By Charlie Donnelly
Prominent film theorists and filmmakers disagree about the role of animation in cinema, with the philosopher Stanley Cavell claiming that “cartoons are not movies” (Frank 24), a stark contrast with educator Hannah Frank’s conjecture that “all works of celluloid animation [are] photographic in origin” (Frank 23). While we’ve discussed the role of animation in cinema in class with varying opinions, there are certainly instances when animation possesses an expressive quality lacking in traditional photographic cinema, especially seen in the differences between the original 1994 animated version of The Lion King and the 2019 live action remake. Although some feel that live action possesses the most varied capabilities as a mode of cinema, I will argue that animation has unique powers of expression in creating vivid and recognizable characters, establishing connotation and theme, as well as creating heavily stylized worlds with their own distinct visual iconography.
by Emil Sohlberg
As studios ramped up the production of live-action features, hand-drawn animation underwent a similar revolution with the invention of cel animation. Cel animation was defined by the division of an animated shot onto different transparent celluloids, which could then be overlaid. With this technique, a background, which previously would have been redrawn for every frame, could be reused for a scene, while just the cels that contained the movements of characters would be updated. Even moving characters could be split into different cels; after all, if the only moving part of a character was their face, then their body could be reused if on a separate sheet of celluloid. While inherently cost- and labor-saving, cel animation also allowed for a natural specialization in the animation process, where different animators could work on the same scene simultaneously by splitting that scene’s cels, with some working on backgrounds, or on character poses, and so on.
It is a shame to only teach one week on animation in an Intro to Film class, but I bowed to departmental tradition when I taught Intro to Film in spring 2015 and devoted only my final week of class to it. My screening for this week included Hummingbird Wars (Janie Geiser, 2014), Adventure Time S1E6, “The Jiggler” (Larry Leichliter, 2010), and The Lego Movie (Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, 2014).
This lesson preceded that screening, and pursued the following learning objectives: 1) I wanted students to understand that animators can work with individual frames of cinema, which can lead to the illusion of movement, but doesn’t have to. This would prep them for the flicker effects and broken motion of Geiser’s Hummingbird Wars. 2) I wanted to direct student attention to the salient aspects of Eisenstein’s theory of the “plasmatic” potential of animation, which finds expression in the Adventure Time episode. 3) I wanted students to be able to express some key aesthetic differences between hand-drawn and computer generated animation—specifically, that while hand-drawn animation excels at fulfilling Eisenstein’s “plasmatic” potential, CG animation excels at accurately simulating the physics of our everyday world.