Aesthetic refers to beauty or to the study of the principles of beauty, especially in art. By studying and comparing the aesthetic qualities of the early and current animated films, we can learn the good and bad qualities of animation in the two different eras. We will also compare the similarities and differences using examples of techniques, treatments and technology used in different animated films from cel animation to computer generated imagery animation.
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The animated films in the past and the present both follow one rule, which is to keep the design of the characters simple and easy for animation. Thomas, B. (1991) states that, during the twenties, there most studios were persistently using the Circle Formula and the Rubber-hose Method as it was the quickest way to draw a character for their productions. Animators need not worry about the angles when animating as the drawing were mostly circles and lines. The arms and legs moved like rubber hoses as there were no elbows, knees and wrists on the character. Therefore using the Circle Formula and the Rubber-hose methods allowed animators to draw each frame faster and they saved a lot of time and money for the studios. By mid-thirties, aesthetic of the character evolved. Freddy Moore added the squash and stretch technique and changed Mickey s body to a pear like shape to enhance the emotion of the character. (Thomas, B. 1991) It has changes how the aesthetic of the film look from that period onward. Bennett, D. (2009) discusses that appealing design enable the audience to identify with and grow to like the character. When designing a character, it is best to think of a personality for it. Having a distinct shape and silhouette allows the audience to recognize the characters immediately. This rule can be further illustrated by comparing Figure 1 and Figure 2, where the shapes for both examples are kept simple, despite the former being an older production than the latter.
Figure 1: Circle Formula and Rubber-hose Method by Anon
Figure 2: 0514 Aladdin Style by Anon.
But if were to compare the different, the Circle formula and Rubber-hose tends to lose interest for the audience as the character were built with the same template. It is also hard for them to differentiate the characters compared to Figure 2, which uses different simple shapes and form to show the different.
Through the years from early twenties till now, we have better knowledge of animating as more animators are trained in anatomy drawing for animation in their colleges or university. Furthermore, new drawing methods, for example the Disney style , the Manga style where Japanese exaggerated the eyes (Fig 3) to show emotions distinctly, are devised to overcome the limited animation methods back in the twenties. Despite all these, animators still keep their characters simple to minimize the complexity of animating them.
Figure 3: Tengen Toppa Guren Ragan by Mori, K. An example of exaggerated feature to enhance emotions through eyes.
Training for better animators
Quoting Walt Disney (1956 cited Thomas, B. 1991), To do the things I wanted to do, I need better artists. A cartoonist is not the same as an artist. A cartoonist knows the shortcuts and tricks – how to do things in a hurry. His work might have been comic, but it was convincing. Back in the 1920s to 1930s, animations were done by mostly by cartoonist who did drawing for local newspaper comics strips. Thomas, F. and Johnston, O. (1981) state in 1923, animated figures move as little as possible. It is as simple as lifting up and down the legs means walking and twice the speed means running. In order to improve the cartoonists skill to prepare them for his studio, Walt Disney sent his staff to school back in 1931 to learn life drawing and the study of animals movement. Colour psychology and action analysis were also taught to the class (Thomas, B. 1991). In the documentary The Pixar Story (2007), Disney founded CalArts in 1961. During that period, students were trained by Disney s nine old men the Disney s style character animation. The style has become an influence of present day animation. A lot of studios follow the Disney way of animating. Presently, most artists have already attended colleges and universities in order to learn the art of animation. Colour theories and acting classes are conducted to enable them to understand and study how things move and behave in real environment. This leads to more realistic and better looking animation as compared to the past.
The beauty of sound in animation
Figure 4: In Felix the Cat: Felix dopes it out, dialogues between characters were delivered in bubbles or text box.
Figure 5: Felix the Cat uses question mark to express his emotion and dotted lines to indicate the direction he is looking at.
In the infancy of the animation industry, animated films suffered with the absence of sound. Quoting Thomas, B. (1991), during the silent film era, dialogue was expressed either in balloon above the character or a full screen titles. Felix the Cat: Felix Dopes It Out (1925) the animated film clearly shows the example stated by Thomas, B. This distracts the flow of the animation. Characters use a bright light bulb over their head if they thought of something great or a question mark if they are puzzled. Felix the cat in figure 5 shows a good example of weak personality. By having these qualities in animation makes the character weak with no reasoning power. Compared to the current animation, characters are more convincing and feel real when they could feel emotion and learn to reason. Dialogue also helps to establish the characters as well. For example, Warner bros Bugs Bunny demonstrates good characteristic in delivering the voice across to the audience and the proper uses of sound effects for comedy. In Chariots of Fur (1994), a lot of funny sound effects were used to enhance the comedy, like example the part where Coyote falls from high ground. Sound has definitely changes the aesthetic feel of the animated films now.
Figure 6: Chariots of Fur by Chunk jones
Creating realistic character animation
Basic figures were always anthropomorphic animals or caricatured human characters during the 1920 to 1930. Human characters for animation were presented in very basic and simple shapes. As stated by Thomas, B., (1991) human character animation was not convincing in the past. The human characters were moving in a jerky and unrealistic motion. During the early stages of animation, animators would create stylized animals for their cartoon as the audience prefer it more than unrealistic human characters. Animated human form characters were never seen before until Walt Disney attempted to in his first feature animation, Snow White, in 1937. Walt Disney (cited Thomas, B. 1991) observed that animating animals was easy as the audience wasn t familiar with how the animals move, so as long as they could give an appearance of the animal motion, the audience would be convinced.
