Dr. Toon: The Animation Critic's Art - Part VIII
Directing is a complicated subject to address when evaluating animated shorts or films. An animation director does not have an analogous role to that of live-action director. The most obvious difference is that animated characters don't actually exist in the sense that live actors do, but that is not the only contrast between the two directing jobs.
An animated film exists in a separate plane of reality. If, say, a live action-director does not like the placement of a tree, the entire shot must be moved or altered. If an animation director does not like the placement of a tree, the tree itself can be eliminated or substituted for. Live-action directors who now have weapons such as WETA digital magic at their disposal are just beginning to reap the advantages that animation directors have had for over 100 years.
The role of an animation director can be simplified into the following definition: The person who ensures that all elements of a given short or film are consistent and congruent while guaranteeing that said elements tell the story as conceived. Of course, there are writers and storyboard artists involved as well, but the director is most responsible for the end product.
Sounds simple, right? In truth, it would take several columns to explain and to give examples of how this is done for better and for worse. What I will attempt to do, however, is identify the elements referred to and give examples of how they are most effectively utilized.
The Character(s): The director is responsible for how the character is used. Under consideration is the character(s) role in the story, the consistency of character presentation, and how the characters react to the conflict or problem essential to the cartoon. Deft handling of the characters will invariably result in a good cartoon., even if the story is weak. A misstep in any one of the above areas will sink the short/film no matter how good or tight the story may be.
The Conflict: Here we begin to integrate the content of the past columns. The conflict must be entertaining, balanced, and worthy of a story.
The Setting: Where the cartoon takes place. Jungle? City? Desert? Alien world? Setting impacts story: Try putting a Road Runner cartoon in the settings used in Akira.
The Pacing: The sequence of action and the speed (or deliberate lack of) that runs through the cartoon.
The Gags: Not appropriate for all cartoons, but found in most. Must be funny, well-timed, whether expected or unexpected. (More on gags in an upcoming installment).