The Key Difference Between Disney and Studio Ghibli

Disney and Studio Ghibli are often compared when it comes to making really great animation. Both continue to push the envelope of what animation is and what it means to tell an animated story. However, both see progress in a different light and go about achieving it in contrasting ways.

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Studio Ghibli, Disney, and The Range of Their Brands

Both Disney and Studio Ghibli have very strong brands in their respective home markets. Both are famous for their animated feature films. However only one can be said to be more truly representative of the dramatic range that animation is capable of. That entity is Studio Ghibli, who release all their material under one brand. In contrast, Disney uses multiple brands for their releases, restricting the core one for family-friendly content exclusively. Why does this perplexing situation exist?

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Like it or Not, Disney Means TV Not Movies

Disney Channel logo

No-one can deny that Disney has long meant more than just animated films. Heck, even Walt was about much more than what he is most famous for. Starting in the 1980s though, was a sizeable and dramatic shift towards markets and products that would lead the company far from its theatrical, and animation, roots. Today, Disney is a true multi-national conglomerate with a presence in just about every corner of the media landscape.

Exactly How Is Disney a TV Company?

It’s easy to forget just how small the actual ‘studio’ part of the enterprise is, but Derek Thompson at The Atlantic has this nice pie chart to illustrate things for us:

Via: The Atlantic
Via: The Atlantic

At just over 7% of the total, the studio division is, well, insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Of course that’s the entire studio sector: Disney itself plus Pixar plus Marvel plus Lucasfilm. All told, Disney could hack off its studios entirely and still do all right for itself.* As Thompson puts it:

…at its core, the Disney company draws its largest and most dependable source of income from subscriptions fees that power its cable networks … even though casual newspaper readers could be forgiven for thinking the company lives and dies by the opening weekend of its summer blockbusters.

And that’s the brilliant thing about Disney. The movie business is a rotten thing. American audiences don’t go the movies every week, so they have to be lured with egregiously expensive marketing campaigns for a handful of tentpole movies that, if they blow up, can destroy quarterly earnings for the film division and take down careers. The TV business is somewhat the opposite. The subscription fee model (wherein a sliver of your cable bill goes straight to the networks’ pockets) guarantees that cable networks get paid with or without a “hit.”

Long story short, where Disney makes its money, despite pleas to the contrary, is nowhere near its feature films. Do they [have to] make money? Sure they do, but to use some business-speak, the corporation’s ‘core competency‘ has next to nothing to do with features, let alone animated ones.

The Bottom Line

Sometimes tough love is what’s best, and in this case, I have to say that anyone who either a.) believes that Disney still has a true passion for feature animation or b.) has any serious reason for bringing back traditional, hand-drawn animation is deluding themselves. The company lives (and dies) by ESPN these days, and you can bet they will continue to sideline animation as long as that is the case.

*Of course features still count; they are after all the engine of many different parts of the empire (particularly merchandise) but the TV division is even more so. If Disney features disappeared tomorrow, there effect would be only temporary. Any argument that they are quote/unquote ‘essential’ is inaccurate at best.

Week Links 27-2013

Six crazy weeks of school are finally over, and after taking 6 credits (that’s two classes or four nights a week) you better believe I’m completely and utterly exhausted. That said, posting should resume on a more regular basis with a post a day. In the meantime, here’s a few week links for you to peruse.

Report from SAS 25: “Redefining Animation”

Harvey Deneroff gives a full account of the recent Society for Animation Studies conference in Los Angeles. By all accounts, it’s a great event for anyone interested in the more academic side of animation.

The decline of Disney

The title is slightly misleading because we all know that Disney (the company) is doing great. What Jaime Weinman at Macleans is concerned about in this piece is Disney (the studio) and the rapid decline of its output and the resulting sidelining of its impact on the overall Disney company. You don’t have to be blind to see that Disney is relying more and more on either acquisitions or outside partners to produce its films, but you might inadvertently miss the shift in style that has occurred over the last 20 years.

Olly Moss’ Studio Ghibli Posters

Via: Olly Moss
Via: Olly Moss

Need I say any more? Click through for the Howl’s Moving Castle one.

A Simple Thought: Go Big. (And Stay Simple.)

