The Disappearing Cartoon

Director and animator Will Finn made a thought-provoking observation on his blog a few days ago. He began the discussion by surmising that if Disney ever decided to remake Lady and the Tramp, it would likely be some Frankenstein hybrid of keyframed CGI, live-action and performance capture. I don’t doubt that for a second. Where it gets interesting though is that Will feels this is happening because cartoons, in their traditional sense, are increasingly viewed as ineffective. He writes:

[T]he tolerance for a well-crafted cartoon image, even one as sedate and safe (albeit expert) as any in the original LADY, even if it were faithfully re-created, rendered and impeccably lit in CGI, is pretty much shrinking in the hearts of the public and the minds of the power brokers. As the world of CGI expands the roles of animators and animation, it also somehow seems to ever marginalize the space cartoon art occupies in animation, especially features. This isn’t the old CG vs. 2D thing I am lamenting here, it is the encroaching realism even on CG cartoons, just as realism encroached on 2D. It is about realism vs caricature, specifically cartoony caricature and how the tide seems to be turning ever more toward the former and away from the latter.

Will’s comments are particularly relevant in light of how Jeff Smith’s Bone is in the process of being transformed from its cartoony original form into mo-cap animation, and how forthcoming Yogi Bear and Tom & Jerry features are being turned realistic a la the Chipmunks. As Will is careful to point out, this is not CG vs. 2D; it’s a deeper and more profound change in attitudes towards cartooning.

His thoughts remind me of an experience I had not so long ago with an ad agency in which the agency rep informed me that our website was considered unhip for corporate advertisers because it had the word “cartoon” in it. Cartoons are considered by many to be fuddy-duddy because of the term’s long-standing association with junky animation (i.e. Saturday morning cartoons). Films like Avatar present an alternative that further diminishes the cartoon form, even to the point of redoing successful cartoons in more realistic styles. As Will says, “I fear that in the aftermath of AVATAR and films like it the public and the industry may find cartooniness to be too quaint, too passe, too childish, all the specious negatives that threw up roadblocks in my early career days.”


  • humming

    This is an issue I feared would arise. I spent my entire life so far building it on cartoons in the traditional sense… not to see it evolve into a form more related to live-action! I grew up with those types of shows, and me and everyone I knew all thought it would never change. I went to school for it. Today, I’m not having a life I am satisfied with BECAUSE there is less interest in the type of projects I love and do best. Only now am I just taking a Maya class as a sign of relentment! If, in ten years, everyone will never like cartoons anymore, I may be in for a sad life.

  • Brad Constantine

    Unfortunately, many of these creative decisions seem to be made by the Marketing Departments rather than the creators themselves. No offense to marketing, they have their job to do, but so much of the look and feel decisions are based on “trends” and “focus testing” and not on artistic integrity. Anyhow, everybody knows that traditionally animating something is “more difficult”, and ” more expensive”, and takes ” more people” and “more time.” They need that money for commercials!!! I like the way Richard Williams says it in one word “twiceasmuchmoneytwiceasmuchtime” but as Walt said ” if you do something well enough, the public will pay you back for it”…wasn’t Walt always right?

  • jordan reichek

    wow….scary and spot on.

  • tom

    Realism can be a tricky thing to define, and gets easily confused with naturalism. I’d define realism as something that points out the distinction between artifice and “reality”, or nature. Naturalism tries to blend together artifice and “reality” or nature.
    I think CGI is closer to naturalism, and something like Emile Cohl is closer to realism.

    Link to Emile Cohl

  • http://metcalflovesyou.com Arthur Metcalf

    Meh, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Those chipmunks and all those other horrible creatures are still pretty cartoony, they look nothing like chipmunks, bears or whatever. They’re just hyper-rendered. I think it’s also wrong (read ‘cowardly’) to worry about it too much. Just go and knock an audience on its ass with humble cartoons.

    And oh yeah, ‘Up’ was a huge hit and an Oscar winner and its main character is a brick.

