Watch Nina Paley’s “Embroidermation,” a New, Stunningly Labor-Intensive Form of Animation

If you keep up with the ani­ma­tion we post here at Open Cul­ture, you’ll know we have a strong fas­ci­na­tion with tech­niques that require seem­ing­ly inhu­man lev­els of devo­tion to the craft. Ster­ling ear­li­er exam­ples of that include the pin­screen ani­ma­tion of Alexan­der Alex­eieff and Claire Park­er as used to envi­sion Niko­lai Gogol’s “The Nose” and Mod­est Mus­sorgsky’s “Night on Bald Moun­tain.” More recent prac­ti­tion­ers of such severe­ly labor-inten­sive ani­ma­tion include Nina Paley, the self-taught ani­mat­ed film­mak­er who sin­gle­hand­ed­ly cre­at­ed Sita Sings the Blues, the fea­ture-length jazz-scored adap­ta­tion of clas­sic Indi­an myth we fea­tured in 2009.

Since then, Paley has tak­en her con­sid­er­able skills to a form she calls “embroi­der­ma­tion.” It looks how it sounds: like frame by embroi­dered frame sequenced into life. You can get an idea of the process at Paley’s blog. She’s done this project under the ban­ner of PaleGray Labs, “the tex­tile col­lab­o­ra­tion of Nina Paley and Theodore Gray” (whose slo­gan announces their mis­sion to “put the NERD in quilt­iNg and EmbRoi­Dery”). They used it to make Chad Gadya, a three-minute ren­der­ing of a tra­di­tion­al passover folk song. (Below it, you can also see anoth­er embroi­der­ma­tion made by anoth­er artist for Throne’s song “Thar­sis Sleeps.”) PaleGray Labs bills Chad Gadya as “our most ridicu­lous­ly labor-inten­sive ani­ma­tion ever,” which must also make it the most ridicu­lous­ly labor-inten­sive ani­ma­tion we’ve yet fea­tured on Open Cul­ture. Its cre­ation required not only for­mi­da­ble embroi­dery abil­i­ties, but a deft hand with indus­tri­al-strength num­ber-crunch­ing soft­ware Math­e­mat­i­ca in order to cre­ate the process­es that allowed them to ani­mate the stitched fig­ures smooth­ly. If the results cap­ture your imag­i­na­tion, know that you can pur­chase the orig­i­nal phys­i­cal mate­ri­als: “Each unique, approx­i­mate­ly 16” square, unbleached cot­ton mat­zoh cov­er con­tains 6 frames of ani­ma­tion and is signed by the artists,” PaleGray’s site assures us. Per­haps you’d like to con­sid­er stock­ing up ear­ly on gifts for next Passover?

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Niko­lai Gogol’s Clas­sic Sto­ry, “The Nose,” Ani­mat­ed With the Aston­ish­ing Pin­screen Tech­nique (1963)

Night on Bald Moun­tain: An Eery, Avant-Garde Pin­screen Ani­ma­tion Based on Mussorgsky’s Mas­ter­piece (1933)

Sita Sings the Blues

Col­in Mar­shall writes on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Nina Paley says:

    Thanks for the plug! One cor­rec­tion: we had noth­ing to do with “Thar­sis Sleeps.” I cit­ed it as an ear­li­er embroi­dered ani­ma­tion made with­out Theodore Gray’s Math­e­mat­i­ca-based stitch­cod­ing.

  • Ronny says:

    These were great!

  • Wendy says:

    Tex­tile ani­ma­tion in a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent style, but also won­der­ful is “Lib­er­ty and Jus­tice” by Sal­ley Mavor. Her web­site has more info, and is titled with her name. No affil­i­a­tion, just a fan.

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