The spectacle of flying insects drawn to lights has been a nocturnal magic show since the day our prehistoric ancestors discovered fire.


I’ve been filming the action on back porches for years. Looking at the footage frame by frame, I discovered that most of these insects seem to beat their wings about three times for every film frame. At 24 frames per second, that makes 72 beats each second, by my primitive cine-science. This meant that in order to draw this flight, I needed to incorporate this flurry of motion into progressive blurs on every frame.

“Fly By Night” was animated by drawing in black charcoal on white sheets of paper, which were then photographed in negative. I like working in charcoal because it’s such a happily tactile medium. Smudging it provided the blur and spectral glow and made me feel connected back to those prehistoric campfires that provided our ancestors with a cooked dinner and a show. These are the same fires that gave them charcoal, one of our very first drawing mediums.

The choreography of the insects is a compilation of the flight patterns I observed, which I then reinterpreted with a measure of poetic license. The film is ultimately about meditating on the wonder of the event.

The music by Shay Lynch captures the magic of these miniature aerial ballets of the dark summer nights.


About The Animated Life

Jeff Scher

Jeff Scher is a painter who makes experimental films and an experimental filmmaker who paints. His work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art and the Hirshhorn Museum, and has been screened at the Guggenheim Museum, the Pompidou Center in Paris, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and at many film festivals around the world, including opening night at the New York Film Festival. Mr. Scher has also had two solo shows of his paintings, which have also been included in many group shows in New York galleries. Additionally, he has created commissioned work for HBO, HBO Family, PBS, the Sundance Channel and more. Mr. Scher teaches graduate courses at the School of Visual Arts and will be joining the faculty at NYU Tisch School of the Arts Kanbar Institute of Film & Television's Animation program in the fall. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two sons.