‘Revising Animation Genres: Jan Svankmajer, Tim Burton and James Cameron and the Study of Myth’
This lecture ‘Revising Animation Genres: Jan Svankmajer, Tim Burton and James Cameron and the Study of Myth’ addresses the idea or concept of today’s classification of genres for animation feature films and interrogates why this concept needs to be revised today. The lecture is also about what makes it possible to tell a story successfully within films that use animation visual effects today. To do this, it discusses why the concept of the animation genre needs to be revised and suggests how today we need to look at the idea of genres in animation differently than from the past. By contrast with the modernism of the past (when fixed styles in art and culture had existed, making it possible to create certain strong recognisable frameworks for art which had helped us categorise different styles and genres and types of film and types of stories), today, a lot more art and art making is made up from a lot of pastiche, which now sees the appropriating of a mixture of ideas from other contexts, genres and themes. This appropriation of ideas previously not normally grouped together within an artwork or film or piece of animation is now being combined into an overall fraternizing of codes and references in films that often would employ animation visual effects. As Alan Cholodenko has written:
"No longer just an innocent form of imaginative licence for the animator, hybridity in animation has begun to admit its resonances as one of the most insistent thematics of an era obsessed with difference, cloning, grafting and taxonomic slippage.” 
Recognised by authors such as Paul Virilio, today’s age would be one of a ‘post-post modernism’, which would be quite different to the modernism of the past. At a time now filled with a busy variety of random ideas and works, the information and data we receive continues to feed us with a very heterogeneous mood in our art and culture overall. A lot of this would be currently stimulated from the global digital matrix, which increases the levels of our use of technology, that pervades our perceptual and cognitive climate – our cultural environment. In this circumstance, today’s digital age furnishes us a world where the real and the virtual are so mixed and intertwined now that they are mostly indistinguishable. In relation to this, today’s age, keeps producing more and more random images in our culture resulting in a new way forward for animation and for filmmaking in general. The new powerful technology developed for our uses today creates a new reality beyond a measurable logic that had previously belonged to the past. This means that we are now in a world where many of the previously fixed boundaries of meaning in art and filmmaking are increasingly relaxing and relaxed and in a sense, much more ‘horizontal’ overall – rather than vertical, as they used to be. I say horizontal, because many things in art and culture that used to be separated (only about up to fifteen years ago probably, which is quite recent), – from one another, are becoming increasingly interconnected and flattened or levelled out so that we see things more ‘horizontally; now rather than vertically. For example, today, we find that the binary logic which made the creation of conventional genres in art and film possible in the first place and had helped us to say that certain things were opposite one another, is now much less in place. This is because we used to be able to classify fixed ideas, styles, and genres because they were defined by their limits, by a fixed framework.
In art making, filmmaking and film production overall, as we continue to move towards this new condition and perhaps perception of what I would call ‘limitlessness’, which is happening in art, that is an art, which nowadays is containing less fixed boundaries tied to the notion and practice of classification and categorisation and thus defined less so by a fixed framework that would normally help to define a piece of art or an animation film, we are being made to experience a new virtual reality in which ideas used to constitute a piece of art or film that were previously found to be permanently fixed in place, and concrete have now become much looser. The following will explain this further.
A great deal of this, of course, has been engendered through advances in technology – as Phillip Kelly Denslow states, “All definitions of animation have to be re-thought in the context of changing technology.” In the past, much in modernity had operated as a binary system, for example: black and white, hot and cold, sweet and sour etc. Because we were able to classify things so clearly like this, various styles and different historical genres in film were easily classified as fixed styles, fixed genres and fixed types, which were more clear and easy for us to recognise. In film, most of all of us were able to recognise the general conventional ‘modernist’ genres such as horror, westerns, science fiction, suspense, drama, melodrama, the film noir etc., which had previously existed, informed and controlled our understanding of film and animation; and this was because, these conventional genres, had always been used to clearly delineate a distinct ‘class’ or ‘kind’ of film, which had been characterized by its fixed visual, technological, thematic and subject-oriented consistencies. Conventional film genres such as horror, westerns, science fiction, etc., which had been invented in the past had related to a recognisable set of codes and standards within the narrative and the mise en scene of a film.
In the past, our understanding of conventional genres and our recognising/recognition of the conventional genre and historical types of films came out of our focusing, or our being able to focus on particular kinds of visual and aural iconography, which had made up the overall mise en scene of a film. Therefore, a conventional genre such as horror or adventure or science fiction, for example, within the conventional genre system had performed, if you like, as the key signal of an understood common language created by the filmmaker and was understood by the audience, and this had defined and normally defines the cinematic construction of a film text.
