Animation is ubiquitous and like its sibling motion film, it is a relatively young art form that packs a mighty punch.
This year sees the 80th birthday of one of Hollywood’s seemingly most enduring of stars – Snow White.
The film and its characters, songs and style have settled into the popular consciousness so deeply that it’s hard not to take a reductive view of Walt Disney’s animation.
Objectively the film’s subject matter is an unlikely hit; the story of a saccharine sweet girl with a penchant for hair ribbons and bird-whispering who home invades a group of elderly miners with personality disorders and poor working conditions?
It is all too easy to forget – particularly when grappling with a 6 year old girl clutching a princess dress in the toy store – the ground breaking impact which Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs had on its release.
The very first feature-length animation of all time, its pioneering visual style allowed audiences to witness worlds and characters in a way simply impossible using live action.
As if this weren’t enough to wow them, it was also made in glorious colour – still an emerging new film format in 1937 – and was the first film of any kind to release a soundtrack album alongside its theatrical debut.
The power of animation to convey ideas, imagery, even performances that could not be filmed otherwise (who can fail to be moved by a talking, orphaned baby deer, for example), has not only persisted for over 80 years, but expanded in ways unimaginable even to Walt Disney.
Hand-drawn and stop frame animation later blurred with live action, producing iconic moments like Mary Poppins’ penguin dance and Jason’s sword battle with skeletons. CGI went from early, blockish experimentation (and imitation, such as TRON) to the fur-lined finesse and motion-capture brilliance of the Planet of the Apes remakes.
Once you take into the account the seismic shift resulting from kids-TV-plus-merchandising and video games, you have what is now estimated to be a global industry worth over $240 billion.
Analysts will cite many reasons for this ongoing popularity: the rise of the broadcast multiverse; an expanding youth demographic; the democratisation of technology … The truth is much simpler: animation is visually appealing and universal. It has the power to break boundaries of all sorts, whether commercial, cultural or artistic.
I had the great privilege of exec producing the first European-Japanese animated co-production, the brainchild of the great-great-grandson of Gustav Eiffel (he of the Tower).
Like his illustrious forebear, Eiffel Junior and his French collaborators pursued their artistic vision with singular determination, even spending two years learning Japanese before moving to Tokyo in order to better collaborate with the Asian animators. It may have been an adjustment adapting to sleeping mats under their work desks, but in the end a common passion for animation became their mutual language.
The infinite visual possibilities, this universal appeal which crosses ages and cultures, is what drives us at Mendip Media to explore and promote the power of animation whenever we can.
Whether for creative AV projects, training or corporate comms, we love playing with the medium, enhancing or even replacing regular live action with innovative animation, and offering our clients the choice whenever we know it will be effective in communicating an important brand message on screen.
Snow White may be 80 years old, but raise an apple to the grand old dame of animation and the extraordinary legacy she’s left us.
Long may it continue!
The Ray & Diana Harryhausen Foundation was set up to protect the physical artefacts and artistic legacy of one of cinema’s most pioneering animators and special effects wizards. Their work and archive celebrates the man behind such iconic films as Mighty Joe Young, Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts.
Oban Star Racers is a 26-part sci-fi action series which was the first European-Japanese animated co-production. Created and directed by Savin Yeatman-Eiffel, it was also an early example of an action series which put a female protagonist front and centre, and has since achieved international cult status.
by Michael Lekes, Producer