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Thursday, August 8, 2019

A Love Letter to Animators

This post is 100% not about writing at all.

Just gonna throw that out there.

Hey, as much as I enjoy writing about writing, sometimes I want to write about other stuff too, and at the end of the day, writing is writing, amirite?

Anyway, something really tragic happened and it spurred a sort of mini-renaissance in my own perception of what art should be.

Recently, Kyoto Animation was savagely attacked; a man walked into the building full of animators with multiple gas cans and set almost everyone on fire and burned down the building in the process.

Kyoto Animation, like many other buildings, usually has its doors locked during the day when they aren't expecting anyone, but someone important was on their way that morning around 10:30 so they left the door unlocked for them, and instead a psychopath came in and burned them alive.

There were 74 employees in the building and 35 were killed with 33 seriously injured. It was the worst mass murder in Japan since 1945.

His reason, supposedly, was that someone there stole his idea or used his work without his permission, and that somehow justified setting dozens of people on fire in his mind.

Now, I know there has been some controversy about how the media portrays this; The New York Times and many other mainstream outlets are saying it's tragic for the sole reason that it was mostly women who were injured or killed (Kyoto Animation had slightly more female employees than male ones), but that's not what I'm here to talk about. In my humble opinion the gender of the victims shouldn't be the focal point of the news coverage, and it's not any more or less tragic because of who the victims were; the reality is that this attack was both one of the worst homicidal attacks in Japanese history as well as an absolute tragedy in the animation industry. Not only was the attack on Kyoto Animation a disgusting act of malice, but it also was a tremendous loss in the art world.

Like the burning down of the Library of Alexandria, this attack will likely have a lasting effect on the animation industry and the studio may never recover or be the same, and frankly I can't blame them. If Kyoto Animation were to shut down tomorrow and never produce another animated feature again, no one could hold it against them.

Some might say that the two are incomparable; how could one compare the loss of one modestly small animation studio to the loss of thousands of ancient books containing knowledge that, when lost in the fire, might have set us back hundreds of years? And to some extent they're right; the loss of one studio isn't the same as that, but I'd argue that, even if it won't have as large of an effect in the long run, Kyoto Animation was unique and special; they were the only ones capable of creating the things they did the way that they did, and things like Violet Evergarden and A Silent Voice couldn't have been made with such perfection if it weren't for the brilliance and talent working at Kyoto Animation and the passion of their employees.

That being said, this post isn't about Kyoto Animation or the fire specifically; I wanted to talk about why animation is underrated, why animators are underappreciated, and why animation as a whole should be cherished instead of cast aside.

With the influx of Disney live-action remakes [it's not just Disney either, bad anime adaptions are a curse too, and platforms like Netflix are making live-action remakes of things like The Witcher and Avatar the Last Airbender (although the Witcher is based on the books, not an animated show / movie, but it just goes to show that the live-action remakes extend beyond just animation)], it seems society has forgotten about why animation exists in the first place.

In a way, this post is like the much needed sequel to my post about cartoons, only now I'm talking about all forms of animation, including animation for grown-ups. (That being said, my point in the last post was that even adults could find some sort of childish wonder in cartoons meant for kids, but not all animated stories are meant for kids in the first place, and that's one of the points of this post.)

I will be parroting a lot of points from videos like this one. Just to be clear, this isn't the only video or channel to tackle this topic. I'm not sure how obvious this was, but I'm very active on YouTube and have been deep in the YouTube community for a very long time. Despite being just a 20-year-old, I've been active on YouTube for at least 10 years, and I vividly remember videos from 2009 (the era of YouTube tutorials with "Unregistered Hypercam2" watermarks in the corner with Paralyzer by Finger Eleven blasting in the background, something like this), and there's this growing trend of YouTubers making video essays and analysis (I'm not sure how to make "analysis" plural, maybe it's already plural, like "sheep," but who knows?) about animated films and live-action remakes, and the general trend is that, for some reason, the live-action ones aren't as good.

In regards to the video I linked above, titled Animation is Underappreciated, it's not required to understand this post but I'd highly recommend it simply because it has the visuals to back up what he's saying. When he talks about something he shows it to you, and that added layer of visual content really emphasizes the points he makes.

