Fabia Ling-Yuan Lin in her chapter ‘Cartoon’s Hyperrealism’ of her book Doubling the Duality (2014) explains the issue with realism within animation by means of a case study. Like the other texts, she explains at first the meaning of hyper-realism, using Lister’s text as a secondary source. She emphasises that in order to understand the origins of hyper-realism, and how it became the norm in western animation, one must examine the creation process of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Lin, 2014).
This point in history was where Disney gave up ‘plasmaticness’ for ‘hyper-realism’, and ‘introduced codes and deologies of live-action cinema into this originally quite avant- garde inclined form’ (Lin, 2014, p. 66). Contrary to the previous two texts, this author delves deeper into the positive and negative consequences of attempting to emulate realism by analysing the production process of Snow White. Disney decided to use Rotoscoping for the animation: the actress was filmed and the individual frames were traced over.
This method gave the animators invaluable insight into realistic human movement, however, the finished animation was not what the animators expected. Since they copied too much of real human ction into each frame, the result looked strange. They described the moves as ‘real enough, but the figure lost the illusion of life (Lin, 2014). The ‘illusion of life’ has been one of the key elements of animation since its beginning, therefore the process was abandoned- Rotoscoping was still used for studying movements, but not for actual frame-by-frame tracing.
Instead, the animators aspired to re-interpret the live performance of the actress, blending the realism of the captured performance as well as originality into the animators’ interpretations’ (Lin, 2014, p. 66). The new result was a success. It has lost its strange look, and was described as ‘smooth and sophisticated’ (Lin, 2014, p. 66). Disney from then on combined realism and animation and aimed at creating a ‘hybrid-form’ rather than pure realism: ‘The principle of hyper-realism guided Disney’s approach to integrating live action and animation.
With hyper-realism, the task of hybrid films is not just to build a sweeter, funnier fantastic world that is parallel to ours. It is more about the bridge between these two, making the audience believe that the fantastic world is really accessible’ (Lin, 2014, p. 67) With the extreme speed of technological advances, the reoccupation with realism has continued, particularly within 3D digital animation and video games. Perfect synthetic realism seems to be a possible outcome of the quick improvements of software and the invention of new techniques.
Methods like motion capture have contributed to bring animated realism closer to the grasp of animators. However, despite the fact that techniques like motion captures bring with them a new understanding of recreating life and seemingly endless possibilities, there are still major problems. Angela Tinwell, in The Uncanny Valley in Games and Animation 2014) writes about the possible negative outcomes of creating too realistic animations.
She introduces the topic with defining the ‘Uncanny Valley’: Recreating humans, or other beings, only seems appealing to audiences as long as there is a noticeable difference between the replication and the real model. At a certain extent of realism, the point where the replication and the model are almost identical, except from a few minor differences, audiences often react negatively. The almost- realistic human often provokes fear or discomfort (Tinwell, 2014). Tinwell talks about specific cases within game and movie nimation, in which the Uncanny Valley can be observed.
She states that the catalyst for the uncanny within animation were motion capture techniques. She examines Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within in particular, as this film was the first completed CG feature film using motion capture. Before the release of the film, it was expected to be received positively, due to the novelty of its realistic aesthetics. The director stated: ‘We’ve created characters that no longer feel blatantly computer generated . It’s something people have never seen before’ (Kent, Cox, 2001).
Contrary to the expectations, the ‘realistic’ characters were egarded as emotionless, their movements seemed jerky and unnatural. As mentioned by Lang-Yuan Lin concerning the Snow White Rotoscoping, Tinwell confirms that a ‘too real’ portrayal can leave spectators feeling unnerved. She describes The Polar Express, another motion capture ‘ultra-realistic’ film to have similar effects on the audience. ‘The Conductor’s motion was described as puppet-like, and the audience was critical of a lack of human-likeness in his facial expression that did not match the emotive qualities of his speech.
The character’s expressions also appeared out of context with a given situation as he presented an angry xpression and a cold personality when interacting with other children characters in the film’ (Tinwell, 2014, p. 68). She adds an especially negative case study about Beowulf. The aim of the film had been to enhance actors’ performances, by eliminating concerns such as lighting, make-up, costume, etc. Ultimately though, the film had failed to capture the subtleties of their performances, leaving the audience discontent, perceiving the film as soulless and its characters as wooden and impassive.
In addition to the extreme realism that the audience was not accustomed to, this lack of emotional realism led to a sense of isorientation and confusion for the spectators. Tinwell refers to the film as a result of the director being a ‘willing slave to technological advances’, regarding replacing real actors’ performances with mediocre CGI’ (Tinwell, 2014, p. 69) Tinwell believes that the biggest problems with extreme realism lie within the difficulties of replicating complex human facial expressions and movements.
She concludes that in order to escape ‘uncanny valley’ in realistic animation, to learn how to adequately simulate photo-realistic emotion, one must first understand what makes us human (Tinwell, 2014). The human ttributes are still so elusive to artists, that the sought after ultra-realistic animation will continue to be difficult. There are various styles in animation, but they share one defining trait: replication. Animators utilise myriads of ways of replicating, as they attempt to capture movement, emotions and life in their art styles.
However, each individual artist’s perception of ‘reality’ is unique and complex. Additionally, it can be argued that reality can never be achieved with a medium that is defined by its ‘fake’ nature, no matter how photo-realistic its visuals are. Therefore, animated realism is inherently open o interpretation, simply because realism in itself can not be generalised. The debate about realism has partly helped me to decide on the style of my personal animation project.
All of the previously examined literature excerpts showed that realism is definitely not a necessity for good animation, in fact, in focusing too much on visual realism there is even a risk of eliminating the appeal of the characters. For my short film, in which the main characters are a mouse and a fox I therefore decided not only due to the extreme difficulty of creating realistic animations, but also due o the limits animated realism imposes on the ‘soul’ and charisma of the animation, that I will not try to create highly detailed, anatomically correct drawings.
Instead, I will use simplified character designs. That way, I hope to be able to focus more on originality and bring the drawings to life more efficiently. After examining the four different texts, it can be concluded that for the most part, animations are not aimed at perfectly copying the visuals of real life anymore, instead they are an attempt of bringing life, charisma and artistic appeal into visuals that are highly stylised.
In order to avoid ‘Uncanny Valley’, lifeless or uninteresting animation, it is necessary to find a balance between ‘not real enough’ and ‘too real’. It can be said that- at least for the moment- the fascination for animated realism within the film industry has faded. However, considering that an extreme amount of technological progress has been achieved- and continued to be achieved- within animation, it is a possibility that one day authentic photo-realistic 3D animation may find the elusive ‘soul’ that it has been lacking in previous attempts at recreating the real world.