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Live action and animation have both played significant roles in the film industry. Both live action and animation have a close relationship. Recently, discussions have embarked trying to address their distinct structures, roles, and functioning as well as how their qualities merge or contradict each other. In a bid to understand how animation and live action relate, it is important to first identify whether they are differences existing between the two modes and if they exist how they influence the combination of live action and animation.
Despite the rapid growing significance of the mode, animation is yet to receive critical acknowledgement from academicians as opposed to live action film.1 Since its early inception, animation has highly been viewed as an entertainment for the young audience. This assumption led to the marginalisation of animation, thus leading to the lack of interest by scholars who have sought to address issues regarding live action films.
With the advent of the digital technology, changes in the relationship between live action and animation have become difficult to comprehend. Digital equipment is very powerful to the extent that animated images can easily be integrated with live action without being noticed. In this regard, animated films have gained increased popularity because they have integrated into the mainstream film industry successfully.
Following the crucial success of the Disney’s Snow White in 1937, animations gradually became a major element of the American filmmaking industry. This paper seeks to explore the relationship between animated and live action films as presented in two films, viz. the Cool World (1992) and Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). Some of the research questions include how a filmmaker establishes and integrates live action and animation elements and how the new digital technology works in the integration of animation and live action cinema.
Animated films have been looked as an art that targets mostly the young audience as opposed to live action, which is seen to focus on adult audience. Even though this assertion looks like a logical assessment, it is unfair given that animation has integrated into live action films successfully and it is attracting a widespread audience. Contemporarily, many artists have tried to disengage the persisting stereotypes trying to suggest that animated films are childish.2
In 1992, Ralph Bakshi directed the film, Cool World, which is an adult-based animated film with excellent artwork combining both live action and animations. In this film, the scriptwriter provides a piece of work that demonstrates various examples of interlink between animation and live action. Animated films are highly related to the concept of life giving implying that it bases its origin from the idea of live action. Even though this claim is debatable, animation with the help of digital technologies emerged as a hybrid of live action and animation.
With the digital technology, creating moving images or animations has become easy. Therefore, the audiences’ perception about animations has changed from what was experienced in the early 20th Century. In the early days of animation, the moving images appeared magical, and thus they kept the audience focused for long time.
Within reference to the two films examined in this study, animated images are no longer magical, hence the need for new elements to make them relevant.3 This one factor forced many scriptwriters to hybridise it and generate formal interruption. There is also the option of extremely exaggerating movements, which is risky because it might receive harsh reception from the adult audience.4
The setting under which the film is done hugely exploits the tension that may exist between live action and animation. The film, Cool world, provides a combination of live action and animated aspects within the interplay between environment versus character, and character versus character. These conflicting aspects illustrate why it is important to combine live action and animation especially in actions involving very complex human movement.5
In this film, the animated characters are referred to as Doodles and the live actors referred to as the Noids. When the scriptwriter seeks to make actions that are beyond human capability, it becomes necessary to incorporate animations to make the action appear more lifelike. The Cool World achieves this interplay by making animated doodles appear lifelike. The animators use the new imaging technology, which is referred to as rotoscoping, to make their characters’ engagement with live actors and the real scene appear genuine.6
Animation and live action as a repelling pair
Animation films are developed in a relatively similar way as in live action only that animation uses unique visual medium as opposed to live action. In this perspective, live action and animation act as a repelling pair that develops a changing interlink of supplementation. When developing a story in live action, no detailed or special attention is employed while examining what takes place on the screen. For instance, it is easy for the viewer to identify a car chase since everything is depicted clearly and interpreted by the director.
Whereas, this aspect might not apply in the case with animation because it might involve something unknown to the audience, and thus elaborate description is necessary. When this detailed story is provided in a picture, it offers a complete visual image, which easily translates the detailed information that could have been hard to interpret. Despite these underlying differences, live action and animation are more of the same thing since animation presents the imitation of real events/things occurring in real action mode.7
Animation and live action have come together to develop harmonised perceptual realism. Ever since the creation of animated films, scriptwriters have been looking to interweave the world of technology with that of reality. The film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, is an example of the various techniques employed by director Robert Zemeckis to make this interlink a possibility.8 The film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, is a great show displaying how a combination can strike a balance leading to great productions.
