“The role of culture is that it’s the form through which we as a society reflect on who we are, where we’ve been, and where we hope to be.”Wendell Pierce, Actor
For some, a cartoon by any other name would still be just a cartoon. But, for animators and animation enthusiasts, where a cartoon is created makes a meaningful difference. Take, for example, Western animation vs. Asian animation.
The cultural variation between countries in the Eastern Hemisphere and those in the Western Hemisphere have colored animated creations that are distinctly different.
Western animation and Eastern animation differ in everything from animation style, sound, and production to character development, storyline, and episode length.
So what makes Western animation the style of choice internationally?
In this blog post, we discuss some of the major differences between Western animation and animation from other regions of the world and the ten reasons why Western animation has had the biggest impact on the industry globally.
Western Animation vs. Asian Animation
Asian animation is an entertainment giant, and anime is a big competition for Western animation productions.
Anime refers to animated productions that originate in Japan. The word anime is a shortened form of the word animation and encompasses all types of animated creations from Japan.
While Japanese people refer to any animation as anime, Western audiences use the term for Japanese animations exclusively.
Some of the most popular anime productions of all time include Dragon Ball Z, Pokémon, and One Piece.
In contrast, Western animation is everything created by American animators or animators in other countries who’ve been largely influenced by American animation and culture.
Despite the successes of animation from other countries, Western animation keeps coming out on top when it comes to attracting viewers.
This is mainly due to Western animations’ screen appeal. It can also be traced back to the well-documented history of Western animation and its exportation, both of which have built on Western animation, becoming the most well-known form of animation in existence.
When thinking of Western animation, hand-drawn cartoons like The Simpsons, The Lion King, and Adventure Time and CGI productions like Toy Story, Avatar, and Tangled best represent the successes of Western animation in the last century.
The origins and development of Western animation vs. anime are largely based on cultural influences. The same can be said when comparing animations produced anywhere in the world.
These cultural influences set off cascades of creativity that have resulted in celebrated differences.
Here’s a closer look at how Western Animation differs from other types of animation and how it comes out on top every time.
10 Ways Western Animation Influenced Animation Globally
Western animation has played a huge role in the development of entertainment internationally.
But why has this form of animation trumped creations from other world regions?
For instance, Japanese animation is a unique and celebrated animation style that millions of viewers love.
But, even with its massive viewership, anime hasn’t surpassed Western animation in its acceptance by viewers or use by animators.
To settle the score on why Western animation has been more successful, let’s look at the 10 ways that Western animation has had a powerful influence on the animation industry globally.
1. Art Style
Western animation isn’t pinned down to one definitive animation style, whereas other types of animation, like anime, are.
For example, Western animation characters from the film Hotel Transylvania look very different from the characters in The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Similarly, Adventure Time’s stars wouldn’t quite fit into an episode of Big Mouth.
This wide variety of animation styles is a core characteristic of Western animation.
On the other hand, animation styles like Japanese animation follow the same thread of design, and each production’s characters and scenery have similar elements.
The broad variety of animation styles adopted by Western animation has made it more easily accepted universally. It’s also the secret behind the quick production that Western animation is known for.
As a freelance animator, using the Western animation style allows you to focus on creating better movement and simple yet effective story development, all in a shorter period of time.
2. Character Design
Flexible animation styles feed into the design of fun and fascinating characters.
In Western animation, animators are free to design characters with minimal or excessive features. Western animation character design draws on the setting of the cartoon much more than animations from other parts of the world.
For example, shows like Peppa Pig showcase simplistic characters that seem like they’re made up in a kids’ arts-and-crafts class.
This animation style fits perfectly with the basic design of the cartoon’s setting and has big appeal to the young audience, who are accustomed to seeing this type of character design in their paper creations.
Similarly, Teen Titans Go! is an action-packed cartoon series with a whole host of big personalities. The creators of this show use a blend of anime and Western-style character design to produce striking characters with a quirky edge.
Although anime makes an appearance in this series, it’s the Western animation elements—like the less exaggerated anatomies and short and snappy dialogue—that give its characters their charm.
3. Frame Rate
One of Western animation’s most laudable standards is that it generally sticks with a higher frame rate.
But how bad is a lower frame rate for business?
Well, let’s take a look at Western animation vs. anime to get a better idea.
