Australia has a rich history of animation production ranging from award-winning animated shorts and animated television series to feature-length animated movies, and a vast number of animated advertisements.
This year we celebrate the hundred years since, in 1915, artist and animator Harry Julius began producing his weekly animated series, Cartoons of the Moment. These were short animations that lampooned the news stories of the day – from politics and international affairs to contemporary fashion trends. They were designed to be shown in cinemas ahead of the main features and were screened all across Australia and throughout New Zealand.
One of Harry Julius’ Cartoons of the Moment (1915).
The Melbourne International Animation Festival(MIAF), currently underway, is this year highlighting a wide range of Australian animations. There are a number of sessions devoted to the celebration of Australian animation, including one in which I spoke about the history of Australian animated advertisements.
Animated advertisements have been integral to the development of Australian animation since its very beginning. Although we are currently celebrating the centenary, there were actually a few smatterings of animation that occurred in Australia several years prior to 1915. This included animated advertisements screened in cinemas.
Although Harry Julius is best known for his Cartoons of the Moment series, most of his animation work took the form of animated advertisements. His studio, Cartoon Filmads, made hundreds of animated advertisements from the late 1910s and throughout the 1920s promoting everything from soap to automobiles.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of these animated advertisements was that many were screened in cinemas throughout much of Asia, and even in England. Some were made specifically for international markets while others were created exclusively for Australian audiences. From these earliest beginnings, advertising proved to be an important component of Australian animation history.
Since then Australia has gained major successes in all areas of animation, producing many award-winning short films, a number of acclaimed television specials and series and, more recently, a respectable number of feature films.
It has scored some notable international successes with a number of Academy Award Oscar wins, including: Bruce Petty’s short film Leisure (1977), Adam Elliott’s Harvie Krumpet (2003), and Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing (2010). George Miller’s feature Happy Feet (2006) won the Oscar for best Animated Feature.
Over the decades, the Australian animation industry has undergone some dry periods during which very few animations were being made. But during even the bleak times animated advertisements were being produced for both cinema (in the early years), and then television following its introduction to Australia in 1956.
Historically, two of the most prolific studios to produce animated advertisements were Eric Porter Productions and Artransa, both located in Sydney. These two studios collectively produced literally thousands of television advertisements – a large number of which were animated.
In Melbourne, Fanfare Films and later Alex Stitt’s Al et Al studios produced a large number of animated adverts. Fanfare Films also created Australia’s first animated television series, Freddo the Frog (1962).
Because advertising is generally directed towards the sale of a product (cars, toothpaste) rather than being the product (a film that people pay to see), it has provided an important outlet for many innovative, creative, and even experimental animation productions.
Even the remarkably eccentric surrealist artist, Dusan Marek, for a number of years ran an animation company called Animads, producing a great number of animated advertisements in his Adelaide studio.
When we come to assess the best of Australian animated advertisements, a couple of productions are prominent. One is Eric Porter’s Aeroplane Jelly ad, with its animated aeroplane singing the famous jingle: “I like Aeroplane Jelly – Aeroplane Jelly for me!”
Eric Porter’s Aeroplane Jelly ad (1942).
Another iconic ad was for Mortein in which the character Louie the Fly reluctantly promoted the insecticide, Mortein.
More recently, there have again been countless hours of animation created in the form of advertisements, made both by large studios and by independent animators. In many respects, advertising has functioned as a backbone for the continued production of animation in Australia.
Without doubt, animated advertising certainly “ads” a lot to the rich history of Australian animation.
The Melbourne International Animation Festival runs until June 28. Details here.
Pixar’s new film Inside Out provides an interesting spin on how to understand what’s going on in the mind of an 11-year-old girl. The bulk of the action takes place inside protagonist Riley’s head, where a group of emotions (Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger) work together (or not) to direct her behavior.
The film’s primary conflict is a compelling one: it depicts Riley’s response to a major, life-changing event – a cross-country move. But from the perspective of a practicing clinical child psychologist with 30 years of experience, it’s only partly successful in accurately depicting why children react the way they do.
Most tweens would have difficulty with a cross-country move at the start of middle school, and Riley is, understandably, sad, angry, disgusted and fearful. She loses interest in things she used to like to do. The fact that her parents are also stressed, making it difficult for them to pick up on her angst until it is almost too late, also rings true.
Riley’s life appears to be run by her emotions. The character Joy is chief among them: it’s a core part of who she is, and a great deal of energy is expended to keep her feeling and acting in positive ways. Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger all have roles, and their order of appearance makes sense, developmentally.
