Toon vs Actor

In a world where toons and people can mix, discuss the pros and cons of mixing the real with the unreal, and what tensions might occur in their narrative relationship from the point of view of the audience. Propose a project of your own that will blend live-action and animation.

Who framed roger rabbit – Documentary (Secrets of toontown)

There were many challenges to making Roger Rabbit, and having the animated characters appear to really live in the same world as the humans they were acting alongside. It took over 700 people to bring the dream alive! Planning is beyond vital for a film like this, especially when the cartoon characters are interacting with the environment and actors. Two films had to be shot; One with live action, and then animating the cartoon characters on top. The documentary shows the actors acting alongside ‘thing air!’ For the effect of the machine gun held by the weasel, they used puppeteers and wire! Although also a mechanical arm for some more precise movements. Devices in the sink made it look like roger is thrashing around in the water, and spitting water out. This attentions to detail makes all the difference and is why planning is so important for this type of movie. The used state of the art technology to bring the characters to life, by developing the devices that would bring the toons to life. The mechanical arms were limited, so new arms were created that mimicked the puppeteers arms. They even added a  suction system that would allow the arms to pick stuff up in the environment – eg the plates being smashed on his head.

They used a plastic life size Roger Rabbit to plan out sightlines and plot out action for scenes, so that everyone can visualise everything and make sure they get the right shot.

“It’s like working with a ghost that only you can see!” Bob Hoskins

Benny the cab is a toon car with a bad attitude and a face! Achieved using a go-cart thing, It was specially built for the movie. The driver sits in a black costume, hidden behind Bob Hoskins, who just had to hold on and concentrate on acting.

The most technically grueling scene was in the ink and paint club. A nightclub for humans, with toon entertainment and employees. Disney and Warner brothers actually allowed Daffy Duck and Donald Duck to act together in Who Framed Roger Rabbit as dueling pianists! The pianos were rigged so the keys would move with the music, and hydraulic lifters would move the various parts of the pianos to go along with the action. The sets were built off the ground so that the puppeteers could use arms to hold the trays that the toon penguin waiters would be animated holding. They spent days preparing and rehearsing before shooting the scene – so they could get all the different parts working right when the actors came on set to shoot the scene.

It takes a lot more than just ink and paint to bring cartoons to life. The voice acting and foley is really important too! Some of the voice acting was done on the set, Rogers voice actor even dressed up like roger the rabbit on set! The voice is recorded first and then you animate after that, and the voice acting can inform the acting that is animated! All the animation was done by hand for the movie – NO COMPUTERS! They start with line drawings, to make sure everything is correct – before they’re signed off and they can begin colouring and finishing the scene.

Special effects were added at industrial light and magic once animating was finished for the movie. Going above and beyond to really bring the toons to life and make them seem 3D, adding shadows and highlights, making it look like they’re really occupying space in the real world!

Plain animation – live action background added – effects added (e.g. sparkles to dress) – shadows and highlights.

Really cool footage showing the blue screen backdrop they used and some of the ways they achieved the seamless live action and animation stuff.

Another Making of documentary – ‘Behind the ears’

Features the test footage that probably sold the idea and made the film possible. Moving the camera with animation = twice as much work! It makes it harder, but it makes it better!

The Three Caballeros (in Spanish)

One of Walt Disney’s attempt at toons in a live action setting. As Disney expanded on the techniques and the mechanics of the process were refined more interactions were possible between toons and the real world. The toons cast shadows and interact a little with the environment, and appear to be interacting with real people as well. But its no where near as seamless as roger rabbit – I imagine the sand would move as the toons stepped in it if this were to be attempted by that team. From Gertie the dinosaur to…

Son of Zorn


Petes Dragon

When the audience is watching something that contains live action and cartoon, they are either very aware of the difference between real characters and animated or they are not.

Petes Dragon (realistic remake)

It’s a very different movie now. The dragon looks like a real dragon, or at least very much not a cartoon.

