Monday, September 19, 2005

More Disney Spells

This New York Times article, "Disney Moves Away From Hand-Drawn Animation," is frustrating reading. Frustrating, first of all, because of what it's about: a company abandoning the format that made it famous and sustained its reputation for decades. And second of all, because the article is written in such a way as to leave out any discussion of exactly what the difference is between hand-drawn and computer animation, or why many animators would be against the change besides an irrational fear of computers.

I'll admit that I'm a CGI skeptic; I still think, at this point, that even the best computer animation (which is to say, The Incredibles) looks a little stiff compared to the best hand-drawn animation, and has less individuality in design and color; the ability to do 360 degree pans more easily doesn't compensate. But CGI is still a relatively young art, and it'll get better. Still, there are always going to be some things, indeed many things, that you can do in hand-drawn animation that you can't do as well in CGI. The upshot of this is that huge amounts of time and effort are going to be spent trying to make, say, Rapunzel look good and move well in CGI, instead of just using hand-drawn animation, where it's much easier to make a human character look good and move naturally.

What this means is that Hollywood is viewing hand-drawn animation as an obsolete technology, instead of an art-form with certain unique qualities and capabilities. It's a terribly wrong-headed way to look at it. Abandoning hand-drawn animation in favor of CGI makes no more sense than abandoning live-action actors in favor of animation. Live-action works for some stories and concepts, animation for others. Same with hand-drawn vs. CGI; they're both useful, and it's bizarre to pretend that they're interchangeable. But it's symptomatic of the way that Hollywood has tended to treat the rise of computers as a substitute for other things, rather than as a tool to be used for their own unique capabilities. An obvious example of this is the way many producers have substituted CGI for stunt work and in-the-camera special effects, to generally dismal effect, instead of using CGI to do the things that can't be done with a stuntman or a conventional special effect. In other words, CGI has come to be viewed not as a tool but as an end in itself.

Former Disney-ite Tim Burton, whose new movie Corpse Bride uses old-fashioned stop-motion animation and not CGI, skilfully summarized the problem with the abandonment of all non-CGI formats:

"In Hollywood, they think drawn animation doesn’t work anymore, computers are the way. They forget that the reason computers are the way is that Pixar makes good movies. So everybody tries to copy Pixar. They’re relying too much on the technology and not enough on the artists. The fact that Disney closed down its cel animation division is frightening to me. Someday soon, somebody will come along and do a drawn-animated film, and it’ll be beautiful and connect with people, and they’ll all go, 'Oh, we’ve got to do that!' It’s ridiculous."

And that's the other problem that comes through in that Times article: almost nobody is talking about whether the stories are any good -- and if Disney thinks computer animation, rather than a good story and characters, is the key to renewed success, they're in bigger trouble than we thought. Amid Amidi has some astute comments on this.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's just a transitional period for the industry. You have to remember when it comes to money in showbiz it's always a knee jerk reaction. They see the big money, they see the short term. That's it. (Come one don't you know this!!) When someone comes along and proves them wrong then they will change. Please don't take away from CGI. It's new and still fresh and sooner or later will become over run with watered down and uninspired stories (Maybe already.. did you see Ice Age 2 or Open Season.. ) The truly passionate made it great like Pixar when it was hard and not financially sound to do. Now everyone else is on their coat tails. Cel animation has not died and lives on with the Japanese esp Miyazaki. American cel animation has been dead for years and needed a rest thanks to to many dreadful and money milking Disney direct to home video releases and others. It's just taking a rest. Someone who cares will bring it back and bring it back with passion.