Joy not only tries to keep the other emotions in check, but she’s also in charge of making sure that the core memories – which seem to define key areas of Riley’s functioning – are intact. A lot of time is devoted to trying to keep Sadness away, since she could taint these happy memories.
Joy is Riley’s predominant emotion, and she expends a lot of energy keeping negative emotions, like Sadness, at bay. Disney/Pixar
Furthermore, the emotions and behaviors of Riley are depicted using the same framework that adults often use to interpret their emotions. This misses the mark.
Children aren’t simply little adults; as developmental psychologists like Urie Bronfenbrenner have noted, it’s important to take into account the extent to which children are embedded in systems like family and school, where parents and teachers play a huge role in teaching children Riley’s age how to mediate their feelings.
Most 11-year-olds can tell you that they have feelings – and can name a few (though most would not name Disgust) – but more often than not, these feelings can overwhelm them. Adults, then, help them understand and make sense of their feelings, which is a gradual process.
In the end, the different characters for the emotions are altogether too mechanistic. It might be a nice way to show children that they have feelings, but it’s not really the way feelings work.
The film does have some signature strengths. The most authentic aspect of the film was the portrayal of conversations among Riley and her parents. Seeing her mother’s and then her father’s “inner emotions” react (like Riley, the parents also have characters assigned to their emotions) was a wonderful mapping of the kind of patterns that we see whenever families interact.
For example, at the dinner table, Mom gives Dad a look that’s intended to signal that he needs to take her side during an argument with Riley.
Dad’s emotions frantically discuss what she might mean. (“I wasn’t paying attention.” “Did we leave the toilet seat up again?” “Wait for her to do it again.”) Meanwhile, Mom’s (annoyed) emotions decide that she would have been better off with a former suitor. The humor with which it was handled was truly refreshing.
Similarly, one of the best aspects of the film is that Joy realizes that she must work with Sadness to enrich Riley’s emotional life. This is an age-appropriate realization; increased empathy in girls, especially, occurs at around Riley’s age.
Riley has a lot of experiences coming her way, as evidenced by the installation of the new control console at the end of the film with a red button labeled “puberty.” Like most adolescents, she will experience highs and lows, as her friends become more central and she discovers romantic feelings.
And it also sounds like groundwork being laid for a sequel centered on Riley’s pubescent years.
Disney/Pixar’s newest film, Inside Out, tells the story of 11-year-old Riley and her difficulty dealing with a family move to San Francisco. The film is getting a lot of attention for its depiction of emotion and memory.
The filmmakers consulted with neuroscientists and psychologists to help make sure they got the science right. As a cognitive psychologist who studies memory, I was excited to see how the film showed the relationship between memory and emotion.
The action primarily takes place within Riley’s mind, with anthropomorphic emotions – Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust – as the main characters. Riley’s mind is shown to be vast, comprising many individual units (Imagination Land and Abstract Thought, for instance). The central location of the story is Headquarters, which corresponds to the current contents of Riley’s consciousness – what she is perceiving from the world around her and what the emotions and other “mind workers” choose to show her in the form of memories or ideas.
In some respects, the movie captures the science behind memory and emotion really well, such as how remembering past events can regulate emotion. Memories allow us to mentally time travel and to relive the past in the present. The character of Joy frequently recalls past memories of pleasant events in order to make Riley happy in the moment.
One recurring plot point is how memories can be changed when they are remembered. In the movie, memories are shown as translucent globes encapsulating events. Each globe takes on a different hue depending on the primary emotion of the event. A golden-hued joyful memory starts to turn blue when held by Sadness, showing the transformation of a previously happy memory to one that becomes bittersweet with the acknowledgment of loss. It’s well-established that the emotional character of events is sometimes altered as we recall them. Although certainly some events become more negative over time (which is depicted in the film), more often memories become more positive in retrospect. This positivity bias in remembering the past has been called the Pollyanna Principle, and it is a normal, healthy aspect of remembering.
The relationship between sleep and memory is also portrayed well. Sleep is presented as a time for moving the day’s memories into long-term storage. We know that sleep is an active part of the consolidation process which makes memories of all types more durable. And, dreams are shown to comprise components of the days’ events, only distorted and with the addition of fantastical and absurd elements. This seems to reflect how our minds consolidate memories and make sense of what we learn.
Inside Out does well when it comes to the interplay of memory and emotion, but the memory basics are a bit misleading.
The film shows memories as stable and complete representations of actual events – something we know is not the case. The events of Riley’s day are automatically “encoded” into a single globe. Each memory globe is “stored” somewhere on a shelf in a vast long-term storage library. Memories are “retrieved” and sent intact and exact, back to Headquarters and, therefore, to consciousness.
