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How is Hyper Realism located, organised, constructed and applied within Titan A.E?

Module: Researching Animation
Module Coordinator: Dr Van Norris
Academic Year 3 (2022/2023)

I enjoyed writing this essay and received positive feedback for my effort. It was one of the last essays I wrote during my study.

Q5: Constructing Belief.

Drawing from the appropriate secondary source, assess how Paul Well’s notes on ‘Hyper Realism’ can be located, organised, constructed and applied within a fully contextualised sequence from one of the following supplied examples. From there assess how on screen belief is constructed:

Bluth, D. & Goldman, G. (Directors). (2000). Titan A.E. [Animation]. Twentieth Century Fox Animation; David Kirschner Productions; Fox Animation Studios.

Titan A.E. is an animated film directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman and was released to the US domestic box office on June 16, 2000, by Twentieth Century Fox. It has a cast of well-known Hollywood actors, such as, Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting, Van Sant, 1997; The Martian, Scott, 2015) and Drew Barrymore (E. T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Spielberg, 1982; Charlie’s Angels, McG, 2000), as well as seasoned voice actors, such as, Jim Cummings (Aladdin, Clements & Musker, 1992; Christopher Robin, Forster, 2018) and Roger Jackson (The Powerpuff Girls, McCracken, Capizzi & Hillenburg, 1998-2004; Mass Effect: Legendary Edition, Hudson & Walters, 2021). It had a budget of approximately $75,000,000 and grossed $36,754,634 worldwide (Box Office Mojo, 2022) and reportedly lost Twentieth Century Fox a hundred million dollars (Palmeri, 2013).

The film received a mixed reception with an audience score of 60% and critic consensus of “Great visuals, but the story feels like a cut-and-paste job of other sci-fi movies” (Rotten Tomatoes, 2022). Roger Ebert said the film “uses the freedom of animation to visualize the strangeness of the universe in ways live action cannot duplicate” (2000). The sequence chosen for analysis in this essay was met with praise, being described as “breathtaking” and “it never would have looked as good in live action” (Radulovic, 2020). However, other opinions differed, with saying at the time of release it was “One of those children’s movies that is made for especially dim or easily fooled children” due to how the film had the feel of an adult animation masked as a children’s film. (, 2000, as cited in Aguilar, 2021).

Don Bluth and Gary Goldman had previously worked together on other animated films, such as, All Dogs Go to Heaven (Bluth, Goldman & Kuenster, 1989) and Anastasia (Bluth & Goldman, 1997), which was nominated for two Academy Awards (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 1998) and proved that “Bluth still had the capability to produce lavish animated features provided you gave him the budget to get the job done” (Lowe, 2020).

Titan A.E. uses a combination of cel animation and computer animation but was originally planned to be a live action project (Thomas, 2000). It has been rumoured that a live-action remake is in development by Disney and will supposedly pay homage to the 2000’s animation style in some form or another (McKay, 2021; Paltridge, 2021).

Fox Animation produced just three films: Anastasia, Bartok the Magnificent (Bluth & Goldman, 1999) and Titan A.E, though it also provided services to the production of Adventures from the Book of Virtues (Johnson, 1996-2009) and The Prince of Egypt (Chapman, Hickner & Wells, 1998). The financial failure of Titan A.E led to Fox Chairman Bill Mechanic losing his job (Eller & Bates, 2000) and it would be the last film Fox Animation would produce before buying Blue Sky Studios, which produced the highly successful Ice Age (Wedge & Saldanha, 2002). In fact, Fox Animation was shut down before Titan A.E’s release, with Blue Sky Studios taking over remaining work (Radulovic, 2020). It would also be Don Bluth’s last feature length film, though he and Gary Goldman are Directing an upcoming animation Dragon’s Lair: The Movie (n.d.), starring Ryan Reynolds and based on the 1983 video game Dragon’s Lair created by Rick Dyer and Don Bluth.

At the SuperComm 2000 convention, just a few weeks before the theatrical release of Titan A.E., Cisco transmitted simultaneously via Virtual Private Network to two different locations a complete viewing of the film, which was a world first. (Rose & Carpenter, 2000). Whilst it could be viewed as a mere publicity stunt, this technology would pave the way for how film and TV would be consumed years later and acted as publicity for the release of Titan A.E.


Paul Wells’ notes on hyper realism discuss differences between two and three-dimensional animation, highlighting how two-dimensional cel-animated scenes aren’t as experimental as three-dimensional animation:

Cel-animated or hand-drawn cartoons remain in a fixed two-dimensional style throughout their duration and do not mix with three-dimensional modes as later, more experimental, animation does. Visual conversions echo those of live-action cinema in the ‘hyper-realist’ sense, deploying establishing shots, medium shots and close-ups etc., but camera movement tends to be limited to lateral left-to-right pans across the backgrounds or up-and-down tilts examining a character or environment. (1998, p. 37).

Later, when discussing Art Clokey’s thoughts on clay animation (in Frierson, 1993), Wells sates: “Three-dimensional animation, in his view, is therefore, more ‘real’ as it is executed in a real world space and enables animators to work in essentially ‘live-action’ conditions, but with greater creative freedom and control.” (1998, p. 57).

Maureen Furniss writes that live action, “mimesis”, and animation, “abstraction”, are on opposite ends of a scale. Their example for mimesis is Sleep (Warhol, 1964) and for abstraction, Circles (originally known as Kreise) (Fischinger, 1933), with The Three Caballeros (Ferguson, Geronimi & Kinney, 1944) being the mid-point of the scale. A cel-based animation, such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Cottrell, Hand & Jackson, 1937) “would appear on the abstraction side but closer to the mid-point of The Three Caballeros” because it “has a relatively naturalistic look and employs some characters based on human models” and “its characters and landscapes can be described as caricatures, or abstractions of reality, to some extent”. (2007, pp. 5-6). Titan A.E. would also fall around this same area on the scale. Although it is a science fiction film with aliens and spaceships, which would not be possible to film with a camera because they don’t exist in these forms, the animation stye makes it believable, which I will return to later.


