Commercial Animation: Race, Gender and Sexuality…

Animated film in context:

It was during the 1990’s that the major studios started to produce computer animated features that were aimed not only at children but adults and parents too, changing animated film genre: from childrens movies into family movies, these major studios included Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks and Fox studios.

Due to the change from children to family movies Disney did not want to offend anyone and wanted to make their features politically correct, meaning that they would side step the racial issue completely by not including blacks at all.

Womens roles in animated film have also changed over the last few years, women now appear to be more active and empowered by defying authority and making their own choices, stepping out from the boundaries of their gender roles than when compared to some earlier films (Disney Princesses) where they are waiting for their true love to come and save them, having a much more passive role in the film and not really driving the overall plot of the film.

The Croods and Frozen are recent examples of changes that have occurred:

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However these films still box women into dependant roles, they still need a man to save them, sexualised and supplemented positions through the portrayal of a heterosexual romance, Eep falls in love with Guy and depends on him to save her family and Anna falls in love with Kristoff, depending on him to get her up the North Mountain to Elsa:

Film Review The Croods 49272598262

Changes in the mode of production and consumption of animated movies were also evident. Animated films were at one time completely hand drawn, but the big change came in 1955 when Pixar introduced CG animation resulting in almost every film in this genre being rendered digitally. Animated film is now produced for global audiences, it may have been previously produced for and consumed by children but today shows that animation is no longer considered a children’s film genre, it is consumed just as eagerly by adults.

Being produced globally calls for different posters and trailers to be made, suiting the style of that particular country/culture and what appeals to them…

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Until Toy Story came along commercial animation still reworked the well known classic Disney formula centring around fairytales and Princesses when needed saving by their true love, these films also ended up being musicals with their songs featuring in the charts. It was 1955 before someone decided to break the Disney formula by not focussing on a singing princess but instead centres around a male character, taking place in a real world setting. However nowadays animated film opts to move away from the fairytale category and feature a real world or futuristic setting, poaching ideas from popular culture to appeal to adults as well as children.


Within animation the characters, Disney Pixar and Dreamworks productions in particular often show racial and sexual pedagogies, the characters are often racialised whether they are human, animal or even an anthropomorphised object.

The crows from Dumbo show stereotypes of African Americans, this is reinforced by type of language they use, never mind the fact the lead crow is called Jim Crow.


and the more obvious issues.. the Disney princesses…


Shark Tale is a feature that is full of racialised animals, based around American and Italian gangsters:


The film seems to play off roles that the actors are famous for portraying, the character of Don Lino is a typical Robert De Niro role: an Italian American mob shark who is the master of the reef, the personalities of each character strongly resembles that of the actor, its almost as if they are characters of the actors themselves.

The characters are highly racially stylised, Oscar’s blackness is her through his accent but also through where he resides, his mannerisms, behaviour and the jewellery he wears.


Lola is an extremely sexualised character, highly resembling the look of the voice actress Angelina Jolie…


Animated characters, especially that in Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks always have a heterosexual romance. Heterosexuality is seen as the normal, it’s traditional and easier for the audience to associate with…

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Femininity and Citizenship:

Throughout the classic Disney storylines the portrayal of female characters all follow a similar pattern, they need rescued by their Prince Charming, each female is kind, patient, graceful and passive and have no other opinions… they are limited by their gender…



However in recent animated features the female characters are much more assertive…



Snow White is portrayed as house wife, targeted by another woman because of jealously, Snow White is a passive character who is literally waiting for her Prince to come and save her… Meanwhile Elsa who may not be as dependant on men as her sister Anna is, still needs help even though she is incredibly powerful but this help does come from another female character so it is an improvement… However Merida is an unconventional portrayal of a female character, she is not graceful, she does not depend on a man, she avoids being a typical disney princess and at the end of the film she stands her ground and firm in her beliefs, she does not conform to anything unlike in some early disney films…



Animated Mockumentary

Mockumentaries are known for adopting the aesthetics of a documentary in order to give the appearance of a traditional documentary. It should be created with a playful intent and not have the aim of deceiving viewers into believing false information.

A good example is Surf’s Up (sony animation)

Surf’s Up displays multiple styles used throughout a documentary including:

  • handheld cameras
  • camera shakes
  • unmediated reality: quick zooms and abrupt movements, giving the sense of live and unplanned/unscripted action.
  • talking head interviews
  • photographic stills
  • news feeds of the competition
  • mock archival footage

The penguins have been created with human like features/personalties e.g.. holding a competition, surfing… Paul Lassaine, production designer wanted to avoid a photorealistic approach to the movie (similar to March of the Penguins, released 2 years before.)