With a huge focus on detail in Japanese animations, animators need to compromise on how much of their time is used in other areas of the production.
This has led to the creators of Japanese animation generally cutting down on the number of frames they use per scene.
As a result, one of the most striking differences between Western animation vs. Asian animation is that the latter has much less movement per scene and more frozen action scenes—which isn’t the most appealing display for viewers.
This approach is similar to Western animation practices like animating on twos or threes. However, Western animation focuses on maintaining regular movement, even in scenes with reduced frames per second, while Japanese animation does not.
A souped-up frame rate makes ticking off the 12 principles of animation easier to do since it allows animators to more easily achieve the spatial arrangements and motion that make for good animations.
The smooth results achieved when using Western animation practices have won the hearts of animators from the East to the West and are the most popular frame-rate standard used across the world today.
GIF by Tribe GIF via Tenor
In addition, Western animation practices have evolved to streamline production and reduce cost has boosted its charm. These workflow and business considerations can be appreciated by animators in any geographical and professional context.
How long is a good show? And is a season jam-packed with concise episodes superior to one made up of a succession of spread-out, hour-long episodes?
The answers to these questions depend on the audience you’re catering to as a freelance animator and the variations in viewer preference that occur over time.
Today, full-length animated feature films are still a hit, but so are long- and short-length shows catered to kids and adults.
Western animation practices seem to keep most viewers coming back for more. This success is less about Western animation being produced in a set amount of volume and more about the flexibility that animators have when it comes to adjusting the volume to viewer preferences.
Viewing platforms like Netflix show just how satisfying entertainment can be packaged as episodes of varying length—a throwback to sitcom cartoons of the 80s and 90s that grabbed our attention in much the same way.
And the recouped success of the box office internationally shows that cinema is still thriving. But how big a role does animation play in all this?
Well, animated films like Sonic 2, Minions 2, and Lightyear were some of the biggest grossing box office hits for 2022 and have increased ticket sales by 365% from 2021.
5. Character Development
In other regions of the world, animators create highly complex characters that often compete with the grandeur of the plot.
While this can make for a memorable animated player, it can also take away from the cohesiveness of the animation overall.
Western animation practices have favored fluid motion over characters with elaborate development.
But this doesn’t mean that viewers don’t get to know a lot about a character in Western animations.
In general, Western animations will delve deep into the history and emotions of the main character of a story and perhaps give some extra information about secondary characters as time goes on.
For freelance animators involved in Western animation, this approach to character development makes for a more effective workflow because:
The storyline is adjusted to only a few characters’ backgrounds and development.
Less character development prevents convoluted storylines.
Simplified stories mean that animators and producers don’t need to remember as much detail during production.
In addition to workflow benefits, the better quality of motion seen in Western animation is a huge drawcard to viewers and was instrumental in the triumph of classics like Snow White and The Seven Dwarves, as well as the Mickey Mouse cartoons.
6. Plot development
Following on from simplified character development, simplified plot development is key in Western animation—and this quality is favored internationally.
Simplified plot development means that the journey from how a show starts to how it ends isn’t too intricate.
Western animation makes it easy for viewers to keep up with—or catch up on—what's happening in the story, even if they’ve missed an episode or two.
For example, shows like SpongeBob SquarePants follow a predictable plot for every episode.
At first, you’ll see SpongeBob beginning his day as per usual. After that, things progress to some kind of crazy event that the main character is involved in and usually ends up solving. By the end of the episode, things are almost completely back to normal.
A similar layout is followed in animated films, where the production has a clear starting point, development of events, and conclusion of events that viewers can keep track of.
And streamlining plot development doesn’t mean that every production is the same.
Western animation lays the detail on thick when it comes to the type of events occurring, and the way characters respond to these events. It also includes various references to real life, such as innate human behavior, culture, politics, and international relations.
This realism embedded in Western animation allows for the storyline to become more relatable and brings a light-hearted perspective to serious issues.
7. Audience Appeal
Making appealing animations depends on where you are in the world and who your audience is.
This is because age, as well as the cultural, political, and geographical context that individuals find themselves in, has a big effect on how they perceive the world. And the entertainment these audiences consume needs to speak to the viewers’ outlook.
When comparing Western animation vs. Asian animation, Western animation is seen to have productions aimed at broader categories of viewers—for example, children, teenagers, and adults—while the storyline and characters of anime appeal to a variety of age groups.
