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Is it Animated, or is it Real?

Here at YWAM Dunham, Quebec, we just finished shooting the first episode of Ginny—yet another short film—in the brisk outdoors, surrounded by muted autumn colors.

Having dabbled in 3D animation using Blender, and having been part of live-action filmmaking in both Quebec and Mongolia, I can honestly say that animation certainly takes more time—often a LOT more time. With live-action, the settings and characters of a story are often already there—with real people and real environments—just waiting for the camera.

Yes, I know… it’s not quite that simple! However, with animation all those story elements have to be created, frame by frame, by an artist (2D) or a modeler/animator (3D). So, the question I’ve had to ask myself is, “Why animate?”

It seems to me the most compelling reason is that animation allows the telling of stories that could not otherwise be told. Animation makes room for fantastical creatures and alien environments—figments of our imagination to come to life. It allows us to create our own worlds and to show those worlds to others.

A Combination

So, why not combine animation with live-action? Why not use the best characteristics of each art form into a single, cohesive film? That’s the journey I’m starting with “Ginny.” This project will serve as a proof-of-concept to integrate an animated character with live-action footage.

Traditionally, live-action and animated filmmaking have been highly distinct art forms, with minimal if any engagement between the two. As examples, Studio Ghibli and Pixar are known for their fanciful 2D and 3D animations respectively, whereas other major studios such as Paramount are known for their live-action films.

In recent years, however, this chasm between live-action and animation has been bridged with increasing regularity. Remember the dancing penguins in Mary Poppins (1964) and Disney’s experiment with Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)? In the years since, the number of films that combine live-action and animation has continued to grow into the hundreds, and there is no reason to believe that this trend will slow.

There seem to be three fundamental reasons for this trend. First and foremost, as already mentioned, animation and special effects enable the telling of stories that could not otherwise be told. Second, a solid base of live-action footage can substantially save on the labor, and hence the expense, required to make a film. Might it also ground the film in some semblance of reality? Third, the techniques and tools required to undertake animation, and to combine animation with live-action are becoming increasingly accessible to low-budget filmmakers with a very limited pool of personnel.

Examples of such developments are Blender, as being featured in Create Taiwan’s AniMissions Seminar. Rokoko is a company founded on a vision to make motion capture affordable and accessible. And software plugins for VFX workhorses such as Adobe After Effects and Blackmagic Fusion are becoming increasingly sophisticated, powerful, and affordable.

“The reality of a film lies in its ability to change hearts, minds, and lives…”

I just speculated that live-action might ground a film in some semblance of reality. What is reality, anyways? Is live-action more real than animation? For narrative filmmaking, I would answer, “No.” The reality of a film lies in its ability to change hearts, minds, and lives—its ability to transform individuals, families, and communities so that they are in a better place after having watched the film than before. That’s reality. That’s the Gospel.

- Hans W.

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