  • http://niffiwan.livejournal.com/29239.html Niffiwan

    So… from prevailing realism (early animation by Emile Reynaud in the 1890s), we go to prevailing caricature (Disney in the 1920s) to prevailing realism (Disney in the late 1930s & 1940s, Soyuzmultfilm in the 1940s & 1950s), to prevailing caricature (UPA & inspired styles) to more realism again.

    The pendulum swings. What’s new?

    There are some new technologies now. The older ones would have a reduced presence regardless of where the “realism” trend was going.

    But I think that the animation community has for decades been going away from realism (preferring to focus on design rather than on acting), and has adopted angular, simplified styles that are cheap to manipulate in computer animation programs (such as Flash).

    P.S. I think there’s a potential for some interesting discussions about the merits of realism by analyzing the works of Anatoliy Petrov, a great Russian director of animation who died a week ago:
    http://niffiwan.livejournal.com/29239.html

  • http://niffiwan.livejournal.com/29239.html Niffiwan

    So… from prevailing realism (early animation by Emile Reynaud in the 1890s), we go to prevailing caricature (Disney in the 1920s) to prevailing realism (Disney in the late 1930s & 1940s, Soyuzmultfilm in the 1940s & 1950s), to prevailing caricature (UPA & inspired styles) to more realism again.

    The pendulum swings. What’s new?

    There are some new technologies now. The older ones would have a reduced presence regardless of where the “realism” trend was going.

    But I think that the animation community has for decades been going away from realism (preferring to focus on design rather than on acting), and has adopted angular, simplified styles that are cheap to manipulate in computer animation programs (such as Flash).

    P.S. I think there’s a potential for some interesting discussions about the merits of realism by analyzing the works of Anatoliy Petrov, a great Russian director of animation who died a week ago (click on the link in my username)

  • NC

    The truth of the matter is NO one cares about quality any more accept for the workers. Execs are more concerned with saving money and making more. There was a great Farside comic with an executive saying “Make it cheaper and make it faster.” When he looked at the film he says, “Why does it look like crap?” This is why we should support movies that try to scrap every penny to make an honest film like Secret of Kells.

    It’s true with outsourcing we’re going to see much less Looney Tunes and a lot more flatter stuff, because it’s cheaper to animate and easier for overseas slaves to do the job. The only way to really fix it is to save money and start your own studio so you can do it the way you want it. I wish there was a better and easier way to solve it but it’s the reality of the beast. BUT if enough people started doing it their own way that can start a new wave. It’s a hope anyway.

  • Sprat

    To the studios, it’s always going to be about the latest fad to get butts in seats. But fads are irrelevant to the independent world, and thankfully to most audiences who know better than just what the studios feed them.

    A case in point from Twitter that made me so happy yesterday:

    The San Francisco International Film Festival just announced they’re giving their Lifetime Achievement Award next month to Don Hertzfeldt, for “his contributions to film and animation” and “for pushing the boundaries of the craft.” Past receipients are indie film heros like Guy Maddin, Errol Morris, Kenneth Anger, and Faith Hubley. Don is the youngest ever recipient.

    You can still push the boundaries of the craft the traditional way — even with stick figures! If only the studios understood what the artists do. It’s not just about what’s on the surface, it’s what you do with it.

