Animated movies and shorts have for some time been moving away from realism and towards non-photorealistic imaging–NPR for short. Creative Bloq gave a great overview of the trend on their website last year.
Disney recently released new information on their latest tool called the Hyperion renderer. They used it to make Big Hero 6 and it will also be used in their latest project Zootopia. (If you want to know much more about the tech behind the animation advances, Disney has a whole page devoted to it on their animation site.)
So, what is NPR and why is it new but not-so-new?
The interest in non-photorealistic imaging came about because animators became too adept at reproducing illustrations that were so real as to be hardly indistinguishable from the real thing. If your only goal is to reproduce what is already there, you may as well just take a photo. Animation allows you to do so much more with the character, like jump off a building and not risk the actor getting hurt in the process.
The popular trend now is to create images that are realistic and yet, are stylistically unique, hence the development of NPR. NPR also allows the animator to tweak a character’s appearance to make individual traits more or less prominent. For example, Disney has come under fire in recent years for giving its female characters stylistic body proportions that are realistically not possible for a real human female to attain.
Still, both Disney, Pixar and others will continue to push the frontiers of animation to create stylistically unique canvases and characters in their quest to attract the viewing public.