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NY Times unaware that animation is a medium

The New York Times published an article by Brooks Barnes the other day in which he tried to explain to readers that animation was the number one medium at the box office last summer. Except, he and none of his editors were aware that animation is a medium, so Barnes wrote that, “Animation was the No. 1 genre.”

It is utterly embarrassing for the “paper of record” to have no one in its employ who is able to distinguish between the terms genre and medium. Next thing you know, they’ll be calling oil painting a genre of art, and referring to hardcover books as a literary genre. Actually, they wont because this gross incompetence and obliviousness is reserved exclusively for the mainstream media’s coverage of animation.

In such instances, we must call upon director Brad Bird for clarity and reason:

“People think of animation only doing things where people are dancing around and doing a lot of histrionics, but animation is not a genre. And people keep saying, ‘The animation genre.’ It’s not a genre! A Western is a genre! Animation is an art form, and it can do any genre. You know, it can do a detective film, a cowboy film, a horror film, an R-rated film or a kids’ fairy tale. But it doesn’t do one thing. And, next time I hear, ‘What’s it like working in the animation genre?’ I’m going to punch that person!”

Mr. Bird, you have our permission to punch Brooks Barnes.

  • Now, now, no need to advocate violence. We should be be giving Brad Bird permission to ANIMATE himself punching Brook Barnes.

  • holyduck

    Skimmed the whole thing. It’s obviously a general recap of the summer’s films and how they did. We writes it like he only expects people unfamiliar with the entertainment industry will read it, and as a result, sounds that way too.

    Where is there evidence that you KNOW Barnes was going to use ‘medium’ before consulting with the rest of the NYT staff and no one knew if that would work?

  • Amen Bird.

  • Animation may be a medium, but the film industry treats it as a genre. That’s not the fault of the N.Y. Times.

    • The AMERICAN film industry treats it as a genre. They can’t be blamed completely – we don’t have as big of a mainstream range of animated films as Japan and Europe do. The most popular animated films in America usually fall under the family-friendly, comedy, fantasy umbrella.

      That said, those are three different film GENRES and if THEY could be attributed to these animated films instead of just genre: animation the controversy could be over. but, even IMBD lists animation as a genre. *cue primal scream of frustration*

      • Mark

        That’s a myth. It’s simply not true. Japan and Europe just as often mis-label animation a “genre.”

  • They can consider animation to be fingerpainting for all I care as long as people are going to see it.

  • Daniel J. Drazen

    Coming in second: the belief that anything animated is primarily, if not exclusively, for kids.

  • but isn’t this post just “dancing around doing a bunch of histrionics”? maybe Amid’s rants are part of the “animation genre!”
    kidding aside, I understand there is ought to be distinction between genre and medium, but making a big foofaraw every time someone demonstrates ignorance of the distinction seems to be kind of over-wraught.

  • Let me be very clear, I agree with you totally, but am trying to figure out WHY this writer got it wrong.

    I know very well that animation is a medium, and a beautiful one. But is it possible that in this case the NYT was considering Film to be the medium? As far as awards categories and sales tracking, animation is a seperate category (genre?) within the broader medium of film. But that’s problematic as well, because saying the medium is Film is like saying the medium of drawing is paper.

    So, I think maybe what we’re seeing is an overall confusion between a medium and a substrate. I sort of thought this through as I wrote it, so forgive me if it’s unclear.

    • I agree Ryan. Also I think the meaning of “genre” has expanded somewhat (maybe through years of misuse) to mean any definable category. This is true of animation. It’s a sub-group of film that some people rally around regardless of the subject matter. So much so that there are websites devoted to it.

    • Tim Douglas

      Paper IS the medium, drawing is an art form.

      Whether we call animation a medium within a medium or an art form or both is really just semantics. But to call it a genre is absurd, infuriating and unfortunately completely expected.

      I think you’re being too generous, their “confusion” represents a lack of understanding (or willingness to understand) the animation industry. That is what is insulting. It’s the same mindset that will stop TS3 from getting best feature.

      And to think I was planning to write that Amid should calm down.

      BTW I’d say both Film & Animation are mediums AND art forms (interchangeable). Also Film is technically a form of animation.

