Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Why don't you come on back to the war? or CG vs Hand drawn, what the fuck happened to stop mo?

I, like many animators, am a daily subscriber to Cartoon Brew. For the most part, I agree with them and their opinions on films and animation. Today they posted a video by animator Gene Deitch for the Xiamen International Animation Festival.

You should definitely watch it. There are a lot of things that he says that I agree with. But, as I'm finding with pretty much everything, I'm very conflicted.

Deitch practically calls a war on CG animated films. (I use the term CG out of respect for Deitch's 2D/3D complaint, which is essentially correct.) He call for a return to hand drawn animation. And he's by no means the only one.

I am constantly finding that in the animation community, in fact the art community as a whole, there is a hatred for CG and the CG look. It's not organic, not artistic, and not quality. It's not like hand drawn where we aren't bound by technology.

I completely disagree with this; but here's the annoying thing: I'm one of them. I don't like the CG look. It's not because it's not organic, or it's not artistic. I believe that CG animation is incredibly artistic. When one of my hero's, Don Hertzfeldt was asked about CG animation he gracefully said that he feels CG artists often get a bum rap because "people seem to think that computers have a 'make art' button." It's not until you attempt it that you realize the mind that makes "good" CG animation is a brilliant mind both intelligently and creatively. I use the term "good" because face it; there's shit in all forms of animation, even hand drawn.

People also hate the flash and computer inked look of animated films. Here I am in complete disagreement as well. Flash is a tool that helps animator animate easily. It's so easy to create a crappy looking film with flash, and many do. This does not mean that flash is not a viable program for beautiful animation. The flash animator simply needs to realize that animation will always take a fuck-ton of work. Tweening and key pathing can still be tools used to create beautiful animation, but one cannot forget their basic timing rules. Because these animation friendly tools that exist to make animation quicker exist, people so often choose the easy way out and use them without thinking of how long an action still takes.

I've seen this from really good hand drawn animators. I'm still a student and in a class we made a digital puppet in after effects, which we were supposed to animate using hold key frames and linear key frames. When we watched the students' work some of the best animators in my class had jumpy or "dreamy" (linear) movement in their animation. I know these people can animate stunningly well, but when given the lazy, easy way they take it. Sure, they probably just didn't want to spend the amount of time needed to animate well, but who does when you can animate it sub-par. And these are talented animators who can get shit done; you must have a good work ethic to be an animator. (Not necessarily true, yes I very much realize this.)

I think it's because of these easy ways out that these computer based art forms are looked down upon by so much of the animation community. Like every art form, they have a majority of crap and a minority of golden beautiful work. It's the crap animation that gives these computer based animation medium a bum rap. But we gotta realize that hand drawn animation is about as full of crappy animation as computer animation. Let's not forget some of the crappiest animated Hanna-Barbera and Japanese traditional animations. It's simply that today that crappy animation that would be done hand drawn is done on a computer because it's cheaper and easier. It's as if the computer animation has absorbed the hand drawn crap, therefore adding to its bum rap.

Amid Amidi recently wrote a post about Jonathan Demme planning to make an animation feature from the book Zeitoun. In it Amidi wrote a cautionary note telling Demme that traditional hand drawn animation is the only way to make this film. "I beg you not to use cheap Flash/AfterEffects-style animation. Don’t Waltz with Bashir this film, and compromise the personal impact of the story with mechanical movement." I liked the visual style of Waltz with Bashir. It looked beautiful and it was different, finally. I think it's pretty extreme for any artist to make such a bold claim that there is only one way to animate this film successfully.

