We’ve seen a resurgence in the animation industry over the last decade. Not only has the internet fallen in love with video, but new technology has put the tools of animation into more hands than ever before. All around the world, animators are making their mark in new and exciting ways.
The Animation Capital Of The World
Most Americans would point to Burbank, California as the animation capital of the world. Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar, Nickelodeon and Netflix all have studios there. A lot of the national animation attention goes to Disney, with its recent acquisition of 20th Century Fox and the release of its new streaming service. Not to mention the ridiculous popularity of the Frozen franchise. But California isn’t the only place where animation thrives.
Traditionally, studios in the United States, Japan, and (to a lesser extent) Europe have produced the bulk of animation projects. But other regions have been quietly building their animation muscles over the last few years. The fruits of their labor are appearing on the international stage. For example the annual Animation Is Film Festival in L.A. has seen a surge in submissions from countries outside the animation powerhouses. Central America and Asia are becoming markets to watch if you want to spot the latest animation trends.
Here’s a look at animation trends around the world and some of the work happening abroad that we’re most excited about.
“Mirai no Miarai”, a Japanese animated film by director Mamoru Hosoda won an Annie Award for best animated independent feature and was nominated for an Oscar. Although “Spiderman: Into the Sider-Verse” ultimately won that honor, the nomination of a Japanese indie film points to the continued popularity of Japanese animation. Earlier this year 3 of the 10 feature films nominated for the Annecy International Animation Film Festival were from Japan.
In Japan, big studios continue to play with animation styles, while incorporating traditional models. Yuasa is still creating stylistically diverse, but distinctly Japanese feature-length animation, with exaggerated expressions and amplified movement. Realism is secondary to storytelling, which is most of the charm. Many art styles are blended together in a single movie.
Meanwhile, after coming out of retirement in 2017 (again!), Studio Ghibli founder Hayao Miyazaki started work on “How Do You Live” a film based on a book by Genzaburo Yoshino. Until his return from retirement, Miyazaki was known to be against computer generated animation, but he has since embraced the technology, perhaps in response to animation trends in other areas of the world.
MontBlanc studio is bucking trends in Japanese animation by reaching outside Japan to create international partnerships, not just to aid in distribution, but also for funding, scriptwriting and production support.
It seems safe to say that change is coming to the Japanese animation industry as its titans age and new technologies become more commonplace, but the focus on telling a compelling story with interesting characters won’t change anytime soon.
Japan’s supremacy in Asian animation may wane as India and China enter the arena. China, which has historically embraced Western animation, released “Ne Zha” this year. This 3D animated fantasy adventure is loosely based on novel “Investiture of the Gods” by Xu Zhonglin using a popular character from Chinese mythology. The lush animation style of the Chinese film is all-encompassing, with sweeping landscapes and intense fight sequences that immerse viewers in the world of Chinese myth and legend.
While U.S. studios like Disney are known for adapting myths and stories from other cultures, those stories are filtered through a western worldview. By telling their own stories, China, India and other parts of Asia bring a unique and authentic perspective to animated storytelling.
Latin America is the rising star of the animation world. Colombia is a particularly interesting because the Colombian government supports animation projects. As a result, creators have the freedom to explore wider ranging ideas without the financial pressure of needing to pull off a box office hit. Colombian companies in particular and Latin American companies in general incorporate a wide range of art styles and story structures. Rather than aiming for realism, they choose the artistic representation that best conveys the story. Often this leads to fantastical scenes and constantly shifting perspectives.
A careful observer will notice that while the animation style is often fantastic in nature, the stories are frequently tech focused, exploring the impact of robots, social media networks and artificial intelligence.
Argentina is another country to watch. Home to elite animation studios, like Le Cube, the country has fully embraced the power of animation. Hosting the ANIMA – Córdoba International Animation Festival, gives Argentina international reach into the broader market. With many talented artists working to hone their craft, expect to see great things out of the Argentinian market very soon.
Anyone interested in animation should keep an eye on Nigeria. Since 2017, the Nigerian government has supported and promoted Nigerian animation for Nigeria and the world. Many Nigerian animators rely on hyper realistic animation to explore legends, history, and the reality of everyday life in Nigeria.
While the country is still growing its infrastructure Nigerian animators have big ambitions to get their work noticed on the international stage. Look for even more from them in the new decade.
In recent years, we’ve seen few feature-length animated releases come out of Britain. Most people, if they try to think of a British animated movie, likely think of Shaun the Sheep. The animation style in those movies and other British animations is distinctive and memorable, partly because it all comes out of one animation studio Aardman Animations in Bristol. But also because Aardman is still creating stop-motion, a style of animation most major studios have dumped for being too expensive. Although their sales don’t come close to Disney level, neither do their production budgets. Aardman, is thriving. The other Britian-based studio, Locksmith, has a deal with Warnerbrothers to distribute their computer animated films in the United States. Meanwhile, Aardman is working with Netflix to produce “Robin Robin” a stop-motion short film.
Meanwhile, Polish animators are tackling ambitious projects like “Loving Vincent” the world’s first fully painted feature film, and the gritty war-torn story of “Another Day of Life.” With cash rebates from the Polish government to encourage feature length films, expect to see even more edgy and convention breaking work from Poland.
Worldwide Animation Trends
This may not have the status of a “trend” just yet, but 2D animation might just be experiencing a resurgence. On Nov 15, Neflix released “Klaus” a 2D animated feature about the origins of Santa Clause. It’s cocreator, Sergio Pablos, worked on “Despicable Me” as well as 2D movie classics like “Tarzan” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Will this heart-warming film, combined with the nostalgia of the original Disney movies available through Disney+ bring 2D animation back into favor? It’s too early to say.
What is certain is that experimentation has always been a part of the creative process for animators and storytellers. It’s becoming even more prevalent as diverse cultures enter the animation conversation. “Marona’s Fantastic Tale” by Romanian Filmaker Anca Damian combines hand drawing, 3D animation, cut-outs, and other techniques to build a rich and emotionally compelling world. Watching this French-language film is like stepping into the sketchbook of a master post-modernist.
Animation is continuing to evolve as an important part of the global conversation. It’s a way to explore culture and society, and to create connections between people from different parts of the world. Into 2020 and beyond, animation will continue to help people of all cultures share their stories.