      Feels good to vent. And ditto for (un)clarity

  • J

    Yeah, what Mark Mayerson said. It’s all well and good calling it a medium but since the animation studios only ever seem to tackle the same genre, it’s no wonder this perception exists.

  • I think to be on the safe side just punch everyone involved in any kind of writing on animation ever.

  • Have you tried asking for a correction? I know that its not the biggest deal in the world right now, but a mistake is a mistake. Animation is as much a genre as a DVD is a medium (people mistake media for medium all the time).

  • Dano

    this is what we’re upset about today?
    i totally agree with ryan.
    motion picture itself is a medium.
    so you’re saying that animation is a medium within the medium.
    but this could be confusing, so the author conveniently said genre as a sub-category.
    brad bird says this is wrong and i agree.
    but i’m not sure this was utterly embarrassing for the nation’s paper of record. did you send them a note correcting the author?

    • Animation isn’t a medium, but it also isn’t necessarily “film” either.

      But it’s definitely not a genre.

  • diego

    I hate when Robert McKee’s teachs how to write a script “for an animated movie” treating animation as a genre. He doesn’t know anything about animation.

    • Oliver

      Robert McKee doesn’t know anything — heck, what about that whole “Never use voice-over narration” nonsense?

  • I thought “Film” was the medium and animation was a “production technique” within the medium. That’s how my Film History 101 class covered it.

    Animation is displayed and distributed in the exact same manner as live action film so it’s not really a medium of its own.

    But to the audience it’s a “genre” that typically employs princesses, talking animals and/or musical production numbers.

  • Ted

    So do you think CGI, cel animation and stop motion puppet animation are all the same medium? It seems like the overall techniques differ sufficiently between, say, Coraline and the Princess and the Frog that there is a good argument that they are not the same medium (unless you want to class them both as in the medium of film, which is reasonable, but does not make for a very good way of dividing animation as a whatever it is from whatever it is that other films may be). Which means “animated movies” would be better classed as something other than a medium, although whatever that thing is may not be a “genre”. The standard animated comedies that the NYT story is likely referring to, however, might be classifiable as a genre. So the problem should likely be the use of “animation” instead of “animated comedy”.

    • You make a valid point. But, the definition of animation IS controlling an image frame by frame. So, both Coraline and Princess and the Frog can be classified as being created in the medium of animation; within the medium of film. However, they were created using different TECHNIQUES within that medium. Like, painting is a medium; oil and acrylic and watercolor are all different techniques within that. I guess you could also call them different mediums within animation? Because likewise, it is acceptable to call watercolor a medium. :) I think the terminology there is secondary to the fact that the NYT can’t get their nouns right.

      Animated films are NEVER a genre; agree with you there. But it seems American mainstream animation, in the public view, is stuck in a rut of family-friendly comedy and fantasy. There is nothing wrong with those types of stories, but when those are the vast majority of animated films available to Americans, animation gets called a ‘genre’ by the NYT. Europe and Japan never had that rut… who knows if/when we’ll get out of ours. Sigh.

  • I kind of like that most people don’t get or understand animation. Like Elliot said as long as they are paying to see the stuff, who cares?

    It’s like our little magical secret.

  • On this note, it has always bothered me that not only does TiVo consider “cartoons and animation” to be a genre, but it’s actually a subgenre of “children’s.” So it’s kind of funny that as a result, very adult-oriented shows which just happen to be animated end up in the “children’s” category.

  • Larry

    “NY Times unaware that animation is a medium”? Pretty misleading and uninformed headline by YOU, Amid. Medium and Genre aren’t mutually exclusive. Just because they call animation a genre, doesn’t mean they are “unaware” that it’s also a medium.

    In the film industry, animation IS looked at as a genre. Go to your local video store — the animated movies are in in their own section, just like other genres — Comedy, Action, Drama, etc. You won’t find “Up” in the Drama section even though it has dramatic elements, you won’t find “Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs” in the Action section even though it’s basically a Bruckheimer movie, and you won’t find “Toy Story” in the Comedy section even though it’s funny. That doesn’t mean Blockbuster is unaware that animated movies are made using CGI or ink instead of celluloid.

    The NY Times reports what is reflected in society, not what’s in your head.

  • Doug N.

