November 25, 2005
fps got its start because I'm interested in the boundaries between different styles, techniques and animation cultures—or rather, I'm interested in exploring the connections that transgress them, because most of these boundaries are artificial in any case. Kino Kid calls them border crossings. I call them gray areas.
Whatever you want to call them, I think this year has been fantastic for them—look no further than The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello, which combines new-school three-dimensional computer graphics with old-school silhouette animation, à la Prince Achmed.
I just finished watching the pilot for Skyland, a coproduction between Method Films in France and 9Story in Canada that uses anime as its jumping-off point. They make no bones about it; the Skyland demo that's been on 9Story's website since last year uses music from Akira Symphonic Suite as its soundtrack. Like my two other favourite East-West hybrids, Avatar: The Last Airbender and Teen Titans, Skyland doesn't take the slapdash let's-mimic-anime approach favoured by Invasion: America and the unwatchable Loonatics. You can tell that the creators studied a wide range of anime from various perspectives, and took the best of what they needed. Teen Titans, Avatar and Skyland all feature rich backgrounds, strong poses and frame compositions, designs that immerse you in another world, scores that are true to the shows' genres, and a reluctance to soft-pedal certain aspects because, you know, they're cartoons.
Skyland is also a hybrid in that it uses CG and motion capture along with cel shading. At present it's sort of an imperfect experiment. The backgrounds are the best part; they have all the complexity and solidity of CG, but with the painterly look that's straight outta Miyazaki's films. (Look at Skyland's blocks of Earth floating in the sky and just try not think of Laputa: Castle in the Sky. Go on, I double-dare you.)
The characters are a different matter, though, closer to the MTV Spider-Man than to Kakurenbo. Their biggest problem is that they don't sit still—they bob and shift their weight, like real people being told to move for the sake of movement. There's also that literalness that rotoscoped work tends to have. Their second biggest problem is their dialogue, which is just a little forced in terms of script and execution. One or the other wouldn't be insurmountable (the original Star Wars trilogy shows that good things happen when you combine good performances with B-movie dialogue; the second trilogy shows what happens when you mess up both), but the two combined are just off enough to be problematic.
The story, too, seems a bit formulaic (though I like the idea of good guys and bad guys both trying to fulfill a prophecy to their own advantage—very Neon Genesis Evangelion), but as it's only the first episode, there's plenty of potential for surprises later.
However, none of these negatives detract from the pleasure of watching Skyland and seeing a show created with such obvious care. The show has such a good visual foundation that I'm willing to wait to see if everything else comes together.
Skyland comes out January 14 in North America, Europe, Latin America and Australia. The channels I know of are Nicktoons, Teletoon, France 2, ITV, and ABC (Australia). Nick and Teletoon are airing sneak previews of the pilot tomorrow night.