Pacing over time

Watching Gertie the Dinosaur in History of Animation got me thinking about pacing, especially after one student post about the relative “interestingness” of Windsor McCay’s The Sinking of the Lusitania and James Cameron’s Titanic.

It’s not a really shocking revelation to say that the pacing of animation has gotten more and more rapid over the last 100 years. Cuts have gotten quicker, scenes shorter, exposition has gone from painstaking (and painful) to nonexistent.

But the extent to which this is true becomes quite striking when you look at the change over time of a single, specific thing. I decided to look at the quickening of pacing in animation somewhere where you might not expect to find that much change– in breakfast cereal commercials.

A few examples tell the story better than I could ever hope to.

From 1939, a cartoon featuring the “Breakfast Pals”: Snap, Crackle, and Pop.

From some time in the 1960’s, an ad for Sugar Crisp Cerial (later renamed Super Golden Crisp.)

A pair of Fruity Pebbles ads, the first from the 70’s, and the second from the 80’s.

…I expected to find ads getting shorter, cuts getting quicker, exposition getting more minimal. But I was honestly shocked at the extent to which they did. From a minute and a half commercial, we move in a few decades to a fifteen second commercial. It’s a really amazing transformation, when you think about it.

Part of what happens is that audience expectations veer toward the rapid-fire approach. Simultaneously, audiences become used to the conventions of the genre– of animated cereal ads. These ads have a certain set of tropes, of conventions– there is a trickster, who wants the cereal, and there are those who try to keep the trickster from the cereal. The trickster utilizes subterfuge, misdirection, cartoon physics, or even violence to claim the cereal, proving that the product is so good that it requires extraordinary measures to attain it– so don’t be afraid to throw a fit if it makes your parents buy it. As audiences get used to the conventions, less explication is necessary.

The difference is striking, and it makes you think.