  • http://www.jjsedelmaier.com J.J. Sedelmaier

    I’m not surprised to hear what you’re confronting regarding CB or in addition, what Will’s observing. Can anyone be ? It’s simply apart of the dumbing down process that always seems to be a large part of the mainstream consensus. But at the same time, don’t you feel there’s more opportunity to explore more variety of techniques – both hands-on and technology-assisted ? Aren’t we surrounded by more options and tools to bring an artist’s/filmmaker’s vision to an audience ? There’s absolutely no doubt that 2D and other traditional methods are considered dusty and even moldy, but then someone comes forth with a brilliant concept that’s executed in a traditional or conventional manner and everyone kvells over it. Do you really think for a split-second, that major studios or networks can be relied upon to consistently produce work that’s going to challenge their “demographic” ? Pleeeez. Anything that’s tested, analyzed, and researched to generate the most in financial return – and done so in the midst of SO many “experts” – is going to employ as many tested, analyzed, and researched techniques as possible. Until recently, it was CG that was not only the technique of choice, but the definitive approach to animation. Now it’s Mo-Cap. I agree, it’s frustrating that more people don’t understand that it’s not the technique that makes a film terrific – or dreadful – it’s the combination of story, style, sound, and everything else that goes into producing the work. But I’m also burned out on the preaching to the choir that often ensues. Do your best to get the thing done the way you think it should be done. Find people that feel the same way – in ALL areas of the process – and surround each other with that common attitude. But at the same time, don’t put down an approach or technique because someone or even the majority is using it incorrectly or as part of a fad. They’re just tools. . . often in the hands of the wrong people.
    I disagree with the notion that this phenom is more than the “2D vs CG” argument – might be a bit more intense, but it’s still rooted in the same sensibility: “The more real it looks, the better it must be”.
    Caricature is a unique expression and vision of the artist, whether it’s one drawing or 24fps. Feature or series FILM production is not usually generated by an artist, it’s often done by committee. Every now and then – usually when it’s accomplished “under the radar” – something gets done with an artist’s or creator’s vision intact. But that’s the exception to the rule. This obviously doesn’t just apply to animation. Look at the films that are produced. Look at the stuff on TV. Even the art of illustration is affected. Once formula – whether through technological or procedural means – is employed, the suck-value climbs.
    Again – Will is correct in his basic observation. But this isn’t something that is going away or preventable, because it’s rooted in both finances and taste. The only way to address it is through good work, and that’s always been an uphill battle. It’s never been easy to do, what one considers to be, good work. And the more money that’s at stake, the more the job to express a singular vision becomes tougher. But it’s possible. And these tools that may currently appear to be a source of evil, will undoubtedly end up helping us accomplish our quest for good. . .

  • Rooniman

    Dear God…. The apocalyse has begun.

  • http://www.jjsedelmaier.com J.J. Sedelmaier

    (to Rooniman) The apocalypse began when we slithered out of the primordial slime. . .

  • Niki

    I’ve been worried about this for a while now. I’m actually choosing 2D animation too, 3D has been available to me long before I even learned to draw well, meaning the new Chipmunk crap is going to be down-loadable in a few years too.

  • Tedzey

    I personally think that as long as pixar is making films harkening the golden age of animation, cartoons aren’t going to disapear. This argument has been going on for years. The special effects of Ray Harryhausen didn’t make Clash of the Titans or Jason and the Argonauts animated films. That would be like saying the new film is animated! People might argue with me saying that it qualifies as 60% animation, but come on! Its a special effect of manipulating the film that most live action films do anyways, just with newer technology making it look cool. Michel Goundry doesn’t make animated films. His effects are animated. He’s going back to when it was more of a hands on trade.

    Like most of the bright commentators on this blog, I agree that as long as there is an artist whose going to sell his/her soul to make cartoons, he/she will inspire others to keep the art alive!

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/kitschensyngk Kitschensyngk

    I’m led to recall a comment I made back in 2007 about the first Alvin and the Chipmunks movie:

    It’s typical Hollywood fare. All the cartoon movies resemble live-action and all the live-action movies resemble cartoons.

  • http://www.taberanimation.com Taber Dunipace

    Maybe the cartoon form is dying because it refuses to be current? I can’t list how many times I’ve seen a fedora in a modern cartoon and other such things which have no relevance to kids.

  • http://otherthings.com Cassidy

    What is dying exactly? I feel like I’ve seen a greater variety of inspiring, innovative, cartoony, caricatured animation (both hand-drawn and CG) in the past decade than in any decade prior. Some of these have even been big-budget feature films.

    There’s a huge difference between “being ignored by mainstream studios and audiences” and “dying”. Lots of great art forms simmer along happily for centuries with small, dedicated audiences, only to flare up into newfound popularity when another generation catches on.

