Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Drawn Animation Still Matters

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.


Cord Nielson said...

Well said. I attended a class with Mike Nguyen at the recent CTN Expo, in which he made a strong case for traditional animation, and what strengths it has over CG. What stuck with me the most was the idea of realism. The reason traditional backgrounds and textures work so well is because they're simplified and a little abstract, which gives the mind a little bit to play with while you're enjoying the film. It lets your imagination roam a little bit.
Mike used two scenes containing the ocean floor as examples. The first was from "Finding Nemo." Here you see a beautiful rendering of the coral reef, down to the finest detail. It's very pretty, but that's all of it. Every bit of it is right there, leaving nothing for your mind to imagine or build upon. The second scene was from "Pinocchio." Here the backgrounds were beautifully painted. You see coral and rocks and sand, but it's a bit simplified and abstract, which gives the mind plenty of cracks to fill and possibilities to explore.
I think it's only a matter of time before audiences realize "animated" movies are starting to look just like live action, and begin craving some good ol' fashioned drawings again. And we'll be here ready to hand them out.

Lionel said...

Sensational article. I agree that the general public will soon tire of CGI. I've had enough for 2D animation clearly shows different styles. In all CGI films seem to have come from the same place. Glad 2D reigns on TV. Greetings from Brazil.

Tony DiStefano said...

There is a place for all styles including stop motion.It all depends on the storyline. Some storylines would have been served better had they used traditional
2d.In the Monsters inc. book,there are some great upa style setups.Imagine how cool that film would of looked had they used 2d.
Hollywood needs to break their trends and use what serves the piture best.

Tyson said...

Wow, well said! I can't wait to read more on this subject from you. I find this topic very interesting and I like the way you explain things.

DarkRoar said...

I think there's room for all types of animation.

I'm really surprised at how much people go for the 3D computer animation. It doesn't make me want to see a movie anymore than if the movie was traditional 2D animation.

Some of it is the quantity I guess. There are very few 2D movies coming out these days, but those that do come out don't seem to do well versus their competitors. Like the Winnie the Pooh movie didn't stand up to Cars 2 this year. My sister and her kids like Winnie the Pooh, but they saw Cars 2 twice and waited for the Winnie the Pooh Bluray.

I wonder sometimes how 3D animation will look in the future. Sometimes when you go back to an old 3D game it looks like garbage now; old 2D games look pixalated, but somehow it isn't as jarring as old 3D.

Oh well, we'll see what the future holds. It is good that so many people are being employeed in animation, though, even if it's almost entirely in the 3D area.

Kelly Hanks said...

Interesting thoughts, Pete, and I definitely agree with you for the most part. I too am frustrated with the thoughtless push for photo-realism in CGI, just because it'd be cool and nifty. Animation is fun and needed because it's ART. It can show infinite, impossible things that live action will never be able to show.

That being said, I dislike all the comparisons made between traditional animation and CG animation, and especially all the CG bashing. I'm in love with the CG medium and believe its potential goes far beyond "realism", and can be just as artistic and potent as 2d animation if used by the right artists. There's even surrealist, abstract computer animation out there, as surprising as that may seem to some. Never dismiss its artistic possibilities based on what the mainstream media shows of it.

The only reason why so many are making comparisons and even pitting the mediums against each other, as if only one can be valid in entertainment and art, is because Hollywood big wigs made it so, starting with Disney unwisely shutting down their 2d animation department. If all mediums of animation were allowed to thrive in our industry, there would be no need to make comparisons, outside of personal preferences of course.

Unknown said...


Raff said...

Pardon the long post...

Both you and Mayerson are an interesting read, but I think it's easy to miss what might be the real point: This isn't about the pressure that comes with new technology, it's about choices, including chosen limitations, that come with trends and social mood.

For example, half the music videos in the 80s were shot in black-and-white, even though broadcast in color was the law. It was a popular choice, it was a trend. Today, a whole bunch of directors are choosing color schemes that look like Grandma's vacation slides or M*A*S*H, even though the cameras are designed to shoot in billion-dollar color. Believe me, one day everyone could very well return to hand-drawn animation and they'll abuse the #$^@* out of that too; the Occupy movement could spawn an anti-technology art trend that'd take over everything and render CGI, Autotune and Dubstep as yesterday's dated junk.

But let's step back a second - what is the purpose of any kind of animation to begin with? To me, the purpose of animation is to make art act. What kind of art? Any kind you like. What kind of acting? Any kind you like.

There's a really cool thing they did in the 70s - they'd take faux-kiddy drawings or simple doodley drawings and bring them to life in style. Sesame Street, Schoolhouse Rock, R.O. Blechman, that kind of thing. Markers. That had nothing to do with technology, that was just the 70s.

Recently I just tried TVPaint. You can smear on the digital canvas with any guck you like and flip it like paper. It's so powerful. There's so much you can do but the problem is no one will do it. They'll just stick to the Anime look, or the Triplettes de Belleville look, or the John K. look, or some cold realismo-Euro-comix thing. Why should hand-drawn animation make a comeback if that's all you're going to get?

No matter what the technology is, you're not going to see anything different until people feel the circumstances are right to shake up the scene. I don't know when that's going to be or what will trigger it.

kurtwil said...

Hand drawn animation (whether on paper or a computer tablet) suffers from taking __time__ to draw fully fluid characters. As very few producers today have patience/money for that process, all sorts of shortcuts come into play.

Also, (as John K. says) the decades-long practice of inbreeding/reusing of animation saps creativity and originality:
ANASTASIA copping a prince walk from CINDERELLA, a contemporary artist borrowing from Bob Clampette, etc.

CGI tools can help minimize 2D animation drudgery, but can hurt the animation if they replace imagination and spontaneity.

Whoever actually makes a Traditional film that gets beyond recycling the past __and__ has interesting story and characters should have a field day, especially as Traditional animation exists just fine in a 3D viewing mode (as Disney's proving with their 3D conversions of their classic animations).

cblock said...

i think its funny that animators complain and pine for "good old fashioned 2d animation" and at the same time want animation to be seen as not a genre but a medium. I mean, what does it matter whether or not something is in 2d or 3d if its a good film? even well animated films can be bad films. yes draftsmanship and tradition skills decline, that's no reason to be sad. it's just the nature of reality, life changes! as the Buddhists say "you only lose what you cling to."

all this pining and whining, self-pity, of clinging on to the past. Don't teach these attitudes to your students. Let them be wiser.

Steph said...

I wish to fight for it. FOR CARTOONS!!!!
Now just to get better at drawing.

Thanks for the hope that I'm not the only one who believes that 2D shouldn't be abandonned!