Traditional Animation versus Pixar: A Tale of Competing Priorities

27 Mar

4th article in our 5 week series on Disney!

As much as it would be nice to discuss how wonderful Disney animation has been (for most of its almost 90 year history) one has to recognize how market forces have challenged their animation enterprise.   A creative juggernaut of the highest caliber, Disney is also a business that has to profit to sustain its production.  Gratifying audiences with warm and elegant animation, if not pioneering the finest animation, Disney has taken many advanced animation development techniques to great heights.  We know their 2 dimensional hand-drawn classics from our childhood favorites.  Yet we also appreciate the digital wizardry of their current 3 dimensional works also. Though we appreciate Disney’s association with Pixar we have to wonder whether a conflict of sorts is brewing.  This article will attempt to illustrate the collision (and sometimes hostility) that is sometimes provoked internally by challenging economic forces, contemporary appetites, and competing priorities at the Cineplex’s.

Snow white and Seven Dwarfs 1939

One of the most beautiful aspects of the animation for “Snow White and Seven Dwarfs” is the roto scoping method for capturing live actors fluid movements in space.   Yet we know the space of a drawing is actually flat; instinctively we cheer when visual artists provide the kind of illusion that keeps us fooled.  Also from our own memories, we instinctively know the material difference between Snow White’s skin and the cloth she’s wearing on her are not the same; yet WE (not the animators) continue to support the illusion that a life like drama is unfolding before us.  In that way, the art of animation has some basis in interactivity.   If, we marvel when her dress falls and swings yet her moving body remains solid despite its activity we feel that the animators and we make a good team.  We (living and watching today) like the audiences who first watched these films, are left breathless that drawings or paintings could surprise us with this level of naturalism that could be communicated by still images.  Unfortunately you can only be surprised once, once the common place sets in it’s very hard to be astounded (the same way) again.  Since we live in the early part of the new century we’ve been spoiled by yet another revolution in animated realism this time fostered by computers.

Fascinated by the digital styling’s of “Cars,” “Toy Story,” “Wall-E,” “Finding Nemo,” “The Incredibles,” “Ratatouille,” “UP,” and “Brave,” we can’t deny that fine story-telling and the fine expression of rendering craft helps (adults in the audience) to digest stories they might have otherwise outgrown. Though many on the Internet may be partial to either animation style, what should our collective response be when one stylistic experience threatens to eliminate the other?

Were these 2 animation art forms always adversarial? No.

Films like “Beauty and the Beast” had many backgrounds scenes entirely computer generated.

The carpet in “Alladin” was entirely computer animated.

The stampede of hundreds of wildebeasts was computer generated in the “Lion King.”

Once long in disrepair, 2-D animation supported the entire birth of 3-D animation.  When late 20th century animation was making a comeback, precisely by responding to cultural ideas and values the older animation aggressively resisted, both narratives were nurtured. Attempting to be worldly, (or not distinctly American or using the European influences that we associate with Americanism), Disney produced “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “Beauty and the Beast”, “Hercules,” and “The Little Mermaid.” Trying to embrace new ethnic diversities, Disney produced “Mulan,” “Prince of Egypt,” “Pocahontas,” “The Lion King” and “Aladdin”, Disney suddenly had an audience that had alluded them previously.   Yet in the midst of this return to glory, Disney ‘s 2D animation house, was supporting it’s younger less able cousin, Pixar’s 3D animation house as it found the legs to stand it’s own.

Though not as successful as expected, “Treasure Planet” broke knew ground with a far greater range of computer generated than what was common in an otherwise 2-d film.

Most fans may not realize Pixar head John Lassiter was almost always tight with the Michael Eisner, Jeffery Katzenberg, and Frank Wells, Disney of the late eighties and early nineties.

Eventually we would enjoy full-animated features that owed nothing to the 2-d worlds of the past. Movies like “Toy Story” broke new ground for fully animated features

Surprisingly, relying on the direction of John Lassiter (Toy Story), Disney has retreated from its 3d animation to invest in 2d animated movies again.  A staple of Disney’s historic portfolio, Disney reinvested in fairy tales and the “Princess film” one more time with the “Princess and the Frog.