Ken Fountain has this great post that looks at the ‘cartoony’ style of animation and how best to achieve it. Lots of great points and yes, the key is to go big and to stay simple.

SpyVibe: Shane Glines Interview

Glines Retro

How could you not read this? Glines discusses his style and many classic influences in this sizeable interview.

Tweets of the Week

A lot of great and prolific tweeting this week!








Animation Idioms from 1938 You Might Find Relevant

Disney tryout book idioms
Via: Animation Resources

Today’s post was going to be about linking the seminal artist tryout book for Disney from 1938, but as I was reading it over on the Animation Resources blog (and you ought to as well), I decided instead to focus on the little idioms scattered throughout. Although merely complimentary to the book as a whole, on their own, they serve as a powerful reminder of what animation is really all about.

In today’s hectic world, it can be easy to forget that at its core, animation is a format of expressing artistic creation. It is disheartening to see it sometimes reduced to mere entertainment or as a babysitter for kids. Walt Disney strived to push the animation technique and the idioms below embody that spirit; coming as they do from an early high-point in the history of the Disney studio.

If anything, I hope you take away from this post and these idioms, the idea that animation can and should be more than simply a job with an artistic theme. Creating art than can inspire, entertain and stand on its own for many years ought to be the goal of any studio, not just ones confined to the history books.

The Idioms

The first duty of the animator is to caricature life and action for the audience.

The animator brings to life the inherent possibilities of a good story or funny gag.

To synchronize an action to its background the animator must compose an ever-changing picture.

Upon the animator’s ability to dramatize personality and action depends the success of the story.

The animator brings to life the director’s visual conception of timing, acting, and continuity.

To coordinate drama, music, action, and graphics, the animator must work with all the arts.

The animator, through experimentation, has opened a new field of expression for the artist.

Have you any of your own? Why not share them with everyone in the comments.


Sexy Disney Princess Warriors And The Limit of Tasteful Fan Art

Stretching the limits of what this blog will cover animation-wise, the topic of today’s post nonetheless commands attention. We’ve all seen what fans are capable of doing to beloved characters for their own amusement. Heck, deviantArt is filled to the brim with established characters contorted into all sorts of different manners; anime-isation is a popular one among others. However, where does the limit of tasteful fan art lie and what harm can it cause? The topic of today’s post straddles that limit and challenges what some would consider acceptable.

Meet the Disney Princess Warriors


Yes, (individual shots to follow), they are a sight aren’t they? (Thanks a bunch Geekologie!) While there is no denying artist Mike Roshuk’s artistic talents, one must nonetheless consider in what taste his creations lie. Are they classified as fan art? Absolutely; there’s little reason to see any legal conflicts with them. That said, where do they stand on the emotional and scale of good taste?

What They Produce

Disney Warrior Princess-2

There is a ton of blogs devoted to the portrayal of female characters in a diverse range of media (this one is a favourite), but it is video games that seem to be attracting the most attention as of late. If it isn’t the stature of girl gamers within the community, it is the portrayal of female characters in games that garners attention and provokes debate (or rather, harrassment).

While the obvious argument is that a lot of games are created to appeal to males (and rabid, hormone-addled teenage ones at that), that does not excuse the logic that the portrayal of female characters in either subservient or slave-like roles is necessary and even required to be successful.

Video games have been shown to have [relatively] minimal impact on player’s emotions and their ability to separate fiction from reality. There does not appear to be a lot of data regarding the impression that such games can have on their opinions however. If male gamers (and especially impressionable ones at that) are fed a constant stream of content portraying female characters in such roles, then there is the possibility that such views carry over into their opinions of girls and women in the real world.

Where They Subjugate the Characters

Disney Warrior Princess-3

Although this is less of a concern when it comes to animation and animated content (because you usually have to seek out the more depraved stuff relating to those), when the two cross over, we have the issue where characters representing a particular ideal are poisoned by a view of females that is completely the opposite.

The Disney princesses (horrible brand that they are) are a diverse range of strong female characters that have long represented the strength of Disney storytelling. Combining them with what represents the worst of video game storytelling seems to be an odd move for someone attempting to highlight their character strengths.

