Interesting Analogy of American vs Japanese Animation
June 20, 2009
This is an analogy Peter Chung (Aeon Flux) once used to compare American (mostly Disney/Pixar) animation to anime. It’s a relatively simple observation that most casual fans would have noticed, but not as easy to articulate into words (so all kudos to him. My effort here is to make the point more concise and illustrative).
In a way, comparing those two is a lot like comparing Classicism to Modernism in terms of painting. Classicism was about creating illusion of life so that the viewer forgets he is looking at oil on canvas, but a window to reality. In Dujardin’s painting below (left one) for example, trace of the artist’s hands effortlessly vanish, as it flawlessly paints everything as it ‘should look like’. Many of Modern Art on the other hand reject this conventional mode of representing reality by deliberately highlighting their brush strokes, in order to more effectively express certain aspects of the painting. Monet (below right) would be inventive in colourful ‘dabs of paint’ to create his impression of scenery and not representation of it. Likewise, Picasso used ‘cubes’, Klimt used ‘decorations’, Pollock used ‘splashes’, all to express a different world of non-representative reality.
American animation (or Disney) is a lot like Classicism in that it focuses entirely on characters and representative illusion of them ‘breathing life’. There is movement even in still poses, which is how their cartoony and unrealistic looking characters appear as if they’re alive when animated with such ridiculous frame-rate and detail. Watch something like Wall-E or even Snow White and see how lively they appear. In contrast, anime is more like Modernism in that it’s not interested in representative illusion of movement. I remember Ben from Anipages Daily once mentioning how Japanese animators have become so good at playing around with different frame rates and adding their touches into the drawings, effectively infusing their own unique sense of life and movement into the characters. I don’t know much about animation itself to analyse different animators (just visit Ben’s blog) but I totally agree with Peter’s analogy. Below are two of my favourite scenes in anime that serve well as an illustration, which have the kind of thrill and vitality not present in your ‘realistic’ American animation.
I suppose it’s worth mentioning that other than the illusion of character movement/life, there are also titles like Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei that creates its own maddeningly exciting sense of flow through erratic sequencing of shots (not as heavy emphasis on the animation of characters moving).
And coburn just brought up K-On!, which I thought was another excellent example.