Friday, July 25, 2008

Babies and Bathwater

While I'm not surprised that Michael Barrier and Michael Sporn found this summer's animated features lacking, I am surprised by some of the comments about computer animation. For instance, Barrier says this:
What's clear from WALL•E and Kung Fu Panda , as never before, is that computer animation is a dead end, a form of puppetry even more limited than stop motion. There's no reason to believe that its characters will ever live on the screen as the characters do in the best hand-drawn films; given the way that computer-animated films must be made, the vital connection between artist and character simply can't be strong enough.
And Sporn says this:

When I first saw Toy Story, I realized that the possibility of computer animation replacing traditional animation might actually exist. Nothing prior to that point led me to think that. What I didn’t expect was that I was watching the high point of the medium.

People concentrated on animating grass (A Bug’s Life), hair (Monsters Inc.), water (Finding Nemo) and, now, machines (Wall-E). Essentially, they were concerned with moving the technical capability of the medium forward and ignored the very real need of moving the characters with any REAL depth. Pixar and Dreamworks gerry-rigged stories around the capabilities of the new medium and animated around those problems. They’ve gotten to the point where they can successfully impersonate the things of real life.

However, if a well rigged commercial can feature computer animation that equals or betters something in Pixar’s best, or a live-action/computer-effx feature (such as Spiderman 2, which has a story almost identical in parts to The Incredibles, or The Dark Knight, which has superior performances to anything in Pixar) works better than the best feature animation scene, what’s the point?

My disagreement isn't with their views on particular films, but I think that their generalizations are far too broad. Barrier not only writes off cgi, but stop-motion as well. Sporn says that because commercials or effects for live action are capable of matching the technical sophistication of a Pixar film, somehow that makes Pixar superfluous.

Barrier believes that in computer animation, the "vital connection between artist and character simply can't be strong enough." I disagree. For one thing, I've written extensively on how tenuous the link between animator and character is in drawn animation. The process of animating cgi characters is different in the details, but the system is an extension of what was used in drawn animation. If the connection between artist and character is possible in drawn animation, it is every bit as possible in cgi.

I resolutely believe that no animator can be held accountable for what's on screen, and that's true of classic Disney films as much as it is for recent cgi efforts. This industry is and always has been filled with talent, but that talent requires the right type of producers, directors and writers to let the talent shine. Take Bill Tytla out of Disney and Tytla becomes average. I would bet that there are animators capable of great things currently working, but who are not given material with depth or that plays to their strengths. Condemn the industry and the production system if you like, but they are not the medium or the technology.

Barrier's mention of stop motion makes me wonder if drawings are a prerequisite, in his view, for good character animation. I hope not. There are performances in stop motion that touch me deeply, whether dramatic or comic. Jiri Trnka's The Hand is a great film, one where the main character's face never changes expression, yet his feelings are crystal clear. It's a great performance, one that contributes to a film with a strong political point of view. Tim Burton's The Corpse Bride contains moments of achingly beautiful character animation, though the film as a whole has problems. Nick Park's The Wrong Trousers is a small masterpiece, one that I would hold up as comparable to shorts by Keaton or Laurel and Hardy.

I have enormous respect for Sporn's historical knowledge, but I would point out that the sins he accuses Pixar and DreamWorks of can also be aimed at the Disney studio in the 1930s. Disney was fixated on effects and technology. Disney "gerry-rigged" stories around animation's capabilities, avoiding human characters for years as well as sticking to low comedy. Barrier, in Hollywood Cartoons, talks about how Disney seemed to abandon his advances in character animation after Snow White in order to pursue other goals.

Artists, regardless of their medium, tend to be seduced by surfaces. It was true of Disney in Fantasia and Sleeping Beauty and it's certainly true of recent cgi films. The problem with Hollywood animation across the board is that it aspires to be slicker, not deeper. Another problem is that animated feature directors seem to do their best work early in their careers: Walt Disney, Don Bluth, Ralph Bakshi, Musker and Clements, Trousdale and Wise, and now, unfortunately, John Lasseter. With only two features he's directed, I don't know if the same is true of Andrew Stanton, but it's possible.

