Saturday, December 27, 2008


How many people I wonder, have spent a fair bit of the Christmas holiday watching the television or playing computer games as opposed to reading? How many have taken video footage of their family unwrapping presents as opposed to photos that catch just a moment in time? With the technology we have in our hands now, I wouldn't be surprised that most people have been watching / taking some form of animated image over the holiday. Even the way we display our 'still' photos on the computer or on digital photo frames becomes an animated process via 'slideshows' where even the transition from one image to another is animated.

Animations - chimneyAnimations - santa in sled

Which of the images above holds your gaze the longest?

Are we really surprised that the majority are more stimulated by a moving image than a static one? Why? We have amazing works of art all around us from paintings to architecture, man-made sculptures to nature's own, we visit and look, ponder and exclaim on the skill of the creator and then move on, but the minute something moves it captures our attention and holds us there so much more. Would we really look at a painting for an hour or more?

Film, the moving image is a huge testament to this, and with the coming of the digital age, computer graphics and special effects allow us to see things in motion that we were only able to imagine previously. The 'dreaded' powerpoint presentation is a common example of how we seem to prefer to watch things move instead of static images. The times I have watched text, bullet point and goodness knows what else animate in from the left, right top or spiral out and zoom away. The audience is no longer looking at the presenter but at the presentation, wondering what it will do next.

So why does the moving image capture our attention so much more than a still image? Is it because we are intrigued as to what will happen next? Whether it will fall in line with our expectation or unfold the story we have imposed upon it? The moving image (animation) brings things to life helping to create a story that we can follow however short.

Evidence of this is seen in the following quote from James Robinson's article in the Guardian's TV Ratings page on 26th December:

'The BBC trounced ITV in the Christmas Day ratings war, with an average audience of 14.3 million tuning to watch BBC1's Wallace and Gromit film A Matter of Loaf and Death, the highest rating of any TV show all year.
The specially commissioned 30-minute episode of the Nick Park animated drama recorded an audience share of 53.3% last night, 25 December, according to unofficial overnight figures.'

Wallace and Gromit film A Matter of Loaf and Death drew 14.3 million viewers to BBC1. Photograph: Aardman/BBC

Why was this the most watched program on Christmas Day? Why are the stories of Wallace and Grommet so intriguing - is it the cleverness of the way it is put together, or the suspense of the story? This type of animation is probably the most relevant in highlighting the still versus moving image theory above. Stop frame animation - if we were to view only the static frames as individual images, we would become bored as there would be far too many images for us to take in, so we would move on. But process all those images into an animated sequence and it becomes immediately more appealing, easy to watch and assimilate. Rendering a computer animation into individual frames amounts to the same thing - understanding the story as individual frames is nowhere near as easy than watching them once pinned all together.

Is it the possible story that is about to unfold that holds our attention or purely the 'moving' aspect? Are we looking at an image and subconciously, or even consciously, creating a tale that we can then assimilate and learn by? Do our brains take information on board much more easily via a story that is being told by a sequence of images or from pages of text, or even the way it is told?

For instance, the funniest comedians (for me anyway) are the ones that relate observations, tales from everyday life that they replay in a different format which then become immediately hilarious. The comedian knows that we will recognise the observed stories in ourselves or in people around us and if related in an exaggerated way, with gestures and over emphasis, we will find it amusing. Once again, is it the story or the 'animated' telling that hits the button, or the way it is told?

This has always intrigued me and hopefully through observed research into the use of The Talking Walls pilot application at Beaulieu Abbey, I aim to discover more about our perception of the way people learn and assimilate information through images.