    The only example I can bring to mind of an art form that has kind of “died” is vaudeville. There doesn’t seem to be anything today quite like Vaudeville in its day. But it didn’t go quietly. It influenced practically every other popular form of entertainment we enjoy today, from music to movies to theater to stand up comedy. If cartooning ever “dies” in that sense, which I very much doubt it will, I think history will show it has a similarly lasting influence.

  • http://otherthings.com Cassidy

    Just look at what’s happened to stop-motion. A lot of us were lamenting its death a few years ago, and then suddenly, boom! “Coraline” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox” both nominated for Oscars.

  • Zog

    Caricature and humorous design in mainstream animation being eradicated,it’s quite weird situation isn’t it?

  • http://checkeredgeekcartoons.blogspot.com Zach Cole

    This is what I’ve been saying ever since THE POLAR EXPRESS came out… but you know what?

    They can’t use mo-cap to remake Chuck Jones’ THE DOT AND THE LINE, or anything Norman McLaren did.

    Animators will always be artistically relevant. Just ignore what Hollywood wants.

  • Trevor

    On the flipside, I think a lot of “cartoon” animation these days are trying to hard to elevate the art-form to highbrow artistic statements and subtleties. Whatever happened to going broad and watching something that looks like it was as fun to make as it is to watch?

  • High-Minded Civilian

    Other countries seem to be doing just fine. Hell, Japan’s having no trouble finding a happy medium, and some are able to keep it out altogether. Europe’s making both handdrawn and CG work.

    Maybe it’s just Hollywood that’s the problem.

  • http://www.redbladestudios.com Warlock

    (Preface on all the the following, I’m an animation student looking in, everything that follows is what I’ve perceived of the industry.)

    Honestly, I think this is where the independent field could really benefit. Hollywood doesn’t like 2D? Big deal, doesn’t mean the medium’s dead. With as much direct-market approach as the internet promotes, smaller independents can create small-scale productions which find an audience without needing multi-billion-dollar corporations behind them, stepping on their toes.

    I’m a graduating senior, getting a degree in digital 2d animation, and in 2 or 3 months I’ll be looking for work. I’m going to find it, one way or another, either finding studios that still value 2D work, even under a new approach (my school emphasized flash puppetry, whereas I’m teaching myself traditional techniques via ToonBoom), or working in adjacent fields like storyboard or advertising, while I work on my own independent series out of my home.

    Personally, I’m of the opinion that all this overseas shipping of animation gruntwork is one of the worst things that could have happened to the industry, because it lowered the value of the work (in the exec’s eyes, anyway), and the quality has certainly suffered, regardless of the cause. (I have nothing against these outside studios, but I feel like there are details of the work lost in translation.) I’ve been hearing in my classes, “You’re not going to work as an animating grunt, you’re going to work character design, storyboard, or something else.” We’re told that the task of being an animator at all is stripped down to being either a lead, which is a rare and hard-to-attain position, or not doing it at all, unless you’re willing to fly out of country and learn another language.

    I think that’s setting the industry up to fall, and hard, because the industry as it has worked was its own training process. (The leads on all the best productions I’ve seen were trained upwards in the traditional mold, starting from a grunt and moving upward. As it stood, it was like always being a teacher, because the leads were always training their replacements in years to come.) By handing off the gruntwork to studios outside the country, we’re not really effectively training those in charge to know what they need to give the process workers, and in turn, the grunts are stuck in a repeating position with little room for advancement. (What happens when the current generation of well-trained artists retire? Who will be able to take their place?) It takes animation down from the level of an art, and puts it more on the line of a factory product.

    Well, that’s what I see, at any rate. (Feel free to demolish my argument, I’d be glad to be proved wrong on a number of points.)

  • Gio

    Depressing stuff to think about.
    Regardless, whether 2d or 3d or stop mo, animation is not dying. It wasn’t dead when people said it was dying, and it sure as hell ain’t dead or dying now. It’s just a corporate sway in interest. They think mo-cap is the “new-thing” so that’s all they’re gonna pursue for the next few years. Then, when a “new thing” comes by, we’ll all get worried that 2d and mo-cap are going to die, when past events already prove otherwise.

