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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