Sunday, March 17, 2013

Who Are the Next Inspirations?

Sheridan College was lucky to host Disney writer-director John Musker last week.  There's some coverage here.  In addition to talking to students about their work, Musker gave a two hour presentation about his career, where he generously included the work of animators.  The names were no surprises: Glen Keane, Eric Goldberg, Mark Henn, etc.

Musker also talked about the early days of his career, particularly his time with Eric Larson and being taught by Jack Hannah.

Listening to Musker and staring at the young students in the audience, I started wondering about the next animators who would serve as inspiration.

Animators were pretty much invisible through the greatest part of what we call the golden age.  Bill Tytla got some publicity in Time magazine at the time of Dumbo's release and many of the Disney crew were anonymously featured in the live action portions of The Reluctant Dragon, but it really wasn't until Disney moved into TV that behind-the-scenes material started to appear.  When Disney was publicizing the initial release of Lady and the Tramp, there were segments with Frank Thomas, Milt Kahl, Woolie Reitherman, etc.  Those shows, and Bob Thomas's book The Art of Animation were really the public's first view of the people who made the characters move.

The TV audience for those shows (as well as Walter Lantz's copycat segments on The Woody Woodpecker Show), was the generation that grew up to enter the animation business in the '70s and '80s.  At the same time they were entering the business, others in their generation were writing about animation history, further publicizing animators, and not only those at Disney.

In the '90s, the TV generation had risen to prominence  in animated features.  Glen Keane, Andreas Deja, Eric Goldberg, etc. were all used to publicize the films on their release and then appeared in DVD extras.  These are the people that the Sheridan students were familiar with and who were featured in John Musker's talk.

But who are the animators who have risen to prominence in animated features in the last 15 years?  I'm not talking about directors (though only Pixar has really publicized them to the point that they have independent reputations).  Since cgi has taken over feature films, are there any cgi animators whose work is known to the general public? The same question can be asked about stop motion animators.

At Sheridan, it's been clear to me for years that the students seem to gravitate more to design than to story or animation.  There are relatively few who have stories they're desperate to tell or characters they want to bring to life.  I wonder if the flood of "Art of" books is responsible for this in some way.  It's one of the few places where animation artists get credited, but the books are mostly pre-production art. 

Whatever the reason, I think that the writing of history and publicity is having an impact on students' career aspirations.  Without animators as examples, there are fewer who aspire to follow that path.  There are fewer "ignition moments," when someone sees an animator bring a character to life and is struck by the desire to do the same thing.

This may be happening at the various online animation schools where students are interacting with working animators.  That's all to the good, but it doesn't reach the same number of people who see a DVD extra or work credited in a book.

In thirty years, when the audience for John Musker's talk is firmly established in animation, will there be any star animators known outside the studios?  While there were always star animators even if the public didn't know about them, I'm convinced that the lack of publicity does impact their number.

If I'm right, then that's something that animators can do to maintain the health of the field.  Animators, publicize yourselves!  What shots have you done?  What moments have you given audiences?  The more that human faces can be attached to performances that audiences remember, the more likely that we'll get more of those performances in the future.


Kara said...

I'm actually really interested in seeing that too. Even just a few years difference means a huge shift in what influences people's work - especially since the 90's was a huge hodge podge of anime, western cartoons, mixes of the two and when 3D really started becoming a big thing. People just a few years younger than me have completely different influences outside of the typical disney works, and with the internet you can see work from all around the world. It's going to be an exciting future for animation.

Martin Juneau said...

Overseas animations studios seems to get too much credits than real animators in the past three decades if i'm not wrong, but it don't stop to tough there's again great animators talents somewhere these days who do something else than stock key poses from model sheets and be able to entertain once. Not a easy job, but sometimes effort worth the due.

Jonah Sidhom said...

In terms of animators that inspire me, the ones whose work I actually know are basically all from Pixar. Carlos Baena and Victor Navone have both provided some insightful tutorials on their blogs which feature some of their animation. They basically explain their process for certain shots. I know a lot of students frequent those tutorials, so my guess would be that their work is the most recognizable (in terms of matching animation with a name) to a lot of students of computer animation.

J Caswell said...

I couldn't agree more. I'm convinced the public still thinks Walt Disney creates these movies.

chris said...

In 15 years, the animators that students will be familiar with are the ones working on the web.

Doing web cartoons gives a person the chance to own their material, and also to exploit their own name as a creative force.

Floyd Norman said...

Clearly, animators never had a high profile in the media. Not even the Disney masters. Yet, in spite of this, the public became aware of a few. Especially in the late eighties and early nineties.

Today's CGI motion pictures have succeeded in making animators truly invisible. Nobody knows who animates these films nor do they care to know. It's truly sad.

Pete Emslie said...

I agree with what Floyd just said. CG animators, no matter how good they are, can never have their work picked out and recognized because they're working within the confines of a pre-determined model limited in movement by its rig. I don't believe that the movement and acting can ever be enough to distinguish their animation from anybody else's in the film.

In contrast, the traditional animators who worked for decades at Disney, Warners and MGM, while trying to adhere to the house style and stay on-model with the characters, couldn't help but inject something of their own style into the animation. That's because a drawing is as personal as ones handwriting, therefore to those with a trained eye, the animation of Ward Kimball, Milt Kahl, Ken Harris, Hawley Pratt, etc. becomes quite identifiable with the artist's hand.

