One could argue that one of the greastest advantages of working with animation as a medium, is that it allows for virtually limitless creative freedom.  When working with live-action footage, the scope of what is achievable is considerably smaller, limited by both budget, and what is physically possible.

As seen in films such as Waltz with Bashir (Ari Folman, 2008), the use of animation allows for the film-maker to effectively blur the lines of reality, allowing the film to give way to an incredibly expressionistic style, that can convey the an issue that the film is trying to discusss in a far stronger manner.

Waltz with Bashir frequently blurs the lines between what is fact and fiction, providing the audience with extremely surreal or dreamlike sequences. The sheer versatility of animation allowed Folman to describe the events of the Lebanon Conflict in an extremely eloquent, emotive manner. The majority of the film revolves around Folman trying to regain his memory of the conflict – an apsect which is reflected extremely well by the dream-like manner of the film, which in itself, almost resembles a half-forgotten memory.

One scene that stands out in particular, is the scene where Folman describes his first night in the conflict, which takes place on a boat. The scene, starting off relatively “normal”, slowly becomes more confused – dream-esqe – ending in Folman riding atop a giant nude woman, away from the boat.

One thing in particular that is highlighted by this film is that animation does not take away from the serious nature of a film – rather more so, it gives the film maker an unparalleled level of freedom within a film, that can be used to better express the matter at hand, that he or she should wish to discuss.

Can animation be used to discuss serious issues?

Arguably one of the most common assumptions made, when people hear the term “animation”, is that it is being used in reference to something that is aimed at a younger target audience, or something of which the content is fabricated for the purpose of entertainment. As to whether this is true, is something of a point of debate; I personally struggle to find reasons as to why animation can’t be used as a viable medium, in order to push a more serious point over to an audience.

One of the possible causes for this assumption is that companies such as Walt Disney Studios have had such a large hold over the industry, since the very beginning of its introduction into the mainstream media. In the case of Disney, which in some repsects is widely regarded almost as a kind of figure head for animation, the expectations that audiences have come to have for a Disney film appear to be applied to other animated films, almost as one applies genre connotations to a film. It would not be untrue to suggest that some people, in this way, regard animation as a seperate genre within itself, as opposed to a medium or tool, to be used by film makers to achieve their intended purpose for a film.

The general assumption is that animation is aimed at children, or a younger audience, and generally speaking, will contain content suitable for a younger audience. However in direct contrast to this is Disneys animated short, Education for Death

One of the most striking examples of animation being used as a medium for discussion of a serious medium, Education for Death was created by Walt Disney Studios in 1943, during the second world war, as anti-nazi propaganda. This message within the film is absolute, with no room left for the audience to second-guess what the film may be trying to discuss. Clearly, this topic under discussion within the film is of a most serious nature, and does not fufill the expectations that are all to often placed upon the medium!

More recent examples of this include Waltz With Bashir (2008, Ari Folman), and When the Wind Blows (1986, Raymond Briggs). Both of these discuss serious topics; both are centered around war. Waltz With Bashir acts as a personal account of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, from the point of view of Ari Folman. This is in no way intended as light entertainment, rather an extensive account of the conflict.

The fact that this film was achieved using animation, as opposed to live action, does not take away from the overall effect – if anything the use of animation allows for far greater expression than live action possibly could. Many of the scenes are verging on expressionism, as opposed to a literal narrative.

Raymond Briggs “When The Wind Blows” is a prime example of animation being used to discuss a serious topic. The film covers the events that pass, during a nuclear attack upon the UK, from the point of view of an elderly couple. While being an animated film, When The Wind Blows boasts a considerably dark storyline, straying away from the light note of the classical hollywood ending that audiences have become accustomed to; the end of the film can only be described as desolate – the elderly couple praying from within the relative safety of their fallout shelter, awaiting a slow yet inevitable death, resulting from the radiation poisoning to which they have fallen prey.

Animation – A history of

To animate

- To give life to

The term Animation, by definition, refers to the act of giving life. Rather than refering to a single technique or genre within itself, animation acts more in the way of a blanket term, that can refer to one of any innumerable methods, techniques or genres. Rather than a genre, animation is infact a medium that has been developed over the course of many decades, being influenced by cultural, social and even political issues.

© Jim Henderson

It is difficult to put an exact date upon the beginning of animation – evidence dating back as early as ancient egypt, or indeed before recorded history, exists in the form of cave paintings and artwork found within tombs and burial chambers,

suggesting the most basic of concepts of animation. While not animations themselves, these pieces clearly try to suggest movement, and the progression of a visual narrative.

An example of a Zoetrope

The earliest example of true animation came in the form of the zoetrope (From the greek words zoe, meaning life, and tropos, meaning turn), created in China. Allowing for a small number of frames to be looped in quick sucession, the zoetrope is the earliest example of a sequence of images being used to simulate movement in a way that is not so distant from modern day methods of displaying film, albiet in a simple form. Another example of this would be William Horner’s Daedalum, which rose greatly in popularity in around 1860, leading the way for improvements upon the original concept, such as the Praxinoscope.

Created in 1906, J Stuart Blackthon‘s ” Humorous phases of funny faces” was one of the earliest examples of stop-motion, and proved to be hugely important in the popularisation of animation in modern american culture. Blackton is widely regarded as the father of american animation, and was one of the first film makers to make use of stop-motion and animation techniques.

This was closely followed in france, by Fantasmagorie (Émile Cohl, 1908). Fantasmagorie was particularly important, in that is not only considered to be the first animated cartoon, but was also the first animation to be projected, within a traditional cinema environment.

Works such as these in effect, opened the gates to the so called “Golden Age” of animation. Generally regarded as being between the 1930’s and 1960’s, the golden age is responsible for studios such as Disney. Due to the considerably larger ammount of time and money now being invested into animation,  huge leaps were made in terms of the development of animation as a medium, for example Disneys further development of tools such as the multiplane camera. In addition to this, the larger budgets eventually resulted in the ability to produce a great number of feature length films.

Notably, around the begining of this period, Walt Disney Studios released the animated short, Steamboat Willie (1928). One rather important aspect of this short, was that it was the first to feature a post-produced, syncronised soundtrack.

Over the following years Walt Disney Studios would prove to be incredibly succesful, further shaping the industry. As technology advanced, more and more possibilities became available; in 1978, Ed Catmull produced the first computer-generated animation – a 3-dimensional representation of a human hand. The following year, Catmull would go on to found Pixar, a subsidary of Walt Disney Studios, resulting in an entire new sector within the industry.

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