Barrier points to Brad Bird and Stanton gravitating to live action and it's because animated features are exhausting. Combine that with having a limited number of things to say, the seduction of slicker surfaces, the excitement of new technology, and the pressures of the marketplace, and you're left with animation directors who either don't think deeply enough about their stories and characters or who are prevented from doing so by commercial considerations. The people making animated films are either not smart enough or are being constrained. Both are likely true, as much as artists prefer to place the blame elsewhere.

The problems and failures of industry animation are far bigger than whatever technique is chosen. Just as we believe that animation is capable of expressing the entire range of human experience, I believe that every technology is equally capable. Artists and business people make choices and some of them are bad ones. To paraphrase Shakespeare, the fault, dear Michaels, lies not in our technologies, but in ourselves.

31 comments:

Michael Sporn said...

The problem is that the medium (cgi) is more interested in technical perfection than character development. While the Disney studio in the 30's went through a technical growth of enormous proportions, the animators were ever more involved in creating deeper and stronger acting. I don't really see the same in the cgi feature films I've seen to date.

In fact, I see Wall-E as a step backward in that regard. Panda is lightyears better than Shreks, but they're running in place. The comparison to commercials and live action is to say that it's all effects in my eyes.

I really am not able to see the status quo evolving to something better. Maybe I'm short sighted, but I think it'll take a lot of money and a corporation ready to develop character.

The animators dominated Disney. When the director is the dominant force, it takes a director like Brad Bird to move the animators in the direction of character acting. But once he succeeds, he moves on to a place that may offer better control - live action. Though I don't see Andrew Stanton as capable as Brad Bird, I do think he, too, is heading toward live action. (They even employed a live action DP to consult on Wall-E.)

jim said...

Mark,

Thanks for the well-written and thoughtful post. The faith you have in all forms of animation is inspiring, and it's refreshing to see someone who dares to suggest that perhaps most of the people working in feature animation don't have much of anything to say.

On a side note, I find it bewildering when Barrier writes, "The animation of machines is effects animation, and that's really all we see in the first part of WALL•E."

Say what you want about the film's overall problems, but the life and character that the animators brought to WALL-E and EVE was a high point, in my opinion. In fact, I would argue that it's one of the reasons the film did so well despite all the story/theme issues. Barrier's easy dismissal of that illusion of life strikes me as more than a little narrow-minded.

I also find it difficult to accept the argument that people working on computer animated features are more interested in technical perfection than character. In the past I'd say this was more accurate, but as the medium slowly develops, more and more feature film animators are focusing on performance.

The problems seem to lie more with the people charting the course of the movie, as you suggest, Mark – a combination of inadequate skills and/or the ever-present threat of commercial considerations.

pspector said...

Certainly I, as many others do, can enjoy being dazzled by CGI technology, but by extension that only goes so far. What I really think is lacking is any sort of real humanity -- as opposed to the shallow brushed-on varnish type --to go along with it. That is probably what made the Toy Story movies work so well for me. Even just the image of Big Al snoring away under a patina of Cheese Puff powder (and whatever 3D plug-in that was used to create it) is an image that sticks with me these years later. If that isn't the human condition, what is?

This may be part of the problem some people have with Wall*E. Yes, I believe even a robot can be instilled with "human-ness", if done with thought and care, (although that trait in robots seems more easily workable in sci-fi stories). However, are not toys in the real world just as devoid of these qualities until we ascribe them our own qualities? Then why not a robot? They can be toys too.

So to me, the problem is that unless the same thought and care go into the development and humanity of the character(s) and script, if it is that kind of film, you'll get the same old same-old. I'd think Kung Fu Panda was a victim of this; it's not enough, regardless of the technology, to just toss on a few bits we recognize as human and call it a day.

But formula is formula. As some of us age out of the intended audience of these films, others will take our place. What used to be a sly wink on the filmakers' part to the older generations of the audience just doesn't cut it anymore..I've aged out of that too. Or just got tired of it.

Thad said...

