My last post seems to have struck a nerve.
First, I want to emphasize that when I said “writing is more important than art in animation” I did not mean that the artwork is of no importance. High quality drawing and animation, when combined with good writing, can improve the viewer’s experience enormously. If you want to scale the peaks of the art form and achieve true artistic immortality (as opposed to mere commercial success), you must show excellence in both areas.
On the other hand, if you have good artwork without good writing you will probably end up with something like Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings; technically impressive but a commercial and artistic failure. (And no, I’m not blaming Tolkien for the incoherent screenplay.)
SDShamshel points out, correctly, that the quality of the animation in The Simpsons has improved over the years. What originally was low-budget and looked it has become much more technically sophisticated, though still ugly. I think that proves my point though. It was good writing that made the show successful so that they could afford better artists.
He argues that the visual style of South Park serves the writing by allowing shows to be produced very quickly, making them more topical. This may be true, but it doesn’t make the quality of the artwork itself any better. Everything still depends on the writing.
A better argument might be that the artwork of South Park is so bad that it’s good; it’s very awfulness makes it funny. But that only works because the writing is good. If the writing were equally lame, it wouldn’t be funny at all; it would just be sad.
Omo points to the existence of animated shorts and music videos that are “sold on the artistic merit of its production rather than the strength of the writing.” Even here I think that the writing is at least as important as the animation, though what constitutes “good writing” for a short subject is very different from a 26-episode anime series. (It’s a writer’s truism that it’s harder to write a good short story than a good novel.) I can’t think of any animated short that succeeded just on clever visuals, without any sort of “hook” to grab the audience.
Finally, I have no intention of being a pretentious art snob “like Otaking Johnson”. Making animation in the real world is always a matter of trade-offs. There is never enough time or money to do everything perfectly. The key to success is to achieve the maximum possible with the resources that are available. My main point is: when deciding where to cut corners, it’s best not to skimp on the writing.