Total Recall

Total Recall: Beowulf and Ye Olde Tradition of Animation

Humans and animation mix and match in this week's Total Recall.

by | November 14, 2007 | Comments

These are heady times for live-action/animation hybrids.
This week, Robert Zemeckis updates the Old English poem
with some
help from Ray Winstone,
Angelina Jolie, and a whole mess of technology. Next
week, Enchanted, starring
Amy Adams and
, also adds a heavy
dose of animation to its fantasy world. With these flicks in mind, it’s a good time to
take a look at some other flicks that combine live-action and animation in
unconventional ways.

The blending of live-action and animation is nothing new, as
evinced by silent cartoons like Gertie the Dinosaur and
Max Fleischer‘s rotoscoped shorts featuring Koko the Clown. Now technology has advanced to the
point where some films, like the
Lord of the Rings
movies, blend
technology and live-action so seamlessly it’s sometimes hard to tell the
difference. What was once a novelty is now relatively commonplace. But before then, rotoscoped animation hit its turning point in the 1970s when director Ralph Bakshi established it as an artistic technique (and not just a trifle or cost-cutting measure) through a series of racially charged, frequently explicit animated movies.

By the mid-1970s,
Bakshi was
the American king of urbanely ribald animation with features like
Fritz the Cat

(53 percent), Heavy
(91 percent), and
. With 1977’s
Wizards (53
percent), he attempted something a little different. Conceptually, Wizards is a movie Walt Disney could get behind:
soulful, beautiful animation (as Bakshi described it) with bright colors,
fairies, and even a princess or two. In execution, he delivered post-apocalyptic
psychedelia, a bizarre fable about two brothers set millions of years in the
future. One brother is healthy and is nice to his mother, the other a mutant who
reconstructs 21st century weapon technology and breeds an army with
Nazi propaganda. A.H. Weiler of the New York Times calls it "a melange of
animation and live footage that [features] mystical, slightly scary and,
occasionally, comic tones." Contrasted with its Disney-esque color palette and
voice acting, this movie is like
the UNICEF Smurfs ad gone feature-length.

Bakshi used rotoscoping for a majority of the large-scale
battle sequences, a technique that requires an animator to paint and color live
footage. (Beowulf is a sophisticated variation on rotoscopes.) Elegant creatures
such as Snow White or Gollum can spring out of rotoscoping, but Bakshi had a
unique approach in films like Wizards and 1978’s
The Lord of the Rings

(50 percent): applying
just the right amount of detail and fluid motion, he turned objects into
grotesque apparitions. Perfect when you feel like animating the monstrosity of

The Wizards trailer.
(67 percent) was a commercial disappointment for Disney in 1982 and
it’s been a notoriously long and arduous journey to get a sequel greenlit. But
it’s hard not to think that there wouldn’t be all those troubles if the movie were just a teeny bit better. The premise is intriguing (Jeff Bridges gets zapped into a
computer, where programs have to gladiate against each other in neon suits) if
half-formed, while the pacing is beyond plodding. But it was the
special effects Disney was really banking on. Considering TRON can be
seen as the
progenitor of computer graphics-driven studio flicks, some of its effects hold
up remarkably well. "The movie’s innovative digital special effects were jaw-dropping
at the time and still seem pretty cool," writes Jeffrey Anderson of
Combustible Celluloid
. Indeed, there’s an elemental thrill in
seeing a digital airship gliding over a mountain range or light cycles speeding
around on grids.

TRON demonstrated that computer-generated scenes could
propel a narrative, a lesson that countless blockbusters have taken to heart.
Two years after TRON, Pixar released their first short (The Adventures of
Andre and Wally B.
) and people slowly began realizing that, goodness, these cumbersome computers can also make things funny, expanding even more upon the
future potential of the machine.

The light cycle scene from TRON.

‘s Waking Life (2001, 79 percent)
utilized rotoscoping for more philosophically-minded purposes. The movie tells
the story of a young man wandering around Austin, listening to a variety of
points of view about the nature of existence — all the while wondering if he’s
in the midst of an extended dream, or alive at all. Human actors were shot on
digital video, and different artists then overlaid the footage with a variety
of styles via computer (Linklater used a similar technique on
A Scanner
[67 percent]). The result has a textural beauty unlike virtually
anything else — sometimes impressionistic, sometimes cartoonish, Waking
‘s visuals add a sense of hyper-reality to its musings on the nature of

Despite its fascinating technique, Waking Life has
its detractors; some find the nearly non-stop philosophizing unbearable. But
within the expanse of talk, there is an overall air of optimism and wonder that
makes Waking Life hypnotic for those willing to plunge into it. And the
final monologue, in which Linklater himself tells our sleepy protagonist a story
about Philip K. Dick, is a knockout.
The Chicago Tribune‘s Michael Wilmington
called it "truly special, truly different — a wondrous talky roundelay about
and for people who love life."

A clip from Waking Life.

