This video of plane landings by Cy Kuckenbaker has been quite the sensation this week, amassing over 1.7 million views between postings on Vimeo and YouTube. The video is, of course, not shot in real time, but rather, a composite of all the planes that landed at a single airport over a four-and-a-half hour period.
I discovered the video on Kottke.org where Jason Kottke referred to it as another example of “time merge media,” a trend that he first spotted nearly five years ago. However, the first thing I thought of when I saw it was Zbigniew Rybczynski’s masterful short Tango (1980):
There are obvious differences between the two pieces. Tango is an animated film created using a combination of pixilation and cut-out techniques whereas Kuckenbaker’s plane landings was created through a fancy bit of live-action video compositing with Premiere. But the resulting effect of densely layered imagery that manipulates our perception of time, or ‘time merge media’ as Kottke calls it, is substantially similar in both works.
While film as a whole is a medium that revolves around the compression of time, the graphic nature of animation allows for the most exaggerated and extreme forms of temporal compression. In Dumb-Hounded (1943), Tex Avery visually condensed the Wolf’s week-long journey by car, ship, plane, and horse into a mere 30-seconds of screen time, and in the following sequence, further compressed a second journey of similar length into 15-seconds.
Today’s digital tools allow live-action filmmakers to easily achieve effects that filmmakers like Rybczynski (and Avery before him) were applying decades earlier in animation. We are tempted to give the effects fancy new names like “time merge media,” but they are really just an extension of well-established animated thinking. It is a testament to the success of animation that its influence has been so thoroughly absorbed and diffused throughout visual media that no one can pinpoint the source anymore.
John Cage once said that, “Everything we do is music.” I’d suggest that as far as contemporary visual culture is concerned, everything we do is animation.