But there's another reason why I like that video so much and why I felt so compelled to write this post.

I watched the animated movie A Silent Voice--made by Kyoto Animation--right before Kyoto Animation was attacked, and at the same time I saw the animated movies like Your Name (another masterpiece) and all the Disney classics were being turned into live-action remakes, and this YouTuber addressed A Silent Voice as well as Your Name and what-not right after I watched those movies.

Between his video coming out talking about those movies right after I watched them, and right before Kyoto Animation was attacked--the studio behind A Silent Voice--and animation in general being replaced and erased from cinema history with live-action versions, it felt all too connected.

What I mean to say is that all of these things happening simultaneously are all screaming the same thing; we need another renaissance.

Now I want to make one thing clear here: this isn't an anime post, or a cartoon post, or any other sub-genre of animation. I'm talking about all animation, from 3D animated movies like Wall-E and Kung Fu Panda to Japanese animated movies like A Silent Voice and Disney movies like The Lion King, and even cartoons like Adventure Time as well. In my humble and possibly ill-informed opinion, the entire medium of story-telling is in jeopardy.

I could never draw something this good.
I'm not sure if you watched the video above, dear reader, but I'm going to reiterate the main point in my own words; animation is impossibly vibrant and beautiful in ways that many live-action movies can't be. And just to clarify something, I'm not anti-live-action. In fact as many of you know, Alita: Battle Angel, a live-action remake of an anime / manga, is one of my favorite movies. So what's going on here? Where do we draw the line?

The young man in the video above said something really interesting.

When he found out that one of his favorite franchises was getting an animated movie, he was disappointed--as if an animated movie was somehow inferior to a live-action one--but then, when he went to see the Lion King and Aladdin remakes in theaters, every second of both movies felt inferior to the animated ones.

But what I want to explore is why. He doesn't exactly explain this paradoxical thinking, but rather he explains why he likes animation and leaves the paradoxical question to the viewer's imagination, but I think I've honed in on an answer. It lies in one phrase he briefly slipped into the video that might have been overlooked by those who weren't paying very close attention.

He said, "We've taken one of the most unique and beautiful art forms and regulated it into something just for kids."

And for what? Animation is just drawing and painting, or 3D modeling if done digitally, and in what way should drawing moving frames be made just something for children?

Now, while this isn't entirely true, the only way in which it isn't true only emphasizes the accuracy of his statement. The only animated things for adults in the west are shows like Family Guy and South Park--which are shows with generally poor animation but wild, zany and inappropriate humor.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not insulting shows like Family Guy and South Park, but I'm pointing out that it's a problem when only X-rated humor can appear in animated films / shows that aren't just meant for kids.

Essentially there's only the two extremes; you have shows for kids like The Backyardigans which patronize your children and ask them to solve basic math and English questions, and then you have dark and politically incorrect shows like Family Guy and South Park.

And the thing is that there is a middle ground, but they aren't the first thing to come to mind when we think of animation. There's this stigma; if one American adult tells another that they're really into animation, they most likely either think "cartoons for kids" or "Family Guy." In this way, animation has become either something for kids or something taboo for edgy teens who like inappropriate jokes and bad animation (again I actually like Family Guy, but I don't think I'd call the animation high-quality, in fact I think these shows use bad animation to emphasize their edge).

Take something like South Park:

And compare it to this.

Again, I'm not trying to put down shows like Family Guy and South Park and Futurama. I think their animation lends itself to better communicating the tone of the show, and in that regard, their minimalist and corner-cutting animation, while not artistically beautiful, does a good job of conveying slap-stick humor and adult-rated gags.

But what would the middle ground look like?

Animation doesn't have to be perceived as only this:

or this:

It can be this:

Or even this:

It can be this:

or this...

Of course, animation isn't limited to just great action either.

It can also be this:

Or, of course, this:

The thing about animation is that, if you look back, many of the most memorable and emotional moments in movies come from animated films like Prince of Egypt and Finding Nemo. Many millenials today will tell you that Avatar: The Last Airbender was such an important show to them growing up that it's an integral part of who they are today.

Which leads me to one sad realization... which is that, not only is animation as a whole underappreciated, but the little appreciation that is given to animation is divided.

Generally speaking, there's a lot of elitism when it comes to admiring animation. Usually people who like American cartoons like Adventure Time or western animated movies like Finding Nemo don't extend the same respect or admiration to anime, and most anime weebs only like anime and don't care for western animation, in the same way that fans of western animation don't care for eastern animation. You do have some shows like Avatar that can't decided if they're anime or cartoon, which appease both sides of the animation fan base, but that's about it.

That's not to say that people who like all forms of animation don't exist, as I'm sure there are people out there who like all four kinds of animation, but they aren't a common breed.

Then you have stop-motion animated movies like Coraline, Kubo and the Two Strings, Chicken Run, and The Nightmare Before Christmas which are entirely overlooked by both fans of western animation and eastern animation. Just like how Hollywood only likes western animated abominations like Boss Baby (which wasn't actually that bad, but saying an animated movie like Boss Baby was better than Your Name or A Silent Voice--both films that came out in the US in 2017--is just insulting).

There's actually an entire video bitching about animation awards here. I for one love when people rant about the same stuff I hate. I mean, what makes you friends with someone quicker? Liking the same stuff, or hating the same people? I think the point speaks for itself.

That being said, it's a shame that the entire medium is completely disregarded as something for kids, and that for the most part, the few people that do like animation usually only like the animation that they grew up with and aren't open-minded enough to expand their horizons a little bit.

I wish we lived in a world where the anime community could appreciate beautiful western films like Prince of Egypt, Wall-E, and movies like Up and the Incredibles which are all fantastic animated films in their own right. And just like how I wish the anime community would take notice of western animation, I wish Disney and Pixar fans could appreciate movies like A Silent Voice and Your Name which are of the highest quality a film could possibly come in, and just so happen to be animated.

But of course the issue isn't only that the small animation community is divided culturally, it's that animation as a whole is completely underappreciated, and here's what I mean:

If you ask someone what their favorite movie is, what are the chances that their answer is an animated film? 1/10? 1/20? Maybe less?

However, if you asked them, "What's the best animated Disney / Pixar / DreamWorks movie?" odds are they'll usually struggle more to come up with an answer, because there's so many good ones. They might reminisce about all of the great classics, and many people couldn't even choose a favorite movie from those three studios. How do you narrow it down?

How are you supposed to choose a favorite from even one of those studios? DreamWorks has Kung Fu Panda, Shrek, and Prince of Egypt as well as many other good ones, and Pixar has Wall-E, Toy Story, Up, Monsters Inc, the Incredibles, etc., and Disney has Lion King, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Aladdin, Mulan, and many more.

And even if none of these movies are the first thing to come to mind when you ask someone what their favorite movies are, what happens when one is playing in your their living room? They sit down, and, not only enjoy the movie, but usually love it.

Who among us didn't get emotional the first time we saw Sully saying goodbye to Boo? Or the first time we saw Mulan, when her elderly father is drafted into the army and she goes in his stead? Or the first time we saw Finding Nemo, when Nemo is trapped in the giant net with all the fish and are told to swim down? It was a rare moment when impactful writing, gorgeous animation and amazing music brought us this scene, which could only exist in the world of animation.

Tell me; could a live-action movie make you care about the well-being of a fish?

A lot of you probably didn't watch the video at the top (which is okay because I'm basically explaining it in my own words), but one thing he briefly mentioned is that he wished animation wasn't a separate category. Why do we have to think of movies as animated or live-action movies instead of just... movies? Imagine a world where not only are each of the four animation styles equally respected (2D western animation, like Mulan, 3D western animation, like Kung Fu Panda, anime or eastern animation, and stop-motion animation like Chicken Run and Coraline), but they aren't even treated as their own category. Imagine if there weren't "animated" movies and "live-action" movies, but if there were just movies, and all movies were watched and judged on the same merits by the same objective, critical eye regardless of whether it was animated or not.

Almost no animated movies ever get nominated for an Oscar, yet almost every year the top rated movie is an animated one. How is it possible that both audiences and critics can unanimously agree that animated movies like, at the moment, Toy Story 4 are fantastic, but then in the same breath say it doesn't deserve an Oscar? How the can highest rated movies each year never be nominated for awards? How can they consistently give 90% or higher to dozens of animated movies and yet none of them get awarded? Instead they created a separate award category for animation and only give it out to Pixar. Don't get me wrong, I love Pixar, but it's obvious that the people in Hollywood only watch one animated movie a year, and it's just whatever Pixar movie their kids drag them to.

That's why movies like Boss Baby are nominated for Oscars while movies like Your Name aren't. And here's the thing; if they only excluded anime, that wouldn't be that bad. It'd be mildly annoying, but understandable. Hollywood is the center of western film-making, so it's only natural that they pretty much stick with western movies. Fair enough. But when they nominate crap like Boss Baby over other western animated films like The Bread Winner, it shows just how little they actually care.

(Edit: The Breadwinner was eventually nominated in 2018, but the fact that they completely ignored it back in 2017 and only watched it after receiving backlash for Boss Baby being nominated doesn't change my point.) For example, The Bread Winner came out in 2017 and had a 94% review score on Rotten Tomatoes, while A Silent Voice had a 98% review score and Your Name had a 97%, and all three animated movies came out in 2017. If they exclude anime, that still leaves The Bread Winner, one of the best movies I have ever seen and well-deserving of a 94% score, and yet they still nominated Boss Baby instead, a movie with a well-deserved 51% score (and the audience score is 52%, so it seems everyone agrees on this one).

And in their reviews, they usually admit something along the lines of, "This is the only animated movie I've watched this year," or something like that, showing how little they actually take the animation awards seriously. Even if it's literally their job as critics to watch and review movies, they only watch one or two Disney / Pixar movies a year--whatever trendy thing their kids drag them to--then give the animation award to that movie without a second thought. The hardest choice for them is when their kids drag them to two animated movies and they have to go through the trouble of flipping a coin to decide which one gets the award.

And the sad part is, that animation is way harder to make than live-action movies.

For those who didn't watch the first video, this will probably surprise you: How much do you think animators animate in a week? A minute? 10 minutes?

Three. Seconds.

The average animator at Pixar busts their ass for 40 hours or more a week just to make a mere 3 seconds of screen time. If the director wanted to add in a tiny detail--like a quick smile or a single line of dialogue, everyone in the studio has to work an extra 12+ hours to make it happen.

At the end of the day, animation is just making a movie. Not filming a movie, but creating everything from scratch, and we've bastardized it into something only meant for kids.

Live-action movies are recorded on a set with real actors acting them out, and animated movies are drawn, painted or 3D modeled by a studio of artists, and somewhere along the line we decided that filming on a set was a "real" movie and having artists create everything themselves was "childish," and this nebulous perception of "real art" is what's going to tear down Hollywood when, eventually (hopefully), society decides it wants to experiment with new, misunderstood mediums like animation, and maybe within the next 20 years we'll see a movie renaissance, where animated movies aren't stuffed into a box labeled "For Kids Only" and anime and stop-motion aren't stigmatized.

Now, if you literally didn't watch any of the videos I inserted into the blog post, that's okay because there's a lot of them and they're mostly just supplementary; however, if you only watch one thing, I implore you to just watch this one minute-long clip from A Silent Voice; why this clip? Because this one, short little clip without any dialogue shows precisely what makes animation a beautiful medium for cinema.

Now I know a little over half of the people reading this are western and don't particularly like anime, and that's fine, I'm not going to comment on your animation tastes or try to get you to watch the entire movie, but this one short little clip embodies everything that makes animation good; what the team behind GW2 Path of Fire call, "The Joy of Motion."

Real quick, just to give you some context, Kyoto Animation's A Silent Voice is an animated film about a young man trying to make amends with the deaf girl he bullied in elementary school. It's a really heart-wrenching movie and this part shows what his carefree life was like before the events of the movie.


You might be wondering what I mean by "The Joy of Motion," but I hope that little clip was enough to make it completely obvious.

I referenced GW2 because the creators of the game said something really profound in one of their interviews. They were being asked about the addition of mounts to the game, and they said something along the lines of, "We didn't just want to make creatures that move. We wanted them to be your companion, so we made sure to include all of the nuances of their movement... each creature carries itself differently, and there's something we like to talk about--the 'joy of motion,' if you will, which is about finding joy and delighting in the movements, the way they act and move like real, living creatures." I paraphrased completely off of memory so the wording is probably all wrong but that was the gist of it.

With animation, it's the same thing. When you draw characters, you aren't just throwing them in there as these weightless, cartoony things, there's nuances to it. They have weight to their movements, they make tactile sounds when they move, they and everything else in the shot, whether it be leaves blowing in the wind or a comet breaking apart and tumbling across the sky like in Your Name, have the joy of motion. They aren't stagnant or emotionless, and that's what separates good animation from bad animation.

While I hate to criticize a DreamWorks movie, Boss Baby will never be remembered as a great movie that left a lasting impression on anyone, not the way Prince of Egypt, Your Name, and A Silent Voice will.

One of the things I really adored about A Silent Voice was the sign language. I took ASL classes in high school and a little bit after, and the sign language in the movie is absolutely beautiful. While it is JSL (Japanse Sign Language), and not ASL (American Sign Language) so I couldn't translate what the deaf girl--Shouko--was saying, I was really able to appreciate the fact that this is probably the only animated movie--anime, western or otherwise--where one of the characters is deaf and uses sign language most of the film.

And what's better is that in the English translation (the better version in this case--some anime are better in Japanese, but this English dub is definitely the best version of the story) they used an actual deaf voice actress.

Let that sink in.

A deaf. Voice actress.

Ever heard of such a thing? Sounds like a walking contradiction--how can someone who can't hear their own voice be a voice actress? Well, despite being deaf, the voice actress for Shouko can still speak English, and while it might not be obvious to everyone who watches the movie, I know deaf people in real life and I know what they sound like, so the second Shouko speaks in the movie I instantly knew that they cast an actual deaf person instead of having some popular voice actress pretend to talk like a deaf person. How cool is that?

But what's great about this movie is that, while the music is absolutely incredible--like many other animated movies, such as Prince of Egypt--you don't have to have the audio to even understand what's happening.

This was pointed out by one of the many, many YouTubers who have picked up this topic of animation vs. live-action, but I've linked and referenced so many videos this far into the post that I can't remember whether or not I mentioned this guy, so we'll just proceed under the assumption that I didn't.

Anyway, he pointed out that the one major difference between live-action and animation is that, even if you were to mute the movie and watch with no audio in complete silence, you could still probably tell what was happening.

That's because in movies like The Lion King, the facial expressions are so obvious and exaggerated that, even without any dialogue, you would see Scar talking to Simba and know, "Okay, he's the evil guy trying to trick him," and you'd see based on the facial expressions of Simba that he was the young cub Scar was trying to trick.

You might not get all of the exact details, but you would still understand what was happening and why. The movie would make complete sense even without the audio.

But take the "live-action" (it's CGI so really it's just fancy animation) remake, which is so photo-realistic that none of the facial expressions actually come across, and if you were to turn off the audio you would have no idea what was happening (that is, if you lived under a rock your whole life and never saw The Lion King or knew about the plot whatsoever).

One of the unique features of A Silent Voice is that many of the tracks are played on piano, but they did something really weird and kinda cool; instead of just recording a person playing the piano, they put the microphone inside of the piano itself, so you hear the noises of each key bouncing around in the piano's shell and you can hear all of these little clicking and tapping sounds, but they intentionally made the audio for a lot of music sound kind of fuzzy and hard to make out, as if to mimic the way a person with very poor hearing would hear it.

But, of course, like many other animated movies, a deaf person could watch A Silent Voice--without subtitles, and still understand what's happening. And this applies to the Prince of Egypt and most other animated movies as well; in the Prince of Egypt, a deaf person watching without subtitles could see the brothers joking and having fun, then their expressions turning more serious and contentious as the movie progresses, and eventually they'd reach the infamous scene where Moses confronts Ramses and we see him gesture to the mural depicting babies being thrown to the gators. Even without any exchange of words, you could get the horrible picture of what was being implied by the conversation just from the animation itself, but the same can't be said for most live-action movies.

Now this isn't universally true; with robot animated movies like Wall-E, it isn't always obvious what's going through their head, but the animators did a pretty good job with that as well. I think the expressions are good enough to understand most of Wall-E even if you watched it muted.

Actually I take that last part back--you could totally understand Wall-E muted. It just dawned on me that the only lines uttered by the protagonist Wall-E are "Wall-E!" and "Eveeeeee-aaaaa!"

That's actually quite brilliant--they somehow made a movie where the main character only says the same two words throughout the movie, but through visual expressions and context you can tell what they're communicating, which is brilliant. For example when Wall-E loses his memory and Eva turns him back on, you can see in his eyes (camera lenses?) that they're soulless and that he has no memory of her whatsoever, even though neither character explicitly says that he lost his memory, it's obvious from the animation alone that this is the case. It's also made obvious by their facial expressions what emotion they're feeling, and while the change in verbal tone helps supplement the facial expressions and physical expressions, audio wouldn't be required to understand Wall-E, which is really a testament to how good Pixar is at non-verbal communication in their animation.

Take the sad montage at the start of Up; there's no words exchanged whatsoever yet the audience knows exactly what's going on. Not only do they know what's going on, but the scene is actually enhanced by being entirely non-verbal. Seeing everything play out for yourself is much more impactful than being told what's happening, it's classic show, don't tell. And while live-action cinema is more than capable of pulling off "show, don't tell," as creators like Quintin Tarantino have proven, I don't think there's any creative medium that can pull of "showing" better than animation, where every facial expression, every crack in the wood in the background, every blade of grass, is meticulously and specifically hand-crafted one-by-one to show precisely what the creators want you to see. And it works especially well with non-realistic things like fantasy, sci-fi, etc., where the movie wants to show you something that doesn't exist in real life. Sure a live-action movie can try to show you these things with obnoxious CGI and special effects (bad CGI is an epidemic these days, but thank God people like Weta Digital exist to set the standard. They did a lot of the best CGI work; not only did they do Alita, but they did the CGI animation for Thanos in the Avengers movies, and several other Marvel movies. If you ever noticed that some Marvel movies (even recent ones) have amazing CGI and some look like they were made with Microsoft Paint, Weta Digital doing some of the work is why), but with animation you aren't as restricted by budgets, and you can make literally anything if it can be drawn. You aren't limited to the laws of physics.

What especially impresses me is that as both 2D and 3D animation have evolved, neither has seen a significant drop in quality.

While of course there are always going to be poorly animated movies and shows, the general public usually gravitates towards quality animation and the amount of good animations coming out shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.

Although what I really want to talk about is the incredible artistic contributions animation has made to the world that gets completely overlooked.

One animated show I've briefly mentioned before is Shirobako, which is an anime about making anime. But of course anime is just one style of 2D animation, so it's more realistic to say it's an anime about making an 2D animation. Also tying back into that thing I said earlier about Pixar animators only making a few seconds of footage each week, and having to do a ton of work to add in just the tiniest detail, there's one epsisode early on in Shirobako (ep 2 I believe) where the director decides to redo a 10 second shot, and it sets all the animators, color and sound designers back an entire week behind schedule, and they almost miss their deadline because of a mere 10 seconds of an episode. (But the director made a good call because the scene was way better after the changes.)

This show does a great job of making you feel like a total dick. Like UTS said, it's easy for us to sit back and criticize everything wrong with an animated movie / show, but at the end of the day, even bad animated movies and shows (like the Emoji Movie) were a living hell to make and required an absolutely tremendous amount of work and artistic talent to create. As mentioned earlier, the average animator only makes roughly 3 seconds of footage a week, meaning they bust their ass 8 hours a day 5 days a week to make 3 seconds of an animated movie / show that might only be watched by a couple of kids and their parents only to be criticized and shit on later by critics.

It makes me feel sorry for hard-working animators who have to work on bad movies.

Most people might not realize this, but animators don't usually get to choose their job. Whatever studio they work for picks up a project and then the animators are expected to deliver. So if you're an animator and your studio gets a movie like The Emoji Movie, you have to slave away for thousands of hours animating a movie that you know no one will like or take seriously, but you have to do it because it's your job.

What Shirobako showed was that, behind the scenes of any animated piece, there's total chaos.

As nice and clean as any animation studio may appear from the outside, inside it's total pandemonium.

Under-payed employees working 80 hours a week, people staying for more than 12 hours, people losing key frames that took hours to draw, sound boards not being in sync with the drawings, colors changing between shots, character mouth movements not being lined up with the audio of their dialogue... it's total mayhem most of the time. As one of the YouTubers above pointed out (I've linked so many at this point I can't remember which one it was), it's a miracle any animated film comes out even remotely coherent, let alone a masterpiece.

Just think about it; when you have hundreds of people drawing different scenes, the slightest change can ruin everything. What if one of the characters is wearing a jacket, and one of the animators draws the sleeves too long? What if someone draws the face differently, and then between scenes the character's face changes for no reason? What if they have a mole and one of the animators accidentally draws the mole on the wrong side of the face? What if during the coloring stage, scene 4 uses a different shade of pink from scene 3, and the colors in the background randomly change?

The fact that so many people collaborate on a single artistic project is astounding.

And then you have things like audio; obviously, sine animated movies are drawn / animated in a computer, none of the sounds are actually there, which means they have to record all of the sounds in the studio (or take equipment outside to record). Whenever a character walks, they have to record someone walking and time it to be exactly in sync with the drawings. If someone jumps into water and it makes a splash, they need to have splash sounds exactly synchronized with when the character hits the water.

The amount of work is truly unfathomable, but somehow it happens.

It really reminds me of one of my favorite movie scenes; the end of Ratatouille when the critic Ego writes a speech about his own hypocrisy as a critic and the merits of artistic work.

If you have bad internet connection or don't want to watch the video, the quote is:

"In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the *new*. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends. Last night, I experienced something new: an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau's famous motto, "Anyone can cook." But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist; but a great artist *can* come from *anywhere*. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau's, who is, in this critic's opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau's soon, hungry for more."

This leads me to a point that I feel needs to be made, which is this:

Not everything is good.

I know, that might sounds obvious, but I think it's something too many people have forgotten.

Many people--especially naive millennials (I'm one of them, so I'm allowed to criticize the entire age group), seem to think that everything is beautiful, no matter what.

As nice and holding-hands-singing-kumbaya as that is, it's just not true.

(This part is slightly political, so feel free to skip if that's not your thing~)

Take something like the glorification of obesity. To be clear, I'm not talking about overweight people being comfortable with themselves--obviously there's nothing wrong with that--but I'm referring to things like the Cosmo saying that obesity is beautiful.

Okay, so they think that everyone is beautiful, no matter what standards society once held. But here's the problem; if everything is beautiful, then nothing is.

If everyone is beautiful... THEN NO ONE WILL BE.
What Anton Ego was saying isn't that everything is beautiful.

He said, "Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere."

No, this doesn't mean that everyone is a great artist and we should never criticize art, but he does reach out to defend the merit of working towards an artistic talent, and with animation it's all too easy to forget just how much talent and work is involved.

To apply it to the thing about obesity--or any other instance of something ugly that we're told to accept as beautiful--we could say that, no, not every piece of art, not all books, and not all people are beautiful; not everything can be beautiful, but a beautiful thing can come from anywhere.

This is especially true when it comes to bad movies with good animation. The animator's job is to animate, they don't get a say in the story, writing or dialogue, so like I said, some movies might have good animation and it was just the animators doing the best they could with the shitty project they were given. Imagine putting unbelievable amounts of effort into the Emoji Movie just to have it shit on by basically everyone. Really sucks for the animators who were given that project.

In Shirobako, when they finish their first show, the first thing they do is wonder when they'll finally be given a good show to animate, because the unfortunate reality is, that many animators are judged by the quality of the movies they worked on, and not on the merits of their animation.

In other words, if you were fortunate enough to work on a big, upcoming Pixar movie--like Toy Story 4 for example--and you and the other animators did a good job, that would give you an edge because that movie did well and having a good movie like Toy Story 4 on your resume looks great to potential employers. But if you worked on something like The Emoji Movie, and your animation was good but the movie was crap, having a bad movie as the first thing employers see makes you look bad, even if you personally did great work. Obviously this isn't always the case, as there are sensible people out there who don't automatically think badly of the animators behind movies like The Emoji Movie, but a lot of people who shouldn't be reproducing are the ones in charge, and most of them reproduce anyway leaving our kids to deal with their kids when they grow up and have to put up with the same stupid crap.

For this reason, not only are animators hard workers who are overworked, under-payed and underappreciated, but they're often at the mercy of their studio when it comes to what project they get and whether or not it will make them look good or not. Right when they finish a project, all they can do is hope that the next one they get is a good one.

Now this doesn't apply to every studio--for example, I'm sure the animators at Pixar are almost always guaranteed to get a good project (because most Pixar movies are consistently good), but for a lot of smaller studios and freelance studios who work with variety of different writers, the ones in charge of their studio can't afford to be picky and have to take whatever project they can get, whether the animators like it or not.

Although it is true that not all animation is good, but sometimes even bad animation is forgivable.

When I say forgivable, all I mean to say is that, even if it doesn't deserve praise, we shouldn't crucify the animators or criticize them too harshly for poor animation. We don't know what their schedule is like; if they were given an impossible task--like 400 cuts in less than a week (each cut is a frame, and each frame is a drawing, so 400 frames is 400 unique drawings), which would be 80 drawings a day for 5 days straight, then we can't accuse them of being bad animators for having to cut corners to meet the deadline.

There's also new animators who might just be starting out; some animated shows have a nice art style but poor animation (that is, the art style itself might be good but the movements are disjointed and not fluid), but even the worst animators are better at drawing than I am. I wouldn't feel confident enough to draw even one of the frames that ends up in an animated movie, let alone hundreds of them. And the fact that they come out even remotely coherent is mind-blowing, even if it doesn't seem that high-quality to us.

Not to mention, every experienced animator had to start somewhere; every experienced artist at Pixar had to start as a newbie that was expected to pump out key frames with little to no experience, knowing that their work would be in the final product of the movie. Even to people who were already good at drawing, that's a big expectation.

More on the appreciating-the-great-works-of-Kyoto-Animation side of things, I'd also like to give a shout-out to Nichijou. It's a show where they poured all of their budget into the most mundane things ever and it's hilarious. The characters could be doing the most boring and normal things and they made it funny by making absolutely ridiculous, almost action-sequences, out of these mundane things. I think at one point one of the characters gets mildly annoyed and blows a hole through several planets? It's a pretty outrageous show but the animation is perfect and completely contrasts the mundane slice-of-life story.

Take this scene where a deer shows up on campus, and when the principal tries to catch it it basically turns into an epic battle between a bald guy and a deer:

(It won't let me insert the video, so here's the link)

I especially want to give Kyoto Animation the recognition they deserve for their incredible craftsmanship. I especially like the koi fish in A Silent Voice, not gonna lie.

This movie is one of the most aesthetic things I have ever seen, probably on par with movies like Avatar.

The attack on Kyoto Animation earlier this month is nothing short of tragic, and anyone who is a fan of their work or just wants to send condolences can send a letter to their mailing address here:

32 Oseto, Kohata, Uji-shi, Kyoto 611-0002, Japan

At any rate, I hope that we get to see the day when cartoons, anime and animated movies aren't stigmatized, and I hope that attacks like the Kyoto Animation fire don't prevent good works from being made.

(I'm not trying to imply that the attack was only bad because it prevents animated shows from being made, rather I'm trying to say that I hope these studios succeed in spite of incedents like this, where the attacker clearly had malicious intent and burned down the studio building out of hatred.)

Next post in the "Dynamic Story" series coming soon, so stayed tuned for that, and shoot Kyo-Ani a nice letter if you have a few minutes and don't mind spending $1.15 on postage stamps.

As always,

may all your cups of tea be your cup of tea,

and I'll see you in the next post.

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