    Box Office Mojo breaks down Animation into six genres, so does that make them six times more ignorant than the NYT writer above? They list:

    Animation – Anime
    Animation – Computer
    Animation – Fantasy
    Animation – Sci-Fi
    Animation – Stop Motion
    Animation – TV Adaptation

    Don’t tell Brad that various of his directorial efforts are listed under three of these categories. He’d have a cardiac trying to figure out who to smack first!

    Of course, they also list “Irish”, “Prequels” and “Summer Girl Power” film categories as separate genres. I won’t presume to guess if that actually makes any sense. However, it is good to note that Brad Bird (according to BO Mojo) is King of the “Mouse/Rat” genre of films with Ratatouille as the Number One Mouse/Rat Genre Movie Of All Time, beating out both Stuart Little movies and Flushed Away, with Mouse Hunt rounding out the top five, with Secret of NIMH coming in a meager 11th place out of 11 qualifiers.

    So there’s that.

  • If animators don’t want their medium to be perceived as a genre, they need to stop making movies that reinforce the stereotype.

    • amid

      Steve – Animators have been making films that don’t reinforce the stereotype for years. Look at “My Dog Tulip” which is in theaters right now or just attend an animation festival. At some point, the media has a responsibility to get their facts straight and write about animation accurately.

      • I’m with Stephen on this.
        The word “genre” indicates that you’re going to have certain expectations of a film before going in.
        The film is going to press certain buttons, have certain imagery, etc etc.
        Animated films are, for the most part, just like this.
        We know what were going see.
        We know the kind of film it’s going to be.
        In some instances, we even know the dialogue and story before we even sit down to watch it.

        I’m not how the media has responsibility to report on this in any other way than it already does.

        I don’t really believe that reporting of this kind does nothing to degrade animation in any way.
        At the very least it does nothing to lessen our enjoyment of it or encourage less people to go see it.

        I can see how this kind of reporting may ruffle your feathers in particular, though.
        Perhaps you feel that if “mainstream” media is not writing about the medium with the respect you think it deserves then it makes your own work (as someone who writes about animation) seem like a lesser contribution.

    • theoutsider1983

      I think an even better way to put it is, the big studios like Pixar, Dreamworks and Blue Sky need to stop making movies that reinforce the sterotype. I know that Pixar has done some amazing things with their movies. And they’ve taken some chances with their movies. But even with those chances they’ve taken, Toy Story is filled with marketable toys, Wall-E is cute, Up is colorful and has an adorable kid and dog that talks in it and Ratatouille…well I’m not sure what to say about that one. But I’m sure you guys get what I’m saying. More animated movies like Mary & Max, My Dog Tulip or the Illusionist needs to be made by the big animation studios so that they could be on the general publics radar, and not hardcore animation fans. Then I think people will stop thinking that animation is a genre. But I don’t care that people think that animated films are a genre. As long as people watch the movies, people will have jobs, and IMO, that’s all that counts. The only thing I don’t like is when somebody asked me why would I cry while watching an animated movie, since it’s only a cartoon. I reply by saying how stupid that question is. People cry while listening to music and books, but crying while watching a cartoon isn’t ok. And what they say may fall into the whole animation is a genre thing, but it annoys me to hear people asked me that, more than them saying that animation is a genre.

  • Medium – schmedium. Who gives a damn as long as people are buying tickets? “Ooh. But we’re not getting the respect we deserve?” Shaddup and cash the cheque.

  • Steve

    How can Animation be a genre or “production technique” “within the medium” of Film, when it can be done with computers, clay, flipbooks, etc.?

    I swear, some people will stretch into all kinds of illogical positions to try and pick apart Amid’s posts. (headlines, content, you name it).

    Its a valid point. NYTimes writers are clueless.

    • Ted

      Animation is a production technique that you can reasonably separate out from physical armature puppets or drawings or cutouts or virtual wire frame models. It is a production technique common to films using those different (insert some neutral word other than media here). In spite of the fact that they have other production elements that differ, they have animation in common.

      Comedy is generally considered a genre in film; and yet comedy can be done outside of film: in live action theater, in a puppet show, in a book, on radio, etc. I see no reason why something like “animated comedy” could not be similarly classed.