But animating humans was a different concept. Everyone knows how human moves and it was difficult to produce a convincing animation if we were unable to get the motion correct. To solve this, Disney hired a live actor to re-enact the parts of the animated characters. Then the animators could study and analyze the film and use it as a reference for their drawings. (Thomas, B. 1991) This method has proven useful and it is why modern animators now are taking video references and using them as a guide for their animation production. Similarly, live action references were used in Beauty and the Beast (1991), where the performance actress was dressed in Belle s costume for the act. Grids were drawn in the room to guide animators regarding the distance of the movement or action. The footage was then printed out frame by frame to give an idea of movement for the animators to study, not copy. (Thomas, B. 1991)
Figure 7: Example of live reference used in Beauty and Beast
Walt Disney (Cited Thomas 1991) stated that it is impossible for animators to visualize everything without studying and analyzing references. He further illustrated using an act of rising from a chair as an example. In the past, the character will simply rise in an upright position and walk away. He emphasised that studying live action films allows animators to see how a human body gets up from a chair by leaning forward and using his arms to push into standing position. Using live action as a guide helps the animation but he did warn animators not to fully copy the reference as it may produce unnatural animation.
Figure 8a and 8b: Live reference vs animated film, Sleeping beauty (1959)
In recent times, as animated features are moving towards realism, live video references and researches have become absolutely necessary for artists to refer to. Frank Thomas (Cited Thomas 1991) quotes that No matter how good they are, actors can seldom give you what you want. Animation since Snow White (1937) till now, like example Toy Story (1995), Spirited Away (2001) and Final Fantasy 7 Advent Children (2005), uses video reference to create realistic look and feel to their films.
Bad influence of animation in the past and now
Animations were simple and were often based on violence and bad influence. For example in Steamboat Willie (1928), Mickey mouse abuses animals by using them as a musical instrument. Mickey mouse smokes and drinks beer in The Gallopin Gaucho (1928). Now animated films follow a strict movie rating which filters out violence and bad influence to prevent young children from exposing them. Beowulf (2007) is rated PG-13 due to the intense sequences of violence and some sexual material and nudity.
Figure 9: Mickey and Minnie using animals as a musical instrument in
Steamboat Willie (1928),
Figure 10a and 10b: Mickey mouse smoking and drinking beer in
The Gallopin Gaucho (1928)
Colour and staging
Before colour was introduced back in 1932 for Disney s Flower and Trees (1932), the characters were often outlined in black against light background to make it stand out. Thomas, B. (1991) stated that Disney faced problems with the characters blended into the background when they first used colour in their film. They solved the issue by giving the characters lively colours while graying out the backgrounds. Riley, A. (cited Thomas, B. 1991), a Disney Colour-stylist, pointed out that gray is in everything we see. Using overtones of gray on backgrounds will make the scene look natural and allows the character to be readable. In Beauty and the Beast (1991), different colours on the characters clothing represent different mood in the film. In the present animated films, they still follow the way of staging and use of colours to bring the characters out against the background. Figure 12. shows one of the background used in The Princess and the Frog (2009). Shadows were used to guide your eyes to the lit area where the performance of the animation is played at.
Figure 12: The bright area is where the performance of the animation is played at in
The Princess and the Frog (2009)
But for some 3D animation productions, blur are added to the background to give the illusion of depth when the characters are placed in front of the camera. This method is another way to separate the character from the scene. Director Unkrich (2010) loves to use the field of depth to guide the audiences eyes to the direction he wants them to focus on in his movie, Toy Story 3 (2010) as discussed in the 133 issues 3D world magazine (2010, Pg38).
Figure 13: Foreground and background are blur to make Buzz stands out from the others. The staging of the characters also helps to guide your eyes to the point of focus.
Fusion of technology with arts
Technology has helped a lot in animation since the early stages of Walt Disney s production. Thomas, B. points out that (1991) Walt Disney always pushed his studio to be the best company that create realistic animated films in the industry. In order to compete with live action producers, he needed to make sure that his camera used to capture the animation cels was able to dolly in and out of a scene. Therefore the multiplane camera was created to be used in his first feature animated film, Snow White, 1937. As part of the preparation for Snow White feature film, Disney set up an animation effect department to research and experiment with colour gels, camera diffusion and different types of filming technique. The Old Mill (1937), a Silly Symphony, was a testing ground for their effect animators to try on new animated techniques. Effects like lightning, rain, ripples in water, clouds, sun ray, firefly glow were tested and eventually applied to their first animated feature film. (Thomas, B. 1991)
Figure 14: Multiplane camera was used to create depth of field in animation.
