Floyd Norman’s Concerns About Animation

Yesterday, animation legend Floyd Norman tweeted the following:

I have seen Tangled (the review is forthcoming, I promise) and I can attest that it does contain some excellent animation, both character and otherwise.

Not being an animator, I tend to appreciate the different forms of animation on a different level. I tend to enjoy all types, be it traditional, 3-D CGI, stop motion or even flash! I can, however, attest to the gut-wrenching admission that something that is better than what you use or do comes along. It’s tough to make such a statement and Floyd’s a big man for doing it.

The question is: does Floyd need to feel sad that a CGI film has excellent animation in it? It is surely not an acceptance of CGI or a rebuttal of traditional methods, not by a long shot. The problem (as far as I can tell) is that animation (and I’m talking feature animation here) is still a very stigmatising area of the artform.

Think about it, for years, Disney set the gold standard when it came to animated features with the result that every man and his dog tried to ape their formula, with varying degrees of success. Don Bluth gave things a good run for a bit and DreamWorks tried their best before they switched gears with Shrek.

It wasn’t until Pixar came along and up-ended the whole idea of what an animated film is that things became more interesting. Thus far, Pixar has not released a musical and Disney has only released two films that weren’t musicals, both [perhaps] not coincidentally CGI. To the best of my knowledge (and when I say knowledge, I mean recalling from memory without having time to confirm them on the internet), Disney has not released a non-musical feature within living memory.

So the land of animated features seems to be somewhat stigmatised. Traditional animation almost have to be a musical and CGI almost can’t be a musical. Now in fairness, cost could be used as an issue. A traditionally animated film can be really expansive, but with Toy Story 3’s recent cost estimated at in and around $300 million (that’s $300,000,000.oo) that argument isn’t really valid.

In that case is Floyd’s statement really valid? The answer is maybe. Tangled is the first CGI musical film and could easily be seen to be encroaching on the bastion of traditionally animated features. Having said that, it’s important to remember that Disney shut down their entire traditional department a few years ago in anticipation of becoming a CGI-only studio. What they didn’t realise is that CGI is simply a method, not a genre.

So in that case, why don’t we see a better mixture of themes within animated films? Perhaps John Lasseter can answer that, in the meantime, that sounds more like a post for another day.

Maybe Floyd’s concerned about the shift of skills in animation. CGI is created in a very different manner to traditional methods, where everything is drawn (or at least it was in the old days) on paper, one sheet at a time. There was a lot of skill inherent in making characters move with grace and with the dominance of CGI, there is a legitimate concern that these could disappear from the mainstream.

For me, I think he’s somewhat right. There is a noticeable shift in animation from traditional methods to CGI but there is still a lack of variety within the differing methods. Perhaps in time, this will change. If Tangled is any indication, then I think we can look forward to a more colourful and varied future for the animated feature.

2 Comments on “Floyd Norman’s Concerns About Animation

  1. I feel like Traditional vs. CGI is to animation what Pro Choice vs. Pro Life is to politics, lol.

    I strongly agree with your quote: “CGI is simply a method, not a genre”

    I think it’s a severe mistake on any company’s part to totally eradicate a Traditional sect.

    I love CG, it speaks to me, I understand it better than I ever understood drawing from life, simply because I was always more interested in computers than in drawing. But I majored in Traditional Animation for two reasons: 1) because I still like getting my hands dirty and 2) because I recognize and respect that a traditional foundation is necessary to advance modern techniques.

    Based on the information I’ve gathered from old players in the field, Animators from back in the day majored in Illustration. And without a doubt, the strongest animators I met while at school were pursuing their second degree after having already earned an Associates or Bachelors in Illustration.

    Similarly, at Blue Sky, they request traditional portfolios of the modelers and I know a modeler there who was a Fine Arts major specializing in sculpture.

    I think the schism between the Traditional and CGI community is a result of Traditionalist nostalgia and fear of replacement vs. CG elitism and dismissal of time-tested and approved methods of film-making.

    But for me, the damn shame is that if only everyone would just work together, the things that could result would be amazing.

    In my own thesis, my favorite scene and the scene that people complimented me on the most involved two CG characters moving across an angled Live Action set. Without the time and hardware to render an accurate Maya based shadow pass, I cheated the shadows in After Effects but something didn’t work. I showed it to Don Poynter, the master of Traditional perspective himself. And for all the AfterEffects I know that he doesn’t, he had tomes of knowledge I didn’t, regarding perspective moving across space. His advice on how to angle the shadows made the scene work.

    Enlightening experiences like that are what can be achieved if people, and especially companies remember to respect that no amount of coding and scripting can replace experienced craftsmanship.

    I haven’t seen Tangled, but I’m willing to bet any success it has is a result of a knowledgeable, well experienced staff on both the traditional storyboarding and pre production end and the cg animation and post production end.

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