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.