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Saturday, 2 April 2011

Animation Timeline - The Quay Brothers

Fig. 1  Stephen and Timothy Quay

Stephen and Timothy Quay (1947) are American, identical twin brothers, better known as The Quay Brothers and are both influential stop-motion animators. Most of their animation films feature puppets made of doll parts and other organic and inorganic materials, often partially disassembled, in a dark, moody atmosphere. They are influenced heavily by tradition Eastern European animation. They display a passion for detail, a breathtaking use of colour and texture, and an uncanny use of the camera that make their films unique. Whether “ Their films reveal the influence of Eastern European culture: whether inspired by animators, composers, or writers, a middle European esthetic seems to have beckoned them into a mysterious locus of literary and poetic fragments, wisps of music, the play of light and morbid textures” (Buchan¸ 1996)

Fig. 2 Street of Crocodiles (1986)

Perhaps their best known work is “Street of Crocodiles” (1986). The Quays more often than not, based their animations on the work of other writers and artists. “Street of Crocodiles” wasn’t any different, based on the short novel Street of Crocodiles by Polish author and artist Bruno Schulz. With their budget increased this allowed the Quays to shoot in 35mm for the first time. This allowed them to pay much more attention to texture and the finer details such as lighting.

Wildly imaginative, Secret Of Crocodiles – blending elements of Tarkovsky, Kafka and a host of others - is a perfect insight into the Quays' dark machinery. Contraptions are key to their work and their beaten up little puppets and macabre mannequins frequently find themselves having their strings cut or being subjected to death or worse.” (Wilkinson, 2006)The universe is entered via an old-fashioned kinetoscope machine, which is shown in the opening scene by a caretaker in a live action scene. After cutting the puppet free, the rest of the film depicts the puppet exploring an unsettling netherworld, where laws of physics and perspective no longer apply. Where bizarre machines perform unproductive tasks and a small urchin brings inanimate objects to life by casting reflected light upon them.

Fig. 3 Street of Crocodiles (1986)

The Quays' command of visual design and cinematography displays their genesis, of inspiration of their influences while at the same time creating a breathtaking originality of their own. “In addition to the literary and cinematic influences, their aesthetic style combines the existential expressionism of Edvard Munch, the painted contortions of Francis Bacon, the juxtaposed montages of the Surrealists, the stylistics of early silent cinema including the "actualities" of Thomas Edison and the Lumiere Brothers, and the landscapes of industrial decay and pathological anomalies found in David Lynch's Eraserhead (1977) and The Elephant Man (1980). Despite their formidible list of influences, the sum total is greater than the parts as the Quays' aesthetic style is unmistakably original.” (Fiumara, 2001) In many ways the Quay Brothers have found a connection with their influencers, in the sense that their work shows that the "ugly," decayed, degraded and deformed is that which becomes "beautiful”, that all there influences have shown in their work.

List of Illustrations

Figure.1 Stephen and Timothy Quay (2009) The Brothers Quay. (Accessed on 02/04/2011)
Figure. 2 The Quay Brothers. (1986) Street of Crocodiles. (Accessed on 02/04/2011)
Figure. 3 The Quay Brothers. (1986) Street of Crocodiles. (Accessed on 02/04/2011)


Suzanne, Buchan (1996) Shifting Realities: The Brothers Quay--Between Live Action and Animation. (Accessed on 30/03/2011)

Wilkinson, Amber (2006) The Quay Brothers: The Short Films, 1979-2003. (Accessed on 30/03/2011)
Fiumara, James (2001) The thirteenth freak month: The influence of Bruno Schulz on the Brothers Quay. (Accessed on 30/03/2011)

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