These documentary aesthetics provide a different approach to storytelling, making the narrative much more interesting setting it apart from a ‘normal’ film however it still portrays the traditional storyline of an outcast giving up a dream of glory for love meanwhile conveying the message that winning isn’t everything. Using this style of narrative set it apart form the penguin centred films that were real eased around a similar time such as Happy Feet, Madagascar and March of the Penguins. It is apparent that the penguin could be considered the new ‘bambi’ of the animation world.

Animated documentary

Does animated documentary exist?

Animation is usually a subject associated with fantasy and transformation with stylised, characterised and exaggerated elements, the polar opposite of a documentary which is noted for it’s seriousness based on truth and evidence so at first, when trying to pair the two areas together it seems rather difficult.



Some questions that need to be considered, What should a documentary look like? What sort of images should it contain?

The oxford dictionary defines documentary as: ‘Using pictures or interviews with people involved in real events to provide a factual report on a particular subject.’

“Documentaries bring viewers into new worlds and experiences through the presentation of factual information about real people, places, and events, generally — but not always — portrayed through the use of actual images and artifacts. But factuality alone does not define documentary films; it’s what the filmmaker does with those factual elements, weaving them into an overall narrative that strives to be as compelling as it is truthful and is often greater than the sum of its parts.”
-Sheila Curran Bernard, Author of Documentary Storytelling.

youtube channel ‘Film Courage’ discuss the most common types of Documentaries: 

John Grierson, a pioneer of documentary filmmaking, defines it as “The creative treatment of actuality… In documentary we deal with the actual, and in one sense with the real. But the really real, if I may use that phrase, is something deeper than that. The only reality which counts in the end is the interpretation which is profound.”

Bill Nichols, an American film critic also known for his pioneering work on the study of documentary film suggests that documentaries address the world we live in rather than a world imagined by a film maker.

From the definitions above it is possible to view animation as a viable means of documentary expression, animation could be a creative treatment of actuality or the non fictional portrayed through fantasy elements.

Animated documentary by Annabelle Honess Roe,

“Animation and documentary may seem an odd couple, but Animated Documentary shows how the use of animation as a representational strategy for documentary enhances and expands the realm of nonfiction film and television. From prehistory to states of mind, animation can show and evoke things that elude live-action. The current boom in animated documentary production is situated in the historical context of the cross-pollination of animation and documentary, before exploring the different ways animation functions in the animated documentary. Through analyzing films and television programmes such as Waltz With Bashir and Walking With Dinosaurs, this volume – the first to be published on this fascinating topic – demonstrates that while animation might at first seem to destabilize documentary’s claim to represent reality, the opposite is in fact the case.”

Honess Roe in her book suggests, “that an audiovisual work (produced digitally, filmed, or scratched on celluloid) ii could be considered an animated documentary if it: has been recorded or created frame-by-frame; is about the world rather than a world wholly imagined by its creator; and, finally, has been presented as a documentary by its producers and/or received as a documentary by audiences, festivals, or critics.”

Her bog also contains a few interesting posts regarding animated documentaries:

Animated documentary first appeared commercially in 1918, The Sinking of the Lusitania by Windsor McCay. The film is stylised as a documentary as it is the first recording of the sinking, informing viewers on details based on true facts, the animation gave audiences the chance to witness the event for which there was no live action footage available – here animation is being used as a substitute, animation has the ability to show reality.

“Compared to other animation done around this time, the film is both stark and serious, lending it the air of a documentary. The piece, which isn’t much shorter than the actual time it took for the Lusitania to sink, gives a blow-by-blow account of the attack. Though the incident is depicted largely from afar, as if from a camera on another ship, McCay doesn’t shy away from showing some really gut-wrenching moments of the tragedy up close.”

