Looking at these gifs really reminded me of something I feel weird about with modern 3D animation. It’s combining really cartoony designs of humans (eg - Toy Story’s humans, Brave, Up, even Tangled) with human-realistic body actions. Here we see it used in 2D back in the old days, and perhaps to me it feels less out of place here than it does in modern 3D works. Perhaps because I find the extrapolation of the 2D symbols still makes it “cartoony-enough” to my brain for it to not start smacking against the edge of the Uncanny Valley’s walls. You can also see stuff like this in Iron Giant and Lilo & Stitch. I love these movies and I don’t feel jerked out of the story when I see these kinds of movements (copied from film, imagination, reference, or otherwise) combined with lovely, somewhat (or greatly) exaggerated 2D designs.
But when I see it in 3D stuff, it really can jar me out of the experience. maybe it’s because combined with the semi-realistic lighting, texture/shader rendering, hair physics, and all those beautiful things I love about 3D animation, it’s too much. It makes something in my brain twitch and say, “So where’s the next shot of them flapping a fly away from their face, or licking their lips, or shuffling to the side or whatever?” which are the kinds of unconscious actions we see in live footage of humans, which we don’t see in 3D animation almost at all because it detracts from the delivery of the scene, or it’s superfluous, or there’s not enough time/money, or all of the above. When you study animation, you’re encouraged to think about subconscious and conscious motivations for actions, but not unconscious (necessarily), and so much of human action does happen on that unconscious, instinctual level.
I will put a qualifier on that though: I find this only applies to stories featuring human characters. I don’t have as much of a problem with somewhat excessively human characteristics being used in the animation of animals in 3D, or robots, or dragons, or whatever. It doesn’t have the same effect on me, probably because these things aren’t human-enough in their body shapes and/or actions. I recently went to a two-day lecture in Melbourne by some Pixar employees and the person talking about animation mentioned repeatedly that Pixar takes a “physicality first” approach to animal motions. That is: First they make sure that the actions of the animal characters who are “humanised” are still animal-like, and then they put human physicality on top of that. Some examples he used was how they studied fish and rat physicalities for all their work on Nemo and Ratatouille, to make sure the fish moved like fish in the water (and not like people in fish-suits) and the rats did things like pick up and carry objects in a rat-like way (not in a person-in-a-rat-suit ala Cinderella). I found this aspect of animation also made me like Rio a lot, even though I know that film received a mixed reception from animators and the general public alike, because I found the beauty of the birds acting like birds carried the film for me.
If I had to draw a line in the sand, I’d say that line is somewhere around How To Train Your Dragon, which I adore, but which was the first movie where I really started noticing the effect this combination of design and motion started having on me. I know I mentioned Up in an earlier paragraph, but I didn’t like that film very much so I probably didn’t notice enough to care. I think it can also depend on who is doing the animating, what their experience is, what the art direction of the film is like animation-wise, and so on. I haven’t seen The Croods yet but I figure I will probably have the same reaction to that when I do, because just the trailers are making me twitch.
But this is just me. I know not everyone has this issue, and I know even people who are animators/have studied animation don’t fee the same way about this thing as I do. But it’s a thing this gifset made me think about, and I think it also connects to styles of animation over history, and maybe about how we’re coming back around to the beginning again, with hyper-realistic human movements, either based on recorded human movements (eg - with motion capture and so on being similar to the earlyish experiments in rotoscoping and/or Don Bluth’s tragic career) or a mixture of recorded reference and imagination bringing us almost to the same point.
Sorry, that was a longer post than I expected.