Monday, January 7, 2013

Anthropomorphism in Animation

In the 1946 Disney animated feature, Make Mine Music, there was a rather delightful sequence called Johnny Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet. It was a terrific example of anthropomorphism - giving human traits and personality to that which is not human. Usually we think of anthropomorphism as it relates to cartoon animals who wear clothes, talk, and walk upright on their two hind legs. But there are plenty of samples of objects that are also brought to life with human traits, like the enchanted clock, candlestick and tea pot in Beauty and the Beast, or the brooms that overwhelm poor Mickey Mouse in The Sorcerer's Apprentice.

But getting back to the film I cited above, here are some stills from Johnny Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet that show what it is that I love about their design and treatment in the animation.

In the stills above, you can see how the two hats really lend themselves to being cast as human "types". Alice has a bow on the back, just as a girl might have a big bow tying up the back of her hair. The rest of the ribbon hangs down gracefully and can be utilized as girlish arms as demonstrated. Also, the lace around her brim suggests a frilly collar on a dress. Johnny is certainly a lot simpler in design, but the eyes exist where there would be the shadowed indentations on a fedora, and the opening of the hat acts as his mouth. The hatband even suggests a mustache, I suppose.

What I particularly enjoy though about Johnny's design is the use of a visual "cheat" - an element that goes deliberately against the rules of 3 dimensional structure (like Mickey's always round ears, for example). In Johnny's case the cheat is in the way his face actually encompasses two separate planes of the hat: the eyes are on the front, while the mouth is on the underside of the brim. Because a drawing is a 2 dimensional representation of 3D form, the artists can easily get away with this optical illusion of the two planes working as one when the hat is tilted up, as in the two stills above. Also, note how Johnny is able to exhibit emotion in the way the brim is pushed and pulled to achieve different mouth shapes, with the eyes reacting accordingly. This is the magic of traditional, hand drawn animation, and one of the reasons I will always vastly prefer it to CG animation, which so often is trying to mimic the literalness of live-action film. Additionally, so long as Hollywood continues to pursue creating these CG films in 3D, such visual"cheats" cannot possibly work as effectively.

This brings me to a subject that is bound to rub some people the wrong way, but I believe the criticism is warranted. Because of the trend in current animated features to try to emulate live-action cinematography, I feel that we're losing the very definition of what it means to be an animated film. My own interest in animation as a young kid was that it was the illusion of a drawing seemingly springing to life upon the screen. That was truly magical to me, and was certainly one of the factors contributing to my love of drawing and hopes to one day becoming a cartoonist. For me, it was always "The Animated Cartoon" - take "Cartoon" out of the equation and I really wasn't that interested. Sure, I liked some stop-motion animation back then, but it was always drawn cartoon animation that intrigued me.

So hopefully you can understand why I might not be particularly impressed with the latest short that Pixar is working on called The Blue Umbrella, which seems like a watered down (so to speak) variation on the classic Disney segment cited above. I came across this teaser clip on Cartoon Brew today and I must say it just leaves me cold. For a start, though it's technically CG animation, it might as well be live-action footage from the way it looks. The animated faces appear merely pasted on, rather than being physically integrated into the umbrellas themselves, and these objects only twist and turn a bit, not exhibiting any of the whimsical "Squash and Stretch" we associate with classic drawn animated performance. In short, this film clip holds about as much charm for me as a typical TV commercial for Kool-Aid, which it sadly puts me in mind of. For the record, I remain equally unimpressed with Pixar's two Cars features, as they also come across as live-action films with some animated elements pasted on top, again exhibiting no exaggeration of form and movement of the various car characters, thus not taking proper advantage of the animation medium.

By the way, I've heard that this short film may be the work of the satellite studio that Pixar set up in Vancouver. If so, it is likely that some of the folks involved in the animation may be former students of mine at Sheridan. Please understand that my criticism is not targeted toward those involved in bringing the film to fruition. My issue with the film is in the concept and art direction that was decided upon by the powers-that-be. Animation that tries this hard to look like its live-action film cousin just isn't really "animation" in the true sense of the word, not in my book anyway. Sorry, but this stuff needs to be said.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Miz Diaz

What?! There's still a pulse in this old blog?!
Yeah, it's been far too long since I've updated this thing, but here's something new to put on here as the first post of 2013. I did this caricature of Cameron Diaz for the current Caricaturama Showdown 3000 challenge, though I must admit it's been ages since I last participated in that thing too. Hopefully this entry will lead to some more in the weeks ahead, as I really do need some sort of kick in the butt to get back in the creative groove again.