If you were trying to sustain the production of 2-D animated films, what other content, features, or circumstances do you think could make the 2-d films popular again?

Also see: Empowering Princesses Everywhere!

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83 Responses to “Traditional Animation versus Pixar: A Tale of Competing Priorities”

  1. Jessica Morris March 28, 2013 at 7:19 AM #

    Great discussion, love this!

    • Comic Relief March 28, 2013 at 3:20 PM #

      Jessica Morris,

      Thanks for visiting and even better COMMENTING. Hope you visit and share your feelings again soon.

      • ozzie20 April 10, 2013 at 9:18 PM #

        Hello Jessica!

  2. littlebells March 28, 2013 at 10:19 AM #

    Terrific article CR! Valuable as always and I look forward tithe discussion. 🙂

    • Comic Relief March 28, 2013 at 3:21 PM #

      Thanks L.B.,

      I hope you especially liked the references to the “princess” films.

  3. Open Book March 28, 2013 at 1:22 PM #

    CR- ITA wonderful article.

    Which one do u prefer 2-D or 3-D animation or the two combined like in Beauty and the Beast?

    • Comic Relief March 28, 2013 at 3:23 PM #

      O.B,

      Thanks for the compliment.

      I like experimental animation also, yet to be honest I don’t have a preference. But I’m especially hopeful for hybrid forms of animation like “Beauty and the Beast.” Disney did such an excellent job of hiding or diminishing our ability to distinguish the difference.

  4. Open Book March 28, 2013 at 1:30 PM #

    CR- I really like Treasure Planet’s animation. However, it didn’t do very well in theaters. I think it only made 109mil with a 140mil production budget. Do u think the reason it failed was due to the story, marketing or the animation?

    • Comic Relief March 28, 2013 at 3:25 PM #

      OB,

      Well you named it. That film failed for all of the reasons you mentioned.
      As I suggested in the article animation is partially interactive in that the audience has to play it’s part in accepting or amplifying the reality they are receiving.

      “Treasure Planet” had an extremely hard time succeeding in regard to story, marketing or animation and bad reviews did not help.
      I’m not sure Disney should exclusively carry the blame.

      • Comic Relief March 28, 2013 at 3:26 PM #

        Story-wise:

        In its history Disney has supported a lot of adaptations. This one focused on Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson’s tale. I think the presentation of Young Jim Hawkins was fairly consistent with the book. Decision’s like making Long John Silver a cyborg and other science fiction modifications to the tale may have rubbed many audiences the wrong way.

        • Comic Relief March 28, 2013 at 3:27 PM #

          Marketing-wise:
          Hollywood wasn’t nearly as savvy at the marketing game back then as it is now. The inability to find, seduce and compel audiences can be a fine act that apparently they did not succeed at.

          • Comic Relief March 28, 2013 at 3:27 PM #

            Animation-wise:
            I’m not critical of the animation but we’ve seen later examples that were not as crude style-wise. Some of the examples of today’s computer animation look far less “cold” that many of the computer renders in that movie.
            I hate saying this but I think story is the most important aspect. I appreciate all animation yet I can adapt to experimental and fairly poor animation when I have to.

        • littlebells March 28, 2013 at 8:45 PM #

          Yeah, the story was not gripping to me in the trailer and I would have passed had I even remember seeing it previewed on TV. Sad because maybe that’s a film that could be empowering to young boys????

          • Comic Relief March 28, 2013 at 8:53 PM #

            Millions agreed with you.

  5. Open Book March 28, 2013 at 1:31 PM #

    Everyone-

    Has or does anyone remember seeing Treasure Planet?

    • Comic Relief March 28, 2013 at 3:35 PM #

      I don’t think most realize it was distributed in 2002.

    • parisienne March 28, 2013 at 6:24 PM #

      I do remember seeing it. Michael J. Fox voiced Milo.

