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Limited animation

Limited animation is a term used to describe a process of making animated cartoons that does not follow a "realistic" approach. The short cartoons and feature films of Walt Disney from the 1930s and 1940s are widely acclaimed for depicting animated simulations of reality, with exquisite detail in every frame. However, his style of animation is very time-consuming and expensive. "Limited" animation creates an image that uses abstract art, symbolism, and limited movement to create the same effect, but at a much lower production cost. This style of animation depends more upon suspension of disbelief to tell a story; the story exists more in the viewer's imagination. It also encourages the animators to indulge in artistic styles that are not necessarily bound to the limits of the real world. The result is a new artistic style that could not have developed if animation was solely devoted to producing simulations of reality. Without limited animation, such ground-breaking films as Yellow Submarine, Chuck Jones' The Dot and the Line[?], Mel Brooks' The Critic[?], and many others could never have been produced.

The process of limited animation also allows for animation cels to be duplicated, resulting in a lower number of separate frames per second. While the standard rate of film projection is 24 frames per second (and video projection, including VCR and DVD displays, are as much as 30 frames per second), cartoons produced through limited animation may have as few as 12 frames per second. The reduced number of frames causes the halting, "jerky" motion seen in lower budgeted TV cartoons, as opposed to the smoother flower of animation seen in most feature films and high-quality TV animation.

Limited animation was originally founded as an artistic device, though it was soon used widely as a cost-cutting measure rather than an aesthetic method. The UPA studio made the first serious effort to abandon the ultra-realistic approach perfected by Disney. Their first effort at non-realistic animation, Gerald McBoing Boing, won an Oscar, and it provided the impetus for limited animation to be accepted at the major Hollywood cartoon studios, including Warner Brothers and MGM. However, the real attraction of limited animation was the reduction in costs: because limited animation does not place a great emphasis on detail, it is much less expensive to produce. The 1950s saw all of the major cartoon studios change their style to limited animation, to the point where painstaking detail in animation occurred only rarely.

Limited animation techniques were used during the 1960s and 1970s to produce a great number of inexpensive, poor quality TV cartoons. Such TV series as Clutch Cargo[?] are infamous for being produced on ultra low budgets, with camera tricks used in place of actual animation. Despite the poor quality of the animation, the TV cartoon studios Hanna-Barbera and Filmation thrived during this period.

The cost-cutting techniques used to mass-produce cartoons on a low budget included:

  • cels and sequences of cells were reused over and over again -- animators only had to draw a character walking one time.
  • only portions of a character, such as the mouth or an arm, would be animated on top of a static cel.
  • the visual elements were made subsidiary to audio elements, so that verbal humor and voice talent became more important factors for success.

Animated cartoons which made good use of limited animation included Gerald McBoing Boing, Mister Magoo[?], The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, and South Park.

In recent years, nostalgia for the 1970s, combined with technologies such as Macromedia Flash have led to a revival of the genre of limited animation.

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