A Fan’s Perspective in Clone Wars and Rebels Animation

Animation can explain whatever the mind of man can conceive. This facility makes it the most versatile and explicit means of communication yet devised for quick mass appreciation.

– Walt Disney

Animation is art, and art can freely pull emotions from us, but only if we allow it to. It isn’t just something for children; it is for all ages. Art can tell rich stories just as well as any live action film or play. Animation is a medium, meaning it isn’t limited to one genre or age group, unless we force it to be.

From the incredibly told and heart wrenching story of a boy and his sister in Grave of the Fireflies to the animated shorts that appear between television shows as fillers, all animated stories have the same potential. It only depends on how you use it.

Though, just like literature and how we may not always connect to the style of someone’s writing, art is diverse and will not always appeal to everyone.

WonderCon 2014 Exclusive Clip Cast lineup

Credit: Disney Television Animation, Lucasfilm Animation.

I have witnessed widespread conversation about the look and animation of Star Wars Rebels, a show that has yet to air. Though, not a lot has been shown, I do feel that there is enough content that I can extract and address a few topics. The purpose of this write-up is to highlight some basic animation principles that may help you understand the visual difference between Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels. Knowing these terms and principles will help you make an informed opinion about the new Disney XD animated series when it premieres in October 2014.

Style

This is something I’ve seen a fair amount of people be incredibly vocal over and get into arguments about. Star Wars Rebels looks completely different from its predecessor The Clone Wars, and is that a bad thing?

I personally believe that it is not.

As someone who has enjoyed animated shows and has seen one of her favourite franchises, Transformers, begin and end with yet another new iteration on the way (almost nine series in 20 years, if including Japan and its adaptations), the stylistic changes between The Clone Wars and Rebels don’t bother me.

On top of a design that is softer, rounded, and not as “harsh” as The Clone Wars, we can also immediately see from the main cast that it’s also a fair bit brighter and richer in colour than what appeared in the previous series. Another thing of notice is that the colours used for Rebels are flat.  When I say that, I don’t mean without volume; I say it meaning it’s not “painted” in look as what we saw in The Clone Wars. Again, it’s a style change, and though I loved the look of The Clone Wars, I find it just as lovely to look at the softly blended tones, especially ones as rich as those seen in the Rebels cast.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Credit: Lucasfilm Animation.

Besides Ahsoka Tano, the colour palette of the lead cast from The Clone Wars was fairly subdued, and I do not say that in a negative way. The colours chosen were very fitting for each of the characters, as were the colours of the background settings. Those colours and their painted style helped The Clone Wars be a visually beautiful series, and in the final seasons, that beauty only continued to shine brighter–sometimes even breathtakingly so.

Saying that, I do not see the problems others seem to observe when talking about the Rebels cast, especially when talking about two characters in particular who have been the focal point of more than one discussion: Zeb Orrelios and Sabine Wren.

The upset over Zeb seems to come from him being purple, which I don’t exactly understand. He’s an alien; he can be any colour the artists want to make him. As it is, we’ve seen aliens of practically every other colour in The Clone Wars. I can’t help but wonder if he had been introduced in The Clone Wars, would people have complained about his colouring as they are now?

As for Sabine, her helmet and armor colours have caused a stir. Arguments over the colours not coinciding with existing Expanded Universe (EU) lore for Mandalorian armour continually pop up, even after it was announced that the material is not canon (newly rebranded as Star Wars Legends). Fans reacted to the colour pink as if that was the worst and most horrifying thing in the world.

When I saw that Aayla Secura’s astromech droid was pink during season five’s Droid arc in The Clone Wars, I immediately thought, “Of course, the female’s droid is pink.” I should also preface this by saying that there are two pink astromech droids. QT-KT was in the Droid arc and R2-KT was in season one of The Clone Wars. Both were created with Albin Johnson’s daughter in mind (the founder of the 501st Legion)–a beautiful and touching gesture. That said, pink is a soft red. It is a colour, and whatever labels we give it are just societal constructs. Looking down on animation as a whole as something “kiddish” simply because a large portion of animated media targets children is a bad approach, especially if the reason behind the upset comes from the idea that pink is “girly.” There’s nothing wrong with girly (or kiddish), and I have no doubt that Sabine and her armour are going to rock.

