Wednesday, September 3, 2008
Killing scenes is tougher on the younger guys
There are many ways to kill a scene. So many ways.
There always have been. Even in the frame-by-frame drawn 2D days, it was a fight to keep the life from the storyboard panel to the layout drawing, to key poses, to clean-up. By the time the finished image made it to screen, if each artist along the chain wasn't exceptionally talented and on top form that day, the result could often be so watered down it had no life left in it.
That's one recurring theme over at John K's blog, seen recently in this post. Those storyboard panels look like the drawings of just one particular storyboard artist. They are full of personal idiosyncrasies that I would imagine would have a very hard time translating to the final image. And Mr.K is more encouraging than most about individual 'handwriting' making it to the screen. On most productions, that wouldn't be tolerated at all. You'd have to drag those rough sketches kicking and screaming to model.
Cartoonbrew had a post last week on some storyboard to CG comparison images from Bolt. Whether 3D has anything to do with it or not, it's hard to deny the decay from that initial image.
So it can happen anywhere and always could.
But, right now, I'm seeing this happen every day in such a scale and with such a drop in life that it's frightening. I'm seeing great board panels, great sketches by the animators themselves, in my own scenes (okay, not so great sketches by me) and others, turn to completely dead, lifeless pieces of, well, nothing.
And Flash, or the Flash system, is to blame.
Now you can argue that Flash can be made to do wonderful things and it's something I won't deny. I've seen some really great and surprising Flash shorts. And I love that it can give the means to express artistically when, before, making cartoons was expensive and required a huge team. But, when it comes to broadcast television, Flash is not being used as a tool because it can lead to artistic shorts, or because it can improve the quality of animation (it can't) or for any artistic reason. It's being used because it is quick, plain and simple. It makes animation production much quicker, requires far fewer people, works in finished colours, can utilise banks of animation from previous scenes and so on. It's cheap.
I've said it before but I'll say it again - Flash is a tool for producers.
So what's happening here in the studio? Well, all the characters were built in Flash during preproduction from design drawings done by a rather talented character designer. They were constructed in their main angles - front, side, three-quarter and back. They were given libraries of eye shapes, mouth shapes, arm shapes and so on. This is all to speed up production, and it works. Making a character move is incredibly quick. And we're expected to do it quickly, of course - otherwise, there would be no point in using Flash, would there?
But this system is killing the scenes. When an animator wants to get across an expression or a pose, here is what is happening -
a) Animator sketches quick doodle of pose or expression (many animators skip this step).
b) Animator browses library for similar poses, usually can't find one and pull default pieces.
c) Animator shifts these around, replacing some symbols, moving an eyebrow here and there, like a photofit image until -
d) They end up with a really poor variation on a dead default pose that was probably meant for little more than size reference at one point.
Rarely does 'd' resemble 'a' and those that skipped 'a' end up with even more crap results. Dead.
And if by some miracle they find a similar pose in step b, it had been made with this a-d process so is already dead.
And then they go to animate them. This isn't about getting good movement. No, this is Flash animation - this is about finishing the scene. But it usually doesn't matter at this stage because the scene has already been killed. This photofit method of animation is based on tweaking, not creating or bringing to life. Thing is, I find myself part of the problem and not the solution and it's the same for so many animators, even directors - if you don't get with it and just get on with it, the shows wouldn't be made. The budgets are just too low and, if they went higher, the financing wouldn't happen.
It's a shame really.
But even if the poses and expressions were good, you'd likely find one of the default Flash animating methods applied to them. Actually, that's one for another post - how to animate in Flash: the only method you'll ever need.