      The NYT could have been much more specific, and if they had been, I think there would be a lot less controversy; if they had said “the genre of CGI comedy”, which likely would encompass all the movies relevant to animation in the story, I think we could come to a good definition that could be classed as a genre. Also, if they’d just said “grouping of movies” instead of genre, there would be no controversy.

      “Animation” is only a genre to the extent something like “special effects” or “talkies” or “3D” is a genre. Any of those terms stretches/exceeds the traditional definition. But they’re all useful ways of grouping films at times.

  • Jean-Denis Haas

    Agree with with Mark and Stephen. The majority of US animation features are too similar in style and content delivery. It’s as if live-action movies would only consist of romantic comedies. I know you make more money doing family movies and animated movies are expensive, but why not an animated Usual Suspects, or Shawshank Redemption or Inception? And please don’t tell me “If you can do it for real why animate it?”. Can’t stand that answer. It limits the type of stories an animated film can tell.

  • @AMID: Hey, I recall that Bird quote from a conference, that I dont remember the name of, Could you send me a link to it? I wish to see it again, I remember Andrew Stanton got sort of yelled by one old school chairman of Pixar.

    • Brad Bird has elaborated on this point in many venues, most notably on ‘The Incredibles’ audio commentary track. The venue you are thinking of is ‘A Human Story of Computer Animation’, featuring Bird, Stanton, Ed Catmull, and Alvy Ray Smith. It’s from 2007, and well worth re-watching! It is free to view all 90 minutes of the presentation online.

      • The Splinecast has an episode featuring an interview with Brad Bird as well, which is a great listen!

  • It sounds like many of us here in the USA need a real dictionary and need to learn how to actually use it. Wikipedia doesn’t count. Mr. Bird is a very passionate man, and is like Peter O’Toole; his cultural standards are sky-high and he has no tolerance for fools. That’s a million times better than being dumb, uninformed,biased, ignorant, or under-educated. Not enlightened, but BETTER.

  • might i suggest the punch be in the throat?

  • “People think of animation only doing things where people are dancing around and doing a lot of histrionics, but animation is not a genre. And people keep saying, ‘The animation genre.’ It’s not a genre! A Western is a genre! Animation is an art form, and it can do any genre. You know, it can do a detective film, a cowboy film, a horror film, an R-rated film or a kids’ fairy tale. But it doesn’t do one thing. And, next time I hear, ‘What’s it like working in the animation genre?’ I’m going to punch that person!”

    Amid. Wow, deep into the commentaries section of “The Incredibles” DVD for that one! Nice recall…for us both! :)

  • Most people I talk to, who are not directly involved in the industry, are genuinely surprised to find out that 2D animation is drawn by hand, frame-by-frame, by a human being. I don’t even know how it came up but I found myself explaining the entire process to a bewildered 7-11 clerk…

    I’m not surprised anymore when I hear about people completely misunderstanding what’s going on in the animation world. LoL

  • This is a tired but necessary argument. Until everyone gets on the same page on this one, we’ll just have to keep bitching about it. It’s even referred to as a genre in Robert McKee’s, Story, recommended reading for most animators. Sigh…

  • FP

    At one of many ad agencies with which I used to work, my contact pronounced “genre” as “jeener”.

    When reading this topic and its following comments, perhaps it would be best to internally pronounce the word as “jeener”. It makes the whole thing so much less offensive.

  • Symantics, great post. I see your point, but what brings me down is that your post sparked just enough interest for me to read all these comments, and just enough more to comment myself, but not enough for me to feel passionately one way or the other and actually have whatsoever anything to add. It’s not your fault, because this is your blog and you can use it as you desire, but I can’t help but feel disappointed in myself for wasting this much time.

  • David Breneman

    Both Ernie Kovacs and Fred Allen have been credited with saying that “Television is called a medium because it is neither rare nor well done.” Whomever it was, his feeling as applied appropriately to animation may account for the “genre” designation.

  • Sam Antics

    I’ve sure somewhere in the world there is a sock maker who is preparing a righteous campaign to rectify the slovenly uneducated public’s ignorant misconception and misrepresentation of the process of making socks.

    This seems to be about the same level of importance.

