely supported by my mentor therein. I think that we had high mutual confidence.
- “ZŠCF – Artistic and Commercial Practices in Videogame Context” – How did you connect these two subjects?
The principal idea was to examine the connection between market and art within ZŠCF. What happened and how, why is commerciality important for art and vice versa, does this necessarily have to be conflicted dichotomy, etc.
On the other hand, videogames impose themselves as a relatively young medium that is convenient for authorial research, artistic experimenting, etc. This is something that has been in process for a while now, and also it is not very difficult to see aesthetic connections between animated film and videogames.
- Main doctoral thesis and conclusion
As I have already mentioned, commercialism and art have more connections than it is visible at first glance. The Zagreb School is an ideal example of this – an aesthetics that adopts certain avantgarde techniques and applies to them certain classical elements.
There is also a whole question of finances, of film production in general. Videogames are a medium saturated by the commercial aspect, and are often perceived as a frivolous medium, or as one that is intended exclusively for children (we have a similar problem with animated film); however, they have the same potential, i.e., the possibility to be treated in this modernist manner that combines the classical and the avantgarde. The result could be an artistic/authorial videogame.
Videogame “Makh” (2017.)
“Makh” builds on the aesthetics of previous works, whereby here the glitches become more digital, not only productional.
We lead the character through a series of situations through which we increasingly develop him, while the rules of the game become increasingly clear. The point is to explore an abstract world and to toy with set rules. In the end, the character whom we helped form returns to the world as its part.
- Videogames as a form of art – disadvantages and advantages; what are the criteria according to which you would classify (categorise) videogames as art?
This is obviously a difficult question. To answer it would mean being capable of defining art in general, which is not possible since art is fluid and a question of consensus. It must be formed continually so as to be what it is.
At this moment, I would say that the most provocative, experimental and different titles would emerge from an authorial or indie aspect that would deviate in something from the principal mainstream industry. Whether it be in the mechanics, aesthetics, or the narrative.
- When comparing the art scene of videogames and their mainstream scene – in which direction does this correlation go?
It goes primarily in the direction of opening market niches and channelling finances in this direction. Here we then have the possibilities of collaboration, the growth of individual capacities, productions, etc.
If making a film is hard, it is even harder to make an equivalent videogame.
- What is the Croatian context of all of this, where are we when we speak of this area?
The market definitely develops and exists in Croatia. For example, “The Talos Principle” by Croteam stands out as an interesting game that has more of an indie feel and poses interesting questions as to how we define consciousness – this is where the story deviates the most. There are more and more study programmes in Croatia that are engaged in quite diverse videogame profiles, and it should be encouraged without fail.
- What are the benefits of videogames?
I think this question is best posed to psychiatrists and neuroscience. Speaking offhand, benefits have been ascertained for eye-body coordination, improvement of memory, development of mental abilities, etc. If gameplaying is the key element of human (and animal) development, as it can simulate reality and therefore prepare organisms for life, then videogames probably have a kind of potential in this direction.
- What is your position on proclaiming videogame addiction a legitimate addiction that is treated like every other? (Scientists believe that games from the MMORPG group [Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games] such as Call of Duty and World of Warcraft are the most addictive and the most significant potential factor of addictiveness to videogames.)
I think this is entirely legitimate. Any activity that provides an adrenaline rush has the potential to become addictive, and this should be treated seriously. After all, people can be addicted to gambling and this mechanism is also quite similar to many mobile videogames, which are for example much less regulated. Thereby I think that often, people are not to be blamed for such things, it is often the exploitation of weaknesses in the human psyche, we all have them.
It would be better to raise the question as to how the videogames with such potential are to be regulated, and which practices in the development of such games can be considered malicious.
- Educational moments in videogames, are there any and if so, what are they?
I would say their number is infinite.
For example, the videogame “Democracy” simulates political processes and helps students to understand democracy. “Foldit“, which can be played by anybody online, helps scientists to discover new ways of protein stacking. This videogame has already resulted in many discoveries that are useful for science; the hours spent gaming translate into a form of work that is more efficient than many other powerful simulation models. This is an interesting area of gaming and work overlapping, a subject of which it would be useful to talk, and a lot at that.
- What are your experiences with videogame workshops? Should there exist specialised education?
It should certainly exist, there is considerable interest. Academy of Dramatic Arts (ADU), ALU, Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing (FER), Faculty of Organisation and Informatics (FOI), and School of Design currently collaborate on this, and we hope to soon have an undergraduate study programme dedicated to just that.
Videogame / instalation “Bylka” (2017.)
“Bylka” is a simple game conceptually-wise, albeit perhaps the most complex in terms of logic and setup. At every running of the game, a random combination of elements is generated, which constitutes a unique herbal composition. In short, the player gradually learns of an individual plant and influences its appearance through 5 characteristics that affect one another. The player can make a screenshot at any time, as a kind of digital herbarium.
It is interesting to see how artificial nature can look more beautiful and alluring than the real thing – it is here that I find a play with visual art forms that are not plants, but are rather its symbols, and yet they carry a unique, i.e., their own appeal.
Videogame / instalation “Navigator B” (2020.)
“Navigator B” is my attempt at capturing the feel of a summer’s day, gazing at the empty, flat sky – which, on the other hand, is infinitely deep. Balloons with baskets are slowly floating in this space. They are passive objects that are difficult to control. Paradoxically, however – I, on the other hand, put them in a position in which they can be controlled by the player. Thereby I compel the player into certain gaming frameworks that are not as relaxed as usual, but again carry certain pleasure of decision-making.
- What is the difference between videogame production and that of film? In the sense of the creative part of project elaboration / production itself / placement. WHAT ARE YOUR NEXT PROJECTS?
It is not unthinkable that a studio works on both projects at the same time. There are more similarities than differences in many aspects, but of course, the mechanics does its bit, and this is the element that separates videogames from films.
The question of simulation of an object is a whole other matter, and requires the work of people who are experts in this. In any case, you have programmers. So, depending on the project, it can be almost entirely similar, and it can also be radically different.
My next project will be an animated film, and I have no idea what comes next, we shall see.
Organisation and suport
The project is organised by AM Centre as part of the programme Animation Today, and with collaborative support by the Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb. The project is funded by the Croatian Film Directors’ Guild, the City of Zagreb, the Croatian Audiovisual Centre, and the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Croatia.