  • http://www.wardjenkins.com Ward

    Of course, after all that’s been said, there’s this:

    http://www.comingsoon.net/news/movienews.php?id=64181

    And to play right before Toy Stoy 3!

  • mick

    this is kind of in the narrow hollywood based view isn’t it? Sure it is true that these uncartoony cartoons are encroaching rapidly just as disney stamped on the fun that was fleischers… but go to europe and see that cartoons are alive and well.

    @ Trevor I must say that what you state should be reversed ‘animation these days is trying hard to elevate the art form to high brow artistic statements and subtleties. whatevber happened to going broad….’

    cartoons are already high brow art repleat with subtlties and statements… what we are seeing increasingly NOW are efforts ‘going broad’ in order to make the most cash from the most watered down shite. If we the cartooners have such a low opinion of what we do then why wonder that joy is disappearing from cartoons?

  • http://www.2719hyperion.com Jeff Pepper

    What is not cartoon-esque about pretty much everything that has been produced by Pixar, Dreamworks and the other major animated feature studios over the last decade? The designs in Madagascar or something even as recent HT Train Your Dragon certainly do not represent this shift toward realism.

    I think hybrid products like the Scooby Doo, Chipmunks and Marmaduke certainly blur the lines a little, but saying they represent a diminishing of cartoon caricature design seems a bit premature.

  • David Levy

    This whole issue only means something if you accept the premise that Hollywood/mainstream feature animation is the be-and-end-all. With this mode of thinking, the trends in the industry are something that “happen to you.” All my heroes, many of them in the NY scene, don’t subscribe to that theory. They create projects and build amazing careers of their choice that would have never been possible had they asked the industry for permission or waited to see which way the wind is blowing.

  • http://www.TVsKyle.net TV’s Kyle

    How is it, then, that Spongebob continues to persevere?

  • fishmorgjp

    Meh, CGI flicks are wearing out their automatic welcome with the releases of so many dud ones. Hey, look at this “Unhappy Feet” gif:

    http://www.b3ta.com/board/9956705

  • Dave O.

    As animation flourished over the years audiences expected a particular kind of experience, again though they may not have known it: a soothing, agreeable color scheme, fluent movement rooted in realism but subject to its own laws, appealing character designs, maybe a scene or two with a “wow” factor highlighting the art of animation, and most importantly a high sense of craftsmanship.

    CGI films take that “wow” factor and try to sustain it throughout the length of a feature film. Each scene becomes a series of one-uping the previous one usually with very little subtlety. It seems as though the goal is to completely overwhelm the audience whose expectations have been thrown for a loop. Now, studios will clamor to duplicate the astronomical success of “Avatar”, a film that will serve to anyone that cares about animation in any way as a symbol of the dominance of CGI.

    Is the 2-D animation dead? As 2-D has been crafted and distributed through the American studio system, yes. Like any out-going art from though, it is thriving in fringe spots around the world among independent animation houses, and among creative experimental animators and other artists. I think more personal, more daring work gets made in this way outside the studio system, so it may all be for the better.

  • http://www.krokkentug.com Dana Vold

    This seems like a misinterpretation to me. Look at World of Warcraft, which, I would say, is about as cartoony as Pixar movies. It is far more successful than Avatar will ever be. I mean, you may not LIKE Warcraft, but it sure does make money.

    Actually there are a bunch of video game examples… Mario and Little Big Planet, for example, are cartoonier than WoW or Pixar movies, and they are very successful. If anything, cartoon games might even be more successful on average than realistic games.

    I don’t know why I am using games as the only examples, there are lots of other recent, successful cartoons, but this post is long enough as is.

  • http://trevour.blogspot.com Trevour

    And this is why most of my friends and relatives couldn’t care less about my profession. Drawing cartoons and caricatures is just a novelty to them. Guess I should abandon everything and start learning how to animate in Maya.

