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Pin Up

The art of pinscreen animation is little known in the textile world. Invented by Alexandre Alexeieff with the help of Claire Parker in the early 20th century, we go behind the scenes of this obscure and painstaking method of filmmaking in the current Luna issue of Selvedge...  

Most often used to either fasten together pieces of fabric, or to attach colourful mementoes to the walls of office cubicles, pins are a humble everyday tool that few would recognise as an integral part of a rarefied art form known as pinscreen animation.

Pinscreen was invented by Alexandre Alexeieff; an illustrator and engraver who was born in Russia in 1901. As a young man, he became disillusioned with the Russian Revolution and ended up in Paris with a letter of introduction to Russian-born set designer Serge Sudekin in his pocket…

His goal was to translate the look of engraving, with its textures, shadows, and tones, into animation. After a few experiments in composing pictures from straight pins, he and Claire Parker constructed the first pinscreen. They mounted a vertical white screen within a frame. The screen was perforated with thousands of holes filled with headless metal pins, which Parker – and sometimes Alexeieff’s daughter, Svetlana – pushed back and forth horizontally through the holes. When two lights were aimed at the sides of the screen, each pin cast two diagonal shadows on the mesh. By manipulating the length of the pins in the holes, they created images that used every variation of the grey scale.

Animating the images was a gruelling, arduous process that was akin to stop-motion animation. After hundreds of pins were organised to produce a picture on the screen, Alexeieff shot it with one frame of film. The pins were shifted slightly to alter the picture, then that image was shot. The process of shifting pins, then photographing them frame by frame continued for weeks and months until the piece was finished. Each time they shifted the pins, they destroyed the previous image. One mistake, and the process had to start over from the beginning...

You can read the rest of this article by Susan Doll in the current issue of Selvedge.



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