For instance, in "The Jungle Book", a film I know very well, I could likely identify who was principal animator on most of the characters in any given scene. I can identify whether a scene of Baloo was animated by Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, or the one scene I know to be done by Milt Kahl. To a lesser extent, I could possibly identify the animator in many of the scenes from a more recent Disney film like "The Little Mermaid". (I can certainly tell a Glen Keane scene of Ariel from one done by Mark Henn. I prefer Henn's, by the way.)

But CG animation inherently all looks the same due to the pre-existing rigged model that levels the playing field. While I can well appreciate the talent and effort in a Pixar film, I wouldn't be able to name a single Pixar animator's individual scenes. I really don't see any CG animators ever reaching the same heights of personal glory that traditional animators have long enjoyed. Too bad.

JPilot said...

Mr. Incredible: You mean you killed off real heroes so that you could *pretend* to be one?

Syndrome: Oh, I'm real. Real enough to defeat you! And I did it without your precious gifts, your oh-so-special powers. I'll give them heroics. I'll give them the most spectacular heroics the world has ever seen! And when I'm old and I've had my fun, I'll sell my inventions so that *everyone* can have powers. *Everyone* can be super! And when everyone's super...
[chuckles evilly]

Syndrome: - no one will be.

(Just thought I'd share that.

Replace "real heroes" with "traditional animators"

and replace "powers" with "talent"

and replace "super" with "artist"

and replace "inventions" with "software"

Oh and replace "heroics" with "animationsssss".)


Thea said...

I've been craving for a long time a site like dribbble, but for animation and film. Something where motion artists can show off snapshots of what they're working on, and "like" others' work. Vimeo is probably the closest thing to this, but instead of snapshots or shots of only a few seconds, you have full-length work, which increases the browsing commitment.

I also think it would be really cool to have a database like IMDB for animated or FX films, but which breaks down a movie shot-by-shot so you can see who did what. Or how cool would it be to watch a movie and have the animators' names pop up on screen for every shot you see? It wouldn't help out just fans of animation, it would help out animators themselves. How many animators remember working on a movie, but can't recall which exact shot it was they finished?

Thea said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

The only people who care about the "hand of the individual artist" are other animators. Most people just want to be told a good story. There's PLENTY of lousy ACTING in hand drawn animation, just as there's PLENTY of lousy acting in CG animation. And at this point, I'd say there's just as much good cg acting as there is traditional animation acting. Most great animators want to bury themselves in the CHARACTER, and not show off their animation. Certainly directors don't care, because the differences can be distracting from the film.

The parts matter less than the whole, and the whole is strong character in a story well told (in a story worth telling).

I wish animators would stop wanting to know "who did what" because of what something LOOKS like and instead asked "who did what" because the ACTING was so great. I understand the sentiment, but it's really a silly argument.

Floyd Norman said...

An interesting argument but I'm not sure I buy it. In the arts we care a good deal who wrote a book or who directed a movie. In animation it's only natural for professionals to focus on who did what. Sure, the story is what matters, but those involved in the creative process should never remain invisible.

Thad said...

I agree with Floyd Norman and Pete Emslie. (Although, for the record, Hawley Pratt never carried the official title of 'animator' to the best of my knowledge. But his point still stands. You can still can tell a Freleng cartoon laid out by Pratt from another layout man just by looking at it.)

Anonymous, whether you like it or not, telling who did what by what it looks like is just as much a part of animation study as what it feels like. There is no one reason why people study the work of animators like Bill Tytla, Ward Kimball, Frank Thomas, Freddy Moore, Ken Harris, Rod Scribner, Emery Hawkins, Bobe Cannon, Jim Tyer, Johnny Gent, Dick Williams, Bob Jaques, Glen Keane, Bill Plympton, et. al. The fact that discerning characteristics in timing, phrasing, volume, emphasis, or posing exist is because of what you're looking at: the drawing!

The ethical dilemma many of us have with CG and the digital era is that all of that distinction is being wiped out by the technology. By its very definition, technology aims to replicate the human hand and obliterate any traces thereof.

This doesn't mean that skill is thrown out the window in the new era, nor that the new films lack what the old ones had. But I had a similar argument on Michael Sporn's splog with well-meaning people, and try as they might, no one could name a star animator in the big modern CG features. Can you even tell a Pixar from a Sony from a Dreamworks movie any more?

The homogenization is what's scary.

Tom said...

But in order to recognize the individual styles of the animators you have to actually study them as well as study the animation process. I far as a layman is considered, who animated what doesn't matter. It's all just one big work of art.

I would guess that someone who studied or worked on computer animation might be able to recognize certain animators' work but if you have an inherent basis against it when it probably would all look the same.

I agree with Mark, its mostly publicity.

Tom said...

considered ^^^ concerned

basis ^^^^ bias

Dragos Stefan said...

I don't think the next inspirations are to be found only among lead animators on high-profile features.
When I think of next inspirations, independent artists like Don Hertzfeldt, Joan Gratz, Georges Schwizgebel come to mind. The individual auteurs with strong style, or the small studio created by few guys, were not very present in the "good old days" but they are now and will become more and more important as an influence.