Technology is changing how animation is done, but animators are still
at the heart of it. Animators are still the creative artists whose imaginations
and artistic skills bring characters to life.
"Technology hasn't reduced demand for animators at all," says animator
Bobby Beck. He has worked on films such as Finding Nemo and Monsters, Inc.
"[Technological advances] are just some of the tools animators use to influence
what kind of effects you want," says Beck. "It's exciting to see how these
tools continue to improve, but ultimately the core of what makes an animator
great is... their ability to make a character connect with an audience and
support the story."
Digital technology removes some steps, saving a lot of time over the approach
to traditional animation. But artists still create all the drawings you see
on the movie screen.
"Even though today's animators are working with some powerful technology,
the technology isn't doing all of the work," says Beck. "There is a ton of
skill, finesse and creativity involved in how you use these tools to make
characters come to life in believable ways."
Animator Nick Fox-Gieg uses vector-based 2D animation software. He creates
nearly as many drawings as he would with the traditional animation method.
With traditional animation, you draw each frame (generally, 24 frames per
second for feature films). The frames are put on sheets of plastic called
cels (short for celluloid) and each frame is photographed. It's a time-consuming,
With 2D animation software, however, you draw each frame on a computer
tablet. "It's the complete removal of all the intermediate steps," says Fox-Gieg.
"What really makes the new 2D approach economical is that you don't have to
re-photograph. You draw on the tablet, then you just hit play. Having done
it both ways, the difference in speed is amazing."
This amazing difference in speed has made classical animation economically
Fox-Gieg explains that classic animation is the more general term that
describes the hand-drawn animation approach, whereas traditional animation
is the process of drawing on paper, transferring to plastic cels and photographing
"The traditional process of animation, outside of fine art, is dead," says
Fox-Gieg. "Basically [you can do it] if you have arts funding, if you have
something that places you outside of economic necessity. In terms of any kind
of commercial production, it's going to be done digitally.
"The industry began to move away from the traditional process earlier
than many people think -- Disney switched to 2D computer animation in the
late 1980s," Fox-Gieg adds. "[Traditional animation] probably won't return
on a large scale, but we can preserve the look with new technology."
A good example of 2D animation is Beauty and the Beast, as compared to
a movie like Toy Story, which involves 3D animation. Fox-Gieg predicts that
2D animation will continue to be popular -- film studios just won't be using
the traditional method to create it anymore.
"I think 2D animation is viable and will continue to be, but animation
drawn on paper and photographed on cels will not," says Fox-Gieg. "It should
still be taught in schools... I think students need to learn the stuff that
came before, but the traditional process is not something that the vast majority
of people will be able to depend on commercially."
Aspiring animators should learn how to program on a computer, using all
the latest animation software programs. This is true whether they work in
2D or 3D animation. Fox-Gieg warns learning new programs can be expensive
and they're not always necessary. He recommends a starting with a program
called Processing, which is free, if you're interested in programming. "I've
worked mainly in 2D, but a concentration in programming alongside that is
very important," says Fox-Gieg.
Fox-Gieg predicts a growing number of films such as Waltz with Bashir,
which combined digital 2D and 3D methods on a relatively low budget.
"We're going to see more and more hybrid forms, using traditional pencil
and paper to sketch out drawings and then using digital technology to finish
it," says Fox-Gieg, "or sketching out only the key frames on paper and drawing
the in-between drawings on the computer."
Animators have been evolving their skills alongside the changing technology.
There are plenty of opportunities for animators who are willing to learn some
computer technology and incorporate it into a classical animation background.
"Learning computer technology is unavoidable, but there's a lot of flexibility
for those who work best in older methods," says Fox-Gieg. For some people,
animation is just a hobby. It's done for fun and creative expression. In that
case, learning to use complex software is not necessary.
You shouldn't let big-budget Hollywood movies scare you away from trying
your hand at animation. "The majority of animation that we see in our everyday
lives is either children's TV shows or large-scale 3D features, like Pixar
films," says Tara Schorr. She is the coordinator of a nonprofit arts society
for animators. "People come in and find that they can animate with much more
ease than they thought.
"There are many, many different ways of animating and you don't need a
PhD in compositing to do something really fun and make something that looks
really great," she adds.
Right now, movies created using digital animation are highly popular. Digital
animation is also referred to as CG or CGI (computer generated imaging).
It involves creating three-dimensional models using computer software. These
models are then manipulated, similar to the way puppets are manipulated.
Some digital animators are programmers who are experts with the software.
Increasingly, digital animators are traditional animators who have learned
the tricks of the new digital trade. Studios have moved away from 2D animation
based on hand-drawn illustration. That's starting to change, however.
"We've been moving away from illustration for decades," says Fox-Gieg.
"Now we're in a period where hand-drawn animation is coming back because it's
become economical again. Economics drives everything."
No matter what amazing new technology comes along, people will still want
to see the hand-drawn work of animators. Even a hugely successful film such
as Avatar doesn't change that. Avatar was created using motion capture technology.
Real-life actors performed the roles and computers were used to capture their
"Motion capture serves a purpose," says Beck. "It is hyper-real and works
for photo-real projects very well. However, animation is the characterization
of life. That means pushing life beyond what you see. That cannot be captured.
That has to be studied and then expanded on."
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