It may be a matter of aesthetics. I personally can't find any warmness in the art of any CGI film. Only the two Toy Story's managed to be great in spite of the animation's shortcomings. Pixar has done no other great film since (obviously I am not a fan of The Incredibles), and has exposed itself as an artistic fraud.

Computer animation seems to be a waste of time, at least to one wanting to make art. It turns off more and more people every year. A friend claimed that he could have done his thesis traditionally twice in the time he spent fighting the computer.

Stop-motion has more humanity to it. You can see an occasional flub in the production, and it's not as if some computer regurgitated every single thing, characters, backgrounds, and all, removing any trace of the artist's handiwork.

CGI is just a toy. A gaudy toy at that.

Kris said...

I don't think the traditional Disney films were really terribly strong on the acting front. No cartoon is. A real, living person is much more effective at delivering real performances that truly impact people than any series of drawings could be.

That's not to say that animation can't be interesting, funny, moving or worthy of attention. It's just that acting in cartoons will always be simplified since the purpose of cartooning IS to simplify and caricature.

laughingwolf said...

even as a cgi student at vfs, i despised the results, for the most part... sure, some neat effects were possible, but i hated the overall look and feel, especially compared to the vibrant 'classical' films....

Oswald Iten said...

I may be one of the few people who actually cared for Wall-E and Eve (they felt more like young children than a couple in love, though). So I wouldn't consider this effects animation at all, those robots were filled with life. Of course this is basically the same principle as in Luxo Jr.

In Wall-E everything tends towards the iconic: the robot characters, the plant, the ship, the Hello-Dolly-sequence. But this childlike naivite worked just fine in a world (and a film) that was supposedly designed by a mindless corporation. Of course there are the basic story issues and all, but I think Wall-E wasn't meant to be a step forward into character animation.

I think, character development is not the same as character animation, but I may be wrong about that. While the folks at Pixar certainly know how to tell character-driven stories (the story itself doesn't even have to be good), the acting of these well-defined characters is never really specific, which is not to say they should imitate real actors, because that would go only be a step into the same live-action direction. But, I'm afraid, that's not what audiences seem to respond to. It is enough to have characters that seem to move organically (still a challenge in itself) to satisfy spectators as long as the story telling is working. Even critics seem to take if for granted that animated characters act all in the same stereotyped way.

Personally, I'd love to see a big studio take the chance and really try it, maybe then the difference in quality will be visible.

I think this is one of the problems of cgi, that technical perfection to a certain degree is necessary to evoke the illusion of life. And I'm not talking about fancy textures and subtle reflections on chrome.

Take stop-motion for example: you put any doll in front of a camera and it looks like the doll is physically there, you know you could touch it, even if it's just some piece of wood or cloth.
The goal might be to eliminate fingerprints and such, but the animation immediately works no matter how crude it looks.

Now look at a rough cg-model. There is nothing organic about it and yet it still exists in a 3 dimensional space. You have to overcome many technical obstacles to make it feel physical. Here to perfect it means, to make it look less perfect, in appearance and especially in motion.

By the way, I always thought that cgi was best in enhancing stop-motion, because they are both 3 dimensional media as opposed to imitating 2D hand-drawn. In a way this worked quite well on "Flushed Away".

Jamaal Bradley said...

this is really funny. My friend and I were just talking about this topic today..well along the lines of it.

We started to talk about being an animator and what attracted us to it. We both fell into 3D animation because that is the way the industry was headed. The thing we love about 2D animation were the things that encompassed becoming a great 2D animator. Studying traditional art, referencing the great master draftsman from the various periods, sculpting, understanding anatomy in an artistic form; both human and animal, learning to take those traditional skills and exaggerating it, and from learning (and continuously practicing) these things and having an understanding of them you applied animation. You applied making the form move. And each artist/animator has there own personal touch with the pencil..you can look at the drawing and tell who did it. A signature that will always be there because it came from that particular artists interpretation.

There is something completely different when you move a pencil vs moving a mouse /stylus. You are bringing an entire tool set of art education and a childhood passion...something from your soul and I think that is one of the things Mr. Sporn may be feeling when he looks at computer animation.