    OK not really. Why would I EVER do that? CARTOONS 4EVR!!

  • http://daryl-rhystaylor.blogspot.com DarylT

    I was thinking about this exact thing not a little while ago. It’s not only effecting the cartoon form, but the stories that can be told. I mean that movie Cats and dogs. Five years before that came out, there would be no question that it would have been an animated movie. But now, well we all know. It’s quite an unsettling situation and makes it much more of a challenge to find a story that can only be told in animation. Even harder to find a story than only be told i traditional hand-drawn animation. I don’t know why this partcular situation has happened, maybe it has something to do with parents allowing their children to grow up faster and have more access to inappropriate material, making the children believe that they are too mature for cartoons? I don’t know. It would break my heart to see cartooning go extinct like silent comedy. Let’s just hope that it’s a cyclindrical phenomenon, and the old cartoony look will be brand new again.

  • http://Mr.FunsBlog Floyd Norman

    Thanks, Will.

    If I was like the old animators I once worked for – I’d head for the bar.

  • http://tillmyhands.blogspot.com Adam VM

    It’s just the latest manifestation of the same old prejudice: realistic = better.

    It won’t last.

  • http://willfinn.blogspot.com/ Will Finn

    Lot of good comments here– I agree with many that the art of cartooning lies in the hands of individual cartoonists now more than ever.

    I haven’t really thought much more about the entry I made on Saturday since then, kind of got it out of my system (fortunately I have a very cartoony day job at present). Anyone interested please look at the entire piece and not just the extracts; I wanted to be precise as possible about what the issues rolling thru my brain because it’s an observation, not a crusade.

    (I didn’t use the term “Frankenstien” BTW and do not find the use of hybrid techniques to be automatically negative.)

    In retrospect, LADY & THE TRAMP is maybe not the best example to use in defense of the cartoon: I said in my post that if it was redone as a live action movie with cgi assist, I could see it working pretty well. That may be because as animated movies go, the original L & T demanded a lot of ‘naturalism’ in the look of it, even as drawn art. The only animal more familiar to our eyes than our own kind is, after all, a dog.

    Which leads me to suspect we need as much cartooniness from the material as we do from the look.

  • DJM

    For awhile now, I’ve been thinking that Toy Story was the end of 2D and Shreck was the end of the theatrical cartoon. True, there are individual cases like Secret of the Kells and Princess & the Frog, but those are exceptions. CGI is just more “modern” and “mature” to people now.

  • mrscriblam

    there’s nothing that bugs me more than cartoons being referred to as ‘childish.’

    some of the best cartoons i’ve ever seen are the ones a child would have absolutely no business seeing.

  • troy joseph reyes

    ive been having this argument for years, back when i was in high school(early eighties) my friends would draw a lot, show our stuff to each other, do the occascional flyer, some graffitti, most of my friends considered themselves serious artist, they were into frazetta, valejo, all the serious fantasy artist, i was into cartoons. i loved to draw the emotions, the versatility of movement, the facial expressions, creating real characters not just muscle bound stick figures and s shaped women with big boobs. as a result i was labeled the not serious artist. while its true animators have yet to do anything new in animation, the craftmanship, the principals, are all still valid, cartoons are alive, 3-d, photo realistic, computer animation are all dead. extremely limited, formuliac, derivitive and just plain boring.animators need to step up their game, its 2010, we need relevent cartoons, founded on past principals but speaks to a new generation, thats the only way cartoons will survive, bob clampett is dead, long live bob clampett, the search is on for the bob clampett of the 21st century..you know what?.. it could be me.

  • elan

    Yes, but then you get wonderful things like Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, which is whimsical, funny, spontaneous, and just awesome.

    So, Im not sure if he’s completely right…

  • http://www.kohrtoons.com Robert Kohr

    Coming in here a bit late but I whole heartedly agree. I think this sentiment stems from something not related directly to animation instead I think it relates more to the comic book movie. Lets face it, these have been a raging success in the past decade or so. Being a kid growing up in that period I generally felt WOW how cool would it be to see the REAL Xmen! A lot of people share this feeling, there is a wonderful magic in seeing your favorite book or comic materialize into reality on the side of the consumer.