In the modern anime movie, Akira (1988), director Katsuhiro Otomo used a camera technique to show depth of the scene by moving and overlapping different background cels on top of each other at different speeds. This gave the audience an illusion of depth on a moving vehicle. In his film, he also requested some parts of the scene to have holographic effect but it is impossible to do that using a movie camera. So what director of photography Katsuji Misawa (1988) did was what he called a counterfeit holograph. He photographed the character with transmitted light which passed through the photograph, creating a doubled image of the character. The use of multiplane during the 1940s and the techniques and methods used in Akira (1988), share common similarity on creating and produce animated films using technology with arts. The main purpose of this is to give realistic aesthetic to the audience.
Figure 15: Different layers are moved on different speed to create illusion of depth in
Walt Disney s Beauty and the Beast (1991), has great influence in the industry by its blending of traditional animation and computer generated image. Disney s CPS software is used to combine the traditional animated characters onto computer-generated background. The CAPS software is able to simulate the old Disney s multiplane camera effect by moving the layers of images towards and away from the camera like the ballroom dancing scene in the film. (Thomas, B. 1991) It was another breakthrough in the use of new technology since The old Mill (1937) and Snow White (1937). As animation starts to mature, new technology were developed and started to fuse together with art to form a new medium, computer generated imagery, which gave birth to Toy Story (1995).
Figure 16: Traditional animated characters onto computer-generated background in
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
But some studios in Japan still prefer the traditional way of animating. In Studio Ghibli, a lot of Director Miyazaki s works still done using water colours and Cel. It is true that parts of the animation use digital paintings to speed up the work since Princess Mononoke (1997) and it have been a standard for his studio s pipeline. But before the production of Ponyo (2008), Miyazaki (2009 cite by Jones, D., 2009) shut down computer graphic section and focuses fully on traditional animation. Ponyo (2008) is a good example of using traditional hand-drawn animation for the whole film without technology. Though technology helps to improve the aesthetic qualities to the animated film now, some studio still prefer the olden look and feel of traditional medium.
Research and development contribution to the aesthetic qualities of animation
Research and development are important since the past till now. A lot of money is poured in to make animated films as realistic as possible. Disney invested seventy thousands in 1937 for multiplane camera to make the camera works like live action camera.(Thomas, B. 1991) Same as today, more research and development departments are invested to create photorealistic look and feel to the films, for example, Final Fantasy: Spirit Within (2001) and Final Fantasy 7 Advent Children (2005). The influence of technologies used in animated films has further aspirated the creation of great animated films like Toy Story (1995), first 3d computer generated image feature film, Tekkon kinkreet (2006), for using 2D matte painting baked on 3D background environment.
Figure 17: Photorealistic human look and feel in Final Fantasy Advert Children (2005)
Figure 18: 2D matte painting baked on 3D background environment in
Tekkon kinkreet (2006)
In Butler and Joschko s (2009) paper points out that 3D technology has slowly replace the traditional 2D method of animating, but animators still carry the animation fundamental, such as squash and stretch, timing, anticipation, follow-through and weight, used in traditional 2D animation to computer generated imagery 3D animation. More and more animators begin to create a more realistic human motion and photorealistic aesthetics appeal thanks to the potential that 3D technology can provide. Like John Lasseter (1998) insists that computer, same as pencil or clay, is just another medium used to create animated films.
Aesthetic in Story point of view
Story telling in the early cartoons did not have any plots. Most of the animated films were made up of a series of unfunny gags. Huemer, D. (1957 cited Thomas, B. 1991) recalled that only three animators worked on a Mutt and Jeff animated cartoon. One of the animators will suggest a theme and the rest of the animators will animate to it for few weeks. Once they finished the shots, they will look at each other animation and tried to hook up them with whatever shot they ended with. This resulted in story not flowing well in the whole film and some of them make no sense at all. Same gags were often reused to save cost and time thinking of new ideas which made the audiences bored of seeing the same things on the screen. Story telling now compared to the past has a great different. Now in the present, stories are properly planned and storyboards are created to make sure the whole story flow. Changes made to the story are rectified during the storyboard stage and animation will only start after everything is ironed out during the pre-production stage. Studios in the western, like example Pixar, Dreamworks animation and Blue Sky studio, all follows this industry pipeline.
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But in Japan, Studio Ghibli has their way of producing story. In the interview report by Mes, T. (2002) stated that director Miyazaki started his Spirited Away (2001) production while the storyboards are still developing. Storyboards were drawn by him only and he will discuss with his team regarding the script of the film. Unlike the western approach, Miyazaki s way tends to be risky as he himself also not sure where the story will lead to. But Miyazaki said in the making of Spirited Away documentary (2001) that this is his workflow and he will stick to it.
Animation has been around for more than a hundred years, from simple flat 2D cartoons to 3D computer generated animated films. The aesthetics in animation has matured and revolutionized the way of creating animated films. Audiences expectation gets higher each year and when people s perception of cartoons grows, so does the quality of the animated film. Budget also plays a big part in determine the aesthetics qualities of the animated films. With higher budget allows the production house to produce a higher quality film and allows new methods and technologies to be researched and developed. This will contribute greatly to the growth of the animation industry. Till now most elements and techniques that were used in the past are still hold on to dearly by many studios and animators.
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