The film depicts cartoon characters, which play the role of cartoons in the same manner that human characters used in live action filmmaking. Robert uses animated cartoons in a significant way to represent the physical state of the characters and their surroundings. In the filmmaking industry, keeping the audience focused and interested in either animated or live action for more than an hour is usually difficult.9 However, using the creative imitation of real events such as talking animals and monsters presents a fantastic production. With the two modes combined, it makes the audience acknowledge that the fantasy world is readily accessible.
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In these two films, the action appears to occur against a real environment, viz. within the public transportation for the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The hybrid technique depicts a relationship between practice and idea. The animations are used to modify the ideas obtained from prior practice and make them appear achievable in live action.
This animated-led approach is about showing the audiences how some of the complex ideas can happen. Animations are also used to facilitate the generation of ideas among live actors. On the other hand, live actors maintain a genuine sense of emotions that show noticeable human traits, which might be hard in a purely animated film.10
For instance, Cool World is a bit rugged, and thus hard to identify the story line. Like the film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, it suggests that animated characters and humans can experience a common reality. The animation is complex and hard to understand the visual information. The cartoon characters are so flexible that they are in a position to change their shapes fast, which gives a desirable affect, but prevents the audience from comprehending what they intend. Therefore, by incorporating live action, it becomes easy for the viewer to register what is happening.
Cool World fails to integrate animation and live action because the mismatch is highly evident when a human character tries to interact with the cartoon characters. On the other hand, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is composed with high precision and keenness to the extent of making the audience believe that the people and cartoons occupy the same space. The two films help to show the differences between reality and imagination. Who Framed Roger Rabbit highlights moral issues such as relationship and social development.
This mixed mode film present a plethora of culturally important issues to the audience, which show relationships that may lead to conflicts at times.11 This film also evokes issues of gender, sexuality, and race for audiences of the hybrid version. The objection of Jessica Rabbit represents the issues that may encounter the audience in the real world. From a social cultural perspective, Roger Rabbit represents the black race living in the US in the conditions and behaviours of the animated images that symbolically reflect the historical situations of the black Americans. Animated cartoons are often used to create humour.12
For instance, Roger’s animated form that categorises him as a second-class citizen in the movie enables his ambiguity to avoid sanction from the audience that live action films of black Americans might receive. The animated characters and their live action counterparts interweave in a way that helps the viewers to understand the aforementioned aspects of the film, which could have been hard to comprehend.
Quality of production
By incorporating live action aspects, animators of the film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, aim at drawing fewer images in a bid to cut the costs as well as the time of production. Animation alone is very expensive and time-consuming, and thus incorporating live action is a convenient way of ensuring that both quality and ease of interpretation are maintained while trying to cut on cost.13
On the other hand, merging live action with animation introduces eye-catching elements that help to keep the audience absorbed for the longest time possible. In this film, both the animated and live action techniques are closely joined to the extent that the audience cannot easily determine the border between the animated and live action sections. Just as the visual demarcations fade away, the same seems to happen for the real and the grotesque environments.14
The world depicted in this film is not the usual space that individuals live in, but a more optimistic world that enables people to challenge the usual aspects of the contemporary world. For example, the scriptwriter presents a world of challenges such as the dismantling of the public transport system to benefit the private companies that would capitalise on the freeway infrastructure. This form of combination reoccurred years later in the film, Cool World, which worked against the stereotype about animated films being appropriate for children.
Even though this film possessed aspects of both live action and animation, it was highly endorsed amongst the adult audience particularly for its use of animation to relay the intended message to the people. The main idea behind harmonising idealised world is to make audiences come out of the imperfect real world into a fascinating animated environment, which has the potential to change the real world for better.15 In addition, the interactions with live action episodes reinforce the purpose and effect of the animation.
