The Visual Effects Used in the Animation

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Table of contents

  1. Cinematic Elements
  2. Culture and Cinematic Effects
  3. Thematic Elements
  4. Culture and Themes
  5. Conclusion

Since the advent of cinema, film studios have not only been interested in live-action performances but animated stories as well. The popularity of Disney Studio’s early feature-length films compelled other major Hollywood studios to open animation divisions to compete. Now, animated films are commonplace in the world of feature films and the evolution of film animations to date has been cutting edge and rapidly changing. With the introduction of computers to the filmmaking arsenal, directors and animators have been able to design features that can often mimic the appearance of live-action films. Filmmakers have also used those same tools to create films with increased elements of fantasy and imagination.

The animated films I Lost My Body and Ghost In The Shell have capitalized on this groundbreaking technology, and their filmmakers have created masterful offerings in line with their aesthetics and cultural view. This essay will explore the visual effects used in the animation of both movies and the specific editing techniques each film employed to tell a story and invoke a sense of the cultural style. Also, this essay will discuss two themes present in both films - memory and identity - and the unique way in which each film addresses those themes in relation to the country in which they were made.

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Cinematic Elements

I Lost My Body and Ghost in a Shell are two highly stylized animated feature films, each a reflection of the directors’ stylistic trademarks;. yet, there are common qualitiesbetween them. The most prominent is their creators’ choice of animation as their vehicle of storytelling. “Animations are not a strictly-defined genre category, but rather a film technique, although they often contain genre-like elements''. In essence, animation falls under the umbrella of visual effects in filmmaking. Specifically, both I Lost my Body and Ghost in a Shell employ the use of digital animation or “animation inside three-dimensional computer space, aided by software to produce many photographic like effects”. In Ghost in the Shell, director Mamoru Oshii creates a world that is stylistically the model of what we know as anime action films. The animation was created using Digital Generated Animation or DGA:

The amazing DGA process takes hand drawn images, live action footage and audio then digitizes these components into data. The different elements can then be manipulated to achieve the desired result. Consequently, it is possible to create visual effects that were too difficult to achieve in the past. In Ghost in the Shell computer graphics and video composites were utilized. These were separated into 3 groupings: digital cell work, visual displays, and images perceived by the brain. Ghost in the Shell was groundbreaking at the time of its production and influenced the way subsequent animation was approached.

As a result, I Lost My Body has benefited from this revolution in computer technology and advancement in the last 2 ½ decades. Director Jeremy Clapin first created his film entirely using CG and then altered the scenes to give the film a more rustic character. In an interview Clapin discussed the process:

I Lost My Body looks 2D-animated, but it was in fact firstly made in 3D with the open-source software Blender. Then, Blender’s drawing and 2D animation tool Grease Pencil was used over the top of the CG animation to provide a distinctive look to the film. Doing it this way also allowed a real sense of camera movement that is harder to achieve in purely 2D drawn animation. Both directors, Oshii and Clapin and their filmmaking crews used digital animation to convey their vision, but on further analysis each chose a different path. In Ghost In the Shell, the filmmakers were looking to create photorealistic scenes. The animation director, Toshihiko Nishikubo explained: In our film, we strive for realism in movement and reaction down to the smallest detail. For instance in the scene where Kusanagi battles with a tank, notice the bullet hits. Normally when a bullet strikes a target, sparks are added. Live-action usually uses pyrotechnic squibs to enhance the impact...In our attempt to simulate reality as much as possible, we removed the sparks and animated the bullet strike the way they would actually look in real life.