Also, just as an aside, Sabine’s armour also has silver, black, orange, and red. Still, pink is the only defining colour of her character to a fair amount of people, even though as a whole, she has far more brown, tan, black, and grey.

Animation and Rigging

The first thing any animator learns and is expected to animate is a ball bouncing. The fundamentals of animation can be found in that ball, and along with timing, you’re also expected to show you understand the concept “stretch and squash.” It sounds simple, and it may even sound boring, but there are unlimited amounts of personalities and stories you can show by animating a ball bouncing.

This is something that is going to set Rebels apart from The Clone Wars. While I’m sure none of the characters will turn into a ball that we’ll watch bounce, Rebels will take advantage of stretch and squash–something that wasn’t present in The Clone Wars.

Example A shows a ball bouncing with a rigid, non-dynamic movement. In Example B, the ball is “squashed” at impact and “stretched” during fall and rebound.

Stretch and squash is exactly what it sounds like. If you look at old animations, you will find heavily exaggerated movements. These elements of stretching and squashing aren’t used to the same exaggerated degree all the time. When done well, it adds a whole new layer to animation.

And that is something that we’ll see with Rebels. As previously stated, unlike RebelsThe Clone Wars and its models weren’t made to include stretch and squash. This means that, even if the animators from The Clone Wars do have experience animating, they have to apply different techniques to animate with the full range these new models for Rebels are built for. Something, that once learned and accustomed to, could make Rebels look even better than anything that we’ve seen in The Clone Wars.

Another choice that has made itself clear in the Rebels content released thus far is the hair movement. I still remember when the front part of Obi-Wan’s hair moved in The Clone Wars and everyone was talking about it. Looking back through the earlier seasons, hair was a solid mass that never shifted. It wasn’t until later in the series that we see hair move freely, as seen with Satine Kryze’s hair in season five.

Hair can be difficult and expensive to animate, especially with time constraints. Certain ways of to get around this is to either give characters short hair, hair that doesn’t move, or hair that is broken into “parts” that can be individually animated, like a Twi’lek’s lekku.

So far, Ezra is the only one with hair that moves. We have not seen how Sabine’s hair moves, but if it does at all, I imagine it is similar to Ezra’s movements. His hair appears to be the combination of one solid mass that has deformers rigged into it to allow areas of it to be manipulated. Is this the best way of doing hair? Maybe, maybe not. Is this a cost effective way of doing hair that you want to be able to move? Yes, it is.

Ezra Bridger's hair movement and maquette from Star Wars Rebels

Credit: Disney Television Animation, Lucasfilm Animation.

Many people missed out on The Clone Wars because of the dislike towards the animation and the style. I am hardly alone in respecting just how incredible a series it grew into, and it is not just because there were dark moments, episodes and arcs. To say that only those aspects mattered is a disservice to the series as a whole. Those moments were the combination of storytelling, animation, voice acting, and everything else that must come together to make them as magnificent as we saw them.

I’m not saying you have to be incredibly enthusiastic about Star Wars Rebels and cheer for it in all possible ways. I only ask that fans of the franchise give it a chance and to not become the people who immediately dismissed The Clone Wars or cast it aside after watching the movie or only a few episodes.

Just like the first seasons of The Clone Wars, Rebels may start out a bit rougher in animation and backgrounds, but I fully believe that it can equal and possibly even surpass the excellence of The Clone Wars, if given the opportunity.

One response to “A Fan’s Perspective in Clone Wars and Rebels Animation

  1. Amazing post! I couldn’t expect less from an artist like you!

    This is very, very explanatory, I’ve learned a lot. About the differences, I have to say, I’m totally agree with you, sadly so many people is against Rebels for that. They tend to say things like “SWR is a sequel of TCW” but it’s not!

    About the colors, I love Sabine colors. Ok, Ok, pink is my favorite color, but if I like her armor is not because of that, I like it because she looks different comparing to others, she’s not like the others. About Zeb… I don’t see any problem for his skin color. Look at my precious Twi’leks, they can be blue, green, white…… but also purple or pink. Pink males. SWTOR is full of pink-skinned male Twi’leks (not to mention the fact that you can create a pink male Twi’lek). We also had the Patitites in TCW (Nomad Droids) and they are green, blue or purple (their leader, for example, was a purple male). So, I see no problems.

    Good, good post!

    PS. I’d like to see a pink droid programed as a male!
    PS2. Fangirling because Hera is looking at Kanan xDxDxD

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