To this day it is hard for me to watch and get that same feeling I had watching 2D animation at my grandmother's house from 3D animation. I know 3D animators put there heart into there work (I try to do it everyday), but if you remember the old way to get a job in animation required a whole lot more effort. Drawing skills of humans, animals, inanimate objects...you had to be a skilled draftsman. On top of those things it became even harder because you had to be able to animate once they removed the in-studio animation schools. Now kids are getting on the computer..they begin moving the character. Some get it some dont, but it is much easier in that way to try your hands at becoming a 3D animator.

The one thing that 3D animation and 2D animation have in common at this moment is acting. That is an art form in itself. I can truly respect that from both. Not everyone can act so...that is another skill you have to add to you arsenal.

Anyway.. 3D is fun and it is great to see new technical advances when they make them. Most of the people that really love 2D animation grew up watching it and probably were drawing all the time.. so it can be hard to relate to a technically generated being.

J. J. Hunsecker said...

There seems to be an expectation among some that CGI animated features should constantly break new ground with each succeeding film. Pity the poor CGI cartoon that simply tries to entertain and tell a cute story -- they can't help but disappoint.

We don't expect each new live action film to be a breakthrough, or for live actors to push new boundaries. If a live action film is modest in scope, no one bemoans that it's a step backwards in the history of cinema.

CGI is still in its infancy, yet it's come a long way since the first clunky animated shorts produced in the 80's. (Personally, I think it's a big deal that Dreamworks was able to produce a 3D animated feature that actually had beautiful art direction, instead of their usual ugly aesthetics.) The humans in the first Toy Story looked like rubber mannequins, but the toy collector in part II was much more caricatured, and better articulated. In another ten years who knows what the medium will be capable of?

Thad said...

There seems to be an expectation among some that CGI animated features should constantly break new ground with each succeeding film. Pity the poor CGI cartoon that simply tries to entertain and tell a cute story -- they can't help but disappoint.

Pity that they aren't entertaining at all anyway. I've seen the same people dump on classical Disney films that fit the same description too, which at least have better animation.

(Personally, I think it's a big deal that Dreamworks was able to produce a 3D animated feature that actually had beautiful art direction, instead of their usual ugly aesthetics.)

What, they finally met the bare minimum?

In another ten years who knows what the medium will be capable of?

It took less than ten years to get from Steamboat Willie to Snow White. There's no growth of that kind going on in CGI, and there never will be.

CHOPS said...

No one mentioned "Ratatouille," which surprised me, because it seemed to have everything your critics wanted and then some. Great story, technique, organics, color, art, performances and so forth, IMHO.

I've been working in live animation for many years now, or performance animation, which doesn't even get an ounce of consideration as being "legit," or otherwise. However, some new developments are right around the corner, bringing 2D real-time animation as a robust tool-box into studios and TV stations.

My past work has been in 3D character work, and admittedly, there is a lot of distance between doing daily shows and what would be considered acceptable on the big screen.

However, as we learn more about how to program our computers to actually record humans acting, and capture the very subtle nuances we have access to in films, audiences will one day see this form of storytelling in the mainstream environment.

At the moment, the best example of it exists at Disney World in Turtle Talk with Crush, where Crush comes to life literally and interacts with children. The experience of interaction then becomes the most powerful thing on the screen, not the technical method or the backstory.

You ain't seen nothing yet!

J. J. Hunsecker said...

Pity that they aren't entertaining at all anyway. I've seen the same people dump on classical Disney films that fit the same description too, which at least have better animation.

Thad, you're mistaking your opinions for facts. Many of these films ARE entertaining, despite your feelings to the contrary. In fact, I'd say many of them are at least more fun than most of the post war Disney features, like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Peter Pan, etc. Some of those films look nice, but the parts are greater than the whole. Most of them are quite boring, and rely heavily on live action reference for their stodgy animation. (But then, those are just My opinions, which I don't consider to be facts, either.)

What, they finally met the bare minimum?

The art direction and character design in Kung Fu Panda goes beyond the "bare minimum". It's quite elegant and beautiful -- which is not an easy feat. It's especially an achievement considering that Katzenberg never seemed concerned with that aspect of his films before. Maybe this is a new direction for Dreamworks. If so, I applaud it and I say give the studio its due.