    In the case of Brad Bird, I can see and completely understand his frustration. but I think that stems from a broader problem in Hollywood, where people tend to be pigeon holed. He’s a brilliant director and visionary.. but he won’t get half the opportunities lesser directors would because he works in animation. That sucks, and that’s an injustice

    But lets be honest here. Even animators and animation fans treat the medium as a genre. How many people have watched a mediocre, if not bad movie because it was animated? How many readers here specifically seek out animation. or appreciate for qualities unique to the medium?

    A science fiction film can be a drama, comedy , thriller or action movie. but its still considered a genre. Same thing for Westerns, Martial Arts or a myriad of other “Genre” Why not animation?

    would anyone here even bat an eye at “My Dog Tulip” if it were a live action film?

    • Bravo. Well said. Seriously, the “living better through animation” contingent has no idea that the general public really doesn’t care if animation is a medium or a genre. Nor do they make the distinction between Disney, Pixar and the rest of them other studios.

      • The Gee

        Yeah, the type of content which spans different genres is one of the flies in the ointment, isn’t it?

        Just as “medium” has been watered down over the years, so has “genre” become a bit non-descriptive. These things happen with words. And, from a content perspective, it allows for a lot of interesting things to be made and to be experienced. That’s not so bad.

        It is too bad that animation can’t just be described to everyone’s satisfaction as being a “type of film” or a “movie type.” But, of course then you have animation on the web and the tv.

        What is the saying? The pen is mightier than the sword. Yet with these two words it is just a lot of swordplay.

        Steve, the general public doesn’t care about that. You’re right. But, a good chunk, or enough of them know about animation to care if it is done right or well. There’s a lot more snobs that we give credit to.

        And, those folks are probably likely to know the distinction between studios. As it goes, a lot folks are media-savvy enough to know the distinctions between studios, especially ones which are animation studios. The branding that goes on is just that ham fisted that most know enough.

        I will grant you that if they don’t know the distinction that they will go with the most well-reknown animation studio. They’ll take that guess because to them that is a safe guess. That is where reputation enhances branding beyond a marketer’s wildest dreams.

  • Giovanni Jones

    “Animation is a floor wax!”

    “No, no! Animation is a dessert topping!”

  • haha Ah yes, the “Animation Genre” ignorance bit.

    Whenever I hear someone use that phrase, I chime in and say “Yeah and (Movie Title) is a wonderful example of the Talking Genre of film, because they use all those words.”

    • The Gee

      Good one.

  • I thought I sent a post but I don’t see it posted here.

    One of the reasons why people think it’s a genre is that there are not good, commercial animated movies for adults.

    There are “indie” movies like “Persepolis” or “My Dog Tullip” and there are movies for all audiences, but even Pixar never forgets to include some stuff for the children.

    There is not the equivalent of “Inception” or a romantic comedy without princesses. There is not the equivalent of “The Simpsons”, except for “The Simpsons movie”, but even “The Simpsons movie” was still a little more like an animated movie and a little less like the original show. I mean, there is not an animated movie about normal people without action, adventure and some kind of moral. Similarly there is not a full-action or science fiction movie entirely for adults.

    That said, I kind of agree with John K. I think animation is especially good for comedy. But even in the comedy department there are a lot of things to explore. Only japanese animation explores all the genres, though some people, including myself, are not familiar with anime, or don’t totally buy the animation style.

  • Johnno

    Brad Bird should start leading the charge for more mature animated films at large budgets and widespread promotion.

    I’m not saying Pixar should go out and suddenly make something bloody violent with tits. I’m saying take a page out of the Japanese handbook and find something suitable. They need look no further than Studio Ghibli…

    Hayao Miyazaki made stuff like Spirited Away and Kiki’s Delivery Service and Ponyo… But the man also delivered to us Princess Mononoke, which to me is by far his greatest work! It’s definately not a children’s film, but the PG13 and up audience would absolutely love to see something like that coming out of Pixar. Where is Pixar’s Princess Mononoke? Why can’t they make something like that? It would certainly go a long way to helping things. They could even do it under some other label…

    I find it hilarious that while American mainstream animation is still largely stuck in the children’s genre and perceived as such, another medium that uses animation heavily, that of Video Games has content ranging from children’s games to 18+Mature games, from Super Mario to Uncharted to Metal Gear Solid to Silent Hill to Grand Theft Auto with mainstream and niche, covering many other genres from action adventure to horror to sci-fi to even drama mystery as the recent Heavy Rain game for PS3 emphasizes. Sure gaming still struggles with delivering an interactive story driven experience on par with the best films, but it has its stand out titles that easily rival modern blockbusters.