A conventional film genre such as horror, for example, was understood as a way to know the limited and predictable features in the film, contour the logic of a form, and play out a mode of control in film-making practice, which had guaranteed a usual recognisable form and outcome. Conventional genres within films, also provided the film with an infrastructure, that is, in a sense, with a sort of architecture if you like, for the film’s narrative, and this could function as a mode of order and integration for the story, and could be seen as the determining thing, which had upheld core stories and myths in our minds, as well as the ideological and conceptual strengths at the heart of the film. In this way, conventional genres had operated in film and still in many instances still do operate in film as a way to categorise and understand the film’s style.
Yet increasingly nowadays, we find that the binary logic, which had made the conventional genre system possible in the first place, and had helped us to say that certain things were opposite each other, have, for us become less fixed and a great deal looser. In this context or lack of contexts, today, a whole host of sub-genre categories are now taking place within today’s alter modernity and alter modern climate or what we could call today’s ‘post-post-modern’ climate.
Animation films today are more now than ever before part of an ever-developing inter-discursive field in today’s post-post-modern or altermodern age and so we need to understand its genres differently from this, today. This would reveal the continuing expanding nature of the form. Today, instead of animators producing films that are easy to classify as conventional genres we need to see that animation has its own set of genres, which now specifically belong to animation that don’t always belong to, or fit with, the genres of the past. As Jane Goodall points out: “In manipulating the cartoon character, the animator also plays manipulative games with genre and taxonomy.” Often helping to create this hybrid nature of animation is that as she further states:
“…the animator violates them by putting them through hyperbolic becomings, weird transformations, abject dissolutions….Animators draw on established tropes, genres and narrative patterns, Then manipulate them to create a feedback loop through which increasingly knowing references and techniques are added to the repertoire.”
In fact, this has occurred in numerous films from the 1990s. Since this period, animation has been concerned with hybridity — this can be seen and found in films such as adventure and Urotsukidoji.  This has contributed to the need for a new understanding of animation and its sub-genres. These sub-genres have been listed by Paul Welles in his book Animation: Genre and Authorship which was published in 2002. Welles, in fact has defined seven new sub-genre categories existing within animation.
The first of these: Formal animation – means that the animation piece works/functions “on the basis of the maximum degree of extrapolation from a minimum degree of known…” rules.
Deconstructive animation: is animation, which reveals “the premises of its own construction for critical comic effects…” this, can be seen in the early cartoon Duck Amuck made by Chuck Jones.
Political animation: is animation that attempts to use the medium for the purpose of making “moral, ethical, political statements.” These films have a specific intention that focuses on performing/ creating propaganda-public information education instruction. For example, various critics have said that the film Avatar (2009) can be related to this new sub-genre of animation.
Abstract animation: “is non-objective/ non-linear works – works that resist traditional conventions of understanding and interpretation” – experimental films mostly.
Re-narration animation: is animation “which uses the specific and distinctive vocabulary of the form to reconfigure narrative in the representation of time, space and perspective.” As Welles points out, Bill Plympton exemplifies some of the specifics of the animated vocabulary – when in the Plymptoons he shows the evolution in 5 seconds, depicting a stooping a gorilla-like creature metamorphosing into an erect human only to evolve back to the same stooping stance and by implication. Neanderthal condition, in the form of an American footballer.”
 ‘Hybridity and the End of Innocence’, in ed., Cholodenko, A., The Illusion of Life etc., 156.
 ‘What is Animation and who Needs to Know? A Lecture on Definitions’, in A Reader in Animation Studies, Ed. by Jayne Pilling, 2.
 ‘Hybridity and the End of Innocence’, in ed., Cholodenko, A., The Illusion of Life etc., 152.
 ‘Hybridity and the End of Innocence’, in ed., Cholodenko, A., The Illusion of Life etc., 152-3.
 See in ‘Hybridity and the End of Innocence’, in ed., Cholodenko, A., The Illusion of Life etc., 156.
 Welles, Paul, Animation: Genre and Authorship, Wallflower Press: London and New York, 2002, 67.
 Welles, 67.
 Welles, 68.
 Welles, 69.
 Welles, 69.
 Welles, 69.
- Quote paper
- Cyrus Manasseh (Author), 2011, Revising Animation Genres: Jan Svankmajer, Tim Burton and James Cameron and the Study of Myth, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/305257