The worlds of animation, computer effects, music videos, and other forms of artistic expression involving the synchronization of sound to image all owe a considerable debt to Oskar Fischinger (1900-1967), a German artist who would have celebrated his 117th birthday this year.
Fischinger is famous for taking great pains to animate his short films, which used traditional cel animation, wax or clay sculpture, and charcoal drawings. Sometimes, Fischinger would paint over Plexiglas for each frame, a laborious process even for the teams of artists used in traditional animation methods. Matching the flow of his images to music, Fischinger created what he considered to be "visual music."
Fischinger first became interested in abstract moving art when he discovered Lightplay, a 1921 short that featuring gyrating geometric symbols. Working out of Berlin, Fischinger subsidized his experimental work with jobs creating special effects for features and animated advertisements. The short films, for which he remains best known, won a number of awards at European film festivals. Many were shown in cinemas before the features, and represented the first introduction to classical music for some members of the audience.
But Fischinger’s preference for the kind of non-linear, abstract work he first saw in Lightplay drew the ire of the Nazi government: Adolf Hitler had no taste for what was declared "decadent art." Leaving Germany, Fischinger found opportunities in Hollywood. The results were mixed: Working on Disney’s 1940 musical Fantasia soured him on commercial filmmaking. He considered such large-scale productions "factory work."
Because his animated films were expensive and time-consuming to make and had few ways to be monetized, Fischinger eventually turned to painting. Today, his influence can be felt practically anywhere you’ve seen images move and shift in relation to music.
Leon Hong, a creative lead on today's Google Doodle which honors Fischinger, told The Washington Post that "despite the incredible assistance of digital tools of today, the endless amount of motion graphics we see every day on TV and digital media still don’t come anywhere close to the greatness of Oskar Fischinger."