    How does one explain the gap in thinking between the perception of video games and American animation? Is it realy a wonder that many avid gamers are also interested in Japanese anime? There’s something there for everyone.

  • Yep, what Johno said. Also those may be a little “indie” too, but I can picture something like Scott Pilgrim (for obvious reasons cause it’s based on a comic book) entirely animated. I know this movie wasn’t a big hit at the box office, but it’s a good example of something that could work well in animation , and it is aimed to teenagers and adults more than children, without being too serious in its premise (films like Persepolis or My Dog Tullip may have some humor but to the big audience they look more like serious, independent movies that are mainly for cinephiles).

  • bluenowait

    Riddle me this, Times:

    If a music video is animated, does that make animation a genre of music?

  • Ive had this same argument many times with the same idiots. ANIMATION IS NOT A GENRE!

  • Full disclosure: I have worked as a freelance illustrator for the Times.

    Still, I’m wondering if Barnes’ error is due to the perceptions of animation that is dominant in the American mainstream media…that it’s still just for kids, must involve talking animals, and must have a musical number somewhere. Even though there have been films and directors who, over the recent years (hell, decades) have blown those perceptions to hell and gone.

    Then again, I had those same perceptions as a youngster. Then I got older, wiser (well…hopefully), and realized the difference between genre and medium. And actually studying and working in animation helped a great deal.

    But…let’s not have Brad Bird punch out Mr. Barnes, all right? He could end up messing up his hand, and how the heck is he going to be able to draw after that? 8-)

  • It is interesting to notice that the same confusion also touches two others mediums, especially in Europe: bande dessinée (comic strips, graphic novels) and photo roman (photography novels, big in Italy).

    Lots of people confuse them for genres, and on top of it, they also automatically associate them to very specific ones: kids fantasy for comics and sentimental dramas for photo-roman. For some reasons that escapes me, these mediums along side animation are classic cases of genre/ medium confusion. I guess we just have to keep educating people about it, with the other big cliché about animation that “It’s all done by computers, right?” If I could get a dime every time I heard that one…

    • Maybe that’s the perception, but in reality comics are a perfect example of the variety that we should find in animated movies. Just looking at kid comics there is a variety that can’t be find in animation. For example a smurfs comics have a very different approach and humor compared to a Disney comic. However the american life action/animated movie -which I don’t know if I would call an animated movie exactly- seems to be your stereotypical kiddie flick, without any specific personality.

      Most animated movies for all audiences have a very similar feeling and look. Exceptionally there is some Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline or Wallace and Gromit, that have a slightly different kind of visuals, story or humor.

      Not to mention there are all kinds of genres in comic books. Animation often tends to mix two or three genres. Elements of comedy and fantasy are almost imperative. Realistic comedies like Peter Bagge’s “Hate” or serious fantasy like Moebius’ work are very unusual in animated form and they are often reduced to cult movies or very independent films (which can be great, but not popular).

  • Rooniman

    Damn journalists.

  • pappy d

    I’m as embarrassed as anybody. Whose fault is it, anyway?

  • Interesting read. I came here because I was trying to figure out the question of genre vs medium, and which to label animation.. I assumed medium at first, but I’m not sure if you could really use that to identify “animation.” Just because, “animation” encompasses hand-drawn cel animation, computer animation, and stop-motion animation.. It seems so broad. Throwing all three of those mediums into the same pile of “animation” seems as dumb as throwing all “animation” into the same genre :\

    if we’re gonna fight for the right to acknowledge “animation” not just as a genre but as a medium, then I think we should also stop labeling hand-drawn, computer generated, and stop-motion all the same as simply “animation.” :\

    • Jessica

      Think of it this way: Animation is a medium, and the type of animation is a sub-medium. Kind of like paint. Paint is a medium, but there’s different types of paint: acrylic, oil, etc. Animation is the same.