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The Animation Industry Lacks Cynicism and That’s a Big Problem

The Animation Industry Lacks Cynicism and That's a Big Problem

Some would say
that a cynical outlook
is a necessity for
anybody working in the
entertainment industry. For
a start, nothing is
ever as it seems,
and wage-fixing at illustrious
studios or nefarious managers
pushing for unpaid overtime are just
the tip of the
iceberg. Yet there’s an
almost shocking lack of
healthy cynicism surrounding the art itself that
permeates and poisons
the industry.

If such a
statement makes you
a little hot under the
collar, then perhaps I
have touched a
nerve. Look at it another way, Hayao Miyazaki complained
about the number of ‘otaku’ or fans that he sees working in the Japanese
industry, and their preponderance for using existing animation for inspiration
rather than reality. He sees a huge problem with that, and he’s not wrong.

The issue is that fans are biased. Their
viewpoint can, and often is, skewed by their own emotions. The creative
decisions of production teams are constantly called into question by fans who
sometimes fail to comprehend the full picture, or even the needs of other
viewers besides themselves. I look at the current slew of animated shows and
features, and while they all have numerous merits, there is a level of aversion
amongst animation artists to form truly objective opinions; they are fans of
the work.

 

What prompted this post is the ‘honest’ trailer
for the Lego Movie
that was released this week by Screen
Junkies. Its satirical reasoning is that the film, while exceptionally
entertaining, is essentially a toy commercial and nothing more. Holding that it
is a wholly artistic endeavour that just happened to be commercially successful
ignores the realities of the situation, namely that it was a commercial film
that happened to be artistically brilliant. In other words it is unprincipled to
hold either one view or the other; a degree of cynicism helps balance them out
so you can hold the correct view that as entertaining and creative as the Lego
Movie is, it ultimately owes its existence to the world’s largest toymaker who
used it to sell toys.

 

I don’t mean to pick on the Lego Movie, I
really don’t; it just makes for such a good example; any commercial feature is
playing the same game in a more subtle way. Yet I keep contrasting the view of
many western artists who adored the film with that of Miyazaki. He often takes
a very cynical view of the Japanese industry, but only because his sheer
devotion and passion for animation shape his belief that it is headed in the
wrong direction; and he sees the fans within the industry as being part of that
problem.

 

If cynicism does not form a healthy part
of a person’s set of critical analysis tools, there is a real possibility that
the overall quality of the art can diminish; ‘they cannot see the forest for
the trees’. As Mark Mayerson commented in his
review
of last year’s CTN Expo:

 

I don’t doubt that the artists at CTN
would love to see drawn animation come back. By just selling to other artists,
they’re doing nothing to make that happen. Only when a property catches with
the larger audience will producers take note. Only when the audience is
surrounded by drawings that entertain and enlighten them will there be a demand
for drawn animated features.

 

A truly cynical view would say that
hand-drawn animation (especially at the feature level) is never coming back,
yet a healthy skeptic will appreciate that while hand-drawn features are not
popular at the moment, there are few reasons why they cannot become successful
again in the future. Mayerson is very much in the latter camp, and perceives a
problem that others within the industry apparently do not.

 

There are very few if any figures in the
western world who are similarly ‘sticking their neck out’ so to speak. For
example, I have yet to see Song of the Sea, and by all accounts it is a
wonderful film, but there has been no curiosity regarding why Tomm Moore made a
second trip to the Irish mythological trough instead of trying something new.
Almost every single western CGI film since A Bug’s Life has mimicked it in at
least one significant way; suggesting 20 years of stagnation at this point.

 

It’s incredibly tough to discuss this
without coming off as pessimistic, or bitter, but I assure you that is not the
case. I care deeply about the development of animation as an art and technique,
and it becomes incredibly frustrating to see and read praise for features from
artists and others within the industry that is not imbued with the healthy
degree of cynicism necessary to move the art forward.

This Article is related to: Filmmaker Toolkit and tagged ,


Comments

Matt

you know those pictures are fake, right?

messenger

Dude, these subtitles are faked. Check your shit please

Foo Bar

Those subtitles are fake. Quality journalism right there.

How can you be such an idiot?

Those quotes aren’t real, you moron.
Stop posting on the internet forever.

busterbam

oh also go to the "old-japanese-men" tumblr for proof the guys made up all those miyazaki quotes

busterbeam

those quotes are fake and Miyazaki is friends with Hideaki Anno, a man who loves lolicon anime Strike Witches and is friends with the director and proudly puts the DVD up on his desk at Studio Khara

Chris smith

Todd Dubois is right.

And also:
"The issue is that fans are biased. Their viewpoint can, and often is, skewed by their own emotions. The creative decisions of production teams are constantly called into question by fans who sometimes fail to comprehend the full picture, or even the needs of other viewers besides themselves. I look at the current slew of animated shows and features, and while they all have numerous merits, there is a level of aversion amongst animation artists to form truly objective opinions; they are fans of the work."

