A subject raised in an Animation principles lecture drew my attention to some thoughts and ideas about the limitations of animation in relation to film.
Here are some examples of animations that I find induce ‘fear’. Most people may not find these very scary but they stuck out for me in different ways.
The Adventures Of Mark Twain (1985) – The mysterious stranger scene. This scene is rather infamous and on paper it sounds rather horrific; the children open a door to the abyss, a stranger appears — tells them its an angel and its name is Satan (also known as simply No.44 in earlier versions of the story), it brings small people to life and then gets them to kill each other. What is particularly unsettling to me (aside from the constant underlying reminder that oblivion is the only certainty) is the stranger himself. The model materialises from the ground and does not have a head but its face is a blank mask on a stick that warps into any expression and even the faces of recognisable people like the Mark Twain character himself (‘the devil has many faces’ I suppose). Watching it warp into more demonic faces of death as the small village people are being slaughtered does somewhat take you by surprise. He also whispers in a creepy layered pitch… and is Satan. Now the context alone is concerning but I believe the fact this is claymation amplifies the eeriness in comparison to 2D or even live action. Really this whole segment sort of comes out of nowhere if you’re unfamiliar with Twain’s work, considering the demographic for the film is children – and I checked; this film IS rated ‘U’.
BEDFELLOWS – This short has also worked its way around the internet and I think deserves a mention her as it it purely live action and I don’t think this could be achieved in 2D or 3D animation. This may be due to the fact that the creature in the bed is only freakish looking in comparison to the perfectly normal woman it is sharing the bed with. In any animation it almost impossible for the film not to have ‘style’ and if the people don’t look like people then the audience has a harder time relating to them. Here though we can all relate to feeling the safety of our own bed. But then with the obscure realisation that the occupant sharing it with you isn’t who you thought it was, the viewer can easily put themselves here. (Though the jump at the end gets you every time, it is rather cheap and doesn’t fill you with the same dread as the few seconds leading up to it)
Lights Out – very similar to the last but it truly does deserve a mention as it doesn’t build solely upon a jump-scare. The minor detail of having the frightening image appear without the aid of a loud obnoxious crescendo allows the information to be processed through the eye and the viewer must reacting to the visual rather than a sound which is often a very automatic response/reflex that the body does in a dangerous situation. Meanwhile, the brain didn’t get enough time to decide if the image was truly frightening. This is what I find a much more satisfying scare.
The Scooby Doo Project – The widely beloved gang are thrown into the literal world of a cult classic and infamously nightmare inducing story and personal I find the results are equally as haunting. Now, this may very well just be me but this really did shake my childhood – the gang are the same in places but their performance for the most part is very out character. The gang is often scared or getting chased by something but it almost never builds any kind of atmosphere and is usually broken up by quick satirical gags. It does make me wonder if this was actually intended to be a fun parody because I find it hard to see the light hearted coltish nature of the show. Not to mention the splicing together of true location film and layered cartoon characters is very unnatural for the subject; it just doesn’t seem to gel.
Though this is suppose to be a child friendly satire, it’s surprising it aired on Cartoon Network (though looking back a few years they aired Adult Swim cartoons during the early hours so that may be when this was shown)
So to sum up, I don’t see it as limitations – rather limited only by what you use and how you use it. These examples seem to support (if only in my own assumptions) that the splicing of the real and simulated medium can access some deeper chambers of the mind – if only where fear is concerned.