Quand le cinéma d'animation rencontre le vivant
Emru Townsend · September 9, 2006 | For the longest time, I've felt that animation's relationship to live action has not been a healthy one. The animation community's hackles are raised whenever live action intrudes on our territory; rotoscoping is often viewed with suspicion, motion capture (sometimes referred to as "Satan's rotoscope") more so. Conversely, the rest of the world privileges live action over animation. Live-action directors rarely direct animated films (and after they do, they tend to beat a hasty retreat), though once animation directors move to live action, there's a sense that they've "moved up." More to the point, the more live-action traits there are in an animated film, the more "sophisticated" it is; the more animation-related elements there are in a live-action film, the more "cartoony" it becomes—and that's not usually meant as a compliment.

Quand le cinéma d'animation rencontre le vivant
Edited by Marcel Jean
Les 400 coups, 2006
90 pages

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Like I said: unhealthy. Which is why the French-language Quand le cinéma d'animation rencontre le vivant, which looks at this relationship in a new light, is so vital. Edited and mostly written by writer and National Film Board of Canada producer Marcel Jean, the book serves as a companion to his series of retrospectives bearing the same name. (The English title of the retrospective series is "When Animation Meets the Living"; unfortunately, there is no English version of the book.)

Typically, the question of where the line is drawn between live action and animation is raised when obvious hybrids like A Scanner Darkly are released, and as technology pushes animation tools further into new realms, like motion capture. In "L'image composite: Une histoire de mutation," the book's first essay, Jean uses a historical perspective to simultaneously break down and reinforce these notions. He reminds us that live action and animation have been intertwined from its earliest days: James Stuart Blackton's 1906 Humorous Phases of Funny Faces was born out of Blackton's "lightning artist" stage act, so he was present throughout the film; likewise with the work of Winsor McCay, who went on to create the first animated documentary (The Sinking of the Lusitania) in 1918; the Fleischer brothers patented the rotoscope in 1915; and so on. But technology is an important part of this ongoing process. As new tools became available, the nature of these hybrids evolved, and the borders we drew up between live action and animation shifted to suit. A casual glance at the images sprinkled throughout the book drive this home, with stills from City Paradise, When the Day Breaks, Feet of Song, Tron, Jurassic Park, Ryan, Tango and more.

Quand le cinéma d'animation rencontre le vivant explores these notions with six essays and six interviews, each one dealing with different aspects of this conjoining. Animator and writer Pierre Hébert considers "les trois âges de la rotoscopie" (the three eras of rotoscoping) in an essay of the same name; Zbigniew Rybcznski, whose thirty-year body of work has often featured manipulation of live-action footage of people, discusses with Jean the aesthetic, practical and philosophical underpinnings of his methods; Raoul Servais explains the creation, use and eventual abandonment of "servaisgraphie," a method of compositing and animating live-action footage he devised in 1979, long before inexpensive computer technology made such tasks trivial.

The book's two biggest problems (though its lack of an index is significant) are that it's too short—I'd love to see more essays and interviews about the 52 films that make up the retrospectives and the 47 directors who made them, as well as the many films and creators already cited in the book—and its lack of an English (or any other) translation. Such a fresh exploration of a topic we thought we knew deserves to be experienced by as many people as possible.
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