How ‘Bambi’ Paved The Way for Both ‘Fallout 4’ and ‘Angry Birds’
Adam Bargteil, 11 Aug 17

Realistic and stylized at the same time. Disney

When “Bambi” premiered in London on August 9, 1942, the fifth film from Walt Disney Animation Studios broke a lot of new ground.

It was the first Disney film in which a character’s parent dies early in the film – which is now a common plot device, as in “The Lion King” and “Frozen.”

It was the first Disney film without human characters. And it heralded a new development in animation: a shift away from visual realism, and toward abstractness.

From left, a cave painting from Borneo, the perspective of Vermeer and the abstraction of Mondrian. The Conversation US, compiled from Luc-Henri Fage, Johannes Vermeer and Piet Mondrian., CC BY-ND

Since humans began painting in caves more than 40,000 years ago, and all the way through the 17th century, artists aimed to make realistic portrayals of their subjects. But not long after Vermeer cracked the puzzle of depicting three-dimensional perspective accurately on a two-dimensional canvas, something fundamental shifted: Realism began to give way to the more stylized and abstract art of Van Gogh and Monet through Picasso and Dali to Mondrian and Pollock and the advent of modern art.

The same trend happened in animation. “Snow White,” Disney’s first animated film and the first full-length movie with every frame drawn by hand, was heralded for its realism. A multiplane camera allowed the film’s artists to use shadows and three-dimensional effects to striking effect. Just five years later, in “Bambi,” the studio was making conscious decisions to avoid realism in the artwork.

As a scholar and researcher of computer animation for movies and video games, I’ve noticed this general trend toward realism followed by the intentional adoption of more abstract and stylized imagery can be seen across the visual arts, including in electronic media.

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