Animation has a history of being used as a means of illustration and clarification fr non fictional film:

eg: Einstein’s theory of relativity, 1923, produced by Fleischer Studios:

The use of animation in aiding live action is much more obvious in Disney’s 1951film, ‘How to Catch a Cold’:

Disney’s series: Why we Fight (1942-1945) showed that propaganda films can convey more facts through the use of animation, in this series a political perspective was delivered more easily than if live action was used, animation allows for emphasis and exaggeration which might not have the desired effect when used with love action footage. James Elkins art historian and critic points out that:

“the real subjects of maps usually […] serve territorial, religious, or nationalist agendas, the animated maps in the Why We Fight films serve a purpose beyond merely marking out geographical boundaries, they are also helping deliver the nationalist, propagandistic message of the series.” -Elkins, 1999: 223.

and more recently ‘Wonders of the Solar System’ BBC (2010)

Animation in documentaries allows for information to be easier understood by the audience, it can clarify, explain and illustrate in ways that live action cannot. This is evident in ‘How spiders Fly’ (1909):

“This charming short film is surprisingly technically advanced for its time, using a mechanical spider to demonstrate how the creatures spin the threads to create their webs..” The animation helps to reveal to the audience areas of the natural world that are unseen by the human eye, technology has offered a new way of seeing, expanding the realm of human vision.

In recent years a new trend in animation has appeared, animation is being added to live action footage creating moment sod interjection/intersection, this mode of the use of animation helps to enhance the meaning of the live action filming , helping the audience visualise the topic of the documentary much more easily. In the examples below the interjections of animation are used in a humorous style creating a contrast with the seriousness of the documentary, in some ways helping to make the film more watchable by the audience.

Bowling for Columbine, MIchael Moore (2002):

(38’28” and 49’00”) A serious documentary with interjections of animation to provide humour for the audience , keeping them interested. At 49 minutes animation is used to explain the American history in a humorous way.

She’s a boy I knew, Gwen Haworth (2007): Haworth included animation to lighten the mood of the documentary, humour prevented it becoming too intense – this will help the audience to empathise with the people involved, it is a topic alien to much of the audience so the animation acts as a means of understanding.

The examples below show the possibility of merging animation and documentary into a coherent form:

Moonbird, John Hubley (1959): A conversation (unscripted) between two young boys was recorded and the animation created to match the soundtrack, visualising to the audience what these two boys may have been imagining, the animation provides the audience with entertainment rather than juts listening to the recording of the children.

Windy day, John Hubley (1968): A similar concept to Moonbird, the animation created to the soundtrack, this time it it two young girls talking.

Conversation pieces (Aardman animation, 1983) also uses a similar technique of creating animation based on real life voice recordings:

The beginning of the 1990’s saw a boom in the production of animated documentaries, including A is for Autism (Tim Webb 1992) “Animation appeared to offer a useful technique to combine work from a number of autistic contributors, and to engage an ordinary viewer with the experiences being recounted and portrayed within a film.”

Snack and drink, Bob Sabiston (1999): a 4 minute animation which documents a teenager with autism on his way to a local store.

The end of the twentieth century saw animated documentaries become firmly established as a sub form of documentary and is now included in animation and documentary festivals.

What is animation doing that the live action alternative can not?

Honess Roe in her book ‘Animated Documentary’ suggest that animation functions in three ways: mimetic substitution, non-mimetic substitution and evocation, “The suggestion is that by thinking about animated documentary in this way we can see how animation has broadened and deepened documentary’s epistemological project by opening it up to subject matters that previously eluded live-action film.”- (page 1)

Mimetic substitution meaning that the animation illustrates an element that would be hard, near impossible, to show using a live action alternative, animation replaces the live action footage. Some animated documentary has no need to visually link with reality or even try to create an illusion of a filmed image but instead embraces animation as a medium of it’s own capable of creating expression through aesthetic realisation, this is non-mimetic substitution. Animation can respond to a different kind of representation, through evocation animation can visualise the invisible aspects of life, emotions, feelings, state of mind.

Digital Realities – animated documentaries can create photorealistic elements to be used to reconstruct historic and contemporary events, mimicking reality through computer generated images.

Walking with Dinosaurs, BBC (1999): This documentary intended to go beyond the usual fictional/ fantasy images and attempted to create the most accurate portrayal of prehistoric animals that has ever been shown on screen.

However the BBC then created, what is described as ground breaking, Planet Dinosaur created using the latest CGI and cutting edge research (2011) This time, along with the dinosaurs, the environment has been created using computer generated images. It is much more dramatic and fast paced due to the addition of more shots, even a tracking shot, and more angles, the hand held camera type shot adds to the documentary feel of the whole animation and the inclusion of an index allows the audience to visualise aspects that the narrator describes.

Both of the animated documentaries above contain voice overs giving the illusion of a nature documentary allowing the audience to keep up and understand what is happening on screen. Male voice overs are more common as they are more authoritative and give the illusion of the voice of God.

Tracing the sights and sounds of reality by rotoscoping:

Chicago 10 (Brett Morgen, 2007) uses animation to reconstruct un-filmed historical events. Chicago 10 details the run up to the 1968 democratic convention in Chicago and the subsequent trial of members of the anti-war movement.