This is faulty logic. Fandom is the new critical theory. That brings with it pros and cons, but to dismiss fans is to throw out their place in art. Can anyone form "truly objective opinions" — that seems to collapse in on itself. The argument that fans cannot create good content is just dismissible by the sheer amount of fan-oriented work that is both successful and well done. This whole post seems dismissive and lacks a lot of argument to back it up. In other words: a rant. I almost expected you to close with: "get off my lawn."

Charles Kenny

Jon: Consider the themes, styles, characters, and humour in A Bug’s Life. They’ve all been present to one extent or another in almost every CGI film since. The comment box is too small for a full explanation, but suffice to say that Pixar mimics it for obvious reasons, and others do too.

fdsafdsa

Try looking at blogs for cynicism than paid for positive feedback news sites or magazines. You’ll find a disturbingly enormous amount of cynicism on places like reddit and 4chan….

Xavier Santana

There’s plenty of cynicism in the anime industry and among fans/critics of animation. Everyone recognizes that a lot of stuff is only being made to cash-in on one thing or another. It’s just that, at this point, being overtly cynical is pointless, because we all recognize the problems and realize that nothing’s going to change without a major shakeup in terms of the money available for animation production and the technologies of production. Unless animation becomes cheaper and easier to produce, or animation producers get flush with cash, you might as well focus on the things that manage to work IN SPITE OF their flawed commercial origins. If Bandai wanting to sell tons of Gundam model kits is responsible for Gundam Build Fighters, a pretty great series of shows, then that’s fine by me as long as the shows are good.

Todd DuBois

I can’t help noticing the irony of the fact that the vaunted "cynicism" of this piece is not applied to the output of Hayao Miyazaki himself, who is presented as its standard bearer. Tomm Moore and the " Irish mythological trough"? Why couldn’t Miyazaki ever get over his obsessions with nature, simple livelihoods and airplanes? Give us something new!

But I don’t endorse that. Sometimes things are revisited in cinema because they’re worth returning to, and worth celebrating.

I think I get what this is TRYING to say. Complacency is death for creativity. But a call to creativity is one thing and tearing down the work of today is quite another. Let’s get real for a second: it’s supposed to be a criticism that The LEGO Movie is creative despite being commercial? That is EXACTLY what is good about it. The creators took something that could have been a pedestrian, phoned-in product and made a great movie. If healthy "cynicism" is supposed to include writing off cartoons with commercial roots, good heavens, we can play that game endlessly and we might as well give up right now.

But no. Execution is everything. If a movie successfully resonates with a general audience, which is what this article is holding up as the ideal outcome, that’s something to be lauded and celebrated. The source that brought it about is totally irrelevant.
(fixed mistypes here, sorry about that)

Todd DuBois

I can’t help noticing the irony of the fact that one of the vaunted "cynicism" of this piece is applied to the output of Hayao Miyazaki himself, who is presented as its standard bearer. Tomm Moore and the " Irish mythological trough"? Why couldn’t Miyazaki ever get over his obsessions with nature, simple livelihoods and airplanes? Give us something new!

But I don’t endorse that. Sometimes things are revisited in cinema because they’re worth returning to, and worth celebrating.

I think I get what this is TRYING to say. Complacency is death for creativity. But a call to creativity is one thing and tearing down the work of today is quite another. Let’s get real for a second: it’s supposed to be a criticism that The LEGO Movie is creative despite being commercial? That is EXACTLY what is good about it. The creators took something that could have been a pedestrian, phoned-in product and made a great movie. If healthy "cynicism" is supposed to include writing off cartoons with commercial roots, good heavens, we can play that game endlessly and we might as well give up right now.

But no. Execution is everything. If a movie successfully resonates with a general audience, which is what this article is holding up as the ideal outcome, that’s something to be lauded and celebrated. The source that brought it about is totally irrelevant.

Johnny

"Animation is an art. That is how I conceived it. But as I see, what you fellows have done with it, is making it into a trade. Not an art, but a trade. Bad Luck!" – Winsor McCay, 1927.

Hayao Miyazaki is a wonderful example of an old man who is far too out of touch to truly know what he’s talking about. He hasn’t worked in the Japanese animation industry for the last few decades since building his secluded mansion Studio Ghibli. He doesn’t watch TV or Film outside of what he works on so how does he the truly know about the lack of talented young animators in Japan? Because they don’t work for him maybe?

The Animation Industry in the US is another story altogether since almost all of the actual animation is done outside of the country by people who don’t even speak English. How do studios even get anything done when it’s all so compartmentalized? "Poorly" is the answer as Cartoons produced in the US simply coast on how well written they are and how on-model the characters look, the character designs don’t even need to have appeal, instead of the actual animation. ALL the stereotypes associated with "Anime" that makes people either love or hate it can be easily applied to the stuff airing on networks like CN, Nick, or Disney.

Jon

"Almost every single western CGI film since A Bug’s Life has mimicked it in at least one significant way; suggesting 20 years of stagnation at this point."

Interesting comment, I’ve never thought about A Bug’s Life being mimicked. I could understand the statement with regards to Toy Story, any examples of how films have been copying A Bug’s Life?

Unless I’m reading this wrong, at first glance I thought you meant every Western CGI film was mimicking Irish mythology, though I was sure that couldn’t be right.

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