Underground Film Journal

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Experimental Short Film: Papillons

By Mike Everleth ⋅ February 6, 2012

[vimeo 32225727]

Colors flow and glide across the screen in Lillian Schwartz‘s classic experimental short film Papillons, produced in 1973. Simultaneously, the film is both of its decade and very timeless, following in the traditional experimental animation tradition, but using the then-new process of using computers to create art.

The official description of Papillons indicates that it is a visual representation of “mathematical functions,” but the bold, chunky, swirling colors also feel to be a holdover from the psychedelic era that had just died down by the time of the film’s production. Plus, there also appears to be some continuity with the type of fluid and repetitive animation in the tradition of Robert Breer, even though Schwartz was bringing that style to a new, digital medium.

Abstract color pattern

Schwartz created her art films while working in residence at AT&T’s Bell Laboratories where she helped create the image-generating programming language EXPLOR, an acronym for the phrase “EXplicitly defined Patterns, Local Operations, and Randomness.” For more background on Schwartz’s working methods and the impact her work has generated, Walter Forsberg has recently written an excellent article on the filmmaker for Incite! The Journal of Experimental Media.

In 2011, Ohio State University was awarded an Avant-Garde Masters Grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation and the Film Foundation to preserve Papillons and four other Schwartz films: Olympiad (1971), Pixillation (1970), Enigma (1972) and Mutations (1972).

Watch more of Schwartz’s work on Vimeo and learn more about this filmmaker at her official website.

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