The Enemy of Animation: Ignorance
To be fair, you could say that ignorance is the enemy of just about anything, but consider for a second how it affects animation as a whole.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realised that there’s simply too much information in the world for one person to know it all (that didn’t stop me from trying when I was younger though). It’s impossible to know too much, but it’s completely possible to know too little.
You may not need to know how to correctly design a curve in the road to enjoy life, but would your enjoyment of a film be enhanced if you knew more about how it was made? The answer points to yes thanks to the mandatory making-of videos that are available for just about every piece of entertainment out there.
That said, how many people amongst the general public know how an animated film is made? Not many; heck there are people in the industry who don’t even know how it’s made. One smiles at the story of the newly arrived executive at Disney who asked to see the “retakes” of a particular scene.
Thankfully Jeffrey Katzenberg did his homework and the industry is all the better for it, but how many other people don’t know even the basic facts behind creating animation?
I would go so far as to say that the problem is endemic and seriously undermines artists’ ability to function as well as supressing the quality of the industry’s output.
What ignorance results in has been on view ever since animation became a commercial enterprise. Plowing through the creative and technological obstacles without disregard has resulted in more than enough poor quality content being produced over the last 80 years. Plenty of Disney’s early competitors made that mistake and you’re well aware of how popular they are nowadays.
Today, ignorance manifests itself in many forms. Much more than the poor quality of content that’s out there is the disregard for the efforts that goes into it. I’m sure you’ve all seen something like this:
We can blame CGI for the expansion of such notions in recent years, but they are proliferating at a speedy rate. Pressures at the lower end of the budget scale are putting artists into increasingly tight positions in regards to their work and their ability to carve out a successful and fulfilling career.
Do costs have something to do with it? Sure they do, but on a deeper level is an ignorance of how animation production relates to unit costs and output levels. A client who expects a 1 minute animated commercial to be made in a week is clearly ignorant. What sucks is that they will attempt to find someone to meet his deadline rather than educating themselves on how much time it actually takes to make it and adjusting their schedule accordingly.
TV shows and features are no different save for being overseen by people acutely familiar with animation.
Solving the ignorance problem is easier said than done. Animation is far from a solely entertaining technique but the vast majority of animation is designed for entertainment purposes. Education is clearly the key to solving the problem but raises issues of its own.
Whom do you educate? Besides those within the industry and devoted fans familiar with how it works, it’s a complicated task to nail down who needs to know more about animation.
Let’s start with those within the wider entertainment industry itself. God knows I felt for both Michael Sporn and Amid Amidi when they appeared on a Fox News segment and were asked questions that any 5 years old with access to Google could tell you. That episode simply illustrated in a perfectly clear manner how little most people know about animation. The questions posed served to ‘educate’ viewers on animation but ideally should be common knowledge already.
Educating those within the wider entertainment industry should be a priority followed by those within the industries reliant on animation in some way shape or form. Advertising ought to be the big one; too many executives know next to nothing about a creative technique that makes their bread and butter. They should be followed by the general public. Documentaries on animation are not lacking, but focus much more on the creativity rather than the large mass of skill behind it.
In a way, I’m reminded of the Reluctant Dragon; entertaining sure, but it also served to educate the wider public about the many stages that are involved with making an animated film.
Lastly, what is there to be gained from all this time and effort?
For one, we’d see a larger uptake of careers as parents, no longer able to claim ignorance, see careers in animation in a much more favourable light. Producers would better understand what goes into making animation and executives (TV, film, ad or otherwise) would be better able to plan out their schedules and budgets with artists getting a fairer deal into the bargain. Lastly, the public at large would better appreciate animation on a level comparable to the way it discusses and analyses a live-action performance; c’mon, everyone has an opinion on the acting in the latest blockbuster, but they could barely discuss the movements in the latest Pixar hit.
How would you tackle the widespread ignorance of animation? Would you take a more convention approach or prefer something innovative?