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The Plausible Impossible

A thought stuck in my head from a blog comment last week about Baumgartner’s parachute jump, “What if he’d stepped out of the capsule and had gone UP!” Obviously impossible as at only 24 miles up he was nowhere near Space [despite many reports stating ‘edge of Space’] and a lack of Earth gravity [and this is not the expected behaviour even if he had been]. But the comment made me recall Bob Shaw‘s excellent 1980’s Land and Overland science fantasy trilogy of novels where the population of one planet journey to another which shares its atmosphere via hot-air balloons [though impossible due to the Laws of Physics imposed in our universe]. This then made me think about the ingenuity and plausibility of Cartoon Physics.

I remember reading about ‘selective rearing’ experiments from the early 1970’s where animals were born and raised in ‘artificial’ conditions [kittens in environments with only curves] and the problems in perception this caused if their surrounding were then changed [the kittens kept bumping into anything with vertical upright lines, as they couldn’t ‘see’ them.]

It seems to me that the success of Cartoon Physics, much like the best Surrealist art, is that it has an internal logic which not only remains consistent but is similar to real world Physics but with an interesting ‘twist’, i.e. it upsets our perception in an unexpected though plausible way. I am always disappointed for instance to read of Magritte’s painting Golconde as depicting ‘raining men’ [perhaps due to the men wearing overcoats?] as this is the most obvious way of viewing the scene. Why equally could they not be levitating or engaged in synchronized trampolining or merely hovering?

Of course ultimately the main aim of Cartoon Physics, much like slapstick with which animation shares many features, and other types of humour, is to deliver a ‘witty’ punchline. So in words attributed to Art Babbitt, an animator with the Walt Disney Studios, “Animation follows the laws of physics – unless it is funnier otherwise.”


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  1. Pingback: Sleight of eye « gistofthegrist

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