Saturday, 10 January 2015

Developing Technology: Is traditionally produced feature animation dead?

This is my essay for module 2: Design Discourse One

It is no doubt that animation has come a long way since it’s birth in the late 1800s, it’s growth and development to the present day is both alluring and admirable but in this journey from one century to the next, have we lost touch with the roots of this art form? Is it even an art form today? That itself is a different topic, here we will be asking the question; has traditionally produced animation died a death due to the mass development in technology?
As human’s we want to stay ‘up-to-date’ with trends and technology, we want to continuously improve what we are already capable of and with technology this is a constant cycle, but let’s take a look at how this has affected the animation industry.
Animation is a fascinating discovery; it gives us as animators a chance to show audiences around the world the possibilities of the imagination, something that was only possible before through books and paintings, but with animation we can bring those paintings to life, make them do anything we want but, it’s an illusion. That is the magical element of animation and through the years the industry has strived to make us believe these illusions are possible by creating new ways of bring images and models to life in a more realistic way, but in the process of this hunger for realism we may have ignored the roots of this art form, thus letting it die away and be replaced with Computer generated images which has its benefits against traditional methods of animating but does that really make it better to the stage of replacing hand-drawn animation?

Firstly, lets take a look at what traditional animation is and where animation stops being traditional. Traditional animation is when each frame to a film is hand-drawn.
Hand-drawn animation (traditional animation) was a huge creative breakthrough when it first appeared, moving images were something that excited crowds from every corner of the globe. Émile Cohl, was one of the first pioneers of animation who blessed us with “Fantamagorie” the first film to use traditional animating methods in 1908, once the public got a glimpse into this new world of hand-drawn images, they craved more, this was something that they had never witnessed before and everything about animation became appealing, not just the enjoyment of creating the films for animators, but even for audiences to watch and digest the final outcome of the time consuming, creative process. When we look further down the timeline of animation we arrive at another milestone in the development of technology and animation, which is the production of Walt Disney’s Snow White and the seven dwarfs in 1937, production for this feature started in 1934 the time between the beginning of the film and the release date is evidence of the time consuming process behind the animated feature and cel animation, Walt Disney’s Snow White and the seven dwarfs became the highest grossing film of that era as crowds flocked to witness the events on the big screen. The film was made using traditional cel animation and one would look upon this medium as the most creatively skilled method of creating animation, with each frame being inked or photocopied onto acetate sheets and hand-painted by artists throughout the entire production period using strictly precise tones and colours for different characters; and concerning Snow White, artists added make up to her without permission of Walt Disney; attention to details such as this is what makes traditional animation so unique and intimate and brings us back to the pursuit of verisimilitude within the animation industry.

Looking back at the release of Disney’s Snow White in 1937, it could be mused that the cause of its success was the refreshing new technology behind it; in this period animation was the subject of interest to many people for this reason and it can be the same case today, referring to the blockbuster that is James Cameron’s Avatar (2009); as well as being a gripping and stunning movie that reached into many different themes, the media constantly referred to the technology behind it taking the feature a decade to create so that the right technology was available to make this the best possible experience for audiences around the globe. This influenced a lot of people to go and witness this new phenomenon, which had never been done before, and if you weren’t a spectator of this new cinematic experience you were likely to miss out on a huge talking point in the history of cinema. Avatar and Snow White are a very large juxtaposition when it comes to style and technology used in each production but very similar in ways of attracting an audience primarily for the use of a new medium that offers an even bigger escape of our own reality that we’ve ever seen before. Is it technology that is bringing people back for more when it comes to animation in the present day? When it was originally the art and innovative thinking of bring a hand-drawn picture to life that made us fall in love with animation in the beginning? 
Looking at when computers started to make their way into the animation industry takes us to the mid 1960s when artists began to experiment with computers, this developed in a matter of decades to the 21st century where we see cel animation become antiquated by the rise in computers aiding the process, at this stage computers were being used instead of acetate cels, frames were being scanned directly into computers to be coloured and added to film digitally, or frames were being drawn directly onto the screen and taken from there, this process allowed for the look and characteristics of traditional cel animation to be preserved, animators dubbed this technique ‘Tradigital’ animation. The development of creating of 2D animations with computers in the 1960s allowed animators to take animation further in the following decades creating hybrids of this method such as Rotoscoping (Lord of the Rings 1978) and pairing animation with live action seen in Space Jam (1996). This was the prime of animation which had been going on for decades and could only continue to expand and grow in every aspect of the art, the crowds kept flocking to cinemas to see what new developments animation could produce as the industry continued to push the boundaries of technology mixed with creative flow. It became clear that audiences around the globe craved realism in animation and the industry kindly obliged to this appetite, the illusion of animation was becoming more advanced as it grew more and more into computer-generated images, but was this losing touch with hand-drawn animation completely?
Looking at the present day in American animation we can see that 2D animated features are lacking dramatically, however if we look to Japan and Europe, hand drawn animation continues to thrive mainly in the form of anime. Researching into why 2D feature animation has remained so alive in Asia but not so much in America revealed that Anime simply appears to reach out to a larger audience than traditional 2D animation being produced in America does. Anime is aimed at a mass variety of genres so there is something for everyone, be it families, teenagers, adults and children. Whereas it seemed American animation was only aiming at families to market 2D feature animations, why didn’t they just follow in the footsteps of Japanese animation and aim at more genres instead of just family films?  “Anime which is released in theatres that target those other markets, don’t really make all that much money. Even Studio Ghibli movies” (Chavez, 2013) this is a direct quote from Richard Chavez, a background illustrator who has worked for DreamWorks, there has been no evidence in research carried out on whether his statement is correct. But another question behind the dying success of 2D features is if audiences really care about what type of animation they are watching? Does it matter to viewers if a feature is computer animation or stop motion? As long as the film is appealing through the storyline and characters its success should not be affected by the medium it was produced in; an example of this is DreamWorks’ Rise of the Guardians (2012) which wasn’t a huge success for the company grossing $103,400,692 (April 2013) this could be due to the feature being aimed at a teen audience, but supports the claim that an animation being computerised will make it successful in the present day, aiming a film about Santa Claus and the Easter bunny at a young teenage audience wasn’t a good marketing base for the production, even if the characters were developed to make them more appealing to that audience, although it’s hard to say whether the film would have been more successful if it was hand-drawn.

