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Movement and Expression Metamorphosis of motion into lines

Niklas Worisch Language of the image 2015

Movement and Expression Metamorphosis of motion into lines

INTRO This booklet treats the topic of motion and expression symbols used in line drawings, comics and animations of middle Europe. After explaining the fascination and the advantages of the “created image”, the different possibilities this type of illustration gives to enhance and define the viewers interpretation or imagination more will be described. Starting with explaining the importance of antropomorphology & physiognomonia to underline feelings in a character we will focus on a the variety of onomatopoeia and expression symbols in narrative publications and how they can differ from artist to artist. Finally the term motion line and the connection between the usage and styles of motion and expression symbols in context to the physical equation of motion will be defined. Next to questioning and presuming where these symbols historically derive from, and what they are connected to, you will find specific examples that underline the different usages of those techniques. 

THE DOODLE Be it a doodle or a masterpiece, in caves or on the computer, humans create images and use them as a form of communication. The line drawing is the simplest form of creating a visualisation. This form of visualisation has been used since tens of thousands of years. Some of the most famous drawings are from the European Upper Palaeolithic. They were manufactured between 40 and 12,000 years ago. If an image is completely created - by painting, posing or editing - it gives more possibility for specific exaggeration and denotation. Therefore it can define the viewers interpretation or imagination more. Maybe we can even find or interprete motion lines into cave paintings or Aegyptian hyroglyphes, because they are logically concludable. But when line drawings started to develop from sequential drawings to in comicsm the motion lines and expression symbols started to appear. This book tries to talk about the different factors that influenced the origin of comics and the phenomenom of creating symbols for motion and emotion.

“Inspiration produces imagination. Imagination processes the received inspiration and impression and can be output into an expression. This expression can be a drawing that communicates the impression of the creator to the recipient.�

ANTHROPOMORPHISM The first impression of a person can tell much. Where does he come from? What does he do? What is he wearing? Even how he is wearing an object or a clothespiece can really define the idea of the character that is conveyed. The amount of information we receive about a character or person defines what we know about it or him. “Quick as a fox”, “fit as a fiddle”, “elegant like a gazelle”. These expressions and descriptions in language are no coincidence. They relate closely to the use of antropomorphism. In former sequential art - like seen on the Trajan’s Column - ideas are expressed and stories are being told, by combining related images, like on a timeline. This image language can be seen as a precursor of contemporary sequential arts like comics or caricatures. Creators started to work in additional visual information and text to convey even more information. Movements, emotions and expressions started beeing abstracted into lines and symbols. At the same time, distortion or scaling of objects, bodyparts or facial features were used, to influence the perception of the viewer even more. Artists started to develop creatures to embed metaphors and to emphasise and exaggerate human characteristics. “A person appears. A character. His arms seem like they are almost not attached to his shoulders as he swings them alongside his short, blown up upper body. Suddenly he begins to whistle and to sing. His beautiful low voice accompanies him down the street. “

Trajan’s Column, Rome 113 AD

Milo Winter illustration of the Wind

John Tenniel’s depiction of an anthropomorphic rabbit in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s in Wonderland

PHYSIOGNOMY Physiognomy notions of the relationship between an individual’s outward appearance and inner character are historically ancient, and occasionally appear in early Greek poetry. “Physiognomy - judging or interpreting of nature” is the analysis of a persons character or personality from his or her outer appearance, especially the face. The term can also refer to the general appearance of an object or a terrain, without reference to its implied characteristics. In the Middle Ages, the concept of physiognomy and therefore the believe that there exists a close individual connection of persons characteristics and their facial resemblance to a specific animal was widely accepted and practiced. Leonardo da Vinci dismissed physiognomy in the early 16th century as “false”, with the reason that it would have no scientific foundation. Still this practice can be used to visualise the characteristics of a person or creature more defined.