It took less than ten years to get from Steamboat Willie to Snow White.

You're conveniently leaving out a lot of animation history. Animated cartoons didn't begin with Steamboat Willie in 1928. It was in existence since the early 1900's. That means it took about 30 years for animation to reach the heights of Disney's Snow White.

It wasn't a straight line from crude cartoons to sophistication, either. It took decades before anyone would attempt to portray human characters with the skill of Winsor McCay. Like with Michael Sporn's complaint of Wall-E being a step backward, most animation of the teens and 20's were a giant step backward from the artistry of McCay's work. They took the easy route to making cartoons, and were only interested in technical innovations, like using cels over cut paper, endlessly reused cycles, panning backgrounds, etc., and not in "deeper and stronger acting."

There's no growth of that kind going on in CGI, and there never will be.

No one can predict the future, and you may one day eat those words.

Thad said...

They're still all cute stories, and nothing to rave about. There is NOTHING on the level of those Disney animators' work in the Pixar films, and there never will be if they're using a magic box to replicate everything.

"In fact, I'd say many of them are at least more fun than most of the post war Disney features,"

Yup. I'll take Ellen Degeneres as a fish and Larry the Cable Guy as a car over those movies any day.

"The art direction and character design in Kung Fu Panda goes beyond the "bare minimum". It's quite elegant and beautiful -- which is not an easy feat. It's especially an achievement considering that Katzenberg never seemed concerned with that aspect of his films before. Maybe this is a new direction for Dreamworks. If so, I applaud it and I say give the studio its due."

It's still all duplicated by a computer. It doesn't look good at all compared to the best hand-drawn features. I guess Kung-Fu Panda being a C picture is a step up for Dreamworks though, I'll give you that.

I'm not conveniently forgetting any history, Mark. I'm talking specifically about the Disney studio, which everyone feels Pixar is the modern day equivalent of. Even if you add the Alice cartoons, that's still only five extra years.

"No one can predict the future, and you may one day eat those words."

I'm already eating words like actually once holding the opinion of CGI having any possibilities beyond special effects, and praising kitsch like The Incredibles and Ratatouille, which I revisited a few months ago and couldn't believe I thought any good of it at any point.

BTW, you guys can enjoy the retards you'll be getting as future animators in the arena in a few years. I sat in on an acting in animation class, and NONE of the students knew who Chaplin was (not to mention any other notable animation figures even). Yes, tomorrow's CGI will sure have some great acting in it!!!

J. J. Hunsecker said...

They're still all cute stories, and nothing to rave about. There is NOTHING on the level of those Disney animators' work in the Pixar films, and there never will be if they're using a magic box to replicate everything.

By the same token, even if they were only cute stories and nothing more, they still don't deserve some of the condemnation by animation fans I've read on certain blogs lately.

This is all subjective, but I don't care for much of the post war Disney features. The only animators I warm to on those are Ward Kimball and John Sibley, because of their exaggerated animation. I am impressed by the technical know-how and great draftsmanship of Mark Davis and Milt Kahl, but their work leaves me cold. It looks too "realistic" -- like it was dependent on live action reference.

Also, the computer doesn't do the work for the CGI animators. There are still real people who do the key poses. The "magic box" works the same as the assistant and inbetweener did in the classic era for hand drawn animation.

Yup. I'll take Ellen Degeneres as a fish and Larry the Cable Guy as a car over those movies any day.

Glib sarcasm aside, it's obvious you chose the lesser of the Pixar features to score an easy point. I think the Toy Story films, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille are all great, entertaining animated features. In all aspects of filmmaking they pass the test.

Oh, and though I don't care too much for Finding Nemo and Cars (or Larry the Cable Guy), those actors did a good job voicing their respective characters. Now if you had picked Owen Wilson, that would have been a different matter.

It's still all duplicated by a computer. It doesn't look good at all compared to the best hand-drawn features.

It's a different medium. Hand drawn animation and computer animation are obviously worlds apart visually. However, I wouldn't condemn CGI just because it doesn't look like cel animation. I also like stop motion, puppet, clay and cut out paper animation. They have their obvious limitations, but I wouldn't condemn those mediums for that, or claim they are somehow inferior because they don't replicate the animation from classic hand drawn cartoons.