However, Jeremy Clapin sought to express I Lost My Body’s scenes in a more imaginative and distorted way. Using 3D CGI, Clapin created a realistic framework in which to set the characters, scenes and most importantly the animation of the hand. He explained, “I wanted the hand to be tangible, and CG gave it real volume. Even when you draw 2D animation on top of the CG template you can feel the real depth in the shape, it’s not flat”. Yet, realism was never his final intention: “fully rendered CG animation feels cold, the artist believes, so fusing both techniques resulted in a much more immersive outcome”. Aguilar summed up this approach best when he explained, “For the final version, a hand-drawn universe was crafted to elevate the look of the CG images with pictorial stylization that imbues the world with a sense of poetry”. Ghost in the Shell and I Lost My Body not only have similarities and differences in their use of visual effects but also in the application of editing in their production. Specifically, both films rely heavily on the use of the cinematic editing technique of montages or “scenes whose emotional impact and visual design are achieved primarily through the editing of many brief shots”. Yet, the filmmakers utilize those montages for different purposes: Ghost in the Shell to reinforce the film’s aesthetics principles and themes and I Lost MyBody to further the narrative and give the viewer more context and history to the main characters life. Montages are an essential element in Ghost in the Shell and are used extensively in Director Oshii’s films. The composition of these conjoined clips are not usually filled with information that contributes to the direct narrative of the film, but instead provides an artistic and spiritual timeout and an opportunity for the viewer to observe the scene which would not be noticed due to the action which dominates the main storyline:

Oshii’s most remarkable montage sequence occurs in Ghost in the Shell...Midway through the film, Motoko Kusanagi, the film’s protagonist, gets on a boat in search of the film’s ostensible villain and Oshii provides a “pillow sequence” lasting two minutes and 34 shots that typifies his approach to montage. While Oshii creates a tension at the beginning of the sequence between the shots that are clearly from Kusanagi’s perspective and the more “objective” shots of buildings from high angles, these distinctions become increasingly irrelevant as the sequence goes on because the montage seems to open up a poetic space outside the diegesis. Within this space, Oshii recasts all the key visual tropes of the film – artificial bodies, mirrors, water, corridors, and crowded urban spaces – in a symbolic key. The images themselves are all derived organically from the Hong Kong location but the focus is not on their particulars, but rather on their role as part of a rich cinematic tapestry that captures the overall texture of life in a modern, rain-filled metropolis, a sensation that is reinforced by the ethereal chorus on the soundtrack. Montages are also integral in I Lost My Body, but more in the sense that they reinforce and support the main narrative of the story and give the viewer further context and history. The various montage scenes link together the past and the present, although at first, the viewer is not aware of their purpose: “During black-and-white flashback montages, seemingly unrelated vignettes cut together in quick succession crescendo into ‘aha’ moments, as you realize exactly what connects them all... I Lost My Body can explore incomprehensibly vast expanses of life in the span of a minute-long montage. On the other hand, it spends fifteen slow-moving minutes on a scene that is, essentially, the journey of a failed pizza delivery”.

Culture and Cinematic Effects

Visual effects and editing choices made by the filmmakers of Ghost in the Shell and I Lost My Body, evidently, were not just random. It is important to look to influences that caused those choices and how they were incorporated into the film. For the purposes of this paper, we will briefly discuss the cultural aspects of the filmmakers’ decisions.

Japan is known for its early adoption of computer technology, artificial intelligence, and robotics development and these technologies have heavily influenced art, music, and cinema in their country. “Technology was what Japan turned to as a means to assert itself as a world leader when military might was no longer an option. The wire-encrusted dystopias of ‘90s anime are the natural outgrowth of a country brought to its knees by nuclear warfare that threw itself into a tech explosion”. Ghost in The Shell mimics Japanese cultures incorporation of technical imagery, but the film also uses that technology almost as if it is an additional character in the film both literally and figuratively. On the other hand, France is known for embracing Avante Garde art and its self-created genre of french impressionism. These elements seem to be a direct influence of the visual style and effects choices in I Lost My Body. Clapin’s use of the grease pencil tool in Blender’s open source CGI software allowed him to draw lines and shape in his film, giving the images the sense that they are a 2D painting or drawing in the impressionist style and artist look. In addition, the French animation industry and its values may have played a part in Clapin’s visual decisions. Alex Dudock de Wit wrote:

As with film in general, France has valued the role of the auteur – the lone animator struggling against financial imperatives to realise his or her vision – since the birth of the medium. In constant competition with the line-produced, powerfully marketed, compulsively watchable cartoons churned out by the likes of Disney and Warner Bros., French animation has come to define itself in opposition to American styles. Its dominant mode of production remains small-scale, artisanal, and centred on artistic merit as well as marketability.

