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Theory: Heroes and Imitation


Today on Facebook, I got into a discussion about “fan videos”. Someone pointed me to this film…

Superman Classic

At first glance, this film appears well animated, professional, polished… everything someone might expect of a good animated film… except one thing. Take a look at this film now and see if you can figure out what that is…

Superman in The Mechanical Monsters

Separated by 70 years, these two films are very similar on the surface. But underneath, they are completely different. The Fleischers were breaking new ground with their film, adapting a comic book that reflected the mood and style of the time. They were experimenting with new techniques and expanding what their medium was capable of doing. Superman Classic imitates without really adding anything new.


It’s bad because the film maker who made the fan film obviously has considerable skill and talent. He should be making his own films that reflect his own point of view and time and place. Instead, he spent months and months of his life *recreating something that already existed*. We might be impressed with the sheer amount of work involved, but when it comes down to it, it’s as pointless as singing “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall”.

“Hard work and long hours aren’t what make for great cartoons. Ideas are.” -John Kricfalusi

When you imitate, the absolute best that you can achieve is to be “almost as good” as the thing you are imitating. How can a copy ever be better? But if you go back to the fundamentals and create your own thing, you have the chance to perhaps surpass what has been done before. Best of all, instead of rehashing something that was relevant half a century ago, you are creating something relevant to the here and now.


It’s good to have heroes, it’s good to study great drawings by copying them to figure out what makes them tick, and it’s good to admire films from the past. Inspiration is important. But there is a proper application of inspiration.

“It’s only natural to pattern yourself after someone. If I wanted to be a painter, I might think about trying to be like Van Gogh, or if I was an actor, act like Laurence Olivier. If I was an architect, there’s Frank Gehry. But you can’t just copy somebody. If you like someone’s work, the important thing is to be exposed to everything that person has been exposed to. Some people say they want to be like Bob Dylan. But they shouldn’t do that by copying me. Anyone who wants to be a songwriter like me should listen to as much folk music as they can, study the form and structure of stuff that has been around for 100 years. I go back to Stephen Foster.” -Bob Dylan

Every day on the internet, I see people drawing endless imitations of Sonic the Hedgehog or anime or Tex Avery cartoons. In fact, there’s a whole website devoted to that called DeviantArt. It upsets me to see otherwise fine artists squander their talent on mindless imitation of a tiny, inbred handful of things. If they focused their energy in gaining a diverse and wide range of influences, and analyzing the thought process behind the creation of their favorite cartoons, they would stand a chance of surpassing their heroes. But instead, they are trapped in an endless loop of copying the thing they admire, wasting their energy tracing the outlines of its shadow.

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