Feature: Animation

As animators strive for ever-more realism in their work, are they losing sight of elements, such as characterisation, which lift the craft above merely reproducing life?

Animation effects have grown exponentially over the past decade in the commercial production arena, reaching a point today where both 2D and 3D work is seamlessly integrated within the same commercial or promo to better emphasise agency creative.

Harking back to the late-80s, features first broke the 2D animation mould by releasing movies such as Who Framed Roger Rabbit. These films spawned a new generation of special effects and a plethora of visually sophisticated imagery. Animation became combined with the computer; 2D drawings, stop-frame, latex puppets - the breadth of established work became one with technology.

Today, effects embedded within commercials for clients, such as Pot Noodle and Mini, show how advances in animation have allowed the advertising industry to embrace new techniques. Yet by copying live action, is animation losing its grasp as a medium or merely accentuating agency treatments?

"Animation effects have been moving heavily into realism, with movies such as Final Fantasy growing in stature and in turn influencing advertising," explains Tom Sito, animation director at Warner Brothers Studios whose work on The Iron Giant and Osmosis Jones has led the field in integrating 3D and 2D work. The director, who is also behind such classics as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Antz and Shrek, believes however, that animators should celebrate and preserve the non-realistic elements of the medium.

"The old Disney masters taught us that animation does not copy life, but caricature it. The reason a cat chases the mouse is because we say things by use of metaphor," he says.

Passion Pictures has produced the ultimate caricature in Gorillaz, an animated band. The company is about to unveil 3D versions of the characters, moving its 2D characters one step further towards reality.

With films such as Shrek, Toy Story and Monsters Inc. being released with constantly improved visual effect, more clients are in turn expecting such effects to be implanted into their work.

"We are in a great position in the industry to move forward with this, but true animation is like dance; capturing the emotion of life. It's not about reproducing the world photographically, it's more about getting to the heart of character and the essence of life," says Andrew Ruheman, executive producer at Passion Pictures.

Our feature also looks at the work of Swedish animators Filmtecknarna. The company is also a specialist at combining 2D and 3D and has created ads for Boddingtons and Sky TV and has recently completed a promo for the boy-band Five (who have split, hence their cartoon body doubles).

Founder, Lars Ohlsen has noticed an increase in global demand for animation within ads in recent years.

"With animation, you can do anything you want, it's only your imagination that sets the limits. This is an attractive proposition creatively for agencies and they are also keen to try out the new technologies available."

Aardman Animation is one of the most successful companies in the field, with films such as Creature Comforts, Wallace & Grommit and Angry Kid making animation credible for adults as well as children.

Heather Wright, head of production at Aardman, also addresses what animation has to offer commercial production today in light of new technological development and discusses why more traditional elements are still being used by artists within her company.