Sunday, September 4, 2011


     Since we know that mocap and CGI characters have a creepy, disturbing effect on audiences because they look like corpses, zombies and prosthetic limbs, wouldn’t it be logical to explore and develop an art that everybody loves and that doesn’t creep anyone out: traditional animation?
    How about bringing great art to life?  Even more radical, how about bringing great literature to life with great art?  The way Disney brought great music to life with beautiful art in Fantasia and Fantasia 2000.
    Animated films don’t have to be restricted to whimsy and children’s stories anymore.  Today’s animation is a sophisticated medium that can be used to tell any story.  Most traditional animation incorporates quite a bit of CGI these days it's not as old school as you might think 

(the above CG backgrounds in Tarzan for example),  so an even closer collaboration of the two media might produce surprising results.
     Imagine an animated feature of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, for example and Gogol’s The Nose and The Overcoat.  Joseph Brodsky’s graphic poetry would be especially interesting to animate, as would Boris Vian’s l’Ecume des Jours and Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions.  There’s plenty of blood and guts, historical and costume drama and sexy intrigue in literature, as well as philosophy, satire, fantasy, horror and other juicy stuff, so let’s move on to more thoughtful adult animated films.  I know many beautiful animated shorts have been made of literary subjects, including Caroline Leaf’s The Metamorphosis of Mr. Samsa, but I’m talking about fully developed feature films here, with identifiable adult characters and plots.  Persepolis and Waltz with Bashir have proved that political repression and wartime atrocities can be successfully done in animation, so how hard would it be to make a successful animated feature of Jennifer Egan’s A visit From the Goon Squad?  The same care and talent go into top animated acting, lighting, camera angles, set decoration, costume design as go into top live-action films.  Look at any Disney feature and you'll see this. 
    Digital tools to render generic oils and watercolors already exist, but I’m pretty sure scientists could do better and make specific painting styles for CG tools, a Matisse model, a Léger model, a Hopper model, and even a Picasso model, why not?   This was already attempted by Kyle Strawitz and Glen Keane at Disney when they invented a lovely painterly software for the film Rapunzel/Tangled based on Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s painting  Les Hasards Heureux de l’escarpolette but Disney never even mentioned it in connection with the film after they decided to make the story less girly and add a boy and a horse to appeal to the twelve-year-old-boy demographic.  They recently sold the software to someone else, what a shame.  While the software wasn’t exactly Fragonardesque, it was much softer than the usual photo-realistic CGI images and it was an evolutionary step away from the same old treadmill. 

    Animation producers, the fairy tale, comic book heroes and ogre markets are saturated and audiences comprise more than the twelve-year-old-boys.  Many adults also love animation and discerning adult animation-lovers will buy many DVDs and much animation art, so why limit your market?  It’s time to dare to push the animation envelope and break out of the children’s toy box.  Forget about box-office profits for a minute, hire some innovative scientists and adventurous animators to research new artistic software.  And some bold writers to write animated scripts for adults or adapt great authors like Nabokov, Morrison, Barbery for adult animation.  Give great art and literature a shot. There could be a big payoff later from a whole new market.

    Picture Flaubert, Houellebecq and Beauvoir animated in the style of Edmund Dulac, Jacques Rousseau, Marcel Duchamps or Fernand Léger:

Imagine Dickens, Pinter, Lessing, Joyce, Burgess, Dahl animated in the style of Arthur Rackham, Peter Max, Roger Dean:

Nabokov, Pasternak, Bulgakov animated in the style of
Orinyansky, Billibin and Vasnetsov:

Annie Proulx, Fran Lebowitz, Chuck Palahniuk animated in the style of Hopper, Pollock, Lichtenstein:

    Of course we don’t have to match the literature to the artist of the same nationality, it’s just a thought and, if you don't feel that adventurous, it doesn't even have to be an existing book or art, just an animated feature film for adults.  Or you could start with a best-seller with a built-in audience, like The Help - after all, animation is not inherently silly or funny, it's the animators who make it so and they can also make it serious, dramatic, thrilling, romantic and sad.
    There’s so much exciting stuff to be done in animation, we shouldn’t leave innovation to the Iranians and the Israelis only, everybody needs to get involved.  Sylvain Chomet, Andreas Déja, Caroline Leaf, Bill Plympton, Richard Williams what do you think?
    Audiences, what do you think?   Demand more intellectually challenging animation from the studios: DreamWorks:
@DWAnimation /   @blueSkyStudios / @DisneyAnimation  /  @Sonyanimation



Nora Lumiere said...

From @Charles_Kenny on Twitter:
"Today's blog post inspired by a great post by @Nora_LUMIERE that deals with the lack of diversity in animation:

Nora Lumiere said...

I'm so glad you were inspired to write about this subject. The fact is, animation producers are going to have to find something other than fairy tales and CGI superheroes to bring to the screen because audiences are diminishing. I hope that someone is adventurous enough to make an adult animated film (not porn, a film for mature adults, not kids). An Iranian (PERSEPOLIS) and an Israeli (WALTZ WITH BASHIR) have done it to great acclaim and THE ILLUSIONISTE (French) was not a children's film either. American producers are too concerned with profit to dare to do something different, even though audiences are ready for it. But it's not only the money, it's the idea of
animation for adults that producers can't seem to accept.

MikePerez said...

Thank you so much for voicing your concerns on this subject, because it has been my frustration with animation for years! I think the movement toward this is building, but it is too slow. We need some sort of catalyst. I'd love it if one day we could see feature length animated Horror or SciFi films. Cheers!

Nora Lumiere said...

Absolutely, an animated, feature-length STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND would be terrific.
Audiences must demand more from animation, only then will producers consider it an adult medium.
Thanks for your comment and keep nagging!

N. L. Lumiere said...

From QUICKDRAW ANIMATION on Twitter 21 March 2014:
"Always love seeing more people write about animation, but one major pet peeve: it's a medium, not a genre...

Great article, by the way."

N. L. Lumiere said...

Animation has unwittingly become a genre (chidren's) because of producers' lack of boldness.
Bit, as you say, it's a medium that can be used to tell any kind of story.