Probably you don’t recognise the name Glen Keane, because why would you? Most people don’t know the names of any directors, let alone directors of animated films, so who would possibly know the name of any animators? What you need to know about Glen Keane is that he animated the above film, Duet, and is a very well respected and acclaimed animator. He brought us the character design for a bunch of Disney characters, like Ariel, Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, Tarzan, and Rapunzel. He’s won awards, including one for lifetime achievement, and has been named a Disney Legend. Probably you’ve seen this shared around the internet recently, especially if you care about animated film and animation in general. What we’re seeing, with Duet, is a new way to give people story. This was unveiled at ATAP [Advanced Technology and Projects] Session at the Google I/O Conference. What they showed was an interactive story that allows the viewer to choose which storyline to follow. You can follow one character from birth to adulthood or jump between characters, as the film here shows.
Designed specifically for mobile devices, it’s creating a new way for us to process media and interact with it. Duet is the first hand drawn animated film to début in this way.
Essentially, what we’re dealing with here is a trailer for a new technology and new medium, which will officially launch later this year. And while all of that is impossibly awesome and I’m very excited for it, let’s focus on what we’re seeing for a minute.
Duet begins at the very beginning of life for two characters. One male, one female. As the story progresses, we watch them grow, and the way their lives intersect, albeit briefly. As they grow and age, they do so independently, and we see them as two individuals, with distinct interests and talents. We watch them begin together, weave in and out of each other’s lives, the way life constantly intersects, and we see them go great distances from each other. Their lives are their own and perhaps they rarely think of the other, or perhaps they hold those bits of memory impossibly close.
We see them end up together, like we knew they would. Like they had to. But none of that is the important part.
Wordless and minimalistic in design and animation, Keane gives us a deeply personal story. He pulls the moments of life that make it matter. He shows us excitement, adventure. He shows us the beauty of life, and the flux of existence. These two characters follow straight lines, but those straight lines weave in and out of one another until they become one.
What Duet does, more than anything else, is make us feel. It doesn’t matter that this is less than four minutes, that the characters are more hinted at than they are developed. In those hints, we discover who they are. By pulling moments together, he gives us a whole life. And even if you find this a failing, tell me you don’t care when it ends. Tell me you didn’t feel chills as they held each other, finally. Tell me you didn’t care about these people drawn by hand and projected onto your computer screen.
This is the power of storytelling, and animation especially. Animation can cause the world to blend together and give us structure where none existed. With animations we can jump from a tree, fall in a lake, and end up on stage, in the arms of a lover. It doesn’t reflect life: it transforms it.
Art is a transformative experience, and there’s few things that’ve changed and influenced me the way animation has.
And maybe that’s part of this. A Disney Legend gives us a brief animated film and we’re filled with nostalgia. The right kind of nostalgia. The kind that reminds us of our childhood but doesn’t bother to replicate it. It uses our past to show us how beautiful it was, and then to show us how perfect life can still be.
And now back to the technology: I’m very excited about it. We’ve been given entertainment over our mobile phones, but it’s always been a bastardised version of what’s on our computers. This looks like the first medium designed truly for a mobile experience More than that, it’s interactive, which is always an interesting take on art. It looks like much of what’s being revealed is animated stories, which excites me that much more.
With the interactive component, we’re going to be able to choose what part of the storyline to follow. We personalise each journey. We can dictate its progress, and that’s such a cool way for viewers to take ownership. It’s never really been there in film. Videogames, yeah, of course, and those have a very cinematic quality, but never has a film been able to truly be interactive.
Film and literature can only change our lives, but we can never change their function or delivery method. This may be able to do that, and so I’m excited. I’m excited to see where a truly interactive film can take us.
My love of animation knows no bounds and the more ways it can be delivered to me and the more you push its boundaries, the more excited I get.
I think we’re coming into a very cool time for film in general. The big studios are failing. Hollywood’s failing, and though it’ll probably always be there, there’s much more opportunity to create outside of their arena. Thousands of short films are made every month and I only talk about a handful each month. And I’m only discussing animated ones, though I could easily talk about all the live action short films being made every day, and how glorious they are. The availability of technology democratises storytelling. Now anyone with a smartphone can shoot a film and edit it together.
While that still keeps technology out of the hands of billions, it’s much better than it used to be. And if this can inspire people to chase their animated dreams, then I only see hope there.
Duet is beautiful and it fills me with hope, with longing, with love. I remember what it was like to watch animated films for the first time and how I wanted to live in there.
Maybe Duet and can do that for you, or at least remind you how it was back then.