The Death of Cartoons

I want to make an interesting observation. We no longer have any need for cartoons. Now, I say that with the caveat that technology advancements, particular advancements in computer graphics, are the reason that a cartoon’s existence is no longer needed.

I was thinking about this when I first saw the trailer for Disney’s new “Beauty and the Beast”. When I was in High School in the late 90s, Beauty and the beast was first out and it was an animated film. I remember at the time critics commenting on it and specifically talking about parts of the ball room and reflections on the floor or windows and how real it all looked. Here we are, 20 years later, and the entire film can now be made using computer graphics for an increased realism of the “non-real” characters. Similar to back then, we look at computer-generated characters like the Beast and claim “look how real they are.” If you think back to the Golden Era of cartoons, we realize their existence was mostly based on the reality that, technologically, it was the only way to bring imagination to life visually. Cartoons were the only medium possible to create things which did not exist in real life. Today, that is no longer the case.

Look around broadly at motion pictures and we see incredible worlds and characters come to life in ways which were only possible in a cartoon. Advancements in computer graphics have made cartoons obsolete. The only reason to have a traditional “cartoon look” today is either budgetary, since they are less expensive to create and produce, or for pure nostalgia or an intentional element of visual style preferred by the producer/director. Technologically speaking, there is nothing that can’t be done in computer graphics and near absolute realism that can be done in traditional cartoons.

I found this to be a fascinating observation, one that carries with it a more future-forward possibility as well. If we shoot ahead another 20 years and think about the high price to produce the level of visual realism in computer graphics for a movie like Beauty and the Beast, we can wonder if, at that time, computing has advanced so much that this becomes entirely commoditized. Meaning, nearly anyone can make advanced graphical characters easily and affordably and bring all kinds of new imaginations to life.

Carrying out the thought exercise even further and we can see a day when computer graphics become so good we may not even need human actors. You are already seeing some form of this with actions which once needed a green screen. Instead, now they are simply recreating the entire human actor in CGI and having them do things that were never possible with a human actor and a green screen. In a similar way to the obsolescence of cartoons, we will be able to tell even more compelling visual stories when human limitations are no longer a consideration and all that is left is the imagination.

Not to weird people out too much, but what about a day when an artificial intelligence can come up with stories, create characters, worlds, movies, and more?

The death of cartoons is a fascinating example of technology advancing and bringing about new possibilities. We still have a lot of technological innovation in computer graphics and overall computational power ahead which makes thinking about where all this may go that much more interesting.

My favorite phrase of late is “the future is going to be weird.”

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

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