Friday, July 15, 2011

realism analysis

It seems that with visually realistic animation, there's two high points. There's the technical high point and the creative high point, which usually comes after the technical high point. Looking at anime, I'm beginning to realize that there's a certain point where realism began getting overrun. There hasn't been any progress in reality for reality's sake visuals after Jin Roh. I'm going to mention directors here, keeping in mind that they're not the only source of inspiration in a work.

Some filmmakers seem to have found their niche with a more realistic style, like Mamoru Oshii, Otomo, and Anatoly Petrov. Petrov started with all sorts of other styles but really found his niche in realism. Oshii was an even rarer case, because for all the films where he had enough creative input, he ended up being realist throughout.

Petrov did some short films in other styles, one in a Picasso-like style, one in a dry children's cartoon style, and one that has cartoony characters in front of realistic backgrounds. He just seemed to lose interest in styles like those and continued towards reality until he peaked with Hercules Visits Admetus and kept going after that with more artistic styles.

For nearly everyone else, however, reality's more of a stopping point. Tarasov, Miyazaki, and it seems even Kon with his ill fated death, seem to have reality more in mind as a stopping point. Kon seems influenced by Otomo, who, while on the surface is a grand realist, has some clear cartoony impulses which escape in his robot carnival segments and his segment of Memories. Tarasov starts out in simpler cartoony styles, spends a large portion of his career in realism with much of his cartoony impulses intact, then works on a very cartoony film, Underwater Berets where he's one of numerous directors.

Miyazaki is a very complex character with his long career in the industry. He starts out between stale proto-realism and cartoony characters, brings out the stale realism directorially in Nausicaa, and then refines that to some degree while putting cartoony traits over the rest of the characters. That's probably too general of a statement, as you can see that Miyazaki has a way of going back and forth in complex ways with a general forward progression. With Ponyo he goes towards an especially cartoony aesthetic where he abandons most of the more realistic characters.

Ohira's an interesting case. He's spent most of his career in the animation department, but from time to time he directs a work and he's a bombshell who'll try absolutely anything. He's directed what's arguably the most visually successful realistic work, Hakkenden 10, and he's also directed Wanwa the Doggy from Genius Party Beyond, which is the polar opposite but seems to spring from the same creative well.

When you look at the US, you see that there's a point where there has ceased to be any success. I've opted not to show many gut wrenchingly awful saturday morning cartoons which are positively disgusting in every way possible. Nobody's really surpassed the Disney realism in the mainstream. I didn't show Tangled because it seems like a 3D pastiche on hand drawn films. Paul Fierlinger's work is probably the biggest progression. Plympton's no realist, not by a long shot, but he does have an illustrative style and he's absorbed enough of human anatomy to be on the margins of it. If you see some animation he did for a Shay's Rebellion segment on the History Channel, you'll see how close he can get to an artistic, non-comedic style.

Here's the point which I think animators ought to be able to reach: Every animator ought to be able to animate a proto-realistic person. Starting with the idea of joint complexity, I think that every animator should be able to draw out people with a bone complexity that allows them to animate a character to the degree that the character can be somewhat analogous to the real thing with unique observations.

This doesn't mean that they'll learn every small bone in the ear necessarily, but I think that everybody ought to be able to create a character with the following traits in mind: specific form for each part of the body drawn(each finger is different and sides are not symmetrical), adequately full torso movement, hands with 4 distinct three level fingers and one two level thumb on each hand, eyes with four layers of complexity(depending on if it's visible), varying abstraction on complex features like hair and rows of teeth, and so on. I don't expect that many animators could manage full, active control over a realistic number of facial muscles at any point in time. There wouldn't be any sort of realistic pacing, because it's too complex to pull off all the subtle nuances, but so long as you give features enough usage that the viewer doesn't get the impression that character's incapable of certain things, and draw/animate the character well, it'll look fine. This is about the competence level that seems to have been reached in 101 Dalmatians, and one can notice that with an adjustment to the eyes, the adjustment is intuitive.

This criteria I think should hold for just about any animal. I don't mean that people and animals should all or even primarily be animated this particular way, but I think it's important to have a high but achievable standard to work towards. This particular standard is set at the point where you'll understand the basics of what you're drawing, but aren't too caught up in the details to explore other alternatives. From this point you can exploit the fundamental anatomy to make your own characters and don't have to get bogged down with all the small flawed details of real people and creatures.

Outside of characters, there's a number of basic standards to meet, standards that cannot necessarily be met all at once. One is the realism of continuous change, rivers where the water's always flowing, and never exactly the way it was the moment before, trees blowing in continually varying wind. Cinematography imposes its own standards, one standard being shading in place of outlined drawings, as an outline cannot adequately represent all sorts of forms within the context of a single still. Fully immersive environmental sounds haven't been used enough. I've found very few animated shorts that are fully carried by sound effects.

One thing that bugs me about animation is that the tendency is to simplify reality. I think more people ought to strive for precisely the opposite. There are many ways to go simpler than real things. There's only one way I know of to outcomplicate reality, and that is by observing forms and overdoing them to find where reality falls short. The former seems to be an exercise in abstraction and oversimplification, the latter a manner of attaching your imagery to something real in order to ensure that it's more complex than the real thing. It has to be a recognizable shape or it won't work.

Animation's long had the infamy of adopting artistic philosophies in whatever order's easiest. But I don't mind this. The truth is that animation is evolving as a format at a rate no faster than any previous artform and that many have become fed up with the inability to make quick progress in the course of their lifetime. If animation creators wish to expand their creativity the way sculptors did in the time of the Greeks, they'll have to wait a long time as well. Hercules Visits Admetus had a ways to go, yet. The only motion shots were straight paths.

From there you could branch into motion shown from any number of paths. Then you could progress towards casual motion of different speeds and end up eliminating the feeling of still paintings altogether. But this still wouldn't take care of the still photography feeling, there'd have to be a progression towards more subtle motions within the frame first.

I'd intended to type in a few more things, but like usual this post isn't being saved by Blogger.

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