The skeleton has been a key figure throughout the evolution of the animated image. Thisessay investigates how the danse macabre lies at the roots of animation, and has hence kepton reappearing as a motif throughout the evolution of the genre. The theoretical frameworkcombines film history with media-archeology and iconology. Ever since Athanasius Kircher’sfamous description of a magic lantern in the second edition of his publication Ars Magna luciset umbrae (1671), the image of a skeleton or the grim reaper has appeared time and again asthe key signifier in the process of animating (i.e., moving, resurrecting) still images. ChristiaanHuygens was, however, the first person to describe the projection of moving lantern images. Inhis notes of 1659 he included drawings, based on Holbein’s Dance of Death, of a skeleton toyingwith its own skull. As these optical instruments were also called ‘philosophical toys’, then theskeleton is the most appropriate motif, a memento mori in motion. Over the years the skeletonhas played a central role in phantasmagoric shows (an expanded media show orchestratedaround a hidden magic lantern), in the demonstration of the choreutoscope (an invention byL.S. Beale in 1866, and the first application of the Maltese cross for transporting film), and inmany early animation films such as fantasmagorie (Cohl) and skeleton dance (Disney). Fromits inception, animation has thus been used to illustrate acts of reanimation, bringing deadmatter back to life.

Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision
Tijdschrift voor Mediageschiedenis

Carels, Edwin. (2012). From the ossuary: animation and the danse macabre. Tijdschrift voor Mediageschiedenis, 15(1), 25–42. doi:10.18146/tmg.413