      • Comic Relief March 28, 2013 at 7:41 PM #

        Paris,

        Did you mean Micheal J. Fox played Milo in Disney’s “Atlantis the Lost Empire?” Wow you have some extremely eccentric taste. I’m extremely impressed!!!!

        • Comic Relief March 28, 2013 at 7:43 PM #

          From treasure planet, these were some of the voice actors:

          Joseph Gordon-Levitt voiced Jim Hawkins
          Emma Thompson voiced Captain Amelia
          Martin Short voiced B.E.N
          Brian Murray voiced John Silver

        • parisienne March 28, 2013 at 7:44 PM #

          Yes! Sorry wrong movie! I remember it though.

          • Comic Relief March 28, 2013 at 7:47 PM #

            S’all right. No needs to be brilliant all of the time.

            • Comic Relief March 29, 2013 at 2:51 AM #

              Thanks for reminding me I never even mentioned this film previously, yet it’s just as relevant as the other predominantly 2-D movies.

              • ozzie20 April 10, 2013 at 9:19 PM #

                I don’t think I’ve heard of either!

          • Open Book March 29, 2013 at 8:25 AM #

            Paris- I think u remember ways Treasure Planet could be improved. Perhaps they should have consulted u. I like your ideas.

  6. Open Book March 28, 2013 at 1:39 PM #

    CR- U said: “If you were trying to sustain the production of 2-D animated films, what other content, features, or circumstances do you think could make the 2-d films popular again?”

    I like heartfelt, imaginative stories and characters and how their conveyed. How about u?

    • Comic Relief March 28, 2013 at 3:28 PM #

      I hate saying this but I think story is the most important aspect. I appreciate all animation yet I can adapt to experimental and fairly poor animation when I have to.

      • parisienne March 28, 2013 at 6:26 PM #

        Story is always important. If there isn’t a strong story/foundation they can do whatever new animation they want. It won’t help. They’re screwed. The story has to hold them.

        • Open Book March 28, 2013 at 8:26 PM #

          Hahaha! U Said: “It won’t help. They’re screwed. The story has to hold them.”

          I’m getting this on a T-Shirt. Classic!! LOL!

          • littlebells March 28, 2013 at 8:47 PM #

            Whether live action or animation: YOU NEED A GREAT STORY!!!!

            • Open Book March 29, 2013 at 8:28 AM #

              I concur!

              • ozzie20 April 10, 2013 at 9:22 PM #

                Agreed!

  7. Open Book March 28, 2013 at 6:38 PM #

    Hi Everyone!

    I’m a little early. I will listen to elevator music until everyone gets here…..)

    • Comic Relief March 28, 2013 at 7:05 PM #

      Hi OB.

      Do you have an animation style preference?

      • Open Book March 28, 2013 at 8:28 PM #

        I like a little of both but u know I lean more toward the traditional because the story stands out more.

        • littlebells March 28, 2013 at 8:51 PM #

          I like traditional a bit more too because then I can focus on the story more instead of just looking at all the cool graphics. I still like 3D too. I still love the original animations by Disney. A great story doesn’t need all the fancy shmancy stuff…

          • Open Book March 29, 2013 at 8:32 AM #

            Hahaha! Fancy shmancy stuff. I’m starting to collect all your funny zingers LB. LOL!

            • ozzie20 April 10, 2013 at 9:44 PM #

              Hmmmm… I like both. I’m not sure I could single out one even by a little bit. Traditional is whimsical (I’m sure there is are bad points but I can’t figure out what it is exactly), 3D is realistic yet that can be a sensory overload at times.

  8. Comic Relief March 28, 2013 at 7:20 PM #

    I think if I was to be honest about the ways Disney has been influential in the animation industry I should have mentioned that Disney’s attempts to integrate multiple animation styles I should mention Prince of Egypt was both hand drawn and computer animated.

    The burning bush is computer animated.

  9. parisienne March 28, 2013 at 7:32 PM #

    Hi Everyone!

  10. Comic Relief March 28, 2013 at 8:00 PM #

    One of the reasons I wrote the article was because 2-d “Winnie the Pooh” $26,692,846 because “The Princess and Frog” made $104,400,899 and that wasn’t considered too successful compared to Pixar’s movies.