In something like Who framed Roger rabbit, the audience is very aware of the toon characters, and in the film there is a toon land, where they all come from – which allows them to be in the real world interacting with Bob Hoskins and the rest of us, and it makes some sort of sense! Roger rabbit can be zany and defy physics and stretch and it still works because it’s addressed in the first scene of the movie and established that toons have different rules to people. Roger has toon qualities, but he also has human qualities and emotions as well, he ebhaves in a very sincere way while being able to go into these extreme ways.

Roger Rabbit has toonland, Spacejam has the looney world and Son of Zorn has Zephyria. They each have a world that the toons came from that the audience experiences.

Something like the Transformers movies or the Planet of the apes films are a little bit different, because the audience believes that the transformers and apes can live in our universe, because the animation is made to look so realistic. So in Pete’s Dragon, the audience has no idea where the dragon has come from – but it’s supposed to be a magical being, so it’s something that the audience doesn’t really need explaining.

So if the audience knows the character is a cartoon, and its clear that it is, then there is often a ‘toon world’ (explanation) they came from. Something that makes sense that the audience can see and not question anymore.

With something like Pete’s Dragon, or Ted. The animated characters are unique, there is only one of them we know about in the film. They dont really need an explanation for their existence. The audience can beleive they are real, as they interact with the world around them, even though they clearly don’t belong. With a film like this the audience is told to suspend their disbelief and enjoy the movie, and they can do that with no problem! Although Ted looks kinda real, so in some ways it is similar to the transformers style realistic animated character with live action as well.


In aesthetics, the uncanny valley is the hypothesis that human replicas which appear almost, but not exactly, like real human beings elicit feelings of eeriness and revulsion among some observers.

This is true for human robots, but is it true for animated characters as well?

Most of the time when there are human characters and toons, the toons don’t attempt to look as realistic as possible. In fully animated movies with humans that are trying to look realistic, there is often a sort of uncanny valley feeling, and the characters don’t look or move quite right. In movies where there are humans and toons, the toons aren’t human, or they are heavily stylised to show a difference between the two – because it would be difficult to animate a human character that looked human – and why not just get a human to do it?

Something like Beowulf or The Polar Express are a bit different. They are almost completely animated, but with live action faces grafted on top!

“Even though it feels like live action, there were a lot of shots where Bob cut loose. Amazing shots. Impossible with live action actors. This method of filmmaking gives him freedom and complete control. He doesn’t have to worry about lighting. The actors don’t have to hit marks. They don’t have to know where the camera is. It’s pure performance.” [1]

It does give you that ‘uncanny valley’ feeling when watching it, but you can ignore this feeling and still enjoy the film because it is all like that, so it doesnt drop in and out.

So making the cartoons stand out from the real is fine, you will have to somehow make that make sense to the audience and justify it. Making cartoons blend in is fine, if you do it right, but be careful with human characters because they can look off to audiences without the audience really knowing why it feels off (good if you’re trying to create a feeling of unease of something, but not good in general!)

Something like The Lego Movie should probably get mentioned as well, even though its not obvious at first why. It exists in a mostly animated world, but towards the end of the movie the main character falls out of the lego world into reality – where it is revealed that there is a human boy who is imagining all this story happening – giving it life. The audience has the magic ripped away, and somehow, rather magically, there is no less magic, if anything the reveal is so well done and has such an impact when you’re watching it that the whole thing feels more magical! The toys are alive and living out the adventures you both have when you play with them, how is that not the most magical awesome thing ever for a kid to see?! It just makes the world even richer, and doesnt detract from the story or action at all, just enhances it.

There are other special little touches in The Lego movie, which make the animation look stop motion, something that gives the movie and animation that realistic feel and look – as if a kid was making it up as he went along.

Its clear that the animated characters have different rules to the real human characters, and cannot react and move in the same way, but technically it’s still live action and animated together. just a bit more subtle than the others. Emmet still manages to vibrate across the table when Will Ferrel is getting ready to glue everything down in the final act of the movie. It shows

Transformers – How its made!

