I didn’t really know about animation smears until college. It was a time when my passion for animation had just kicked into high gear, and once I learned how to convert my DVDs into Quicktime files, the flood gates opened. I was like a kid in a candy store, scouring through hours of animation every day. As I looked through the cartoons, I began to discover some odd things occurring. A character would look perfectly fine in one frame, but for a few frames it would turn into an absolutely insane-looking mutant, before suddenly reverting back to normal form. Without any understanding of what these were, I had discovered smears.
Around the same time, my second year animation teacher at the School of Visual Arts, Celia Bullwinkel, gave an in-class lecture about smears. She explained to us what they were, and what purpose they served. She screened a few smear-heavy Chuck Jones cartoons like The Dover Boys, showed some still-frame examples, and gave us an assignment to animate one ourselves. Of course, every budding animator thinks the same thing when they discover smears: “I CAN USE THESE FOR EVERYTHING!” But soon one learn that smears are best used judiciously; otherwise everything you animate looks like it’s made of Jell-O.
After some time passed, I began to appreciate smears outside of the context of animation, simply as still pieces of art. Somebody had to draw every one of these. It’s a truly creative and subliminal way of expressing artistic abilities, while at the same time serving the practical purpose of recreating an effect that happens naturally in live-action film.