An Artist Invents A New Animation Technique, With Paint And A Tin Can

“It’s not unlike a Zoetrope,” says Jeff Scher about his new form of animation, which involves rotating a tin can with every brush stroke.

In painter and filmmaker Jeff Scher’s new video, God Knows–set to the Bob Dylan song of the same name–vibrantly colored dots, squiggles, and globs of paint dance gleefully across the frame. Over the course of three minutes, hundreds of patterns emerge, transform and disappear, keeping perfect rhythm with the song.


Its buoyancy and apparent simplicity allude nothing to the painstaking process by which the video was made–which involved a 3-inch-by-7-inch can, an array of colored paints, and over 50 hours of filming. Scher painted directly on the tin, which rested on two rollers and a slab of wood, and rotated it slightly after each brush stroke, capturing the process with a camera hanging overhead. He stitched each frame together in post-production and sped it up–creating a kind of animated Zoetrope whose pattern is continuously morphing into something new.

Here’s a time lapse of the process:

Scher, whose videos are part of the permanent collections of both MoMA and the Guggenheim, coined the technique with an earlier video, but perfected it during the two weeks he spent creating this one. Throughout most of the process, he was listening to “God Knows,” making it a natural pick as a soundtrack to the video. “There are rhythms that go into your ears and come out of your fingers,” says Scher, who has illustrated a music video for the musician before. “It was always that song that synched up with it perfectly.”

God Knows is not the official video for the song, which was released in 1990 on the album Under The Red Sky (though he did get permission from Dylan’s camp to use the song). Instead, it was an experiment for Scher, who says he was mostly looking for a way to not have to use paper. “I wanted to make a film that’s 2 minutes long without using paper that consumes itself as it goes,” he says. By the last frame, the can was 1/2 inch thick with paint, an entire video buried beneath those layers.


About the author

Meg Miller is an associate editor at Co.Design covering art, technology, and design.