Monday, September 28, 2009

The Limitations Of Contemporary TV Animation.

There's certainly an interesting discussion going on currently over at John K's blog regarding all of this contemporary trend in (mostly TV) animated characters where the designs are deliberately flat and graphic, with the limitations in movement and personality that are inherent in such design. Needless to say, I agree with John's stance on this and share his criticisms of this unfortunate trend. I believe that there is a real detriment to animation design when one is a slave to the computer software being used today. The examples that John cites from TV shows are all of the Flash cutout (or "symbol" as they call it) variety, where each character is created from an assortment of pre-drawn parts that exist in the computer, with no additional drawing being allowed by the animators working on the show. Instead of actually creating a pose or expression, today's TV animators must contrive it as best they can from the library of character parts they have to work with. Can you imagine - animators being discouraged from actually drawing something!

Additionally, the fact that these characters are all being drawn digitally on the computer to begin with, utilizing a vector-based program like Flash or other likeminded software, means that all of the designs consist of perfect geometric shapes: perfect straight edges and perfect curves. Likewise, the outlines are all vector lines, usually of an unvarying line weight, or occasionally with a contrived thick and thin. All of this unyielding control that the computer has been given is killing all of the potential for fluid animation and, ultimately, personality. It's like trying to draw a character using nothing but a ruler, circle/oval template, and maybe some French curves. Why would any artist want to be given such strict limitations? I'm not saying that the resulting images are totally lacking visual appeal, but they are certainly not designed for animation in the truest sense.

John talks of the functionality of a good character design, and that it must be explored through movement to arrive at a final design that's conducive to animation, rather than just be a series of graphic shapes that only work in static poses. I agree with this assessment, as I also prefer that a character design be "organic" - pliable and capable of fluid movement and full rotations when called for. Even the Hanna-Barbera designs of the early 1960s, though more simple shape based for the TV cartoons of that era than their theatrical predecessors, were still solid in form and designed for pliable movement. Just compare the animation of Yogi Bear or Fred Flintstone to anything of today and you'll hopefully understand what I mean.

One of the most compelling comments following this topic on John's site comes from a commenter by the name Tilcheff, who offers this bluntly honest and heartbreaking assessment of his recent experience in the animation studios:

"It's funny and sad at the same time that every single studio I have worked at makes the same mistakes in the name of efficiency. Business arrogance dominates this industry and people with no love for cartoons produce them. The self-censorship and political correctness strangle every fresh idea before it's even born. Young enthusiastic animators are very quickly disillusioned by a system, which treats them as computer operators and has no mechanism to get feedback, ideas or allow them even the slightest creativity to do visual gags, a system which shows no recognition for their work and appreciation of their skill or talent, a system that kicks them out in the street upon a successful completion of the job. Very quickly they become cynical, trapped in the world of stock actions and expressions, knocking frames day after day, quickly learning how to do things in order to avoid problems. They also very quickly learn to lie that they like the crap shows they work on, that they enjoy the terrible work atmosphere in the studios. There is usually a culture of hypocrisy and backstabbing, generated by the mediocrity, contemporary political correctness and 'post-modern' cool-ness which dominates these studios. The values behind contemporary cartoons have nothing to do with those during the Termite Terrace years. Everything seems to be extremely superficial, hollow and lacking internal logic, reasonable values and weight."

I think Tilcheff sums it up well, and his entire commentary is well worth reading, as this is only an excerpt.

Anyway, that's all I'm saying on this matter, as I've learned from recent experience that stating my opinion on anything animation related is akin to swimming in shark infested waters...

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

U.S. Health Care Reform

I watched President Obama's address to Congress this evening regarding proposed health care reform. For the record, I greatly admire Obama and believe that he's a man with great vision and a courageous drive to improve the lives of all Americans. I understand that not everybody may agree with all of his proposals for the Health Care Reform bill, but surely there was much in his speech tonight that made so much sense that I don't get why a certain segment of the American people are so determined to trip him up and see him fail. As President Obama maintains, to do nothing will only result in health care costs continuing to spiral out of control, demanding an ever expanding slice of the national budget, mostly due to wastage within the system and turning a blind eye to the greed of the insurance companies. (America currently spends about 13% of the budget on health care, compared to about 9% which is average for other developed countries, Canada included). Yet there are those on the far right who would rather live in denial than to confront the problem and work in a bipartisan manner to bring about new policy that will help to bring down wastage in the system and instead put that money directly towards universal health coverage.

I've written of my admiration for activist and filmmaker, Michael Moore in the past as well. In fact, years before he brought us the documentary, Sicko, which focused on the problems within the American health system, he had done this powerful segment condemning the health insurer, Humana, for ignoring the pleas of a man in desperate need of a kidney and pancreas transplant. Regardless of how you personally feel about Michael Moore, I would ask that you watch this entire clip I've linked to on Youtube. If this proof of bureaucracy and greed at one of America's big corporate private insurers doesn't make you angry enough to join in the fight for health care reform, I don't know what will: