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Since 1990s, with the rising technology of computer generated imagery (CGI), the border
between animations and live-action movies is further blurred. Nowadays, we can hardly find
any blockbusters without animated special effects embedded. Some critics claimed that
animation has taken over film industry with the blurring line (Sussigan, 2013). However,
none of these blockbusters were categorised into animations, even if more than half of the
scenes and characters in the movie were generated by animation techniques, like Avatar and
Gravity. They were not called animation simply because the studios did not want them to be
in the list of animation ghetto (Amidi, 2010). In this era where excellent animation
directors are leaving for live-action movies (Smith, 2014), animation seems destined to be the
hero behind the scene. Nonetheless, the value of animation is unable to be fully revealed,
unless it is enjoyed by the audiences and recognized consciously as animation.
In this paper, I will first discuss on the distinct features of animations as compared to liveaction movies. After that, some possibilities of future development of animation are
presented. In this way, I hope to address the questions on the necessity of public recognition
of animation, as well as the approaches that animation could take to cater to the future

Distinct features of animation

Animations are needed for characters and elements that cannot be live acted
With the big success of the live-action films, namely Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent and
Cinderella, Disney has been proposing live-action films incessantly these years. The
upcoming ones include The Jungle Book, Mulan, Winnie the Pooh, and even Dumbo the
Elephant! No one worries about how these can be turned into live-action movies, because
most of us believe that the advanced technology of visual effects is able to reshape anything
into an elephant easily. As this is actually not so easy for the technicians, it is also not easy
for audiences not to worry about other factors in the live-action movies modified from
Firstly, some of the characters are difficult for any actors to live-act and retain the original
charisma. Can you imagine Micky appearing in the movie as a real mouse? It would totally
ruin the initial objective of creating the lovely character. This might be an extreme example,
but similar inappropriateness is observed for most of the non-human characters in animations,
like the tortoise in Kung Fu Panda, the squirrel in The Ice age, and minions in Despicable
Me, no matter they are generated in 2D or 3D. Obviously, characters in abstract animated
works are difficult to live act as well. For example, the live action of protagonists in the Coil
and Surogat(Ersatz)are unthinkable, although they are perceived as human beings. Even
for normal human characters, there are situations where live-action modification is most
likely inappropriate. An example would be the sculptor in the Hand, which was shot from a
real puppet with a predefined figure and face. The inherent lack of expression change is
coherent with the theme of the whole animation, but makes it unnatural for live-actions.
Actually, regarding the live-action version of Dumbo, it is assumed that the elephants are still
made by CGI, or Disney is making trouble for itself (Rich, 2015). Under this assumption,

critics indicate that live-action is losing its point if audiences are only getting an updated
version of CGI characters (Rich, 2015).
Secondly, some elements are animated to create a special atmosphere, which is hard to mimic
by live-actions. An impressing scene in Frozen, the burst animated film two years ago, was
when Elsa creating her ice castle while singing after escaping from her Kingdom. The
snowflakes move and morph to various beautiful shapes with the rhythm of Elsas song. It
provided audiences with a strong visual impact that she has the great enviable power to
design and shape the snow out of her mind, and the snowflakes are flying with the speed and
density changing according to her emotion. This kind of interaction between the character
and background elements is impossible to be live acted by the little white dots generated by
the snow machine (Sussigan, 2013).
Impressive effects created by distinct animation techniques
Some argue that with real actors, the emotions of the characters are easier to descry and
hence are more touching. I believe that for some people this is true. I have a friend who does
not like watching animations, because she feels it hard to bring herself into the animated
scenes and to interact with the animated characters, so the stories generally could not touch
her deeply. Nonetheless, some techniques can only be applied in animations, and usually can
make the movie more vivid and impressive.
The exaggeration of motion

expression and even background objects is often used in

animated films. Live-action movies can also apply this technique, but to a very limited extent.
For example, the separation of body segment will be too risky for live-action movies to apply
as an exaggeration art, but it is quite natural when applied in animation. This technique can

date back to 1920s in the cartoon Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, where the arms and legs of the
rabbit all separate when he is frightened, and the body can be stretched like a water pipe and
then piled into his trousers again. This is so expressive that many later works also make use
of it, like Tom and Jerry, and Surogat(Ersatz).The exaggeration of expression is even more
ubiquitous. In Tom and Jerry, Toms eyes are out of the socket when surprised, and other
emotions are also expressed in a way that real human beings cannot make. This kind of
exaggerations usually makes the atmosphere more relaxing and entertaining. In addition, it is
also effective for expressing negative emotions. This can be easily illustrated by the distortion
of the space in the background, like the inclined and enlarged train in Gerald conveying the
fear and nervousness of the character. Another example would be the confusing space
depicted in Mind the Steps!, which makes audience feel extremely depressed and inhibited.
The change of background subject to the characters feeling also brings emotion to the
audience, like the color changing in Screenwriter and Gerald again, which makes audience
also feel the sorrow and nervousness.
Another technique would be the perfect synchronization between sound and image, which is
once called Micky Mouse effect. From this address, we can tell that this technique is featured
in animation. Since animation has the option to either producing sound or image first, or even
both at the same time, but for live-action movies, once the image is shot, least change can be
applied, and the sound has to go with the image. The cooperation of sound and image brings
the two elements at the same level of importance, which enables the engagement of audiences
from more sensation experience. For example, in Canon, the characters seem like acting with
the music, because it will make little sense if the music is removed.
Higher aesthetic values

In my mind, animation is never merely a type of entertainment but a work of art. When I first
watched the church animation from Eastern Europe, I was amazed by the way it used to bring
alive those mural portraits, and even the background looks like the wall itself. I felt as if I
was in a gallery of masterpieces from middle age, while the characters were astoundingly
moving and telling stories of their lives. What a great way of presenting arts! I can appreciate
much more in those several minutes than spending hours in a museum!
I agree that some well-done live-action movies can be deemed as work of art as well, but
mostly in a dramatic way. Of course, the use of sceneries and music can also be artistic, but to
a limited extend as compared to animations. The animation Old Man and the Sea is made in a
realistic way, which is quite similar to live-action movies. The pictures were made so
beautiful and peaceful that every frame alone is a masterpiece of painting. This might be
managed with efforts for live-action movies, potentially in anything that eyes can see.
However, there is a scene, which can never be done by live-action as aesthetically, where
whales are roaming freely in the sky with the ocean of clouds. Since it can only be seen in
our imagination, only animations can achieve it by morphing and blending the images, to
follow both our eye sights and modes of thinking.
One of the great advantages that animations have is the fully control of the artists over the
whole work. The characters are designed and presented in a way that artists think are best
conveying their feelings both aesthetically and spiritually (Sussigan, 2013). They need not
bother the location and time interval for shooting, the budget for cameras and other high-end
equipment, and of course the energy spent on looking for suitable and affordable actors. Even
so, producing an animation usually need longer time than a live-action movie. The time and
energy is spent on exploring every tiny detail, since they have the freedom to draw or create

their work in any color and any combination of patterns. The characters in Surogat(Ersatz)
are designed in a way that almost like a simple joint of triangles and several lines, but
audiences can understand what they are doing and be entertained by this way of depicting.
Similarly, the change of objects and color in the background as needed through the story in
Gerald is also impressive. The dynamic of images refreshes the mind of audiences to engage
them in a succinct way. When artists have the choice to make decisions, they will never let go
a pixel to make a perfect work of art.
A special form of art raised from animation is visual music. What engraved on my mind are
the musical animations made by Oskar Fischinger. When I think about those flickering
patterns, the euphoric music sings to the rhythm automatically in my mind. How enchanting
this is! Here I have to mention the work done by Norman McLaren, because he was so
representative in this field. Some of his music animations were drawn in a frameless way as
inspired by the improvised jazz performance. Although the images are usually as simple as
the combination of colored (Sometimes black-and-white) dots, loops, stars and stripes
(Beckerman, 2003), the works really facilitate audiences in appreciating beauty of the music.
An especially impressive masterpiece of McLaren is Canon, which visualizes a piece of
facetious ensemble. The exaggerated movements and various positioning of the characters
open the gate for imagination and expand the auditory experience to vivid streams of
consciousness. Those are really perfect integrations of music and fine arts.
In addition, sound addition technique makes it easy for animations to be reproduced into
another language without any loss of cultural meaning in the process of translation. As
mentioned in last paragraph, some animations use pure music as sound effects. This must
include works by Len Lye, which most of the images are fascinating chromatic patterns

glittering and bouncing with the background music. For those who can appreciate these
works, they would have no problem understanding them. Other than these abstract works,
many animations use few meaningful words in the script to ensure that language should not
hinder for audiences enjoying the works. This can be seen from Coil to Tom and Jerry, and to
minions in Despicable Me. Even for animations with many dialogues, as long as the match of
mouth shape is not important, reproducing voice can mostly maintain the originality.
Fully emotional engagement
When people looking for a movie to watch, one of the very first questions they might ask is
who are in the cast? However, it is extremely hard to find an actor who perfectly suits the
initial character setting both physically and technically. The same limits exist for the scenery
settings. That is why a newly released movie that was modified from either novel, comics or
games is usually appraised worse than the original works. Another problem with live-action
movies is that the same actor will appear as different characters in different films, which
seriously distract the audiences from the film per se. This is not only because some fans
watch the movie just to see the stars, but other audiences are unable to be fully engaged while
the impressions on the actors previous works emerging in mind. For animations, this is
another story. The originality of the characters enables the audiences to interact directly with
the story and the artists rather than depending on actors as the media. Regarding the scenery
setting, as mentioned in the previous sections, the artists have fully control over every
element forming the background. Lets take the snow in Frozen as an example again. The
snow slakes move conforming to characters will, like they are a part of the story expressing
her feelings. The character, the snow, the sound and music, everything appears for a reason
and strives towards the same emotional goal.

