I really like what the modern world of animation has done for those of us who make a career as sound designers. Now it's true that a lot of modern animation has become overblown and confused, but those elements of our digital lives just serve as the perfect backdrop against which to lay the minimalist things I'm about to present.
I'll also state that I certainly don't believe that all complex animation sequences are bad artistically speaking (see Transformers and Iron Man), I'm just saying that the truly minimalist stuff forces the sound designer to bring his absolute best game because the audience is guaranteed to have the capacity to perceive every detail.
When complex visual and aural elements are done at the highest level the viewer can watch a sequence repeatedly and see new and cool things each time. When minimalist visual and aural elements are done at the highest level the audience can be focused in enough to catch the nuance of each element on the first or second pass.
Toyota's Yaris spots are an excellent example of this:
There are tons of those on youtube, but the net effect is pretty stark. Lots and lots of whitespace visually, which removes the need for ambient sound in the sound design - leaving room for all of the little reverb tail, and dog-tag jingle details to shine through. It also means that the sound designers have to start with the highest quality recordings for everything not synthesized because of just how naked everything is.
Here's another from dydree Media for Nickelodian. (sorry, couldn't embed that one)
IMO the sound design is just a notch down from the Yaris stuff, but its still a very high level and many of the same minimalist elements and restrictions are in place. No defined environment so therefore no ambient sounds and a very stark soundscape which leaves lots and lots of room for detail.
All of this eventually culminates into an event that I really can't wait to experience. Pixar's Wall-E
Wall E's lead sound designer is the full on modern legend Ben Burtt. You might recognize some of his work:
-The Star Wars franchise where he dreamed up the sounds for (among other things)
---R2 freaking D2
-The Indiana Jones franchise
-The Dark Crystal
-...well, you've got the wiki link there. He's the man.
So here are some of Wall-E's minimalist beginnings:
and here's a pretty straightforward evolution from minimalist to full on film-level complexity.
Based on what I've seen so far, I'm very hopeful that the film will allow all of that room for Burtt's creative genius to come through. Taking on a project of that nature has to be one of the most difficult things a sound designer can hope to get himself into, and I'm just flat out excited to see what Burtt has come up with.