That might be a handy visual metaphor for memory, but it’s not actually how memory works. We do encode events from our daily life without a deliberate intention to learn or remember them. For instance, you remember what you had for breakfast today even though you did not have to try to remember that information. But, our brain doesn’t store each memory as an individual whole unit.
Instead scholars believe that the components of events are processed by individual neural modules. Our brain has separate systems for basic cognitive functions: vision, hearing, language, emotion and so on. Visual components are processed by the visual system, auditory components by the auditory system, emotional components by the limbic system. Memories are stored in bits and pieces all over your brain. There is no globe sitting on a shelf that can be retrieved and used to reproduce the event exactly as it happened.
When we retrieve a memory, we reconstruct it from those component pieces. We use the same neural systems that encoded the components to see the event in our mind’s eye, hear it in our mind’s ear and re-experience the emotions associated with the event. That reconstructive process is influenced by what we know about the world around us, our current thoughts and beliefs, and our ongoing goals. So our memories can change over time, just as we do through the years.
In fact, each time we remember an event, we are simultaneously re-encoding that event, making it less likely to be forgotten.
The brain doesn’t discard old memories
Forgetting is another area where the movie represents a common but unsupported theory. The memory globes are shown as becoming less colorful and more dim as they grow older and are not retrieved. They eventually turn dark and gray and are sent to the “memory dump” where they turn to dust and disappear forever. This corresponds to a decay theory of forgetting, which suggests that time leads to permanent loss of information.
But psychologists tend to think of forgetting more as a temporary lapse in memory. There is much research to show that although some information cannot be recalled at will, there is still evidence of prior learning. The information may come to mind with the right reminder, or it may be more quickly recognized, or it may take less time to re-learn that information. Full-fledged memories may fade, but they leave some trace behind.
In the film, memories are stored on shelves, each in a single space like books in a library. This doesn’t capture how interconnected our memories are. Memories are stored in component parts. Each individual memory shares features with many other memories – such as the processing components that encode each element, the content details like who was there, where the event took place, or when the event occurred, and the abstract themes like spiritual experiences, romantic moments, or professional accomplishments.
The movie tries to capture our ability to identify overarching themes and causal chains among our memories by showing how “core memories” fuel aspects of Riley’s personality, but this serves to emphasize individual memories rather than constellations of interrelated memories. Although we may have specific self-defining memories, these are typically quintessential examples of larger patterns in our lives. Our memory is less like the public library with many books on the shelves and more like Wikipedia with its many linked pages of information.
Overall, the movie does a great job of showing the complexity of the human mind. Even if not all of the details are completely accurate, the metaphors are grounded in a real understanding of psychological science. Yes, it perpetuates some myths about memory, but to be fair, the focus is on feelings, and it conveys the relationship between memory and emotion well. Plus, it’s a fun adventure story with a terrific message that is well worth watching.
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A second Disney Infinity 3.0 play set has been outted by Disney Interactive, just days after the company offered up new screenshots from one of two Star Wars play sets headed to stores this year, and it looks like Pixar’s new Inside Out film will serve as inspiration for one of the first Disney Infinity 3.0… Continue reading →
One of the best things about Frozen is how feminist it is. The main plot of the movie is about the relationship between Anna and Elsa, and to some extent the guys are just window-dressing—except Olaf, of course. Olaf’s amazing. One of the more obvious themes of the movie, too, is “don’t fall in love at… Continue reading →
Disney’s big hit animation movie: Frozen is going to be played with Cinderella in theaters on March 13th! Fans of Frozen can finally see Anna and Elsa’s new dresses and celebrate Anna’s birthday with Olaf and their friends together!
I’m hearing that Ryan Gosling is Disney’s top choice to star in BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, and has been offered the role. The part that Gosling is being courted for is the Beast himself. The film will be a live-action remake of the 1991 animated Disney classic. This version will also be a musical, likely keeping the original’s beloved musical numbers intact. (Read More)
No one fights like Gaston, douses lights like Gaston, and apparently no one goes viral like Gaston.
Shortly after a little girl became an Internet sensation by giving the “Beauty and the Beast” villain a piece of her mind at Walt Disney World, Gaston is generating views on YouTube again.(The 2nd video below.)
This time, a guest at the Florida theme park challenges Gaston to a push-up contest. (Read More)
Besides Facebook and Tweeter, one of the most popular social media that the young generation are using nowadays is Instagram. Basically, the platform is made for sharing pictures, mostly selfie, come with some hashtags.
If Disney characters were real Instagram users, this probably is what they look like!