Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Random Thoughts On Art and Commerce #2

I'd like to get a conversation started. This is about Art, not Commerce.

What is it about our culture that relegates 2D hand drawn animation to being a storytelling medium for telling candy-coated frivolous subject matter suitable only for children?

Whatever the reason, I suggest that a way to begin changing that attitude is by creating short personal animation pieces containing more serious topics aimed at children in an entertaining manner. These pieces can be shown on the internet. This would be planting seeds that can bear fruit as children mature and come to accept 2D hand drawn animation as a means of expressing themselves as much as using live action video, film, writing, etc.

Anyone with another suggestion?


  1. Perhaps I view things differently because I'm in Europe and studied animation at a college that taught only traditional animation techniques (no CGI); but I'd be inclined to say that 2D hand drawn animation is already used as the most expressive (and least childish) form of all animation techniques - while CGI is far more prone to the child-friendly candy-coating that you fear.

    I think many cultures view animation as childish because most of us are introduced to animation through children's TV, and few people outside the animation industry get to see it being used for anything else.

    As CGI has largely replaced traditional animation techniques in the commercial market, CGI is now much more likely to be seen as childish than traditional techniques. And for traditional animation techniques to survive in the age of CGI, they need to offer something that CGI struggles to deliver (such as the unique hand-made style of it's artistic creator) or be more expressive than CGI.
    Although 'grown-up' 2D hand-drawn animation is a rare commodity in today's commercial market; film festivals and the internet already offer an incredible range of 2D animations from across the world that fully express the thoughts/ideas/feelings of its creator without pandering to an audience of children.

    The prime thing that hinders what people think of animation is that animation festivals are aimed at niche markets (primarily of animators surprisingly!) with little focus on reaching the wider public and trying to change their view of what animation is or can be.
    If animation festivals were promoted to and visited by the wider public, then many more people would see how expressive and "grown-up" animation can be, and they would no longer see it as a child's babysitter.

  2. I think we see cgi as more child-friendly than 2D animation, simply because there is more cgi animation on the market.

    2D looks more adult and/or expressive than cgi primarily because it costs less and is easier for an independently minded animator to do.

    Naturally, we all try to make more sophisticated content in our personal work. I, for one, have not been afraid of doing family animation. I'm not trying to be vulgar or create pathologically violent animation; I'm trying only to tell a story with what little resources I have. To me that means reaching out to ALL audiences, young and old alike. Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon both entertain audiences of all age brackets.

    I'd call that "Adult."

  3. Andy and Michael, I agree with your points.

    I don’t consider vulgarity and pathological violence in and of themselves as being “Adult”. For the most part, I consider the use of these elements very immature and their use in “adult animation” as purely for shock value and to create an adrenaline rush for the viewer.

    To me, showing consequences of one’s actions or delving into the human motivations of a character are the types of elements that make for sophisticated storytelling. It’s this kind of material that I wish were represented more in commercial animation.

    But that’s just my taste.

  4. I think the difficult thing about trying to plant seeds of mature content into kids is that kids aren't looking for mature content. They're often looking for the shock-value "mature" immaturity you mentioned above, John.

    That said, I think if something is well done they latch onto it like a ravenous fiend. Mainly because so much of what they have to entertain them is, frankly, terrible. We live in an age where everyone can create, and while that's GREAT, it sometimes leads to creating a lot of subpar work. I myself am guilty of that, I spent 7 years doing Flash animation with very crude style (though thankfully not crude content). I feel like you have to get something out now, now now, or you lose your audience, because there's so much constant competition. So quality suffers.

    Like I said, though, people young and old still crave quality animation. So that, to me, is the key starting point if you're trying to catch people's attention. Obviously things like story as well, but the competition is huge yet not great.

    I dunno, maybe I'm off topic a bit. I think it's merely that kids are overloaded with content, so it's tricky. You can try to plant seeds, but as any gardener will tell you, if you plant too much in a small area (kid's heads) then the smaller plants will be overcrowded and die while the weeds prosper.

  5. Quality storytelling and solid characters in an attractive environment I believe will attract both kids and adults. Great sense of humor helps too, doesn't matter if it's 2D/3D.

    Planting seeds works too, especially for parents taking their children to animated films. Look at Pixar's Wall-E, there was a heavy theme of being "green" that resonated with parents and kids.

    I wish there were more animations that glorified being a better person that were shown on tv, besides the fart jokes and gags. TV's a main source of babysitting for children these days.

    John- great blog! Thanks for sharing and bringing up these great discussions. I'll share them with my local student animation group!

  6. I agree with Andy to some extent that it is a cultural thing; in Japan, for example, animation is definitely not just for little kids. There is lots of anime geared towards teenagers, 20-somethings, and adults, dealing with every subject one could think of. And it's not just animation, either - this issue extends into graphic novels, illustrated books, comic strips... in the U.S. these media are also considered kids' stuff. Although recently with the onslaught of live-action superhero movies I suppose comics have gained some mainstream attention.

    For some reason animation has garnered more respect among adults in television rather than features - Adult Swim, South Park, Family Guy, etc. Perhaps it's only a matter of time before it spills over into film as well?