Recent Read: The Anime Machine


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Tuesday, May 25, 2010


In The Anime Machine, Thomas Lamarre has a smart, cute way of describing the difference between full and limited animation: “Drawing the movement (full) vs. moving the drawing (limited.)” Limited animation is sliding planes of drawings, done by moving a drawing a little bit, taking a picture, and then again. This has created so many interesting, inventive ways of communicating depth on a two-dimensional playing field- as opposed to moving through space like in Pixar animation or Tekkon Kinkreet environments where the drawings are somehow (I have no idea how) mapped onto three-dimensional spaces for the camera to move around in.

The most common example is when a camera zooms out from a drawing and objects in the foreground slide from the sides to the center of the frame. Obviously, this doesn’t happen in real life; nothing is flat. We’d see the side of the objects as we move past them. But our brain fills in the gaps and it creates the illusion of moving backward in space. This is aided by our acceptance of live-action camera zooms, which flatten the picture plane (like in Barry Lyndon.)

But there are so many other ways limited animators have used sliding planes to invent approximations of reality. Take the opening scene (0:48) from the original Vampire Hunter D movie (1985, the high point year of limited animation I think), where Doris is moving through brush as she walks away from the camera. Her legs and the brush on the side is a loop animation while grass slides from right to left in the foreground. Again, this doesn’t make sense in reality but it somehow creates the illusion of the camera following her through the grass. 1985 Robotech is filled with these little inventive ways of depicting space using sliding planes of still drawings.

From page 204 of Lamarre’s book: “…as limited animation deemphasized full animation of characters, it increasingly stressed character design, and the degree of detail and the density of information became as important as line, implied depth, and implied mass.” I’d never made the connection between anime’s emphasis on character design/costuming and limited animation before. I wonder if the wide view images of character’s costumes in manga, usually fitted into a side tall column of a page, like in Ah! My Goddess! and Clamp’s work (and a million other things) was influenced by watching limited animation anime, or knowing their works would be adapted to limited animation, where a character is usually introduced by a slow pan over a still image of the person. The Anime Machine also has this great quote by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto on character design:

“I designed the characters so that their personalities could be more or less understood at a glance.  For example, even the color and length of the hair expresses personality.”

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2 Responses to “Recent Read: The Anime Machine”
  1. J. Overby says:

    Contextual signifiers are such an important part of comics. Chester Gould, Curt Swan, Carl Barks, Jaime Hernandez all work with character designs that allow individuals to be distinguished at a glance. Panter’s Jimbo is an interesting example. In Adventures in Paradise Jimbo is depicted differently throughout but his pug nose and punk haircut make him easily readable as him. Wilson takes advantage of this too, of course. Anyway, nice one.

  2. […] sliding still images, that don’t require multiple, new drawings. I wrote a bit about this for a Comics Comics blog post on the book The Anime Machine. It’s understandable why limited animation gets a bad rap: it was […]