Again, the broad scope of Western animation’s audience appeal beats specialized animations that grab the attention of very specific groups of people.
The audience appeal of animation is realized through its genre. Western animation genre categories tend to be more focused on the type of animation rather than the audience.
Categories associated with Western animation include Early Animation, Animated Musical, Gross-Out Show, and Superhero Western Animation.
While the sweeping genres captured in Western animation may be what we’re all used to, they’re certainly not the norm around the world.
One example of a different take on genres is Japanese animation (also known as anime).
Anime includes specific genres such as young boys, young girls, adult males, and adult females. So this type of animation is developed into more intricate options for viewers.
So why are Western animation genres accepted the world over?
Well, the more generalized categories of Western animation mean fewer restrictions and considerations must be worked into a storyline. This approach makes it easier to produce widely accepted animations and allows for productions to be aired amongst broader audiences.
Western animation is mainly produced in English by English-speaking animators and producers. While this monotony in the language of Western animation is changing to become more inclusive, it has given Western animators one big advantage.
To better understand this advantage, let’s start by looking at the challenges with lip-syncing in anime—the other superpower in animation.
One of the most significant downsides of anime is the animation styles’ less effective lip-syncing compared to Western animation.
This difference in lip-syncing proficiency can be put down to the language variations seen between Western animation vs. Japanese animation.
Japanese animations are originally produced in Japanese, and these productions must be edited to express the English language.
The process of editing animations to correct the lip-syncing—by editing lip flaps and dubbing—can be lengthy and complicated. This task usually results in mouth movements that don’t match a character's speech.
In addition, the elaborate personalities of anime characters can make translating audio from Japanese to English a big challenge. This is because not every subtlety of meaning and emotion of the dialogue can be captured across the language barrier.
In contrast, the creators of Western animation speak and are spoken to in the language their animations are aired in.
As a result, Western animators have a good grasp of the lip movements associated with English dialogue and the timing of speech. They can then take this information and inject it into their animations.
There’s also no need for the translation work that anime productions require.
Because of this, Western animation is known for its organic and precise lip-syncing, which adds great value to the viewing experience.
10. Gender Representation
With its long history as a form of entertainment for children, Western animation usually includes characters with muted physical attributes.
This is easy to spot when comparing Western animation vs. anime. Western animation characters are generally less curvaceous, voluptuous, or ripped than their anime counterparts.
This doesn’t mean these types of characters are absent in Western animation. But, it’s more likely to see anatomical exaggerations in adult main characters, superheroes, and eccentric characters, and fewer characters are given these traits compared to anime.
Following in the footsteps of Western animation practices, most international productions are conservative when it comes to displaying gender, with variations seen from country to country.
How characters are portrayed also depends on the target audience of a specific show or movie, with content catered to adults allowing for more sexualized characters.
How Western Animation Guided The Global Animation Industry
It’s said that contemporary animation began in France in 1876, at the fingertips of an Engineer known as Charles-Émile Reynaud. Without Reynaud and other innovators, we may not have come to know of one of the world’s favorite forms of entertainment as early as we did.
Yet, while the achievements of animators across the world are priceless, what Western animation did for the industry is what propelled it to become the storytelling, money-making machine that it is.
From early black-and-white cartoons and the Golden Age of Animation to CGI feature films, Western animation has solidified the importance of the artform in the history and culture of the global population. It’s also turned animation into a flourishing and lucrative career choice.
The success of Western animation has no doubt been boosted by the steady flow of American culture into every corner of the globe—which has made this type of animation the most comfortable option for many.
While storytelling takes a different approach depending on where production happens, animations from every region of the world generate the emotional and visual appeal that audiences want.
It’s the combination of cultural exportation, creative clout, and business acumen that has made the Western animation industry the—as yet—undefeated champion that it is.
Why Western Animation Offers a World of Opportunity
As the geographical superstar of the animation industry, Western animation studios and freelance animators hold the key to learning great animation techniques and processes.
By sharpening your skills in Western animation you can access animation markets across the world and grow your professional success on a global scale.
And what about those language barriers? Well, what better way to bridge language or cultural barriers than by speaking business, a universally understood language!
Sharpen your business skills, networking, and business communication abilities by taking our free masterclass, downloading our free marketing handbook, and checking out our blog on “How to Start an Animation Studio”!