Oscar Feature Animation Design


Not surprising the Disney Studio won this year’s Oscar for Best Animated feature film, ‘Big Hero 6’.

Still, I did not prefer that release as a winner. Molded after some old Marvel idea I guess you would expect the last half of the film to be action packed instead of story developing, which indeed it was.

However, producers always claim, that it is the nomination counting. If it is a nomination of independent small creators, the nomination even means increased job offers in the future. My good old friend Børge Ring mentioned that as the prime value of that golden boy. Nominated twice for an Academy Award for a short subject animated film he won an Oscar with ‘Anna & Bella’.

Together with ‘How to Train Your Dragon 2’ The Disney release represents the safe playing output in feature animation.
From the start, the digital feature tradition had the clean looking design coming from the limited working capacity of computers.

Not so any longer. Now you can make strays of hair blowing in the wind consuming terrabytes galore, but the Pixar/Disney outfit still stick to the cleanliness in design. Of course, it gets maximum audience appeal at the box office, and they always go for that.

Sadly, many producers adopt that design decision, so you get a majority of films using that design, but most of these features get to be bland and repetitive, even though professionally done.

My own choice for a US winner this year is ‘Boxtrolls’. That feature tried not being so clean in design. In fact, I was pleased to see, that the looks reminded me of a legendary French film, ‘Delicatessen’. A lot of dirty looking details with a reference to a 19th century atmosphere. To have a Dickens like set of characters contributed to these thoughts and it made me feel good.

Not surprisingly, I learned that the creators were behind the great film ‘Coraline’ I watched some years ago. It had a fine morale, and so did ‘Boxtrolls’. To top that we even had a transvestite villain. It will take a while before Disney handles that kind of complexity.

Now design can go over the top interfering with identification. I watched ‘The Book of Life’ and the design was very daring but left me in the cold. So even carrying out that choice of design impressively, it became too much even for me for a whole feature length run.

A different film barely making me accept it all through was the French ‘Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart. This looked very clean and the design was highly stylized, but I guess it comes natural, when you have to make people accept the weird concept of a clock ticking in the place of a heart.

That story had some Pinocchio like allusions, and surprisingly it even presented a conclusion, that was not at all a happy end. The American film industry would never have dared that. For that fact alone that feature film got to me with respect and sympathy.

It is not the first time the Irishman Tomm Moore got at Academy Award nomination for a feature animation film. He also did with his 2009 release ‘The secret of Kells’. That film was even more stylish than the current film ‘Song of the Sea’ in the way of aesthetic achievement.

This time the pictorial ambition kept more at short leash, it is still an impressive tour de force. The focus has been a more direct appeal to a younger audience, and it is a success that way.

Last time I came across the theme of selkies was from the live action film ‘Ondine’ in 2009. They were also present in ‘The Secret of Roan Inish’ from 1994. Selkies are mythological creatures along with Mermaids, especially well known in Irish folklore.

This time a newborn girl gets the connection to selkies from her mother, who dies at childbirth. When trying to swim out to sea and thereby kill herself the father is not trusted to take care of her, and she and her older brother comes to live with their restrictive grandmother at the mainland.

Still the urge to search for this special world is there and second time around her big brother follows her, and they get to meet representatives from the world of spirits.

I have a reservation as to the evil witch they encounter, in fairytales threats overcome by the brave main characters. Here they reform the evil witch so that she helps the kids to return to society. This never happened in The Ice Queen or in Narnia. Maybe an attempt to indulge in the young audience, but they should not have done that.

The production sponsored by the Danish Film Institute, too, I believe some Danish animators have been working on the project as well. It is refreshing to see other feature animation films made than those clinging to fast middle of the road American tradition.

A tip of the hat for the Oscar feature animation committee nominating ‘The tale of the Princess Kaguya’ from Studio Ghibli in 2015. The director has already many fine films behind him, such as ‘Grave of the Fireflies’, ‘Chie the Brat, ‘Goshu the Cellist’ and ‘Only Yesterday’.

Claimed to be a masterpiece and carried out in a watercolor or pastel like rendering ‘The tale of Princess Kaguya’ conveys an art house style you seldom dare execute in western feature film animation, since it ignores box office appeal.

The feature is the longest I have watched, 135 minutes. It took a coproduction between nine Japanese production outfits to finance the making of it lasting up to eight years.

The story is a fairy tale in so much that it involves many of the classical elements from that genre, yet the divinity part of it distances it in the end from any real symbolic significance to the life and fate of human beings. There is a Jesus like theme involved without the implications from that prophet on spiritual human life aspirations. Thereby it keeps hanging in the air without any real consequence to the moral life among humanity. An H C Andersen treatment would have dug into a more symbolic value relating it to the life of ordinary people.

The ambition level is sky high, and you once more get to witness the strength of line art animation, even though in places you come to think digital animation applied as well, must likely it has.

Though there are fast running scenes, the bulk of the story is taking place in a moderate tempo, which goes well with the story unfolding over such a long time of play.

Everyone is wondering who will be the new Miyazaki from Japan, but most likely, there will be a number of successors using the technique from the old maestro. Isao Takahata is one of them.