The film scholar David Rodowick, in his Virtual Life of Film, writes that ‘every film is an animated film’ – if the definition of the term animation is to be taken as ‘the automated reconstitution of movement from a succession of still images.’[1] I suppose that Rodowick is just saying what everyone else is thinking in this age of unfettered moving image production, but seeing it in print feels brazen and wrong. He was following Manovich, who more famously suggested that ‘digital cinema is a particular case of animation which uses live action footage as one of its many elements.’[2]

I will follow Stephen Reinke in considering this extended problematic: ‘In the end, animation is triumphant, but at the price of an enormous levelling: It becomes everything.’[3] Surely what this highlights is the pure inadequacy of the existing lexicon of film terminology, which continues to be, I would argue, primarily based on outmoded principles of film production, including binary oppositions of live action and animation, which seem to be in some way locked in a constant battle for supremacy.

The result: the neutralisation of the term animation, meaning that we lose an analytical tool which could help to explicate the changing ontology of digital cinema. Further, this reveals that the wider film and new media scholarly community would seem to have a blindspot when it comes to recognising or acknowledging the specificities of animation (as a medium and as a field of study).

Deleuze invents new terms – the ‘privileged instant’ and ‘any instant whatever’ – as a way of articulating a disassociation between live action film and photography (thereby suggesting that animation has nothing to do with cinema, but that’s another story), and talks of ‘intensity’ as a measure of the audience’s investment in the film space. I would argue that such a rethink needs to be extended to digital cinema. For example, Paul Wells suggests that rather than defining animation based on technical distinctions, it may be more pertinent to define it in terms of narrativity [4], and this theme is echoed throughout animation studies (if not film or new media studies) – most effectively perhaps by Philip Denslow, who simply asks ‘What is animation if not the desire to make real that which exists in the imagination?’[5]

Animation in this narrative sense is not every film, it is a specific genre  – it is the interior, the possible world, the dream space, the non- Euclidean fantastic. It is also not just films for children or CGI (Let’s call Pan’s Labyrinth and Avatar animated films, for example[6])

Here we have, therefore, already 2 distinct definitions of animation:

 1. Animation is all film – since everything is technically possible in digital film, so all digital film is technically animation;

2. Animation is a specific genre that privileges the unique characteristics of animated storytelling, for example metamorphosis, the transgression of physical laws,  anthropomorphosisis.

So – does anyone have any suggestions for new terms for this new language? To kick off, I propose that the term ‘animatography’ should replace cinematography, to more accurately critique and analyse the essence of digital cinema.


Having worked as the Programme Leader for the widely regarded Animation department at Newport in South Wales (both Bachelor and Masters), Caroline is currently taking a sabbatical to write up her PhD on embodiment and narrativity in contemporary mainstream fantasy cinema.

[1] Rodowick, D. 2007 The Virtual Life of Film p54.

[2] Manovich,L. 2001 The Language of New Media p302.

[3] Reinke, S The world is a Cartoon : Stray notes on Animation (stray notes indeed, but such enlightening stray notes!), in Reinke,S. Gehman,C Eds. 2005 The Sharpest Point p11.

[4] Well, P. 2002  Animation Genre and Authorship.

[5] Denslow, P. What is Animation in Pilling (Ed) , A Reader in Animation Studies P4

[6] Guillarmo Del Toro, 2006 and James Cameron, 2009 respectively