“Mixing animation with archival footage, CHICAGO 10 explores the build-up to and unraveling of the Chicago Conspiracy Trial of 8 activists set up as scapegoats by The Government of the 1968 Democratic Convention demonstration against the Vietnam War..”


Cameras were not allowed in the court rooms so reconstructions of the trial were adapted from the court transcript and some aural evidence, such as: speeches given by the defendants at public speaking engagements and aired phone calls. Most of the animation was created using motion capture, a technique where sensors are placed on an actors body to capture movement, this data is then mapped onto a 3D character, translating a live performance into a digital one, motion capture is a technological descendant of rotoscoping – the process where animators trace over footage frame by frame in order to create realistic movements of the animated characters. The characters used in Chicago 10 very closely resemble their human counterparts meaning that throughout the portrayal of this historical and political event the audience can define who is who and what they are talking about – this is done out of respect.

Animated interviews: The use of animation to present documentary interviewees has become much more frequent after the production of Creature Comforts, Aardman animation (1989). In some circumstances it is important that the identity of the interviewee is protected, so animation allows a for creative way of their identity to remain hidden.

The body of the interviewee is significant, body language and facial expression can convey a lot of extra information to the audience, We learn as much from what we see and from what we hear.. “it is not simply the knowledge possessed by witnesses and experts that needs to be conveyed through their speech, but also the unspoken knowledge that needs to be conveyed by the body itself…” (Bill Nichols) Animation provides a way for the audience to still gain information from body language and facial expressions if the interviewee does not want to appear in front of the camera.

Bob Sabiston’s animated documentaries (Roadhead, Snack and drink, Grasshopper) contain rotoscoping which allows for a link with reality to be present as rotoscoping relies on the presence of the body in the original footage, keeping the feel of a commentary alive.

Animation can become a means of accentuating aspects of an interviewee’s personality and or story: “It’s Like That” is made by the Southern Ladies Animation Group (S.L.A.G.) who are an animation collective based in Melbourne. It uses the voices of 3 refugee children held in mandatory detention. They were interviewed over the phone by ABC journalist Jacqueline Arias in 2002.” There is a juxtaposition between the birds representing the children, the birds can fly away and leave but the children cannot, this reinforces the fact the children don’t have any freedom – “further emphasised by the dramatic contrast between the freewheeling sea birds in the opening sequence and ensuing scenes of the bird puppets enclosed in a room with a small solitary window…” –

Hidden (Aronowitsch, Heilborn and Johansson, 2002) an interview about an illegal child immigrant, the style in which the animation is portrayed reinforces the fact that they are illegal – filmed in a surveillance style, overexposed, grainy and the green/blue tint to the colours. “By making the film as a cartoon, the directors emphasise the childish pathos of the story rather than its political context. Giancarlo’s avatar has huge watery eyes that demand sympathy rather than understanding…”

Backseat Bingo (Liz Blazer, 2003): The interviewees are represented by characters of their younger self, this helps the audience relate the topic of sex with the interviewees who are in fact senior citizens and not usually seen as sexual beings…

“We live in a highly sexualised society, which also places huge emphasis on youth. I have great respect for Liz Blazer for challenging age prejudice by highlighting the importance of sex throughout adulthood. The liberal attitude amongst some of the female interviewees also challenges conservative gender stereotypes…”

Animation can offer a way of visualising a feeling or experience that is described by an interviewee on a soundtrack or it can also be seen working in a metaphorical sense, showing experiences that may be unfamiliar to the viewer: Animation has become a popular way to express the internal world of a documentary subject visually. Animated documentaries enable the film maker to, “more persuasively show subjective reality… effectively shows the perception of reality as it it is experienced” by a documentary subject and that “this is a more truthful reality and one which is only possible to document in animation.” (Wells, 1998:27) Relating to John Halas’ key characteristics of animation: Penetration – evoke the internal space and portray the invisible.

Through the use of devices such as metaphors and metamorphosis and exploring the expressive potential of materials and animation techniques we as the audience can be encouraged to imagine what it is like to experience the world from someone else’s perspective and usually this perspective will be very different to what many of us would experience during everyday life,  conveying  subjective and conscious experience via animation, this type of documentary lends itself more to the topics of mental health, feelings, state of mind etc..