    Does anyone think this is crazy or unfair???

    • parisienne March 28, 2013 at 8:04 PM #

      No, I don’t think its crazy or unfair. I think that today’s children are not used to 2D animation. They are used to seeing films like Toy Story and Finding Nemo, Cars and others. That’s the present version of animation. 2D is enjoyed by their parents and those that appreciate “old school” animation. I think its a present sign of the times, tbh.

      • Comic Relief March 28, 2013 at 8:13 PM #

        …some of the audience is let down.

        • parisienne March 28, 2013 at 8:16 PM #

          so am i but you have to look at things realistically.

          • littlebells March 28, 2013 at 8:54 PM #

            I agree with Paris, sadly. However, I think kids can enjoy both. My four year old loves Cinderella and Brave. It’s about “educating” your kids in the classics. 😉

          • Comic Relief March 28, 2013 at 8:56 PM #

            I’m trying to take a mature break where I will have to agree with you. I just wish I did not have to.

  11. Comic Relief March 28, 2013 at 8:01 PM #

    Should relatively moderate box office be a reason to side line an artform?

    • parisienne March 28, 2013 at 8:09 PM #

      No. I don’t think it should be a reason. What I think the “financiers” need to look at is “What type of product are we selling to consumers? What can the consumer take away from this product in terms of educational value? How does this product assist consumers in their everyday life? Are we going to tell a story that has lasting, long-term effect or are we going to tell a shotty story with amazing graphics that consumers will only see once?

      It really all depends on what TPTB want to sell the consumer, IMO.

      • Comic Relief March 28, 2013 at 8:17 PM #

        You aren’t back tracking now are you? Actually all opinions are valid.

        • parisienne March 28, 2013 at 8:20 PM #

          Does it seem like i’m backtracking because i don’t mean to be.

          • Open Book March 28, 2013 at 8:38 PM #

            I could have poorly misinterpretted you.

            • Open Book March 28, 2013 at 8:45 PM #

              Oops! I meant to post this comment up above to CR. Sorry Paris.

  12. Comic Relief March 28, 2013 at 8:08 PM #

    3-D “Tangled” which made $200,821,936 was considered relatively successful by comparison. But supposedly this movie is the reason for stopping the princess films. I don’t know why, but poor box office really seems to provoke a lot of extreme evaluations

    • littlebells March 28, 2013 at 8:56 PM #

      Seriously? She’s one of the first princesses that’s got some major substance! Although, I do agree we do have a lot of princesses…maybe they can create a new female heroine genre!

  13. parisienne March 28, 2013 at 8:22 PM #

    CR,

    I need to go for the evening. Great article. I’ll stop by tomorrow and comment some more.

    • Open Book March 28, 2013 at 8:24 PM #

      Darn it. I’m sorry I missed u. Let me read and get caught up.

    • Comic Relief March 28, 2013 at 8:49 PM #

      Thanks Paris.

  14. Open Book March 28, 2013 at 8:33 PM #

    CR- Pixar tends to do a lot more original stories than Disney which does more adaptations. What do u think is better for young consumers today who we want to empower? For example Brave was an original story vs. Tangled.

    • Comic Relief March 28, 2013 at 9:07 PM #

      OB,

      I don’t have any preferences but I think newer stories clarify that some ones awake and the present isn’t being neglected.

      Aligning with what Paris said above, a relevant, Ellen DeGeneres, voicing a contemporary character like Dory, in a recent story about a father raising his son has an unbeatable symmetry that I found hard to resist when I saw it. A contemporary animation style seems to help.

      • Comic Relief March 28, 2013 at 9:15 PM #

        Ya know I just realized that may be the logic the studio may be using. Thanks a lot; yet that might make me mad.

        Machines have been laying off work forces for decades and I guess industry and the general public are expressing their preferences once again.

        I don’t think you can fault consumers yet I appreciated the hybrid animation forms because I thought it might sustain 2-D work forces a little while longer.