    I think this relates to animation in that the creators of these films think the same applies to animation remakes of old shows. They look at it and say we could a) do the same, keep it an illustration or b) tie a name actor(s) to it then sell the crap out of it. B) makes more business sense.

    My final thought is that while this is a depressing trend I really don’t care, make Tom and Jerry Live Action, make it look like crap on a stick, who cares. The Alvin and the Chipmunk movies and others should never have been made, if they are made like crap then who cares? The only benefit I can see is MAYBE it may spurn interest in the original a bit.

  • tom

    I may be coming at this from a different angle, but here goes….

    I think its interesting that “Frankenstein” has come up in this thread. The novel Frankenstein, is usually thought of as a warning against industrialization, but another interpretation could be a warning against naturalism, or more that the novel is a parody of naturalism. After all, the monster is a willful creation of trying to blend art and nature as one.

    People generally agree that Disney started to go downhill with Snow White; when naturalism started to creep in.

    There’s nothing really wrong with CGI, its the naturalism that’s wrong with it.

  • Oliver

    A live-action remake of ‘Lady and the Tramp’ has *already* been made (sort of): Watch the 1998 romantic comedy ‘The Last Days of Disco’ (available as an excellent Criterion edition DVD) and note how the characters play homage to it.

  • Stephen

    This explains why the 1930s are my favorite decade of animation. You can pluck very cartoony films from the early years, and watch Disney reaching toward realism as time goes on. The best of both worlds.

  • Chelsea

    This discussion reminded me of something I read in “The Disney Villains” book by Frank and Ollie in relation to “Beauty and the Beast”:

    “Undeniably, the realism of the characters in their occasionally fantasy backgrounds enthralled the audiences, and the live action type of cutting quickened the tempo and gave new life to the telling of the story. The whole staff was naturally very proud and pleased with the enthusiastic reception Beauty and the Beast received, yet some of the artists were haunted by nagging doubts. A few complained that the main characters were only live-action actors dressed in animation drawings, with life-action attitudes and mannerisms, all dealt with in a live-action handling of the story.

    This had brought about a shift from fantasy to reality throughout. The characters were becoming stereotypes without the imagination that had brought forth Jiminy Cricket or Captain Hook or Prince John. One artist felt that the films had lost the magic of imagined relationships. They were almost like documentaries. “I think they are losing a lot of that sense of fun.”. (209)

  • http://chuckfialacomicart.blogspot.com/ Chuck Fiala

    This does seem to continue that movement from the 30′s towards realism. By 1940, cartoons didn’t look like Felix the Cat anymore. Now they look nothing like Lady and the Tramp.

    People seem to prefer a realistic experience, especially for features. I think there will continue to be a market within advertising or political cartooning for short films showing a more stylized feel, but nobody’s going to want to use the word cartoon anymore when describing their own work.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    Realism bites!

  • http://thecoolkidztable.blogspot.com Kiel Phegley

    Is it really official that Bone is in active development as a CGI/MoCap/hybrid project? Last I heard (from a panel Smith was on at San Diego last summer), there was no deal in place and that a live actiony Bone was only something that had been discussed at one point. I know Smith loves hand drawn animation, and if I had to make an educated guess, I’d assume that would be his first choice in adapting the books.

  • http://www.fluffyandmervin.com Debbie

    It will truly be a sad day if cartoons disappear. There are things that can be done in cartoony animation that just don’t look as good in realistic CGI. For example, look at the perfect way that Tom and Jerry quickly zip across the screen with a manic energy to them in the best of their cartoons…just try to do that in CGI. To me, it isn’t the same.

  • Cyle

    Why do so many of the comments here continue to make this a discussion about 2D vs. CG when it is clearly stated to be something different? While most (if not all) of the recent CG live action hybrid movies for kids are horrendous, the decision to render these characters realistically makes sense in the context of the films.

