Ten Films that Stand Out from the Pack: Our Favorite Art Styles in Animated Movies
Making a movie involves wrangling a team of talented people to brute force imagination into reality. Making an animated movie involves all of that plus a few arcane rituals and sacrificial goats. With so many studios using the same software to conjure up their films, things can start to feel a little samesie. Not so with this collection. In fact, these movies have some of the most unique art styles we've ever seen.
We recently sat down with Director Kris Pearn to discuss his newly released film, the Netflix Original "The Willoughbys." Kris worked hard to integrate the animation style with the story. For example, all of the Willoughby children have hair that looks like the yarn their mother uses for knitting. This was done to emphasize the fact that the family had been strung together.
This got us thinking: What other animated films use their unique art style to enhance their storytelling? We pitched a few ideas around the water cooler and discovered a shared love of ten particular films. Here is our list of ten animated films with incredibly unique art styles.
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is a zany, fast-paced adventure. The style of the characters and backgrounds were developed to convey that feeling. The thing that sets this film apart is the difference between the cartoonish characters and the life-like food. The animators used photos from nostalgic advertising for reference, and took to tossing things like burgers off the tops of buildings to understand how they would look upon landing.
Imagine your boss telling you to go to McDonald's and order 50 cheese burgers to toss off the roof after lunch.
What's even more impressive is that the story is never held back by the whimsical art style. The characters are able to go though some serious emotional arcs, and there is wonderful growth throughout this film and its sequel.
Into the Spider-Verse
Into the Spider-verse is one of the first animated films to integrate a 2D comic book technique with modern 3D rendering. The group of artists and directors went as far as to design their own software for rendering their digital manipulations. This Oscar-winning film wowed audiences with its creativity. It showed the motion design industry that rules are made to be broken.
The animators came up with groundbreaking ideas for this film, examining how to use the imperfections of the reference art to their advantage.
Into the Spider-verse ultimately repackages the vintage comic book look into something new that was able to be consumed by more than just comic book fans.
Combine that with a brilliant story, incredible score, and the trademark Lord and Miller humor, and you've got one of the the best superhero movies ever made.
ParaNorman, by Laika Studios, is a testament to technology working to enhance more traditional filmmaking styles—in this instance, stop-motion-animation. The filmmakers used 3D-printing to automate a normally painstaking process.
This allowed them to create puppets with an almost endless amount of features for stop motion scenes. The Norman puppet had more than 8,000 faces printed over the making of the movie.
After the scenes were put together, effects were added—such as crowds, or the removal of rigging pieces on the set. The ending perfectly combines the complicated stop motion and CG techniques to create a magical battleground that you can practically touch and feel.
Rango takes live-action and animation and blends them together into a fantastic and dirty mashup. Gore Verbinski wanted to recreate the dusty feeling of an old Western film, complete with outlandish and weird characters. Then they took it a step further with caracturized animals in place of the original actors.
Similar to Into the Spider-Verse, the animators aimed to maximize the advantages of the imperfections in computerized animations.
They took inspiration from live-action rehearsals, from lightning to facial tics, to make sure that they could produce the dirty and off-the-wall vision that Gore had in mind. The end result? Have a look.
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Fantastic Mr. Fox is a classic tale from British novelist Roald Dhal. Wes Anderson recreated the story in a 3D stop-motion/CG animation...with his own special touch. Anderson's film conveys his love for stop action, a handcrafted look, and pushing the boundaries.
The production was extremely detailed. Scenes were shot repeatedly with different lighting and even with varying amounts of items on the stage. The set could literally be seen as breathing over the course of the day.
What impressive us most is the integration of Anderson's unique filmmaking style with the intricacies of stop-motion animation. Anderson broke all the rules, including leaving his characters practically motionless for long takes. Somehow, everything comes together to create a wholly original vision.
This film is thought to have set the bar for animated movies of the decade because of the great detail that was taken in the design and production of each scene.
The Red Turtle
The Red Turtle is an artistic wonder. We could honestly spend an entire article just looking at films from Studio Ghibli, but this movie is a sensation.
Background scenes were drawn in charcoal, scanned in, and painted on the computer. This helped to create the peaceful watercolor look to the film. The simple character designs also lent themselves to the storytelling, allowing the audience to fill in some of the gaps with their own emotions.
The designers found the turtle the hardest piece to work with. They ended up creating the turtle in 3D rendering software and then prepared it in Photoshop for the 2D application. Michaël Dudok de Wit and Studio Ghibli did an exemplary job putting the film together.
Triplets of Belleville
Triplets of Belleville combines a nostalgic look at the art styles of the 40s and 50s with an incredibly unique visual language. The film has no dialogue, serving as an homage to art and music from the past. Much of the film utilizes hand-drawn illustrations with a mixture of stop-motion, CG, and some 3D rendering techniques. One thing that sets this film apart from others is the way that coloring, scenes, and music are used to convey emotion in the absence of dialogue.
The hyper-realistic style borders on grotesque in the absolute best of ways, evoking emotions without saying a thing. The film earned nominations for its original music as well as Best Animated Feature.
Waltz with Bashir
Waltz with Bashir integrates cutout drawings with painstakingly recreated scenes from real life. The film is a documentary that was turned into an animated movie. Director Ari Folman wanted to go beyond basic storytelling; he felt that the animated portion of the film—which is the majority of its runtime—allowed the audience to better connect with the characters and the story.
Waltz with Bashir is an example of how animation can bring power to the specific message that you want your audience to hear.
Secret of Kells
The Secret of Kells brings medieval manuscripts to life intricately and endearingly. The film was nominated for an Academy Award before it even opened nationally. The story and the animation hit home for so many people that it quickly garnered attention. The fictional story is about preserving one's culture, and the Secret of Kells' 2D and 3D animation techniques do just that for modern Celtic animation.
The film took years to make it to production, and there were many, many production houses that worked to bring it to life. The film was produced in this manner because of the different grants that were funded for its creation. Without the mishmash of hands and money, the inspiring film we see today may not have been produced. The group even worked with the producer of The Triplets of Belleville in Berlin at one point.
Satoshi Kon is the creator of Paprika. Mr. Kon used mainly hand-drawn scenes and characters, bringing to life some mind-bending images. He used CGI primarily to enhance portions of the film, and for efficiency. Through his drawing skills and camera usage, he creates mystery, wonder, and confusion.
Kon's style has inspired directors such as Christopher Nolan and Darren Aronofsky. The animation skills of Kon have yet to be matched by anyone in the industry.
Watch this trailer, then remind yourself that most of what you see is hand-drawn!
The Begun of Tigtone
The Begun of Tigtone was an Indiegogo project that is now on Adult Swim. It is a hilarious parody of fantasy films and video games, satirizing the tropes through the adventures of handsome buffoon, Tigtone. Andrew Koehler used a combination of 2D motion animation and performance capture to bring his characters and scenes to life. Specific actors recorded facial expressions while others performed scenes for the characters' physical actions. The minimal animation to the bodies is part of the parody.
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Animation has come a long way since the days of Steamboat Willie. You no longer have to be a great cartoonist to create award-winning animated films. Your vision, your will, and a good education can deliver your wildest dreams. Find your passion and the audience will follow.
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