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What Is Sand Animation?

G. Wiesen
G. Wiesen

Sand animation is an art form that combines certain elements of traditional animation and performance art to tell a story or create a series of scenes through the use of sand. This is typically done by placing sand onto a surface and shining light through it to project an image of the sand onto a screen. The artist can then manipulate the sand on the surface in a number of different ways, and the silhouettes created by the sand make images on the projected surface. Sand animation is often used along with music to tell a story that unfolds as the images formed by the sand are shaped and changed by the artist.

As a basic concept, sand animation brings together a few different forms of art in a single performance. In many ways, this type of work is similar to performance art in which the artist himself or herself is a central component to the work being viewed. Sand animation often utilizes a clear surface through which light is shone and projected onto a screen, much like an overhead projector used in presentations or classrooms. The term "animation" is appropriate since the shapes created by the artist change over the course of a performance and over several minutes a story can be told through a series of images.

Man playing a guitar
Man playing a guitar

Music is often used as accompaniment in sand animation, rather than narration by the artist. Different songs can be used during a single performance, and each song is typically chosen by an artist to enhance the emotional content and tone of a particular moment. While artists can improvise and create new scenes at will, the entire sand animation presentation is typically conceived ahead of time. This allows an artist to tell a definite story during a performance, as one scene moves into another.

The progression of images is an integral element to sand animation and the way in which one scene changes into the next is just as important as the content itself. One moment, the sand on the surface might make a silhouette that resembles children playing in a field, and through a few movements of the artist's hands those forms might become tombstones in a graveyard. The transition from one image to the next creates juxtaposition that the artist can use to enhance each scene and make a more powerful statement. These performances seem to take on a secondary life, as the audience watching the sand animation "fills in" the moments between images to interact with the work and create personal meaning.

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Discussion Comments


@KoiwiGal - Yeah, the term "animation" is a bit of a misnomer really. The pictures don't really move, they just change. So, for example an artist might start with a woman's face and then change that face into a mountain range with a few shifts of the angles of the lines and then that mountain range might sprout towers and so forth.

It might even be possible to tell a story without any kind of narration, although that would be tough since there is no animation and the pictures can't interact with each other.


There are some gorgeous examples of sand animation online if you look for them. Apparently it was an art in some countries for many years, probably long before it was referred to as animation. I can imagine it as being a really good way of telling a story back in the day before television, or even an easy way of making a drawing (remember that even ballpoint pens and pencils are relatively recent inventions).

It's easy and simple and cheap and it's the kind of thing that kids would be able to practice without using up any kind of valuable resources.

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      Man playing a guitar