Ryan (Chris Landreth, 2004): shows the relationship between the physical and psychological, the photorealistic and the expressionistic. The visual graphic style allows for us to see their state of emotion and how it changes throughout the animation, the characters are physically damaged and at times we are able to visualise what the characters have been through/ are going through… “Ryan is simply lacking. In a literal sense. Ryan is represented more or less normally, but huge chunks of his face and head are simply missing. The metaphor is clear—The ravages of his lifestyle clearly have damaged him, but more sinisterly, it can be read that his art has in fact consumed him as well. That the self-destructive impulses of creativity, have hollowed Ryan out..” –

Feeling my way (Jonathan Hodgson, 1997) gives a first person account of mental life, combing live action and animation. Hodgson has been able to capture the processes that passively occur when engaging with your surroundings portraying this abstract cognitive experience in a believable way allowing the audience to easily relate to their own experiences of ‘drifting off’ in thoughts caused by visual elements.

Animation is also seen as a powerful tool that is able to explore one’s past: personal memory or historical, allowing for autobiographies through documentary and memory studies (told from a 1st person perspective). The way in which the animation is applied allows for an insight into the process of remembering and forgetting, both contributing to the formation of personal identity.

Memories allow us to recall earlier ideas, showing a sense of personal identity. Irinka and Sandrinka (Sandrine Stoianov, 2007) creates a personal identity not only through personal memories but collective and post memories of family history.

Jeff Scher’s series ( you won’t remember this, you won’t remember this either, you might remember this) were created to preserve memories, he has attempted to hold onto some of the memories of his son’s first few moments, showing how quickly life changes and grows, but through recording this these memories can be visualised in the years ahead.

Silence (1998, Sylvie Bringas and Orly Yadin) gives detail of childhood within NAzi concentration camps exploring the unspoken and forgotten trauma.

http://Sylvie Bringas and Orly Yadin

Commercial and Experimental animation

Commercial Animation

Commercial animation has several key elements which differ to that of experimental:

  • Configuration
  • Specific Continuity
  • Narrative Form
  • Evolution of content
  • Unity of Style
  • Absence of Artist
  • Dynamics of Dialogue

Configuration is the way in which parts/elements are arranged, in commercial animation this is how the characters are featured, most are figures/ things that are easily recognisable. A few examples below…

A scene from The Croods

The Croods: Humans, even a sloth.


Cars: Speaks for itself.


Even a Snowman.

Specific continuity, the film has a logical continuity to it which has been achieved through prioritising the character and their context, for example in the films below the characters fit with the surrounding environment…

Frozen_castposter The_Croods_poster

The narrative form is based on how the film delivers the information, does the audience see all the elements? or are some points hidden from them? Most often the narrative is driven by character conflict and chase sequences…

The conflict between the characters below drives the narratives along with a few chase sequences (Croods: Over protective father and a rebelling daughter: running from the animals and the volcanos, Frozen: disagreement between the sisters over marriage: Kristoff and Anna chase by wolves, Tangled: conflict between mother and daughter over leaving the tower: Flynn being chased down by palace guards.)


Evolution of content concentrates on constructing the character while prioritising the content and evolving the self contained narrative…

The Croods  – Grugg an overprotective and fearful father keeps his family locked up in their cave – not really living but surviving, the conflict between father and daughter progresses as she meets Guy and the family are forced to follow him to escape armageddon- The narrative develops as Grugg feels threatened as leader because of Guy and his great ideas, his role of father is also in peril due to the growing attraction between Eep and Guy.

Dynamics of dialogue, the plot and character can often be driven by key aspects of dialogue – develops the narrative and coveys the story to the audience.

The style of the individual artist is absent as the studio style is more important. The studio style allows us as the audience to depict between the larger studios, there may have been a range of different directors but ultimately the studio style should still be a prominent feature…

Pixar’s 3D style is easily recognised when compared to Disney’s 2D…

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Studio Ghibli’s unique style is easily recognised due to the realistic and old style nature.


Experimental animation

The key elements of experimental animation:

  • Abstraction
  • Specific non- continuity
  • Interpretive form
  • Evolution of materiality
  • Multiple Styles
  • Presence of the artist
  • Dynamics of musicality

To quote Robert Russett and Cecile Starr’s ‘Experimental Animation, Origins of a New Art’ (1988):

“They settled on the title Experimental Animation, for want of a better term, as the only one broad and elastic enough to embrace the extraordinary range of cinematic works… Despite the obvious limitations of the word “experimental,” the editors have used it to suggest individual techniques, personal dedication and artistic daring.”

