Animation Articles: March 22, 2020

A selection of the best animation articles including news, opinions, and features from around the world for the week beginning the 22nd of March, 2020.

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The Most Underrated Man in Hollywood

Let’s not spoil the surprise just yet, but see if you can guess who the most underrated man in Hollywood is before the reveal.

His Achievements

This person’s list of achievements is long over the course of his career. He has received numerous Academy Awards and has risen to a prominent place within a large animation studio.

He has been instrumental in the development of technology that has played such a significant role in the history of animation that without it, things would be quite, nay, substantially different than what we know it as today.

In addition to these achievements, he is also known as a man with a clear vision of the future. He was quite literally decades ahead of his time and his vision for animated entertainment was proven exactly as he envisioned. Naturally, he was astute enough to place himself in roles that would serve this purpose and his arrival at certain companies at particular times was quite fortuitous for both parties.

Today, his technological achievements continue to find widespread use throughout the world, and the films that he helped create rank among the highest grossing animated films of all time.

Although well known within the animation community and afforded some recognition outside of it, this relatively quiet intellectual does not enjoy the same celebrity status that some of his contemporaries do. As such, while his achievements, creations and the films that they have enabled have become synonymous among the public with quality entertainment, this man remains somewhat of a mystery to many of ordinary folks who enjoy his films.

Can you guess who it is?

Yes, it is of course, Ed Catmull.

Via:  Ieee.org
Via: Ieee.org

You probably know who he is, and you definitely know the studio he helped found (Pixar), but his 34 credits on IMDB enormously belie his contributions to contemporary animated films and even to the wider movie industry itself.

Why He Deserves the Title

His Influence is Felt Everywhere

As one of many people behind Pixar, Catmull could be construed as being one of the backroom boys, but this is far from the case. While John Lasseter and others were forging ahead on the creative side, Catmull was heading up the technical side that was making the films possible.

That alone would make him noteworthy if it were not for the fact that he was instrumental in seeing how the technology he was developing could be applied to entertainment. That action puts him right up alongside Walt Disney in his forward thinking. Heck, he was mulling CG animated films in the 1970s, but had to wait until technology advanced enough to make it economical and until he found someone willing to give him the resources necessary to experiment. That person was George Lucas, who was apparently (thankfully) blind to the fact that a rogue computer animator was running around at Industrial Light and Magic.

Although initially Catmull’s software was only suitable for purely animated films, it has since found its way into special FX and today, CG FX often form so much of a film’s on-screen visuals, that they are considered fully animated.

Today, CGI animated films are prevalent. They dominate the American box office and have proliferated into TV shows too. At one point, they were considered to be the sole future for animation with result being that Disney shut down the traditional animation department that made them famous.

His Foresight Rivals His Patience

Although Catmull knew where CG technology would eventually go and what it could potentially achieve, he showed enormous patience as he wound his way through various universities and ILM before Pixar was spun off in 1985. Even then, his goals were not within arms reach. It took a few more years before Tin Toy debuted and showed that computers could make high quality animation.

Catmull’s goal ramained a few years away though. Finally, Toy Story was put into production and became the world’s first entirely CGI-animated film. This was Catmull’s ultimate goal and he only had to wait, what, nearly 20 years for it to reach fruition? That’s a heck of a lot of patience that most people in entertainment could stand to learn from.

His Passion For The Animated Technique, Not Just the Technology

It may be surprising to learn that Ed Catmull has a passion for all animation, not just the CGI stuff he helped develop, but also the traditional stuff too. In fact, when installed as the president of Walt Disney Feature Animation, in conjunction with John Lasseter, he was instrumental in getting traditional features going again at a time when many thought the technique was a dead as silent films.

Why He’s Underrated

As mentioned way up at the top, Catmull resides much more out of the limelight compared to his more publicity-friendly compadres like John Lasseter, Pete Doctor, Andrew Stanton, etc. Many people acknowledge his contribution to what Pixar became, but few seem to acknowledge the wider contributions to animated films and animation in general. Yes, he was not alone in this work, but he is the single link between otherwise disparate people and studios.

Ed Catmull’s grand contribution to modern film should not be overlooked, and that’s why he’s the most underrated man in Hollywood.

Who Will Lead Us Now?

You already know who this post is about, even before you’ve started reading it

That’s because Steve Jobs really was a leader.

I may not have bought any of his products, or even agreed or liked his way of doing things (too locked-down, too expensive) but that’s not to say I didn’t have a lot of respect for him.

Clearly the animation landscape would be very different if Steve Jobs hadn’t taken a bit of a gamble back in the 1980s. Which is the reason for today’s post:

Who will lead us now?

Plenty of people are calling Steve a “visionary”. Yes, he had vision, but he was much more of a leader. He had the ability to envision things, but he also had a huge ability to get others to work towards that vision with passion and excitement.

That’s why Pixar is such a success. While Steve undoubtedly got a good pitch of sorts from Ed Catmull and John Lasseter, ultimately, he could see that the technology they were developing was irrelevant to the story potential that Lasseter offered the output. Steve guided them towards their first deal with Disney, and was instrumental in helping them re-negotiate it after the success of Toy Story.

Steve’s position on the board of the Walt Disney Company (and largest individual stock holder) ensured that that firm took a slightly different approach to online content than the other Hollywood studios. That’s no easy task.

As of right now, there is no one, clear individual who could be said to be a true leader within the animation community.

There are plenty of leaders such as Jeffrey Katzenberg and Fred Seibert and  Ed Catmull is probably the closest thing to Jobs in light of his determination to see Pixar make animation instead of hardware. Although they are all leaders in a different capacity than Steve.

We need a leader because they can see the way forward. They may not know for certain where they are taking us, but at least they’re willing to take a bet on it. That can’t be said for the vast majority of people, which is why leaders are so rare.

A new leader will emerge, that is a certainty.

Until then, we’ll continue to inhabit the aimless space that’s left behind.

RIP Steve