I’ve mentioned before that a pecking order has developed in entertainment and sadly everyone in the industry seems to be agreeing to it even if you’re the low man on the ladder. And lowest on the ladder are anything requiring drawings or animation, despite so much computer graphics being used even in non-science fiction or fantasy productions. This includes comics, video games, and animation. Hollywood seems to hate animated productions unless they get a celebrity in there who may or may not be able to voice act just to get someone famous into the talk shows. Never mind that there may be a show already with regular stars or the voice actors do this every day, they aren’t live actors so they get snubbed. That is unless they are and transition between the two like Mark Hamill, Roddy McDowell, or the recently past Ed Asner.
Beauty And The Beast gets nominated for Best Picture and the “real” actors throw a fit. So now the Oscars have a “best animated picture” category they can use to segregate it from the “real movies”. On television cartoons fall into two categories: stuff for kids, and stuff for adults, with most of the latter being subversive comedies rather than serious action shows. The Castlevania series on Netflix is kind of a fluke.
Well, not as much of a fluke if you check out Japan. While plenty of Japanese still aren’t animation fans, you can find anime for every genre, every age group, and every taste…good and bad really. Anime has become a big hit in America to the point where anime has lost its description of “animation from Japan” (anime is short for animation actually) and anything that seem similar, like Avatar: The Last Airbender or the aforementioned Castlevania get lumped into it despite being made for a Western audience. So what are they doing right? What do Japanese animation studios understand about animation that Western studios and the general public in the West don’t seem to?
I’m certainly not putting down shows for kids. Remember who you’re talking to. I watch shows like Bluey and Paw Patrol on occasion. To me a good story is where you find it, and plenty of cartoons have great stories, even the ones that operate under “kid logic”. The thing is animation works better with kid logic than live action. Here’s the main takeaway you should get from this article: the further you get away from reality the more you can get away with. That’s why, at least to me, superheroes work better in animation. An animated world, barring attempts to be photorealistic–more often found in computer generated animation than in traditional hand drawn, doesn’t resemble the real world. It doesn’t look like our world so you can play more with the rules of that world. You still have to be consistent with your rules unless it’s for comedy like the Looney Tunes, but it’s easier to accept the usually unbelievable because it isn’t limited to the real world.
There’s also less need for special effects gear because the effects are built right into the visuals. You can still enhance them in some way. Look at how Filmation used laser effects and portals in some of their later works like Flash Gordon or He-Man & The Masters Of The Universe. They would also reuse rotoscoping for various actions like sword fighting or a dynamic landing. They used tricks of live-action but to benefit the animation. Yes, they used limited animation at times to save money, but when they pushed forward the results were quite good and even then the reuses didn’t detract from the story unless you’re that nitpicky. I don’t complain that a dragon model from one show would end up in another because why not reuse a good asset? Music is reused by studios. Often actors tend to show up in multiple shows by a particular animation or dubbing studio. If you’re not going to complain when live-action does it, why complain here?
Let me shoot myself in the foot on that one, because another benefit to animation is that you don’t have to build anything; it’s all drawn or rendered beforehand in the case of computer animated shows. You also don’t have to worry about creating green screens to chromakey anything because you can just have space or a fantasy world right outside the window instead of pretending it is. There are no models to build, no props to design, no costumes to actually sew together since no physical people will be wearing them. Heck, you may not even have actual actors if you’re doing a silent production or using vocaloids or something. (Don’t use vocaloids, just use actors. It’ll be easier in the long run with the right voice director.) There’s nothing to create. Just draw it all and animate it.
There however is the snag. If you’ve checked out previous installments in this series before the big hiatus you know no medium is perfect. There’s a “but” to everything. In animation you actually have to animate. I mean, you can cheat and do it animatic/motion comic style if you want or if that’s all that’s available to you. I’ve seen it done well in telling the story, though that requires more from the actors to sell it. However, that’s not really going to snag as many views as a properly animated production. I’ve seen terrible animation in both 2D and 3D animation. In the case of hand drawn 2D animation none of the principles of animation, not even the ones that pertain to just drawing alone, were followed. Character had no life and their movements even in a non-realistic world couldn’t be taken seriously. 3D “virtual puppets” (ooh, I need to talk about puppets in a future installment) have to be properly rigged and not move or have facial movements that would frighten small children…unless that’s your goal of course. Learn how to animate, even if you’re just writing, and get a sense of what can and can’t be pulled off in animation.
The results speak for themselves. Look at any live-action adaptation of an animated work. Sure occasionally you get something good like the first Superman movie’s goal of “you will believe a man can fly” or George Of The Jungle, and nobody can say The Addams Family didn’t translate okay into live-action. On the other hand more often than not what you get is a poor imitation of the original and even the good ones can’t get away with the same unrealities as the comics and cartoons they’re based on. And video game movies don’t even really try, which is one of the reasons so many of them are garbage. I mean, the story template is right there! At least ATTEMPT to use it! No, that’s not happening. Hollywood joins the public (a rarity but in this case it happens) in thinking “cartoons” are just kids stuff, while in Japan they embrace the unrealness of an animated world to even make stuff set in the real world work with exaggerated rules that wouldn’t fly in live-action. Their ability to acknowledge and work with those unrealities has even led to better live-action adaptations like Ruroni Kenshin.
Still, these are worlds created for cartoons and comics, and to attempt to move it to a “real” world loses some of that flavor that makes the original production work, and it’s why comics translate better to animation than live-action. Meanwhile some live-action works might have been better off in animation. That’s why The Real Ghostbusters excites me more than the movies, and imagine Battlestar Galactica, either the original or the 2000s remake, in animated form. The original had their share of alien races while the non-human Cylons and space battles of the re-imagining were all done by computer graphics anyway. Babylon 5 and Star Wars wouldn’t have to deal with heavy makeup or annoying things like “gravity” and “hot lights” to pull off battles. I mean, the lasers are all animated anyway.
Of course there are those people who just can’t get into animation who don’t suffer Hollywood’s pecking order media bias. That’s fine. Animation isn’t for everybody but to ignore what animation can do that live-action can’t is to cut yourself off from potentially the best way to tell your story. Being live-action is fine but it’s not always the best form. The more effects and makeup you need the more you should consider animation. You can get away with a lot more unreality as long as you focus on being believable for that world instead of allegedly realistic to ours. Animated worlds can run on different rules from live-action ones. Embrace those differences and you can get away with a far better story in the end.