Animatory thinking: An enquiry into tacit knowledge within animation practice

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


Since the invention of devices that use rapidly repeating still images to create a phenomenon of apparent motion, a tension has existed between the artistry of forming images and the mechanics of generating an illusion. In the midst of this tension is the animator, immersed inside the technology1 whilst simultaneously relying on their embodied memory of the world to guide their creative judgement. This research attempts to illustrate this liminal state of creative practice and lays out Animatory Thinking as a precondition of animation practice.

Defining animation has been extensively discussed and researched (Wells 2002; Buchan 2013; Matarazzo et al . 2016; Levitt 2018; Dobson et al. 2018). A great deal of effort has been spent on segregating animation studies from film studies. Whilst my own research does not offer a new definition of animation, it does attempt to show how viewing animation practice as a design discipline can offer a new perspective to animation studies, as well as insights into tacit knowledge, temporality and embodiment as part of creative practice.

Whilst personal accounts of animation practice (Williams 2009; Thomas and Johnston 1997) are well known, this thesis will argue that such accounts fail to offer a holistic embodied view, instead prioritising specific skills relating to the technology of animation. More recent work in the area of animation studies (Lamarre 2009; Torre 2017; Levitt 2018; Dobson et al. 2018) has shown how rich and complex animation practice appears when explored through academic research, but again there is only partial acknowledgement of the animator as a central node in animation practice (Ward 2018).

This research approaches animation practice through the lens of design research in order to focus on the animator, with a particular focus on the tacit knowledge of animation practice. Action research methods (Lewin 1946; Kolb 1984) are used to triangulate three areas of enquiry:

1: Building experimental animation machines as an investigation into the relationship between technology and artistry in animation.

2: Exploring how theories of embodiment, tacit knowledge and design thinking can be used to describe how an animator crafts their work.

3: Observing how novice animators approach learning computer-generated imagery (CGI) animation, and how shifting focus from animation as story-telling, to animation as a means of exploring ideas of philosophy and embodiment, can reframe animation practice.

Rather than following a classical research model of theory/action/reflection, I began with action, thus giving a position from which I could navigate theoretical ideas, before combining action and theory into my teaching, and then observing the effects.

This research articulates a heterogeneous flow between technology and embodied memory through an animator’s tacit knowledge, defined as Animatory Thinking. Going beyond a single person making animation, this research also acknowledges the role of a wider collective community as the environment in which the animator works. Animatory Thinking lays claim to the knowledge that animators “problem-solve by synthesis” (Cross 1982: 223) through a tacitness of time existing within the animatic apparatus (Levitt 2018).
Original languageEnglish
QualificationMaster of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Royal College of Art
  • Boyd Davis, Stephen, Supervisor, External person
  • Stehlikova, Tereza, Supervisor, External person
Award date17 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - 11 Nov 2020

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