Cartoon and Animation’s Industry Antagonisms

13 Aug

With box office watchers and animation fans pleased at this summer’s returns, most  cartoon and animation cinephile’s probably feel comfortable to turn their attention to other non-animation films.  For them these events might be a symbol of market success:

Despicable Me 2 (2013) Click here to see trailer

Budget: $76 million(s)

Gross: $714M

Epic (2013)

Budget: $100 million(s)

Gross: $245M

The Croods (2013)

Budget: $135 million(s)

Gross: $583M [1]

With most of the summer season over, are we  now free to make industry assessments? Regardless, is all well for this perennially popular genre?

In terms of artistry and development, many would say no. John K of John K’s blog claims one major trend in media visible animation is the dismemberment of the actual art.  Like other doomsday predictions, he and others claim, artistically digging it’s self into a deeper and deeper pit; animation is on the downslide.  Even his most cursory descriptions are distinctively negative.

“…regarding all of this contemporary trend in (mostly TV) animated characters where the designs are deliberately flat and graphic, with the limitations in movement and personality that are inherent in such design.”[2]

Selected out by the Cartooncave.com site, a commenter on K’s blog named Tilchef reflects on his experience in the field and but casts a far darker picture than what might appear to be stylistic anger about modeling bias’.

“Business arrogance dominates this industry and people with no love for cartoons produce them. The self-censorship and political correctness strangle every fresh idea before it’s even born. Young enthusiastic animators are very quickly disillusioned by a system, which treats them as computer operators and has no mechanism to get feedback, ideas or allow them even the slightest creativity to do visual gags, a system which shows no recognition for their work and appreciation of their skill or talent, a system that kicks them out in the street upon a successful completion of the job. Very quickly they become cynical, trapped in the world of stock actions and expressions, knocking frames day after day, quickly learning how to do things in order to avoid problems.” [3]

Hmmmmm, or maybe this tone is just a reflection of a televised or TV cartoon world.  Of course there really are many TV perspectives.  You might notice a different levity in regard to the perspectives of those creating for Cartoon Network: [4]

I believe that source is reporting an entirely hopeful perspective. Or, on second thought maybe we need to change our orientation.  Perhaps look outside Hollywood.  Or just widen our scope and creatively things don’t seem nearly as bad.

Some of you in the professional animation world may be screaming foul due to the fact that so many sites are dedicated to the constant promotion of a pleased production environment.  Though they dip into the critical, sites like “Animation World Network” or AWN.com seems to always paint a brighter picture for animation and visual affects.  Take this quote from AWN.com:

Spring may have finally sprung, but Hollywood is as determined as ever to see us flock to the cinemas.  Here’s a sampling of the plethora of visually tantalizing entertainment options opening at the box office. [4]”

Visual affects or VFX, (the animated wing of affects that has made so many fantasy and science fiction adventure movies so visually dynamic) and the sites that typically celebrate these movies rarely falter in their celebrations. Seeming like so many web based “Entertainment Tonights,” they rarely launch into the negative Abyss suggested by the earlier quotes.

Now the professional animation insiders are probably sneering. The populations that appear to support the big corporate animation houses are gleefully ignorant about more traditional animation’s woes. After all the 3-D landscape is so glorious, lucrative, and appreciative.  As the earlier sales figures confirm.  Planned tent poles like “Pacific Rim,” “Man of Steel” and “Ironman 3” are business department gold.

OK, I will veer away from the human developed, hand drawn, and minimally computer generated animation.  Yeah, maybe the rank and file is disgruntled and maybe these sad sacks are just being soar losers!  Lets take a look at the remarks of some of the performers who are stationed at higher positions on animation’s production hierarchies.

According to Amid Amidi of Cartoonbrew.com even leading artists and creative minds lament the dramatic drop in artistry in regard to feature animation.  He published in his article:  “Director Henry Selick (Coraline and The Nightmare Before Christmas) states the obvious about the American animated feature industry

In his article “Henry Selick Slams American Animation Biz” he quotes the award-winning director as saying:

It’s too homogenous. It’s way too much the same. The films aren’t really that different one from the other. Despicable Me could have been made Pixar, by DreamWorks. It’s not a great time for feature animation if you want to do something even moderately outside the formula [6].”

