My good friend and colleague, Mark Mayerson, has written his well reasoned theory on why today's audiences may have forsaken traditional, hand-drawn animation in favour of the ever increasing use of CG. I think he's correct, but only up to a point, as he uses the new French film, The Artist, to make an analogy between the decline of silent film after the introduction of sound with the current decline in popularity of drawn animation. I just finished putting my own thoughts into an impassioned (if longwinded) comment in response to his post. Since I'd been wanting to say something regarding drawn animation vs CG here on my own blog, I figured I'd repost my thoughts here in order to get more mileage out of them. For what it's worth, here's what I said on the matter:
I haven't seen The Artist as yet, although it's top of my list to see. (Actually, it's about the ONLY film that I'm planning to see these days, sad to say). I have to quibble with you on one thing, though. There's no question that it is an "affectation", as you describe, but I'd argue that it was never meant to be anything more than that. It is undoubtedly meant as a loving homage to those simpler times of the silent films, but it is a one-shot novelty, not in any way hoping to bring about a return of the silent, black and white film as a form of popular entertainment. I think that's quite obvious from the fact that it's set in the 1920s, not using the format to tell a contemporary story. Back in 1976, Mel Brooks gave us Silent Movie, which was also a love letter to silent films, though one set deliberately in modern day in order to parody it in the Mel Brooks style of absurdity. But that film too was never intended to usher in a new wave of silent pictures.
That's why I think your analogy to handdrawn animated films may ring a bit false here, Mark, with due respect. Whereas nobody would want to bring back the silent film as an ongoing form of popular entertainment, recognizing its inherent limitations that no longer exist since the advent of sound and colour, those of us who champion drawn animation still believe it will always be a valid form of the art. Also, I don't think that opinion is limited to just those of us who work in animation or related fields of visual art. A lot of people, particularly mothers of young kids, do see the difference between traditional drawn animation and CG and have told me that they do indeed miss the former.
Animation may have started out as a novelty on screen, but once Disney and Fleischer popularized the illusion of moving cartoon drawings as a legitimate form of entertainment, it was recognized as a distinct art form in itself, a completely different experience to that of a live-action film. Even the technological advances in features like Pinocchio, Fantasia and especially Bambi, did not so much blur the line between drawing and live-action, but rather, treated the resulting imagery more like moving paintings, still far removed from live-action cinematography in their graphic visual clarity.
This is why I cringe at what is being done today in the name of "animation", utilizing the computer to replicate everything in live-action: light, shadow, texture, and now, with the introduction of mo-cap, slavishly realistic movement, devoid of creativity and caricature. In short, there really is no such thing as animation anymore, as the industry honchos have decided that the inherent charm of a cartoon drawing seemingly springing to life on the screen is passé, and must never be see again. The rules of photography can be the only goal to aspire to if one is to remain working in Hollywood.
What a sad state our industry has fallen into. Even sadder because nobody working in it has the courage of their convictions to fight back against the madness of it all.
There's more I want to say on this topic, but I need to gather my thoughts together first and grab some visuals to illustrate it. In the meantime, please leave your own thoughts in my comments section.