Experimental animation studio RAPAPAWN is the psychedelic brainchild of Cynthia Alfonso and Óscar Raña, two Spain-based artists and frequent collaborators that defy classification in their work across design, animation, and comics. RAPAPAWN emerged when Raña and Alfonso got together and asked themselves, “How would our drawings move?” The answer, in short: frenetically.
Hypnotic, full of energy, and just plain fun, RAPAPAWN crafts colorful worlds for music videos and arts venues (including a recent series, Six Loops, for Brooklyn nightclub Elsewhere). The studio is a fresh face in animation, and their website introduces them with a flickering circus of primitive shapes; a hybrid of traditional hand-drawn animation and gooey computer graphics. The maturity of their distinctive style owes to the fact that Raña and Alfonso are comics world veterans: their work pays homage to experimental 20th-century animators while preserving compositional elements of comics.
Both Raña and Alfonso have had works published internationally, and have been featured in anthologies from Spain, Poland, Latvia, Mexico, and the U.S. (including Kuš, beloved for their mini-comics, and Seattle-based Fantagraphics). They both received Masters in Animation, but RAPAPAWN is the duo’s first professional foray into the medium. With an aesthetic that’s firmly cohesive despite being so erratic, RAPAPAWN feels like its been around much longer than it has.
A RAPAPAWN moodboard would look something like this: John Whitney’s early neon computer graphics, the paint-on-glass masterpieces of Georges Schwizgebel and Walter Ruttmann, and the jittery, synesthetic shapes of Norman McLaren. RAPAPAWN channels the greats of experimental animation with a spin of their own: they add basic shapes, a palette reminiscent of the ’70s, and bold airbrush strokes that are all parts celestial and spooky. The only vaguely human characters are a floating set of cartoon eyes and a single figure’s hazy silhouette, wandering through what look like out-of-focus Dr. Seussian landscapes. RAPAPAWN self-describes their world as “psychedelic liturgy.”
RAPAPAWN’s film-reel look and rapid cuts speak to their historic influences while setting their work apart from other independent animation studios. This old-school aesthetic is born from their equally old-school technique of frame-by-frame animation. “We work in a very traditional way,” they say. “We create each frame to generate movements that are impossible to recreate using animation programs with predetermined motion.” RAPAPAWN’s preference for working frame-by-frame, as opposed to manipulating animation curves or generating motion programmatically, allows them to create flickery vignettes that feel both futuristic and ghostly. This moment-to-moment style of rendering scenes and gestures is also a lot like–you guessed it–making a comic.
RAPAPAWN’s non-narrative emphasis on color, geometry, and repetition mirrors Alfonso and Raña’s individual and collaborative work in comics (take their most recent zine, He-He, which might as well be a storyboard for a RAPAPAWN video). RAPAPAWN’s animation, as such, feels like a direct adaptation of their static work: an extension of the same world, one that comes to life when a spell is broken, or in dreams. Alfonso and Raña’s movement between media isn’t unidirectional; their work in comics informs compositional strategies in their animation, and vice versa. Alfonso and Raña both agree that their experience in animation has helped them hone their creative processes in comic-making.
The influence of comics on RAPAPAWN’s animation style most literally manifests in their use of panels. If in comics, panels signal the passage of time time (each one representing a different moment, action, scene, etc.), in animation, they mean time travel. By incorporating panels into a medium that communicates the passage of time with, well, actual time, the effect instead is one of simultaneity. RAPAPAWN’s elusive characters wander in and out of panels, one minute obeying their enclosure, and transcending it the next–like RAPAPAWN, on the up and up.