French animators consider themselves as artists first and foremost. As stated earlier, the look of 3D CG does not lend itself to the look of museum quality art which the French prize, so Clapin flattening the images and adding the line drawings plays into the french aesthetic and gives the film its classically French look.

Thematic Elements

Who we are and what we are are the foundations of what we call our identity. In Ghost in the Shell and I Lost My Body, situations cause various characters to struggle to define themselves in their respective worlds. Events and personal choices have left them with questions about who they are and what they represent in the world. In addition, both films feature events that cause the characters to question whom they believed they were up until that point. In I Lost My Body, the protagonist Naoufel, loses his parents and his homeland early in the film. These are two major elements that most children use to define themselves

in the world. In Ghost in the Shell, humans' brains are being “hacked” and fabricate memories of people and events are implanted. What both films are exploring is the notion of a relationship between that human identity and memories. Real or perceived, it can be argued that humans define themselves by memories of those we love and events that we have experienced. Our relationships and the titles we acquire from those relationships - mother, father, son, etc. - bestow on us an identity. Naoufel hangs onto the memories of his parents and their time with him by listening to the tapes he made as a child. His memories act as an anchor and reminder that he is someone. When the human garbage collector finds out that he does not have a wife and child, and they are the result of fake memories, he resists the notion that he has been deceived. Self-Identity is defined by our past, but if that past is gone, who are we?

The films also explore the question: if we give up our past, can we redefine ourselves and create a new identity? Both films seem to say yes, but the characters' transformations are completely different. Identity change is just hinted at in I Lost My Body. Naoufel loses his hand and the girl he loves, abandons his tapes and takes a leap of faith onto the building crane. These actions seem to be an indication that he is letting go of the past and starting to build a new future. Ghost in the Shell, however, is more explicit in its portrayal. Motoko “merges” with the “puppet-master” and emerges as a self-described third being: No longer Motoko or the “puppet-master” but a combination of both. In reality, as quickly as the new choices are made, those events, too, become memories that further add to our “new” identity. But, in the world of film, the narrative ends, and we can imagine that the characters have redefined themselves.

Culture and Themes

Memory and identity are universal themes that are relevant to people from both France and Japan. Yet, because these two aspects are largely personal and invoke individual feelings, it is hard to pin down the cultural influences that may have influenced Ghost in the Shell and I Lost My Body in relation to them. In addition, although Japan is a collectivist country Ghost in the Shell does not address or present it’s characters supporting this notion. So where we would possibly be able to observe differences in relation to collectivism and individualism and their influence on memory and identity in the films, we do not have that opportunity.

Conclusion

Both Ghost in the Shell and I Lost My Body epitomise what exceptional animation, cutting edge technology and thoughtful narrative can bring to the world of cinema. Clapin and Oshii and their respective crews use animation as a vehicle for adult messages and themes that have earned respect among their peers and the viewing audience. Through the use of visual effects and editing, influenced by the countries in which they were made, both films give the viewer a subtle taste of what their cultures hold dear. It is interesting to note that French and Japanese animation both developed around pop culture literature. In Japan, anime is based on manga comic books. In France animated film is the “cinematic expression” of the bande dessinée, or graphic novel. Each culture starts from a similar origin and arrives at a unique expression. Yet, the choices made for and in both Ghost in the Shell and I Lost My Body impart the emotion and influence the filmmakers wished to convey making both presentations a success.

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The Visual Effects Used in the Animation. (2022, November 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 16, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-visual-effects-used-in-the-animation/
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