Now, it's time for me to once again take a step back. Everything I have said here is what I believe. I fully believe that flash animation, even with its tweening and motion path tools (used with discretion and most importantly thought) can create beautiful animation that rivals any hand drawn animation. I also believe that CG animation can, and certainly has proven it, create beautiful animation that rivals any Disney hand drawn animation. But, I still don't like it. I don't like the look of Pixar. I prefer the look of Plympton, Hertzfeldt, and Bakshi to Pixar any day. I agree that Pixar is amazing visually (and can be really good with story, but that's something completely different from what I am writing about.) I just don't like it. It's too smooth, too pretty, and not gritty enough. And this isn't by technological set back; it's an artistic decision. The same is true of flash animation, for the same reason. Often too smooth, not gritty enough. Much like a scientist, I joyously wait to be proven wrong.

But, in the end, none of this matters. All of these visual styles are a means to an end: storytelling. In the end for me, the only thing that matters is the story. I love South Park, Hertzfeldt, Aquateen Hunger Force, Bakshi. None considered greats of animation, but they know the story and have made truly great films. The counter-example to these is Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. No one has ever called this a great movie, but the animation was beautiful. The story sucked. In the end, I don't give a shit what it looked like.

To finalize, I'd like to be a picky asshole. Deitch says in his speech that drawing is traditionally the basic origin of animation. What the fuck happened to stop motion? Need I remind the world The Adventures of Prince Achmed? I joke, but seriously, where does Stop Motion fit in this war? I actually know the stop motion position, we apparently hate CG. Working in stop motion, we're always up against CG for jobs. So, I guess I now have to hate CG. Damn, I really wanted to stick to my principles on this..... Eh. Death to all computers!

I welcome any and all comments from the family of loved ones that died while actually reading this post.


  1. it was great having sex in your vagina last nite

  2. Interesting! I gotta ask you, what do you think of the animation in Home Movies, or any of the other adult swim animated shows?

  3. Those shows pretty much objectively have poor animation. If I'm talking about animation I'm mainly talking about quality of movement, strength of poses, and expression. Home movies and Aqua Teen Hunger Force and other animation on adult swim has jumpy, or linear motion pathed animation. They are not realistic.

    This then, however, calls into question what is good for animation. Is realism good? Rotoscoping is as realistic as you can get, but that is rarely regarded as good animation. It looks off. Good animation, traditionally, is based on real movements and exaggerated to make poses and movements stronger, and it sells actions better. Of course, in the traditional sense of good animation, you can go too far with it. A Tex Avery style animation is very exaggerated, possibly too exaggerated. This now becomes a line of personal preference. This style is the result of knowing and bending the rules consciously. The question of what is good, obviously is not objective. I can't answer what is objectively good in animation. But I think I can say what is bad. Animation that is too jumpy to see the movement, or animation with linear keyframes without thought, that don't represent the thought and emotions of the character. Bad animation is similar to bad acting as well.

    So, would I say that the animation for Adult Swim shows like Home Movies or Aqua Teen is bad? I'll switch my original statement to no. I don't think it's bad. The movement is terrible, but the poses are good. In the end, you understand what the characters' intents are. You have just the information to accentuate a joke or a mood. But I would not say the animation is good. The movement is very poor.

    This all being said, in the end, I don't really care. Animation quality is really unimportant in comparison to story. Really unimportant. A similar analogy is graphics for video games. I still love playing Super Mario Brothers. The graphics are poor, just what is needed to play the game, but the game is well made. It's fun to play. Just like a story needs to be fun (in some respect) before it looks pretty.

    This is why Home Movies is possibly the best television show ever made. It's wonderfully written, the animation serves the story (unlike so many Disney films that I don't give a shit about, where the story serves the animation.) Ideally, you have beautiful animation and beautiful writing, of course. I just don't care about a film that has good animation but poor writing, but there are plenty of films that have poor animation and beautiful writing that I love.

    Post Script: In my own work I want to have good animation. It's a really fun challenge. The harder challenge, however, is a good meaningful story. Animation is easy, writing isn't. Animation just takes work and thought, writing needs something else. I just need to be bffs with don hertzfeldt, bakshi, plympton, brendon small, h jon benjamin, todd barry, nick park, etc

  4. Yea, the notion of objectively judging animation is a little shaky when you consider work that incorporates its crappiness into the aesthetic.