Animation is changing our expectations

I’ve been waiting for some truly stylish innovation from indie film for a long time now, but maybe I’ve been looking in the wrong place.  Lately, having watched Ratatouille a hundred times with my kid, I’ve been wondering how the style of all the animation in films – and by this I’m including special effects films, which are essentially animated – is going to affect how we shoot and watch films.

The impossible fast moves of the “camera” in an animated film cannot be matched by a dolly pusher on a live action film (or can it?).  The precision of the shots, at the speed they are moving, can’t be recreated.

The perspective of the camera is often somewhere impossible, through a wall, sailing over the sky, down some winding stairway again zooming at incredible speeds.  It can’t be done traditionally, without computers.

The world that animated characters live in is completely created from scratch.  This kind of attention to detail would be pretty tough to achieve in a live action film, especially one that has to exist in the real world – ie. you can’t build every chair, you have to buy them.  An animated film literally designs every chair, everything, even if it takes its cues from the real world.

So how does this affect us in the world of live action films?

Well, by looking at the newest styles, the trend is to go against all that.  Mumblecore is the mode of the day.  Abandon style.  Let the shots linger.  Imperfection and sloppiness are the goals.  If you need speed, shoot handheld and move the camera around really fast.  All this in the quest of something called a “happy accident”, which is supposed to be some captured moment of truth.

I can’t imagine that this style is what is going to save cinema.  The next generation is growing up on animated films that have huge budgets and are generally models of perfection, even if the films aren’t that good.  Perfection, meaning that all the characters hit their mark and deliver their lines as someone wrote them.

It would be a much more exciting challenge to try to capture some of the innovations of animation and use them in a live action film that wasn’t a special effects driven megabudget film.  How can we get those camera speeds up?  Do we want to grab a shot from an angle where the camera couldn’t be?  Do we want to spend the time and money designing the details of a set, instead of cobbling together what we could find at Ikea?  I’m sure there’s a host of other innovations used by these animators.

Animators, or at least good ones, know that film is visual.  They storyboard a hundred times, adding shots, building sequences, creating visuals and action over the course of a few years.  Imagine a live action film taking that much time preparing those visuals.

Most importantly, this is how people are learning to watch films.  Filmmakers ignore it and they will mumble themselves into oblivion.

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