The Illustrated film vs the motion comic – Is there a difference?

30 07 2010


I was intrigued by the comments of the creatives behind the distopian nightmare of ‘Godkiller’ and the upcoming ‘Black Sky’ illustrated film on the MTV website.

Matt Pizzolo quote:

Though similar in some ways to motion comics, ill-films are a
new format of cinema whereas motion comics are a new format of cartoons.

On first glance, ill-films and motion comics look very similar…
and people might say ‘it’s moving comics on a screen,
that’s motion comics’ to which I say ‘just because Seinfeld is moving
people captured on 35mm film doesn’t make it the same thing as Full Metal Jacket.”

I have some doubts about the relevance of Pizzolo’s statement. Motion comics and illustrated film share a commonality that cannot be ignored, despite an effort to elevate the term ‘illustrated film’ above the motion comic. That shared commonality is of course the static comic book or illustrated image, which has been imbued with movement (either by camera movement, ‘puppet’ style animation techniques, motion graphics and lighting and spatial effects) Certainly some motion comics can be compared in various ways to the classic saturday morning kids cartoons, however that ignores or conveniently dismisses some of the more avant garde forms of motion comic adaptations such as ‘Batman Black and White: Perpetual Mourning’, or Crush Inc’s ‘Death of the Channel Three News Team‘. It’s also important to note that the pacing of the illustrated film or motion comic is heavily influenced by sound elements, such as dialogue and soundtrack. My interviews with several animation directors (such as Gary Thomas) have revealed the influence of dialogue on the pacing of a scene.

In summary, the illustrated film, like the motion comic, is capable of conveying almost any kind of narrative or genre; from romance, action, horror or thriller. It is up to the individual animation director to ensure that each motion comic, or illustrated film has an appropriate visual animation style to accompany the static artwork, story and narrative.

I wish Pizzolo all the success that Godkiller and Black Sky certainly merit. Godkiller features the voice talents of Lance Henrikson and certainly looks like an accomplished piece of creative film-making/animation. I also commend the fact that Godkiller is available to view online, buy as a DVD or download to own. Each format and delivery option has a specific cost (e.g. cheaper to watch streaming than download or buy on DVD).




5 responses

11 10 2010

To me, the whole ‘illustrated film’ versus ‘motion comic’ thing sounds much like ‘graphic novels’ versus ‘comics’. Its like they’re trying to lend their project a certain cachet by aligning it more with film than pic-chuh books. But, if it sounds like a duck and waddles like a duck…

Despite that, I think the differentiation may usefully point to a divergence in the genre that may grow more pointed (depending on whether motion comics – my preferred term – really take off) in the future. This would be whether a certain mo-comic’s pacing is defined by its soundtrack or voice-acting/narration, or whether the pacing would be defined more as a traditional comic is defined, by user interaction. In one, the audience is a receiver, while in the other, the audience is a participant, howeer crudely. This is, to my mind, the essential (but not the only) difference between comics and cinema; makes sense that this might be a fault line that makes its presence felt within the motion comic world too.

Just my two penn’orth.

12 10 2010
Craig Smith

That’s a really interesting point Shaun. I believe that motion comics exhibit unique properties in terms of adaptation, camera-movement and motion itself. I’m now starting the second year of my PhD into this area and there’s a wealth of subject matter to consider. When we add interactivity into the mix, it becomes even more interesting. Can producers of motion comic content create work that is both compelling as a narrative, but also utilise new media interactivity to a much greater degree?

Hopefully creatives will continue to push the boundaries of what this emerging medium is capable of.

13 12 2010
Matt Pizzolo

Hey Craig- I just came across your site, very cool analysis of motion comics… and I was pleased to see you’ve also touched on Godkiller.

I don’t think it’s 100% fair to question the relevance of my statement though. I didn’t say ‘motion comics’ and ‘illustrated films’ have no shared commonality… in fact, I even say they’re similar right there in your pull-quote. I was making the point that even though Seinfeld and Full Metal Jacket share many similar production techniques, no one would confuse Full Metal Jacket for a sitcom. Similar toolkits and raw materials can be used to create different artforms. Maybe it’s arbitrary to sub-categorize media, but it’s done in every medium–generally to convey dramaturgical differences among similar production formats.

I also don’t know where I dismissed Batman Black & White or Death of the Channel 3 News Team. Batman B&W is really cool, but it’s a really cool shortform motion comic cartoon. That’s not intended to be an insult, I was really impressed by it.

Warner Brothers did a lot of the heavy lifting in popularizing the term ‘motion comics’ and their definition (not mine) is that a ‘motion comic’ refers to the source material: meaning a ‘motion comic’ is an animation that repurposes existing comic book art. By that definition Godkiller is not a motion comic because we created the art with the intention of making an illustrated film. (Just to be clear, that’s not necessarily where I personally distinguish an illustrated film from a motion comic… we were working on Godkiller and calling it an illustrated film before Watchmen Motion Comic was made so the term illustrated film isn’t a reaction, but since WB has been one of the leaders in the motion comics space I think their definition is particularly relevant).

Another key difference is that illustrated films are feature length and written as traditionally structured films, Godkiller even played in theatrically in 11 cities. The content is later modified in several different ways to fit into a transmedia distribution model (and written with that in mind), but the story structure is as relevant to this discussion as the ‘puppetry’ animation style. After all, how many commercials use The Matrix’s ‘bullet time’ visual style? They’re still commercials.

If you haven’t had a chance to check out Godkiller, it’s currently free on Hulu.

We also just released a teaser clip of Black Sky

As well as an early teaser clip of our Hack/Slash adaptation (which *is* working from the comic book art, so maybe this will be our first motion comic per WB’s definition)

Thanks for the interest & insight into these emerging fields of animation and for including us in your coverage.

13 12 2010
Craig Smith

Hey Matt,

Thanks for your additional comments, it’s very much appreciated. You’ve given me plenty to think about in your reply, especially in terms of the cinematic release of ‘Godkiller’ and your comments on the Warner Bros. definition of a motion comic. I was very impressed with ‘Godkiller’ and will be featuring the ‘Black Sky’ teaser asap.

I tend to think that the ‘core’ of motion comics or illustrated film is the appropriation, either by scanning or creating new artwork, of static illustrations, which are then adapted into a moving image. Typically, this content is obtained from existing comic book artwork, however, if the objective or ideology of the director is to create a different approach to long form animation/filmmaking, then I have something else to consider in my PhD!

Apologies if I sounded critical in my initial post, perhaps if you’d be willing, would you consider answering a questionnaire on your background and experience in this area?


6 01 2011
Matt Pizzolo

Cool, thanks for giving me an opportunity to sound off haha. The whole “illustrated film” vs “motion comic” thing has been frustrating because we never intended to pick a fight with motion comics, we just started calling our stuff illustrated films before the motion comics wave came and cemented that label. And we’re having a hard time accepting the label because the debate over motion comics (if they add value to the dramatic content of existing comics or if they are marketing bastardizations) doesn’t really apply to something like Godkiller or Black Sky since we’re not repurposing existing comics. But that’s more about audience perception than your study of emerging sequential-art animation.

In any case, I’d be happy to answer your questionnaire, you can email it to me. Sorry I took so long to hit you back on this thread, the 4th quarter is always pretty relentless. And thanks for the Black Sky coverage, I’m really excited about that project. Happy 2011.

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