What happens when animation geeks get the green light to produce whatever they want? You get Netflix Love, Death and Robots, an anthology series meant to remind viewers that cartoons aren’t just for kids. You’d think that would be doomed in 2022, decades after anime went mainstream, Adult Swim’s irreverent comedies took over the dorms, and pretty much the network/streaming platform has its own “edgy” animated series (Esoteric and Big mouth on Netflix, Invincible on Amazon Prime).
Still, it’s all too common to see the mids dwindle. At the Oscars this year, the Best Animated Feature award was touted as something entirely aimed at children, prompting filmmakers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse), for demand that Hollywood elevate the genre instead. Even Pixar’s library of smart, compelling movies still doesn’t qualify as “adult” stories.
Love, Death and Robots, which just released its third season on Netflix, feels like a crash course in animation’s limitless storytelling potential. It bounces off a cute entry about robots exploring the remnants of human civilization (first sequel in the series, 3 bots: Exit strategieswritten by science fiction author John Scalzi), to a near-silent, visually lush game of cat-and-mouse between a deaf soldier and a mythical mermaid (Jibarō), to a poignant story of whalers being accosted by a giant man-eating crab (bad tripthe first animated project directed by series co-creator David Fincher).
Jennifer Yuh Nelson, Supervising Director of Love, Death and Robots, tells Engadget that the animation industry has certainly made strides when it comes to telling more mature stories. “Everyone who works in animation has talked about trying to do more adult stuff because it’s [about] the freedom to explore the full spectrum of storytelling,” she said. “You’re not trying to do things for a certain age group.”
But, she says, the animators were also told that the audience for mature projects wasn’t necessarily there. “I think it takes a show like [this] prove that he can [work]and it makes the whole company and the whole city of the company 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 highlights the power of video games, which have been telling mature narratives with interactive animation for decades. It’s another industry that was initially thought of as children’s toys, but has matured considerably through the rich storytelling of indie projects, like Kentucky Route Zeroto big budget blockbusters like The last of us. Games and animation practically evolve together, with audiences demanding more complex ideas and creators who were raised on previous generations of these mediums. You’re not getting Disney+’s excellent remake of duck tales, or the recent one from Sony God of the warwithout taste for the simple joys of the originals.
“The animation has grown so much and reflects the taste of the people who make it and those who watch it,” Nelson says. “It’s a generational shift. People demand a certain level of complexity in their story, and so it’s not princess movies anymore.”
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, but rather they are looking for projects with scope, emotion, and potential for visual interest. And while none of the shorts have yet been made into standalone series or movies, Nelson notes that’s a possibility, especially since some writers have explored other ideas in those worlds. (I would definitely like to see these three quirky robots mocking humanity for an entire season.)
The series also serves as a showcase for a variety of animation techniques. Some shorts feature meticulously crafted CGs, while others like bad trip use motion capture to preserve the intricacies of an actor’s movement or face. Jerome Chen, the director of the military horror short film In the vaulted halls buried, relied on Unreal, which makes his piece feel like a cutscene of a game I desperately want to play. And there’s still a lot of love for more traditional 2D techniques, like bloody marvelous Kill Team Kill (directed by Nelson, far from his playfulness kung fu panda suites).
“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 takes a slightly different view, saying that on some level it’s like “technology is art and they somehow blend together.” While he agrees with Nelson, who was quick to point out that “artists can make art with a stick,” Miller said you’ll still need some level of sophisticated technology to create stories. photorealistic.
The great thing about an anthology series like love death and robots? These two philosophies can co-exist while also demonstrating the power of animation.
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