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Collage for Toy Trains: the Art of Obsolete Technology

– Posted in: Aesthetics Articles Collage & Montage Creativity Inspiration

…In a good old toy, there is apt to be nothing self-conscious about the use of materials: what is wood is wood, what is tin is tin, what is cast is beautifully cast. It is possible that somewhere in all this is a clue to what sets the creative climate of any time, including our own. — from the spoken prologue to Toccata for Toy Trains, by Charles & Ray Eames

Charles & Ray Eames’s 1957 short film Toccata for Toy Trains uses stop-motion and real-time animation techniques to set into motion the antique toys that are its subject. Set to Elmer Bernstein’s eponymous music for wind, percussion, and piano octet, Toccata recreates — through a glorious, kaleidoscopic collage of movement, color, and light — the Golden Age of the railroad, as it might have appeared to the eyes of our great-great-grandparents as children. Toccata deliberately sets its horizon line low for this purpose, and nearly everything is seen from below; trains loom up before us; stations and railroad yards tower above and spread beyond us; adult passengers absorbed in their personal business jostle us and push us aside.

Toccata for Toy Trains can be purchased (as part of Volume 2 of the Eames film series) at the Eames Office Online Store:

Why is this film so charming? Part of the answer, perhaps, lies in how it brings us back to an age when technology was held in common and not owned by any one person, when it was not so familiar a part of life, and thus represented the adventure of exceeding our limits. The railroad, with its promise of speedy travel beyond the compass of a day’s walking, redoubled this sense of adventure: a journey, which originally meant a day’s worth of travel, had become a true voyage.

A steam-locomotive-powered trip on New York City’s Ninth Avenue Elevated Railroad from South Ferry into Harlem was faster than travel by any other mode hitherto, but it was still slow by our standards. There would have been frequent pauses while locomotives took on fuel and water, or were uncoupled from the trains, shunted off, and replaced. The journals and brakes of all cars would have had to be inspected and maintained periodically. All such labors lay uncovered to the general gaze. The traveler might arrive at a destination faster than ever before, but would know the effort involved.

The next blog post will examine this in greater depth.

— Eric Edelman

(Copyright © 2011 by Eric Edelman. All rights reserved.)


9 Comments… add one

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9 comments… add one
C.A.T. January 23, 2011, 1:02 am

I love stop-motion better than any other kind of animation, and this video is amazing, and it was made in 1957?
I could imagine how hard it was to keep the train right on schedule at that time.

Eric Edelman January 23, 2011, 2:21 am

Thanks for your comment! Yes, the film is amazing; some of it was done live-action and some through stop motion. But actually there were many sophisticated examples of stop-motion animation prior to the 1950s. Some of the most beautiful, I think, were the pinscreen stop motion animation technique of Alexander Alexeieff and Claire Parker, and the puppet animations of Karel Zeman (his “Mr. Prokouk” series). I urge you to check these out on YouTube if you get a chance!

C.A.T. January 23, 2011, 12:59 pm

Thanks for the info. I better go to YouTube now.

Anna's Adornments, Sweden January 24, 2011, 3:35 am

Thank you for visiting and leaving a comment on my blogpost about my heart earrings. Now that I have found you, I see that you write about interesting things. I am also interested in toys and film and children’s culture in general. (I have a girl, six years old and a boy nine.)
You might like to read my thoughts about a couple of animated films for children. I have nothing posted today that would qualify for ‘Monday’s Musings’. This is a new meme for me.
Best wishes,
Take a peek at this post:
Anna’s ABC-Wd-A is for Animal-Helpers

You are first commenter and get and extra link back to this blog.

Eric Edelman January 24, 2011, 10:05 am

Yes, I just created the meme “Monday Musings” since I really don’t post the kind of material appropriate to the other Monday memes of music, menus, or giveaways. I hope people will use this meme if they don’t fit into any other category. I’ll check out your animated films, too.

Sydney January 24, 2011, 10:12 am

I love this blog and its posts. I am always coming back again and again to see the new posts. Keep up the good work Eric.

Eric Edelman January 27, 2011, 11:01 pm

Thanks very much for your kind comments! I really appreciate them.

Comedy Plus January 26, 2011, 12:54 pm

I’d not thought of this before but you are right on the money.

Have a terrific WW. 🙂

Eric Edelman January 26, 2011, 2:56 pm

Happy WW to you, too

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