What happens when animators get the green light to produce what they want? You get Netflix Love, Death and Robots, an anthology series designed to remind viewers that cartoons aren’t just for kids. You’d think that would be a foregone conclusion in 2022, decades after anime has gone mainstream, Adult Swim’s irreverent comedies have taken over dormitories, and almost every network/streaming platform has its own “edgy” animated series (arcane and Big mouth on netflix, Invincible on Amazon Prime).
Still, it’s all too common for the medium to be diminished. This year’s Oscars established the award for Best Animated Feature as something entirely for children, prompting filmmakers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller to do so (The Lego Movie, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse), to demand that Hollywood elevate the genre instead. Even Pixar’s library of smart and engaging movies is still not considered a “grown-up” story.
Love, Death and Robots, which has just released its third season on Netflix, feels like a crash course in the unlimited storytelling potential of animation. It hops off from a cute entry about robots exploring the remains of human civilization (the first installment in the series, 3 robots: exit strategieswritten by sci-fi author John Scalzi), to an almost silent, visually lush game of cat-and-mouse between a deaf soldier and a mythical siren (Jibaro), to a harrowing tale of whalers being boarded by a giant man-eating crab (Bad travelthe first animated project directed by series co-creator David Fincher).
Jennifer Yuh Nelson, Supervising Director for Love, Death and Robots, Engadget says the animation industry has certainly made strides when it comes to telling more mature stories. “Everyone who works in animation has talked about doing more adult stuff, because that’s the way it is [about] the freedom to explore the full spectrum of storytelling,” she said. “They’re not trying to do things for a certain age group.”
But, she says, the animators were also told that the audience wasn’t necessarily there for mature projects. “I think it needs a show like that [this] to prove that it works [work]and that gets the whole business and the whole corporate town to basically look around and say, ‘Oh, that’s a viable thing that people really want to see.'”
Series co-creator Tim Miller (Deadpool, Terminator: Dark Fate) also points to the power of video games, which have been telling mature narratives with interactive animation for decades. This is another industry that was initially thought of as children’s toys, but has evolved through the rich storytelling of indie projects such as B. has matured considerably Kentucky Route Zeroto big budget blockbusters like The last of us. Games and animation are practically evolving together, with audiences demanding more complex ideas and creators who grew up with previous generations of these media. You don’t get to the excellent Disney+ remake of duck stories, or newer from Sony God of Warwith no fondness for the simple pleasures of the originals.
“Animation has grown so much, reflecting the tastes of the people making it and the people watching it,” says Nelson. “It’s a generational shift. People demand a certain level of complexity in their story, and that’s why they’re not princess movies anymore.”
With every season of Love, Death and Robots, Nelson says she and Miller are focused on finding stories that evoke a sense of “nerd joy.” There is no overarching theme, rather they look for projects with scale, emotion and a potential to be visually interesting. And while none of the shorts have yet been adapted into standalone series or films, Nelson notes that’s a possibility, especially as some writers have explored other ideas in these worlds. (I would definitely love to see these three whimsical robots making fun of humanity for an entire season.)
The series also serves as a showcase for a variety of animation techniques. Some shorts feature meticulously designed CG while others like it Bad travel Use motion capture to preserve the subtleties of an actor’s movement or face. Jerome Chen, the director of the military horror short film Buried in vaulted halls, relied on Unreal, which makes his piece feel like a cutscene from a game I’m dying to play. And there’s still a lot of love for more traditional 2D techniques, like the wonderfully gory Kill team kill (Director: Nelson, far from her playful Kung Fu Panda sequels).
“Technology doesn’t replace art, but experimentation allows these studios to find ways to do things better,” Nelson said. “[The show gives] Freedom for all these different studios to try their own language.”
Miller has a slightly different view, saying on some level it’s like “technology is the art and they’re kind of mixed together”. While agreeing with Nelson, who was quick to point out that “artists can make art with a stick,” Miller said you still need a certain level of sophisticated technology to create photorealistic stories.
The great thing about an anthology series like Love death and robots? Both philosophies can coexist while demonstrating the power of animation.
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