Animation has become one of the most tantalizing mediums for film and television. The illusion of life is capable of so much, whether it is bound by hand-drawn motion or computer-generated imagery. One can notice that even within the same aspects of Hollywood replication, animation tends to be greatly varied in styles.
The popularity of what plays well has created a regional style of sorts. In the Western world, America’s Disney studio and Warner Bros animation became notable examples of Western animation. Disney’s shorts would soon evolve into 1937’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”, the first full-color animated feature film which launched Walt Disney’s studio into the big time.
Warner Bros developed the classic “Looney Tunes” characters with their silly antics and absurd visual gags. These two studios formed the very formula for what would become associated with Western animation: fluid movement amid exaggeration for wondrous fairy tales and slapstick comedy.
Eastern animation, specifically in Japan, took inspiration from Western animation but in a different way. Early Japanese shorts favored a familiar structure to “Looney Tunes” but with different cultural aspects. One of the first Japanese animated feature films was Momotaro’s “Divine Sea Warriors”, a war propaganda picture where the Japanese are portrayed as courageous animals.
Japanese animation, better cited as anime, would take shape with the coming of television. The likes of Osamu Tezuka had been developing a Disney-inspired style with big eyes and rounded features but pushed to a larger degree. Tezuka’s “Astro Boy” would grace Japanese television in the early 1960s and found a way to make animation look good on television budgets: cut out most of the in-betweens.
Anime would become known for trading off the fluid movement Western animation was known for with better detailed designs. Anime would often feature choppier animation but frames that would look both anatomically correct and gorgeous. This aspect only made anime all the more appealing that by the 1980s there was a slew of detailed animation in terms of color, shadow, and character design.
By that time, Hayao Miyazaki would form Studio Ghibli, a studio that would create some of the most revered animated films around the world, such as “My Neighbor Totoro”, “Princess Mononoke”, and “Spirited Away”. With the combination of childlike wonder and some of the most fluid animation to come out of Japan, Ghibli and even Miyazaki have been viewed as the Japanese Walt Disney.
Not all Western and Eastern animation adhere to this model but it has formed a basis for how animation has evolved in these regions. Television animation in the Western is still relatively fluid but with character designs that have grown all the more simplified with the likes of “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy”.
Eastern animation remains mostly gorgeous but also has grown far more elaborate with movement thanks to advancements in digital techniques and computer animation. Computer animation is also just starting to take on wild new styles from both regions beyond just the smooth and photo-realistic capabilities.
Europe, however, finds some a strong medium of all influences. There’s limited and trippy animation present in René Laloux’s “Fantastic Planet” from France. There’s a psychedelic draw for the exaggerated and squiggly dream that was George Dunning‘s Beatles vehicle “Yellow Submarine”, which would inspire a slew of other experimental and more adult-oriented animation in the 1970s. In fact, more experimental adult animation has come out of Europe in general.
You need only look at the works of Marcell Jankovics’s Hungarian animated films. His first film, “Johnny Corncob” (1973), is based on the poem by Sándor Petőfi and was commissioned by the Hungarian government as a celebration of Petőfi’s 150th birthday. One look at the film and you can clearly see an inspiration from “Yellow Submarine” with both the exaggerated features and the surreal depictions of love that goes wonderfully abstract at times.
Jankovics would gain international attention when his short animated film “Sisyphus” would be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. How could anybody not be stunned by the stylish and fantastical “Son of the White Mare” (1981)? Also, you don’t get much more adult than “The Tragedy of Man” (2007), focusing on God’s creation of Adam & Eve.
There’s thankfully been a rise in more animated content and this is due in no small part to the convenience of technology. Traditional animation used to require a whole studio of animators and lots of cameras and editing equipment to produce such a film.
Computer animation used to require loads of computers and servers and would often take hours just to render one finished frame. Thanks to improvements, it’s possible to do all of this with a handful of computers and software on your own.
Just look at the legacy of animation director Ralph Bakshi. He relied on a ragtag studio and all sorts of technical tricks involving rotoscoping and archive footage to get an animated film made, most notable in his fantasy epic “Lord of the Rings” with rotoscoping and “Wizards” relying on archival war footage for the battle scenes.
His last animated film, “The Last Days of Coney Island”, was made entirely independently with a small group of animators who worked with him to make an animated feature.
Of course, producing high-quality computer animation still requires some heavy tech with Pixar still blazing the trail for innovation in this department. That being said, it’s not impossible to produce something rather unique with half the resources.
Numerous independent CGI films have bubbled up in recent years to become notable features or shorts. Even outside Pixar, other studios have made great strides, as with Sony’s “Spider-Man: Into The Spider-verse” (2018) which found an astounding way to animate on twos (two frames a second) while retaining a lot of comic book styles.
Western and Eastern animation still does adhere to a lot of the familiar aspects many have come to associate with animation. Animation aimed at children is still the most prevalent and profitable kind of animated film in movie theaters in the west. In the east, limited animation still populates television with exaggerated expressions considering the high level of demand for television and theaters.
Both of which, however, are borrowing more from each other and we’re starting to see some crossover, though more with anime’s bigger appeal in America considering such animated series of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and “The Boondocks”.
Both sides of the globe are better diversifying the market for animation and lifting the medium out of the traditional tedium. It is for this reason that Europe is in a unique position to take advantage of these competing styles and bring about a style all its own which has slowly taken shape over the decades. The future for animation is looking quite bright across the world.