It’s Time to Tear Down the Wall Between Animation and Live Action

It’s Time to Tear Down the Wall Between Animation and Live Action

October 28, 2021

The entertainment industry for years has drawn a stark line between live action and animation. Like most arbitrary divisions, its demarcation has more to do with the way things have always been than the way things should be; it’s a divide that deeply stifles innovation in storytelling.

In the last several years, we have seen a similar wall — one between film and TV — come crumbling down. Films, noted for their creative cachet, have since made space for prestige television, as a renaissance of premium streaming series have flooded our channels. Similarly, many contend that we’re at the dawn of the golden age of animation as the adult animation category grows and begins to redefine what we expect from the genre. Particularly in the United States, where the category has been traditionally limited to comedy and family-focused content. By continuing to adhere to and propagate outdated distinctions between what constitutes animation versus live action in the way we make and pay for projects and reward creatives, we inevitably reinforce an arbitrary divide. In reality, some of the most innovative work is happening in that delicious gray area in between.

Trioscope is a unique filmmaking technology that fuses live action with animation for a groundbreaking, moving, graphic-novel experience, fully exemplified by our first series, “The Liberator,” which recently launched on a prominent streaming service. After submitting the series for Emmy consideration, we immediately were asked, “Isn’t this animated?” and “Who performed the voices?” We explained that we use our patented technology platform to film actors’ performances the same way that any traditional live-action movie or series is shot. We then stylize the finished product to create the feel of animation. Once clarified, our Emmy submission was reclassified as live action, but then a new question arose: “This is animated, right?” It became clear that we were in no-man’s land.

For Trioscope, it’s all about creating a story experience that blends the full emotional fidelity of a big-budget drama with the limitlessness of animation to form a stirring and highly stylized result. Our backgrounds and visual effects are all created by CG artists, and we capture actors’ performances natively on a sound stage before shaping something that looks like animation, but is fully alive like live action. So, is “The Liberator” an animated series or live action? Though it classifies as both, it is something else altogether. Consequently, it’s been a big success on streaming, attracting a wide audience of live-action drama fans AND animation lovers, while disrupting typical genre definitions.

“The Liberator” is neither the first nor the only hybrid project challenging the old norms. In fact, it’s the latest evolution in a tradition of stylized live action/animation hybrids dating back to rotoscope films, such as “Wizards” and the 1978 “Lord of the Rings,” which ran through “Waking Life” and “A Scanner Darkly,” to newer iterations, including “Undone” and “Loving Vincent.” Like “The Liberator,” these films deliberately aim for a highly-stylized but emotive viewing experience with the express purpose of evoking a new emotional response not found in traditional live action or animation. More broadly, adult animation, as a category, has grown to include stories in the last decade that typically would have been made by their live-action industry peers. For example, many assert that the most contemplative meditation on depression on TV in the last 10 years was “Bojack Horseman.” “Love, Death and Robots” consistently subverts genre norms and pushes the envelope with narratives that animation can tackle — a trend that has surely been influenced by the worldwide growth of Japanese anime amongst adult viewers over the last several years.

We’re now in an era where several generations have grown up with flashy video game cinematics and spectacle-driven feature films, loaded with stylized CG effects and, in many cases, computer-generated characters. Relating deeply to this kind of entertainment is now second nature, so it’s no surprise to see the recent wave of upcoming video game adaptations migrating to the streamers. Games like “League of Legends: Arcane,” “Assassin’s Creed” and “Cyberpunk 2077” are all being adapted into longform series, reflecting the world in which today’s audiences live. They consume content across all media and want their world rocked. And they’re equal opportunists about who is rocking it.

While there’s an appetite for ambitious, non-traditional storytelling formats, industry convention is the impediment. Typically, buyers of dramatic series haven’t worked with animation, and the adult animation buyers, who traditionally buy irreverent adult comedy, have little experience with nuanced dramatic series. As we sell our hybrid projects, we frequently hear, “You need to talk to ‘so-and-so’ in the animation group,” or “I’ve never bought animation before, so I don’t understand it.” Our technology, process and budgets are not immediately understood by potential buyers, at least until we sit down to explain Trioscope’s production methodology.

But while buyers and awards bodies might not fully comprehend the new genre yet, creators absolutely do. In many ways, this new hybrid form of storytelling is the medium for which writers, directors and showrunners have been waiting; blending the best of the rendered and live-action worlds allows them the full freedom to invent with limitless potential. They’re able to shed the traditional constraints of cost versus scope, scale or setting. Imagine harnessing all the benefits of premium VFX and animation (boundless settings, defiance of physics, limitless spectacle, etc.) while retaining all the emotive powers of a great live-action performance from your favorite actors – all at a fraction of the cost. That’s the best-case scenario for a storyteller. As an emerging company, we’ve experienced a disproportionate amount of excitement and interest from many of the world’s greatest filmmakers. They’re eager to explore how this new approach can free their prized passion projects from traditional shackles and help get them made. They now can envision the infinite possibilities.

It’s time for our industry to recognize the convergence of conventional genres as they meld into new forms of innovative storytelling to redefine how content is better made, bought and delivered to an immersed audience.

There’s no better way to begin breaking these barriers than by declaring a new dawn of storytelling that affords creators a fresh form of expression and audiences a contemporary viewing experience. And most importantly, something that doesn’t carry the baggage of the word “animation.”

Let’s call this new form Hybrid Entertainment, to mark a conscious shift from the old to the new and give us flexibility to imagine, create and transcend.

This article was written by L.C. Crowley, CEO of Trioscope. 

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