Cel animation also has it's own limitations. That's why people like Tex Avery decided never to try and duplicate what live action could do better.

I'm not conveniently forgetting any history, Mark. I'm talking specifically about the Disney studio, which everyone feels Pixar is the modern day equivalent of. Even if you add the Alice cartoons, that's still only five extra years.

First of all, there have been great gains in CGI animation. Just look at the difference in the treatment of the human characters from the first Toy Story compared with its sequel.

Even if we only consider Walt Disney in regard to the development of animation (which I don't think is fair), you still have to take into account that he didn't start from scratch. He built upon what others had developed in the twenty years before he made Steamboat Willie.

J. J. Hunsecker said...

I'm already eating words like actually once holding the opinion of CGI having any possibilities beyond special effects, and praising kitsch like The Incredibles and Ratatouille, which I revisited a few months ago and couldn't believe I thought any good of it at any point.

How are The Incredibles and Ratatouille kitsch? If you once liked them what changed your mind recently? If you're going to flippantly denounce two great animated features, the least you can do is explain yourself.

BTW, you guys can enjoy the retards you'll be getting as future animators in the arena in a few years. I sat in on an acting in animation class, and NONE of the students knew who Chaplin was (not to mention any other notable animation figures even).

There have always been artists in the animation business who were ignorant of the history of their chosen field, and many who never watched classic movies. Years ago I met some would be animators at CalArts whose only knowledge and inspiration of American animation was a few of Disney's later features. They knew even less about live action films. However, they could draw well.

Thad said...

Both of Brad Bird's films were overlong. The Incredibles had hokey, stiff character animation and bland designs. Ratatouille had at least a little more suaveness, but had a greatly contrived story. There were effects in both that were marveling, but I'm fairly indifferent to them otherwise.

I know that the artists are capable of better than what the computers are replicating. I looked at The Incredibles art book a few months ago, and couldn't believe how amazing everything was in it. The finished film looks like animated Happy Meal toys by comparison.

Oh and in that class, what were students shown as a first example of animated acting, you ask? Nope, not Grumpy, not Thumper, not Daffy, not Wile E. Coyote.... IRON GIANT! But they don't care anyway. They know what's really gold without the teacher telling them: anime and Beowulf. Yes, I have incredibly high hopes for the animated filmmakers of the future.

J. J. Hunsecker said...

Both of Brad Bird's films were overlong. The Incredibles had hokey, stiff character animation and bland designs. Ratatouille had at least a little more suaveness, but had a greatly contrived story. There were effects in both that were marveling, but I'm fairly indifferent to them otherwise.

We're off into the subjective realm again, but to me The Incredibles has some of the best and most believable animation I've seen in any CGI animated film. Especially in the scenes where Bob Parr is cutting his son's steak, so excited over the news of his son's speed that he cuts through the plate, and his angry reactions afterward; the excitement he shows when listening to the police readio in his friend Frozone's car, realizing that a fire is close enough for them to help.

There's stretch and squash in both of Bird's Pixar films (in fact, I'd say more so than in the hand drawn Iron Giant). Compare that to Toy Story where the characters are animated in a manner close to stop motion puppets.

The designs of The Incredible cast are slick, stylized and appealing. They look like Tiki sculptures. They are anything but "bland."

As for Ratatouille, Bird managed to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. The very concept of that film sounds like it would never work, but Bird managed to tell a charming and witty story nonetheless.

Bird also manages to keep the pace of his pictures lively, and they never feel "overlong" to me.

J. J. Hunsecker said...

Oh and in that class, what were students shown as a first example of animated acting, you ask? Nope, not Grumpy, not Thumper, not Daffy, not Wile E. Coyote.... IRON GIANT! But they don't care anyway. They know what's really gold without the teacher telling them: anime and Beowulf. Yes, I have incredibly high hopes for the animated filmmakers of the future.

