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  • Amir Steklov

Essay: The animation of Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero - (2022)

Director: Tetsuro Kodama.

The new Dragon Ball animated film, Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero (2022) by Tetsuro Kodama, is targeted towards a younger audience than its predecessor, Broly, and uses more 2.5D animation, which is essentially 3D rendered flat with outlines. As such, I liked it less than the previous film.

It is interesting to note the animation style and take a moment to discuss it. I strongly believe that the shift towards 3D is done purely for trendy reasons and not to reduce workload or save money in production, as some people argue.

Broly’s budget was $8.5 million, while the budget for Super Hero is unknown but presumably higher than Broly's. Broly’s box office was $124 million, whereas Super Hero’s box office was $86.6 million. As seen from the comparison, the new Dragon Ball film had less success than its predecessor.

This may be due to its target audience being younger and not for hardcore fans, who are now in their 30s, but I would like to argue for another reason: the animation style.

I don’t have numbers to back me up, but I have a strong feeling that many of the series fans, both young and old, associate the old-school 2D cell animation with the characters and stories of Dragon Ball. Even if one is not trained in animation or film, the smooth 24fps motion around the characters with perfectly smooth character movements feels off.

I also see a movement of young animators toward digital animation. Not only is there more work in that field, from motion graphics to VFX and 3D animated films, but there is also an illusion around the digital animation tools provided by 3D software.

I have been there before: after doing classic animation, I discovered digital animation and felt like there was a shortcut there. I felt like my time spent in front of the computer was more productive than doing stop-motion.

Recently, I concluded that this idea is false. Making digital animation takes more time to create the same level of animation as traditional frame-by-frame animation. It is true that one can make a simple digital animation very easily, but to make a well-rounded, production-ready level of animation takes more time than traditional animation.

Looking at my own work, I can compare my two previous animated shorts: Don’t Be a DICK! (digital, 10 minutes) took me one week to make, while Bi The Way (stop motion, 15 minutes) took me three weeks to make. Obviously, it took me three times as long to animate Bi The Way, but it’s a longer film, and the production value is much higher. Everyone who has seen both films told me that the latter looks much better, and I agree. It takes less time and effort to make traditional animation look very good. While digital animation can produce a simple result easily, a good result requires a lot of hard work. Traditional animation can produce good results with an intermediate level of labor.

When looking back on Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero, one can see that the production invested a lot of money and time to refine the digital animation. It was not a cheap shortcut to make this movie in such a way; I would even say it took them a lot of research and development to do what they did.

And it failed.

The fans did not like it, and the young generation, the target audience, did not react to the film's release with the hype they had hoped for.

What we can learn from this case study is that big productions need to pay more attention to traditional animation techniques. It can save them time and money, and, in the end, the audience will appreciate it. Even if they cannot give words to it, they feel that it looks more like animation and less like a robotic poppet theatre.

I wish the industry will invest more in classic animation and grow to understand that the trend of 3D animation feels a little old to most audience.

Verdict: 2.5 / 5 ★ - Not good and not bad.

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