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Film enthusiasts know that movies come in an endless array of flavours. We’re talking from comedies, hair-raising horror and romantic movies, to name just a few. Today, we’d like to look at a rising subgenre that combines two different artistic mediums.

Source: Disney

We’re talking about live-action, or more accurately, the increasing phenomenon of animated characters co-existing on the same screen as famous Hollywood stars. After all, watching and an entire stable of Looney Tunes characters get up and slam (I’m ripping this off the Space Jam soundtrack so please don’t report me for suggestive language and inappropriate themes) with Michael Jordan can be the best thing since sliced bread if you’re a 10-year old.

Source: Space Jam – Bill Murray, Bugs Bunny, Michael Jordan

Some have called this genre “live-action”.

But for all the commercial success of such contemporary titles like “Guardians of the Galaxy” and even “Maleficent”– the label – ‘live-action’ doesn’t sit so well with everyone.

How far can we consider a video “live-action” when half of it is generated by a computer and not by a human actor?

Let’s trace the origins of this mutant medium.

The beginning of everything

When did it all first start?

Un Bon Bock (1888), known as ‘A Good Beer’ in English – is considered by most to be the first-ever animated film.

With the help of Theatre Optique; a smart, large-scale system which was able to project a strip of images or pictures onto a screen – French scientist Charles-Emile Reynaud was able to display the very first strip coloured film, painstakingly painted by hand. He was acknowledged for his efforts as the First Motion Picture Cartoonist.

Sadly, Reynaud closed his theatre in 1900 due to advancements in film technology at that time, courtesy of the Lumiere Brothers. He fell into depression and destroyed his machines, throwing his hand-painted shorts into the Seine River.
Thankfully, not all of his works were completely destroyed or lost. His last surviving film, Poor Pierrot (1982), is the only film out of his three original films screened in Paris in 1892 that is preserved to this day. Thanks to advancements in modern technology, Poor Pierrot has been restored and uploaded to YouTube for our viewing pleasure.

Let’s move a few years into the future – to the advent of Cinematography.

To put it simply, Cinematography is the technique of projecting many still pictures in rapid succession to create the illusion of movement. This is also how the term motion pictures or movies came about.

In 1897, J. Stuart Blackton, together with Albert E. Smith, founded the Vitagraph Company.

They came up with The Humpty Dumpty Circus (1898); Guinness claims that this was ‘the first animated piece to use the stop-motion technique’. This placed it amongst the likes of other esteemed firsts like Matches: An Appeal (1899, UK) and Edwin’s S. Porter’s Fun in a Bakery Shop (1902) – the first-ever stop-motion clay animation.

Sadly, while these films marked a milestone in animation history, they did not achieve critical acclaim.

It was only in 1906 that animated films started to gain traction with Blackton’s Humorous Phases of Funny Faces. It was the first cartoon that incorporated the singe frame method – projecting frames at the speed of 20 frames per second. It ran for a grand total of three minutes – a far cry from modern feature-length animations, but it catapulted animation squarely into the public eye.

Now, that we’ve covered the origins of animation – let’s take a look at how it was first integrated with human characters. Once again, we have Blackton to thank; he produced The Enchanted Drawing (1900) – better known as the first “live-action” film!

Starring in his own film, Blackton played the role of a chalk-talk artist, first drawing a round cartoon face of an old man. He then sketched various items like a bottle of wine and a glass goblet – removed them and showed the change in the elderly’s facial expression. To end it off, he incorporated all the elements back into the picture.

This film was considered to be the first live-action film as it incorporated both traditional two-dimensional drawings with tangible real-world three-dimensional objects.

Disney, on the other hand, only came into the live-action scene in 1950 with the release of Treasure Island.

During World War II, Disney faced financial troubles from worker strikes – the lack of animators and funds made it difficult for them to produce an animation, which was a very labour-intensive and time-consuming process.

That’s when Disney thought of live-action as an alternative. Seeing how popular the novel Treasure Island written by Robert L. Stevenson in (1883) was, they decided to take a shot and went ahead with the production of a film remake. They made three times their budget when the film was released in theatres.

The sterling profits sent Disney into a highly lucrative relationship with live-action.

The difference

Animation is a technique where pictures are manipulated to look like moving images. In the past, traditional animation was done through drawing or painting frames by hand on transparent celluloid sheets, also known as cels. These were then photographed and displayed on film.

Some better known hand-drawn movies include classics like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Hercules (1997), Peter Pan (1953), Sleeping Beauty (1959).
Nowadays, however, advancements in technology mean that animation is mostly done with computer-generated imagery (CGI) such as 2D and 3D animation.

