Industry Rant: The Animation Sandbox

Here's the thing about animation.

It's fun, it's quirky, it lets the creator do just about anything. One can turn humans to liquid or a dog and cat duo into incredibly emotive lead characters.

The biggest strength of animation is also its biggest pitfall. All this freedom- essentially telling stories without the constraints of the natural physical universe- well sometimes that leaves the story out to dry and the viewer is left with a running demo reel.

Take the film "Sorry I'm Late." It's a gorgeous, fun, creative little romp. Check out the behind-the-scenes work- a whole pro crew, a slew of props and techniques, test shoots, casting, lighting. And for what? A play reel. It's quirky and creative, sure, but at the end of the day the film isn't actually about anything. It's literally a jaunt from an undisclosed point A to an undisclosed point B. No discernible reason for the trip and so there's really no reason for me to care. It's eye candy. Actually, it's more like eye fast food. An excuse to go play in a sandbox. And honestly? You might as well skip the pro budget and be these guys. It's less expensive and just as fun.

You can spot a similar trend with some of the leanings of the shorts of le Gobelins.

A quirky setup, a big chase with Rube Golberg style situational escalations and gags, then finally a payoff. Nothing too engaging and certainly no emotion or thought beyond some good solid laughs. And of course there's nothing wrong with a few laughs now and again.

I love Oktopodi. It got an Oscar nod last year.

I'll end with a counterexample. Pat Smith, a cool dude by any standard (I used to work at his studio so yeah, shameless plug) and his work is pretty wicked. A simple film like Handshake (one of my favorites of his) shows how in a few short minutes, with one location and two characters interacting, an entire story can really unfold. Boy meets girl. Girl meets boy. Sparks. Muddled existential dual identity crises. Relationship clashes, woes, humanity. Over and out. Rinse. Repeat.

It's not too innovative and the style is recognizable to the point of being familiar- but it's an original take on something timeless. And most importantly, the story is present both on the surface and between the lines.

In any case, everyone's a critic, and I'm no exception. I've been trying to put my money where my mouth is for years (which is hard with little to no resources) so-- no day like today! Until the next, I suppose.

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