Why That’s a Concern

Disney Warrior Princess-4

Now obviously that is part of the reason for creating these pieces in the first place; the idea of contrasting character idioms and traits is a common one in the fan community. But what we have here is the use of some of the most well known characters of the last 100 years. It also destroys the characters for the joy of turning them into something that, quite frankly, denegrates them.

The recent Merida hubbub certainly highlighted the concern expressed in many quarters about the overlap that a teenage character like Merida occupies; ostensibly ‘mature’ on the one hand but appealing wholly to kids and tweens who are not.

These ‘warrior’ versions of Disney princesses, while clearly never intended or wilfully aimed at kids, would certainly be seen as being acceptable for teenagers. There is no nudity after all, and they’re certainly no worse than what many teenagers are seeing in video games and elsewhere.

Why They Are Concern for the Disney Princesses

I’m reminded once again of this:

Krisztianna how to draw super chicks

It’s by Krisztianna and highlights how simple elements of a character’s design can influence the character itself. Most fan art retaines a degree of respect for the character and their design. Sure it’s fun to try different styles but a central tenant of fan art is that the core of the character themselves is never compromised; if it is, you’re not really creating fan art any more are you?

It’s why we see so many fan-created original characters out there. Subjugating the actual characters to a ruinous extent is usually frowned upon, but creating one of your own is fair game for whatever you want.

In the case of these fan art creations, the legitimacy of the characters themselves is compromised and instead of something meant to illustrate the strong and forceful nature of the character, we have instead, models wearing artefacts that are merely reminiscent or alluding to something that is far superior.

 I’m curious to hear what YOU think of all this. Do you agree or disagree. Leave a comment and share your thoughts!

Week Links 20-2013

An interesting collection of week links this week!

The State of the VFX Industry and where do we go from here

The Thinking Animation blog poses a number of questions relating to the VFX industry and the ongoing attempt to organise it in some way. They’re worth thinking about because similar issues will affect the animation industry at some point in the future even more so than they do already.

An Independent Success

Mark Mayerson has his usual measured approach to his analysis of one animator’s success on YouTube. He’s right on the money when it comes to merchandising too, but I disagree that YouTube is the level playing ground it once was. The rise of professional channels makes them gatekeepers by another name. Why make your own animation when you can try and pitch it to one of them?

Disney Dreamscapes

Sibley_PotC Chess

Brian Sibley has up on his excellent Disney blog some lovely artwork from the book The Art of Walt Disney World. Visit for the post, stay for the archive of fantastic Disneyana.

‘Epic’ a decidedly derivative, if colorful, new animated film

The website Sound on Sight has a review of Blue Sky’s latest film ‘Epic’ which, while not overly positive, does contain this nugget of a paragraph near the end:

It wasn’t that long ago when we were lucky to get one animated movie from a big Hollywood studio a year; once, it was as much an event to go to a Disney movie as it is to see the next superhero blockbuster. Now, you can’t go two months without a studio-released animated movie, making each of these movies a little less special. Epic has impressive enough animation—and the 3D isn’t terrible, though a climactic action sequence set in a darkened landscape is fairly diluted through the format conversion—but it feels like the umpteenth version of the same Joseph Campbell Hero’s Journey, and done in a way that’s forgettable instead of fun.

More signs of an animation bubble?

Tweets of the Week

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I love Avatar: The Last Airbender and I love the handiwork of Mike Maihack. What better than when both come together:

Mike Maihack_Toph

Pepper Ann Visits a Comic Book Shop

The comic book page below is one that I stumbled across on Tumblr (now brought to you by Yahoo!). Pepper Ann is sadly a bit of a forgotten TV show. Not because it was terrible, or the animation wasn’t up to scratch, but mostly because it’s been somewhat erased from any TV schedule and has never had a home media release.

The show was often not afraid to undertake social or personal themes and in that regard it remains a bit of a trailblazer. It also had a very unique lead protagonist (being not only female, but also an almost- teenager replete with all the usual almost-teenage problems). Although I’m not as familiar with the comic as with the show, the page below highlights not only some of the scenarios that Pepper Ann faced, but also how the show decided to tackle many serious social issues. In this instance, the relative insularity of a comic book shop.

pepper ann_comic book shop