The Crafting of Worlds: On Animation, Born of Many Places

BY: Max Yu

fundamentals of the industry: Waldo’s Dream (Lunes Animation, Chile) & The Walt Disney Company as the West

The visions of animation put forth by the West, particularly The Walt Disney Company, loom large over not only the flows of capital and prestige throughout the industry, but also in the aesthetics produced by animation. The fundamental twelve principles of animation were developed by Disney animators from the late 1920s onward (Lasseter, n.d.), and are taught through both formal and informal means to animators. As a whole, they outline how the craft is accomplished through the creation of expressive and appealing movement.

However, questions of “expression” and “appeal” are deeply subject to the Western gaze. What is appealing about the old racist caricatures of Disney, for instance? Is the relatively homogenous character design of recent Pixar-Disney movies still expressive? As provoked by the animated satirical short Waldo’s Dream, how should we feel when these aesthetics obscure unchecked capitalistic growth? We should be wary that the dominance of the animation fundamentals as well as Disney’s media monopoly may create an orthodox style in animation that overshadows alternate forms made by other animators (Wells 2013), most prominently those who are marginalized and othered by the West.
So what might animation products that confront a Western gaze look like, and who makes them?

returning the Western gaze: Yellow Fever (Ng’endo Mukii, Kenya)
[CLIP WITH AUDIO] “I see the West seeing us, and in response, this woman had worked hard to erase the element that marks her as truly African. Her own melanin. Her own skin.”[3] 

This is Ng’endo Mukii’s Yellow Fever, an exploration of African women’s self-image through animation with realistic textures, dance with stop motion properties, and texts produced by the West juxtaposed with interviews from Mukii’s family. It is a film that recognizes the hierarchies of the White Western gaze and what it imposes upon Black women, and expresses the profound bodily discomfort felt under this gaze through a multimedia kaleidoscope.

In the intimate space of Mukii’s family, there is an interplay between the animated members of her family as they enact White beauty standards on themselves and each other; all the while, the live action television broadcasts music videos of thin White women and skin whitening creams into the house. This is juxtaposed against live action footage of dancers, in which slavery era depictions of Blackness– and Black women in particular– are projected in animated sequence onto their moving bodies. Both animation and live action alternatively play the roles of the intimate and embodied, as well as the disconnected and oppressive. Eventually, the two sequences merge into each other with the admission of discomfort towards the Western gaze. In this way, Yellow Fever leverages the properties of animation to turn the images of the West, as literally projected onto Black bodies, back upon itself.

animation as a subversive craft: tentatively Deportivo, Baby (Estampita, Argentina); Legend of the Sky Kingdom  (Sunrise Productions, Zimbabwe)

These are very different works from very different places, engaged with animation itself in different ways; their creators are rarely engaged in the same projects or situated in the same contexts. By placing these works together, however, I want to call attention to the subversive potentials offered by animation. The craft can be uniquely powerful– there is a “profound pleasure” in the relationship between the animator and their creation of movement (Wells 2013). However, this is a fraught state; deadly overwork is well-documented (kVin 2021) in many segments of the industry, and practices of outsourcing from the West have frequently used the cheaply paid animators of “elsewhere” to create its television and movies (PBS 2009; May 2016)– elsewhere being a malleable and concealed place that is rarely apparent to a Western audience. Like any other form, animation is subject to hierarchies of oppression and capitalism that constrict both its creators and its creations.

Yet, through its ability to construct whole worlds, both familiar and other, animation still contains the potential for awakening awareness of other worlds. It is not bound to any one material or camera, not bound to depicting any single form of living being or otherwise, not even bound to any particular rules about the nature of motion and physicality and time– animation can invoke the plurality of post-abyssal creation by building, in the Zapatista tradition, “a world in which many worlds fit ” (de Sousa and Meneses 2019).

awakening through the strange: ENA: Temptation Stairway (Joel Guerra, Perú)
[CLIP WITH MUSIC] ENA is a short animated series directed by Joel Guerra. Currently at three episodes long, it is most succinctly summarized as a story about the Picasso-esque ENA and her moon-shaped friend Moony going places and talking to people. But ENA is much more inscrutable than that, with fantastical settings and absurd dialogue, scored to wonderfully dissonant music. ENA straddles boundaries in many ways: it utilizes many tools and practices of games animation to create a rather filmic experience. Its characters speak in many languages and voices, and adopt the cultural markers of many different peoples. Its inspirations are similarly scattered, including the surreal Japanese PlayStation game LSD: Dream Emulator and the dystopic surrealist Polish painter Zdzisław Beksińki (Joel Guerra 2021).

What ENA presents confidently defies categorizations along many lines of hierarchy and ordering; it draws from both the global North and South in its features, and flaunts its bizarre narrative and genre transgressions to pull you in. The world of ENA is strange enough that it asks not to be understood, but to simply be experienced in all of its multitudes. It lives as a world where the male and female, the North and South, the mundane and strange can all exist at once.

conclusion: tentatively Isaura (Lucan Studio, South Africa (story based in Mozambique)); Forget (zemyata, Thailand) (79 words)
“…the work of art – must be capable of awakening, even in those who did not participate in the Aesthetic Process by which it came into being, the same ideas, emotions and thoughts that led the artist to its creation” (Boal n.d.). There exists a potential for this awakening that is already being fulfilled in the field of animation, by looking back at the West, by crossing the divide. The new aesthetics of animation are already here, and they are many.

Italics mark title cards/new segments and artifacts. For the purposes of convenience: this video puts aside the use of animation and sfx in “live action” products and in game products (mostly) or in graphic UI elements. Many products of animation are the results of studios, and “behind the scenes” interviews are often focused on the work of directors– it is difficult to find perspectives by individual animators without literally trawling their Twitters, which are often (understandably) not in English. Still, I could find insights on inspiration and motivation for the two explicitly spotlighted pieces, which are both independent productions.


Boal, Augusto. n.d. The Aesthetics of the Oppressed. Translated by Adrian Jackson. Routledge. Accessed April 29, 2021.

Joel Guerra. 2021. “@GarbageMammal LSD: Dream Emulator and an artist called Zdzisław Beksiński.” Tweet. @JoelGuerraC (blog). February 19, 2021.

kViN. 2021. “TV Anime, A Deadly Landscape Even For High Profile Productions: SK8 And Wonder Egg Priority’s Struggles.” Sakuga Blog (blog). March 13, 2021.

Lasseter, John. n.d. “Principles of Traditional Animation Applied to 3D Computer Animation,” 10.
May, Kate Torgovnick. 2016. “A New Age of Animation.” The Atlantic. May 20, 2016.

PBS. 2009. NBR | Outsourcing Animation to India | PBS.

Sousa Santos, Boaventura de, and Maria Paula Meneses. 2019. Knowledges Born in the Struggle: Constructing the Epistemologies of the Global South. Milton, UNITED KINGDOM: Taylor & Francis Group.

Wells, Paul. 2013. Understanding Animation. Routledge.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s