What Is A Live Action Film?

What is a live action film

Live action. It’s a term you’ve heard about one movie or another.

But it’s not always clear what live action actually is. Is it the opposite of an animated movie?

Or does it combine animated components with live film like on-location filming? What even is a live film?

If your head is swimming with all of these questions and more, we’re here to help you out. So rather than go down the rabbit hole of Google, just read this article.

And hopefully, your day will feel much brighter after knowing what exactly it means to say a live action movie. Well, go on!

Definition of live action

The simple definition of a live action movie is this: it involves live actors. That is real people and animals.

AKA, not a cartoon. But this isn’t a term that’s used to distinguish every non-animated film ever made.

Instead, “live action” refers to non-animated characters within an animated context. Think Space Jam, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, or Mary Poppins.

All of these films include real actors alongside animated characters. They are just simply the live action part of an animated movie.

But don’t get that confused with CGI. Computer-generated imagery is everywhere we look nowadays.

But it is not necessarily classified as animation because it is so realistic. Instead, live action is only used to describe a movie that combines animated characters with real-life actors.

Understand? It’s a lot to take in, we know. But let’s break down live action and animation even further.

You know. Just to confuse you a little bit more.

See Related: How Is Stop Motion Animation Made?

Live action vs. animation

There are plenty of pros and cons to both live action and animation. For a more organized approach to the differences between live action and animation, keep reading.

A movie could incorporate real life actors with animation in order to blur the lines between imagination and reality

Pros of live action

A live action movie can easily capture the real-life emotions and elements of human behavior. And real footage helps the audience feel grounded in a sense of reality and purpose.

CGI technology is super impressive. But even still, some real-world objects can’t be replicated by a computer.

In fact, some atmospheric effects are easier to create on camera. And with smartphones nowadays, you can easily make a live-action video on your cell.

Cons of live action

Sometimes, abstract ideas are better drawn out. And with live elements, you’re at the mercy of Mother Nature herself.

If you’ve ever directed a movie, then you know that sometimes actors can be difficult to work with. So animation starts looking like the better bet if you’re not into waiting for makeup, hair, etc.

It’s also difficult to make changes later on in a live action movie. Not to mention the time and cost it takes to set up equipment while renting out a sound stage, preferably in Los Angeles.

Look at any recent disney film and notice how they are based on earlier animation stories

Pros of animation

If you haven’t already guessed it, abstract ideas are easier to draw than show on camera. After all, there’s only so much you can do with movie props.

It’s also easier to explain or say a lot of information in a concise way through the animation. So, go ahead and tick off yet another pro in the animation column.

And you want to know what makes animation even more magical? Just because you can’t “see” it in real life doesn’t mean you can’t make it happen on screen.

Animation also typically has a longer shelf-life. You know, when you want to make any edits down the line to keep it up to date for what’s kosher in 2021.

Cons of animation

Animated video is awesome but human emotions? Harder to replicate on characters or animals that are drawn.

Lighting is also difficult to replicate. And with years to produce an animated movie, you’ll need a crew of people with tons of experience.

A quick history of live action and animation

The term “live action” really didn’t even hit the scene until Mary Poppins in 1964. Because at that point, traditional animated films were just that.

Animated. No live action elements to be seen whatsoever. And even now, the definition of “live action” is changing with CGI in almost every movie out there.

Probably the only thing these kinds of film have in common is the need for an event space to be secured. Otherwise, the production itself is entirely different.

Modern retellings based on former animation movies are becoming far more common in filmmaking

Modern animation in live action movies

Remember how we said earlier that CGI doesn’t necessarily fall within the definition of live action movie? Well, there’s actually some debate to that.

In fact, some movies that are 100% animated like Disney’s 2019 revival of The Lion King are still considered live-action. Even though it’s nowhere close to movies like Space Jam.

But hey, definitions change over time. And they become what we make of them. So it’s always best to stay up to date with how people use the term live action.

Disney live action films

Disney is the perfect example of how people are using the term live action nowadays. Movies like The Little Mermaid, Dumbo, and Mulan were made back in the 90s.

But now? These stories are seeing a live action return to the screen.

In fact, Disney is making up an entirely new genre based on these animated classics. So it’s clear to see that the use of the term live action has changed substantially even from 2014 to 2021.

Choosing between live action and animation

You might be debating whether your next film should be animated or live action. Well, here are a couple of things to consider for each.

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Animation costs are not nearly as high as shooting a live movie but the time commitment is far greater when dedicated to storyboarding and design

General cost

A film that’s live action requires pre-production, production, and post-production. It can take years to get everyone from actors to crew organized.

And you’ll also need to factor in the cost of a production studio, whether you’re shooting in Los Angeles or elsewhere. Well, that and paying everybody.


Shockingly though, an animated film is what will take up more of your time. There are style-frames and storyboards.

Then software and animation expertise. Render times can also be costly.

So between the two, it’s a close call which is going to be the most budget-friendly. Ultimately, your film should be made in the medium that can show your story best.

Wrapping up

The world of film is so expansive. And with filmmakers using both live action and animation techniques in their latest hits, it just proves that the field will continue to become even more expansive than it already is.

See for yourself what kind of techniques are going well in the industry. And become an expert at them.

You could make the next big movie out there. And help to drive the film industry forward.

Keep Reading: What Is CGI Animation?

Mack Sennett Studios is a historic full-service photography studio, production sound stage, and private event space in Silver Lake, serving as creative home to the Los Angeles cultural renaissance for the last 100 years. Check us out on FacebookTwitterVimeoPinterestYelp and Instagram.

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