Between 1:01:26 and 1:07:26 in Titan A.E., after being stranded by Korso at a drifter colony, Cale and Akima have repaired and launched an old spaceship to try and find the lost Titan spaceship before Korso and his crew. They enter a large ice crystal field, pursued by Korso, and narrowly escape, leaving Korso to take evasive manoeuvres and lose his mark. This sequence features a mixture of traditional 2D cel animation, computer generated 3D animation, and a mixture of the two combined. Previously discussed notes on hyper realism can be applied to this sequence:

Wells discussed how “[the camera] movement tends to be limited to lateral left-to-right pans across the backgrounds or up-and-down tilts examining a character or environment” (p. 37), but this sequence explicitly counters this observation. As Korso moves through the bridge of his spaceship, the camera view is moving fluidly with him, and when Stith is at her weapons console the camera view is rotating around her. This is all occurring within the confines of the spaceship’s bridge, allowing a viewer to feel more than just a fly on the wall with simple left-right or up-down camera movement, but rather feel as part of the action.

Shortly after, spectacular views of outside the spaceships are seen with the gigantic ice crystals crashing into each other and splitting into thousands of pieces. These are 3D animated and are in stark contrast to the interior 2D cel-animated scenes. Returning to Wells’ notes on Art Clokey’s thoughts on clay animation, the three-dimensional animation here is perceived to be “more ‘real’” (p. 57) and helps build suspense and a sense of danger for the characters. The reflection of the spaceships rippling along the textures of the ice crystals adds to that sense of hyper realism and immersion within the scene. The animation in this scene is closest to mimesis than abstraction, providing a glimpse through the eyes of the characters and allowing an audience to see what the characters would be seeing when they look out the window of their spaceship. This is reinforced by Gune’s radar sensors detecting the reflection of a single spaceship as multiple, a critical plot element which allows Cale and Akima to escape. Wells’ comparison between two-dimensional and three-dimensional animation apply to this scene, as the three-dimensional animation adds the hyper-realistic and “real world” feel to the scene.

The enemies in Titan A.E are revealed to be pure energy, and they are 3D animated onto the 2D cel animation surrounding them. This unique way of portraying the enemy and the antagonist of Drej Queen Susquehana enables an extra layer of threat and an understanding that the danger to the heroes is “real”.

Wells notes how “Visual conversions echo those of live-action cinema in the ‘hyper-realist’ sense, deploying establishing shots, medium shots and close-ups etc., but camera movement tends to be limited to lateral left-to-right pans across the backgrounds or up-and-down tilts examining a character or environment.” (p. 37). This is not absolutely accurate for Titan A.E, as already discussed the camera movement has not always been simple left-to-right or up-and-down, however, establishing shots are present in the film and mimic those you would see in a live-action film. At the beginning of the ice crystal sequence, a close-up of Korso’s spaceship against a vast back-drop of space with overlayed text “ANDALI NEBULA – ICE RINGS OF TIGRIN” (1:01:27) before the spaceship changes course to head towards the nebula. This establishing shot is simple and introduces the sequence with little camera movement as Wells observes.

When Wells discusses Sigmund Freud’s theory of the uncanny (1919/2003), he argues that “the notion of the ‘uncanny’ is central to the whole art of animation as well as its more surreal manifestations” (1998, p. 48). He also says:

It is not difficult to see how animation has the ready capacity to facilitate ‘the uncanny’ by effacing the imagined and the real in creating an environment where inanimate lines, objects and materials have the illusion of life, impossible relations can take place, and representational modes of expression become fully accepted aspects of the ‘real’ world. (1998, pp. 48-49).

This is important for Titan A.E, especially with how the animation is switching between styles in the ice field sequence. The animation is presented in such a way it is easy to forget that it is an animation, providing a surreal or uncanny resemblance to what you would assume is reality – the reflections rippling in the ice, the fluidity of the “camera” following Korso through the ship, these all add up and aid in adding to the “realism”.

One issue remains with this analysis: How do you define what is real? Wells states:

Any definition of ‘reality’ is necessarily subjective. Any definition of ‘realism’ as it operates within any image-making practice is also open to interpretation. Certain traditions of film-making practice, however, have provided models by which it is possible to move towards some consensus of what is recognisably an authentic representation of reality. (1998, p. 24).

For the definition to be subjective means what may be considered “real” by one person may not be by another. The camera movement through the spaceship following Korso may feel real as it goes against normal animation “rules” and provides a sense that you are there with the characters, but on the other hand how can it be real? It’s an animation of the interior of a spaceship, complete with artificial gravity – it is impossible to capture this in a live action form, as it does not exist. Each of the points I have discussed, be it the camera movement, or the reflections of the spaceship rippling across the ice crystals, aid in defining the “reality” of the animation. An audience knows it is not real, but that does not stop the animators trying to make it feel real.

In summary, Wells’ notes are relevant to Titan A.E., but certain segments of the film, including the ice field sequence, are far more experimental and start to drift away from his definitions and examples. Certain conventions seen throughout traditional cel-based animation are directly challenged within the sequence and in doing so provide an “uncanny” resemblance to what could be considered “real”. The distancing from the typical restraints of traditional cel-based animation and use of experimental three-dimensional animation enables the extra layer of realism to be experienced and aid in defining what an audience would consider to be “real”.

References - Click to expand
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