Even if we accept what Paul Wells and Johnny Hardstaf claim in their book “Re-Imagining Animation: The Changing Face of the Moving Image”…

Advances in digital technology have caused a radical shift in moving image culture. This has occurred in both modes of production and sites of exhibition, resulting in a blurring of boundaries that previously defined a range of creative disciplines [7].”

Is it possible that we will eventually need someone to referee the sometimes terrible creative tension within our great field(s) of animation?  Isn’t the wealth of our enjoyment of this field worth the viewing public’s eventual intervention?

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Essential references:

[1] http://www.ondvdreleases.com/best-animation-movies/

[2] http://johnkstuff.blogspot.com/2009/09/does-everybody-want-to-be-character.html

[3] http://cartooncave.blogspot.com/2009/09/limitations-of-contemporary-tv.html

[4] http://www.cartoonbrew.com/tv/cartoon-network-profiles-its-next-generation-of-creators-86957.html

[5] http://www.awn.com/articles/films/spring-2013-animation-and-vfx-film-preview

[6] http://www.cartoonbrew.com/ideas-commentary/henry-selick-slams-american-animation-biz-86670.html

[7] http://sensesofcinema.com/2010/book-reviews/re-imagining-animation-the-changing-face-of-the-moving-image-by-paul-wells-and-johnny-hardstaff/

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9 Responses to “Cartoon and Animation’s Industry Antagonisms”

  1. Open Book August 13, 2013 at 12:29 PM #

    AWESOME! Article CR. My favorite part of your article and I quote “Yeah, maybe the rank and file is disgruntled and maybe these sad sacks are just being soar losers!”

    Hmm! I think this is me. Hahahaha! I will come back later after I’ve collected my thoughts.

    • Open Book August 13, 2013 at 12:36 PM #

      Ok, now that I’ve wiped my tears away. JK! The main issue I have with computer animation that it can cross the line and over power the story. Now, I love Pixar’s stuff but they seem to have the right formula for balancing story and technique. What are your thoughts on this CR?

    • ComicRelief August 13, 2013 at 2:59 PM #

      Thanks, O.B. 🙂

    • ComicRelief August 14, 2013 at 7:46 PM #

      OB,

      I have to admit I sort of torn about the subject. I fully agree with Selick, the larger 3D studios do resemble themselves too much. It used to be far easier to tell them apart; I’m not just talking about their stylistic or choices of modeling practice.

      On the other hand, a good story has to stand on its own.

      I think I agree with the animators at cartoon network, the animators have to have an intuition about the visuals as well as the writing.

  2. Open Book August 13, 2013 at 12:40 PM #

    Welcome-

    New and returning visitors. We will be having a open discussion on this article instead of our regular scheduled time today. So please feel free to leave comments and question and we will answer them.

    .

    • ComicRelief August 15, 2013 at 1:59 PM #

      OB & Ozzie,

      You have both been critical about the level of corporate groupthink visible in so much adventure fare. As you both know animation is the product of many creators. With the possibility of multiple edits, rewrites, and recastings being enormous; what integrity can this medium have? Do you believe this medium has any possibility of being a refuge for unique, independent, or free thinking of any kind?

  3. ozzie20 August 13, 2013 at 7:29 PM #

    Hello everyone! I’ll be popping in and out for tonight’s discussion as my computer crashed again (not my fault this time, yay!) and I lost the work I was doing. Grrr!

    • ComicRelief August 15, 2013 at 1:52 PM #

      Ozzie,

      Sorry about the computer problems, Ozzie.

      In the past you remarked that you liked the range of voices and talents visible in T.V. shows like “Britain’s got talent?” I know you’ve seen most of Pixar’s movies, do you think you’re seeing a wide enough range of people speaking to imply there’s a psuedo-democracy worth noting?

  4. Comic Relief August 15, 2013 at 2:06 PM #

    I’ve noticed something of an “awkward” trend (in TV animation) that I think might challenge some of the prevalent power fantasies and narratives surrounding many of the bigger fantasy, Sci-fi and action/adventure and franchises and genres.
    Does anyone else see this trend, and if so what do you think about it?

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