Looking at the animated features being released in recent years there has not been a mass of traditional animated features, Disney’s last 2D released feature was Winnie-the-Pooh in 2011, research reveals that the lack of success in this film has encouraged Disney to turn away from 2D animated features in future;
“To my knowledge we’re not developing a 2D or hand-drawn feature animated film right now, there is a fair amount of activity going on in hand-drawn animation but it’s largely for television at this point. We’re not necessarily ruling out the possibility [of] a feature but there isn’t any development at the company at the moment”(Iger, 2013)
These are the words of Bob Iger, chief executive at Disney speaking in 2013. Does this mean we should fret for the future of hand-drawn feature animation if one of the largest producers of the films has no future plans for the medium as of yet? It may be too soon to tell, but if we look deeper into computer generated animation and where it’s going we may not be far off saying goodbye to traditional feature animation; computer animation didn’t take long to materialize from the beginning of animation with the first signs of its use being as early as the 1960s, more specifically 1967 in the animated short film, Hummingbird by Charles Csuri and James Shaffer the short entailed a line drawing of a hummingbird from a computer and the lines then dispersing from each other. This was the first glimpse there was into what animation could be capable of when met with technology and the desire for pushing it further only grew, this brings us to 1972 where Ed Catmull brought us the worlds first 3D animation; “A computer animated hand” he later became one of the founders of the company we know today as Pixar, in 2011 a computer animated hand became formally recognized as a historically significant film.

This was only a small beginning for what would blossom to be a huge part of cinematic animation bit without this leap in animation history we most likely wouldn’t have the cinematic tools available in the industry today such as special effects and motion capture. As big as 3D animation is in today’s industry, traditional animators are determined not to let hand-drawn animation die; Hallabaloo Steampunk is an independent hand-drawn animation project created by James Lopez, a Disney veteran animator who has been involved with some of the most renown animated films and is determined not to let traditional feature animation die. The project is funded by traditional animation lovers across the globe and invites aspiring animators to get involved in the production, as of today Hallabaloo is a collection of short films put together by some of the most talented animators in the industry, the aim is to build the project into a feature film to prove to the industry that traditional animation is not dead and will remain alive for long to come.
Both traditional animation and computer animation require a certain amount of skill to produce, it could be argued that traditional animation requires a more artistic and skilful animator, whereas computer animation needs a skilful understanding of software which is more advanced and challenging than traditional animation but either method produces stunning results and will only continue to improve in both genres.

In conclusion it seems that traditionally produced animation hasn’t been totally killed off by the mass development in technology, it has simply taken a step back to allow for fresh innovative ideas to greet the world of animatic cinema that is always seeking a newcomer to welcome and thrive in. As humans we always seem to glance back at where we began to help us blossom even deeper and further in the present day, this is no exception in the industry of animation as we seek ways to bring more realism to the fantasy and illusion of life in motion graphics as a form of escape from our reality and to reach wider audiences and we, as animators can’t predict where that will develop to but it can be agreed that without traditional animation we wouldn’t have developed this far today, there will always be a place for it somewhere in the industry whether it be in feature films or animated shorts. But let’s just see what the future holds.

Dundee, S. (2011). "A computer animated hand" - 1972. [video] Available at: [Accessed 27 Dec. 2014].
Escabar, L. (2013). ANIMATION – Is 2D Feature Animation Truly Dead?. [Blog] Luis' Illustrated Blog. Available at: [Accessed 16 Dec. 2014]., (1974). Disney releases Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs — This Day in History — 2/4/1938. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Dec. 2014].
Indiegogo, (2015). Hullabaloo Steampunk animated film. [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 Dec. 2014].
Lindberg, K. (2014). The Imaginer. [online] The university of Utah. Available at: [Accessed 27 Dec. 2014].
Preston, T. (2011). History of Cel Animation. [video] Available at: [Accessed 19 Dec. 2014].

Word count: 2216

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