Monday, October 20, 2008

The bleak future of animation - part 1

As many of you know, I started in this business animating traditionally and have since moved into Flash because that is the way the idustry would have me go. I blogged about why I thought Flash both rocked and sucked before, here, and here and here. Oh and here too. And here and here. That series of posts seemed to strike a chord with people who had been working with Flash far longer than I have so I reckon my initial feelings were on the right track.

That's probably not a good thing because some of my feelings on where it could lead the industry were pretty bleak - especially regarding the devaluing of the craft and outsourcing of even cheaper Flash animation. But that's not what this post is about (or series of posts actually, because I'm realising this will be too long for one post).

It is, however, about the demise of animation. But not from a financial/production end. From an artistic end.

I was discussing animation recently with an animator who has some really good traditional skills in terms of movement and timing and is now working in 3D. We were just talking references and stuff and then something hit me. Hit me hard. I realised that this animator was now at a disadvantage. And then, the next day, I was looking around the studio and I saw it - the beginning of the end. The decay of animation. Not just old fashioned bitter 'animation ain't what it used to be when I were a lad' stuff.

No. I'm talking proper end is nigh stuff.

The first thing you have to consider to know where I'm going to go with this is that Flash (or Flash-equivalents) and 3D are dominating the markets. Flash is cheap, can be produced with small crews in high volume and it makes perfect sense for television production. 3D is shiny, works for games (which employs a huge number of animator and shouldn't be discounted), and right now dominates the larger budget productions. Flash and 3D dominate.

Traditionally-made frame at a time 2D is slow and is reserved for very rare features (which industry-wide don't employ a significant percentage of animators) and still some television production (which is shipped to Korea etc. and will likely be replaced by Flash in the very near future).

The next thing to consider is - what leads to a good animator actually getting good?

Here's the way it used to work - a person with decent drawing skills would study animation in college, then they'd get employed inbetweening or cleaning-up or, if they had a serious amount of raw talent and were going into a tv studio, they may even get to start directly as an animator. And off they'd go, moving up the ladder and getting better.

Here's the way it seems to work now - a person with decent drawing skills would study animation in college, then they'd get employed as a junior or trainee animator in a Flash studio or games company or whatever. And off they'd go, moving up the ladder and getting better.

So what's the difference?

Well, the difference, as it turns out, is pretty damn huge. Feel free to let me know what you think it is. I'll let you know my take on it in the next post.


LimbClock said...

I think that the difference is that when the person learning animation the pen and paper way, he is able to learn all the important fundamentals, such as timing and spacing between frames, and how to actually create simple stuff like walks and so on. On Flash, the J.Random artist just does tweens, sacrificing the knowledge in spacing and timing, not really grasping the fundamentals, which were used to create stuf like Snow White, Ren and Stimpy and stuff.

Andy J. Latham said...

I think moving directly into 3D or Flash means that we aren't in direct contact with our work. 3D is about battling with software, as I would imagine Flash is. With traditional, the animator is in far closer contact with his work, feeling it move. Computer animation is abstract. It's animation Edward Scissorhands style. You know when Ed is trying to pick up the knife and fork to eat?

Of course there is also the difference that if you go into inbetweening, you are studying. You are a sort of understudy. There is no equivalent in 3D or Flash. In those media, you have noone to learn from.

Zach Cole said...

Industry people can create their flat, brightly colored shapes that move around, but people at home can do whatever they want. You don't HAVE to use tweens, and most good animators who use Flash will refuse to do so. You don't have to use the 'cut-out' method either. You can handle it as if it were pencil and paper. But yes, it is easier said than done.

It's true, Flash disconnects the artist from the work itself. Richard Williams calls it "animating with a microwave," and my former animation teacher called it "animating with your left foot." Andy here made a reference to Edward Scissorhands. These are all valid.

In Flash, there are those who use it merely as a tool, and those who cross over to the tweening, corner cutting dark side. I swear never to go to that side. And hey, I still use my light box too.

Bitter Animator said...

Good answers! I love your Scissorhand analogy, Andy. That's definitely something worth exporing and I agree with it. There's a direct communication with a pencil and paper which isn't there when wrestling a programme.

Zach, I think you're right and make a good point. There are people who do some great things with Flash (and 3D) and I wouldn't dream of taking those achievements away from them. But the reality of the situation is, if you want to be a working animator, the chances are that you have to get on board with whatever production you can get and abide by their methods.

There are some great independent animators. And there are some great industry animators on massively well funded productions and can do wonderful things. But there is a far greater majority of animators who are making animation for television, dvd, or games and are just plain average animating Joes. And I guess many of the greats started off as one of those Joes.

Humphrey Erm said...

On a note about the fear of having flash animation be outsourced, I'd like to point out that Comedy Central's Li'l Bush is animated in Bulgaria, if that counts as outsourcing flash.

Red Pill Junkie said...

I'm not an animator (I tried to be one, but... well, it's a long sad story) I can understand your fears and frustrations for relenting the effectiveness of a pencil for a cold mouse/keyboard/wacom.

On the other hand, technology moves at incredible speed, and it's not difficult to imagine that in 5-10 years we'll have electronic paper —possibly made with OLEDs— that will allow you guys work in the traditional way, but with the advantages of a software interface.

Remember that bombastic giant scroll the Chinese showed during their Olympic ceremony? Same thing, only better.

So have a little faith you guys. Hang in there because the future is coming, and it's not necessarily bleak.