This paper has examined the relationship between live action and animation in filmmaking. It also explores how the two can merge successfully to produce hybrid films. The two models have been viewed as an opposing pair, but despite having functional and structural differences, they have the potential to combine and produce cohesion in a meaningful manner.
In a bid to cut on costs of production, maintain quality, as well as reach a wider audience, combining animation and live action is highly convenient. As indicated earlier, live actions serve as a guide by suggesting how animation should function in a certain scene. Interactions also ensure that the contents of the film are explored and revoked extensively for the audience to understand.
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Barsam, Richard, and Dave Monahan. Looking at Movies: An Introduction to Film. New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 2010.
Cool World. Directed by Frank Mancuso. Hollywood: Paramount, 1992. Film.
Deneroff, Harvey, and Victoria Deneroff. “Crossing Boundaries: Big-D Discourses in Animation and Live-Action Filmmaking.” Animation Journal 21, no. 19 (2013): 69-87.
Downey, Todd. Filmmaking. New York: PowerKids Press, 2010.
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Hyejin, Yoon, and Edward Malecki. “Cartoon planet: worlds of production and global production networks in the animation industry.” Industrial & Corporate Change 19, no. 1 (2010): 239-271.
LaMarre, Thomas. The Anime Machine: A Media Theory of Animation. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009.
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Who framed Roger Rabbit. Directed by Robert Zemeckis. South Yarra: Touchstone Home Entertainment, 1988.Film.
Yacov, Freedman. “Is It Real…or Is It Motion Capture? The Battle to Redefine Animation in the Age of Digital Performance.” A Critical Journal of Film & Television 12, no. 69 (2012): 38-49.
Zipes, Jack. The Enchanted Screen: The Unknown History of Fairy-Tale Films. New York: Routledge, 2011.
- Richard Barsam and Dave Monahan, Looking at Movies: An Introduction to Film (New York: W.W. Norton, 2010), 21.
- Francis Glebas, Directing the Story: Professional Storytelling and Storyboarding Techniques for Live Action and Animation (Amsterdam: Focal Press, 2009), 17.
- Yoon Hyejin and Edward Malecki, “Cartoon planet: worlds of production and global production networks in the animation industry,” Industrial & Corporate Change 19, no. 1 (2010): 241.
- Robertson Barbara, “Claim jumpers: Industrial Light & Magic uses techniques and processes honed in visual effects work to create live-action director Gore Verbinski’s first CG feature animation,” Computer Graphics World 34, no. 3 (2011): 9.
- Cool World, directed by Frank Mancuso (Hollywood: Paramount, 1992), Film.
- Freedman Yacov, “Is It Real…or Is It Motion Capture? The Battle to Redefine Animation in the Age of Digital Performance,” A Critical Journal of Film & Television 12, no. 69 (2012): 42.
- Todd Downey, Filmmaking (New York: PowerKids Press, 2010), 52.
- Who framed Roger Rabbit, directed by Robert Zemeckis (South Yarra: Touchstone Home Entertainment, 1988), Film.
- Jack Zipes, The Enchanted Screen: The Unknown History of Fairy-Tale Films (New York: Routledge, 2011), 27.
- Paul Wells, The Fundamentals of Animation (Lausanne: AVA, 2006), 33.
- Christy Marx, Writing for Animation, Comics & Games (Amsterdam: Focal Press, 2007), 64.
- Harvey Deneroff and Victoria Deneroff, “Crossing Boundaries: Big-D Discourse in animation and Live-Action Filmmaking,” Animation Journal 21, no. 19 (2013): 70.
- Thomas LaMarre, The Anime Machine: A Media Theory of Animation (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009), 17.
- Alexander Mackendrick and Paul Cronin, On Filmmaking: An Introduction to the Craft of the Director (London: Faber and Faber, 2004), 41.
- Alex Alvarez, 3D Creature Development Master Class (California: Gnomon Workshop, 2010), 111.