What is Great Animation?
Comments By Educators
Maureen Furniss, CalArts faculty, founding editor of “Animation Journal” and noted author, told me, “I think that great films are films that tap into the essence of being human, across cultures. It’s kind of that simple, at least to me. That accounts for the greatness of a wide range of narrative films that are aesthetically different, such as Adam Elliot’s films which are quite limited in their animation, to the incredibly detailed layers in the animation of Frederic Back’s The Man Who Planted Trees and non-narrative (maybe dreamlike) or abstract films can represent significant themes of humanity or states of being also, without using the device of a linear ‘story’ to relate them.”
Duan Jia, an animator who heads the animation department in the Creative Media College of the Beijing Film Academy, writes, “Through animation, everyone can create different worlds, one by one, that never repeat, never come to an end.”
Tsvika Oren, who teaches in Israel, writes, “My definition of ‘Great animation’ is movement of visuals, figurative or abstract, which influences my feelings and thoughts as in Joanna Quinn’s Wife of Bath Tale, Frederic Back’s The Mighty River and Sara Petty’s Picture Windows. A great animated film is one which becomes a personal experience, a film that moves and stimulates me, a film I want to see again and again. Not necessarily one with great animation. Rather, it must have the most suitable animation (and design, sound, timing, etc) for its created world, based on profound and sensitive observation, in order to be a great film.”
Ed Hooks, who has traveled around the world teaching Acting for Animators and has written a best selling book on the subject, says, “Like music, animation communicates directly with the heart. It does not need to be translated in order to be appreciated. When a story is told through animation, the audience accepts it openly and playfully. This attribute of animation makes it one of the most powerful methods of communicating, one tribe to another. It is a common and universal language. I think Walt Disney set us on the right path when he gave Mickey Mouse a brain. Instantly, Mickey became one of us and took his place on the storytelling stage along side of the best human actors in the world. Would ‘The Iron Giant’ be as moving if it was live-action? Not to me, it wouldn't. How about The Grave of the Fireflies or Spirited Away, would they work as live-action? No, never. Animation is unique, powerful and heart-felt, and that is at least part of the reason why animation is great.”
Chris Robinson is the artistic director of the Ottawa Animation Festival, has written several books and writes a controversial column at awn.com under the name of “The Animation Pimp.” He says, "The best animation - whether indie or commissioned - comes from artists who know that animation is whatever the fuck it wants to be - not what Walt, Blair, schools, executives, broadcasters, buyers and lots of lousy teachers tell them it is. Walt Disney and Preston Blair should be condemned as the enemies of animation. They - and their lazy preachers - teach you to FOLLOW...to APE, not to THINK and EXPLORE and EXPERIENCE on your own."
My (Karl Cohen) own view is based on studying and working with animation as a teacher, film exhibitor, writer and independent and commercial filmmaker. I see great animation as a wonderful way to explore life from many different directions. It can be a private personal study or a commercial project. It can amuse, communicate serious messages, make us feel a wide variety of emotions and/or it can be a highly intellectual experience.
Animations’ potential is only limited by the boundaries of our imaginations. While it can duplicate the real world, its greatest potential is to go beyond what has been done before, to expand the universe of creativity. Surrealism, to go beyond what is real, is basic to most animation. It allows us to believe in and experience the impossible. Like day dreams we can venture into unknown worlds that can be idealized golden moments or take on terrifying journeys into dark places. People usually are comfortable going along with the animator’s work as it allows for a safe passage where ever it takes us.
To be a successful animator one does not need to master every skill. If the work’s content or the person’s technical skills capture and hold our attention, flaws in other areas of the production are often overlooked. Story isn’t always important to us. Unlike the world we live in the animated world does not have to conform to any preconceived rules. Animation at its best is a remarkable form of art and I suspect it will remain so for many centuries to come.