Even before the ascendency of computer animation there were animators who were big fans of anime, and lukewarm to classic Hollywood cartoons. Like I said before, many animators I ran into years ago were fans of later Disney features like Jungle Book, not the earlier ones like Snow White or Dumbo. They seemed to like the literal, live action based animation of late Disney and Japanese animation, over my favorite kind of exaggerated "cartoony" animation.

So your animators of the future are the same as many from the past 40 years.

Jerry Chan said...

Why is everyone assuming that us animation students are completely incapable of studying the "older" materials that the Golden Age animators worked off of?

We're not THAT hopeless.

Am I also the only one here that looks past the medium to see if the storytelling and acting was good?

Anonymous said...

Thad: It took 9 years to go from Steamboat Willie to Snowwhite. It took 11 to go from the Adventures of Andre and Wally B to Toy Story.

jake said...

I am in complete agreement with Jerry Chan.

I think that whatever works, works. I don't care if you have to vomit on your work to create amazing animation. Just because watercolor isn't an oil painting, doesn't mean it can't make a masterpiece. Every medium has it nuances (for better or worse.) I think it boils down to learning the tools and the strength of yourself. The real excitement for me is the new mixing and matching of all of these mediums which I think is the direction of the future.


Oh, and the whole tiring debate about the amount of time between 'breaking and defining' the mediums (ie: Snow White and Toy Story)...if you ever have watched the many earlier cartoons before Snow White (and I don't mean just Disney) you will notice that upon re-watching Snow White that despite the advances there are still things(style/techniques/gags/whatever else) the artists couldn't disavow themselves from until a few films later. Same thing with Toy Story.

In addition, I think that the mainstreaming of 3D/CG animation will allow the traditional animation features to take more creative risks and freedom in telling their stories. Did anyone else find that the Disney Story/Song formula was wearing a bit thin? (You know...the introduction song, the "i'm the bad guy song", the "we're traveling song" etc...)

Scott said...

Mark, for once, we agree. Good writing.

A few comments…

""The animation of machines is effects animation, and that's really all we see in the first part of WALL•E."'

I love this quote... especially from someone so enamored with classical Disney animation. How is something like, perhaps, “The Old Mill” any different? No “acting” or “character animation” anywhere to be found, and a completely engaging, dramatic, and beautiful short… and its all simple “effects”. Guess what Barrier… cinema is one big “special effect”. When criticism gets as lazy as it does in Barrier’s review, maybe its time for the critic to hang it all up? I am never seen such contempt for animation from a supposed lover of the medium.

As for Thad… I don’t really know where to start, so I won’t. Why bother? I love pompous windbags like him because they immediately discredit themselves. Pixar’s “artistic fraud?” Care to… um, elaborate?

How about this… we’ll leave Pixar’s immense amount of work, acclaim and worldwide admiration to speak for them and your blog to speak for you. I think that sums up things quite nicely.

Thad said...

"How about this… we’ll leave Pixar’s immense amount of work, acclaim and worldwide admiration to speak for them and your blog to speak for you. I think that sums up things quite nicely."

At least the blog credits individual artists whose works (and names) have sat in the dark for years and are too dead to enjoy a renaissance of appreciation they're getting now.

I know some artists at Pixar. I can spot their style of work in their earlier endeavors. I can't tell at all what they did in CGI, and there'd be no way of knowing, and no reason to praise individual scenes, because the animator can't add their own flair.

BTW, boy who uses Scrooge McDuck as avatar, make sure your grammar is absolutely correct before you start throwing personal insults.

Enjoy Cars 2!

Jerry Chan said...

@ thad:

I challenge you to watch any later Chuck Jones short and tell me whether or not that's Ben Washam or Ken Harris on the screen

(online arguements... aren't they GRAND?)

Scott said...

"BTW, boy who uses Scrooge McDuck as avatar, make sure your grammar is absolutely correct before you start throwing personal insults."

Wow, speak for yourself. Use punctuation much?

Oh, and someone who likes Scrooge McDuck would use Scrooge McDuck as an avatar. Did I miss something?

“I can't tell at all what they did in CGI, and there'd be no way of knowing, and no reason to praise individual scenes, because the animator can't add their own flair.”