Experimental animation doesn’t have a specific form, it is abstracted from reality being more illustrative in nature. Specific non-continuity meaning that it rejects logical and liner continuity, rejecting storytelling completely and prioritising illogical and irrational forms. Through interpretive form experimental animation resists telling stories of any sort, it is completely subjective and explores form in an unconventional way. The main elements on which it concentrates are form, colour, shape and texture, these elements create the evolution of materiality. Another noticeable difference between commercial and experimental animation is that experimental combines different modes and techniques of animation to deliver the message the artist is trying to deliver and the presence of the artist can be seen through their unique style, they don’t have to conform to one style used by a studio. Finally experimental animation has a very strong relationship with music, often reacting to it onscreen.

A particular artist that comes to mind especially when considering the presence of the artist and the dynamics of musicality is Michel Gagne. His style is incredibly unique and is recognisable across many of his films,

but most importantly it is the strong relationship with music that is evident across the animations below…

Prelude to Eden:

Glen Keane, another artist with a unique style of his own:

Ryan Woodard, thought of you, the music really connects with what is happening on screen:

Experimental film can be described as any film which doesn’t use cinematic techniques to achieve it’s goals, the early twentieth century saw artists strive to capture life in their paintings – advancing on from still photography into the abstract…

Italian painter Giacomo Balla strove to depict movement and speed, essentially life itself.

The hand of the Violinist (1912)


Dynamism of a dog on a leash (1912)


Nude descending a staircase (1912) Marcel Duchamp


Walter Ruttmann is one of the men considered to be a pioneer in producing abstract animation, his film Lightplay Opus 1 (1921) is said to be the first screening of abstract animated film, consisting entirely of colour, shape and an exploration of a relationship with music which was composed specifically for it by Max Butting…

Swedish Avant Garde artist and film maker Viking Egging is considered as another pioneer in the field of absolute film and viral music, Symphonie Diagonale has a visually contrasting nature with the forms and shapes used… (hard to find one with the correct audio)

Oscar Fischenger tries to convey music in a visual form using geometric movement with his film An Optical Poem (1938). Considered a pioneer in the field of abstract animation, creating his musical abstract animations years before music videos started to appear…

“The visuals of An Optical Poem grew out of a short sequence at the end of Fischinger’s earlier, independently-produced Composition in Blue (1935), in which a group of circles rise from the background and, in depth, head toward the viewer. Such effects would form the basis for the entirety of the new film.” –

Composition in blue: Every motion is synchronised to that of the music…


Len Lye established an international reputation in experimental film making, “Lye began to develop a style of art based on ‘doodling’ from an early age, which stirred his interest in the ‘pre-rational’. He was deeply interested in movement and wanted to portray kinetic energy within artistic works.” –

A pioneer in camera-less film making, the technique used to create his film ‘a colour box’ (1935) where he painted directly onto the film itself, allowing him to create a sense of offscreen space, the shapes flow seamlessly on and off frame. “Lye fashioned a collection of expressive hand-tooled films, many of which illustrated methods rarely seen before in the cinematic medium…” – 

Can experimental animation influence commercial? Usually discussed in terms of the differences that set them apart however visual overlaps between the two fields have been noticed, in some ways experimental animation will have formed the basis of commercial, the artists have explored the different techniques available through shape and form, allowing commercial animators to develop and push these aspects further.

Disney’s 1929 Skeleton dance  as an influence for Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride? The characters perform similar actions to that of the skeletons in Disney’s short, playing each other like instruments, similar dance moves…

Corpse Bride: ‘Remains of the day’: this time the skeletons appear in a more realistic manner, their movements are more believable due to the characters now having a sense of weight…

In a deleted scene from Hotel Transylvania Johnny leads a hip hop song where the Zombies in the background can be seen doing the skeleton dance…

In the 2007 film Ghost Rider, Nicholas Cage’s character watches the skeleton dance unaware that at night time he will take the form of a skeleton.

In Disney’s Mickey Mouse haunted house, Mickey is forced to play music so that the skeletons can dance…

Feeling from Mountain and Water produced by Shanghai film studio under director and master animator Tei Wei (1988) is minimalistic in design separating it from the Western Culture’s style of animation, containing typical Chinese aesthetics such as the use of ink and water and the style in which the characters are drawn. This film contain no dialogue only the sound of wind and water along with a musical element, being considered a landscape painting in motion…


Feeling from Mountain and Water, Te WEI, 1988 by shortanimatedworld

Elements of this short main be seen in Dreamworks Kung Fu Panda, the backgrounds are of a similar minimalistic style. This allows for a Chinese aesthetic feel to be given to the film even though produced by the Western Culture…

OogwayAscends Temple-Kung-Fu-Panda-Wallpaper KungFuPnda_M1L

A few of Pixar’s shorts can be seen as influencing their commercial animations, the three below can be seen as inspiration to the creation of Toy Story through giving life to inanimate objects which is the essence of Toy Story…

Luxo Jr.