Giambattista Della Porta, De humana physiognomonia, 1586

ONOMATOPOEIA Another way to support motion, emotion and expression into a line drawing is the Onomatopoeia. An Onomatopoeia is a word that phonetically imitates, resembles, visualises and suggests a sound. It translates sounds and noises into writing and typography. They kind of font, size, coloring and distortion of the typography can define and characterize the sound more precisely. Onomatopoeias can differ from one language to another. In the English language for example, the onomatopoeia for a common duck sound is “quack”, while a French duck does “coin”, a Romanian duck “mak”. An Icelandic duck would “bra”, while an Latvian duck would “pēk”. This can be also applied to other sounds, like swallowing, splashing or a collision. The typography of the language is also defining the look of the onomatopoeia. Exclaimation or question marks can be turned upside down or placed at the front and at the back of a sound like for example in Spanish. The visual vocabulary of onomatopoeias is infinite. It can be individualy extended by the invention of new words or lettermixtures, related to the interpretation of the creator. “?Katabakatabuuuuotz!!?”

HISTORY OF THE MOTION LINE It was 1837 when the a Swiss schoolteacher and caricaturist Rodolphe Töpffer published the book “Histoire de M. Vieux Bois”. Each page of the book had one to six captioned cartoon panels with text under them. This illustrated book, can be seen as the earliest European comic. Töpffer was already using motion lines and expression symbols within his work and it was around that time when caricaturists and painters in Europe started to use motion lines and expression symbols more frequently. An exact date of origin of the motion line is hard to define. But it was around 1800 to 1850 when the motion line started to appear frequently and datable on the drawing boards of illustrators and caricaturists.

Rudolphe Töpffer, 1838

“Hans guck in die Luft” falls into the pond illustration from Heinrich Hoffmann, 1845

THE CROSSHATCH The crosshatch can be seen as another origin of the motion line. Ultimately used to define light and shadow within a drawing, artist started to use this technique to define also a direction of the moving subject. A good example is Wilhelm Busch is using a combination of crosshatch and motion lines in his illustrations for “Max & Moritz” in 1865.

Illustration fromWilhelm for Max & Moritz, 1865

When closely looking on the political caricature “The plumb pudding in danger” from James Gillray, it is already possible to recognise the phenomenom of the motion line in 1805.

“The plumb pudding in danger”, political caricature James Gillray, 1805

WATER AND SMOKE In 1876, Adolf Oberlander created the illustration “une histoire de pompier “ in which a man’s sleeping hat, catches fire on his night-candle. The “pompier” does not notice this occurence, and continues his night rituals. While his hat is slightly burning and smoking and he is moving around, the smoke underlines his previous movements. This is a good example for the physical origin of the motion line. Elements like fire, water and earth started to fly around. The illustrators needed to come up with a solution.

Adolf Oberlander, “une histoire de pompier”1876

CONNECTION TO PHOTOGRAPHY When photography was invented, a short exposure that results in a sharp image was technically difficult. An exposure of several days was originally required to capture enough light, until Louis Daguerre developed the Daguerreotype process that only took minutes to expose the negative. A blur behind the moving object was the result of this long exposure. This blur behind an object or person let us suspect and define more about what happened before and after the still image was taken. Edward Muybridges concluded the knowledge of sequencial photography in his “chronophotographies”. His most known pioneering work, the animal locomotion created in 1877 and 1878, can be described as the origin of sequence photography, motion picture and film. His invention of the zoetrope and the publication and commercialisation of his motion studies made it possible for a wide audience to analyse especially the ana- tomically correct human and animal body movement. This inspired for example Marcel Duchamp 1912 to paint “Nude descending a staircase No. 2”. Next to other animation originators like Winsor McCay he influenced the development of the motion lines and marks. In contemporary photography, the effect of motion blurring is frequently used on purpose. Today known as long-exposure photography, in which a camera captures lights as they move through time and space, blurred along the direction of their motion.