If this is a fault of the medium, then it is just that: a fault of the medium. How is this committing “artistic fraud” and specific to only Pixar? You have yet to make your case.

Thad said...

I think Wall-E would qualify as a piece of artistic fraud. It's a film that its fans are defending as cute entertainment, which would be fine, if it weren't also defended as serious and meaningful, which it most emphatically is not. It's worse than lauding E.T., which was dumb, but didn't try to be more than cute entertainment.

Wall-E holds a hypocritical, overbearing message. I can't wait to see DVD stands in Wal-Mart. (Which, hey, also makes Wal-Mart hypocrites!)

Hey Jerry, which later Chuck Jones shorts? Post a link to one. I can spot Ken Harris, Ben Washam, and Dick Thompson's styles in even Chuck's Tom and Jerry's. I just find that those films are boring, and aren't really worthy of serious study. But the individuality is there.

Jenny said...

"The Incredibles had hokey, stiff character animation and bland designs. Ratatouille had at least a little more suaveness, but had a greatly contrived story. There were effects in both that were marveling, but I'm fairly indifferent to them otherwise."

Well, that's one man's opinion. : )

Still, I'm shocked that anyone with as much clocked time watching animation could possibly think the character animation in Incredibles "hokey" or especially "stiff". To me the evidence on screen speaks for itself--and again, films do affect every viewer on an individual basis.
What I saw in both of Bird's films was a fluidity and most importantly personality that was utterly believable.
As to any story's "contrivances"--good grief! There is simply no such thing as a new and different situation. Everything has been seen before if you're over 12 and well-rounded.

But so what? If you want to retell Little Red Riding Hood with the same old plot everyone knows, it's poossible to do it and still elicit emotion and entertainment in the viewer. You can tell the same "plot" over and over again and it will always have the potential to be "new" and entertaining, because it's being told by individuals using their unique set of POVs and quirks, their choices which are no one else's--and also with most animation the result of many people's choices and individual personalities. A "Chuck Jones film" is mostly Jones, sure--but it's also undeniably got Maurice, Maltese and Ken Harris in there too to create the final presentation. It's a delicately stirred cocktail, not a straight shot of gin.

Jenny said...

And as far as IDing individual artists in an animated film, and what being able to do so signifies:

it's fantastic that there are those of us who care very much whose work we're seeing, but the job then as now wasn't for the audience to sit up and yell "Hey! It's Scribner!" or Sweetland or Moore or Johnston or Kahl or Ken Duncan or anyone else. Both sets of artists--those from 60 years ago and those working today--know perfectly well that their achievement (in a linear-story film, long or short) is to get a character up on the screen, not to stand out as the puppetmaster.
To decry animation of any type as inferior or lacking because one is unable to identify the artist is missing the point of the presentation. Not that it isn't important, but it's only important to a niche audience, mostly of other artists. I cheer when I recognize(and by the way, I can ID CG scenes occasionally based on an animator's style)someone I know whose work I enjoy, but it's totally unnecessary for the audience to enjoy the film--and they're just not that nitpicking.

Then again, I have always said-and believe-that a tongue depressor can generate a story and personality in the right hands.

Thad said...

Compared to Ratatouille, The Incredibles animation IS hokey. It's gotten more streamlined and has a bit more squash and stretch.

Which CGI scenes can be identified by an artist's drawing and timing style? Share, please. I only see Bird's direction (which is really good) and not contributions/pluses added from other artists.

Anonymous said...

"The art direction and character design in Kung Fu Panda goes beyond the "bare minimum". It's quite elegant and beautiful -- which is not an easy feat."

No, it's self aware and very mastubatory. That anyone noticed is a sore comment on how weak the story and characters are.

Wall-e, on the other hand, had characters that required the audience to bring something to the table and not be spoon fed like most animated films. It's ironic that those [incorrectly] stating that Wall-e didn't have "character animation" seem to be the ones who prefer things they're comfortable with and have seen before. The acting in Wall-e is light years ahead of anything being done elsewhere in animation today, and quite simply Pixar's greatest achievement. And, so far, the best (and best reviewed) film this year.

Mark Mayerson said...

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