Animation As A Storytelling Device

Remember the 1978 Ralph Bakshi Lord of the Rings movie? The one where they rotoscoped live actors and then animated over them? Maybe this pic will jog your memory:


Now I have nothing against special effects when they’re done well. And if you’re entire movie is going to be special effects (such as, say, animation) then that’s cool too. I happen to love animation. But there is good animation and there is crappy animation. There is Bob Clampett Bugs Bunny and Princess Mononoke and then there is the 1990’s X-Men Cartoon and Rocket Robin Hood.

The most important part of telling a story through animation is the acting. It’s a hard sell. Animation is stylized, and good animators use that as a strength.

Here’s an excellent example of what works. Turn the sound off and watch at least the first 2 minutes of this clip. Pay close attention to the acting in the faces but don’t ignore the body acting either.

Now watch the “Not My Curse” scene between the CGI’d Anthony Hopkins and Ray Winstone here (again turn the sound off if you like):

Now, this CGI is certainly impressive. It looks almost real! (I’m a little confused as to why you would try to make an almost real Anthony Hopkins when you actually have access to a really real Anthony Hopkins, more on that later.) It works on some levels, but on others it does not. It’s like they’ve put a veneer over the actors. It’s hyper-realistic enough to confuse my senses, but just simulated enough to take me out of the story, to prevent me from immersing myself into this world. It is art, yes, and for art’s sake it may succeed, but as a tool for filmic storytelling – it takes away. Whereas while the CGI in The Incredibles is also art, the stylized format of animation is used to service the acting, not the other way around.

Now, let me emphasize that I am judging this film solely on the clips I’ve seen on the interweb, but it seems to me that Beowulf is the Bakshi Lord of the Rings of 2007.

5 Replies to “Animation As A Storytelling Device”

  1. And to think Beowolf has been offered up for a Best Animated Film oscar. . . There is lot’s of animation in it (you cannot mocap everything), but it’s not an animated film.
    Victor Navone has a few posts about this very thing in his blog:

    Victor is an animator at Pixar and quite possibly, animated the clip from the Incredibles that you’ve posted here (he did quite a few of the Syndrome shots).

    Ahhhh Bakshi. . . Forget his Lord of the Rings because;
    “They’ve killed Fritz! They’ve killed Fritz! Those lousy stinking yellow fairies! Those horrible atrocity-filled vermin! Those despicable animal warmongers! They’ve killed Fritz!”

  2. Excellent analysis. The CG in these new movies leaves me cold.

    I still have freaky childhood memories of that Bakshi LOTR and more especially his other movie, Wizards. The battle scenes in that on were rotoscoped WWII footage.

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