    This isn’t a representation of any general trend toward realism in animation as a whole. Characters like the CG Alvin and the Chipmunks aren’t supposed to be cartoons. They’re more like special effects. The whole idea is to try to convince kids that they are “real”. Whether that’s a good idea or not is debatable.

    Films like Madagascar, The Incredibles, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, and UP are proof that people still like cartoony caricature in feature films. I don’t think movies like Avatar have much of an effect on this. Avatar is in no way a cartoon, so audiences aren’t likely to compare it visually to a movie like UP. Just like you wouldn’t compare an animated feature to movies like Jurassic Park, Lord of the Rings, or Transformers. Sure there are some animated films that have attempted to mimic the look of live action, but more often it’s motion capture films like Happy Feet that have attempted this. The realistic designs are a result of the realistic movement provided by actors, not animators. In this case I would agree that the general public doesn’t necessarily see the difference between this method and cartooning and that it could encourage a push toward realism in animation. Since Avatar has had an effect on motion capture family films, you could argue that it has indirectly impacted cartoons, but for the most part it seems the realism movement hasn’t migrated to key-frame animated films.

    To be honest, I think someone that knew what they were doing could make a rather good live action movie about Lady and the Tramp utilizing keyframe animation and motion capture techniques. It wouldn’t be a realistic cartoon or a cartoon at all anymore. It would be a live action movie with special effects used to bring the animal characters to life. Of course it wouldn’t take the place of the original because it would become something entirely different. Tom and Jerry on the other hand is a completely different story. The cartoon nature of these characters is unquestionably essential. Tom and Jerry just doesn’t work in a quasi-realistic world.

    (I apologize for the length of this post)

  • Britt Sukys

    This is throwing down the gauntlet to all of you artists out there. Screw what the industry says. Do cartoons if you love them. They will never fade if we keep making them.

    Remember when Art schools drifted away from figure drawing? It now is a “lost” art.

    Animators who are brave enough to walk away from the corporate model of CGI, or realistic 2D, will be celebrated artists. I cast my lot with them.

    Create Art, not products.

  • http://www.dancinglineproductions.com anik

    This tendency of high tech techniques replacing traditional animation is definitelly true for the big screen. The reason I think is the prevailing marketing philosophy that says something like this: We have a big screen, and we better fill it with colors, rich imagery, sound and movement throughout all the screen-time to keep the product “value” high (and if we can squeeze in an additional D – even better). They tried to do just that with traditional techniques, but when 3D and mo cap developed it’s kind of suited better for this purpose: no more patches of flat colour, no more simple linear contours, no more slower or more quiet scenes. From this perspective it’s as if they were selling incomplete boxes of cereal, and now they found a new way to fill the boxes to full capacity at no additional cost, so the customers must be happy. And they are right, at least for now. This is working for the big screen where mass audience is expecting to be stunned visually, to feel like they are taking full advantage of paying for a theatre experience. But it’s not true for the small screen ( eventhough it’s also affected by this trend, but only because of recycled big screen features). So I don’t think that 2D animation is disappearing, it has a very solid presence outside of a movie theatre, with a lot of space for improvement and creative innovation.

  • http://www.dancinglineproductions.com anik

    P.S. Sorry if my post wandered into 3D vs 2D direction, but I think that realism vs cartoon image is closely related: 3D, by itself is a step towards realism, creating an illusion of more physical rather than drawn world. It has the potential to make things appear real, so it’s natural for it to be taken into that direction. I think that the new technology is largely responsible for this “realistic” trend, it its potential that inspires film ideas, not some cultural need for realistic esthetics.

  • Sam

    The irony is that a lot of leading 3D animators today don’t even draw. Or can’t, or hate drawing after they start getting sucked into this realism, subtlety thing animation, where kids don’t even really realize them but just watch for the entertainment.

    Then again, most animators today want to appeal the older generation of people rather than the kids. And kids show today sucks. Pity.