We’ve talked before about animation’s omnivorous nature, its remarkable ability to consume other art forms and adapt them for its own purposes. Usually when that conversation comes up we’re talking about either visual art, cinema, or sequential art, but those aren’t the only options. The overlap between animation and dance is less immediately obvious, but once you realize it’s there, it’s hard to escape. The two art forms share an obsession with understanding movement, breaking down complex acts into their component parts, and understanding the expressive potential of even the subtlest gestures. And while some dancers seem unconstrained by the laws of physics, animated objects are truly unlimited in what they can do, given a skillful enough team.
With OSSA, animator Dario Imbrogno creates a piece that’s only possible in the world of stop motion, and one that accomplishes the impressive act of giving a glimpse into the animation process that somehow makes the art form seem even more magical. The film opens with a broken figure collapsed at the bottom of a staircase. Its shattered pieces reassemble, the reunited figure rising through the air as the set around it comes apart, disappearing bit by bit until all that’s left is a table, lights, and the raw stop-motion armature.
Beautiful as the animation is, Imbrogno breaks its illusion of reality by leaving in the bits you aren’t supposed to see. The various stands that hold the puppet up are left in full view of the camera, showing clearly how a falling character can still be controlled frame by frame. Much of the film’s visual tension comes from the adding and removing of details, stripping the puppet down to its metal skeleton mid-movement, adding an removing humanizing details so subtly you’re left wondering when the change took place.
Keeping the lights and sets and even cameras as part of its on-screen world should break our belief in OSSA. Unlike a relatively common stop-motion trope, this isn’t a film about a puppet coming to life; there’s no illusion that it exists independently of the film. But the beauty of the movement, especially in concert with Enrico Ascoli’s score and sound design, is enough that it doesn’t matter. You can see exactly how it’s done, sometimes even down to the animator’s hands making their minute adjustments. But it doesn’t diminish the artfulness, or the emotional impact. If anything, it only adds to your appreciation of this diverse craft.