Pygmalion – effect in animation

In the course of another academic paper, I analyzed Pygmalion’s effect on animation in modern, figural animated films. I set my focus on the transgression of the lifeless artifact to living fiction. Its forms of representation through materiality and medium fascinated me. The starting point of my work is Stoichitas’ book The Pygmalion Effect. It focuses on 18th-century handicrafts and the Hitchcock movie Vertigo. My goal was to bring the Pygmalion effect into a new context through various animated film examples and with the terms of media theorists such as Zielinski.


In the realistic portraits and sculptures described in Stoichita’s book, a spark leaps from the artwork to the viewer. This phenomenon can not prevent the media restriction that exists between the artwork and its audience. Rather, it becomes a question of materiality, which can have different effects on the possibilities of presentation.

The myth of Pygmalion combines magic and technique in a transgressive, artistic creation. Created in a text by Ovid, this effect refers to turning hard into soft, white into red, and dead into living. Animated films have the same result, it is grounded in metamorphosis. A very telling example of this comes from Disney’s film adaptation of Pinocchio.

The individual steps from the narrative are considered separately and placed in a new context. Art history shows us a certain continuity in the strategies to animate the statue. The Pygmalion myth is visualized by the emphasis on the step and its effects. The spatial transgression and the play between the monochrome of the stone and the polychromy of the flesh create an illusion of liveliness.

Furthermore, stop-motion dolls pass their original static shape in every new frame. For many animation artists, the ultimate goal is to captivate their audience with an illusion of life just as the ancient masters of history have done. Animation makes it possible to give things magical powers, as virtual reality opens up new dimensions for the viewer.

My paper should not set a final line under this topic. Based on the motive for movement, which forms a bridge from the Pygmalion effect in the art-historical context to the medium of animated film, this work should rather give suggestions for discourse.

If you’re interested in the details of my work, please let me know.