Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Animation Today

It feels wrong to have a post without images, but I lost my tech help for one week, so for now I'd like to share some thoughts with you on the current state of animation.
Recently I had the chance to spend some time at DreamWorks and at Blue Sky Studios.
I found the energy and enthusiasm in both places very exciting. It still feels a little bit odd though to talk to animators who grew up on the films I worked on at Disney. Comments like "I was eight years old when I saw Aladdin, and that's why I wanted to be an animator" make me feel.....old for one thing, but they also flatter me. After all, I was about ten when I saw "Jungle Book", which changed my life.
To know that Disney animated films from the 1980ies and 90ies had the same effect on young aspiring artists is simply incredible.

The work being done at DreamWorks and Blue Sky is beautiful, there will be some great films released in the near future. And I know that Pixar and Disney also have amazing titles coming up.
And yet.......I am waiting for a studio to show the courage for an artistic left turn.
There is nothing wrong with photo realism, which is the current CG style. The degree of caricature might vary a little, but ALL studios and ALL CG films are being presented in this hyper realistic world.
Come on....I need to see something that challenges my imagination more than this!

Hand drawn animation is so much about leaving things out, showing only the essence to communicate something. The line is your tool. The viewer is challenged to accept drawings as living beings, which gets him involved.
I remember watching "The Lion King" stage show for the first time. It has so many wonderful abstractions, you see the puppeteers and the mechanics, there is a joy in being in on the process. (I said this before, I prefer the show over the movie, you don't see any bad drawings.)
Hand drawn animation is similar in that way, you are invited to accept something abstract as being real.

A few years ago my buddy Mike Gabriel at Disney directed the short film "Lorenzo".
Mike asked me to animate on it, but at that time I was assigned to another project.
The pencil animation was done at Disney's AMAZING French studio. When I saw the finished film, I couldn't believe my eyes. A perfect fusion of hand drawn animation and CG treatment. No traditional cel painted look here, rough brush paintings moving with the kind of weight you see in good traditional animation. I honestly thought, this is the future, a new concept for animation.
Unfortunately nobody has followed up on this, for now it's a one time shot.

Some of my last conversations with Frank and Ollie centered around CG and pencil animation. These guys were amazed at this new type of film making with a sense of "what they can't do these days".
Frank Thomas expressed hope though that their kind of animation would survive, because when done well it affects audiences in a unique, personal, special way.

I couldn't agree more.