Eadward Muybridge`s horse chronophotographie, 1877

Nude descending staircase, Marcel Duchamp 1912

MOTION LINES The use of motion lines in art is similar to the lines showing mathematical vectors, which are used to indicate direction. In physics, motion describes the change in position of an object with respect to time also on its reference point. The length of line can also define the speed of the subject or the feeling of how long the object was moving before the situation shown in the still image. The same distance covered by a straight line results in a shorter path than the same distance covered by a bent or waved line. The strenght of the vector defines the force of the movement. “Motion is observed by attaching a frame of reference to a body and measuring its change in position relative to that frame.�

The physical equation of motion describes in terms of displacement, direction, velocity, acceleration, time and speed. These factors can also influence the type of movement, force, speed, direction and acceleration of the drawn subject in motion. The basic color of a motion line is white. But sometimes, the color of the motion line refers to the color of the subject in motion. Thats why some artists use velocity or gradients to define the subjects characteristics more precisely. Closely related to the factor of velocity is the impression of acceleration. If a gradient is exponentially gaining velocity, it defines the subject to move at a constant speed. If the velocity is irregularly rising, the acceleration of the subject seems to be irregular as well.

CARMINE INFANTINO Carmine Michael Infantino was an American comic book artist and editor who was a major force in the Silver Age of Comic Books. In 1956Carmine got assigned to create an updated version of “the Flash” issue #4. On the try-out series Showcase Infantino designed the now-classic red uniform with yellow detail, striving to keep the costume as streamlined as possible.He worked on his design abilities to create a new visual language to depict the Flash’s speed. Working on his body posture and using both vertical and horizontal motion lines. To increase the speed of the superhero, he created a red and yellow blur behind the figure. “Infantinos” collegues could not believe how “fast” his “Flash seemed, compared to their own drawings. Carmine can be seen of one of the most important developers of motion lines. The eventual success of his new, science-fiction-oriented Flash returned the wholesale of superheroes, and the beginning of what fans and historians call the Silver Age of comics.

Carmine´s first cover and panel “The Flash” showcase issue #4, 1956

multiple works of Carmine Infantino

CONTEMPORARY MOTION LINES To convey motion, artists strive to choose timeframes or postures that are most pregnant / descriptive for a whole flow of movement. Since a still image captures just a single moment in time, the creators had to come up with ways and symbols to visualise and convey motion more distinctively. There are different ways, styles and detail degrees to implement/ symbolise motion or movement into an still image. The most commonly used way to abstract motion, is the practice of translating movement into lines.The number of lines and grade of detail of the motion line differs with the drawing/illustration style of the artist. Some artists use a lot of thin lines, while others reduce the amount of lines to a minimum. Highly predominant in Japanese mangas, motion lines are in some cases covering the whole background to suggest a fast motion of the subject. “In comics, motion lines (also known as movement lines, action lines, speed lines or zip ribbons) are the abstract lines that appear behind a moving object or person, paral- lel to its direction of movement, to make it appear as if it is moving quickly.“

EXPRESSION SYMBOLS In contemporary communication we are using emoticons or pictograms to visualize how we feel or what we mean. In comics and cartoons, specific symbols were developed to underline expressions and feelings, collisions, explosions and natural powers. But how did this representations develop? How can we materialise these marks? Passed on from artist to artist, this language of symbols developed and was understood and used more and more by society. Sweat drops are a good example of the development of visualising a feeling. The physical reaction of the body to sweat is for example related to the feeling of stress, panic, anxiety or surprise. Thats why sweat drops are frequently used to visualise these substantial conditions. Smoke, flames or clouds, flying earth pebbles and stars, drips and twirls. All these symbols are translated into its simplest line representation. And all of them have something in common: they all embody the four elements. Fire, air, earth & water. Each of these elements is illustrated with an own form of language that can differ slighty with the interpretation of the artist/creator. While earth is visualised mostly with hard, edgy, squary and sharp shapes, water is often translated into soft, round and wavy shapes that can end in a sharp point (drips&drops). But there is an addition to the 4 elements. Power, force, speed, sound and pressure also evoluted their own style. Soundwaves, collisions, blasts and pressure waves are often accentuated by straight, waved or zig zag lines that show where the energy origins comes from or goes to.


Movement and Expression Metamorphosis of motion into lines This book treats the topic of motion and expression symbols used in line drawings, comics and animations of middle Europe. Next to questioning and presuming where these symbols historically derive from, and what they are connected to, you will find specific examples that underline the different usages of those techniques.

Movement and Expression - Metamorphosis of motion into lines  
Movement and Expression - Metamorphosis of motion into lines  

This handbook treats the topic of motion and expression symbols used in line drawings, comics and animations of middle Europe.