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January 25, 2016

So How Good is Animation, Really?

Kind of casting a wide net here, I know.  But whatever.  This should be fun.

You should know going into this post that I have a strong lean towards animation by default (just look at the header!).  Yes, I like animated stuff.  I have for ages.  Naturally, that extends to anime in its myriad forms -- even to this day, despite the issues and stigma that plague it.  But I don’t have a problem admitting that stuff from the west is pretty good, too.  People of all ages are blessed nowadays to have stuff like Adventure Time, Steven Universe, and Regular Show in their midst; it’s a safe bet that we’ll all be getting more quality stuff in the future.  Also, there’s this French thing called Wakfu or Dofus that’s based on a game or something, and it looks absolutely sick.

Obviously, I come from a background/rich history of video games.  There’s been a push for photorealism for a while now, but past or present the medium is full of artistry and animation.  Style can compensate for raw horsepower, and in fact outstrip it; what’s being shown on a screen is incredibly important, and that’s made possible by a strong creative vision made possible via the thrills of animation.  Or, alternatively, it’s what breathes life into characters.  That’s true of stuff like Street Fighter and Guilty Gear, but you don’t have to look at video games for every last good example.

I haven’t seen Big Hero 6 for myself -- because I’m terrible at life -- but I have seen stuff for it.  And when I do, I can’t help but feel a sense of awe.  Even in still shots, the characters are teeming with life.  Some of the environments in San Fransokyo are remarkable.  It just makes me feel every time I get a glimpse of it, and now I’m eagerly awaiting the tied-in level in Kingdom Hearts 3 (whenever that comes out).  I guess I shouldn’t be all that surprised, though.  Frozen was also pretty strong in the visuals department, as was Tangled.  It’s almost as if the company backing them was an animation giant or something.

I think that my appreciation of animation stems, at least partially, from my emphasis on characters.  They create opportunities, of course, and a well-written one goes a long way.  BUT when you’re dealing with audiovisual mediums (and even then), there’s so much more that can be done, if not should be done.  That level of expression is something that I live for, and love seeing when it’s done well.  As an example: there’s a funny scene in Tales of Zestiria that becomes even funnier because of the lively animation, itself on top of a game that’s among the best-looking the series has put out so far.  Granted that kind of loses its impact when you remember the sterling displays in Tales of Symphonia, but at least there’s been some real progress.

As I’ve mentioned before, I downloaded the 3D rendering software Blender as a way to try and make some of my characters come to life.  I haven’t started doubting the power of the written word, but it takes a level of investment for people to even want to read, let alone read far enough to feel the characters.  So maybe if I get good enough with Blender, I can express my heroes and heroines in a whole new way.  You know, to have them express themselves and show who they are in five seconds tops.  That’d be cool.  I wouldn’t mind doing that, if I’m being honest.  But either way, I have no problems admitting that I’ve got deep respect for animation.

But do others?  And if not, then why not?

I know there’s a stigma around animation, in the sense that people think it’s for kids or whatever.  Or, alternatively, it’s automatically of lower quality and credibility because it uses drawings or CG or…I don’t know, stick figures.  That’s not true of everyone, I know (or at least hope), but it’s probably a very real concern that keeps the style -- or styles -- down.  And that strikes me as something that’s concerning at best, and backwards at worst.

I’ll be frank: if some of my stuff ever reached a point where it made it to the big screen, then ideally it would be 3D-animated.  Not ALL of my stuff, mind, but I imagine some of it would make the process a lot easier; plenty of CG would be on display, along with esoteric creatures and world-warping events.  Plus, almost half the cast is barely out of middle school, so I doubt there are a lot of big-name actors who could play the role (especially since those roles would feature a fair bit of fighting).  It just seems easier to have the characters rendered in 3D, so that the crew could find the perfect voices for each hero, and they could render the characters with 100% loyalty to the source material without fans crying “they shouldn’t have cast him, they should’ve cast him!”  But hey, that’s just me.  I’m no Hollywood bigwig.

But the immediate obstacle is an obvious one: putting out an animated movie that’s actually serious (or leans toward seriousness) is basically asking for failure, isn’t it?  True, the Pixar movies and others have gotten away with loading up their movies with some seriously heavy stuff -- Up is probably a legend in that regard -- but just think about the marketing for it.  The seriousness and depth took a backseat to…Carl’s bare ass getting dragged across glass.  Even if the movie’s an award-winner, it was sold as something that may, arguably, be beneath the final product.

I don’t know.  I mean, Disney, DreamWorks, and Pixar have all done some fantastic work over the years, haven’t they?  There should be a sense of legitimacy to them now, I hope -- and I assume there is, given how much positive buzz can surround these movies.  But maybe those studios are to blame -- unable, or unwilling, to sell more than comedies with a mix of action and drama.  In my personal experience, I’ve got a brother who tried desperately to get me to see Terminator: Genisys.  I told him I would if we went to see Inside Out.  Neither of us budged, so neither of us was satisfied.  I don’t think I need to explain why I didn’t want to see Arnold’s latest and “greatest”.  But why didn’t he want to see Inside Out?  Because colors?  Because cartoons?  Because “childish”?

I didn’t press him on it, but it’s not hard to imagine why if we assume he got swept up in the stigma.  Animation can tell you a lot in a short amount of time, but the tradeoff is that its expressiveness doesn’t sync up with everybody.  So even if the adventures of Joy and Sadness are a cinematic marvel, the problem is that Joy and Sadness still look like, well, Joy and Sadness -- abstractions brought to virtual life, in a way that’s not all that appealing to MANLY MAN MEN.  So maybe the problem is that even if animation is good, it’s steering into the skid.  It’s regularly slotting into the roles everyone expects of it -- sneaking in that quality and heft instead of putting it out in the open.

So I guess what I’m meandering my way towards is this: is there a market for serious animated films? 

I feel like there should be a definite space out there by now.  And yeah, there kind of is one if we look at the anime world (also, memo to self: start watching RWBY).  But in a broader sense and space, it feels like there’s a whole world of animation -- and stories -- that isn’t being tapped as well as it should.  Maybe that’s because historical precedents have implied that that’s a bad idea; that movie Titan A.E. apparently did not do well, for example.  And beyond that there’s…uh…Disney’s Dinosaur, maybe?  Okay, there’s also a suite of Don Bluth movies, but recently?  What have we gotten?  EpicLegend of the Guardians?  Oh, shit, wait -- Legend of the Guardians is the one with the owls.  I wanted Rise of The Guardians, with Jack Frost.

So I guess the state of the union is…sound?

I don’t know.  Like, I’m sure there’s more stuff out there I’m overlooking or devaluing, but it kind of feels like there could -- and maybe should -- be more.  Animated stories are bursting with potential by default, and I hate thinking that they could be ignored or stereotyped (externally or internally) just because that’s the thing to do.  They deserve every bit of praise that they can get, because there’s so much art that they can put on display.  I’m not about to doubt any of the pro actors out there, but the human body has its limits.  Animation doesn’t.

Well, that’s another rant down.  So feel free to weigh in at your leisure.  What do you think about animation?  A godsend?  Godforsaken?  Underappreciated?  Overrated?  Feel free to go all in.  Also, this is a golden opportunity to go full ham with your favorite animated whatever, so do it.  Do it hard.

Draw your line in the sand here.  Ready?  Set…comment!

Maybe I could’ve saved myself 1500 words if I just stuck to spamming JoJo gifs.  But I don’t have a large enough catalog of those.  Yet.

In the meantime?  Guess I'll have to make the best of a bad situation.

Yes.  Now THAT'S art.

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