  15. littlebells March 28, 2013 at 8:39 PM #

    CR,

    My apologies for being so late to the discussion. It’s been an “uncomfortable” and sleepy week. Let me read and get caught up. 🙂

    • Comic Relief March 28, 2013 at 8:51 PM #

      Take your time.

      • parisienne March 28, 2013 at 9:04 PM #

        Hi!

        Is anyone still here?

        • Comic Relief March 28, 2013 at 9:08 PM #

          Hey your back!

          • parisienne March 28, 2013 at 9:12 PM #

            I am! Hi LB!

        • littlebells March 28, 2013 at 9:09 PM #

          Yes!

          • Open Book March 29, 2013 at 8:45 AM #

            Gosh! Sorry I keep missing everyone. I kept getting pulled away last night. Looks like a fun discussion.

  16. littlebells March 28, 2013 at 9:09 PM #

    CR,

    1. Where do you think the future of animation will and can go?

    2. Do you think it makes a difference who is voicing a character when it comes to box office success?

    • Comic Relief March 28, 2013 at 9:19 PM #

      LB,

      I don’t know yet I think I may be a little closer to understanding how the older art form is being retired.

      Of course, I hope I’m wrong.

      Yes, it matters who voices the characters.

      • parisienne March 28, 2013 at 9:26 PM #

        Honestly, I don’t think it does. The reason Ellen got the job, she’s actually said this, is because one of the animators or someone who worked on the film, used to watch her show when it was on t.v. The show where she came out. I don’t remember if that was called Ellen as well.

        Anyhow, she did a scene where she was talking to herself a dream. The guy thought it was so funny he never forgot it. So when they were looking for Dory he thought of her called her up and offered her the part. The “dream sequence” similar to the one he saw on her show is recreated when Dory falls asleep in the mask and is talking to herself. Marlin has to scream at her to get her to wake up.

        • parisienne March 28, 2013 at 9:29 PM #

          here is the scene

          • Comic Relief March 28, 2013 at 9:38 PM #

            That was hilarious. I certainly didn’t expect to see it acted out. That was cool, and I remembered that sequence from the movie.

        • Comic Relief March 28, 2013 at 9:33 PM #

          Paris,

          That’s a good story. It might have called the “Ellen Degeneres” show.

          • parisienne March 28, 2013 at 9:34 PM #

            Thanks for helping me remember. That’s 0-2 tonight!

      • Comic Relief March 28, 2013 at 9:27 PM #

        Referring to your last question, I’m sure one day (in the not so distant future) voice development will improve to the point that we will allow computers to replace actual actors in animation. You already hear computer voices on many automated phone services.

        I’m sure I’ll mourn that outcome as well, but oh my goodness…….. will that be contemporary!!! Sorry I’m done with the sarcasm.

        I’m going to whimper back to my corner.

        • littlebells March 28, 2013 at 9:35 PM #

          I hate automated voices…it means I’m not speaking to someone LIVE

          • parisienne March 28, 2013 at 9:37 PM #

            you know what i hate? the hit one for english two for spanish? Excuse me but what country am i in? What is the native language here?

            • parisienne March 28, 2013 at 9:38 PM #

              I mean if you’re going to move to another country learn the damn language. Rant done.

              • Open Book March 29, 2013 at 9:08 AM #

                Paris-Yes! ITA. IMO one doesn’t have to give up their cultural heritage to learn the native language of the country they reside in. Perhaps some feel this is what they are doing by speaking English.

          • Open Book March 29, 2013 at 8:56 AM #

            Diversity is a good thing and real human emotion can’t be replicated by a computer. Also, our corporate consumer culture already sees humans as machines. This does little to help us empathize with people who are suffering.

  17. Comic Relief March 28, 2013 at 9:42 PM #

    Thanks both of you for coming and helping me break the 9:00 time limit rule. I hope no one is angry or disappointed. Talk to you both very soon.

    • Open Book March 29, 2013 at 9:10 AM #

      Great article and discussion. Sorry I could not stay for all of it.

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