5 October 2016
This blogpost is part of my Theory class where we have to write about contemporary topics we’re discussing during classes.

Since the golden age of animated films in the early 1900s many techniques have come and gone. The focus of this post will be on the role of technology in the past, present and future of animated films, especially in the more popular character driven animations. What have technological changes added to the medium? Have the principals of animation stayed the same? And what are the possibilities for animators in the future?

Character driven animations became rather successful during the 1910s-1930s with Felix the Cat, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Mickey Mouse, Betty Boob and Bimbo as their leading stars. [1] [2] Caricature and over the top gags were characteristic for these cartoons. In the 1920s technological inventions such as sound and color provided even more opportunities for animated storytelling. [3] However, these cartoons were quite time consuming to make since the needed frames were hand drawn. “Fleischer Studios, one of the largest animation studios in the 1920s–1930s, recorded its own footage of moving characters, which was then traced into animated drawings.” Technologies such as the rotoscope (Fleischer) and the mulitplane camera (Disney) were inventions driven by the need for “greater visual realism and production efficiency.” [4] [5]

This aim for efficiency and visual realism has continued throughout the years. The digital revolution (1950s-1980s) played a large part in the production of animations, with inventions such as the computer, mobile phone and Internet. [6] Software programs were developed to make many tedious tasks easier for the animator. As Sara Alvarez Sarrat and Maria Lorenzo Hernandez explain: “Computer animation has not caused a decline in traditional animation, but has helped, particularly by replicating so-called “traditional” drawing and painting tools and terminology in computer graphics programs.” Providing the great benefit of “reducing overall production time. This reduction has substantially reduced the economic costs, and in this fashion, has made it easier for new filmmakers to produce their own films.” [7]

However, if you look at the most popular character driven animations today you’ll notice that digital or hybrid forms have largely replaced the hand drawn animations. [8] In the top ten alone of highest grossing animated features of 2016, there is only one animation that was not entirely made with 3D software: Kubo and the two strings. And even this movie was a combination of Stop Motion and CGI.

A recent product of combining digital and traditional animation styles is the 2016 game Cuphead. This 2D game was inspired by the traditional animations from the 1920s-1930s I’ve mentioned earlier. The makers chose a more cartoony style because “We wanted to stand out from all of the hyper-realistic and pixel art games that already exist – something a little more traditionally artistic. Something looser, more free-form.” [9] And here we’ve come full circle. New technologies greatly reduce the production process of animated films, but in the end animators also want to make it their own and keep looking for other ways to achieve just that.

I believe creators are always inspired by what has come before, especially when certain trends that follow new technologies are getting even more accessible through, for example, tutorials (Video CoPilot, Creative Cow, Lynda.com). With the emergence of computers and software like Adobe CC, more and more people can afford to make animations in a relatively short amount of time. I don’t think that the change towards more digitally made animations is necessarily a bad thing, however we, animators, should be aware of the influence it has on our storytelling and style. How do we stand out among an increasing number of animated films, where more and more is automatically generated?

The search for a more personal approach can be seen in recent animated productions. Different media and technologies are blending together more and more. As Lev Manovich points out: “Since the end of the 1990s, the new hybrid visual language of moving images has dominated global visual culture. “ [10] These hybrid films are no longer only available on theatre and television screens, since computers and mobile phones provide wider platforms for viewing the latest films. It has even become possible to create interactive content, for example with personalized videos and e-cards like JibJab and Storybots, but also 360 degrees videos like Special delivery were the viewer can choose where to look. With the upcoming of Virtual Reality animation becomes even more personal, like Alumette. The audience becomes part of the story and in some instances can even influence what is happening. I believe storytelling will become less of a one-way street and more of a versatile and immersive personal experience. This opens up a whole new way of thinking and how we can bring animated stories to life.

[1] Dave Kehr (2009) Animation Motion picture, https://www.britannica.com/art/animation [Accessed 4 October 2016].

[2] Gamesindustry (2015) Cuphead x Warren Spector http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2015-08-04-cuphead-x-warren-spector [Accessed 4 October 2016].

[3] Dave Kehr (2009) Animation Motion picture, https://www.britannica.com/art/animation [Accessed 4 October 2016].

[4] Gadassik A (2015) Assembling Movement: Scientific Motion Analysis and Studio Animation Practice. Detroit, Michigan: Wayne State University Press.

[5] Dave Kehr (2009) Animation Motion picture, https://www.britannica.com/art/animation [Accessed 4 October 2016].

[6] Wikipedia(2016) Digital Revolution, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_Revolution [Accessed 4 October 2016].

[7] Álvarez Sarrat S and Lorenzo Hernández M (2013) How Computers Re-Animated Hand-Made Processes and Aesthetics for Artistic Animation. Animation Studies Online Journal.

[8] IMDb (2016) Top-US-Grossing Animation Feature Films Released 2016-01-01 to 2016-12-31 http://www.imdb.com/search/title?genres=animation&title_type=feature&year=2016,2016&sort=boxoffice_gross_us,desc [Accessed 4 October 2016].

[9] Gamesindustry (2015) Cuphead x Warren Spector http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2015-08-04-cuphead-x-warren-spector [Accessed 4 October 2016].

[10] Manovich L (2007) Understanding hybrid media, webdocument via http://manovich.net/ first published in: San Diego: San Diego Museum of Art