Luxo now being the mascot for Pixar appearing before every film since his creation – Jumping and squashing the I the same way he does to the ball, Luxo senior appears in Toy Story although he is non anthropomorphic and painted red, the Luxo ball also appears in quite a few of Pixar’s movies…

2dqnket Unknown

Red’s Dream: Here the pattern of the ball has been used for the floor design, along with Luxo Senior being clearly seen on the counter…

Tin Toy: An experiment where Pixar try to realistically animate a baby although still looking mechanical in his movements. From Tin Toy grew the idea for Toy Story…

Another Pixar short experimenting with creating and animating real life is Geri’s Game which is later present in Toy Story 2, where the same character is now cleaning and fixing Woody, the character has been improved and developed from experimental animation into an element suitable for commercial…





What is animation?

Is it a:

  • Genre?
  • Technique?
  • Mode of Film?
  • an Art form?

Forbes magazine believes that animated film in America is “still a genre, not yet a medium…” this has nothing to do with the quality of the film but is based on the fact that animated films target the same audience, they are tapered to appeal to younger children regardless of the themes that may be present, the plots are suitable for all ages and each film containing similar elements. The full article can be read in detail at the link below…

Animator Brad Bird disagrees with the above and believes animation is not a genre but a mode of storytelling. He states animation is capable of any genre of film, horror, fairytales, science fiction but that it itself is not a genre.

Norman McLaren, considered a pioneer in both animation and film making defines animation as, “not the art of drawings that move but rather the art of movements that are drawn. What happens between each frame is more important than what happens on each frame.” So for McLaren the real meaning of animation lies in the creation of motion.

Neighbours (1952) is McLaren’s Oscar winning film. It employs the principles of animation through a combination of live action and stop motion techniques, the exaggeration of the two men’s love for the flower adds a humorous note to the slightly more serious tone it has. Although the plot may be simple there is a deep underlying theme corresponding to anti-war, with war there are no winners, both sides have losses.

The Zagreb school of animation was the first non-American Oscar award winner with their animated short, ‘Surogat’ (1961)

In this short, “a passionate love develops, provoking jealousy, vengeance and finally tragedy. In the end a small nail reminds everyone of the artificiality of the world that has been created.”

The Zagreb school promote animation as a non realist form, they wanted to transform reality differently to the animation of Disney Studios. In the link above they animate inanimate objects, the main character is the simple shape of a triangle.

The first full length animation film to be made in Great Britain (1954) was Animal Farm, produced by John Halas at Halas and Batchelor studios – founded by he and his wife Joy Batchelor. Halas was a founding member and the President of the International Animated Film Association (ASIFA) from 1960 to 1985, then Honorary President.

John Halas view of animation was that it is the job of live action to depict the physical reality meaning that animation presented not how things would look but what they meant.

Another old master worth mentioning is surrealist animator Jan Svankmajer, well known for the distinct style he applies to stop motion, usually animating inanimate objects creating dark, surreal visions.. For example his 1988 film Alice, a dark adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s story.

“I speak of Surrealism in film. Surrealism is psychology, it is philosophy, it is a spiritual way, but it is not an aesthetic. Surrealism is not interested in actually creating any kind of aesthetic.”-

In an interview Svankmajer stated, “I never call myself an animated filmmaker because I am interested not in animation techniques or creating a complete illusion, but in bringing life to everyday objects.”

This quote above corresponds to his view on what animation is to him, a form of subversion…

“For me, animated film is about magic. This is how magic becomes part of daily life, invading daily life…. Magic enters into a quite ordinary contact with mundane things … (making) reality seem doubtful. ”

One example of Svankmajer bringing life to inanimate objects is his Dimensions of Dialogue (1982). Again this is a dark, surreal and somewhat nightmarish film, containing 3 sections:

Exhaustive discussion: heads similar to the famous paintings by artist Arcimboldo, the heads eat each other eventually creating copies of themselves, sense cinema described this as….. “instructional that it is everyday objects that are confronted, devoured, spat out and homogenised, through a series of metaphors of colonisation, to an endless repetition of cloning operations. This is our digital world laid out in 1982.”

Passionate discourse: An unexpected baby causes two clay lovers to destroy each other.

