Friday, October 24, 2008

The bleak future of animation - part 4

This could be a long post as I'm going to try to wrap up my current thought process in this one - I need to spend more time figuring out how life is going to work with this new addition!

So what happens when the current generation of traditional animators retire or die? When we lose those people who drew every single day for longer than they did pretty much anything else in their lives? Those people who lived 'practice makes perfect'?

Well, Andy said - the death of animation happens.

In so many ways, yes, yes, yes. Decay sets in, those skills and training die over time and there is a massive decline in animation ability. It's that simple and seems blindingly obvious. You can only learn so much in college - most animators will tell you they learned more in three months (or even three weeks) in a studio than they did in three years in college. Theory only gets you to the starting point. Practice does make perfect. Influence and teachings from people who have put in years of that practice guides that practice. Take that away, and a generation later you'll see that decay set in.

Aaron over at Cold Hard Flash did make some good points however when Brad Bird made those comments. Firstly, Flash has brought animation production back to the US, UK, Ireland, Canada and other countries that otherwise wouldn't have any. This is very true, though I would be skeptical about how long that will last. Aaron also mentions the amount of independent animation that is now being produced, some of which is excellent. He goes so far as to call it a new "golden age". And you know what? He's right. He's absolutely right. Flash has opened up possibilities like nothing else before it. Have an idea? You can make a film in Flash about it.

But is that a golden age for animation as in the actual animation itself? Or a golden age of animated realisations of ideas?

The latter is important and its impact and the opportunities it opens up should definitely be recognised and even celebrated. But, even though Flash and 3D offer their own sets of skills, it is not a golden age for the craft.

If you have any doubts as to the importance that drawing plays in either of those, ask yourself why the best people sketch what they want before they actually make it move in Flash or 3D. Consider what can be explored in a good, finished drawing. And what can be learned by creating one.

And what you lose if you're not doing 7,000 a year for every day you work.

But Aaron from CHF also put me up to it, as does Humphrey in the comments - what do I suggest?

A damn good question.

What do I suggest? I have no idea. Every way I look at it, it seems to me that with the way things have gone, things right now, with many of us getting work in Flash or 3D, it's actually as good as it can be in the current climate. I can think of no way to rescue the craft. I don't come with a solution. I come empty-handed.

And that is why the future is so bleak.

This decay will happen. And this is as good as it gets.

Of course, there's always nostalgia and people will come and try to mimic what was done in the past. But, having lost those traditional animators, not having put in that intense practice, those studies that come from simply doing your job in even cheap traditional animation, people will start from scratch not by trying to relearn the process, but by just looking at what they grew up with as a child and trying to mimic what they see on the surface.

That already happens now. Imagine what that will be like in 30 years time. 40 years. 50.

If my zombie corpse rose up to see Disney's Tai-Chi Platypus, I'd be weeping. But with joy? No. Of course not. I'd weep a single dramatic tear and then shuffle off to eat somebody's brains.

And, compared with animation, I think that's a pretty bright future to look forward to.


Gregor Nekdo said...

would doing the drawings on paper, and doing the inking and colouring in flash help in anyway? then you'd still have that direct contact with the drawing, but inking and colouring could be done faster. Sure, it would still look a bit mechanical, but at least the scene would be DRAWN on PAPER.

Humphrey Erm said...

The way you say this it seems that there might be a Renaissance in 50-100 years. Once all those old animators die, and all the current ones do to, might there not out of the sea of blandness and flash/3d animation come some new animators who come up with the old way of animating with out knowing its been done since the beginning of the craft?

"Johnson, what are you doing over there?"
"Well sir, I was thinking, rather than have this ready made library and doing ready made stock poses, I would draw the characters on paper and have them move individually depending on the scene and thus allow for a much more lively cartoon in the end"
"My God Johnson! Thats a terrific idea! Why hasn't anyone ever thought of doing that before?"

That's how it could go I imagine. We have forgotten the classics and how they worked, so they will be rediscovered as a seemingly new idea.

Andy Latham said...

I think maybe one positive thing can be thought of. Although the number of people able to animate in the traditional way may inevitably decline, the knowledge of how to do it will never be lost. It's all recorded, written down and on film, just like any other piece of human history. Lets say it's a few hundred years from now and archaeologits have just discovered this thing humans used to do called animation. Someone might think "lets give it a go again". Now while it may take some time for them aquire the necessary skills, it won't be half as difficult as figuring them out in the first place like people had to in the early 20th century. And just look how quickly the great animators of the past did figure it out - 30-40 years? Imagine how fast they would have done it if they had manuals and reference material to look at.

So I don't think it's all that bleak a future. Animation may die, but that doesn't mean a phenix can't rise from its ashes.

As a slight aside, this little series of posts has been inspiring to me. It's made me realise that I'm not going to get where I want to be just by trying hard in my job. I need to be much more active outside it. I used to be before I was employed as an animator, so I'm sure I can do it again. So thanks a lot for some great posts.

7,000 drawings a year, HERE I COME!!!

Mr. Trombley said...

Dear Sir,

A lot changed when computers started up. In statistics there was an almost basic conceptual revolution, due to the computer's ability to take millions or even tens of millions of samples and apply various statistical tests to them.

Everyone else is trying to argue that animation will persevere, but I'm not convinced. Things change and sometimes go away. "Traditional" animation is probably going the way of the independent candlestick maker - sure they exist, but when was the last time you used one?

The fact is either there will soon be a major revolution in animation- and a basic one-or it's not going to make it in an evolving and unfriendly world.

If we knew what that revolution would be, we'd be a wealthy men. Or, at the very least, great geniuses. What is genius but seeing around the corner of time, after all?

On the plus side, Dark Elves will be perfectly happy when they walk the earth. I'm glad to see that the rift between surface dwellers and the Drow will finally heal.

Toole said...

It seems like most people at Disney I've specifically heard of including in the past few months, went there right after college, making all this Flash stuff irrelevant to them. If that keeps happening then there would still be something to carry into the future.

Also a lot of what you're saying seems to imagine the world of animation being in a vacuum from the rest of the art industry. Will there cease to be people who can draw, period?

Unknown said...

The problem, in my opinion, isn't a matter of computers vs. paper. Drawing tablets are good enough that I don't have a problem with them as a drawing tool.

The problem is an obsession with consistency to the detriment of expressiveness.

I hear Superjail is animated in Flash, but it's not the style people have come to associate with Flash.