Friday, December 4, 2015


I’m a big fan of animation for adults and, since professional animation directors seem reluctant to innovate in that direction, I’m glad to see live-action directors taking the initiative. First there was James Cameron using MotionCapture in AVATAR (not really animation) and now we have screenwriter Charlie Kaufman using stop-motion puppets with 3D-printed faces in his directorial d├ębut ANOMALISA.
Unfortunately, the characters in both films look unbearably creepy due to the Uncanny Valley effect of corpse-like faces and unnatural movements, even though the AVATAR characters were generated by human actors and the ANOMALISA faces were 3D printed from real people. But why, if you were going for so much realism, leave the seams showing on the ANOMALISA faces?

It’s a mistake to think that realistic images make realistic characters. Just ask Nick Park whose stylised claymation characters couldn’t be less realistic, but their down-to-earth voices and finely observed gestures make them very human. The place for realism in animation is in the movement and in the voices.

And, no matter how moving the dialogue or profound the script, words alone will not make you character come alive either. Words are not what move an audience, it’s how they’re delivered that’s affecting. It’s the  expression, the small familiar gestures that accompany them that connect us to a character on the screen. When an audience is staring in horror at Zombie faces, they tend not to even hear the dialogue.  

The power of a non-human performance is all about acting with face and body done by expert animators who spend a lifetime studying human and animal behavior and movement. It has nothing to do with the photorealism of CGI or 3D printed faces of live people or motion captured by actors. Done well, any animated object can move an audience (the TOY STORIES), a drawn animal can make you cry (BAMBI) and a CGI-generated cartoon character can win Oscars and thrill a whole generation (FROZEN).

ANOMALISA may win prizes for writing and novelty but it shouldn’t for animation. I applaud Charlie Kaufman’s effort to educate audiences to expect more from the medium of animation and hope more film makers, especially US ones, will use animation as a medium to tell more adult stories like PERSEPOLIS and WALTZ WITH BASHIR, remembering that just because it's for adults it doesn't have to look realistic.



N. L. Lumiere said...

From John Lechner @JohnLechner on Twitter:

Strange that they took so much care to make the faces realistic, yet made the line of the mask so obvious.

N. L. Lumiere said...

From @JohnLechner on Twitter:

I think it's not quite as "uncanny" as most CGI films, the stop-motion gives it a human quality, a roughness that I like.

N. L. Lumiere said...

Really? I was instantly horrified. I found Nick Park's wonderful Brazilian panther more human.

N. L. Lumiere said...

From @johnlechner on Twitter:

I didn't like the faces, but I liked the way the bodies moved, that's the roughness that helps mitigate some of the realism for me

Unknown said...

Did you see the movie at all???

N. L. Lumiere said...

As an animator on ANOMALISA did you want to contribute to the discussion?

N. L. Lumiere said...

From @Komiska on Twitter:

A wonderful article - also an avid fan of animation for adults :)