Student character designers, art teacher describe effects of new styles of animation


Note: This is a character design by junior Kenzie Howard; this was not created by the HiLite staff. Kenzie Howard, character designer and junior, draws different aspects of her original character, Felicity. She created the concept based off of the question of what animals would look like if they were humans.

The phenomenon whereby a computer-generated figure or humanoid robot bearing a near-identical resemblance to a human being arouses a sense of unease or revulsion in the person viewing it. This is the Oxford Dictionary definition of the “uncanny valley”, a term that has become more prevalent in recent years. The uncanny valley occurs when animation or electronics are almost human-like but not quite right, leaving people with an unsettled feeling.

The uncanny valley is seen a lot in modern animation in films such as “Cats” (2019), “The Lion King” (2019) and the upcoming “Sonic the Hedgehog” (2020). When non-human entities have the emotions and facial features of humans, it can sometimes cause audiences to be more uncomfortable than immersed in the movie.

Michelle Lu

Kenzie Howard, character designer and junior, said she thinks there is a disconnect between audiences and creative teams for movies.

Howard said, “If you think about it, the animation team themselves don’t really have much of a say in what they are supposed to bring to life. The real disconnect is the creative team that tells the animators what to do.”

Howard added how the creative teams involved in producing these films are more interested in the money than the quality of the movie.

She said, “It is a total cash grab at this point. The quality of Disney movies has been going down because there are no new ideas. It’s just remaking classics but live-action or with way too much CGI (computer generated images) because it looks cool.”

Faith Lawrence, character designer and senior, said she disagrees with Howard’s view on the Disney remakes.

“I personally really enjoy a lot of these new remakes. It is really cool getting to see my childhood favorite movies in a more realistic way,” Lawrence said, “but I can totally see where audiences may fail to enjoy them because it isn’t exactly how they pictured it.  It is like when you read a book and picture a character one way in your head and then the movie comes out and it just is not what you expected; it can be kind of a letdown.”

Chloe Sun
Faith Lawrence, character designer and senior, works on one of her designs. The design was inspired by the idea of herself in the universe of an anime show called “RWBY.”

Andrew Murray, AP and IB Art teacher, said the uncanny valley is a cause of overusing technology that was once innovative and unique.

“We can’t blame anybody for using technology. It’s such a magnificent thing and it’s so awesome. But I think we’re getting to that stage where we’re overusing it,” he said. “Technology has been around for enough years now that we’re kind of pushing it too far or people are just using it for technology’s sake… It is that overuse of it in movies like ‘Cats’ where there’s absolutely no reason for all that which creates a further disconnect.”

For example, in the upcoming “Sonic the Hedgehog” movie, the animation was so humanoid that when trailers were released, internet users essentially cyberbullied the studio into doing a complete redesign of the title character. This movement shows the impact that creating anthropomorphic characters has when using CGI.

These so-called “live-action” films that rely so heavily on animation cannot truly be considered live-action. For example, the new “The Lion King” movie was advertised as live-action; however, all of the animals in the movie are just computer animations.

Howard said this new style has decreased her enjoyment of movies.

She said, “Nowadays, people are so focused on, ‘Oh this character will look cool’ or, ‘I have to make the scenery perfect’ but there has not been as much effort put into the actual stories and characters. I think that is why movies have been so unoriginal and bad recently.”

Although Lawrence said she finds the animation “fascinating,” she realizes the issues it may cause for viewers because it “ruins the nostalgia of a cartoon classic.”

Murray said he believes audiences are less likely to connect with an eerily human character as they are a cute cartoon.

“If you don’t believe the characters, you’re not going to invest yourself in the film,” he said. “When you watch something, you might like the plot, you might like the setting but the main thing that’s happening is the character development. If you’re using CGI for your characters and it doesn’t make sense or you’re not embracing it fully, your audience won’t be able to focus on the characters themselves and will instead focus on the look of the movie.”

View the importance of digital art expression and the changing definition of art here.