By no means are these films’ methods the only approaches pioneering animators have taken. If hyper-real meditations on war, reality, and existence prove too harsh, you can always opt for lighter fare: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (100 percent), Pete’s Dragon (60 percent) and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (100 percent) all represent disparate attempts to meld live-action and animation.

Tag Cloud

The Arrangement Tumblr Reality Anna Paquin dc Lifetime Christmas movies SDCC Heroines First Reviews Sci-Fi New York Comic Con Christmas LGBTQ kids Horror Turner mockumentary sequel latino Apple cartoon Tomatazos reboot Cosplay Rocketman Extras Pirates Music Rocky Sneak Peek Sundance TV revenge SundanceTV jamie lee curtis game of thrones Awards Universal anthology medical drama Sony Pictures Emmys children's TV Columbia Pictures Schedule Superheroe Mystery spain Netflix Christmas movies Paramount A24 renewed TV shows Superheroes SXSW Mindy Kaling 45 The CW harry potter Masterpiece true crime Awards Tour aliens Adult Swim docudrama San Diego Comic-Con robots GoT Box Office Dark Horse Comics Pop FX PaleyFest Reality Competition Film Festival Mudbound X-Men OneApp dragons breaking bad video BET CW Seed casting adaptation blockbuster dramedy FOX quibi spinoff canceled Chilling Adventures of Sabrina FXX movie Musical social media facebook RT21 crime thriller travel Discovery Channel historical drama Food Network Fox News Captain marvel teaser Rock police drama Syfy doctor who Marathons Lionsgate cancelled TV series cancelled crossover politics Oscars TV renewals Nat Geo Britbox TNT Showtime Disney Channel Star Trek 20th Century Fox President Mary Poppins Returns golden globes batman VICE 2019 USA Hallmark Christmas movies Family Amazon Prime Video 007 Netflix Amazon Studios 2015 2020 Cartoon Network psycho Apple TV+ Thanksgiving Song of Ice and Fire transformers Pixar toy story CBS Animation Grammys slashers cars TLC Certified Fresh A&E ABC 71st Emmy Awards Epix Lucasfilm rotten movies we love Brie Larson TBS Creative Arts Emmys Writers Guild of America binge Character Guide MCU diversity Calendar cancelled TV shows Acorn TV Drama Hulu crime Amazon Prime Mary poppins Sundance Disney streaming service TV Land cops Marvel Television WarnerMedia free movies Polls and Games Rom-Com Classic Film PBS TCA 2017 21st Century Fox Tubi Premiere Dates Sundance Now anime Warner Bros. directors Watching Series boxoffice Vudu science fiction Marvel Studios name the review finale cancelled television green book BBC sports DirecTV Best and Worst Comedy Central Comic Book DC Comics Turner Classic Movies Kids & Family Film Endgame The Purge strong female leads Biopics werewolf Freeform mutant Cannes romance Holidays 24 frames Baby Yoda canceled TV shows Martial Arts Crackle cinemax TCA Binge Guide HBO TV comic Mary Tyler Moore zombie series Comedy thriller Interview Ellie Kemper Arrowverse Toys TruTV Set visit Spectrum Originals Video Games History MSNBC war MTV spy thriller ratings Comics on TV foreign Stephen King Women's History Month zombies zero dark thirty American Society of Cinematographers Chernobyl dogs psychological thriller 2018 Esquire Shudder Shondaland GIFs Valentine's Day sitcom richard e. Grant joker adventure Winter TV based on movie Nominations Academy Awards ABC Family natural history Photos Spike Winners NBC Fall TV animated Avengers Television Academy IFC Films Red Carpet singing competition ITV TIFF USA Network Tarantino Western cooking book Holiday ghosts Hallmark nature El Rey Quiz comiccon witnail DGA Disney Plus DC Universe Trivia Peacock IFC cults GLAAD serial killer game show sag awards Disney Bravo YouTube Red spanish language HBO Max YouTube Opinion E! Summer technology Walt Disney Pictures romantic comedy movies Nickelodeon what to watch miniseries First Look National Geographic BBC America CMT hist Pride Month Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt AMC Fantasy Teen Black Mirror YA Super Bowl disaster screenings TCA Winter 2020 hispanic cats 2017 comics 2016 blaxploitation south america space Year in Review ESPN Lifetime Podcast political drama documentary unscripted Crunchyroll TCM The Witch Election Country YouTube Premium vampires period drama crime drama E3 halloween biography VH1 Starz CBS All Access Elton John Spring TV Pet Sematary festivals APB Paramount Network dceu supernatural DC streaming service Apple TV Plus composers Countdown talk show Ovation Musicals christmas movies television theme song discovery OWN screen actors guild WGN Ghostbusters justice league indie award winner elevated horror RT History Amazon versus Action LGBT spider-man CNN Marvel independent stand-up comedy Trophy Talk NYCC tv talk Emmy Nominations Disney+ Disney Plus streaming Infographic Star Wars See It Skip It Logo The Walking Dead Trailer