Even an animation company as big as Disney has jumped on the bandwagon – their last hand-drawn animated film was Winnie the Pooh (2011).

Source: Winnie The Pooh

But we digress.

As we explained earlier in this context, the term “live-action” actually refers to a fusion of real human-beings and animation into the same cinematic space. So if you think about it, “live-action” is actually a bit of a misnomer.

You’ve probably seen at least one of such movie adaptations – even if you haven’t you may have a caught a glimpse of the trailer or advertisement somewhere on the Internet.

In the live-action version of Beauty and the Beast (2017), Emma Watson assumes the role of Belle and tames the Beast with her beauty and kindness. But mostly beauty; men can be such pigs sometimes.

Source: Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Source: Emma Watson in Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Meanwhile, the Beast is a massive fur-covered creature shaped like an inverted triangle who leads a highly reclusive life until he meets the lovable Belle.

Source: Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Source: Dan Stevens in Beauty and the Beast (2017)

However, even though the Beast does look extremely realistic – the actor Dan Stevens had it tough during the entire filming process.

He even described it as ‘an ordeal’, based on Clevver News.

Source: GIPHY

We can’t imagine why.

Here’s another example of a live-action movie – The Lion King remake from earlier this year.

Source: John Kani and JD McCrary in The Lion King (2019)

But wait – animals don’t speak. In fact, most of The Lion King was made with CGI – a total of 1,600 shots, in fact. At what point did the integration between animation and real life take place?

We’re going to cheat a bit and admit that live-action doesn’t always require the integration of human characters – sometimes, the incorporation of contemporary methods and tools – such as camera movement and lighting into the movie-making process can be sufficient to create a “live-action” product.

But why quibble? We clearly enjoyed the end product.

Disney’s live-action remakes: Best of the rest (based on box office sales)

We’re going to take a look at Disney’s stable of live-action movies to figure out which one has done the best. And since taste is highly subjective, we will, in the grand tradition of all auditors, follow the money.

Despite all the mixed reactions and criticisms for The Lion King’ – there’s no stopping movie-goers who adore the film. If we look at global box office sales, it racked up a total of $967.4 million in just 10 days.

Source: Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner, and JD McCrary in The Lion King (2019)

And just based on the 10-day gross alone – it managed to take first place with $350.8 million earnings among 10 of Disney’s other remakes.

Its success does not stop there. At the time of this writing, ‘The Lion King’ took home about $533 million domestically and $1.65 billion worldwide – making it Disney’s most successful live-action film in terms of sales.

Meanwhile, it has a decent rating of 7.0 on IMDB but holds 53 percent out of 100 ratings on Rotten Tomatoes – taking the eight place among 13 other Disney’s live-action remakes.

On the other hand, The Jungle Book (2016), has a 7.4 rating on IMDB and 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Pretty drastic difference, huh?

Source: Neel Sethi in The Jungle Book (2016)

Guess it goes to say that users with different opinions are flocking to various sites – the ratings are never a sure number. Then again, it only earned $966.6 million in box office sales – an unarguable loss when compared to The Lion King.

To summarise, The Lion King did make a killing in the box office sales – $1 Billion USD is nothing to cough at. But then again, commercial value and artistic value are two very different things.

Which one to go for

The real answer? There are no clear paradigms for which film technique to use.

This sounds like a cop-out – but it’s really the truth. In fact, if we really had to draw a conclusion, I suppose “it depends” is as good an answer as any.

If you have a tight deadline to meet, and a higher budget – live-action might be your solution. All you need is a location, equipment and cast, and you’re all set for a shoot. You then proceed to fill in the gaps with your VFX people in post.

But animation has its fair share of benefits too. In the words of a veteran cameraman, “if you want to become a better filmmaker, go watch some animated films because they do things with cameras that, while impossible in real life, will give you a couple of ideas when you’re planning your shots”. Animated videos are useful for simplifying elaborate topics and making them engaging for the audience.

Animation may be a little easier to manage than live-action too – mostly because it doesn’t require an entire cast of talents. Give the animator a heads up and the animated corporate video can be easily tweaked to your liking. After you add a couple of other animation bits like motion graphics and projection mapping to add some zest into your clip – you’ll let it reach its full potential for sure.

And to save the best for the last – animation can be more affordable, because live-action requires a lot more equipment such as cameras and lights – which can be prohibitively expensive.

Source: ARRI Announces New Features for ALEXA SXT

The Arri Alexa is USD 98,200. Or in more visceral terms, at least 50,000 things from Daiso.

To conclude, both videos can work for your business – it just depends on your objective. With the right pick – you’re all set on making a fantastic video to reel your audience in!

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