What is Great Animation?
Comments By Independent Animators
Since I could only glean so much information from my students’ papers I asked several friends involved in different ways with animation for their comments.
Independent animator David Ehrlich is a visiting professor at Dartmouth and at Beijing's Communications University. He says, “Great animation, like someone you love, you want to see over and over again without a single thought of anything else.”
Joanna Priestley, whom Bill Plympton calls “the queen of independent animation," says “Great animation leaves me with deep inspiration in my life and work. Occasionally, great animation gives me a deeper understanding of what life means.”
Paul Fierlinger who has directed My Dog Tulip and over 800 shorts, says, “Great animation is the kind of film that surprises from beginning to end, but also throughout the screening there is this strong urge to stop the film and find a friend to share it with. This has a lot to do with originality of form and sound that come together to stir up strong emotions. But just the joy of encountering exceptional art is enough to fulfill the label ‘great animation.”
Signe Baumane is creating Rocks in My Pockets, a personal feature. She writes, “For me animation is great because it can be used as a visual shortcut to complicated ideas and feelings. That's why animation tires normal audiences out after 70 minutes; it is so dense with meaning that it makes an audience's brain work harder. Very stimulating.”
Emily Hubley says, “For me, the two greatest aspects of animation are the element of surprise (for both the creator and the viewer) and its universality. I've found that the most oblique personal epiphanies will resonate with others as long as they are true.”
French animator Leonard Cohen, who’s short Plato won the Best Student Animation prize at Annecy in 2011 and presently lives in California, writes, “Thanks for asking about greatness in animation. That's something people should think about. For me, animation is a mix of mathematics and music. It is a matter of combinations. It is the media that never looks the same. What excites me is the multiplicity of magic tricks: visual, optical, artistic possibilities possible. Animation allows us to experiment, to treat any subject, idea, concept or story in new ways. It allows us to invent.” Leonard’s film Plato is a brilliant study of such possibilities.
Comments By Commercial Animators and Administrators
Marcy Page, a National Film Board of Canada producer whose credits include Madame Tutli-Putli and other Oscar nominated/winning shorts, says, “There are so many possibilities for greatness in animation. I like the phrase ‘Art that moves.’ Animation can both choreograph all manner of form and move one emotionally. It is great when an animator blends perfectly a quirky medium with just the right ‘message,’ when the two are so integrally wrapped in a way that neither McLuhan nor anyone else could have predicted. Animation can consume any other art form in its wake and compress the disparate bits into humor, surprise and awe...endless possibility.”
George Evelyn is the co-creator of Sheriff Callie's Wild West, a Disney Junior show for tots that is presently in production. George told me, “Animation is a great job. What I like about my particular niche in the Animation Universe (I've been doing pre-school TV shows for the past couple of years), is that we're sort of carrying on the old 1930's tradition of classic surreal talking-animal cartoons, with nutty colors, slapstick comedy, and lots of singing and dancing. But we get to do it with ultra-modern CGI.”
William Dennis, a former VP of Disney Feature Animation and founding partner of the International Animation Consulting Group wrote two points of view on what's great about animation. “First, from the point of view of the artist, animation is a medium that allows even the most bashful of us to express ourselves 'on stage'. With a decent amount of creativity and a couple of props (pencil or stylus), you can put it out there for others to enjoy (or not). What can be better than that?”
“From a business perspective, what I like most is the seemingly unlimited scope of opportunities for producing revenues from animated projects. First, virtually all of the same revenue producing avenues available to live action projects are open to animation projects including theatrical release, television release, games, DVD etc. etc... But in addition, revenues from merchandise, publications and direct to video are particularly well suited to animation projects and can make the difference between profit and loss.”
Ken Pontac has written for many TV series and was the co-creator, director and co-producer of “Bump in the Night” (ABC-TV). He says, “Great animation inspires, delights and surprises its audience. It shows them something they’ve never seen, and makes them think of something they’ve never imagined. Technique is only part of the equation. The crude cut out style of South Park has told stories as meaningful and entertaining as the most fluid Pixar feature.”
“I suppose that I’m focusing more on story than style, but, after all, I’m a writer, not an animator. All things being equal, I think the greatest animated films ever made were the old Warner Brothers and MGM shorts, which set me on the path that’s brought me to where I am today. The timing, the energy, and the economy of content that created so much impact in a seven-minute film are unsurpassed, and the result has delighted generations and generated billions in revenue.”
John Hays, a founder and president of WildBrain, has had a rich and varied life working in animation. He says, “Animation is great because it's the only art form that can include ALL the other art forms.”
J.J. Sedelmaier and his wife opened J.J. Sedelmaier Productions Inc. in 1990. It is one of our nations top animation studios, known for cutting-edge commercial animation, print campaigns and other cool things. He writes, “My attraction to animation has always been anchored in the endless opportunities it provides me to combine design. story and sound design, choosing or developing a graphic vocabulary, a ‘look,’ that pushes the idea as far as it can go, and then marrying it with a unique audio identity. That still juices me like it did on Day 1! Gathering a group to work on the project is also a joy. It's always different and it's not unlike what I would imagine assembling a repertory company to perform a piece of theater is like, each player with something unique to contribute but never playing the same role the same way twice.”
“When Patrice and I started our company over 20 years ago, animation was just beginning to garner a mainstream adult audience. The Simpsons, and MTV with their station/network ID’s, were demonstrating how animation and cartoons could attract and hold the interest of more than just kids. I’m most proud of being involved with helping this transition move forward by helping launch projects like MTV’s Beavis and Butt-Head, and co-creating with Robert Smigel, Saturday Night Live’s “Saturday TV Funhouse” series. People like Bill Plympton, Don Hertzfeldt, Richard Williams, and Paul Fierlinger have all been instrumental in exploring and pushing the craft into areas unthinkable years ago! It’s been wonderful to see animation get so much of the credit its due, and it’s been an honor to be a small part of the community!”
Kevin Coffey has run Cartoonland in San Francisco since 1982. He has also worked for Wildbrain, ILM, Colossal Pictures, Mill Valley Animation and other studios. He says, “I am the proverbial ‘little guy,’ the smallest of one-man operations who can make a living as an artist without leaving his living room. I've worked on some big projects (there's an extended 2-D sequence of mine of ghosts in Sellick/ Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas), but a lot of the stuff I do these days is never seen by the general public (corporate animation, web only animation etc.). Same with illustration work. For every high profile children's book I illustrate for a major sports franchise there's 10 that will never be seen by the general public (textbook illustration, web-only illustration and first time authors whose work isn’t widely distributed).”
“It's subjective, but a commercial artist has to learn quickly if he wishes to earn a living. He better create artwork that ‘works’ for the client and expect most clients to ask for changes. Still artwork or moving artwork requires balancing elements in space to create pleasing compositions that easily read. Then there's the entertainment value of those elements and with animation added there's the performance of these various elements to be considered. It is best to build on a house that has solid foundations.”
“For me, great animation can be defined by two words- ‘it works.’ Composition, design, color and subject matter come together combined with great animated performances to create an experience that is greater than the sum of its parts. There are countless examples in the enormous sea of work that is the history of animation - Little cartoon bugs breaking into a funny ‘fey’ dance in an early Silly Symphony, a bored fairy sprinkling morning dew on a spider's web in Fantasia - a horrific, monstrous mosquito spreading malaria to an entire community of people - a child discovering their own super powers in The Incredibles - it just doesn't stop. There are thousands and thousands of great moments in the history of animation, sometimes just a few seconds long. My goal is to create a few of these moments before finally putting down my pencil.”