Some might argue that with current technology, the characters and elements made from CGI
are added to live-action movies to aid the visual impact. It is true that CGI has strongly
enhanced the visual impact in live-action movies. However, the overdose of CGI can be
highly distracting too, which is the current situation for many blockbusters. Audiences might
be excited by those special effects, but after that they have nothing to take away. This is less
likely the case for animations, because the whole piece of work is drawn or made by CGI,
which pre-sets the state of mind for audiences to embrace the special effects as integrated in
the whole story. While more attention is paid to the story itself, the audiences are more likely
to be involved in the film emotionally, with Grave of the Fireflies as an instance (Lee, 2014).
Ways to go in the future
Changing stereotype that animations are only for kids
As the predecessor of live-action movies, although in the very beginning, animations were
not innovated and produced for children, the great success of Disney style has definitely
impacted on the mind-set regarding the stories and themes of animations. There is no doubt
that many excellent pieces of work emerged with this trend of family-orientation, but the
confined audience population has also limited the development of animation. Just as said in
the critics opinions toward the reasons for Disneys persistence on making its works liveactioned, it is unlikely that adults would go to see Tangled without company of children, but
they would go in droves to see Emma Watson playing Belle in Beauty and the Beast
(Epstein, 2015).
This does not mean that no studios have made efforts to break this mind-set. Unfortunately,
the recent trials mostly ended up as failure. Either the work still reached only a small

audience circle, or the work was rated worse. One prime example would be Shark Tale by
DreamWorks, which took one step further than the adult animation standard set by Shrek.
The result turned out to be frustrating, that it has become one of the most unpopular
animations by DreamWorks due to its perceived excessive adult humors (Walsh, 2015).
This has further deterred the industrys creativity and striving for diversity.
Indeed, there is a long way to go before animated movies could reach more audiences, but the
efforts made by animators in the industry will definitely make it happen in the future. In the
US, the animated TV series are popular among adults, including South Park, and The
Simpsons (Lent, 2001). In addition, some animation festivals have brought many
masterpieces from internet to cinema, which makes more audiences exposed to eminent adult
animations. In Japan, the industry is quite developed, and different types of animation works
are well labelled and categorised, so there is also a stable audience group for adult
animations. In Britain, adult animations from all over the world are designated to be played
through Channel 4 on TV, and there are some masterpieces included, such as Some Protection
(Emmett, 2013). Actually, what serves as the most significant channel for adult animations
globally is the internet. It is widely accessible for all the audiences, and it offers a
communication platform for fandom and producers, so that the fan group is gathered and
more feedbacks can be collected. This might be a good approach for animations to reach
larger audience group and move from the internet to the large screens ultimately.
Combination with live-action movies
Having talked about the comparison between animation and live-action movie, I still believe
that the most likely situation in the future or maybe now already is the combination of the
animators and live-actors. This should not be a hodgepodge of CGI and photographs, or

simply using animations to achieve the visual effect overdose as mentioned above in this
paper. It should be a harmonious integration of both to tell the story as needed. There are
already some good examples, such as Gravity again. The whole cosmic world was created
purely by CGI, but the audience would not feel any contrivance or overwhelmed by the super
visual effects. The actors and animations work together to tell the story naturally and
accordantly. Another film that I want to mention here is a recently released Chinese film,
Monster Hunt. One of the main characters was made by CGI from scratch without any liveactors. He was really cute and interacted with other characters seamlessly, so he became one
of the selling points for the film, and it turned out that he was indeed popular among
audiences. However, as mentioned in the beginning of this paper, none of these beguiling
movies are recognized as animations. With the industrys growing reliance on animation
techniques, more and more critics have realized this unbalance, and the consensus will
eventually influence authoritative decisions on the values of animations contribution.
Embedded with cutting-edge technologies
One possibility that might put animation at advantage over live-actions is the new
technologies for 3D display. With the emergence of cutting-edge new devices for movie
viewing, such as Oculus Rift and Magic Leap, a mania for virtual reality movies coming in
the near future will be unsurprising. The truth is that the companies usually have their own
studios for the special devices, which are mainly targeting to CGI films (Jones, 2014). The
live-action movies might not be able to exploit the devices and display in their best quality
level, which might frustrate some audiences who use the new devices. In this case,
animations have the chance to survive the competition and even dominate the market.


Compared to live-action movie, animation makes use of its unique techniques to bring
imaginary characters onto screen, and the possibility of drawing pixel by pixel enables
animators to convey sentiments in the stories to achieve high aesthetic value while also
engage audiences more emotionally. With the breaking of the children-only stereotype, and
the convenient feedback system provided by the internet, animation will reach more
audiences in the future. The harmonious combination with live-action movies has been
acquiring more social recognition for animations. In addition, the coming fever for the new
3D display technology, which is mainly designed for virtual reality films, potentially prefers
animated films and might help them gain more market in the future.
Someone once asked Will animation take over film?, and the animator Amos Sussigan said
it would no longer be the question, because it already did. But after the excitement for visual
effects has faded away, still, only the stories and the feelings will engrave in our minds

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