Factual conversation: Communication breaks down between the two heads, they are no longer helpful to each other.

An opposing definition to that of Svankmajer would be that of Walt Disney who defines animation as…

“Animation can explain whatever the mind of man can conceive.” – The Illusion of life, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnstone, pg13.

“The first duty of the cartoon is not to picture or duplicate real action or things as they actually happen – but to give a caricature of life and action – to picture on the screen things that have run thru the imagination of the audience to bring to life dream fantasies and imaginative fancies that we have all thought of during our lives or have had pictured to us in various forms during our lives.” –

Walt Disney studios have created some of the most beloved film of all time from the first fully animated feature length film – Snow White and the seven Dwarfs (1937) to 2013’s Frozen which is now the biggest animated film of all time, achieved through the appeal of characters, their designs and storytelling techniques that capture the younger members of the audience.

Animation has evolved from hand drawn cells into the computer generated images we see today, it has the ability exaggerate and transform, picture the invisible, transport audiences into the past, even predict the future and finally it has to ability to even control time and speed. Animation even in the digital era is still the art of the impossible:

“Animation is the most nimble of mediums. It has survived the mechanical ‘persistence of vision’ toys popular in the 19th century; found expression as an art form in cinema; it was the means by which to experiment with time-based art and cinematic forms to present new visual vocabularies; it was brilliantly positioned to pioneer the use of computers to create moving images from numbers; it has demystified complex processes; visualised scientific phenomena and provided simulation models to help us understand the world; it has become an essential ingredient in multimedia content; it is imbedded in the control interface display of multi-million dollar jet fighter planes, it is integral to the computer games industry; it increasingly underpins all special effects in motion picture production; and it has provided content in an ideal form to distribute across a bandwidth poor networked environment.” –



In older visual effects films most of the digital compositing happened in scenes where the camera was not moving, this was known as a locked off camera – making it easier to place and scale elements without having to worry about the camera movement. (Used in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.)


(Image sourced from Spherevfx:Training the trainers: page 1.)

1985 saw the first use of 2D tracking by Tom Bingham and J.P.Lewis at the New York Institute of Technology. Their technique was implemented in a series of T.V commercials by  the National Geographic called, ‘The Rising Sun’ – a gold coin would travel in an arc similar to that of a rising sun and had to match the movement of the background plates on the set.

Lewis has worked on films such as The Matrix Reloaded, Avatar and Rise of the Planet of the Apes. He now works at Weta digital as research and development supervisor.

Definition of tracking:

“Requires the tracking of features within a piece of footage, this information will be converted to animation curves which can then be used to apply motion to another layer/input, remove jitter from a shaking camera or change the perspective of an element so that it fits a scene with a moving camera.”

(sourced from: Lanier, Lee (2009) Professional Digital Compositing: Essential tools and techniques. J.Wiley and Sons (Chapter 7: masking, rotoscoping and motion tracking).

Screen Shot 2014-09-28 at 22.36.33

An example of tracking sourced from, accessed 4/10/14

Tracking Markers

A few examples of marker designs…

Screen Shot 2014-10-06 at 20.45.18



Each type of marker has it’s own advantages, for example circular markers work best with camera zoom and focus changes, LED lights can also be used as markers – generally when motion blur is going to occur.

Common Uses

2D Matchmoving: Allows for the complex movement of a live action camera to be
replicated so that elements which are composited into a scene have the correct position, rotation, translation, scale and lens distortion.

Stabilising: The tracking information can be used to remove movement from the shot making rotoscoping/ painting much easier. If the shot is stabilised the only concern is for the animating of the root shapes for the movement of the objects in the scene – theres no need to worry about the camera movement just yet.

Jitter removal: Smooths out the motion of the camera.

Corner Pinning: Uses four tracking points to determine translation rotation and scale. This method is better suited to screen replacements, signs and billboards.

Screen Shot 2014-10-06 at 20.40.26 Screen Shot 2014-10-06 at 21.25.44

(image source:, accessed 4/10/14.)


Shelley and I then broke the presentation down into eight main areas…

  • Background.
  • Production, on set.
  • Types of tracking markers.
  • Understanding how the tracker works.
  • Tracking position, rotation and scale.
  • Other tracking techniques.
  • Common uses of 2D tracking.
  • Summary.

We then divided these topics up between us, those in bold are the areas I was focussing on. In the end we removed the summary and combined tracking position, rotation and scale with Common uses of 2D tracking to make sure our presentation lasted no longer than the time given – 4 minutes.