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Clemens Kogler’s Phonovideo

Austrian student Clemens Kogler just released a new film called Phonovideo which is an intriguing mix of cel-animation that was shot and edited in a really unique process he devised. Clemens has made other short films on his own like Le Grand Content and the award-winning music video Herr Barr. We spoke with him more about the project and the impetus behind the work.

What is this video for? Is Phonovideo a real product?

Phonovideo is a homemade visual tool that allows to display and mix short animations in an analog way without computers etc. It’s a mixture of the phenakistoscope technique from 1832 and turntablism. The basic setup is two turntables, two cameras, a videomixer, some output or recording device and pile of “records” with printed-on animations. You can think of it as an video equivalent to a classic dj-setup. “Stuck in a Groove” is the first film I made with this technique. It serves also as a demonstration video. In the future the main application is to use it for live performances: Visuals etc… It’s more fun to put physical records on records player than to operate a laptop with VJ-software in my opinion. And no it’s not a product you can buy. It’s just an idea to combine some techniques which everybody is free to try out himself.

Explain the production process you used here. The film mentions that no digital effects are used at all. How were all the edits accomplished?

Take a look at the diagram. Hopefully it’s quite clear then. At its heart you have the two turntables in front of you and the cameras recording the animations of the phenakistoscope disc. The cameras route to the videomixer so you can switch between the two sources. You can use the same principle as a dj: while the record on the left is playing you can change the record on the right and vice versa so that you can endlessly display the animations without a break. It also allows you to apply turntable technique like scratching. (But I have to admit that I had quite difficulties doing that in practice. You see, since I’m still a student I relied on borrowed equipment for the first installment. After all an Edirol v440 is a really expensive piece of equipment. So I had only 2 days for “practice”. That’s by the way the reason I didn’t manage to properly show my hands with the credits on the last scene. Although that was quite a bit stupid failure, that was still the best take)

If you don’t already know how the phenakistoscope technique, which is used on the discs, works it’s maybe best to just look it up on Wikipedia. It’s important to say that while the original technique used slits to look through (and later on stroboscope), this project uses the shutter of the camera so you can see the animations only in the camera but not on the device itself. The camera was set to a really high shutter speed and to a lower frame rate of only 12 per seconds because this allows you to use bigger pictures.
The records were mostly designed with After Effects but for some of them it was easier and faster to use a print application. For me it was really interesting and challenging that the phenakistoscope technique has a really unusual frame outline. Instead of the usual rectangle you have a weird pie slice shape. But the fun part is that you can break out of the frame and for example let an object “travel” from one frame to another.

Many of the animated paintings are based on famous album covers that have been altered and re-mixed for the video. And yet the Voice-Over claims that remixes are “mostly worse” than the original. What do you think? Why did you choose to re-interpret the covers for this piece?

Actually, with one exception all of the animated paintings are based on album covers , some more famous than others. The Voice over on this point refers to the quite funny album cover from “The Abbey Road E.P.” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers which is obviously a remix of the classic beatles album cover. I choose to reinterpret the album covers because it made quite sense that for a technique that is an equivalent to mixing audio records to use the record sleeves as an input.

David Wilson’s 2009 music video We’ve Got Time explored the same concept of turntable-based animation, but then randomly yesterday, after I saw your film, I came across another earlier piece, by Jim LeFevre from 2007. Have you seen those? Were there other pieces that were inspirational for you in making this?

I’ve seen the Jim LeFevre piece before I started myself and in my research I found a lot of other experiments with Phenakistoscopes, Praxinoscopes, Zoetropes and other visual toys. And I’ve known the Phenakistoscope since I was a child. I’m from Austria, and I don’t know if you know this, but the phenakistoscope was invented here in 1832 by Simon VonStampfer. (at the same it was also discovered in Belgium) So it’s a big part of the Austrian animation history. Most publications on Austrian animation have it on their cover for example this one.
The Jim Le Fevre piece was still a huge inspiration but the real clever thing about it in my opinion is not that he used a turntable as a device for turning the disc. I’ve seen earlier examples that use record players like this. And I think the reason people use turntables is just a practical choice. It’s just easier to use an old turntable than to build your own rotation device or to use your washing machine, blender, power drill etc.. .. The thing which I really found useful in Jim LeFevres piece was that he used the shutter of his camera instead of using a stroboscope etc.. which is really much more convenient and made my project possible. The thing that sets my piece apart from this previous uses of visual toy concepts is that these are all mostly one big installation which can’t be changed. So while the other pieces mostly concentrate on exploring on stuff like also incorporating the 3rd dimension, which is also really interesting I basically thought: If you use a turntable for doing this why don’t add the thing turntables are made for. It’s quite a simple idea in the end.

It doesn’t seem like you’re scared of experimenting and using techniques that others have “invented” like Javan Ivey’s Stratastencil technique for your Filmriss piece. Obviously, we all build on the work we admire and borrow techniques and methods from each other. Are you at all concerned about “originality” or being labeled as ripping off another artist? I realize this is sort of a loaded question, but here at Motionographer one of the things we see all the time in comments are statements like, “Oh this looks just like X in 2003.” or “Y already did that.” But there’s a reason ideas can’t be copyrighted, and I don’t think everyone fully understands that.

In animation as in every other art form you’re always standing on the shoulder of a giant of the work that has been done before. In Literature and in scientific texts, the importance of a text is judged by how often it is citated in other texts. So, for me, if people would be inspired by a piece of mine and try to create their own version of it I would feel quite honored. Building up on other work is a form of bowing before it. But of course it’s not always that easy. One point that it really is a difference if you’re using a technique or a style and stagnating with it than it is really “a bad remix” like the songs on these horribly talent shows. So I see a responsibility to add something new, to see it in a different, personal angle. For me it’s a constant challenge. I try to incorporate more and more of my own personality and style with every project but sometimes I am more happy with the outcome than other times, after all I’m still a student (I’m in my last year) and I see myself on the beginning of something and not on the end. Also money is also quite a crucial point I really feel uneasy when I see highly polished productions by big agencies where I know that it is based on a small thing which has somewhere appeared on the internet. But I don’t know, I don’t believe that it’s possible to define some rules or guidelines of what is ok and what goes to far. Maybe it’s good that it’s a constant topic on places like Motionographer, ’cause it is a line you constantly have to redraw, even if these comments can be really annoying.

Great, thanks Clemens! Look forward to seeing more work from you. Good luck with Phonovideo!

Posted on 26 April 2010 |


One thought on “Clemens Kogler’s Phonovideo

  1. Really great stuff, love the VJ application. Can I point you towards my own ongoing experiments along the same lines – http://www.retchy.com/pages/project_zoetrope.html – also inspired by Mr LeFevre. I had also planned originally to incorporate the technique into my live visuals, but haven’t got around to figuring out exactly how to do it yet.