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.

Food for Thought: Female CGI Character Designs

Via: DevilCatz.wordpress.com

You would think that over the last 15 years or so, there would be plenty of exciting human character designs put out by the Hollywood studios, what with CGI being a new and exciting field and all. When the idea popped into my head yesterday, I realised that we haven’t seen all that many over the years. Granted, making CGI humans has only really been possible over the last 5 years or so, but even then, the examples have been few and far between.

Take a look at this small sampling:

Ginormica:

Via: Discover Magazine

Sam Sparks

Via: MattTrailer

Colette

Via: DevilCatz.wordpress.com

and Roxanne

Via:megamindmovietrailer.blogspot.com

Elastigirl from The Incredibles doesn’t really count because I don’t consider her as a “normal” human character in the same sense as those above.

Compare those charcters to this one, by Andrew Hickinbottom

Woah! Big difference, eh? You can tell this one has real character, and she looks even more French than Colette!

OK, yeah, they’re all female but I can justify it on the grounds that female characters in general have much more intricate designs and distinguishing features and as a result more often than not represent the best designs in a film. I’m not being biased, just my personal opinion.

If you look back over the years at all the cartoons ever made, good character design can do wonders for your film. I can say with certainty, that when I was young, my mother pretty much hit the nail on the head when she opined that no-Disney animated films really did lack the polished design that Disney’s had. Was that the only thing that hurt their chances, probably not, but I bet it didn’t help them either.

Like I said, it’s still early days so I am hopeful that we’ll start to see more and more explorations of the capabilities that CGI can offer in terms of character design and the level of detail the technology can provide.

Preliminary Thoughts On Disney’s Tangled

Poster from the Internet Movie Poster Awards Gallery

By now you should be aware of Disney’s upcoming film based currently titled Tangled. Those of us who have been following the film for a while know that it was originally supposed to be called Rapunzel and featured the heroine much more prominently than the hero.

Why the change, well Disney felt it had too many upcoming films with female leads and that it would basically be painting itself into a corner it couldn’t afford.

Perhaps this is true, but perhaps boys just aren’t attracted to “girly” films rather than films with females as the protagonists. There is a difference between the two. Plenty of Disney films in times past have featured female leads: Pochahontas, The Little Mermaid, The Aristocats (animals count!), Lady & the Tramp and of course, Snow White. As far as I know, plenty of boys liked those (even if they would never admit it publicly).

Disney’s argument is that boys don’t contribute enough to the gross of such films. Poppycock I say! They do, just not in ways that Disney expects them to, in other words, in giggling groups at the cinema on a Friday night. So what if they don’t contribute at the box office, that isn’t where most films make their money anyway. But that’s the subject of a post for another day.

A balance is of course necessary between male and female leads, which is why Pixar will is finally getting around to correcting their off-kilter slate of films. However, I think it is foolish to dramatically change a film when it is well through the stages of production. That’s a waste of resources and amounts to changing the destination when you’re halfway there. It would make more sense to change your next destination and plan accordingly.

The film will do well regardless, I just wish studios would be a bit braver and not pander to demographics and their supposed tastes in the chase for a quick buck. Better to make a good film that will stand the test of time than to one that will date quickly with people regardless of gender.

The Competition Between Dreamworks, Pixar And Sony

CGI. It’s a format that has literally taken over the movie business ever since Toy Story burst onto the scene all the way back in 1995. Today, three companies, Pixar, Dreamworks and Sony dominate the market. How did this come to be and what does the future hold for each of them. Read on as I do a bit of crystal ball gazing.

In order to understand the status quo, a knowledge of market economics is needed. I highly recommend The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Ries and Trout. An excellent book, it outlines exactly why which companies are on top and why they will stay there.

It is important to note that Pixar was the one that started it all off in 1995 with Toy Story. An excellent film that achieved a dramatic amount of international success. It has been debated ever since its debut as to whether that success was due more to the film’s story or the animation itself, being the first feature-length film to be created entirely using computers.

The fact remains that the headstart Pixar got has enabled the studio to create and maintain a formidable market share and become a perennial nominee for Best Animated Feature Oscar.

As any entrepreneur will tell you, it is impossible to create a market and keep it all to yourself. It may have taken 3 more years, but Dreamworks got in on the act with Antz in 1997. This film also garnered substantial success and has spawned no less than four sequels! Since then, Dreamworks has strived to emulate Pixar in terms of animation quality, although Jeffrey Katzenburg apparently believes in a higher output, currently pegged at 3 every 12 months than the more relaxed schedule up the road in Emeryville.

This leaves Sony. Definitely the late bloomer among the majors, it didn’t release a feature until 2006’s Open Season. Since then, they have released two more but have remained firmly in third place behind Pixar and Dreamworks.

The point I’d like to make, is that Sony is perhaps the studio to watch over the medium term. Their breakout hit of last year, Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, proved that you don’t need a better product to beat the competition, just a different one! Both Pixar and Dreamworks have gone for the straight story that’s simple enough for kids with some adult humour thrown in for good measure, but then along comes Sony with a flat-out cartoon that knocks the other films for six.

One of the 22 Immutable Laws is that eventually, every market become a two horse race, and no-one ever changes positions unless something exceptional happens. In terms of animated CGI films, this would mean that Pixar remains on top, Dreamworks behind and Sony in third place. Unless, Sony can corner the market for cartoony CGI films, in that case, Dreamworks has a lot of hard work to do.