Technological developments in animation have allowed the technique to prosper considerably since the early days of Mickey Mouse. If it wasn’t applicable to film in general (colour, stereo sound, etc.) then it was specific to animation in ways such as the multi-plane camera and acetate cels. While all these improvements helped animation, software can also handicap it, which is what we’re discussing today.
Computers Are To Blame
There’s no doubt that computers and IT in general have done wonders for animation, and not just in the strictest production sense either. The internet has enabled the co-ordination and production of a single film in multiple locations around the globe and has resulted in many fine films being produced that otherwise would not have.
Where computers fail though, is in their longevity. No-one uses a computer from 15 years ago and certainly nobody is using the same software that ran on such a machine.
The issue is that the animation produced on such machines may not be able to be read on a modern machine. Sure, Pixar is still in business, but what of other studios? Plenty have either gone out of business or been shut down. The animation they produced resides somewhere but may not be accessible. There’s a big difference between the two.
Rapid changes in IT and computing technology mean that nothing that relies on them can stand still. Hardware and software must be constantly updated to remain competitive and there is always the risk that something will either get corrupted or worse, deleted.
Animation Software is Even Worse
For all the faults that hardware has, it is not the worse culprit. That title belongs to software. The impetus for this post is the recent announcement from Adobe that customers will no longer be able to purchase Creative Suite software. Instead, they will subscribe to ‘Adobe Creative Cloud’ for a monthly fee. Essentially customers will not even be renting the software but access to it.
What the Adobe Announcement Highlights
First and foremost, any proprietary software firm will be quite adamant that as a customer, you never ‘buy’ software. Rather, you buy a license for it. In most cases this is a perpetual license, but it is still a license. You cannot do what you like with the software no matter how much you paid for it (legally).
For animators and studios, what the move highlights more than anything else is that the technology that they rely upon for their continued operation is fleeting at best. Adobe, like Microsoft and Apple, does not maintain their software forever and especially in the latter’s case, has shown a willingness to cut off users of older software; essentially forcing them to upgrade or find another provider.
Finding an alternative is all grand and good, but what if there is no alternative? That is to say, what if no-one else makes the piece of software that you need to open/read files?
The Ticking Timebomb
Consider Adobe Flash. It won’t be around forever and at some point in time, Adobe will stop supporting it. That’s grand and good you say, you’ll just keep and old copy on an old dumb terminal just like Disney did with their CAPS system.
A fine theory, but completely improbable if you rent the software instead.
If Adobe decides at some point in the future (willingly or not) to suspend access to Flash or another creative program, you are quite literally very far up the creek without a paddle.
How many studios out there use Flash or a similar program? A lot. What could happen if those programs disappear? Mayhem.
That isn’t to scaremonger either. Old files are much more than just animation data; they’re content! If that isn’t cause for concern, consider the many 35mm films in Hollywood archives that literally represent history rotting away. We’re talking about the digital equivalent of that. Goodness knows Pixar got a shock when they discovered that the original Toy Story files had been corrupted while being digitally archived
What Can Be Done
First and foremost, its important to identify what is causing the problem; namely technology that is no longer profitable to produce/maintain but whose customers require access to.
Proprietary technology is notorious for causing these headaches and while they have been tolerated for the most part, we re getting to the point where there are no more excuses.
As I wrote in this post, open source software offers an alternative that may lack slightly in the features department, but more than makes up for that with its open nature that promises at least the ability to always be able to create a way to read/edit files. Proprietary systems lock this ability up and are under no obligation to release it.
Animation studios (and independent animators too!) need to consider things such as this because they have the potential to cause very expensive mistakes at some point in the future and surely it’s better to actively avoid them than to try and deal with them, right?
Existing programs such as Blender and Synfig are steps in the right direction; we just need a major studio to step up and promote the idea that if we are to rely on technology for creativity, then we should at least be able to build some permanence into the system. It works for pencils and paper after all.
Do upgrade prices give you high blood pressure? What about Adobe’s Creative Cloud? Is it a bad idea and if so, why? Let us know with a comment!