“The Influence of Classical Artworks and Art Movements in Contemporary Media: Animation, Cartoons, and Video Games”
The saying that nothing is original, and everything new and innovative has been done before (and probably been done better than) has never been more true than now in regards to the relationship between past art movements (pre-1950’s) and the contemporary emerging sub- cultures of art in the 1990’s, 2000’s and the 2010’s. Quite simply, everything has been derived from somewhere else. For example, how many times have you seen motif #1? To those who are unfamiliar motif #1 is it is the depiction of a small red fish shack on the coast of Rockport, Massachusetts residing on the Bradley wharf, better known as the most “often painted building in America”. Painted hundreds of times over, motif #1 has gained a bad reputation by those who find its constant depiction an annoying mockery of the art world. But that is not why it was important, well to this paper at least. In 2003 Pixar animation studios released the highly popularized animation film Finding Nemo. About hour or so into the movie, motif #1 makes a cameo in one scene in the dentist’s office. Although a minute detail in a grander scheme of the entire film, the of one of these many reproductions begs to ask: to what extent do classical artworks and art movements hold influence over their contemporary counterparts in animation and sub-fields?

It can also be said that although these classical influences have been “downsized” to eight dollar graphic novels and minor cameos in 30 minute queues on the small screen, their initial impact has been successfully carried across the new media of expression. For many their presence is mere gist of their actual entity, but many more hold their own in the spotlight of their new digital and graphic stage.

The Art Deco Movement

The Art Deco movement was the major trademark of 1920’s France and later the 30’s and 40’s worldwide, especially for architecture and decorative embellishments. The art deco movement is best described by historian Bevis Hillier, who detailed it as "an assertively modern style... [that] ran to symmetry rather than asymmetry, and to the rectilinear rather than the curvilinear; it responded to the demands of the machine and of new material...[and] the requirements of mass production." the emphasis on geometric shapes, extreme symmetry, and strong, heavy lines can be seen in many cities worldwide, especially in Paris, New York, Detroit, and Chicago. One of the best examples of art deco architecture is the Chrysler building in Chicago. The movement began to decelerate post-WWII and steeply dropped off by the mid-50s.

Forty years down the line, a new cartoon adapted the classical art deco style to create an equally stylistic take on the past movement, called Dark Deco. This was the highly acclaimed Saturday morning cartoon, Batman: the animated series which was developed by artists Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski. The style of the unorthodox cartoon took the extravagancy of its art deco components and married it to the styles of noir films that were popular during the early 40s to the late 50’s, fitting for the action/crime drama that was depicted in the series. The outcome was a beautifully devised Gotham city scape cast “in the shadows of the caped crusader and embellished with the ritzy glamour of the fabulously wealthy Bruce Wayne”. The many motifs of art deco graced the skyline of Gotham city in the cartoon, and there is even a direct application of the designs used on the Chrysler building that were used in many landscape screenshots of buildings in the famed city. as shown in the side by side comparison below, similarities include the embrace of (then) new technology as a means of intricate detailed designs as a basis of the architecture resulting in the blocky, flat or rounded industrial style, the incorporation of exact symmetry of these details (like the starburst motif and the geometric patterns), and ensuring the grandiose vibe of the entire structure.

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Another application of the art deco movement is in the Bioshock franchise, a first person shooter that was developed by Irrational Games and released in August of 2007. A huge trademark of the franchise is the underwater city of Rapture, Andrew Ryan’s brainchild, a current dystopia that players must traverse throughout the game. The style is highly art deco, fitting considering the timeline of the actual construction of Rapture (during the late 1930’s until its completion in 1946). In the famous screenshot of Jacks descent to the city players are given a firsthand glance of the mysterious skyline of Rapture. The skyline holds all the bearings of the art deco movement (the streamline rounded corners, the flat and blocky roofs, the heavy implied lines, and the geometric motif) but it also alludes to the greatness of the city itself. Because there is such an emphasis on how the city was to stand for the ideal place, where artist and mind were free from the suppression of government and religion and censor, the fact the art deco style was chosen says one thing: the style itself too meets the standard of greatness demanded by the city itself. The same perception of the movement that the rich and great minded had for it when it was originally debuted in Paris during the late 1920’s and when it took off worldwide as a representation of classiness and prestige.

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The High Renaissance

The beginning of the early Renaissance was conceived as an influx of trade from the Near East created economic growth and culture expansion in the commercial city-sates of Venice and Florence. This development of humanistic thought, ideology, and artistic breadth rapidly spread across Italy and later the rest of Western Europe. Almost a century and a half later the high masters were introduced as the most esteemed in the fineness of the arts. This includes the
acclaimed duel painter-engineer Leonardo da Vinci, and the breathtakingly skilled sculptor Michelangelo. These original renaissance men, the fathers of modern thought mastered the fields of mathematics, sculpture, painting and philosophy helped introduce a new era of revolutionary artisans movement.

On another note, between the years 2005 to 2008 an animated television show called Avatar: The Last Air bender (created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Byran Konietzko) on Nickelodeon ran through three hugely successful seasons, concluding in a two hour season finale and even gained itself an indirect- spiritual successor (The Legend of Korra). It incorporated quasi-Japanese anime style with western animation to create what is widely regarded as a breakthrough in American cartoon art development. By now you are wondering what the painter of the Mona Lisa has to do with a successful television franchise, but there is a common connection. Though the show was largely influenced by the culture and arts of East-Asia, Inuit, India and South-America many European Renaissance motifs were present in various episodes throughout the series.

In the season two finale “The Crossroads of Destiny” there is a scene where the protagonist Aang gets struck by lightning (via second and third season antagonist, Azula) while in the avatar state. While falling he is caught by ally Katara, a water bender and a recognized “mother figure” for the entire series. The pose they hold for the screenshot while she cradles him carefully is a direct nod to the Pieta by Michelangelo, a marble life-likeness of the Virgin Mary holding Jesus Christ in what appears mere moments after his removal from the cross. The pose, the allusion, and the symbolic nature of the characters as both fallen saviors help revitalize the original intent behind the former sculpture.
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A more subtle renaissance influence is Leonardo’s sketches and interpretations on the flight mechanisms of birds on the concept of the air nomad’s gliders. The same skeletal system is utilized to create the wings of the gliders as what depicted in the sketches and the formulas of the 16th century. Because the general style of the series was Asian inspired, the connection between the very detailed and realistic mathematical blueprints of Leonardo and the highly oriental influenced glider concepts are often overlooked. However, the core elements of their designs are very similar in fact when broken down into simplicities. Also both acted as an enabler for flight for human beings: for the air gliders by manipulating the abilities of air benders and the wing plan as by eccentric application of known science and logic

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