This videos hows how they layered the special effects and animation for the films, and gives an insights into the movie production processes for making big budget realistic animation. It’s long, but it is really interesting and thorough.

Before and after Hollywood VFX

VFX innovations – Making animations look real!


Rocky and Bullwinkle

Robinson made the characters’ movements more elastic and buoyant than in the original, which he accomplished by using more drawings per second. To stay true to the vintage look, however, certain poses were held static with just the mouth or arm animating as necessary. Major pose changes were more fully animated. Wild Brain collaborated with Industrial Light + Magic to create several sequences which combine traditional animation with live-action. ILM provided Wild Brain with background plates of the live-action scenes which were then printed out, one frame at a time. The animators analyzed the still frames to establish where the main thrust of the movement occurred and how the humans were reacting to the 2D characters. Additionally, light sources were scrutinized to determine how highlights and shadows should be drawn into the scene. [3]

 Rocky and Bullwinkle was made with 3D characters unlike the 2D characters of Roger Rabbit, but with the same simple style – unlike transformers for example. They face the same problems which they have to overcome; making the animated characters look real, like they are inhabiting the space in the live action scene and really interacting with the live action actors.

Why are there not more animated characters in live action films that look cartoony like Roger Rabbit or Rocky and Bullwinkle. It seems that with all the [successful] remakes (beauty and the beast, pete’s dragon, even transformers) all have animated characters that look as real as possible. This makes sense because you want the audience to really beleive they are real. Films like Roger Rabbit and Rocky and Bullwinkle use cartoon characters and both are not pretending to be “real” – they are being portrayed as living animated cartoons, not real life people or objects – so they don’t have to look as realistic. Roger doesn’t look like a real bunny rabbit, but you wouldn’t want him to because he would be unable to perform in the same way and it would be a very different movie.

Beauty and the Beast and Pete’s Dragon are both remakes of films containing cartoon characters. Why did they make them so different in style to the original, because they just wanted to do something new and different? Thats a perfectly valid reason, but i think its also the style that’s selling. Or at least, maybe there’s an argument that to make a live action movie with cartoony characters work you have to address it somehow, and they didn’t want to do that. They didn’t want to explain where the dragon came from, or anything like that – they wanted it to feel scarier and more real, so you can empathise with the characters easier.

Bump the Lamp!

In this film they talk about 3 rules of animation in live action film.

  1. Eyeline – establishes emotional connection, blocking reference for animators, and convinces audiences both are occupying the same space.
  2. Physical interaction – If it looks like the animated characters are actually interacting with the world, the audience thinks they ARE inhabiting that world. They have real presence and weight,a nd the animation feels realer and more believable and immersive.
  3. Shadow (light and shadow accuracy) – At least 5 shadow and highlight layers, which together gives a realistic three dimensionality to the characters.

These three things help sell the realism on a subconscious level, immersing you in the scene. Rocky and Bullwinkle used motion tracking technology to help them, and using 3D technology would have made it easier and more cost effective for the studio when creating it.

Amaro and Waldens Joyride

<p><a href=”″>Amaro and Walden's Joyride</a> from <a href=””>The Line</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

This video is awesome! The two 2D animated characters int his short video ride around in this remote controlled car. The animator has used a simple shading system, and hasn;t gone to the same effort that roger rabbit did (obviously) and it shows, but they did a few things that make it almost not matter. Although part of the reason its not as important is because it is a short animation music video, and not meant to be an immersive storytelling piece. By making the characters appear to be interacting with the environment they seem real! Eating the slushie and pissing against the wall help to really make the characters appear to be in the live action environment.

Is Tropical the Greeks

<p><a href=”″>IS TROPICAL The Greeks</a> from <a href=”″>MEGAFORCE</a&gt; on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

This music video follows some kids playing war games with toy guns. but the guns shoot animated bullets and missiles which explode in 2D animated glory! It adds to the action in a different way to animated characters. It also sort of implies this is not real and more in the children’s imaginations when they play – which is kind of worrying seeing as there is a lot of death and killing!


[1] Animation supervisor Kenn MacDonald –



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