TRON and The Future of Animation


Anyways, who would have thought they would ever make a sequel to Tron. The original, groundbreaking as it was, fared poorly on release. Apparently the public just wasn’t ready for such an advanced movie in the 1980s. How things have changed!

What’s interesting about TRON is that it is not a real CGI movie, at least not in the modern sense. The computers used in the production were not powerful enough to create virtual worlds. Instead, the animators had to draw each frame individually and then add them all together.

It is interesting to ponder how the animation scene would look today if TRON had been a success 18 years ago. There would undoubtedly be no Dreamworks animation, or Sony for that matter. Would PIXAR have made the leap from advertisements to films? If Disney had conquered the CGI-animated market, it would seem unlikely.

A fact of note is the reluctance of some animators at Disney to working on TRON. They saw it as a threat, a wolf in sheep’s clothing if you will to their traditional way of doing things. While it is completely natural to fear for the future of one’s profession, it is foolish to try and avoid technology. Computers replaced cels the same way the photocopier replaced all those inkers, or the way CAD software eliminated the role of the draughtsman in engineering.

Why dig your own grave like that? OK, so cel animation isn’t dead, not by a long shot. But unless you are Miyazaki, and you are a master at your craft, you have to be open and receptive to new things. Ironoically, flash is CGI and yet can involve a surprising amount of hand drawing. Thanks to Cintiq and the like, even cels can be replaced and the hand-drawn look retained (The Simpsons is a prime example).

There is little doubt that the movie’s poor performance caused CGI in general to be pushed back by about a decade or so, which puts it pretty nicely with the release of Toy Story in 1995. What’s interesting is what has happened after Toy Story, nowadays there is a huge market for CGI films, so much so that the worst nightmares of those animtors in the 80s came true when Disney shut there traditional animation department in the early 2000s (only to re-open it a few years later, ironically at the behest of Toy Story’s director, John Lasseter).

The question is, will the next breakthrough in animation be accepted as readily as Toy Story or rejected as profoundly as TRON? I’m hoping for the former, the promise of change is always welcome.