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This year, I decided to go to the 2nd annual Animation is Film Festival in Los Angeles. It was a three day film festival that was all about showing off and supporting the smaller foreign releases that were from countries like France, Japan, and Brazil. Out of the 40 films (both feature-length and short films), I saw 11 of the major releases, because that is why I wanted to go last year. While I can say I wish the festival was not in L.A., because this was one of the most expensive trips in my lifetime, I would have loved it to be in some place like say, Austin, Texas at the Alamo Drafthouse’s South Lamar location. There was also no real swag to purchase, like movie posters of the films being shown with the exception of maybe the Prince of Egypt 20th Anniversary screening, which I wish had two screenings, because I would have loved to have seen it on the big screen myself. In general, this was one of my favorite things to happen in my year of 2018. I really enjoyed seeing US/world premieres of films from around the world, getting my questions during Q&A sessions answered by the directors themselves, shaking hands with a few of them, taking a selfie with the director of Funan, which won the two major awards at the festival, and the possibility of having a future interview with the director of Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles, which won the Special Jury Prize. From my personal perspective, the films that I saw at the festival show that the foreign theatrical animation scene is still going as strong as ever. In this editorial, I’m simply going to go over what I took away from my observations of the animation scene happening all over the world.
2D animation is alive and well, and can be done!
Recently when talking about the new upcoming CGI SpongeBob movie, Paramount made a comment about how they thought 2D animation couldn’t be done anymore because it’s too hard. It’s not too hard. These studios overseas, while having to go through challenges of their own, still are able to use animation software to make beautiful and vibrant 2D animation. Some didn’t even break the bank in costs. For example, one of my favorite films of the festival, Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles, only cost a little over two million dollars. Sure, with maybe an extra million, they could have added more frames of animation, but the film not only had a great visual look, but the motions were snappy, polished, you understood what they were doing, and had a really good script to balance out the animation. 2D isn’t dead! Either the studio doesn’t have or know about the tech or talent that they have, or they are too lazy to actually give 2D animation a try. It’s not like you need to go back to cel animation to make great 2D. Simply put, films like The Breadwinner and The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales are possible, and don’t always need to cost double-digit millions to make them work.
Animation can tell different kinds of stories!
One of the best things about animation is that it is such a versatile medium of filmmaking, that if you really put your back into it, you can tell other types of stories than just comedies. You can tell so many stories. Just because it is animated, doesn’t mean you have to write for kids in mind. So many of the films I saw at this festival were not really for kids. They weren’t stoner comedies either, but instead told very endearing, intense, depressing, and intimate stories. A majority of the films were fairly adult, like Funan, Ruben Brandt, Seder Masochism, Bunuel, and even Tito and the Birds. Sure, some of the films were easily approachable to children, like Pachamama and Okko’s Inn, but everything else? Yeah, I don’t think a kid could handle what Ruben Brandt was dishing out. It simply shows that people can and will be enticed to see different stories in animation.
Animation can be visually different!
A common issue I hear with a lot of animation, whether you say it’s the cartoons from the US, anime from Japan, or the CGI animated features in theaters right now, is that they all look the same. While that’s not really true, I understand. Unless you are doing something outright different with your visuals, it can all feel very repetitive. Luckily, Animation is Film showed how vibrant and diverse the art for every film was. Even some of the films that didn’t have my favorite art direction like Seder Masochism and Okko’s Inn were visually different. Heck, the one film you need to see that has one of the most standout visual styles is Ruben Brandt, with its Picasso-inspired human designs and world. You don’t have to try and look like a Disney film anymore. Find a pleasing artstyle that you can call your own, and use it!
Even for more family focus features, they didn’t talk down to the audience!
A common issue I have with animated films that end up being bad, is that they don’t seem to respect the time or intelligence of the audience. This is a common occurrence with bad family films, like Monster Family, Duck Duck Goose, and Gnome Alone for a few examples from this year. Sure, feeling like the film is talking down to you and assuming you are stupid can be annoying, no matter whom the film is aimed at, but it’s simply delightful when a film does not do that. Even the films that were aimed at younger audiences at the festival did not shy away from trauma or none-happy moments from the film. Okko’s Inn, from its look and tone, is definitely not offering much for many adult viewers, but it does not shy away from what happens to our main character, or the theme of forgiveness. Again, just because it’s animated doesn’t mean you can’t tackle something more mature. Mirai handled its theme of family and growing up without ever wagging a finger at one type of person. Treat your audience with respect!
In general, the Animation is Film festival was incredible, and I hope more people support it in the future. Again, I wish it wasn’t just in California and could be a touring road show and come to cities like Austin, but I would definitely recommend going to this event, if you are a huge fan of animation.